Where to Ride the European Rails

Last summer, I took the plunge, bought an InterRail pass and disappeared off to Europe. My journey was an ambitious one: I, along with a friend, travelled an extensive amount of Europe in only 15 days. Our plan was to visit eight cities in two weeks, spending two nights in each place and then travelling by train to the next location. We chose to stay in hostels which worked out fairly cheaply, though of course some places were more expensive than others.

An InterRail pass gets you a discount on most train tickets, and even lets you ride for free on some. We bought global passes which let us travel between countries, and these were the highlights of our epic trip.

Bruges

The home of chocolate, the perfect place for fellow chocolate lovers! There are streets lined with amazing cafes just waiting for you to experiment with intensely rich foods (I’d recommend a hot chocolate from anywhere in Bruges – they’re insane).

Bruges was ideal for simply taking a stroll – both the gift shop lined streets and the rivers and parks were great to meander around. Boat rides along the many canals are available and are a good alternative to touring on foot. 

The nightlife in Bruges is also pretty good; there are plenty of bars to choose from, and since the city itself is fairly compact, they’re all easy to get to. We found that two days in Bruges was plenty to see all the sights.

Nice

This was our idyllic spot for relaxing and recooperating after a busy few days travelling. Whilst the town itself isn’t too exciting, its picturesque beach is great for soaking up the sun. It’s a pretty seaside town, so the weather was lovely and there was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

The main highlight for me was the water fountains that burst out of the ground in the town: they were equally fun for kids and grown ups alike, and it was the perfect way to cool down in the summer heat, with the mountains in the distance as a backdrop. The architecture was pretty impressive here: so many of the buildings were astoundingly beautiful.

This seemed an odd stop among our other choices, and it was a little awkward to get to, but I’m glad we went just for the relaxed vibes and slow pace.

Florence

Florence was my favourite stop by far: it had an amazing atmosphere, beautiful architecture and the weather was incredible! The only advice I’d give for Florence is to research the city before you go: we arrived and had no clue what we were looking at most of the time which made everything slightly less exciting.

Florence is also where I discovered the best pizza of my life. There are so many restaurants which offer takeaway slices of pizza that I can only assume are made in heaven. Living up to the stereotype, all the food in Italy was amazing.

There are some amazing (and unexpected) views from the bridges in the city – you can see right up into the mountains on a clear day which really is breathtaking.

Rome

Rome, for me, was the most overwhelming of the stops. Since the city is huge (and the attractions so spread out), it was a big undertaking to see all the sights in just two days. The best way to combat this that I found was to buy a ticket on a sight-seeing tour bus. These were a bit pricey (all around €20) but this was by far the most cost effective and efficient way of travelling around the city (and also allowed us to do some sight-seeing with our feet up for a change).

There’s also an audio commentary that you can listen to through earphones on the bus, which means you learn a lot more about the history of Rome while you’re travelling between attractions – something you miss out on if you go on foot.

The coliseum and Vatican were, of course, amazing. It’s not too expensive to actually go inside the coliseum – we were pleasantly surprised at the student price of $7. The atmosphere was brilliant, it was a complete contrast with all the cities we’d visited so far. Things were fast paced, busy and exciting.

If there was any doubt in your mind, Rome should definitely be on your bucket list! The only downfall was that there’s so much to do and see in Rome, and sadly, two days just wasn’t enough to see everything!

Barcelona

The beach in Barcelona is definitely worth a visit – it had the softest sand imaginable and the sea was gorgeous. This, too, was the perfect opportunity to put our feet up in the middle of our crazy journey.

La Sagrada Familia is a must see while you’re here – the sheer detail of the building is enough to marvel at all day, even if you’re not religious. I was also particularly impressed with the beautiful gift shops surrounding La Sagrada Familia, the perfect place to buy little keepsakes and souvenirs. Barcelona has amazing architecture everywhere. We didn’t get a chance to see the Gothic Quarter, which was a shame, but there was plenty to see elsewhere. The main street looked and felt surprisingly like New York City.

Barcelona is incredibly easy to get around – they have an underground system that’s simple enough to navigate which makes travelling around quick and efficient.

Paris

This is where it got interesting. The main issue here was finding our hostel: street names in Paris have an unusual system where a sequence of numbers follows the address. We were unaware of this, and as a result were dumped in the wrong side of Paris and had to stumble into a nearby hotel for help. We eventually found the hostel after the help of hotel staff, but it cost us a bomb in taxi fares and was unnecessary stress after a 6 hour journey from Barcelona.

Other than that one minor slip up, Paris was a great experience! Of course there’s the classics like the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, which I’d definitely recommend visiting, and it’s easy enough to get around with an underground system that’s fairly cheap to use. 

It’s worth knowing that members of the EU aged 18-26 can get in the Louvre for free, so if you’re interested it’s worth making use of this if you can.

Amsterdam

Known for its many canals (and they really are beautiful) and pretty tree lined streets, Amsterdam is a great place to visit. 

Anne Frank’s house is an inspirational and humbling experience; it’s an intense hour but it’s worth it (they also have an amazing café at the end of the tour). I found Amsterdam was great for just wandering around: much like Bruges, it was relaxed and calm.

There’s also a lot of great food in Amsterdam – there were a ton of lovely little restaurants down the back streets as well as awesome ice cream shops and even a nutella ‘ice bakery’.

Naturally, we sought out some of the sights Amsterdam is known for such as the sex museum and the red light district.

End of an Adventure

Overall, I would definitely recommend InterRailing: it was an amazing experience and a fantastic way to see a range of different places in a short time. The contrast between the cities on my journey was extremely eye opening and an experience I’ll never forget.

If you want a cheaper experience, it might be worth choosing destinations a bit closer together. My obscure route meant taking train after train and even flying from Rome to Barcelona which was costly and time consuming. It’s definitely worth planning ahead.


Hit the Rails

Global InterRail Pass

An InterRail Global Pass gives you the freedom to take the train almost anywhere you want in Europe, giving you total flexibility over your gap year itinerary. This is the ultimate way to see the continent.

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Sally Finn is a student, traveller, and animal lover. She's been InterRailing in Europe and spends most of her time planning future adventures! She can usually be found with her head in a book or at a music or comedy gig.