A Gap Year in Europe

Advice and inspiration for travelling in Europe

Explore destinations and experiences

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Why go backpacking in Europe?

Europe can be anything you want it to be. If you’re into fine art, fine dining, and mighty fine culture, you can peruse Paris, France, live it up in London, UK, or idle around Italy. If it’s a party you’re after there’s Amsterdam in the Netherlands or the untamed nightlife of Serbia. For scenery lovers there’s the green and pleasant lands of Germany, the mountains of Austria, the stark and snowy Sweden and Slovenia. Beach bums flock to Spain and Greece

You get the idea. Europe has an embarrassment of riches. And we’re here to help you make the most of it.

There are so many things to do in Europe that it can be difficult to know where to start when planning a gap year. But its popularity means established trails and reliable travel infrastructure are deeply embedded, so backpacking across the continent never feels too daunting. We’ve broken it up into distinct regions to make Europe feel a little more digestible. See what takes your fancy.

A popular way to see as much of Europe as possible is InterRailing. This allows you to buy one ticket that gives you free reign on the trains of mainland Europe for a whole month. This gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want, as it covers a huge range of countries.

Backpacking in Western Europe

Explore Western Europe

For many this will be the main event of the continent. It’s home to some of the finest cities in the world, the most famous landmarks, rolling countryside, rollicking nightlife, sophisticated dining, *deep breath* diverse and friendly people, and thousands of years of history. Needless to say there’s a lot to see, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Everything is linked by excellent transport, be it land or air or sea, so the best approach is to relax and make the most of it. Just make sure you arrive with a decent budget – Western Europe can be on the expensive side.

Depending where you’re coming from, the United Kingdom is a great starting point for a trip around Western Europe. You can see the landmarks of London, catch a show in the West End, and make the most of the nightlife before heading out to see the countryside, visit the idyllic Georgian cities of Bath and York, quaint Cornwall, or even go further afield to Scotland or Ireland.

From there you might take a plane or ferry to Spain, to lounge on the beach or see Madrid and Barcelona, or over to France to fall in love with Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. How you proceed from there is really up to you. There’s the excitement of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, the culture and castles of Germany, or the sun-baked streets of Italy. You might choose to try something a little different and tour Andorra, San Marino, or Luxembourg.

There’s so much to see in Western Europe that your bucket list can get lengthy. Why not check out Portugal and Belgium too?

Backpacking in Eastern Europe

Explore Eastern Europe

An InterRail pass might well take you into Eastern Europe, which is definitely a good move if your budget is starting to dwindle. Although it’s not as cheap as some parts of the world, travelling in Eastern Europe is certainly cheaply than its western neighbour.

The countries here may not have the same name recognition, and in some places tourist infrastructure isn’t quite as robust, but there’s still a huge amount to see. Serbia has fast become known for its wild nightlife, and neighbouring countries like Slovenia boast swathes of untouched, fairytale-like countryside, including the stunning Lake Bled. Russia is a popular destination for the amazing architecture and other attractions in Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as acting as a gateway to Asia.

Croatia has beautiful beaches and seaside towns, Poland is a hotbed of European history, and Romania is home to some truly unique landscapes and traditions. Again, what you do while backpacking in Eastern Europe will entirely depend on whatever mood takes you.

There are a whole bunch of lesser known destinations in Eastern Europe. We recommend looking into Albania and Montenegro, too.

Backpacking in Northern Europe

Explore Northern Europe

Arguably the most unique region of Europe, consisting largely of Scandinavia, as well as countries like Iceland and Lithuania, here is where you will find some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Iceland is definitely worth your time, almost feeling like another planet with its waterfalls, lava fields, hot springs, and the aurora borealis rippling overhead during winter nights. Reykjavik is a small but perfectly formed capital. However it’s difficult to work Iceland into a longer backpacking trip, so countries like Sweden, Finland, and Norway can offer similar chilly pleasures, as well as great cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen, and is quite a bit more accessible. Just beware that these countries are expensive to travel through.

Backpacking in Southern Europe

Explore Southern Europe

Okay, so here our definitions are getting blurred, but it’s worthwhile making a distinction here. Southern Europe is where you want to go if you prefer warmer weather, be it Spain and Portugal or further east to the likes of Italy, Greece, and Cyprus.

Greece is as diverse as you might expect, to the contemporary pleasures of Athens, the ancient history spread all over the country, and the paradisiacal Greek Islands. Not to mention the food. No wonder it’s such a popular holiday destination. Malta might not sit high on your bucket list, but despite its tiny size it has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including seven Megalithic Temples, the oldest free-standing structures in the world, and Albania is a relatively untapped source of pristine beaches.

If you want to see Europe but don’t fancy the unpredictable weather often associated with it, the south might just be for you.

There’s sunshine and beaches galore in Southern Europe, and if you can’t get enough why not swing by Croatia and Macedonia as well.

Working in Europe

Jobs in Europe

Almost every paid job for travellers in Europe comes in the form of teaching. These jobs will pay reasonably well, and sometimes come with accommodation included, and it’s experience that looks incredible on your CV. You’ll definitely need a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification, and often a higher qualification such as a CELTA or advanced TEFL. You will also usually need a degree.

Teaching opportunities are available in countries like France, Spain, Poland, and others.

The approach many take is to teach elsewhere in the world, such as Asia, to get some experience, and then use this to get a position in Europe.

Volunteering options are limited in Europe, centering on professional internships and work experience. This means if you’re looking to bolster your CV, Europe can be a good option. A fairly wide variety of volunteering positions are available, including journalism, finance, teaching, physiotherapy, and others.

Budget accommodation in Europe

Accommodation

Finding accommodation in Europe is rarely going to be a problem, though it can prove expensive. Any major city – and many of the smaller ones – in Europe will come equipped with a range of hotels, be they the most basic or the supremely luxurious. There’s also other options like hostels, which will usually be considerably cheaper, but at the expense of your privacy. You can expect to pay a lot more in Western, Northern, and Southern Europe than you’re likely to in many places in Eastern Europe, although of course this will vary based on location and the quality of your lodgings.

We recommend booking ahead in Europe, just to take away some of the stress of arriving in a new place. Almost every place will accept bookings well ahead of time, from expensive hotels to the most thrifty hostels.

It is possible to improvise accommodation as you travel, especially if you’re sticking to major cities. If you plan to do it this way, make sure to check ahead to see if any major events, festivals, or public holidays coincide with your arrival date. These will make it much more difficult to just show up and find a room.

The type of accommodation you’ll find in Europe depends somewhat on whereabouts you travel. Many destinations are well-developed and will have a bit of everything, but smaller countries that don’t yet have established tourist infrastructure may give you fewer options.

Hostels

These are a great option when backpacking in Europe, as they’ll be significantly less expensive than hotels. The quality will vary, so it can be worth doing a bit of research before you turn up. Again, you’ll get what you pay for. You’ll usually have the option to sleep in a shared dorm, which will be the cheapest option, or to pay a little more for a private room. Hostels are most common in cities, though you might find some in more remote areas that are popular with travellers.

Budget hotels

All major cities in Europe, and many of the smaller ones, will have a wide range of hotels, some cheaper than others. You get what you pay for in Europe, and generally you can expect to pay more than you would in other parts of the world. Hotels closer to the city centre are likely to be significantly more expensive. Expect to pay less in Eastern Europe.

Guest houses in Europe

Guest houses and B&Bs are often a good option when you’re looking to stay in more remote areas of Europe, as you’ll often find them in country towns and villages. As a result they’re quite laidback, though they can be expensive if there isn’t much competition in the area.

Homestays in Europe

The availability of these in Europe can be a bit hit or miss. Some towns and cities run schemes that offer incentives for locals to offer a spare room to travellers, while others may do so of their own accord. It depends how you feel about staying with a stranger, but it can be a great way to feel like a local, and usually won’t cost you too much.

Best ways to explore Europe

Getting to Europe

How you travel to Europe on your gap year really depends on where you’re coming from, your first port of call, and where you plan to go from there. The United Kingdom is an excellent place to kick off from, as it’s an essential destination if you’re not a native, and incredibly easy to get from there into mainland Europe. Here are some of the best ways to do it.

By plane

You can fly from pretty much any airport in the UK, even the small ones, to somewhere in mainland Europe. This is often the fastest way to travel, though if you’re going from the UK to France the time added on at the airport either side often means it isn’t always your best option.

If you’re heading north, south, or further east, a plane is recommended, flying into Madrid, Rome, Stockholm, or Moscow being popular starting points. The excellent transport links in Europe make it easy to get wherever your backpacking itinerary dictates.

By train

The Eurostar is an excellent, affordable way to travel from the south of the UK to destinations in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. To make it into Paris takes no more than a few hours, and not much longer to reach Lille, Lyon, Brussels, or Amsterdam. Or Disneyland Paris, if you’re so inclined. It can prove quicker than flying, and is often significantly less stressful. You also have the option of taking a car through the channel tunnel.

By boat

It’s incredibly easy to get a ferry from numerous spots in the south of the UK to a variety of locations in France, Spain, and Portugal. It’s slower than other transport options, but is definitely the most relaxing, and often very reasonably priced.

There are also ferry options in northern and southern Europe, connecting Scandinavian countries more directly with the rest of Europe, and offering routes between locations like Italy and Croatia.

Train travel in Europe

One of the most popular means of backpacking in Europe is InterRailing. This is essentially a single ticket that gives you free reign over most European rail services for a whole month, so you can hop on and hop off to your heart’s delight.

So chances are you won’t be squeezing all those into a month. An Interrail pass is great value if you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations, but if you’re only going to 2-3 places it can work out cheaper just to buy individual tickets for those journeys. It’s worth doing your homework beforehand.

Plane travel in Europe

Practically every country in Europe has several international airports that make it easy to pick a starting point for your gap year. A popular option is flying into the UK or France and working your way east. It’s also easy to travel between countries by air if you’re in a hurry, though this can prove expensive. There are a number of budget airlines in Europe, but you’ve got a hefty backpack you’ll often end up paying a big surcharge to take it with you. Again, it’s worth doing some research before you travel.

Car travel in Europe

Road networks across Europe are extensive and well-maintained, making a roadtrip across the continent an excellent option. It gives you absolute freedom and is a brilliant way to see the scenery. Taking a car into major cities can prove trickier, as different cities will have different regulations for parking, etc.

You can rent a car at most airports and within major cities. If you plan to take the car into different countries, make sure to approve this with your provider first. Some rental companies will not allow it. For example, a car rented in Germany usually can’t be driven into Poland, but vice versa is okay.

Bus travel in Europe

This can be a cheaper option for moving around cities, or even going from city or country to another. There are plenty of providers across Europe, and you can often just turn up and buy a ticket on the day. Keep in mind that travelling by bus will take longer than most other methods, so make sure to plan your itinerary accordingly.

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