There’s no time like the present to start planning a holiday, and with the summer holidays only around five weeks away, why not start thinking about the best ways to make the most of your time off? Such as an interrail trip around Europe!
Yes, we get it, you’re students and you’re mostly broke, but when did it become mandatory to break the bank any time you travel? Being a European student means you have the opportunity to take advantage of the fantastic rail network that connects our great cities, and with Interrail (for European citizens or residents) and EUrail (for non-European citizens or residents) passes available at your fingertips, the path through Europe eagerly awaits your footsteps.
If you do decide to hop on trains this summer, the hard part is always deciding which route to follow. Lo and behold: we’ve rounded up the three best Interrail routes you should take advantage of this coming summer break:
1. The Underdog Trail
Perfect for students who have been to Europe’s biggest capitals but have yet to see the underdog destinations that don’t always make it on common itineraries
You’ve got a whole two months to explore the continent, but you’ve been to the big names already. You fell in love in Paris, got your Gaudí on in Barcelona, and followed all the roads to Rome. And while it was a great experience, you think to yourself: “it’s time to cast my sails further and see something new”.
Route: 10 cities in 10 countries
Ghent, Belgium > Rotterdam, Netherlands > Leipzig, Germany > Warsaw, Poland > Budapest, Hungary > Belgrade, Serbia > Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina > Zagreb, Croatia > Bologna, Italy > Lyon, France
Beginning your journey in the picturesque Belgian city of Ghent, enjoy the spectacular Gentse Feesten Festival that celebrates achievements in art and music every July before heading on to Europe’s largest port city, Rotterdam.
While it’s not as notorious in its nightlife offering as its older brother Amsterdam, Rotterdam’s underground club scene and grungy live music venues, hidden beneath a futuristically designed skyline, are unique to the country and simply cannot be missed.
Next, hop on a train and head to Germany’s new cultural hotspot that some claim is better that the capital: Leipzig. Affectionately dubbed as “New Berlin” for its thriving creative scene, Leipzig is quickly becoming one of Germany’s coolest cities, and for those lucky enough to venture to the city before it becomes overrun by hipsters, make sure to visit Colditz Castle: a former World War II prison that’s now partly a hostel, partly a Renaissance relic; or the incredible Baumwollspinnerei, a former cotton mill that now serves as home to over 120 artist studios.
Next, it’s time to bid auf Wiedersehen to Germany and say cześć to the Polish capital, Warsaw. While you’re here, make sure to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum to learn about the stirring history of the city, the tenacious spirit of its people, and its inspiring recovery from near obliteration during WW2.
Marking the halfway point of the journey is the fifth destination, Hungary’s gem of a capital city, Budapest. Bisected by the great Danube River into the hilly Buda district and the smooth plains of Pest, the beautiful city boasts a host of treasures with the most notable being Buda Castle. If derelict bars in abandoned buildings is your thing, then head on over to District 7 for a night of debauchery you’ll never forget — and an excuse to forgive your antics the next day in the healing waters of the Széchenyi thermal baths!
The next stop is the capital city of the often overlooked destination of Serbia. While Belgrade can be a little rough around the edges, stick around long enough and you’ll discover that it’s a hotbed of creativity and home to arguably Europe’s hottest nightlife scene. Whether it’s techno you’re after or if you’re a live music fan, the floating river clubs are the only place to be.
Following from Serbia is historical capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo. There’s no better time to visit the city than in the summer, during the four-year Centenary of WW1. Visit Latin Bridge to pay homage for the fallen at the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event that sparked the Great War.
After a cup of Bosnian coffee and your fill of history, jump on board a journey to the quaint city of Zagreb, where you must start your day with a bowl of fresh fruit at Dolac Market under the sea of red umbrellas that must feature on your Instagram.
After a few days of wetting your appetite with culture, arts, and gastronomy of this quality capital, it’s time to move on to the Italian city of Bologna.
The namesake of the mouthwatering Bolognese sauce, it’s no wonder that Bologna is said to be Italy’s gastronomic capital, and no trip to the city would be complete without a trip the Quadrilatero: the beating heart of Bologna’s food scene. While the vibrant market overflows with food stalls, dining at an osteria, a small restaurant with short menus and local specialties, is an experience not to be missed. Just remember to order your pasta al ragù.
The affinity of the city with students doesn’t just end with delectable dishes; the University of Bologna is the crown jewel of this lively destination. Dating back to the year 1088, it is the oldest university in continuous operation and worth the time to visit. And for those thinking of heading to the Two Towers to climb the Torre Asinelli for a fantastic view of the red roofed-streets fanning out below, please be warned: legend has it that anyone who climbs the tower before graduating will not finish their degree!
Finally, it’s time to depart for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lyon. Boasting a long and chronicled culinary arts tradition, the French city is widely considered the gastronomical capital of the country. Though more of a butcher’s shop than a restaurant, Charcuterie Sibilia provides the perfect opportunity to savour the flavours of the city, and given that it’s owned by “Mère Lyonnaise” (Mother of Lyon), you know you’re in good hands.
Once you’ve doubled your weight at the famed bouchons, restaurants which serve traditional Lyonnais dishes such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork, along with lavish local wines, be sure to scope out some of Lyon’s other luxuries. For a taste of Ancient Roman architecture, visit the Theatres Romains de Fourviere, or for the best panoramic views of the city, climb to the top of Fourvière Hill.
2. The City Mapper
Perfect for first-time Euro-trippers who want to see some of the best known cities and landmarks in one trip
Being proudly European, we unashamedly claim our continent is easily home to some of the coolest, globally renowned cities. What earns us this reputation? Well, just head over to the places everyone talks about and see for yourself!
Route: 10 cities in 7 countries
Milan, Italy > Venice, Italy > Munich, Germany > Vienna, Austria > Budapest, Hungary > Prague, Czech Republic > Berlin, Germany > Amsterdam, The Netherlands > Paris, France > Nice, France
From the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Wall in Berlin, Gondolas of Venice or the Amsterdam canals, every moment on this trip is going to have you wanting to get your camera out, so make sure you’re charged and ready.
Starting in Italy’s fashion capital of Milan, it’s the place to scout the finest textiles. Once you’re dressed in the best money can buy, head to the magnificent Duomo for a spontaneous photoshoot, before deciding to day-trip to George Clooney’s home at the spectacular Lake Como.
Next up is the Italian treasure of Venice, and trust us, it’s impossible not to be charmed by this little beauty. Take a gondola ferry, or traghetto, ride across the Grand Canal to spot the home of the famous Venetian merchant Marco Polo, or stroll from the picture perfect Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco, stopping off at Palazzo Ducale to see where the great seducer Casanova was imprisoned, and subsequently from where he escaped!
If you have a few days, make sure to take the vaporetto for a day trip to Burano Island to see the brightly painted coloured houses, as well as its incredible lace museum, and visit the island of Murano to pick up a few artisanal Murano glass goods.
Next up is the Bavarian blockbuster, Munich. As the homeland of Oktoberfest, it would be rude not to experience her beautiful beverage with an afternoon at the Hofbräuhaus beerhall after a stroll through the Englischer Garten. And, of course, aside from the plethora of museums to explore, no trip to Bavaria is complete without a Bavarian breakfast, complete with Münchner Weisswurst, a veal-based breakfast sausage served with a Brezn prezel, sweet mustard and a Weissbier.
Follow in the footsteps of Mozart and Beethoven and visit Vienna, where you’re never short of entertainment. The Schönbrunn Palace is well worth a visit with its extensive gardens, sculptures, and decadent decor, followed by a sophisticated evening at the Vienna State Opera. If you’re feeling bold, why not book a Waltz lesson at the Tanzschule Elmayer? After all, YOLO.
Two hours away and you’re in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Check out beautiful Buda castle by night and make your way though the city markets, ending your evening to see the illuminated Chain Bridge.
Next, visit the architectural wonder that is Prague, Czech Republic’s capital city. From its medieval cobbled streets to its rooftop restaurants, the magic of Prague will allure you. Don’t miss witnessing the Orloj astronomical clock striking the hour as you explore the hidden alleyways in the Old Town Square.
Seventh on the list is an all-time favourite, the great adventure that is Berlin. Bursting with historic sites, foodie highlights, a vibrant nightlife and quirky bars, nothing but endless thrills await you in the dynamic, ever-changing capital of Germany.
Whether you want to hear heart-wrenching stories at the poignant Berlin Wall Memorial, celebrate the graffiti-decorated East Side Gallery, check out one of the city’s 180 galleries, or indulge in some of the best cheap eats in Berlin , this city won’t let you down. To get yourself excited about a trip to The Grey City, check out these facts about Berlin that will blow your mind.
If you’ve not had your fill of beautiful art galleries, canal cruises and compelling history lessons, head on over to the “Dam”, Amsterdam. Explore the city on bike like a local and you’ll discover that there’s much more to the city than its famed Red Light District and coffeeshops, such as the cultural delights of Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. For an open-minded look into the creativity the city has to offer, the sex museum is the place to expect the unexpected, but if you’re easily offended, it’s best to stay away. For an emotive experience, the famous Anne Frank Museum is a must-do before you leave.
Audrey Hepburn said “Paris is always a good idea”, so it must be true. Having visited the city of love more times that I can count, I’ll say that it cannot disappoint. For first-timers, catching a cabaret performance at the Moulin Rouge is a must, as well as making eyes at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, climbing up the Eiffel Tower, and enjoying a stroll along the River Seine to adore the trinkets and treasures on sale from the local market vendors.
The French capital has earned the most Michelin stars of all cities in Europe, and from its abundance of croissants, baguettes, macarons and crêpes, the French bites sold all over the city are just as worthy of praise. For those feeling a bit adventurous, serve up a helping of escargots — snails cooked with garlic butter. They’re not as bad as they sound.
Finally, to end this iconic itinerary, finish your trip in the French Riviera in the Southern city of Nice. Soak up the sun on the Promenade des Anglais, lined with cafés, palm trees, pebble beaches, and retiring Brits, or choose to go on a day trip to rub shoulders with royalty in Monaco, or perhaps photobomb a celeb casually vacay-ing in Cannes after the iconic film festival.
3. The Time Travel Trail
Perfect for history buffs and culture vultures wanting to uncover the wonders of the world
Travel back in time to uncover the wonders of the world on this historical tour of Europe, from the archaeological highlights of Italy’s Pompeii to the mythological marvels of Greece’s Mount Olympus.
Rome, Italy > Naples, Italy > Brindisi, Italy > Patras, Greece > Corinth, Greece > Athens, Greece > Thessaloniki, Greece
Start your journey in the Eternal City with a scoop of the best gelato in Rome, and be sure to visit the Colosseum, where you can be the first person of the day to ask, “are you not entertained?” (or any other memorable Gladiator quote). Next is a walk through the ruins of palaces and temples at the Roman Forum before gazing up at the majestic Pantheon.
Of course, other highlights of the city also include enjoying the panoramic views from Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, climbing the stairs at Piazza di Spagna, tossing a coin into the Trevi fountain to vouch for your return to Italy’s capital, and trying not to lose your hand at Bocca della Verità.
From Rome, take a train to the city of Naples and climb to the top of Mount Vesuvius for stunning vistas of the old city. Still an active volcano today, the aftermath of its famous eruption in 79 AD can still be witnessed at the ruins of Pompeii and they’re well worth a visit, if for the perfectly preserved ancient graffiti alone!
Travel to Brindisi next to visit Cannae, the marking place where Hannibal defeated the Roman army some 200 years BC, and follow it by a venture into Patras in Greece to visit the city of Olympia, famously known as the sanctuary to the original Olympian Games that were held in honour of the great God of Gods, Zeus.
Next on the agenda is a ride to the ancient city of Corinth to explore the nearby legendary ruins of Mycenae, where you’ll find the Tomb of Agamemnon and the famous Lion Gate.
Travel onwards by train to Athens, dubbed the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy, to marvel at the majestic Parthenon temple. Built on top of the Acropolis, this is sure to be one of the most iconic shots you’ll take on your itinerary, so make sure that camera is charged up and ready to go.
Spend a few days paying homage to the Goddess Athena and her ancient city by discovering the multitude of monuments and museums the city has to offer, before finishing your Athenian adventure by watching the sunset from Areopagus hill.
The final stop on the journey back in time is to the Greece city of Thessaloniki, famed for her collection of Roman and Byzantine treasures. Make sure to visit the White Tower, the symbol of the city that houses an exhibition on its rich history, before hiking Mount Olympus, to make your acquaintance with the mythical home of the Olympian Gods. Count yourself lucky that Hades won’t be home.
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Have you ever done an Interrail? What do you think are the best routes? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you’re looking for student accommodation in Europe, you’ll find the perfect student home on Uniplaces.