An adventurous backpacking trip to Europe can be the international trip of a lifetime and one to add to your bucket list. I was on the fence when the idea was presented to me, but it didn’t take long to change my mind. I was promised by some experienced travelers that backpacking is the only way to go especially if you’re looking for gorgeous nature, a cultural melting pot, world famous sites and a whole world of adventure. There are few time restraints when you backpack and unparalleled when compared to other ways to travel. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy hiking in Europe, but here is a sample of our route that worked for us.
1. London Our first stop was Heathrow Airport because it is connected to the public transportation that will safely get you to some very famous landmarks. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace and it was even better in person than any picture or video can relay. The home of the Royal family is as incredible on the outside as it is on the inside. We missed the iconic changing of the guards but I hear it’s spectacular. Make sure you add it to your “while in London list” as well as the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. They, too have historical significance and are must-sees during your hike throughout the city.
2. Paris Trust me on this. Paris, known as the City Of Love is awesome. Take the Eurostar, underground train from London to Paris. Just the thought of traveling underneath the English Channel is unbelievable. There is so, so much to experience here. How about the one and only Eiffel Tower. My wife and I enjoyed a leisurely picnic lunch (French staples cheese, wine, and bread) from the outside, but my travel partners paid for a ticket to get a bird’s eye view from the top. Either way, get a photo or two because seeing this iconic tower in person was to say the least, surreal. We could’ve stayed on the grass forever but when they came down from the top, we were off again to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Montemartre art district that features the Sacre Coeur Basilica. The architecture alone is amazing. Whether you appreciate art or not, these landmarks will impress you.
3. Rome This is a truly the best place to backpack. It is full of ancient history and cultural sights that look just like postcard photos, only better. I have read about so many of the places this eternal city offers and the fact that we were personally experiencing it is was truly captivating. It takes a while to get there, but it’s well worth the train ride. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time and spend some extra time here, if your schedule allows. One of the must-sees (actually they are all must-sees) is the Colosseum. Walk around, experience the historical architecture and go back in time when the Romans sat and watched gladiators fight in that same arena. Then I recommend visiting the Pantheon, The Vatican, to say a prayer and take in Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. If time permits go over to the Trevi Fountain and toss a few coins in for good luck. Tradition has it that one coin is for love and the other is to guarantee you will return to Rome again. I wish I had time to discuss the many different restaurants. Our policy was to eat where the locals do and live by the age-old rule, “When in Rome” do as the Romans do. We didn’t have one bad meal.
4. Cinque Terre Cinque Terre translates into five tiny towns on the western Italian coast that look like a colorful boutique of buildings. The villages are Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola and each one is an individual marvel. I can’t speak a word of Italian but it didn’t matter. My senses were able to drink in all of the culture and personality offered here. We were amazed by one of kind natural cliffs in their National Park that conveniently surround all five towns. It has to be one of Mother Nature’s best creations. It is perfect for backpackers who don’t always like to be in big city crowds. We boarded a train with a day pass that allowed us to ride between these picturesque towns as many times as we wanted. You need to purchase a pass to walk around too. Staying overnight will probably be a good idea. There is a variety of overnight accommodations that offer a comfortable and affordable good night’s rest. Cinque Terre is a place I will return to perhaps without my backpack the next time and stay a little longer.
5. Berlin Germany is fascinating and never fails to impress me. The sightseeing opportunities and landmarks are full of history, architecture marvels and even castles. This European country is like no other and the scenery is almost like walking back in time through an eclectic collection of modern buildings. For example, the famous Brandenburg Gate landmark, once a symbol of country’s division is not considered just the opposite, unification. The dark granite pillars create a walking tour maze and is the perfect spot for photos. The most disturbing, but emotional place we visited was the underground museum that showcases the plight of the Jews when the Nazi’s had control. Talk about a challenging time. But Berlin has a much lighter, modern side too. There are some hip neighborhoods to explore, really cool locals to meet and delicious food to taste. I ordered the vegan cuisine with Vietnamese noodles that was delicious. Then we took a walk on a closed airport runway that is now open to the public. There is so much to do and see, but the common denominator of Berlin is that no matter where you go, whether you backpack or not, the sky is the limit for awesome sights, sounds, tastes and experiences.
There is never enough time to explore everything Europe in one visit, so don’t expect to. But I recommend planning where you want to go and leaving enough room for some unexpected stops along the way. Europe is one of the most interesting continents in the world, and especially interesting when you take along your best friends and a backpack.