As we embark on the second part of our five-part 'backpacking through Europe' series, we will be looking at some of the most inviting places on the European continent. We will begin in France, then work our way eastward through Germany and some of the Eastern European nations before turning south toward Italy. We will eventually end up in Spain to conclude our journey.
Before we start, just a quick word about accommodations. Experienced backpackers know that the cheapest way to travel in Europe is to couch surf. However, that requires that either you know many people or you make friends easily. In the absence of couch surfing opportunities, there are plenty of cheap bed-and-breakfasts, campsites, and hostels.
Now, off to France!
France: More than Just Paris
When the world comes to France, they all want to see Paris. We recommend you save the City of Light for another trip when you can devote all of your time and attention to it. Paris is too expensive to make it a worthwhile backpacking experience. Having said that, there is a lot more to see and do in France.
For the first leg of your journey, concentrate on northern and central France – you can hit the French Riviera on the way back through. In the north, there are two places you absolutely must visit: the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint-Michel. The former is one of the most well known historical sites in all of France and easily the country's most popular tourist attraction. Its historical significance is undisputed.
As for Mont Saint-Michel, it will take your breath away. Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune sitting just 600 metres off the coast of Normandy. During low tide, you can walk out to the island in mere minutes. During the evening hours the romantically lit island and stone fortification is incredible.
Belgium and Germany
As you pass through northern and central France, turn eastward toward Belgium and the cities of Mons, Brussels, and Antwerp. Belgium is well known for its art and cuisine, rivalling what you expect from the most popular regions of France. Moreover, because Belgium is so small, you can see most of it in just a few days.
From there, continue heading east to northern Germany. Do not be afraid to take a quick detour into the Netherlands if you like. As for northern Germany, the cities of Düsseldorf, Hanover and Hamburg are good places to start. If you are travelling in the autumn, make it a point to eventually head south toward Munich. Their legendary Oktoberfest celebrations are something you really have to experience to understand.
From Germany we recommend you choose a couple of Eastern Bloc nations – perhaps the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – to work your way through before moving to Austria. For the record, this is where we will pick up our European tour in part three of this series. In the meantime, we hope you are writing all this down for your future plans.