Great European Backpacker Destinations


Backpack? Check.  Passport? Check.  Now, where to go?  Here’s some of the best places to travel light and lightheartedly, backpacker-style, in Europe.

Granada is one of the last holdouts of southern Spain’s “free tapas” tradition- meaning most bars will serve a free plate of food with every drink, a blessing for the backpacker on a budget.  Enjoy a refreshing glass (or two) of sangria after being astounded at the magnificent, worth-every-penny Alhambra, getting lost in ancient Albayzín, or peering into the cave dwellings of Sacromonte.  The next morning, grab breakfast in the picturesque Plaza Nueva before wandering the streets of Spain’s hippest city.


Every backpacker who visits Berlin waxes rhapsodic about it later.  Hip and innovative in its spirit of rebuilding and renovation, just aimlessly walking around Berlin is a joy.  There’s no need to be aimless, however; the city is rife with (relatively) recent history to take in, including, of course, the Berlin Wall.  Even if you don’t feel like meandering the entire length of the former wall, make sure to check out the East Side Gallery, where this place forced separation now brings people together with beautiful murals.  Berlin is also a mecca for urban exploration, with abandoned airports, amusements parts, and other such delights to discover.  Nightlife is varied and quintessentially Berlin- just weird enough to be enchanting.


It may seem shocking that notoriously expensive London made the list, but, while food and accommodation may be less budget friendly, some of the greatest pleasures in London cost nothing at all.  A self-guided walking tour could include multitudes of iconic sights, from Big Ben to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  On a rare sunny day, scrounge up a picnic and people watch at Hyde Park and the attached Kensington Gardens, or hit Covent Garden for some of the world’s best street performance.  Perhaps peruse unusual shopping in Camden Town or Notting Hill’s Portobello Market (yes, like the movie).  When it rains, and it will, dive into one of London’s museums; most of the best ones are free.  Or see a West End matinee- check Leicester Square and the theaters themselves for cheap tickets.

Slightly out of the way, Portugal’s Algarve doesn’t make the itinerary for a lot of backpackers, but it should, especially if you’re after an affordable beach holiday.  Lagos’s beaches are nothing less than stunning, with water so blue you almost won’t believe its real. After a day of sun and swim, clean up and hit the town- Lagos’s bars cater to the young backpacker crowd, so a good scene shouldn’t be hard to find.  The city is small and easily walkable, and there are buses and trains to Silves and Faro if you want to continue your Algarve exploration.


On the other side of the out-of-the way spectrum, Istanbul’s vibrant architecture and cultural mash-up arises like something out of a fairytale.  A day spent wandering the area around Sultanahamet Square is a day spent getting your breath taken away by the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern, just for starters.  A visit to the Topkapi Palace takes that fairytale feel even further.  Delicious street food abounds (try simit, roasted chestnuts, grilled corn, and doner), and any meal can be finished off with Turkish delight purchased at the bustling Grand Bazaar.  For a memorable evening, gather hostel-mates for wine and meze.  Bonus: you can find a bed for under $10, and public transport is a breeze.

There is, of course, more to explore, but you don’t need us to help you find it all.  You’ve got that backpacker spirit, so grab your pack, book a ticket to one of these great destinations, and let the journey begin.

Photos: ntalkaJoseph HoBlake Maybank and Chris Sewell used under Creative Commons License