Top 10 Europe backpacker experiences: Your 'must do' list

The clichés will take care of themselves – the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum and the Louvre are almost inevitable when you spend time backpacking in Europe.

However, there are other experiences that you might not have considered before heading off on that big OE (aka overseas experience). For anyone loading up the backpack and preparing to head to Europe, this is what you need to include on the itinerary.

Do a sailing trip

These island-hopping boat holidays, offered by the likes of Busabout and cruising the waters of Croatia, Turkey and Greece, are fast becoming the backpacker must-do that a bus tour used to be. For anywhere up to a few weeks you get to relax on the deck of a boat with fellow fun-loving backpackers, have all your meals taken care of, drink beers in the sun by day and party on various beautiful islands by night. What's not to love?

Go to a festival

Europe knows how to do a festival, whether it's music-related, beer-related, or throwing-tomatoes-at-strangers-related. Into music? Try to make it to at least one these: Glastonbury (England), Roskilde (Denmark), Tomorrowland (Belgium), Exit (Serbia) or Sziget (Hungary). Into booze and danger? San Fermin in Pamplona is crazy, Oktoberfest in Munich is even crazier, and La Tomatina in Bunol is… well, weird and occasionally violent. But worth the trip. And if chasing cheese is your thing (and that does sound pretty enticing), then Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling festival in England is a must-do.

Take a Euro road trip

It's a rite of passage for any backpacker: club together with a few like-minded travellers, hire or even buy a dodgy old campervan, and then set yourself loose on Europe at large. This is the ultimate way to see the place, being given the freedom of the road, hanging out in campsites, tangling with local mechanics, getting lost in little villages and generally just taking the time to enjoy places that couldn't be reached by bus or rail. Things will go wrong on a Euro road trip – but that's half the fun.

Do a bar crawl in San Sebastian


There are many cities in which you can eat well, and many in which you can drink merrily – but nowhere in Europe can you combine those two great joys so perfectly, in such a beautiful setting, as San Sebastian. This twin-beached Basque town is paradise for eaters and drinkers, a city with more Michelin stars per capita than any other, a place of tiny bars that spill onto cobbled lanes, of meticulously prepared "pintxos" and the heavy-handed pour of local beer and wine. It's tasty, it's friendly and it's fun.   

Attempt to scrimp in Switzerland

Many backpackers tend to avoid Switzerland, scared off by its high prices, but they're missing out on one of Europe's most spectacular destinations. This tiny country might not have very exciting cities (sorry Zurich, you're kinda boring), but it does have more than 7000 lakes, soaring Alps, rolling green meadows, influence from Germany, France and Italy, and one of the most insanely efficient train services in the world. At least visit Interlaken, if nowhere else.  

Take a language course

While you'll easily get by with English and a few poorly pronounced local words, there's plenty to be said for taking a language course in Europe. Even if it's only for a few weeks, you'll not only pick up a bit of the lingo, but you'll get a crash course in local culture, meet plenty of fellow students from around Europe and the world, and be forced to take time out from a heavy travel schedule to appreciate the quirks of your chosen city. I'd recommend Barcelona.

Explore the East

It's easy to get side-tracked by the big-ticket Western European items – Eiffel Towers and Greek Islands – but there's a whole different, fascinating and affordable world to be explored in the East. Try Mostar in Bosnia, probably one of the most beautiful cities on the continent. Or cruise the Aegean coast of Croatia and Montenegro. And then check out Budapest, and Krakow, and Prague, and Ljubljana. You'll never want to head back to the West again.

Buy a Eurail pass

For those outside the Antipodean bus-tour set, this has always been the perfect way to see Europe: spending a few months with a Eurail pass, moving around the continent by train, planning your itinerary on a whim and the availability of a seat. Anyone who's seen the movie Before Sunrise would understand the romantic appeal of travelling Europe by rail: the chance encounters, the flash of scenery out the window, the feeling of stepping onto the platform in a new city full of intrigue. It's also relatively affordable – which isn't very romantic, but it helps.   

Go clubbing in Berlin

Doesn't matter what your idea of a club is – whether it's a thumping techno megaclub like Berghain, a dingy punk club like S036, or an eye-opening fetish club like Insomnia, Berlin by night offers a little something for pretty much anyone. This is a city that likes to party; the streets fill and the bars bulge once the sun has gone down. In Kreuzberg you get live music venues like Lido. In Friedrichshain you get abandoned warehouses like Revaler Strasse. In Prenzlauer Berg you get smoky, uber-cool little bars like Zu Mir Oder Zu Dir (translation: my place or yours?). You can't go wrong.

Explore the real Amsterdam

For many backpackers, Amsterdam begins and ends in the Red Light District, the bulk of this great city lost in a purple haze of various sins. You need to get out and explore! First: rent a bike. Next, get on and just pedal. Anywhere. Maybe you'll end up in the Jordaan, going clothes shopping and eating apple pie at Winkel Café; maybe you'll find yourself in de Pijp, enjoying alternative culture and food markets; or maybe you'll cruise into the Vondelpark for a good lie down in the sun. Amsterdam is so much more than weed and windows.

Are you planning a Europe trip? Would you give any, if not all of these experiences a go?