I went Interrailing before going to University and here are some hints and tips I picked up on my trip!
Our first destination was Pamplona, and we timed our visit to coincide with the festival of San Fermin, famous for the running of the bulls. Whilst we didn’t dare participate, it was thrilling to watch. We also went to a bull fight, which was definitely an experience, if not the most enjoyable! In general, the whole festival was quite surreal, especially with crowds of people dressed in red and white. I would recommend checking it out if you get the chance though! Just watch out for the men running through the streets shooting fireworks from their heads (and the bulls, of course).
Barcelona is a safe bet for any Interrail trip. There’s tonnes to do and you can relax on the beach if you need a break. I absolutely loved Barcelona but a particular highlight for me was the Sagrada Familia – the most amazing piece of architecture I think I’ll ever see, and it’s not even finished! It seems futuristic and ancient at the same time. However, seeing it so early in the trip meant that none of the other cities’ cathedrals could compare, so bear that in mind when planning the order of your destinations!
We took a night train from Barcelona to Milan, which was great. I especially enjoyed my morning coffee in the train’s bar as I watched the Italian countryside fly past. I recommend incorporating a night train into your trip, but book a “couchette” (or a more lavish “sleeper”) for the best experience. It’s more private, more comfortable, and you’re not paying for a hostel that night, so why not?
Milan was one of the less interesting cities we visited, so probably shouldn’t be top of your list. However, we did go to the nearby Lake Como for a day, which was lovely. We took a ferry around the lake, stopping off at the surrounding towns and taking in the picturesque scenery.
Venice, as you’d expect, is beautiful. It’s like a massive open air museum and there’s a photo opportunity around every corner. We spent more days there than anywhere else, and I’m glad we did. It took us some time to figure out the maze of narrow streets and canals, but in the end, we found the best navigation tool was the map on a pizza box! It helped us find our way to the famous Piazza San Marco, from where we commissioned a gondola ride. It was probably overpriced, but you see parts of the city that you can’t see on foot and, hey, it’s Venice — it would be rude not to.
Whilst not an obvious Interrail destination, Verona is definitely worth a visit. Like Venice, it’s a beautiful and romantic place. We only went for a day, but saw the Casa di Giulietta, where lovers write their names on the walls and caress a statue’s breast for luck, and climbed to the top of a hill that offered panoramic views of the city. We also tried Verona’s speciality for lunch: horse! We had horse salads in a lovely restaurant called Osteria Sottoriva, and they were delicious — if you go to Verona, you should definitely try this place.
My favourite thing about Munich was, of course, the beer. We went to a couple of beer gardens, which was very relaxing and a good chance to catch our breath midway through the trip. We also discovered our first Sandemans tour in Munich. It was helpful to have some context and direction to our exploration of the city, and you should look out for these tours wherever you are in Europe. The guides are fun and knowledgeable, and you can choose what you wish to pay them at the end.
Prague was the furthest East we ventured and it was noticeable – the outskirts where we stayed were quite bleak, so I’d advise staying as central as possible. The must-do in Prague is crossing the Charles Bridge (lined with marvellous statues) into the castle district, the most beautiful part of the city. I wish we’d spent more time there during our visit!
Berlin was my favourite destination of the lot. It’s just… cool. There’s loads of independent bars/restaurants and even edgier clubs. However, there’s also lots to see in the day time and a particularly intriguing landmark is the holocaust memorial. It really is an eerie, serene experience to wander through the tall square pillars – you could walk around contemplating for ages. The creator never explained his thinking behind the monument so it’s up to you to come up with your own interpretation, which is a nice concept.
Hamburg is a city that has suffered over the years, with World War II bombings and the Great Fire damaging many of the buildings. However, the mingling of new, renovated, and old architecture amongst canals and bridges does make for an interesting spectacle. On the one hand you have the original Kontorhaus district, with the striking, ship-shaped Chilehaus, and on the other hand you have the modern harbour city with creatively-designed apartment blocks and the glass-covered opera house.
As young, naive teenagers, Amsterdam was exciting for all the taboos it normalised. We went to the red light district, which was worth experiencing but turned out to be quite depressing really! However, the city was beautiful, especially by night. To be honest, the aim was to finish the trip with a bang, but we were too exhausted to make the most of it, so keep that in mind when planning the number and order of destinations on your trip. I will probably reserve judgment on Amsterdam until my next trip!
Overall, the trip was an eclectic experience and gave me a flavour of the different parts of Europe, but I think we may have actually tried to cram too much in! If you’ve not done much travelling before, it’s a great initiation, just be sure to do your research beforehand and plan it all out to ensure you have the most fun, stress-free experience!