Interrail Planner / September 14, 2017

Interrail Planner co-founders went interrailing!

The co-founders of Interrail Planner went interrailing this summer, stopping off in Naples, Florence, Ancona (slightly accidentally), Split, Zagreb, Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava. Here's what they got up to, along with their recommendations for each place they visited



We went interrailing this July and August, taking in Italy and parts of Eastern Europe. Lots of beer was consumed, lots of pizza was eaten (#Napoli) and many miles were walked. We're here to tell you about our highlights, which could perhaps help you with planning your next interrail trip.



Naples

Flying into Naples, it's difficult to know what to expect. It has a reputation and many people simply pass through the airport on their way to the Amalfi Coast. But we found this city to be utterly charming, a place that feels lived in but all the better for that. It's dirty, rugged and a city full of mopeds but its buildings are beautiful, its people are friendly and its culture is inspiring. It's also much more affordable than the more notable Italian cities with a margherita pizza generally setting you back around €5 or €6.


There are plenty of landmarks (try the underground city if you want an attraction slightly off the beaten track) to keep you busy, like Galleria Umberto and Teatro San Carlo in the historic centre, and it's right on the coast. Look out for our Interrail Planner stickers if you visit!


Quartieri Spagnoli (the Spanish Quarter) really showcases true Neapolitan life and it's a great place to hang out in the evenings - see where we drank below. We also walked up the hill towards Castel Sant'Elmo and were rewarded with stunning views over the city and Vesuvius.





Naples is also a great base for day trips. We visited Pompeii, which was fantastic and well worth spending a whole day there - you can travel there by train or bus. The Amalfi Coast is also within easy reach, but we didn't have enough time to go there... maybe next year!




Where we ate

There's a law in Naples dictating how pizza needs to be made, so the consistency of pizza across the city is very high, which means we don't have a specific restaurant recommendation. That being said, the most famous place to get a slice of margherita (don't order anything else!) is Pizzeria da Michele, but expect to the queue!


Where we drank

Cammarota Spritz – it's in the Spanish Quarter and is a place buzzing with students, spilling over the streets. And it's easy to see why... they serve €1 Aperol Spritz here.


Mosto – a small bar serving local craft beer. Knowledgable and friendly barman who will let you choose what's next on Spotify if you're nice!


Where we stayed

Hostel of the Sun – it's difficult to fault this hostel. There aren't too many options for hostels in Naples but we have no doubt this is the best choice. From check in the reception staff were great and gave us so many recommendations. The location was excellent, right next to Castel Nuovo and on the edge of the Spanish Quarter. And there's free breakfast!



Florence

Florence is a wonderful city with beautiful buildings and landmarks everywhere you look: the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo, Uffizi... the list goes on. But in summer it gets incredibly busy so you may want to spend one day seeing everything and then do a couple of day trips.




Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa are all within an hour's reach. We went to Pisa to see the tower and visit the cathedral and cemetery (which were surprisingly quiet) but spent just half a day there before moving on to the coast and Livorno...


Where we ate

All'antico Vinaio – the best sandwiches. This place is so popular with locals and tourists that the owner built an identical shop opposite. There are long queues for both places but the sandwiches are incredible and well worth the likely 15-minute wait. Honestly, these were the best sandwiches we've ever had, and they're enormous.



Where we drank

Birreria Nazionale – this place happened to be just over the road from our hostel, but what a great road it was. Serves great craft beer and is a solid lunch option for more tasty sandwiches. If you're looking for some good beer and are fed up of bottled Italian lager, this is the place to go.


Where we stayed

Locanda Daniel – we stayed here the first night in a 3-bed dorm, no bunk beds in sight! The location was great and was good value, given how expensive some places can be in Florence.


Plus Florence – this is the hostel to stay at in Florence and it's massive. There's a rooftop bar with views of the Duomo, a poolside bar (yes, there's a swimming pool) and restaurant/club. The rooms were very spacious with good bunk beds and the staff were helpful and friendly, which isn't always the case in large hostels.



Livorno

We moved on to Livorno after deciding we'd seen everything in Pisa in the space of a few hours with a couple of Austrians we had met along the way. It turned out to be a great decision, as it is a beautiful coastal city and we timed our visit impeccably, with the start of a beer festival...




We may not have been there that long but we have a couple of recommendations.


Where we ate

La Pina D'oro – a fantastic locals restaurant serving up simple but delicious Italian food, think gnocchi, gamberoni and mussels.


Where we drank

Bad Elf Pub – the guys from this place were at the beer festival, serving up good beer from around the world.



Ancona

We only intended on spending a day in Ancona but through misinformation and confusion we weren't allowed to board the overnight ferry with Snav to Split, forcing us to spend a night here. It's not a big place and functions primarily as a port city, so we discovered most of it! It's an old Italian city, so the sights are still worthy but it's a place you can only really spend a day in.




Where we ate

Pesciolino Food – situated in the historic part of the city, this is a street food fish restaurant. Serves up a variety of fish snacks, including calamari, tuna and swordfish with seating outside and very friendly staff.


Where we drank
Officina 68 – we had plenty of time to kill and this place served us well. A good selection of beers on tap and a variety of quirky cocktails.


Where we stayed

Albergo Gino – it's fair to say we didn't have a huge amount of choice booking into accommodation at 11pm on the night of the local university's graduation but this hotel was just the ticket for the two of us, plus a fellow traveller who'd happened upon the same error as us.



Split

The ultimate chill out city for interrailing. Most people start or finish here but we decided to use the ferry from Italy and sandwich it in the middle of our trip. There's a beautiful old town and rocky beaches dotted along the coastline. When you're there, you need to make sure you get out onto the water and see the amazing scenery surrounding Split itself.




We took the Summer Blues full day catamaran excursion (free beer/wine all day!) which was the perfect antidote to a sleepless night on the ferry. You are taken out to swim in various bays in and around the islands of Brac and Bol, as well as visiting Hvar. We also took a speedboat tour to the Blue Lagoon, which offers unbelievable snorkelling opportunities.




We took in lots of bars as we watched the world pass by and we give our top choices below, but one thing we found really cool was black ice cream. It's served in most places on the promenade and it can prove to be an hilarious battle between ice cream and white teeth.




Where we ate

Corto Maltese – one of the best meals we had on the trip. It's a fairly pricey place so choose this one if you're treating yourself. It's a menu with a twist, serving up a delight of local seafood dishes. The waiters were also very friendly, which is not something that's always guaranteed in Croatian tourist towns.


Where we drank

F Marine – just along from the main drag and right next to the big yachts, you'll find comfy seats and a chilled out lounge vibe with staff to match. This is part of Split's F Group and you'll find that any of their places are good places to hang out.


Leopold's Delicatessen Bar – put down that Karlovačko and head to Leopold's Delicatessen Bar, where you'll find a delightful range of tasty craft beer on tap.


Academia Club Ghetto – tucked away in the Old Town, this place can be difficult to find. Once you do, you'll step into the walled beer garden before exploring smaller rooms designed to feel like your own living room. Expect bohemian vibes and good music.



Where we stayed

Beach Hostel – a hostel to match the city's atmosphere, laid back and chilled out. Ladybird runs the hostel and is so friendly and accommodating. The location is okay, but it's a bit of a walk out from where everything is happening as it's in a residential area. But, it's close to the main beach which can be convenient after a night out, as that's where a lot of the big clubs are.



Zagreb

We hopped on the night train from Split to Zagreb, arriving in the Croatian capital at around 6am. It wasn't the wisest idea as we couldn't check in until 2pm, so we had time to kill while zombified. But this allowed us to check out the early morning breakfast and coffee options around town and we saw the city wake up, which is always cool to see.


It's cheaper than the coastal cities, by which we were pleasantly surprised. Again, the old part of the city is the place to see, with windy streets and narrow alleyways leading up the hill towards St. Mark's Church. There are also lots of green spaces dotted throughout the city, with the art galleries acting as focal points for grand parks. It's a city designed for al fresco drinking, dining and relaxing.




There's a few quirky museums worth exploring, too. The Museum of Broken Relationships is probably the best one, followed by the Museum of Illusions. If it's a particularly hot day, like all our time here (we're talking 37°C+) then head out to one of the city's lakes. We went to Lake Bundek, which turned out to be a pretty muddy swim due to how shallow it is. There's also the much larger Lake Jarun, and of course nearby are the famous Plitvice Lakes (which you cannot swim in).


Public transport is cheap here but Uber is astonishingly cheap, with a 10-minute journey typically setting you back the equivalent of £3.


Where we ate

Submarine – an excellent burger joint. On-street dining with a great burger menu and delicious fries, alongside a range of craft beers on tap.


Where we drank

Alcatraz – there are actually two bars called Alcatraz in Zagreb and we went to them both. One of them is more of a club where you will probably start at anyway if you do a bar crawl, but the other one is a real local's hangout. It's always busy and spills out onto the street and the party continues well into the night, closing at 4am most days.


Where we stayed

The Whole World Wide Hostel – possibly the best hostel on the trip. It's the Cracker's (the owner) second hostel in Zagreb and it has been designed to be as social as possible. Cracker is a mad Aussie but knows how to make sure everyone has a great time, running events every single night during the summer. Expect drinking games, the greatest f*cking game show ever and bar crawls. The rooms are very spacious and the facilities are excellent.




Budapest

It's the third most popular city for interrailers and it's easy to see why. Budapest is an incredible city, boasting beautiful and eclectic architecture and buzzing nightlife. There's a lot to do and see, even on your third visit!




The best area to base yourself in is the Jewish Quarter, which is home to the infamous ruin bars and loads of cool bars and restaurants, as well as the largest (and arguably most impressive) synagogue in Europe!




The main sites to see are walkable. Check out St. Stephen's Basilica, the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament (which was partly inspired by the Houses of Parliament!), the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Great Market Hall. Across the other side of the river is Buda, which is hilly so you can get a great vista across Pest by climbing up to the Citadella on Gellért Hill.


And, of course, it wouldn't be Budapest without mentioning the thermal baths. There are a lot to choose from but the top 3 are generally considered to be Gellért, Rudas, and Széchenyi. We went to Gellért Baths during the day, making use of the wave pool and all of the thermal baths. We also went to Széchenyi Baths for the thermal bath rave, which is on every Saturday night - it's an expensive night out but there's no experience anywhere like it.




And a little word of advice to avoid being ripped off in taxis... download the Taxify app. It's just like Uber so will ensure you're charged a fair price.



Where we ate

Soul Food – a cool place in the Jewish Quarter, serving up big portions of New Orleans style food.


Pesti Sorcsarnok – we ducked in here to take shelter from a massive thunderstorm but it was an excellent find. It is a traditional Hungarian pub and bistro where you can order goulash and other local delicacies. If you want a traditional meal, head here.


Where we drank

Szimpla Kert – you won't find many quirkier bars than this in the world. It's a ruin pub (quite literally) and probably the most famous one. Sprawled across two floors, you'll stumble across all sorts of rooms with graffitied walls decorated with bicycles, lamps, street signs, disco balls and more. It's place full of character. Just have a drink here, discover all the rooms and soak up the atmosphere! On Sundays, there's usually a Farmers' Market, which is worth checking out.


Instant – another of the famous ruin pubs. But, this one is very big. It's got 26 rooms, comprising of 6 dancefloors and 7 bars. It's free entry and there's music styles for everyone, opening until 6am. There're a lot of quieter areas too with table football tables and sofas to relax on. Head outside to the 'enchanted forest' to drink the local draught Dreher and dance surrounded by sculptures of rabbits and owls.


Where we stayed

Hive Party Hostel – this was our least favourite hostel on the whole trip. Having stayed at party hostels in Budapest before (Grandio), we were expecting the hostel to be a lot more sociable. The 'party' aspect stems from the independent bar below, which plays live music until 6am every night. The staff were rude and unhelpful, perhaps due to lack of sleep. However, if you're prepared to stay out that late every night then this hostel is a decent choice: it's got blackout blinds, good beds, air conditioning, it's cheap and there's a later-than-usual checkout.



Vienna

We were blown away by the beauty of Vienna. Culturally and musically, it's one of the richest cities in the world. It's also an architecture-lover's paradise, with a mixture of styles ranging from elaborate Baroque monuments to the cutting-edge modern day constructions, through to the beautiful pastel-coloured façades of all the residential buildings. There are seemingly endless sights and buildings to see as you stroll through the Austrian capital. Head towards the Museum Quarter and you'll stumble across many of the famous sights, including the two near-identical buildings on Maria-Theresien-Platz. Schönbrunn Palace is tube ride away from the centre and it's well worth seeing, from the outside at least.




For a less cultural itinerary, head off the beaten path to Neubau. It's an up-and-coming district popular with students, where you'll find lots of independent boutiques, art studios and cool bars, with new cafés and bars popping up all the time. The vibe here is comparible to Berlin.


We were staying in the Naschmarkt area so we explored the various market stalls on offer there. It's a food market and a great option for cheap street food and local cuisine. Nearby is Karlsplatz, which is a great area to grab a beer and drink it in front of the beautiful Karlskirche.


Where we ate

Yamm – we didn't actually eat here but we had a coffee here and saw the vegetarian buffet. You grab a box and fill it up, then pay by weight. Cool concept and good vibes.


Where we drank

Craftmühle – we discovered this place as it was near to our hostel and looked like a perfect place to quench our thirst. They serve craft beer on tap "by friends for friends", through partnerships with local breweries and ones further afield. Friendly staff with table service.


Travel Shack – an excellent place to meet fellow travellers, as it's designed just for that purpose. The first bar we've ever come across that provides a cashback service, mainly due to the inherent lack of cash machines in Vienna!


Where we stayed

Wombats Naschmarkt – there are two Wombats hostels in Vienna and we opted to stay in Naschmarkt, their first ever hostel! It's a very well organised hostel with a 24-hour reception, free welcome drink and all the amenities you can think of. There's a kitchen and plenty of supermarkets nearby to make yourself a cheap meal, as Vienna is an expensive place.



Bratislava

Our final destination. Just one hour away from Vienna, they are the two closest capital cities in the world. The Slovakian capital gets a bad rap for no real reason. Sure, they may not be as many famous sights as other cities but the Old Town, with its cobbled streets and Baroque architecture, is charming and whisks you back a few centuries.




The main attraction is the castle, which is a good walk up a hill and offers brilliant views across the contrasting landscape on both sides of the Danube. On one side you have the Old Town mixed in with the new city, while on the other side - where it's actually been built on - you will see Communist-era concrete tower blocks. Dissecting the river is the UFO bridge, due to it's flying saucer viewing tower.





It's a very green city and there are plenty of parks to relax in on a hot summer's day. Equally, it's very vibrant and there's a buzz about the place at night with outdoor dining and many bars dotted throughout the mazey Old Town. It's fair to say that if you like beer, you'll enjoy Bratislava.


Where we ate

Re:fresh – this place was affiliated with our hostel so we got 10% off but the food was fantastic. A wide-ranging menu with a mix of local and more typical options, suitable for vegetarians and vegans.


Where we drank

Stupavar Beer Pub – recommended by the hostel staff, this place is an Old Town gem. The bar staff were incredibly friendly, giving us beer recommendations. Serves up a good variety of craft beer, most of which is brewed under their own brand.


Le Šenk – we went here after walking down from the castle. Absolutely ideal, with 7 beers and one cider on tap.


Žil Verne – bang in the middle of the Old Town with beer bottles decorating its window. It's a small bar but serves great craft beer from local microbreweries in all the different styles and the 6 taps are continuously rotating, with the blackboard keeping you updated on what's available.


Where we stayed

Hostel Possonium – a very good hostel. The garden chill out area is great and the bar downstairs is one of the best in Bratislava, with cheap beer a table football table and a friendly barman who lets you control the music. Very sociable and friendly staff, but the bathrooms are essentially wet rooms due to the shower, so make sure you're first!



So, there we have it. Our 2017 interrail adventure was very memorable and we've tried our hardest to give anyone who took their time to read this the best recommendations for each city. Hopefully, you'll be able to make use of a few of these recommendations or even help you shape your interrailing route!