The lowdown: Once the playground of Romans and feudal lords alike, modern Europe is now flocked by visitors pursuing the delights it has to offer. The diversity of cultures, languages, history, cuisine and so on are reasons us Brits should roam our continental neighbours.
Culture: To say the least, it varies. From the Nordics to the Romanic Mediterranean coasts, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Eastern Slavic nations, Europe’s appeal lies with its cultural diversity.
Costs: Relatively expensive, considering the current exchange rate. Rule of thumb: prices decrease the further east you go – though this doesn’t apply in Russia – and the farther out of cities you get.
Cuisine: Same as culture. Especially judging by its geographic disparity, what the land and sea yield tend to be unique from region to region. Brave up and sample unheard-of delicacies. Savour stereotyped dishes – you’ll be surprised how gorgeous they taste when done the correct way.
Viva La Espana It’s official: Spain is cool. Forget about Costa del Sol and Ibiza, lazing on beaches and gallons of sangria – a football world cup win later it seems like the world’s fascination for España has been revived. Flocks of culture-pilgrims now visit Spain in order to immerse themselves in its rich history, art, architecture and gastronomy; and although Spain’s regional diversity often threatens its national integrity, it may be interpreted as cultural variety for her visitors’ enjoyment.
It’s official: Spain is cool
Accommodation: Choices are aplenty. Hostelling is an ideal budget option – often housed in magnificent historical buildings adjourned with Moorish and Hispanic influences – though increasingly rare the further away one goes from cities. A ‘hostal’ is in between a hotel and hostel - inexpensive guest houses often making a comfy lodging.
Food: The French should be embarrassed when their prized Michelin Stars were snatched en masse by Spanish chefs – indeed, Ferran Adrià’s ‘El Bulli’ is considered as the best restaurant in the entire world. The tapas culture reigns supreme in Spain and sets to wow your palate with economical platters of sheer delight. Booze-wise, the Spanish know their quality control – be impressed by their artisan approach to wine, beer, sherry and cider.
Activities: Hit the beaches by all means, but resist not the viscous allure of the Spanish culture. Architecture and historical sites aside, bull-fights and football games spell out the Spaniards’ love for a spectacle. Participate in crazy fiestas such as La Tomatina.
Polski Gabolski The shadow of WWII and Soviet rule has barely lifted, yet Poland’s reputation as a budget traveller’s destination has flourished. Cheap, tourism-friendly, must-do’s aplenty – the Central European country ticks every box. Its history meant traces of turbulence was carved onto every structure, which meant no shortages of attractions for those hoping to engross in the authentic European culture.
Accommodation: Hostelling is fast becoming the trend and so abundances of hostels will be found in the likes of Warsaw and Krakow. Many large-scaled hostels accommodate young families and so curfews may be imposed. Further away from the major cities, rely on guest houses for your kipping needs.
Food: Polish cuisine varies drastically from place to place, often a distinction between wealth and poverty. Owing to the hardship suffered in the past half-century, the people have mastered transforming simple, common ingredients such as root vegetables and cabbage into lavish tongue-teasers. Pierogi is the uncontested national dish.
Activities: The wow-factor exists in more places than you may bargain for. The Jagiellionian University in Krakow, one of the oldest in the world, co-exists with an amber royal palace and a fire-breathing dragon statue. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, 300km in length, is an underground wonder that boasts grandiose rock salt caverns and statues. Though not for the faint-hearted, every Holocaust pilgrim must visit Auschwitz and be overwhelmed by the sheer poignancy of the former Jewish death camp.
The mighty potty Dam
Talk Holland and be directed to Amsterdam – this metropolitan hub is on everyone’s to-do list for a good reason. The liberal Dutch will challenge your attitudes and show you that there’s more to the city than mere coffee shops.
Accommodation: Any of the hostels on the streets surrounding Dam Square are perfectly located for public transport, evening entertainment and coffee shops. The city’s resident St. Christopher’s Inn is highly recommended as a great place to meet people.
Food: Steer clear of pricey food aimed at those with the munchies. There are plenty of great traditional pubs around: check out ‘bitterballen’ fried meatballs with a ‘witbeer’, because there’s far more to Amsterdam than McDonalds and Heineken.
Transport: Grab a map and explore the city by bicycle, but take particular care to avoid cycling into tram tracks! Day and weekly passes can be purchased for the trams if you’re venturing out further. The city centre is very small so as long as the weather’s bearable, your stoned legs should be able to handle it.
Activities: Ask at your hostel about the free walking tours of the city and pick up some interesting facts, check out the abundance of great street art, and unwind on a boat ride through the canals. Take the time to visit the Anne Frank House and the various impressive religious buildings. Waste your days in coffeeshops, giggle your way through the sex museum and wind up in the red light district in search of love.
If your previous memory of Germany sprang from your last school language exchange, and distaste is all you have in store for all things German, then you’re dearly mistaken. This European country fulfils every need of the apprentice backpacker – rich culture and heritage similar to ours, friendly English-speaking natives, staggering architecture. And did I mention that beer remains cheaper than water?
Accommodation: As a beginner-level budget travellers’ destination, seeking good quality hostels and low-cost guest houses presents no difficulty. Though shared accommodation does combine with abundances of alcohol to produce a bastard son: late-night drunken rowdiness.
Food: The standard affairs of international fast food chains are adherently cemented to the German society. That doesn’t mean, however, food characteristically German is entirely absent. The German sausage may have succumbed to stereotyping, yet it is a hearty dish that varies from region to region in flavour. Meat is heavily featured in menus – try the schweinshaxe, or the best roasted-to-perfection crispy pork knuckle ever created.
Activities: Despite the substantial rub that is Germany’s high living costs, there are no shortages of sites and activities to keep tourists sufficiently entertained. Every major city has their star attractions: Berlin has its wall and party vibe, Cologne its carnival, Munich its Oktoberfest. For the outdoor-types hiking in scenic Bavaria, sandboarding on Monte Kaolino and heli-bungee might tickle your fancy.