By Alex Cupples
Sure, a week on the Zante strip may promise cheap alcohol and you can sleep in the same bed each night – well… maybe – but interrailing offers so much diversity and a more fulfilling experience. An interrail pass covers you for almost all train travel within Europe for a certain time period. For three weeks away, the ideal pass covers 10 days’ travel within 22, which costs £224 and can be ordered online. This pass gives you enough time and travel days to comfortably do six or seven cities, spending around three days in each.
Although the pass offers freedom to travel wherever the wind takes you, it’s worth having a rough plan of the trains you want to get, particularly if you are planning to take unusual journeys or need to be somewhere in time to get a flight home. Missing your flight would not be the ideal end to your interrailing trip and whilst some cities are connected by high speed trains, others, such as Budapest and Dubrovnik, take a couple of days to travel between. An excellent website with up to date information on all European trains is, no surprises here, the German train website, Deutsche Bahn.
There are a few exceptions to the interrail pass and these include trains within Britain. As you can’t use the pass on trains in your home country, it’s often easier and far cheaper to fly to a starting point. Easyjet offer really cheap flights to Europe. Last year a flight from Manchester to Amsterdam cost just £26, making it a much easier option than using British trains and ferries. If you live close enough to make it worthwhile, you can get a discount on the Eurostar but it’s not included in the pass.
Overnight trains in Europe are another exception to the pass and require you to make a reservation. However, these are reasonably cheap and are worth getting to avoid wasting valuable travelling time. Reserving beds on overnight trains can be done online before you leave or at any of the main European city train stations. However, they do get booked up and if you are travelling with others you may be split into different carriages, possibly sharing a confined space with a Polish woman who speaks no more English than you speak Polish, yet remains determined to try and make conversation with you all night.
Once you’ve got your pass, even if you aren’t planning everything in advance, it’s a good idea to think about where you want to go. The further east you go, the cheaper the accommodation, food, and attractions become. Eastern Europe has an incredible history and a number of memorials and museums to visit. The House of Terror in Budapest is a must see for anyone even mildly interested in communist or Nazi history. Another notable site is Auchwitz, which can easily be done from Krakow where most hostels offer a reasonably priced package which includes transport and a tour. European museums are mostly cheap or free, though some do charge excessively, like Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam which, after you have queued for up to an hour and paid almost £10, is not much more than the empty shell of a house. Berlin is an obvious choice for anyone interested in recent European history. With many free memorials or historical sites to visit, it is also incredibly lively and relatively cheap.
Europe has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife. Berlin is famous for its clubbing scene which doesn’t get started until around 1-2am and keeps going until midday even on weekdays. Some places, such as Berghain, are open all weekend. However, you do risk waiting hours outside to be rejected by Sven, their notoriously picky bouncer. Tresor, a techno club inside a former power-plant in the old east, is busy until 7am even on weekdays. Although I’m sure techno fans would disapprove, the atmosphere of this club makes it an enjoyable night out, even if you are not a fan of techno. Karlovy Lazne in Prague prides itself on being the largest nightclub in Europe with 5 floors including an ice-bar, however, it’s extremely touristy and aside from the ice bar which just about justifies the visit, it doesn’t have much to offer. European bars ooze character. One such is Szimpla bar in Budapest which is frequented by a good mix of tourists and locals, and is home to a number of interesting objects including a table made from an old Trabant.
The best thing about interrailing is how versatile it is. A pass gives you the ability to pick and choose what to see and do within a whole continent. The people you meet in hostels and bars come from all over the world and it’s the easiest and cheapest way to explore so many interesting countries. Interrailing is simply an experience which cannot be rivalled by a one-stop holiday on a Greek island full of English tourists.
Photograph: Alex Cupples