Tuesday, 25 November 2014

5 European Hotspots for Budget Backpackers

Being a backpacker on a budget is always a challenge. Your very limited supply of clothes smell like a mixture of damp and whatever you ate last (which was probably some unidentifiable meat stuffed in a pitta bread); you haven't had a decent night sleep since you left home due to the fact that you've been sharing a room with 15 other people every night (4 of whom snore like a train) and all the fun touristy stuff is way out of your budget so you have to make to do with people watching or walking aimlessly (fun for a day or two, less fun after six weeks). After coming up against these problems more times that I care to think about in a whole array of supposed "backpacker hotspots" I decided to make my own list of where to go along with a few bits and bobs you can do without declaring bankruptcy before you've even got to the airport.

The view of Prague from the bell tower

General Advice:
- Use sites like hostelworld and hostelbookers to compare accommodation, take all the reviews with a pinch of salt. If it's cheap it's not going to be 5 star luxury, get over it.
- Make your own food. Restaurants are a nice luxury but they will seriously eat into your budget. If your hostel doesn't have a kitchen by some bread and cheese and make a sandwich.
- Avoid tourist traps like all inclusive tours. These sound amazing: transport, lunch, personal guide and entry; but can be done for half the price if you use your initiative and do it yourself.
- Find local hotspots. These are usually a little way away from the town centre or any sort of tourist attraction (like a river, castle, zoo etc). These will be a lot cheaper and will have authentic national food.
- Happy hours are your best friend and they are EVERYWHERE you just need to ask around a bit.

1. Budapest, Hungary

Hands down one of the best cities in the world. The food is so cheap you feel like you're stealing and there's a party every night on every street. Take a wander around Buda Castle (free), check out their incredible national museum (very cheap) and explore the covered food market (free - unless you buy something, obviously). I highly recommend eating you body weight in authentic Hungarian goulash while you're there and sampling Langos, the most delicious heart attack you'll ever have. For a cheap bed you won't actually end up sleeping in check out the Retox Party Hostel.

The River Danube at sunset in Budapest

2. Prague, Czech Republic

Beautiful and bursting with culture, need I say more? Well I will anyway. Pick up one of the maps with ready-made walking routes on them and get gone. These routes take you past every single site of note in the entire city and they are entirely free. For about a quid you can climb the tower in the town square and bear witness to some breath taking views. Or you can stand in the square and wait until the clocks strike the hour for a cute, if not slightly creepy, surprise. If you want to get blind drunk and party hard, Prague is the place to go. Cheap, mind-blowingly good beer and a plethora of affordable drunk food awaits you

3. Tallinn, Estonia

Less well-known as a back packing hotspot but in no way inferior, Tallinn is a tiny medieval gem at the heart of the Baltic region. Free walking tours go every day from the tourist information centre, behind the town hall and are well worth the energy expenditure. Elk soup and meat pies can be bought for €1 a-piece from Draakon, a tiny stylised eatery tucked away under then bell tower. Alternatively indulge in the biggest pancakes know to man at Kompressor for a measly €4, have one around noon and you'll be sorted for food for the rest of the day. From abandoned soviet prisons to quirky karaoke bars, Tallinn definitely has enough fun to keep even the most intrepid traveller happy.

Tallin's town hall

4. Gijòn, Spain

Overlooked in favour of its pricier southern counterparts, Gijon offers backpackers the chance to see the best of the west without breaking the bank. Try some of the local beverages such as calimocho - a staple for the youths in the neighbouring Basque country, and Asturian cider, a non-carbonated, natural, fresh cider - it's somewhat of an acquired taste but well worth trying! Get pints of vodka coke poured with a 1:1 ratio for under a fiver and stuff yourself silly on all the free tapas that comes with the drinks! Spend the daytime lying on the beach (for free), soaking up the rays and praying your hangover goes before you hit the bars again that night.

5. Split, Croatia

Croatia is essentially the cheaper version of Greece and Italy. Gorgeous beaches, perfect weather and tons of cheap fresh seafood. The entire town centre of Split is formed of tiny marble streets lined with boutiques which run through and around the Diocletian Palace. The Palace dates back to the 4th Century and can be explored mostly for free (there are charges to visit the cellar and the tower). Once you're all palace-ed out go for a stroll along the coast line or hop on a boat and visit one of the neighbouring islands like Hvar or Vis. If you like corn on the cob and cold cuts you can eat for virtually nothing by shopping at the local supermarkets.

View from a restaurant balcony in Split

Hopefully this list is some help for those looking for some alternatives to Amsterdam, Paris and Venice. Europe is beautiful but you don't need to double your student debt to find that out!