Railway lines are Europe’s travel arteries, zigzagging across the continent as they connect everything iconic and uncovered.
Europe is diverse. It’s not just about smoking joints in Amsterdam and visiting so many cathedrals you want to throw up. The continent revels in its ability to surprise, each nation defined by difference and each experience fueled by an alternative paradigm. A Eurorail trip isn’t merely about ticking off the famous capitals. It’s a journey into the people and festivities of a continent. Here are Random Vacay’s top 15 experiences for your Eurorail bucketlist.
Iconic and Unmissable
Spain’s Traditional Festivals
With the Mediterranean sun casting an exuberant glow, Spain becomes the place of festivities during the summer. 120 tones of tomatoes get thrown around in Bunol, scene of La Tomatina, or the world’s biggest food fight to give it Jefferson Taylor’s title. For a whole week, crazed bulls chase people through the streets of Pamplona in the Running of the Bulls, often resulting in the odd tourist getting mauled to death. These two are just the most famous. With the sangria flowing, you’ll find a traditional festival in almost every town and village.
Clubbing in Berlin
You didn’t just come to Europe to tick off cathedrals. And you certainly don’t just come to Germany to eat sausages and make Hitler jokes on crowded trains. Berlin is the electronic music mecca of the world, the debauched city running on a paradigm of subculture and seriously pumping speakers. There are dozens of clubs to check out, many of them opening on Friday and not closing until Monday. However, it can be a little much for a fresh-eyed young tourist. So try blending into the local atmosphere by wearing black, getting drunk for free, and then forgetting what day it is.
Florence, Rome, Venice, Verona…Italy reels off the historic destinations like they’re options on an endless pizza menu. While other countries lay claim to ancient architecture, Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere in the world; even its unknown destinations seem perfectly preserved from the 12th century. Once you’re here, you’ll want the best pizza, so stick to the restaurants that don’t have English translations. Check out Rome in Random Vacay’s 11 places to see before you die.
Posing for Photos in the Famous Capitals
It’s hard to hit Europe and not check out Paris or London. First the downside; they’re hideously expensive, touristy, and clogged with traffic fumes. It’s best to get in and get out before your credit card company makes threatening phone calls. But nowhere else can offer such an array of iconic photos; the Eiffel Tower, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Louvre, etc etc…charge the camera battery because every underground stop brings a famous backdrop.
Sleeping Outside a Train Station
Europe isn’t cheap and the biggest expense is accommodation. So expect to see bodies slumbering outside most major train stations, those waiting for an early morning departure locking themselves to their backpacks and saving a cool €20. You’re pretty much guaranteed to do it as well. And these train station rendezvouses are where you meet the best characters. Bring a cheap bottle of booze and you’ll quickly fit in.
Uncovered and Off the Beaten Track
Vibrant Communist Remains in Albania
Spluttering out of communism yet home to endearingly welcoming smiles, Albania offers the dynamic blend of off the beaten track adventure with just enough tourist visitors for you to get by. Tirana is half communist relic, half forward thinking capital, some of the remote beach destinations have only just received electricity, and most journeys are interrupted by sheep crossing the road. Don’t try and learn the language. Just nod your head and drink the homemade schnapps. Albania isn’t on a Eurorail route so the best option are the budget flights from major European capitals.
Chilling in Copenhagen
Denmark’s capital is where the Little Mermaid was fabricated and it gives a clue to the city’s charm. Multicolored harbor houses set the scene, vodka is ubiquitous, and it’s easy to float on an ambiance of serenity and intrigue. An easy addition to the Amsterdam – Berlin rail route, Copenhagen’s summer enchantment gives it the air of a fairytale, as shown when if featured on Random Vacay’s seven new destinations for your bucketlist.
The Pilgrim’s Walk
One of the world’s most impressive pilgrimages, tens of thousands walk from their home to Santiago de Compostela. The most popular routes weave through the Pyrenees mountains, connecting tiny Spanish villages with more churches than houses. With hardly a road in sight, it’s one of the finest immersions in old Europe. Better still, the hostel accommodation for pilgrims costs just €5 a night and some of the churches have vending machines selling cans of beer.
Rumbling Train Journeys Across Eastern Europe
The Eurorail network’s extension east has been matched by a mass upgrade of Eastern European trains. Facilities in the supposedly poorer east are now grander and more luxurious than the decaying efforts in the west. Head to East Europe and the 24 hour plus train journeys provide an evocative look at a whole region, most railway lines cutting through vast swathes of countryside punctuated by babushkas selling potatoes and the industrial remains of Stalin’s policies. In particular, try Budapest (Hungary) to Kiev (Ukraine) or Prague (Czech Republic) to Warsaw (Poland).
Checking Out Ireland
For a country so renowned for drinking and fun, Ireland is surprisingly under-visited. Green pastures roll past the horizon, pints of Guinness are served for breakfast, and the mischievous atmosphere is contagious. Cheap flights land in Dublin and it’s perfect as a break from the trains. Don’t plan anything. Just join the locals in the country pub, dance to the traditional music, and spend a few days attempting to decipher the accent.
Weird and Wonderful
Getting Lost in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is on almost every Eurorail itinerary, the Dutch capital a rail crossroads for journeys across Europe. Prostitutes hang out in the red tinted windows of canal centered streets, coffee shops provide first tastes of legal marijuana, and there’s an elegance that mingles with the decadence. You’ll get lost. And that’s the whole point of Amsterdam. This isn’t a city for constantly consulting the map, it’s a city for wandering around and saying yes whenever the whiff of mischief comes along.
Lying Down in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is one of the world’s finest buildings. Which sounds like a bold statement, but only if you haven’t stood beneath the towering minarets as the call to prayer floats across the city. Non Muslim visitors are free to visit (and it is free), with the lavish interiors as elegant as the exteriors. Try come early in the morning when it’s quiet and the day tripping tourists haven’t arrived. Feel the ground beneath your feet then lie down on the thickest most luxuriant carpet you could ever possibly encounter.
Mid-Summer Nights in St Petersburg
Arriving in St Petersburg in mid-June and you’ll never see darkness. Which is great given the elegant old architecture and general atmosphere of outdoor mischief. Russia can be a downtrodden overbearing destination, but St Petersburg proves there’s beauty to be found and locals to meet. You may ask how do you sleep. To quote the locals, you sleep when you’re tired and then you wake up for another 100ml shot of vodka.
Playing Chess in a Hungarian Bath
Budapest’s grand spas are a mix of old-world charm and old men playing naked chess. Elegant exteriors scream of grandeur and the city’s opulent yesteryear, but covering the naturally heated water are grandpas with balls that hang past their knees. They sit and sweat, playing out long chess games and delighting in a challenge from a foreigner. Be careful though, at opportune moments these men may shift position, causing the balls to inconceivably swing and put you off your move.
Missing the Train
Nobody plans to miss the train. But on a three week eurorail trip it’s going to happen at least once. And if it doesn’t then you’re taking things a little too seriously. Miss a train and the first thought is panic. Then frustration. Then eyes dart and you’re seeking out the bar. Missing trains inevitably means getting drunk. And getting drunk in bars around the train station means meeting the weirdest and most wonderful characters. This is where you find the misfits, the drunkards, and the dudes with stories you can’t see in tourist brochures. If it seems a little sketchy it’s because it is. Just down a couple of shots and missing the train quickly turns into the most memorable night of your trip.