If you’re a first-time backpacker planning your Eurotrip, you’re probably knee-deep in review websites, Pinterest boards and flight comparisons. In this golden age of information, it’s easy to get completely overwhelmed with all the amazing sights, tips and must-do-activities. But the worst thing you could do is try to cram too many things into 1 holiday…then it’s just not a holiday at all!
Drawing on the Megsmesh team’s collective backpacking experience, we’ve whittled down our great big list to 4 stunning European cities that we absolutely loved on our travels. Rather than give you a list of ‘the best things’ to do and see, we’ll do you 1 better – these are the things we wished someone told us when we were first-time backpackers.
1. Travel smart with an Oyster card and the Citymapper app
Using an Oyster Card is the cheapest and fastest way to travel on London public transport (the cost of the card can also be refunded at the airport before you leave). Together with the Citymapper app, which shows the quickest or cheapest route in real-time, commuting around London is a breeze.
2. Get a drink at the Aqua Shard for a birds eye view of London
Rather than pay for entry to the Shard’s observation deck (£25/entry), enjoy the view with a cocktail in hand at the Aqua Shard bar (from £20/drink).
3. Devour delicious Sunday Roast
Pubs and Gastropubs in London serve Sunday Roast on…you guessed it… Sunday! It’s a quintessential (and delicious) British experience that should not be missed. Sunday Roast is taken very seriously here, and every few months, there will be a new list of ‘London’s Best Sunday Roasts’. A quick Google search will give you the latest and greatest Sunday Roasts to enjoy.
4. Buy cheap theater tickets on the day
It’s an open secret that many West End shows release discounted tickets on the day of the performance. You can get these from the theatre box office or the TKTS ticket booth in Leicester Square.
5. Get to Bayswater for some crispy aromatic duck
Similar to Peking duck but instead of the skin being carved off the duck, it’s deep-fried and shredded. YUM! Make a booking at Gold Mine (a personal favourite) or Four Seasons in Bayswater… or be prepared to wait over an hour for a table.
1. Eat ALL the tapas and sangria
Tapas is basically like Spanish dim sum – a variety of delicious dishes served in small portions. And like dim sum, it is DELICIOUS! Make sure you spend a lazy afternoon sitting outside in the sun, feasting on tapas and drinking sangria.
2. Learn about Gaudi
Gaudi was a famous architect who built the majority of Barcelona’s iconic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. Take a walking tour to learn about his life, his vision for Barcelona and his untimely death.
3. Siestas are real
Traditionally, a siesta was a mid-afternoon nap taken by workers in the fields to shelter from the heat. True to form, some shops, bars and restaurants close for a period of time during the day – between 2-5pm and 4-8pm respectively. Take a break then to re-energise and keep going late into the night!
4. Watch a live flamenco performance
The rhythmic beat of a flamenco performance will have you tapping your feet and snapping your fingers in no time. Check out Los Tarantos, the oldest flamenco club in Barcelona, for amazing (and affordable) flamenco performance.
5. Zara here is “Next Level”
A 5-story Zara store – that’s the dream, right? There are over a dozen Zara stores in Barcelona, but the 3 flagship stores are a sight to behold. Not only is the huge product range astounding, they have different styles to what we typically see at home AND it’s far cheaper in its native country.
1. The Vittoriano Museum Complex has amazing panoramic views
This is one of the best places to enjoy panoramic views of Rome. The museum itself is free to enter so feel free to wander around for a few hours before heading up to the rooftop to catch the glorious sunset. It costs €7 to take the Roma del Cielo elevator to the top of the monument.
2. Always pre-buy tickets to the Vatican
We learned this the hard way and stood in queue for a good 2 hours before even getting in sight of the ticket counter. More importantly, the official Vatican Museum also runs guided tours which include the entry ticket. Save time and book online!
3. Delicious food is everywhere
From pizza to pasta to giant doughnuts on the street, you can eat yourself silly in Rome. Just be aware of tourist traps, especially near iconic landmarks. Try Giolitti for some amazing gelato.
4. Good shoes are essential
There are so many incredible sights to cover and the easiest way is to walk everywhere. Wear your good walking shoes as the cobblestone streets are deadly. Sorry ladies, put down those stilettos.
5. Give Segway-ing a go
If your feet get tired after all that walking, there are heaps of Segway tours available. It’s a common enough occurrence that you can easily do it without getting some odd looks. Whizz around in comfort while learning about Rome’s interesting history.
6. Watch out for pick-pockets
Many locals will tell you that Roman pick-pockets are (sadly) world-class. The city itself has a population of 2.6 million so look after each other, be aware of your surroundings and regularly (and discreetly) check on your items.
1. Flemish people are really lovely
We loved Flemish hospitality! Everyone we met was friendly and helpful, from the waiter who helped us cut our pork knuckle to the workman who gave us some very animated directions in French. This is especially helpful if you’re a female traveling alone in a foreign-speaking country, and makes Brussels an ideal place to visit.
2. Snacking is the way to go
From frites and mussels to Belgian waffles and chocolate-coated strawberries, these delicious treats are an iconic part of experiencing Belgium. Don’t feel guilty about indulging… It would be rude not to!
3. Spend time outside the city
One great option is a day trip to Ghent (only 45 minutes by train) which is famous for gorgeous canalside architecture, quirky bars and some of Belgium’s most fascinating museums. Check out this cool little speakeasy called Jiggers which is perfect for sitting out in the courtyard and drinking yummy cocktails with your girlfriends.
4. Belgian beer is amazing
No Brussels trip is complete without a trip to Delirium – the bar with over 2000 Belgian beers! But don’t forget all the other speciality beers you can get in smaller local pubs. Try the peach beer on the tap at La Mort Subite… It is divine!
5. Locals know best
It’s worth not staying in a hotel in Brussels (because of that amazing Flemish hospitality). The nice thing about renting a room/flat is you get to meet some locals and they can let you in on their favourite cafe or where to get the best Belgian waffles.
And there you have it…the things we wished people told us when we were first-time backpackers! We hope this inspires you to explore this part of the world. GOOD LUCK!