After visiting so many countries and cities in Europe, I decided to narrow it down and give you my top 5 personal recommendations of cities to visit. This list was based on meeting a few criteria such as: an amazing and friendly culture, stunning architecture, delicious food, popular night life and an overall affordable place for backpackers like myself. These places may be a little less conventional compared to some of the more popular European cities you see posted online, as I found these cities to be more underrated.
Probably one of the only few cities I visited during the late summer/early autumn season where there were significantly less tourists and more locals roaming the major streets and sites. Gradually gaining popularity in Eastern Europe, visit Budapest soon before queues for a major attraction turn into an hour wait. It is popular for its divided two ‘cities’ Buda and Pest that is separated by a river. Their thermal waters created the famous thermal bathhouses with apparent ability to rejuvenate your health during the day, and turns into a pool party at night on weekends. There are bars that were built in the old Jewish quarter in previously abandoned buildings and outdoor lots giving its title; Ruins Bars. These bars are famous in Budapest because each one has its own unique personality, from hip, funky designs to old vehicles being converted to tables and chairs inside. Finally, you can indulge in a traditional Hungarian 3-course meal for only €10. Pleasantly surprised by the amount of activities available, a very budget-friendly location and a difficult language to grasp basic words (though many locals can speak English), you will not be bored.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Five small fishing villages lined up along the Italian Riviera, is where its Latin name derives from. These quaint but beautiful towns creates a peaceful getaway from the busy city life. There’s not an awful lot here as each village is fairly small and are all similar to each other in terms of accommodation, restaurants and shops, however it’s a great place to spend a few days hiking and admire the scenic views and traditional Italian buildings. There is a hiking trail that spans along all five villages and for those feeling ambitious, it takes about 8 hours to hike the entire trail. Each section has its own difficulty level, with Monterosso to Vernazza (the fifth and fourth villages) being the most difficult. Cinque Terre is less of a backpacking destination and more of a family/group setting that frequents this spot. Most restaurants and bars close early on weekdays, so be sure to stock up on additional food if you get hungry at night.
Interlaken is a smaller town compared to other cities in Switzerland, though there is no shortage of nature and adrenaline seeking adventures available. During the Winter season, skiing, snowboarding, sledding and heli ski/snowboard are available at the Alps. During Summer a list of options are available such as: paragliding, canyoning, sky diving, bungee jumping, water rafting, zipling and ice climbing. With a short train ride, you can also go hiking to places like Trummbelbach Falls to see some glacier waterfalls or take a gondola ride to the peak at one of the nearby Alps. At night, there are not a lot of options available except for a couple bars; the hostel I stayed at called Balmers Herberge has a downstairs bar/club available, creating a fun hostel environment. It was a peaceful city to stop by for a few days, though I did not stay too long as Switzerland can quickly put a dent in your wallet.
Crete is the largest island in Greece. I spent 6 days here and was only able to explore a small portion of Western Crete, primarily in Chania; the second largest city in Crete. With a very laid back culture (most of the stores are closed on weekends), you will find that most of the locals and tourists spend their days either at one of the many cafes available or on the beach. Compared to the other popular Greek islands to visit, Crete is very affordable in terms of accommodation and food. I recommend a day trip to visit Balos Bay beach, an amazing area that was once a pirate location, has clear blue water, lagoons and a little island located near the shore. There are buses that will take you there and then a boat to get to the location, or driving will take about the same time. At night, Chania has a few bars and clubs available, as well as salsa clubs too. You will also find restaurants opened late, as it is not unusual for the locals to eat dinner after 9pm or even at midnight.
Also known as the party capital of the world, this island comes alive during summer/early autumn where it is filled with tourists looking to party at these famous clubs known for attracting some of the biggest DJs. It’s a great vacation spot to relax during the day, creating that resort-like environment and at night, all that energy will be consumed to party until dawn. However, it’s not an easy backpackers location – getting around town is not easily accessible; it’s best done with a rental or by taxi. Be prepared to set your budget higher here for accommodation, transportation, food, club entrance fees and drinks inside as this will cost you more than the average prices in other European cities (eg. 250ml bottle of water: €10, mixed drink: €13). If you can budget a stop over here in Ibiza with a few friends, it will be well worth it.