Europe and quite a few of its countries were high on our travel bucket list. Especially while living as expats in London, right on Europe’s doorstep! So, Harry and I decided to finish up work and go interrailing around Europe for three weeks before our flight home to Australia (October 2017).
What is Interrail?
Interrail is train travel using various rail networks with one travel pass. There are a range of ticket options and we chose seven days travel within one month. Given the countries are so close together in Europe, this meant we could travel to seven different countries in three weeks.
Well, for us it was the most efficient, convenient and cost effective way to see as many European countries on our list as possible. Efficient because even though flying somewhere directly is often quicker, when you add in the time you have to be at the airport and travel to and from the airport, it is sometimes a shorter trip overall when you catch the train. Especially in Europe. I mean, you can catch the train from London to Paris in two hours!
The most convenient thing about Interrail is that you have the flexibility to book last minute. Travelling outside the peak summer holiday season (September onwards), there was no need to book seats as there were plenty available upon boarding the train. Convenience included the luggage situation. Unlike flying, you don’t have to get there hours before departure, bag weight is less of an issue and there is a better chance your bag will arrive safe and sound with you.
The cost of the global pass at the time was around £400 per adult (plus any additional costs for selected services e.g. overnight sleeper or if you’d like to travel first class). Divide that travel cost into seven countries and you get £57 per country. Yes you can find cheap flights in Europe but by the time you pick a flight at a more convenient time, opt to sit together, add a bag and so on it quickly adds up to more than the advertised ticket price. Not only that, if you’ve picked the cheap flight option you’ll likely lose the money if you decide last minute to go somewhere else.
Which countries did we visit?
Based in London at the time, our first day of travel was on the Eurostar to Bruges in Belgium. With one station change along the way, the journey took around two hours and 45 minutes. Told you the countries in Europe are close together!
Our Interrail itinerary covering seven countries in one month included:
- Bruges in Belgium – 2 days
- Strasbourg in France – 3 days
- Bern in Switzerland – 3 days
- Ljubljana in Slovenia – 3 days
- Zagreb in Croatia – 4 days
- Budapest in Hungary – 3 days
- Bratislava in Slovakia – 3 days
If you’re planning your own Interrail trip and want to find out more about the above destinations including where to stay, things to see and do and where to eat and drink, check out the individual blog posts for each destination which include a daily diary.
How did we decide where to go?
When you buy the Interrail pass, you receive a map in the post with your ticket. Or atleast we did back in 2017! This helps to visualise and plan destination options depending on how long you want to travel for between places. There’s also an app you can use to input destinations for planning purposes including departure dates, times and ticket prices as there are additional costs for some train services such as the Eurostar, overnight sleepers and first class travel.
Just like pin the tail on the donkey, we did try closing our eyes and pointing to the map in an attempt to be spontaneous and discover countries and cities we’d not even considered. In the end it came down to travel time, recommendations from others and research to decide if we’d actually like to spend time there. And don’t forget to look further than the major train stations. We really enjoyed Zagreb but it was worth catching a bus to Pula to experience some of the Croatian coastline and see the Arena.
Which city was our favourite?
Ljubljana was a clear favourite for both of us. That’s despite making a poor accommodation choice and not bothering to find anywhere else to stay. It’s such a diverse city with pockets that have a completely different atmosphere to the next, like the alternative part of town we were staying in. Think graffiti covered cafe, shoes hanging above the street and a bar that while you’re eating and sampling a local beer, you can also get your hair cut and watch music artists perform on live radio.
The city on its own would have been enough to win us over but the day trip options were the cherries on top. Lake Bled is breathtaking and Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle are so unique and interesting to explore. Oh and don’t forget to try the famous Bled cream cake!
What would we do differently?
Bern like most places in Switzerland was really expensive. For that reason and feeling like three days was too long and we’d seen all we wanted to see several times, two days and one night is more than enough to see Bern.
The other place we’d spend less time in was Bratislava in Slovakia. Only because similar to Bern you could comfortably see and experience it in two days and one night.
If we spent less time in Bern and Bratislava, we’d spend the extra time in Bruges, Ljubljana or Budapest. That’s saying something for Budapest having already been there twice before. There’s so much to see and do!
It’s hard to believe it was three years ago we were interrailing around Europe for three weeks. Happy anniversary to us!