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Help me pick a country in Europe to backpack around?

CognisseurCognisseur Registered User regular
edited April 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
This isn't dramatic, nor terribly urgent, but I thought PA would be able to provide some good advice, especially from the overseas PA'ers.

For the last 2 years, my girlfriend and I have gone backpacking in Europe for roughly 4 weeks each time. We would spend 2-3 days per city, 2-3 cities per country, and generally toured a huge amount of Europe. This year we're going for only ~2 weeks, and looking to focus on one or two countries, and get a better grasp of it's culture and such.

So, I'd like some help/advice from you guys as to where you'd recommend we visit. Here are some 'criteria':
  • We have roughly 2 weeks
  • My girlfriend speaks reasonable Spanish, I speak basic French and fluent Russian, but we haven't had any significant language problems yet (but if you recommend rural Greece, that may be a problem, I don't know)
  • We like culture, small-towns, and history-stuffs. We don't really go to art museums, nor do we do much nature-hiking stuff.
  • Examples of cities that we thought rocked: Bruges in Belgium, Venice in Italy, Seville in Spain. Pretty, nice people, fun to walk around, simple good food.
  • We'll be traveling by train pass, not renting a car.

Okay, here are some options we're considering, but if you want to recommend some place not out of these, feel free.
  • Spain/Morocco. We've been to Spain before (Madrid, Seville, Barcelona), but it sounds like it could be fun going through small Seville-like cities in the South, and then going into Morocco for some hopefully less-trodden-path tourism and weird culture.
  • Italy. We also went to Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice), but we really enjoyed it and we missed a bunch of good places like Pompeii, Cinque Terre, Naples. The food was good, the people were nice, and returning to Venice would be fun.
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales. We haven't been here, so that's appealing. They speak English, so I don't know if that makes it lose some of it's foreign tourism charm, and I'm told it's quite expensive. I don't know much outside of that.
  • Other recommendations. Some people recommended Greece, Turkey, East Europe, etc. We haven't been to any of those places nor do I know anything about them.

Anyway, this may turn out to be a pointless thread because how the hell would you guys know where I want to visit, but potentially some of you guys could shed light on where you've enjoyed going and your opinions of some of the places I mentioned. Thank you in advance for anyone willing to read through all this and reply.

Cognisseur on

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    TexiKenTexiKen Dammit! That fish really got me!Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    I always say Germany when these things pop up because Dusseldorf is a great hidden city. In fact, the Northwest part of Europe, the Netherlands/Northern Germany/Denmark area would be where I would go for two weeks.

    Other than that, Austria. If you really want scenery and all that nature stuff, I would pick that country.

    TexiKen on
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    GrimmyTOAGrimmyTOA Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    On your list:
    I loved Southern Spain. Hit Cordoba and Granada for sure. Avoid Malaga. Go back to Seville (my favourite city in Europe). Morocco is great, but "less-trodden by tourists" is going to be a relative term.

    If you go to Italy, definitely travel the Amalfi coast south of Naples. Visit Capri (but don't stay there, it's really pricey). Check out Herculano -- it's better preserved than Pompeii, although it lacks some of the eerie grandeur.

    Ireland and the UK are wonderful. The people in Ireland are pathologically friendly. The west is unbelievable. Avoid Killarney (in a highly touristed country it's the most highly touristed spot I found). Go to Dingle (still touristed, but incredibly beautiful west of town).

    Scotland is like Ireland, but greyer, colder, and bleaker. I love it, but my family is all from there, so... some people I know have been a bit less enthusiastic.

    Honestly, with your apparent interests and time limitations, a trip to Western Ireland sounds about right.

    GrimmyTOA on
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    DragonPupDragonPup Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Vienna is a beautiful city. There are palaces you can visit, and there are some great sculptures. Sadly it is the only part of Europe that I have visited.

    DragonPup on
    "I was there, I was there, the day Horus slew the Emperor." -Cpt Garviel Loken

    Currently painting: Slowly [flickr]
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    ZsetrekZsetrek Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Turkey is wonderful. Cappadocia is reason enough to go, but once you add in Istanbul, and ruins like Bergama (Pergamum), Ephesus, Pammakale and Aphrodisas... The most rewarding experiences I had were the small towns, and the off-the-track historical stuff. We were there for two weeks and I still feel like we missed out on heaps - we didn't see much Ottoman stuff, for example.

    Pros: Most people speak English, and quite well. It's exotic without being difficult. The food is amazing. I got addicted to the tea.

    Cons: You will be busing everywhere, and long bus trips are the fucking pits. Depending on when you're going, the weather can be pretty difficult - I went in the hight of summer, and it was manageable everywhere except on the coast where the humidity combined with the high temperature made lugging backpacks a real chore. There are lots of touts, especially in touristy country towns - you have to be pretty confident in saying "no", and it's much easier if you have a good plan of how you're getting from A to B or are with someone who knows the country.

    Zsetrek on
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    RohanRohan Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    As someone from Ireland, I can tell you that a trip around the country and then onto say, Scotland or whatever, would be a great experience. Fly into Shannon Airport, visit the awesome Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (and buy some Bunratty Mead!) and head down to Dingle in Kerry. Move over to Cork, then head up to Wicklow to see the very beautiful Glendalough. If you can, take a side-trip to nearby Meath to see Newgrange, the 5,000 year old burial monument that should, by all rights, be far more famous than Stonehenge. Also visit the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of Irish High Kings.

    Get a ferry from Dublin over to Wales, travel up to Scotland (or fly direct from Dublin) and visit the famous places (I'm not very familiar with them), moving down to England and finishing in London. The Irish portion of the trip would take around three or four days, maybe more depending on where you want to go and what you want to see. Bed and Breakfasts are plentiful, but stay away from the cities, unless you want to visit them. They're expensive, although with the recession prices may have dropped or may be dropping.

    Outside Ireland, I really only have experience of Hungary. Budapest is a very beautiful city and we visited villages such as the ones you mentioned you wanted to visit, like Ezstergom, Eger, Szeged, but other than those I really don't know much about travelling the countryside. But everything is cheap there, including the city. Just get a travel pass for a week or something, take the metros, buses and trams, and stay away from the taxi's. The trains travel outside the city to all the places I mentioned, and more.

    Rohan on
    ...and I thought of how all those people died, and what a good death that is. That nobody can blame you for it, because everyone else died along with you, and it is the fault of none, save those who did the killing.

    Nothing's forgotten, nothing is ever forgotten
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    Jake!Jake! Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Can I suggest checking out couchsurfing.com? you'll never have a better backpacking experience.

    Jake! on
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    CognisseurCognisseur Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Jake! wrote: »
    Can I suggest checking out couchsurfing.com? you'll never have a better backpacking experience.

    Yeah, I didn't throw it in my post but that's what I started using last trip (well a variant of) and it's an amazing service. We really got a much better feel for the culture by living with people and talking to them and going to dinner with them. It was definitely one of the best parts of the trip, so I second this notion to anyone looking into this thread and planning their own trip.

    Cognisseur on
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    GafferoGaffero Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    I've heard that Northern Spain can be nice, especially if you travel the Road of St. James by foot. The gist of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_st_james

    It sounds right up your alley, but you also have to time it right to avoid the crowds. Some do the route as a pilgrimage, but plenty of people complete it for reasons like those you mentioned above. While it all takes place in one country, the various regions (Basque, Galician, etc) each have a distinct feel and flavor. You can start at any point along the path, and there several distinct paths from which to choose. I'm afraid I can't recommend any of them as I have not personally traveled one.

    Gaffero on
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    RohanRohan Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Oh, I forgot. While visiting Bunratty Castle you have to attend the banquet, it's an amazing experience. You can read all about it here.

    Rohan on
    ...and I thought of how all those people died, and what a good death that is. That nobody can blame you for it, because everyone else died along with you, and it is the fault of none, save those who did the killing.

    Nothing's forgotten, nothing is ever forgotten
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    oldsakoldsak Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    If you're considering England, now is probably the best time because the British pound is lower than usual.

    oldsak on
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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    I hit Munich, Vienna and Prague for a week each with day trips to other cities and had a great time. We started in Amsterdam as my friend had family who lived outside the city so we could visit there for free. We did hostels in Munich and Vienna (The Wombat in both, they were great and affordable) and at a small B&B/hostel in Prague (it was dirt cheap, like $10 a night). If I could go back to any of those places it would be a tossup between Vienna and Prague. I feel like I got to cover a lot in Germany and left Vienna and Prague missing a lot despite my best efforts.

    VisionOfClarity on
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    BlazeFireBlazeFire Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Have you considered the Balkans? Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania (maybe not quite balkans). I am heading over seas in a week and I have been researching Bulgaria. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, but cheap as well.

    BlazeFire on
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    ChuweroChuwero Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    I spent a 10 days in Bulgaria in 2005, and it was very nice. Varna is on the Black Sea, which is nice for swimming and beaches, and there are Roman ruins to see close to town.

    If you do decide to travel around Bulgaria, I would definitely recommend traveling by bus, not train. Trust me.

    Chuwero on
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    BlazeFireBlazeFire Registered User regular
    edited April 2009
    Why do you recommend that Chuwero? I have come across some trips that are supposed to be pretty scenic.

    BlazeFire on
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