The Mediterranean Sea lets you know you are officially in Southern Europe. Spain, Italy, and Greece make up the major bulk of what most people consider to be the South. Part of this is because they share common characteristics such as laid back attitudes, Mediterranean and seafood cuisines, music and dancing, and great beaches. The water in the ocean is for the most part very warm and beautiful and the best time to come is during the warmer summer months. If you choose to backpack this is the best time as well. The packing is lighter since there is no winter coat and boots and everything look nicer when it is warmer. One of the best features about Europe as a whole is the extensive eurorail and train system, which connects nearly every country to each other. There are great overnight trains that will take you from Spain straight to Italy overnight. If you feel like making a stopover in the South of France that is another great possibility. Boats run frequently from Italy to Greece as well as trains, although later, takes a bit longer. There are many cultures to visit and places to explore. Backpacking Southern Europe might just be one of the coolest things you ever do.
Places to go in Southern Europe
As mentioned above, Spain, Italy, and Greece should be your main targets. This is the best way to get that Mediterranean feel and not have to spend too much time traveling around. The ocean here is really nice and beaches in all three countries are gorgeous. Also the South of France (Nice, Cannes, Marseille) and Monaco (Monte Carlo) are great add-ons to your trip. This of course depends on how much time and money you have. There are great hostels all over the place. Many cater to college students backpacking around. They can have breakfast waiting for you, trip ideas and even transportation from train stations. It all depends on where exactly you stay. If you go to the more touristy cities such as Valencia, Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Monte Carlo, Athens, and Crete then there will be a lot of opportunities for staying cheap with some friends. The best bet for backpacking, especially on a student’s budget is to limit the places you go. Even train costs can add up dramatically. It might also be better to stick to the coasts, since there are many boats and ferries that can take you from one country to the other and even overnight, so no hostel fee for one night. Some people like to focus their entire trip in one country or just a couple. Portugal and Spain are still a very popular duo, so it really depends on what you are interested in seeing. Below is a list of the top spots to check out while seeing Southern Europe. From there you get to decide which ones are must-sees.
What to see in Southern Europe
It is probably easiest to go from country to country, however there are some top cities. The top three would have to be Athens, Rome, and Barcelona. Athens is one of the oldest cities on Earth. There are so many ancient Greek ruins and famous, landmark sites. The acropolis, temple of Zeus, Panathianiko Stadium, Ancient Agora, and the Kerameikos are all unique and spectacular. A trip to Southern Europe would not be complete without seeing the city that basically started it all. In Rome you will want to spend a few days just catching your breath as you see one amazing monument after another. From the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica with the Sistine Chapel and all the amazing statues to the heart of the city, Rome is probably the coolest city in the world. The Colosseum, Pantheon (where Donatello is buried), Villa Borghese with all the famous paintings of the family, and Trevi Fountain, you have to hit up when visiting this city. Don’t miss the burial site of most of the popes including St. Peter and the most recent Pope John Paul under the Basilica. When you head to Spain, Barcelona is where the party is at. Las Ramblas is the famous and happening street. Lined with shops and restaurants, the street comes alive with performers, musicians, and artists. It is an eclectic wonder with plenty to see. The water is gorgeous and the ocean is like bath water. Take a walk up to where the summer Olympics were held in Barcelona and the incredible soccer field. Many churches and museums also make this a place worth it to visit.
There are also plenty of other incredible cities to see and explore. The island of Crete is a fantasy paradise. This place caters to tourists. Backpackers can find inexpensive digs that can allow them to also see the best of the sites. Florence, Italy is beautiful. This city is the art capital of the world and houses more pieces of art then any other cities combined. The famous David statue by Michelangelo is here. When you are in Spain head down to Valencia for a great beach adventure. Similar to Barcelona, this city is a bit more slow paced and not quite as crowded. The water sports and beach side bungalows are more affordable and you won’t have to worry about the long lines. And if you do have time to stop in the South of France, hit up Nice and Monaco. Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the modern world and is only a couple of miles long. Yet some of the wealthiest in the world own properties here. You can tell by the cars, shops, yachts, and the famous Monte Carlo Casino that this place means business. The pebbled beaches in Nice are a nice way to relax and soak up the sun. Plus there are so many hostels around any backpacker can feel right at home.
How to get there
It is so easy and convenient to travel around Southern Europe. If you are planning to travel for a bit of time and to many places you will want to look into getting a rail pass. Sites like studentuniverse.com sell these tickets, which make it easier to get around. You won’t have to wait in the long lines at every train station before boarding. Make sure you read up on the train system, however, or you may find yourself getting screwed with some ridiculous fee. The flights from country to country are relatively inexpensive as well. Low-cost companies like Easyjet and Ryanair make flying very affordable. Check the size of your luggage to make sure it fits the size requirements so you won’t have to pay additional fees there also. They tend to run smaller then the larger airlines. Sometimes Alitalia runs specials to Spain and Greece. Then there are the ferries. Probably the best way to get from Italy to Greece is to take a ferry from the eastern coast of Italy to the western coast of Greece. It drops off very close to Athens. And you can get to the coast by train very easily and cheaply. Southern Europe is so convenient for backpackers because whether or not you have a plan everything is easily accessible so it can work well with your schedule.
Southern Europe travel tips
- Pack light and bring comfortable walking shoes.
- Don’t bring anything expensive or anything that can draw unwelcomed attention (i.e. jewelry or designer clothing).
- Keep your passport, credit card, etc. in a separate pack and on you at all times.