Best Backpacker Cities in Europe to Travel to in 2020

The perfect starting point for a European road trip on a budget

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  • 09 December 2019
  • • 13 min read

It’s the beginning of a brand new decade! What better excuse to get planning some unforgettable trips for 2020? Europe is full of some of the most exciting cities in the world for backpackers. From urban metropolises to medieval old towns, there’s something for every kind of traveller to create some of their most incredible travel memories. While not all European cities are the most budget-friendly, there are plenty of seriously affordable options that should still sit high on your Europe bucket list. Read on for the best cities in Europe for backpackers to travel to in 2020… 

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Berlin

The German capital has been on the backpacker road map for a while now, but the city just gets better and better. Whether you’re fascinated by wartime history, a lover of art or you simply want somewhere to eat, drink and party, Berlin is the ideal city. Plus, loads of the main attractions are free, from the East Side Gallery to Checkpoint Charlie. You could easily feel like you’ve really seen the city while keeping your euros safe in your pocket to spend on delicious German food (although the Asian food scene in Berlin is also amazing) and German beer. The city is one of the most affordable places in Western Europe where you can buy a currywurst lunch for under €6 and a pint of German beer for €2.50. 

Base yourself in Mitte where you’ll find a number of Berlin’s most famous free attractions such as Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Museum Island and more. Then pub crawl through the city’s best beer bars before partying into the night in some of the most renowned clubs in Europe.

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Edinburgh

Gothic spires, medieval castles and sweeping views - there’s a reason Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The Scottish capital is home to some real bucket list sights including the historic Edinburgh Castle and the Queen’s Royal Scottish residence, Holyrood Palace. Go on a creepy underground ghost tour, hear bagpipes play on the Royal Mile and go on a Scottish whisky crawl through the city. Edinburgh is ideal for those that want to learn a touch of local history while having plenty of time to experience the city like a true Scott. 

Either fly into Edinburgh airport and take the shuttle bus or tram into the centre of town, or if you’re coming from the UK, take the more green-friendly route via train to Waverley Station. St Christopher’s Inns two Edinburgh hostels are both neighbours to the station, as well as being smack bang in the centre of town making it incredibly easy to get anywhere.

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Tallinn

Just a short stroll from the Baltic Sea, Estonia’s capital city is fast becoming a hotspot for backpackers in eastern Europe. With its cobbled streets, colourful rooftops and 13th century architecture, Tallinn’s Old Town is packed with so much character that it was named another of Europe’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1997. Stroll along the winding cobbles until you reach Tallinn’s beautiful viewpoints to take in stunning views of spires from the Middle Ages and the surrounding orange hues of the rooftops. Somehow the snow makes it look even more beautiful! Want to know more about the city’s history? Tag onto a free walking tour around the city to hear stories about Tallinn’s past. 

Venture outside of the Old Town walls to feast at the street food market at Balti Jaam, check out the street art and drink or dine in some of Tallinn’s high-ceilinged, hipster bars and restaurants. 

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Budapest

Whether it’s for sun or snow, Budapest shines through like the European gem it is during every month of the year. The Hungarian capital has long been a backpacker favourite, having so much to offer backpackers on a tight budget through cheap alcohol, free attractions and an awesome nightlife. Explore Budapest’s cultural highlights like Buda Castle, the Parliament building and the beautiful architecture of Fisherman’s Bastion. We recommend that you stay in the ‘Pest’ side of the city, near the Jewish district where the world-famous ruin bars and roaring nightlife is based. You’ve got to spend at least one of your night’s out in Szimpla, Budapest’s most famous ruin bar which opens out into multiple smaller, themed rooms where you can buy drinks at seriously affordable prices. There’s no other night out quite like it in Europe.


Prague

The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, castles and seriously affordable prices, and Prague is no different. Backpackers come from far and wide to explore the charming, medieval city’s spires but also, of course, to get to grips with its beer scene. Spend your days wandering around Prague’s cobbled streets, seeing the city’s most famous sights like Prague Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and the multi-coloured Lennon Wall. Prague is the perfect destination for culture vultures, and for party lovers it’s just as incredible. The city is home to the biggest club in Europe! Karlovy Lázně is renowned on Europe’s backpacker scene. The club has 5 different floors to party on, each floor with its own varying music and style so any kind of partier is guaranteed an unforgettable night. 

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London 

While it’s not known for being a cheap European city, 2020 is absolutely the best time to be visiting London. The pound isn’t exactly at its best, but for us backpackers on a budget that’s just perfect! Plus, if you do your research, you’ll see that you really don’t have to spend a small fortune to make the most out of a trip to the English capital anyway. Many of London’s most famous sights and attractions are actually free to visit, from the Natural History Museum to the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. You can even get the best view of London’s skyline for free at Sky Garden in the Walkie-talkie building (just make sure you book well in advance). 

Then there’s the food - London is an absolute haven for foodies as it’s bursting with pretty much every kind of cuisine that you can think of. Of course not all restaurants are budget-friendly, but you’ll find plenty of places that truly are affordable and absolutely delicious. Check out our Youtube video where we take you around the best cheap eats in the city ! Get a taste of proper British cuisine in a cosy local pub, grab a table in a street food market hall or buy some food from a nearby shop and picnic in a park during the summer. Whether you book London for spring, summer, autumn or winter you know that the Big Smoke is going to be buzzing. 

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Bruges

This small medieval city in northwest Belgium is a magical pocket of Europe that everyone needs to visit for a long weekend. The quaint, cobbled streets and gingerbread-style houses form the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway or autumnal retreat. The beer in Bruges is famous so make sure you head to one of the most famous breweries such as De Halve Man or De Garre. With old windmills, beautiful lakes and horse-drawn carriages, Bruges is like something out of a fairytale. Go to some authentic chocolate shops to buy Belgian sweet treats to take home with you - our favourite is the The Old Chocolate House and Chocolatier Dumon. Climb up the Belfry Tower, go on a cycle through Minnewater park and enjoy the amazing views of Rozenhoedkaai. The Christmas season is one of the best times to visit so you soak up the festive atmosphere and Bruges’ annual Christmas market on the magical square.

While Bruges is one of the more expensive cities in this list, it’s compact enough that you don’t need a whole week there. A couple of days is enough to get a proper feel for Bruges. The best place to stay in Bruges is St Christopher’s at the Winston in the heart of the city. 

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Kraków

Eastern Europe is becoming more and more popular with backpackers and we’re not surprised since it’s such a beautiful part of the continent to explore. Make Kraków your first stop on your adventure through Eastern Europe and get a real taste of Polish culture. While being considerably cheaper than other cities, Krakow is also known for its magnificent architecture, its preserved Jewish quarter and the main market square which Europe’s biggest medieval town square. Explore the quaint Old Town, discover the hidden jazz bars, test out Polish vodka and take a day trip to visit Auschwitz.

Polish food and drink is cheap in Krakow too. Think home-cooked, hearty meals that are good for the soul such as Pierogi (Polish dumplings), flavoursome broths and soups, cabbage rolls and pork knuckle and sausages.


Istanbul

There’s something mysterious and magical about Istanbul. A city where East meets West, this backpacker destination in Turkey is well worth a visit. Part of Istanbul lies in Asia and part lies in Europe which makes the city truly special with different influences on either side. A place that was once ruled by many different empires, Istanbul’s cultural and historic centre is full of old-world charm and fascinating history. Visit the opulent Blue Mosque, go inside Topkapı Palace, discover the cosmopolitan Kadikoy district (on the Asian side) where you can indulge in delicious Turkish food, feel the buzz at the Grand Bazaar market and have a try at bargaining. You can even go on a boat cruise of the Bosophorus, the narrow waterway that separates Europe and Asia. There’s so much to do! If you’re ready for a different kind of city break where you can immerse yourself in a new culture, then choose Istanbul. The city is a very safe and cheap, with friendly locals who will make you feel right at home.

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Barcelona

A buzzing city bursting with culture, Barcelona is unique in that it offers backpackers bountiful coastline combined with an old Gothic city centre. Situated right by the Meditterean sea there’s no better city if you’re looking for for sun, sea and sand. Famous for its artsy landscape, discover the incredible works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí where you’ll find bright, colourful examples of his masterpieces dotted around Barcelona. Pay a trip to the Sagrada Familia, the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Europe, head to Park Guell, one of Europe's most Instagrammable places - and check out the stunning Casa Batllo, all of which make Barcelona’s architectural landscape completely unique. Perfect for party lovers, foodies, culture-vultures and budget travellers, the Catalan capital has something for everyone. 

Renowned for its nightlife, beach parties, cheap tapas bars, flamenco shows, and the beautiful Gothic quarter you can spend weeks in Barcelona and never get bored. Take a cable car up to the mountains in Montjuic and see Barcelona from high up! Indulge in Spanish ham and sangria at Boqueria market. And walk pretty much everywhere if you stay at our hostel right in the heart of the city near Placa Catalunya. Check out St Christopher’s Inns Barcelona.

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Athens

If you’re fascinated by ancient history then you will love Athens. Being one of Europe’s oldest cities, culture vultures need to get themselves to this old-world capital in mainland Greece to tick off the bucket-list sights that appear on every traveller’s wishlist. The ancient Acropolis, the Pantheon temple, the incredible museums (The National Archeological Museum is our favourite) famous stories of Greek gods and ancient mythology. There’s so much to discover in Athens so we recommend it to everyone who is interested in travelling.

And it’s not all ancient history. Athens has a modern, contemporary side with cool restaurants and bars, a buzzing nightlife and some really cool centrally-located hostels where you can meet new people and party hard. In between all the sightseeing, enjoy authentic Greek cuisine in a local taverna and experience true Greek hospitality. In terms of affordability, Athens is considerably cheaper than other cities in Europe like London and Paris, but it’s not particularly cheap either. So make sure you have a budget in mind before you jet off.


Lisbon

Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital is one of our favourite cities in Europe. Lisbon is a prime destination for backpackers who adore food and culture so make it your first stop in 2020! Try authentic Portugese custard tarts (natas) at Pastél de Belém, enjoy the fresh seafood at Nortada restaurant, indulge in the best clams at Aura and taste the tapas at Tapisco or A Cevicheria. The reason why the Meditterrean food in Lisbon is so delicious is because of the different influences over time that have shaped the cuisine; the Portguese use more species than in Spain, as the country was once ruled by Moors (which is why peri-peri chicken is famous in Lisbon). And there’s more to Lisbon than the delicious food. The old pastel-coloured buildings set against yellow trams on quaint, narrow streets are part of Lisbon’s beautiful charm. There is simply so much to do! Enjoy the buzz in Barrio Alto (the city’s nightlife and dining district). Head to the Sintra mountains for a day trip and enjoy incredible views over Lisbon, visit the Jewish monastery and listen to Fado music! The Time Out food market is also a must!


Amsterdam

If you haven’t had the chance to visit Amsterdam, you need to add it to your backpacker route for 2020. We like to think of the Dutch capital as an all-rounder city. Why? Because it offers everything from culture, art and nightlife to great street food and a chilled out atmosphere. The beautiful canals in the Jordaan are a sight to see, not to mention the traditional Dutch windmills that are just a cycle away. From the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum to Vondelpark and the Red Light District, Amsterdam offers such variety that it’s perfect for everyone. When you’re in the city, don’t make the mistake of staying within the centre. Make time to explore other neighbourhoods like trendy De Pijp or the industrial, yet hipster vibes at Amsterdam Noord. The city is known for its incredible live music scene as well as the buzzing nightlife district around Leidseplein Square. If you need a bed in the city, check out St Christopher’s at the Winston.

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