Backpacking Europe: Getting Off the Beaten Path
No-one likes to be cliché but when you're faced with planning a backpacking trip to Europe it can be tempting to follow the crowd. After all, there's safety in numbers, and you don't want to miss any of the highlights. Sure, you'll be ticking all the right boxes, but there's also a danger that your itinerary will start to sound like a bland Greatest Hits compilation. Do you really want to just go to all the places everyone else goes?
If you're willing to do a bit more research, and take a few more risks, you can combine capitals with countryside, traditional centres of culture with vibrant new metropolises, and the must-dos with the why-didn't-I-think-of-thats?
Some of the best times I've ever had have been when I've strayed off the beaten track and took a chance on someplace a little different. Here's my top ten tips for making your own, personalised Europe backpacking mixed-tape.
Instead of Lisbon, try Porto
It's not just booze enthusiasts who'll get a kick out of Portugal's second city - though the port warehouses lining the river Douro are definitely part of its appeal. The historic houses that teeter precariously over the water and the gothic church spires of this UNESCO world heritage site lend Porto a uniquely romantic atmosphere, especially when the bitter-sweet strains of the traditional fado songs drift out over the winding streets.
Instead of Liverpool, try Newcastle
Thanks to the Fab Four, Liverpool has become the ubiquitous destination for visitors to the North of England. Equally lively, but much more picturesque, is the nearby town of Newcastle. Avoid the weekends when the city is overrun by stag and hen parties, but come midweek for first-class shopping, culture and nightlife.
Instead of Cornwall, try the Scilly Isles
In the summer Cornwall is rammed full of British and foreign holiday-makers alike, all competing for cheap accommodation and prime spots on the beach. Take the ferry across to the Scilly Isles and all at once you'll feel like you've stepped back in time with cosy pubs, glimmering blue waters and some of the most abundant wildlife in the UK.
Instead of Dublin, try Cork
For a cheaper, less crowded alternative to the Emerald City, try heading west to Cork, where there's just as much craic to be had, but the pace of life is a little less frantic.
Instead of Prague, try Ljubljana
Every year someone hails a town in Eastern Europe as The New Prague, but Slovenia's capital city has a stronger claim to the title than most. Lose yourself in Ljubljana's gorgeous historic centre, but make sure you save enough energy to hit the bars and clubs when the sun goes down.
Instead of Berlin, try Cologne
When you've had your fill of Cologne's glorious cathedral (one of the most awe-inspiring in the world) head straight for the city's Chocolate Museum or grab a pint of Kölsch at one of the hundreds of lively bars. Who said the Germans don't know how to have a good time?
Instead of Crete, try Cephalonia
A ferry ride away from the package tourists is the unspoiled island of Cephalonia, made famous by Captain Corelliâ?Ts Mandolin.
Instead of Ayia Napa, try the Troodos Mountains
If the craziness of Cyprus is getting you down, leave the beaches behind and explore the magical Troodos villages, which seem stuck in a time-warp where clubs don't exist and the natural beauty of the country is untouched.
Instead of Pisa, try San Gimignano
Leave Pisa to the bus-tours and the tourist touts. The medieval towers at San Gimignano are far more impressive, and the town itself is a much more appealing base for exploring Italy.
Instead of Glastonbury Festival, try Bennicassim
Unless you've got a particular fetish for mud why not consider ditching Glasto for this festival in sunny Spain, which offers world-class acts, guaranteed sunshine and a reputation for being the wildest party in Europe.