Interrailing – A Buyer’s Guide

Start your summer planning now with this handy guide to interrailing.

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Courtesy of Joseph Stokes

Few places on Earth can boast such a rich and diverse culture as Europe; and it being concentrated into a relatively small part of the world means just a few hours on a train can take you from the Eiffel Tower to the canals of Amsterdam. This is what makes Interrailing so appealing to so many students, though it often loses its lustre when we realise that our bank account balance has more numbers after the decimal point than before. But all hope is not lost, you still have time to squeeze all the pennies you can, and you might find that the Euro-trip of your dreams may not be as hard on your wallet as you might think.

The first and most obvious of the costs you’ll face is travel. An Interrail ticket can be purchased from £160, which will last you 15 days and get you from city to city but will not cover public transport within cities. It’s important to note that in order to get to the continent in the first place a Eurostar supplement of around €30 must be paid, you can avoid these charges once you’re on the mainland by choosing slower or indirect trains to get around, but unless you’re packing a set of oars there’s only one way across the Channel. Once you’re settled into a city and ready to explore, you can’t go wrong with hiring a bike. Most cities will offer public bike rentals for a few euros per day, or even for free so long as you re-dock the bike within an hour, and this method of travel allows you to see much more of the city than you would while in a bus or tram.

Another major cost is accommodation, though this can be as rough or as glamourous as you like. A bed in a hostel can be bagged at relatively short notice for as little as £15 a night, but if even that is too steep then an overnight stay at the train station is free, as is sleeping on trains between cities. How much you choose to spend on accommodation comes down to how much you value your privacy and access to a shower.

The amount you spend on food and drink is entirely dependent on you too; whether it’s restaurants, fast food, or tightening your belt and sticking to supermarket cold-cuts and bread. In all cases it’s worth trying to stray a little off the beaten path when looking for somewhere to eat, as tourist areas will charge significantly higher than where the locals eat. The same sentiment goes for bars and clubs too, though in some cities (such as Paris) you’ll be hard pressed to find a bar that doesn’t charge €6 for a half litre of beer, in which case buying cheap beers or wine from a supermarket and sitting in a park or on the bank of the river is a cost effective way of doing as the Romans do, as you’ll find plenty of locals doing the same.

This may seem like a lot of costs before you’ve even started to the actual tourist bit, but don’t worry, as this is probably the cheapest part of your trip. Many sights are free to enter, some are free for EU students (clock’s ticking), and those that aren’t are rarely more than a few Euros. If you’re really on a budget then most cities will have free guided tours of the main tourist areas, with the expectation that you’ll tip afterwards. These can be a great way of getting to know the city you’re in and the details you may have otherwise missed, and the ‘pay what you feel’ style means that you won’t break the bank either.

It is worth bearing in mind that the price of everything scales depending on the city you go to. Large Western European cities such as Paris or Vienna will have more expensive restaurants, hostels, and bars, while as a general rule the further east you go the cheaper everything gets. It’s not the case that the more popular cities are better to visit, and you’ll find that some of your best experiences happen in the most unlikely places.