Interrail – The Ultimate Travel Experience
Whether you’re a planner or traveling by the seat of your pants, an Interrail experience might just be the ticket.
There are a lot of things you should do before you turn 25 – an important one, at least in my opinion, which I could not find on any of those lists, is an Interrail trip across Europe. I heard the clock ticking, so I decided to travel Western Europe by train last summer – a wonderful experience that I would not want to be missing.
The Interrail Pass allows you to get on almost any train in Europe and just decide spontaneously whereever you would like to go next. It provides a lot of flexibility as you can choose between different single country passes as well as several different periods of time/number of travel days, depending on how much time you’ve got.
As we had only about two weeks, we really had trouble deciding on where to go: So many options, so many beautiful places worth traveling. In the end, we decided to get a ‘5 out of 10 Day Global Pass’ and travel Portugal, Spain and France.
To save some time we flew to Lisbon, where we started our trip, then traveled up North to Porto, along the North coast of Spain and finally all the way through France back to Germany.
We started our trip in the beautiful city Lisbon, a place where we could have easily spent the rest of our vacation. Endless hours of sunshine, a roof top pool and the delicious pasteles de nata made time pass so quickly that we even decided to extend our stay for one more day – another upside to Interrail: Stay longer if you like, be spontaneous! We stayed in a hostel called „Sunset Destination“, a place that I would highly recommend to anybody visiting the city. The rooms are clean and stylish, the staff is extremely nice and helpful, they got a laundry service, a pool, offer a lot of day trips to the surrounding areas and much more – anything a traveler could ask for 🙂
After finally leaving Lisbon, we sincerely though that it could not get much better than this – well, surprise, it did! Our first train ride went smoothly, we just had to get reservations when we arrived at the train stations, get on the train and only 3 hours later we arrived in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city. We spent two days exploring the narrow cobblestone streets, the promenade along the river and tasted lots of port wine. One morning, we took part in one of the free walking tours our hostel offered and learned that a bookstore in Porto (apparently one of the most beautiful ones in the whole world) inspired J.K. Rowling for setting of her the Harry Potter novels. After wandering the city center for hours all of us were starving, which is why our guide took us to try one of the city’s specialties: Francesinha, a sort of delicious sandwich, made with several kinds of meat, cheese, egg and lots of sauce.
Getting to Spain from the North of Portugal was much more difficult than we had expected. Even though the distance between Porto and our next stop, A Coruna, was only slighly longer than the one we had just traveled from Lisbon, it seemed to be impossible to get to Northern Spain in one day. All the fast trains were booked out for days, a fact that forced us to make an additional stop in Santiago de Compostela before moving on further North. It might have been the fact that we never planned on coming here or the huge amount of tourists, but both the city and the famous cathedral left us mildly unimpressed and happy to get back on the train. A Coruna is s a far less touristic place in the far north of Galicia, The city is spoiled with beautiful beaches right next to the city center, wild landscape and rough cliffs. Again, we decided to stay longer – this place was way to idyllic to leave. Plus, there were no tickets available for our next journey whatsoever. ‘Tickets?’, you might wonder, ‘but you got an Interrail Pass!?’ Well yeah, but you still need to make reservations – and if the train is full, there is little an Interrail Pass can do.
It was also not possible to travel along the Northern coast of Spain directly, as we had originally planned. The train company, which owns the rail network up there does not cooperate with Interrail. Our alternative route took us through central Spain and in more than 13 hours to San Sebastian, a small city close to the French boarder in Basque Country. A buzzing little town, full of Tapas bars and surfers competing for the best spots. As we had used most of our traveling days and not entirely stuck to the original plan, time was running out by now and there were still a lot of miles to be traveled. Sorrowful we got on the next train to France, relaxed, slightly sunburned and still with sand in our hair. There was no time nor money left for a stop in Paris, but France still treated us well and we got home safely.
As you might have figured by now, we did not put a lot of time or effort into planning the whole trip. We ended up booking both hostels and trains the night before arriving at the next location and as a consequence we could often not proceed as we had planned. For me, that was part of what made our trip so great – I did not necessarily want to know where we would spend the next day. But if you are more of a planning person, that does not prevent you from having a great Interrail experience! Most trains and hostels can be booked online in advance, which can be essential for very busy routes or overnight trains.