Sofia’s Interrail Trip
My name is Sofia and I will share with you about my interrailing that I did this summer all by myself.
(Amsterdam – Brussels – Paris – Strasbourg – Interlaken – Zurich – Vienna – Florence – Cinque Terre)
I have long had a dream of going on a long and adventurous journey after the graduation. My thoughts until last year were to go backpacking in Asia or maybe volunteering in Africa. However, there were two obstacles: the trips I started planning for myself cost too much and the destinations I was thinking of were a little too far away for my parents to feel safe leaving me. If any trip was to be lost, I simply had to find a compromise.
The solution to my worries came to me from an unexpected direction. In the summer of 2018, a friend told me about DiscoverEU. It is a project that works to bring together young people in Europe by sponsoring approximately 30,000 18-year-olds in EU countries with inter-rail tickets. Every year! This sounded like something absolutely perfect to me; I was 18, I wanted to go on an adventurous journey and also thought that the project’s values and goals were close to my heart. I signed up almost immediately when I heard about the project by answering some questions and attaching a picture of my passport and after a few weeks I was told that I had been selected as one of the 30,000 lucky winners.
In the message that said I was chosen, I also received an invitation to the project’s Facebook group together with the other winners. It really felt like a security (both for me and for my protective parents) because you could ask questions, seek travel buddies or get smart tips for your trip.
After that followed many hours of route planning, scheduling and googling for places to visit. After looking a bit at the point of possible travel companions, I decided that I would go all by myself, as this gave me complete independence in the choice of travel destinations. The plan I finally landed on was that I would be gone for a month.
Now in retrospect I think the route and the length were absolutely perfect. I got a mix of both city holidays, swimming holidays and outdoor activities. In addition, I am incredibly pleased that I traveled myself and dared to step outside my comfort zone.
My name is Sofia, I am 19 years old and come from Gothenburg. In the summer of 2018, I took the student from LM Engström’s high school and after that I decided to get out on the adventure of my life. A train loop in Europe, all by myself!
Amsterdam was my first stop on the trip. It is said that one should save the best for last, but it turned out to be my absolute favorite city on the trip. The capital of the Netherlands offered incredibly nice people and many entertaining tourist attractions. Of the many neighborhoods I visited, Jordaan was my favorite area. There were antique shops, secondhand shops and cozy cafes. It was decorated everywhere with lovely flower arrangements and it felt like you got away from the most touristy areas.
I then went to Kalverstraat, which is the bustling shopping street in Amsterdam. There was a large selection of everything from H&M to small Dutch stores. There was an incredible amount of people moving and many other things happening. It was a great contrast to Jordaan but the large shopping range was something that attracted me.
Behind the central station, free ferries (basically all the time) went over to north Amsterdam. There was A’dam lookout, a building where you could go up and get a very nice view of Amsterdam, as well as the famous “In Amsterdam” sign. It was also very nice to sit by the sea and sunbathe!
In Amsterdam there were a huge number of different museums, however, the only thing I had planned to visit is the Rijksmuseum, an art museum with Van Gogh and Rembrandt, among others. It was very nice and big with many different paintings you can recognize. If you were also under 19, you were given free entry, as long as you had ID with you.
Amsterdam is known for all its canals: many claims that a must when visiting Amsterdam is to go on a boat trip in the canals. I went with Canal Lovers and got a discount with the international student card ISIC. However, I was not particularly impressed with the tour. During the tour you got to listen to a recorded voice that was not particularly interesting. I had chosen another company if I were to do the trip at the present time.
Early in the morning I left Amsterdam to spend the day in Brussels. The trains are as smooth as possible, and it took about 2 hours.
I only had a few hours in Brussels before going on to Paris, but I thought that was enough. In Brussels I met Courtney from the UK who also traveled by herself and just as I had won an interrail pass through DiscoverEU. Together we visited the famous statue Manneken Piss. Right next to the statue is Grand place, the main square in Brussels. There are the so-called Guild Houses and Town Hall: houses built in very fine architecture and definitely worth seeing.
We went on to the European Parliament. It was very interesting and fun to see it as it is actually the EU that has sponsored our DiscoverEU tickets.
We ended the day in Brussels by browsing the famous Belgian french fries which were incredibly crispy and good at the street cuisine Maison Antonie.
So, I only spent about 4 hours in Brussels and felt that it was enough. I could see everything that one “should” see in Brussels and felt quite ready. Had I had more time to stay in Belgium, I would have liked to have moved on to Ghent and Bruges instead of staying more time in the capital.
In the afternoon I continued from Brussels to Paris. The trip there was pretty hard. I had not been able to reserve a seat on the high-speed train and had to take the regional trains. In addition, there were some trains that did not go and so I missed the train from Lille to Paris.
In Paris I stayed at a hostel called Mije Foucry for four nights. It was the best hostel on my entire trip. Fresh, big and nice. The atmosphere was top notch and it was walking distance to Notre dame. In addition, the price was reasonable, and breakfast was included.
When I arrived in Paris it was Pride. Along with Seine it was full of young people hanging out and I was hanging out. It was great fun to hang out with the local Parisians and ask for tips for my days in the city.
I visited all the “must” tourist attractions. I saw Notre dame, which unfortunately was surrounded by scaffolding. I continued to the Louvre and saw Mona Lisa and finally came to Champs Elysses and the Arc de Triomphe. It was very nice and wonderful to finally see all these places that you have heard and read about so many times. It was definitely above my expectations. However, I would definitely recommend buying metro passes as the distances are really long.
Together with the girl I met in Brussels who had also won her passport, I went to the Palace in Versaille. It was about 1 hour away and is definitely worth a visit. Incredibly beautiful and a very fascinating building with a magical garden. However, you must be prepared for some queues. One thing that can be good to remember is that if you are under 26 and from EU countries you get free admission to Versaille and the Louvre, among others.
We ended the day by eating dinner in front of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. It was full of young people and very nice atmosphere and in addition it was incredibly beautiful.
Strasbourg was really nice. Small cute houses right next to canals. You get a little more domestic feeling than in Paris. I walked into a cozy little market near the lovely Notre dame. Unfortunately, I only spent a few hours here, but I would definitely like to go back here or to some other smaller French village and stay a little longer. However, there does not seem to be so much to do here.
Interlaken was a small village located between two lakes that we visited. Incredibly nice location and surrounded by absolutely stunning mountains. Here you will find tandem jump, bungy jump and canoeing. However, I only spent a day here and so I only had time to enjoy the scenery and go on a free walking tour, which was very interesting and educational, on the other hand the weather was unfortunately very bad. Overall, I liked the city. However, Interlaken is very touristy, with many exclusive shops as many tourists come to Interlaken just to buy Swiss watches, which ruined the atmosphere.
I went from Interlaken to Brig very early in the morning to take the Glacier Express to St. from there. Mortiz. The glacier express is really something I would recommend. In normal cases, the ticket price is very high, but with interrail only a seat reservation is required for about SEK 400. You go up into the mountains and get magical views. Sometimes you are over 3000 meters up in the air. You can see the packed snow (in the middle of summer!) And water rushing down the mountains. You also get headphones and a guided tour that teaches you more about Switzerland. It is relatively expensive to eat on board, about 25 francs for the cheapest lunch, so I brought some food with me. From St. Moritz to Zurich took about 3 hours. They also went back about 1.5 hours on the same route as the Glacier Express. I would therefore recommend leaving in Chur, if you are going to Zurich afterwards.
Zurich was one of my favorite cities. I did not have such great expectations, but the city was incredibly beautiful. From the University of Zurich, you get a great overview of the city. One of the reasons why I liked the city so much was because it wasn’t so touristy. I found that there were not so many tourist attractions in Zurich, on the other hand it was good shopping, but the prices were very high. Both on food and clothing.
Me and a friend hiked up the mountain Uetliberg. There are also trains you can pick up. Once up there you get a magical view of Zurich. There is a planet trail up on the mountain. You go for a walk and see all the planets scale. The distance you walk between them is also scaled. This was actually really fun.
Switzerland is famous for its fondue and at the train station at the top of the mountain there is also a restaurant serving fondue. It is definitely something that I recommend after a hike up on Uetliberg.
In Vienna I met a friend who I got to know through computer games and lived with him. This was superb. I always had someone to hang out with and also a guide. We lived right near the Schönnbrunn castle so we started by going there. Very beautiful and in many ways very similar to Versaille. We then took the metro to Naschmarket, which is a market where they sell everything from clothes to food.
We bought some ice cream from EIS-Greissler and something to drink and sat down at the canal. Many young people hang out here during the summers. The perfect place to sit if you want to meet with local youth. There are also many bars with music available around the canal.
The second day we hung most inside the ring, in the old town. We saw, for example, the cathedral, the parliament, the theater, the concert halls and many other nice and interesting buildings. One cafe inside the ring that I highly recommend is Cafe Centraal. Really cozy decor and good food. Another thing that I also recommend is to try Wiener Schnitzel!
When I was in Vienna, there was something called the liquid market. It is a cocktail festival, where around 50 bars “exhibit” and you get to taste their best drinks. It was very fun. The same evening there was a dance festival in Vienna that we went to afterwards.
I went on a night train from Vienna to Florence and thus saved money on accommodation for one night. However, I was not a big fan of sleeping on the train and basically sharing a seat with a stranger, so when I arrived in the morning, I was incredibly tired. But I did go on a guided tour and saw the most popular places in Florence, including the Duomo with its towers, the David statue of Michelangelo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria. In Florence there is a very special architecture of the churches which is extremely nice.
Florence is known for the fact that gelato is invented here and that they have the best in Italy, and I can’t help but agree. I ate the world’s best gelato, every day. There is also very good and cheap coffee to drink for their gelato. Even the Italian food was absolutely wonderful.
One evening I went up to the Michelangelo site and watched the sunset. It was incredibly beautiful and very many people. There were bars and restaurants up here. I stayed in Florence for two nights and would definitely have been able to stay another few nights. It was an absolutely amazing city with nice people, good food and lots to see.
Cinque terre – 5 fishing villages next to each other. This was also one of my favorite destinations. Small cute houses in all sorts of different colors right next to the coast. I lived in Riomaggiore and from there it takes about 2 minutes to go to the next village, by train. If, on the other hand, you have time and energy, I recommend that you walk between the villages. I wandered from Manarola to Corniglia. It was very hot and sometimes very hard, but it only took about 1 and a half hour. The view from the top of the mountains is magical and you can see the small villages from above.
I then traveled by train from Corniglia to Vernazza which was my favorite village. Here were both sandy and pebble beach, small cozy restaurants and very nice houses. I bought some cheese, olives and parma ham with me on the beach. I also took the train to the last village, Monterosso. This was the biggest of the villages but for me it was far too touristy. The beach was full of umbrellas and loungers as well as overpriced restaurants. I definitely preferred one of the other cities instead.
Unfortunately, I only stayed in Cinque Terre for two nights and I would definitely recommend staying here at least 3 nights. There was a lot to see and the villages are incredibly beautiful.
From Cinque Terre it took about 30 hours to return home to Sweden. This was incredibly tough and stressful and if I had done so today, I would definitely have chosen to divide the journey home in stages and stay in cities along the way some day. It was very difficult with all the train changes and sleeping on the train.
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Find your new favourite place.
Discover Europe by train