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This post is for those of you planning to backpack Europe in winters. You’ll find a day to day itinerary of Europe covering Italy, Zurich, Prague, and Vienna here. Alternatively, if you aren’t planning on backpacking Europe in winters, read on to find out why it might be a good idea to do so!
Once I started planning my Euro trip, I was initially overwhelmed with what locations to choose from in the Schengen area, where to book from, what to do — I just had too many questions. I slowly started getting the hang of it and I started shortlisting places to visit. Given that this was my first trip to Europe, I didn’t want to go completely offbeat and wanted to visit some popular bucket list destinations too.
However, I didn’t mind visiting Europe in the winter, so I seemed to have an advantage. I would get a fresh perspective on the cities when it’s not too crowded. Also, it goes a little easy on the pocket (even better if it included Eastern Europe) as well. And finally, a plan was drawn, bookings made, and there I was, all set to head on my DREAM Euro Trip in the last week of February.
I started off with Rome followed by Florence, Venice, Zurich, Prague, Vienna, and ended back in Rome.
I had my round-trip flights from Bangalore to Rome so this ended up being a circuit trip. Round trip flights are usually cheaper so planning a circuit trip covering a few countries was my best possible option. Even with the flight from Vienna to Rome, it was still cheaper than booking separate flights from different destinations.
Overall, my Euro Trip was for about three weeks. I was going to backpack around Europe for two weeks, and then volunteer for another week near Rome. I was spending around 10 days in Italy, and my port of entry was Italy as well. So, applying to a Schengen visa through Italy embassy was a no-brainer for me.
Backpacking Europe Itinerary for 2 weeks
Here’s an overview of the 2 weeks backpacking itinerary in Europe during winter. Europe is solo travel friendly, so fret not, you can do it entire itinerary solo if you like.
Day 1: Rome. Colosseum, Roman Forum, Mercato Centrale.
Day 2: Rome. Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Borghese Gallery, Quartiere Coppedè district.
Day 3: Rome. Vatican City, Castel St. Angelo.
Day 4: Florence. Duomo. Uffizi Gallery, Acadamia Gallery.
Day 5: Florence. Ponte Vecchio, Boboli Gardens, Piazza de Michelangelo.
Day 6: Florence. Day Trip to Cinque Terre or Sienna.
Day 7: Venice Day tour.
Day 8: Murano, Burano
Day 9: Zurich. City tour, Lucerne.
Day 10: Zurich. Uetliberg Mountain.
Day 11: Prague. Prague Walking Tour, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge.
Day 12: Prague. Jewish Ghetto, Old Town, New Town, Dancing House.
Day 13: Prague. Vyserhad fort or Czechy Krumlov.
Day 14: Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace, Viennese Orchestra.
Day 15: Vienna. Opera House, Vienna Naschmarkt (New Market).
Day 1-3: Rome – 3 Days
I reached Rome—Fiumicino International Airport (FCO) from my home city Bangalore with a brief layover in Kuwait through Kuwait Airways. But my checked-in baggage didn’t. For about two weeks, I didn’t have my baggage with me, which meant all the winter clothes that I had saved for Europe in my checked-in baggage was absolutely useless to me. It was a disaster no less, but that’s a story for another day.
How to Reach Roma Termini from Airport
I had two feasible options to reach my hostel from the airport: either by bus or train to Roma Termini. There are many airport shuttle buses available from Rome FCO, it takes about 50 minutes, and costs around 6 Eur. On the other hand, Trenitalia express train from the airport takes about 30 minutes to reach Roma Termini but costs 14 Eur. You can either book tickets online and save time or book the rides at the airport to take into account the contingencies.
From Roma Termini, you’ll find metro connections that’ll take you to your preferred location in the eternal city.
Where to stay in Rome
If you’d like to stay near Roma Termini like I did, on a backpacker’s budget, then I would suggest checking into Alessandro Palace and Bar Hostel [Via Vicenza, 42, 00185 Roma RM, Italy], which is at a 10-minute walk away from Roma Termini. Also, they have a rooftop area and they offer free breakfast. If you are in Rome for a couple of days, then this could be a convenient place to stay. Check the latest prices of Alessandro Palace and Bar hostel now!
Things to do in Rome
The eternal city of Rome and the capital of the Roman Empire has so much to offer to the history buffs. The more I found out about this eternal city, the more fascinating it turned out to be!
In between, sample delicious Italian food, many traditional Italian desserts like Panna Cota, Tiramisu, and of course, gelatos, and hot chocolate. If you’d like to know what to eat in Rome, and Italy for that matter, then you’d want to check out this extensive guide on Italian food. However, if you are short on time, visit the food valley of Italy — the Emilia Romagna region which is bound to give you a food coma.
Unfortunately for me, there was a cold wave going on in Europe at the end of February. I was shivering without having the right clothes for the weather but that didn’t stop me from eating my weight in gelatos. Well, like I told my hostel friend — I pick my battles!
Rome Day 1
I was traveling solo for a few days in Rome before my friend joined me. I found a travel companion in my roommate at my hostel dorm — Sarah, a makeup artist, and we decided to visit the Colosseum in the night together. Traveling solo doesn’t mean alone! Anyway, Colosseum was all lit up and looked a bit eerie, but splendid. Would suggest visiting Colosseum in the night as well, it’s far less crowded then, and offers a unique perspective on this Roman Amphitheatre.
One thing that you’ll notice in Rome, for that matter in Italy, is that you might have to walk around a LOT! And I loved walking around the city, with a cone of gelato or a cup of hot chocolate in tow!
If you’ve more time in Rome than I did, then I would suggest visiting other points of interest in Rome like Roman forum, Mercato Centrale near Roma Termini for shopping and food, and maybe go on a bike tour along the Appian Way.
Rome Day 2
I started my next day with an offbeat UnderGround Rome tour, followed by Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Sant’Agnese – a baroque church, where I was privy to a Beethoven concert for 15 Eur and visited Trevi Fountain in the night. Spanish steps is another point of interest popular among tourists. Although, if you are not into checking off lists, then I would suggest skipping it. Instead, pay a visit to the lesser known Borghese Gallery.
If you’ve more time to spare and would like to go offbeat in one of the top tourist destinations in the world, then I would suggest paying a visit to a quirky neighborhood called Quartiere Coppedè district in Rome. You can experience different architectural styles right next to each other, by the fountain, and it’s definitely a sight to watch.
Rome Day 3
The next day, I roamed around the Vatican, visited a majestic fort Castel St. Angelo, before heading back to the station to catch a train to Florence. If you’ve time you can head to Gianicolo Hill (Via del Gianicolo) nearby which offers a great vantage point with sweeping views of the city.
I spent two days in Rome initially, but only when I volunteered in Rome did I realize that even a week in the Lazio region (Rome is part of the Lazio region) isn’t enough.
Day trips from Rome
While I was volunteering in an Italian countryside near Rome, I explored a few offbeat places in the Lazio region on a day trip over the weekend. And it turned out to be quite a revelation. There are many beautiful attractions in the Lazio region, you can pay a visit to some ancient villas in Tivoli, or witness the historic charm of a city even older than the Roman empire in Palestrina (that attracts only a fraction of the crowd of Rome). There’s enough to explore in the Lazio region for a week without even touching Rome.
Day 4-6 Florence: 3 days
I had a calling to visit the Renaissance capital of the world, and looking at the pictures, how could I resist! Florence is home to so many amazing sights and spots. And, I just loved its historic charm!
How to Reach Florence from Rome
There are many trains commuting between Florence and Rome daily. If you’d like to save time, then opt for a high-speed private train like Italo, which will take about 1.5 hours to reach from Rome to Florence. It arrives at Firenze Santa Maria Novella (Firenze SMN) train station in Florence from Roma Termini. You can book through GoEuro or directly from Italo website. It costs about 15-20 Eur per person one way. Or else, you can book through Trenitalia, which can be a bit slower but a little cheaper!
Travel Tip: Book train tickets at least 2-3 weeks prior for a decent fare. If your arrival dates are fixed, then I would suggest you book train tickets sooner to avoid inflated prices.
Where to stay in Florence
I stayed in PLUS Florence hostel [Via Santa Caterina D’Alessandria, 15, 50129 Firenze FI] – a hostel chain in Europe which is around 15 min walk away from the Firenze SMN train station. It hosts a seasonal outdoor pool, a Cuban themed pool bar, an indoor swimming pool, sauna, and a gym, to mention a few. This was definitely one of the happening hostels with the best of amenities that I’ve stayed at. Check the latest prices of PLUS Florence hostel now!
Florence Day 1
The first day I was in Florence, I just walked around the city, and came across the imposing Duomo. The thing about Florence is that no matter what you’re planning to do in Florence sooner or later, you’ll happen to find face to face with Duomo. Duomo is like the epicenter of Florence. And I was using the Duomo as a compass to orient myself. You can go inside Duomo, buy tickets for the viewing center, and climb the steps to catch the sunset from the top. It’s one of the best vantage points in the city! I would suggest buying tickets online be it offseason or season time, at least for the Duomo. Even in the middle of a cold wave in Europe, I had to wait for half an hour to get inside Duomo. So, take my advice, and book your Duomo Florence tickets online now!
Somewhere during the day, I found myself at Lindt Chocolate Shop [Piazza del Duomo, 15R, 50129 Firenze FI] right in front of Duomo, where I relished on a hot chocolate. It was rich, and creamy, the best I’ve ever had! Didn’t I tell you? I overshoot my food budget in Italy, and I’ve no regrets!
Visit the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery which are also the prime attractions of Florence.
Florence Day 2
Next day, I went on a Palazzo Vecchio walking tour with Context Travel to understand the history of this incredible city better.
Walked around the city again, crossed the river Arno, and headed to the other side of the city. You can see the iconic Ponte Vecchio bridge here (The only bridge in Florence not destroyed in WWII) and then landed in Boboli Gardens.
A 15-minute walk from here, is Piazza de Michelangelo, with offers panoramic views of the city. Best to visit during sunset. Definitely my favorite vantage point in Florence.
Florence Travel Tip: Boboli Gardens are closed on Mondays, and all museums in Florence are closed on Mondays. Duomo, however, is open on Mondays.
Florence Day 3
Day Three in Florence involved shopping at San Lorenzo market where I ended up buying a pair of shoes, and scarf (You can visit San Lorenzo market in the evening where many local food shops open for the public). I then paid a visit to the San Lorenzo church. If you’re running short of time, then you can skip this one!
I had a major fiasco on Day 3 of Florence when my card got stuck at an Euronet bank ATM. No amount of rebooting the machine helped in getting the card out. On calling customer service of the bank, they suggested me to block the card, and that’s what I ended up doing. I had over 1000 Eur loaded in the card, for my friend and me, which I had gotten for a good rate. And now this meant, I had to use the remaining cash that I had, and when it exhausts I would have to use the credit card. Most of the day was spent in rebooting the machine, calling customer service of the bank, and blocking my card, and sulking over these incidents. It felt like I was on an obstacle course, I hadn’t received my baggage even after 5 days into the trip, there was a cold wave in Europe, and now my card had gotten stuck in an ATM. And I was devastated.
Make time for a day trip to either Sienna or Cinque Terre. I wasn’t able to plan any of these because of the above incidents. Now, that’s just another excuse for me to travel to Italy I guess!
Day 7-8: Venice – 2 days
I was in Venice at the end of Feb, and it wasn’t the Venice I expected to see. Laden in the snow, Venice looked magical, and I left a piece of my roving heart, right in Venice. What’s so special, you ask? Here are some pictures of snowy Venice that you can check and decide for yourself. Like me, even with the advent of social media, Venice in snow is not something you’d have come across, I’m sure!
How to reach Venice
Catch a train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella [50123 Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy] to Venezia Santa Lucia [30100 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy] train station in Venice. It takes about 2 hours to reach and costs about 20 Eur per person one way. I went by Trenitalia train. You can either book directly from their Trenitalia website or book through GoEuro.
Where to stay in Venice
I was there in Venice for only a day, and I couldn’t accommodate any more time in Venice at the time. Sadly, I had to leave Venice just when I found my magical city. However, if you’re heading to Venice, then I would suggest you to spend atleast two days here.
So, I didn’t end up staying anywhere in Venice, but my friend traveled to Venice a couple of months after I did, and she suggested staying at Ostello S. Fosca, which was one of the cheapest hostels she could find in Venice. She said the rooms were nice and clean, and the hostel was at a convenient location.
Venice Day 1
Visit the local attractions in Venice for the first day or two. Sample local Tiramisu, visit a quirky bookshop – Libreria Acqua Alta, Rialto market, check out the sweeping views of Venice from various vantage points of the city. And go on a Gondola ride. The best part during visiting offseason is that most of the popular tourist attractions have prices slashed off. Gondola ride per boat costs around 120 Eur. With around 4 people sharing, it will come down to 30 Eur which is quite a decent price for a Gondola ride per person!
Venice Day 2
I had only a day in Venice, so wasn’t able to visit the nearby islands. However, I would recommend visiting the nearby islands to get the vibe of this Veneto region.
Take day trips to Murano (glass making island), and Burano (colorful island). You can take the local Tronchetto (water bus), to these islands. Head to Murano, a traditional glassmaking island near Venice, attend a glass making workshop there, and shop for locally crafted souvenirs if you like! And then, head to Burano — popular for its brightly colored fisherman’s houses. It will probably be the most colorful island you’d have been to!
Day 9-10: Zurich – 2 days
All the other places I traveled to, I felt there was enough to do over the winters as well. Being an activity-based person, Zurich is the only city I felt is very dull in the winters. The scenery is beautiful, and watching it snow in Zurich by the bridge was one of my favorite experiences of my Euro Trip. But apart from that, I didn’t find much to do except visiting a few vantage points, going to a couple of churches, and of course, relishing on good food.
I wouldn’t suggest you visit Zurich in February unless you’re planning on skiing in the Alps, for which February would be the ideal time. Or you’d just like to visit this famed country to witness the glorious snow, then, by all means, go ahead! (it’s stunning, btw, and all the cliches of the beauty of Switzerland are true).
What I realized is that Zurich, and the whole of Switzerland in general, is expensive (normal meal costs about 8 CHF – 15 CHF) mostly because they don’t have any other cheaper alternatives. For instance, Uber Pool isn’t available in Zurich, which means you need to pay a lot more for a dedicated cab service. Additionally, even the locals prefer to visit the Austrian or Italian Alps for skiing as it’s cost-effective (along with the transport to these locations).
If you prefer a more budget-friendly option, then consider spending days 9-10, in Italy, in Bologna, or in Cinque Terre if you’d like. Or head to Munich in Germany before making your way to Prague. If you’d like to go offbeat, then I would suggest heading to Lake Como. It looks dreamy, I’ve heard so many good things about it, and have been on my wishlist for a while now! If you end up going there, let me know, will ya?
Zurich in Summers
Here’s an account of what a local had to say about life in Zurich, and Switzerland, for that matter in summers. “Switzerland is bustling with activity in summers. You’ll find people swimming and renting kayaks by the lake, cycling in the city, and almost all the hikes open during summers.”
“If you are visiting Zurich in the summers, then definitely go on a Jaunbach gorge hike. The hike takes you on a Gruyeres cheese, and Calliere chocolate factory trail with some stunning landscapes.”
I would definitely visit Switzerland during summers in the future to soak in all the country has to offer.
If you’d still like to visit Zurich in winters, then read on. Else, feel free to skip this section and head to the Prague section.
How to reach Zurich
Reaching Zurich seemed to be too pricey through the train. So, opted for FlixBus, a popular low-cost transport with good connections in Europe. I love overnight transport as a backpacker as it saves me a stay in a hostel while taking me from one place to another. I can literally sleep anywhere so I don’t usually have sleep deprivation either. It saves time and money, so usually, I have at least a couple of days of overnight journeys on my travels.
Catch a bus from Venice Tronchetto station [30100 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy] to Zurich central bus station [Hauptbahnhof, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland]. It takes about 8 hours to reach Zurich and costs around 36 Eur per person one way.
Where to stay in Zurich
There weren’t many hostels in Zurich and it wasn’t easy to find cheap accommodations in the city. I finally found one that was still way over my budget but relatively cheap for Zurich’s standards. Youth Hostel Zurich is one of the best budget accommodations in the city. I paid around 50 CHF for a night’s stay, and that’s one of the cheapest hostels I could find in Zurich. It has to be the most expensive hostel I paid for! Check the latest prices of Youth Hostel Zurich now!
Things to do in Zurich
If you’d still like to visit Switzerland, and head to Zurich then you can take a day trip to Lucerne. You can spend some time in Lucerne – walking around the Old Town, watching the Lucerne lake, and maybe visit some vantage points around the city for some fantastic views.
Pro Travel Tip: Scan the skyline of the city you’re in, and find out the malls, or rooftop restaurants in the area. If lucky, you’ll be awarded some stunning views of the city, for FREE!
If you’re running short of time, then you can head to Mt. Titlis from here. Travel by coach and panoramic cable car to the summit, and spend a few hours skiing there or witnessing the beauty from up there.
Here are some best Winter sports resorts for your reference.
On the other hand, you can take a day trip to Uetliberg Mountain as well.
In Zurich, pay a visit to Old Town (Altstadt), Rietberg Museum, Lindenhofplatz (park opposite to Rietberg Museum), and of course, buy some Swiss chocolates!
Day 11-13: Prague – 3 days
Prague gives off this fairytale vibe with its castles and colorful domes. But what gives this city an edge is its conspicuous Gothic style pervading the city from cathedrals to bridges. The iconic king of Prague — Charles IV (you can’t miss him when you are in Prague, he is everywhere — from streets to bridges to universities) is said to have modeled the city after being impressed by Paris (where he spent the early years of his life). I went on a couple of walking tours which helped me align better with the city and made me privy to some amazing history about this capital of Bohemia.
How to reach Prague
Even the trains departing from Zurich were too expensive, so I thought of taking an overnight bus. Depart from the bus station in Zurich Bus-Parkplatz Sihlquai [Ausstellungsstrasse 5, 8005 Zürich, Switzerland] and arrive at Praha, Hlavní Nádraží [Wilsonova 300/8, 120 00 Vinohrady-Praha 2, Czechia] through RegioJet.
RegioJet is a lot more luxurious than Flixbus – they offer either tea, coffee or hot chocolate to passengers, and houses a restroom and in-bus entertainment. And all this for 15 Eur seemed like a good deal to me. It takes about 9 hours by bus from Zurich to Prague, so plan to take an overnight bus to save time.
Where to stay in Prague
I was looking for hostels close to the iconic Charles Bridge, that’s when I stumbled upon Safestay Prague [Ostrovni 131/15, Prague 01, Prague, 110 00, Czech Republic]. It was cheap, looked clean, had good reviews, free breakfast, and was just 5 min away from the bridge. After making myself at home for three days at Safestay Prague, I would recommend you to stay there as well. Check out the latest prices at Safestay Prague now!
Prague Day 1
I went on a free walking tour of Prague castle (largest castle complex in the world), visited the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral, and listened to numerous stories of the city and the castle that went on for a couple of hours. Then, I visited the Lennon wall and crossed Charles Bridge, all the while admiring the ingenuity of the brilliant minds of the 14th century who built this magnificent bridge.
Do sample beers in Prague – they are supposed to be the best in Europe. That night, I ended up visiting a couple of bars in the city to get a glimpse into the nightlife in Prague. If you’d like to go to a happening party pub, then dance the night away in Prague at one of the amazing pubs in the city which is spread across five floors – Karlovy Lazne. There’s an entrance fee of about CZK 600 here which is a little cheaper over the weekdays.
Prague Day 2
The next day, I went to a Prague city walking tour which covered the Old town, New Town, and the Jewish Ghetto. Visited the Kafka museum as well – a museum dedicated to one of the eminent writers of Prague. Then I spent some time in the evening with the seagulls overlooking the Charles Bridge right behind the museum.
Later, I strolled through Kampa Park and ended the evening with a visit to Dancing House (which boasts interesting architecture and epic views from the top).
The cold days in Prague got a little warmer after copious amounts of mulled red-hot wine. And a lot sweeter after I sampled a popular Czech dessert Trednilk (found it too sweet for my taste though!).
Prague Day 3
The third day in Prague was mainly for shopping and ended up paying a visit to the Museum of Torture which wasn’t eventful at all. I wouldn’t suggest going there. However, definitely visit Vyserhad fort [V Pevnosti 159/5b, 128 00 Praha 2, Czechia] which is a hidden gem in Prague. Glad I got to explore this beauty! You can find sweeping views of the city from here as well.
Day 14-15: Vienna – 2 days
I was fascinated by the city of music and wanted to visit Vienna on my Euro trip. It’s been one of the best places in the world to live in for years in a row and I wanted to see what it’s like to live here!
How to reach Vienna
Where to stay in Vienna
I stayed at Hotel Beethoven in Vienna as I wanted to have a room for myself after two weeks of backpacking. I like a mix of both budget and comfortable stays. While I opt for cheaper stays when I know I’m mostly going to be outdoors, sometimes in between when I want to have a relaxed stay, I opt for a comfortable hotel or an Airbnb.
Hotel Beethoven, conveniently located in the city center, was my home for a couple of days. I had a comfortable and relaxed stay at Hotel Beethoven, and it felt nice to pamper myself with a hot tub bath after two weeks of backpacking. Check latest prices of Hotel Beethoven now!
If you’re looking to stay for cheaper accommodation, then I would suggest Wombats City Hostel. Wombats are a well-known hostel chain in Europe and offer good amenities as well. To top it off, in Vienna, it’s conveniently located in the city – so it’s a win-win.
Vienna Day 1
If you’re running on limited time, then skip the Hofburg Palace but definitely visit Schönbrunn Palace. It’s a 20-minute ride away from the city, but it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Vienna. It’s the summer imperial palace and one of the most prominent architectures in the city. It hosts a zoo, a park, and a vantage point from the top.
I guess my bad luck streak finally came to an end in Vienna when I got lucky and had a chance to watch the Viennese orchestra with a local for free. It was my first concert experience, and it was quite fascinating to watch a whole other world of music!
Vienna Day 2
Make time for the opera in the evenings as well, it’s one of the must-do things in Vienna. While the opera is usually closed in summer, it’s open during the winter. So, that makes for another reason to visit Vienna in the winter. You can find the Operas in Vienna here.
However, if you are not able to find a suitable time to go to the opera, at least pay a visit to the Opera house. They have regular guided tours in various languages at the Opera House. It shows a window into the opulent world of Opera.
Also, sample local dishes like Viennese Schnitzel, Sacher torte, and so on. Viennese coffee houses are quite popular, and the cafe culture has its origins in Vienna. So, you might want to visit some popular coffee houses in the city too like Café Schwarzenberg, and Cafe Central. And don’t leave Vienna without sampling some delicious Viennese pastries, of course!
If you are traveling during the holiday time, then visiting the Christmas markets in Vienna is a must!
Travel Tips in Vienna
I biked around the city with Obike, it was economical and even easy to navigate around Vienna — thanks to its dedicated bike lanes.
However, I would suggest biking with Citybike Vienna, as it has a larger base of cycles available than Obike. This saves time while sightseeing around the city! Register before using the Citybike services. The one-time registration fee is € 1.00, and it will be credited to your account after the registration is complete. The first hour is usually free, and the next hour costs about € 1.00, which doubles with every hour. You can check out the rates here.
Start with downloading the respective app, find the nearest bike station (there are 120 bike stations in the city, so wherever you are in the city, be rest assured that it’s not too far away from you). Vienna is a bike-friendly city, so it’s one of the best ways to explore the city.
If you’ve more than two weeks on your hand, then you can also volunteer in Europe if you’d like or else, you can head to the neighboring countries of Budapest (perfect for backpackers as it’s even cheaper than Prague), Slovenia (stunning natural landscapes — definitely worth a visit), Croatia (Game of Thrones fan or not, it’s a lovely Mediterranean city totally worth your time) and so on.
So, are you planning to go to Europe in winter and follow this itinerary? What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments below!