Interrailing Travel Diary: Ljubliana, Lake Bled, Vienna and Budapest

Whilst planning our holiday for this Summer, Anna and I really struggled to think of one place to visit. We had considered interrailing, but also had to factor in a lower budget, alongside wanting to feel slightly more relaxed than the constant go interrailing would involve. However, at the same time we wanted to experience staying in hostels to save money and also just do something a bit out of our comfort zone. Going on a party holiday wasn't what we wanted to spend our savings on, so we wrote a list of potential activities and types of places we'd want to go - lakes, mountains but also cities and outdoorsy sports like paddle boarding, and eventually came to the conclusion of a mini-interrailing-without-an-interrail-pass holiday, starting in Ljubliana, Slovenia and finishing in Budapest, Hungary.

The places we wanted to visit were further away than a train journey seemed necessary, and we didn't intend to spend the whole holiday sat on trains feeling exhausted. Therefore, we decided to fly from Luton to Ljubliana to get us closer to our destination cities. We flew with Wizz Air (which we hadn't heard of before and the booking process was a nightmare - make sure you don't accidentally buy 2 more tickets thinking the transaction hadn't processed, as I made that mistake myself I recommend you buy all tickets slowly and think about everything you do) and arrived in Ljubliana airport in the late afternoon.

The bus situation at Ljubliana airport was confusing to say the least, there was a huge sign saying 'bus' that looked quite promising and rows of buses waiting to leave. We read the timetable which suggested that the bus to the city centre should be arriving, but it didn't arrive. I asked a few of the parked bus drivers if the were going to Ljubliana but I just got a few shrugs as a response so we resorted to standing and waiting. Now if you have a few extra euros I would suggest taking the airport transfer mini vans which cost around 9 Euros, or you could just wait around and pay 4 Euros for a cheap bus/coach like Anna and I did.

The first hostel we stayed in was called Hostel Tabor, which we booked a private 2 bed room for 3 nights. The room itself was quite large, with wardrobes that included a key to lock them with (that I appreciated a lot, big enough to fit my suitcase in and more!) It didn't have an en suite, but the communal bathroom and shower situation was perfectly acceptable. For a basic hostel it had everything it needed. The kitchen area was great, with a fridge and pots and pans we could use. To save money Anna and I made dinner in the kitchen on a few evenings, which worked out well - considering there was an Aldi (called Hofer in Slovenia) 10 min walk away. The only thing I would change about the hostel would be to have a better breakfast, but considering that most hostels don't provide breakfast, it was fine.

On the first evening we went out to eat in the town - we stumbled across a place called Flancat located on the river front by the Butcher's bridge. Then we decided to wander around Ljubliana centre for a while. It felt very safe when walking around, despite it being the evening. Something which I noticed was that Ljubliana didn't feel tourist-ridden. I'm not sure if this is due to it being late August, but the town felt busy with locals, which as a visitor I preferred, it didn't alienate me out of the culture into a tourist bubble.

 The first full day involved travelling by bus to Lake Bled in the morning, that cost around €6 for a single ticket and took 40ish minutes to get there. The scenery on the bus to the lake was wonderful, Slovenia is not very urbanised, so it was nice to see fields with mountainous backdrops. We walked along the lake to find out where the swimming areas were. There was an easy path that went around it past the swimming areas and plenty of places to rent a rowing boat. Near the rowing club we found a small cafe that sold paninis for €4 so we sat and ate those which reading on the grass. 

Next we had booked an eBike tour to Vintar Gorge through Trip Advisor for the afternoon which involved cycling from the lake to the gorge, then entry into the gorge. Not only was the scenery incredible between the lake and the gorge, but eBike's made the experience 100x better! If you have ever ridden an eBike you'd understand that a hill is no longer a physical challenge with one - making the incline cycle a breeze, especially in the heat.

Vintar gorge itself was beautiful. Luckily it wasn't too busy on the walk around at the time we went (it is known to get crowded) so we walked around at a steady pace, taking in all of the nature! The shade of the trees and late afternoon sun created a beautiful hazy paradise, hidden in the hills. A wooden walkway outlined the gorge, with a one way route along the river.

If you ever go to Lake Bled, I suggest visiting the gorge one afternoon. It seems like the lake's untold secret, plus I believe there are multiple hiking routes close to the lake if that's your thing - we didn't do that but I overheard a lot of tourists talking about how great they were.

The next morning, we had booked a paddle boarding session along the Ljulianica river. I had paddle boarded before, but Anna hadn't but this wasn't an issue (we didn't fall in!) The tour guide Amanda was really encouraging and friendly, whilst also educating us on Ljubliana and things to do whilst we were here. It was a really relaxing way to see the city - also environmentally friendly (not using a petrol boat tour!)

Considering how much we loved Lake Bled on the first day, we decided to go back again on the second. This time we packed our swimming stuff so we could enjoy the lake that way! On the 1st day there we scouted out the best places to swim, and found a more secluded area around 30 minute walk away from Bled itself. The disadvantage of swimming in the open (opposed to swimming in the designated paid area) was that we had to watch our stuff, but that wasn't an issue as we found a small bank down the hill from the path, where we were away from the crowds.

Following a day of swimming and relaxing, we hired a rowing boat in the early evening for the hour and rowed to Bled Island. It was a good time to row as the weather had cooled off by the evening, so rowing wasn't a sweaty activity and we didn't get extremely sun burnt (in addition to the fact I wore factor 50 suncream the whole holiday.) The tranquillity of the lake meant that we could row inaccurately (no skills in either of us) without worrying about collisions or capsizing. The island itself was very small, yet we still wandered around for a while before rowing back to shore.

Anna and I agreed that Slovenia was our favourite area of our holiday. I learnt that being amongst nature and mountains is just as enjoyable (if not more so) than being in a busy city. I feel like being in a city can feel similar wherever you are in the world, with traffic, galleries, museums, shops, monuments - generic city activities. For some reason, being in nature just feels different wherever you go, as nature is not the same everywhere. You could argue that all trees look the same, but I also feel like there is more adventure involved in exploring in nature. I think the best part about Slovenia was its low levels of tourism. Yes, there were facilities for tourists, but it wasn't crowded or distracting from the beauty of the location itself. This may change in the coming years, when tourism naturally increases - but there is something to be noted about visiting an unusual place, or something that is not typical of a tourist.

Next we took a train from Ljubliana to Vienna, which is often named as one of the most scenic train-rides in Austria. Although the journey was long as we took it in the day-time, the views were phenomenal - full of mountains, lakes, villages and forests. This made the journey a lot easier and was part of the reason why taking the train between countries instead of flying is so good! You can see more of the country en-route by train than you ever would in the air. I think the journey took around 5 hours, lots of reading was done. The train also had free-wifi which was nice (UK trains really need to up their game.)

Upon arriving in Vienna, we scrambled around the station trying to work out the metro system during rush hour. Then we took the metro to a station near to our hostel, called Wombats City Hostel Naschmarkt. This was by far our favourite hostel of the 3 we stayed in (it was more expensive.) We stayed in a 4 bed room, where we met 2 lovely girls also interrailing around Europe. The view from our hostel window was beautiful, it overlooked the market and some classic architecture. The hostel was only a 15 minute walk from the museum quarter, which didn't feel long at all. An additional bonus was the Aldi equivalent next door to the hostel, which meant that we could easily buy and cook our own meals (as Vienna is known for being on the pricier side.)

We spent the first evening walking around Vienna near the museums and squares. The atmosphere felt extremely safe and relaxed, we sat and people watched in a square for a while, before heading back to the hostel. The weather that evening so happened to be thunder and lightning, which put on quite the show whilst exploring, but also the whole night. I have never been kept awake from such large flashes of lightning and thunder crashes - welcome to continental weather I guess.

Then we spent the next day exploring further and looking in the shops, the heat was nearly unbearable (probably because I'm a Brit) but we persevered and hopped between patches of shade. In one of the main squares, there was a water bottle refill station - which I thought was amazing, partially due to dying in the heat, but also because of my inner eco-warrior celebrating!

Though our trip to Vienna was short and sweet, I feel like we got the gist of it in 24 hours. The architecture felt very Parisian, but it felt safer than Paris.

The pedestrian traffic lights all have cute couple signals on them - some with 2 men or 2 women, others with a man and a woman signal. It's something you may not notice unless you stop to take note of such things, but it is a subtle addition to the city which Anna and I loved. After our brief trip to Vienna, we took a Flixbus coach to Budapest which cost us less than £10 (not sure how we managed to grab that bargain of a travel expense) - the journey was around 3 hours, which wasn't so bad until we started to feel travel-sick in the last hour. I guess that is the downside to travelling by coach.

We stayed in the Avenue Hostel whilst in Budapest, in a room with 10 beds. The room itself for some reason looks way nicer in the photos we took of it, but the room didn't have any blinds - so as you can imagine in the heat of the daytime sun caused this room to consistently be like a sauna. And the 2 fans provided by the hostel, just blasted this humidity around the room. This hostel definitely taught us a lot about travelling cheap and the risks involved with that. If you look for a hostel, make sure it has a locker big enough to fit your suitcase/backpack in, for security reasons mostly. Also, the hostel lacked communal bathroom space, so it was 1 en suite toilet/shower room for 10 girls - not ideal. If you want to travel cheap and just have a place to sleep at night, this hostel is perfect for you, but for Anna and I, first time hostel-stayers this was pretty intense.

Budapest was a much larger, spread-out city than we anticipated, lots of time was spent walking in the heat and trying not to pass out from dehydration. On the first day we decided to go to the Szechenyi Thermal baths to relax after our long travel between Vienna and Budapest. The baths were amazing, so relaxing and felt really safe. However, we didn't realise that the food places inside the baths only take card, and we had left our cards in our lockers at the hostel (alongside getting cash out because the currency had changed). This meant that we essentially stayed there all morning until we got hungry/bored - make sure you bring your own flip flops, you'll thank me later. After the spa we explored the park nearby and Anna bought langos (Hungarian speciality) at a local cafe.

On this day we hadn't really planned much else, so we just wandered around and ran into certain landmarks as we went such as Heroes Square and Vajdahunyad Castle.

 That evening in the hostel I ended up speaking to 2 girls, one from Brazil, the other from Argentina, who wanted to visit the Parliament building at night time, and they invited Anna and I to go with them. So we walked together to the landmark:

I don't think I can put into words how beautiful the Parliament building looked at night with all the lights surrounding it. Birds were flying above the building and they lit up because of the lights, looking like fireflies hovering above the structure. It reminded me of Harry Potter and it felt magical, the area surrounding the building was quiet and it just had such an atmosphere of tranquillity. Afterwards we all went to a bar and drank cocktails and had wonderful conversation.

On our final day in Budapest, Anna and I had more of an itinerary we wanted to follow - exploring the other side of the river and it's landmarks. Again, we walked everywhere (which may have caused our heat-blasted exhaustion at the end of the day), so first we went to the Gerard of Csanád Monument (accidentally) and stood next to the cold spraying waterfall monument for a while.Then we made our way to Buda Castle and absorbed the city views.

Anna particularly wanted to see the Fisherman's Bastion, which is a fairy-tale looking castle overlooking the city. In all honesty, we didn't really have the energy to appreciate this as much as we should have (note to self: don't visit cities in the boiling heat). We also came across the Matthias Church which has beautiful orange and blue tile work on the roof - it really looked amazing against the blue sky as a backdrop.

Following an exhausting day me and Anna were desssperate for some food to fuel us, and I think by the look on my face, you can see that I was extremely happy to be eating spaghetti bolognese. After that we walked to Margaret Island where we sat and dipped our feet in the fountain to cool off. As you can see, the strawberry Calippo was needed.

To summarise, our mini-interrailing trip was full of adventure, learning and sweating. If you are interested in the money side of this trip, it cost us around £600 for the whole trip including all journeys and food etc.. which I think was compleeeetly worth it!! Next time I plan a city-hopping Europe trip I'll probably look to going to Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Paris, but I think what we learnt is you can definitely see a city in 3 days, meaning weekend trips are completely reasonable!

Have you been interrailing before? What locations in Europe have been your favourite to visit?

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