Backpackers' UK

Get the backpackers' guide to the United Kingdom and Ireland.
By: Andre Legaspi

For as long as there have been affordable trans-Atlantic flights, backpacking in Europe has been a rite of passage for 20-somethings. Partying like a rock star, on the other hand, has probably been around since the beginning of time (the Big Bang was most likely one heck of a light show).

Leave it to college kids to combine the 2 activities, convincing Mom and Dad in the meantime that they were heading abroad solely to "experience other cultures" and "broaden their horizons." Upon arrival in Europe, backpackers are faced with the enormity of the Continent, an endless list of countries and cities both extremely interesting and extremely fun. Here are some of the must-sees:

The United Kingdom
It's a natural and easy decision for travelers to start their overseas debauchery somewhere within the United Kingdom. More flights come through London from the United States than any other European hub, and from there you can buy dirt-cheap plane tickets to locations all over Western Europe.

While airfare might be inexpensive, you'll find that everything else purchased in the UK will put a massive strain on your wallet. The steep dollar to pound exchange rate and high cost of living are the main culprits, but this doesn't mean you'll have to spend nights cooped up in your budget hotel room. It just means you'll savor each pint a little more.

Thankfully, draught ales in the UK pack a punch and are world-renowned for their taste and heartiness. For some rather attractive drinking buddies, you'll want to go to Aragon House. During the summer, you'll find that while the weather might not be misbehaving, the laid-back, attractive folks hanging in the bar's outdoor area usually are. If you're looking to shake your thing on the dance floor, you'll be pleased to hear that because discotheques in other parts of Europe are leaps and bounds better than the ones here, you won't be spending much of your pounds on cover.

Come daytime, backpackers will find that London has the upper hand in the UK when it comes to truly amazing sights: There's no shortage of camera fodder in merry old England. First, you have the must-sees like the iconic clock tower Big Ben, and the famed Buckingham Palace and Tower of London. The town's newest and hottest sight, the London Eye -- ostensibly a glorified carnival ride on steroids -- gives visitors a bird's-eye view of the city. This gigantic Ferris Wheel draws thousands of visitors, who fork over exorbitant admission fees to take a spin in one of the ride's entirely transparent and bubble-shaped cars. The more it rotates and the higher you're lifted into the air, the less extortionate the fees seem. That's because of the unparalleled perspective afforded by the Eye when you reach the apex of the ride. From your perch above London, if you squint hard enough, you might even be able to see the end of the Eye's queue all the way across the River Thames.

Another stop on your tour of the UK should be Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh. Here, revelers prefer to jump and jig than bump and grind while they pound away their mugs.

Across the water on the Emerald Isle, the city of Dublin gives London a run for its money when it comes to nightlife, or at least the bar scene. Every evening, on the narrow streets of Dublin, things gets chaotic and loud, especially on the weekend when patrons stumble out of pubs in the Temple Bar area. You'll find more folks stumble in to Eamonn Doran's, a wildly popular music bar that consistently puts top rock and jazz acts on its stage. There are no shortages of regular pubs in town, however, and you only have to perk your ears to find the most raucous ones.

If you manage to escape the sweet, acrid and oddly charming smell of the pubs in Dublin and Edinburgh, you'll find a few attractive, entertaining and, of course, inebriating points of interest. Edinburgh's self-titled castle, for example, is breathtaking, mystical and downright frightening all at once. A military stronghold in its former life, Edinburgh Castle has now become the city's biggest tourist attraction. Few parts of the site are actually remnants from the original castle, and St. Margaret's Chapel happens to be one of them. It might help to mumble a quick prayer before you descend to the belly of the structure, to examine the creepy, ancient holding cells.

Dublin's biggest place of worship contains no sacred or holy relics. Instead, it's home to enormous vats and souvenir shot glasses. Much like the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, the slightly more demure Guinness Brewery is one of the most popular destinations on the island. Because the beer company is so deeply intertwined with Ireland's history and its difficult growth as a country, it can be a sobering cultural experience for the not-so-sober. As expected, you'll find that light beer at the end of the tunnel in the aptly named "Gravity Bar." There, you can knock back a fresh pour of their black, and naturally low-calorie, stout as well as enjoy amazing views of the city.

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