We started off landing in London. It was great and there are lots of things to do, but if you've been to NYC (or Chicago, I've heard), it's very similar. Don't get me wrong...it was fun eating "pub food" and hearing people's accents and remembering to look right when you crosses the street so you didn't expose yourself as a tourist, but for the most part I wanted to see something of a different culture. Highlights were when we went to the British Museum (SO COOL! It was my favorite museum in all of Europe!), attempted to see the "changing of the guards" (which was cancelled that day...bummer!), went to the modern art museum (forget the name of it), and rode the London Eye. My opinion: Go to the museums on free days (if you're 24 and under, they have free days during the month all over Europe! Google it!) because even with a student price, they can be a bit costly, and don't ride the London Eye. It was a waste of money to me, but then again I don't care for skyscraper views. 16 euros was too much to go on a giant ferris wheel. Take walks in the parks, go to Big Ben, and DEFINITELY go to the Tower of London. Stay in the front of your tour group because the tour guides are hilarious. I heard somewhere they are ex-guards for the Queen or something? Or from the Royal Army? Anyway, they are old and crack lots of jokes. Also in the Tower of London, you can see the Crown Jewels. AH-MAZING! On a last note, don't forget to bring your student ID with you everywhere because there are a lot of student discounts you can get if you have your ID card! Tessa and I forgot ours, and missed out on a lot of cheap discounts because of it. (Below: view from the London Eye, Tower Bridge right next to the Tower of London, a beautiful park!)
Next, took the train directly to Paris. You could definitely spend a week there! Go to the artist village (Montemarte?) by the Sacre de Coeur (Sacred Heart Cathedral)...(it's up on a HUGE hill and these dudes will try to tie bracelets on your hand as your climbing the steps, and then steal your money. Run away from them!) Paris was definitely a neat experience. Lots of iconic things, but lots of neat things as well. Good shopping. Definitely see the Eiffel tower lit up at night (if you haven't already...it's so neat...it sparkles! Take a video of it!) and climb it. I wouldn't ride the elevator...climb it. There are lots of neat facts every landing (about every ten steps) so if you get tired you can stop every ten steps and read about its history! :) Also, get crepes at the artist village. They are delicious. Go to the Louvre on free day if you can, and see the Mona Lisa. I think we ended up going to the Louvre twice...once on a free day, and once paid admission. The free days are ridiculously crowded, but hey...it's free. (Below: The Mona Lisa...yes, this is how small it is, and yes, this is the closest you can get, The Eiffel Tower, Sacre de Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, and the French Open)
Next we hit up Germany. DEFINITELY hit up Germany. I LOVED it. Berlin was neat (lots of beautiful parks! Everything is soooooo green and lovely) but we also went to Dachau (the concentration camp) which was a neat experience. If you're into that sort of thing, I'd definitely go. It's one of the larger ones, and is one of the closest too. Be prepared to spend at least half a day there, and I'd go to the museum first, and THEN check out the grounds. It's a lot more meaningful. (Below: a Holocaust memorial in Berlin - the museum was underground, a beautiful green park!, Capitol Building - sooooo neat! The theory behind how they built it and wanted to run the government is so cool!)
Next we went to Amsterdam. DEFINITELY hit up Amsterdam. It's such a neat city! And everywhere you can, take a free student-guided tour. There are these college students (usually from the US) studying in Europe, and to pay their way they give tours of the city. It is free, and you are encouraged to tip them at the end (like 5 euros is good). It turns out to be a very good tour by someone your own age who is interested in things you're interested in. And it's cheap. Look them up and go on them in a few cities...it helps you get to know the city layout as well. We went on a tour and it took us through the Red Light District which was a little uncomfortable, but we just kept our heads down. But when you learn about the history behind the red light district, it's actually kind of neat. I really enjoyed the Amsterdam tour the best. Also, their strobe (?) waffles are GREAT. Especially with ice cream in the middle. (Below: The entire city is canals and bikes, waffle with ice cream!, neat houses - you will learn more about these on a tour!, and the i amsterdam statue...classic)
Next came Prague, but I'm not sure if it's on the rail pass. That was neat, but we were only there for one day. The architecture is definitely different than the rest of Europe.
We stopped by Germany again (this is when we hit church, Dachau, and the Neuschwanstein castle - a MUST see).
Finally it was time for Rome, oh Rome. LOVED it. You could easily spend a week there. I think we were there three days, which was still fantastic. Get a Colosseum/Roman Forum pass (get both...it comes in one ticket) and you can see the Colosseum one day and the Roman Forums the next. It rained a lot there. We also loved seeing the Vatican, but be mindful that some days of the week it is closed, and they are also picky about dress. Right outside the gates, there is the best gelato shop...I wish I knew the name of it. I wrote it down in my journal, but that's buried in a box in the shed. I'd recommend googling a really good gelato shop and seeing people's recommendations because some of them are crappy and ripoffs. The further you get from touristy destinations, the better the food (generally). (Below: The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Julius Caesar's house!!!, inside the Colosseum, AMAZING gelato right outside the Vatican gates, the Vatican, Trevi fountain)
We stopped for literally one hour in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We got off the train, walked 45 minutes into the city with our packs on (ouchhh!), took pictures, and walked back to the train station. I'm not even kidding. But I look back and am glad I've got those pictures!
That same day we hit up Florence. Florence was neat. We arrived in the afternoon and left late at night to avoid staying there, and managed to still have a wonderful time. There's a lot of art culture in Florence. I regret not seeing the David though. I was too much of a cheapskate. I was young and stupid. But statue building (below) was fun!
We stopped in Nice, France, to go to the beach, which was really neat. The water was literally teal! We also went to Monaco, which is a rich, ritzy place. We didn't really fit in, but it was neat. They had cool self-cleaning toilets in the casinos. :) Bring a nicer outfit/shirt if you're planning on stopping by there. (Below: Monaco, Nice Beach)
Lastly, if you like adventure (rock climbing, skydiving, paragliding, canyoneering, etc.) I'd recommend going to Interlaken, Switzerland. All of the recreation activities were fairly cheap (relative to America). I didn't do any of it (I can't even bring myself to go on a rollercoaster at Disneyland...) but as a group we ended up hiking up a mountain (Harder Klum, which I am pretty sure translates into harder climb...yeah, smart choice on our part?!) where we could see a beautiful view of the Swiss Alps. I loved that hike. It was hard, but worth it!
After Switzerland, we headed back through Paris (that is when we saw the Moulin Rouge and the French Open) and back through London.
OH! Another thing: Figure out where the churches are in the cities you will be hitting up and write down their location and times. It's fun to go to church in a new country...it's in a different language, but it's still the same! So neat. So pack a casual skirt (we just wore flip flops to church...people knew we were backpacking. I think they were used to it)
I wish we would have hit up Ireland and Scotland on our trip, but we ran out of time. They are also in the opposite direction we were going, and it would have taken a few days to get up there. I cannot stress enough to maximize your time by traveling on the trains at night! You will be so grateful you did!
Good luck! I hope this helped!