The cradle of Western civilization is an amazingly diverse conglomeration of unique identities, attitudes and agendas. The countries within Europe’s borders each offer a different experience, and it can take a lifetime to fully appreciate them all.
The most daunting challenge facing travelers to Europe is choosing the first destination. Don’t make the mistake of doing a whirlwind two-week tour of 10 countries. You won’t see a thing. Consider your interests, the season and your budget and focus on one particular region.
The blond hair and blue eyes of chilly Scandinavia provide the Nordic flavor of Europe. Cities like Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark are among the most progressive - and most expensive - on earth. At the southern fringes of Europe lie the swarthy Mediterranean countries of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey and Greece, whose islands are legendary for their myths and ancient heritage.
For a touch of the exotic, dive into the bazaars and mosques of Istanbul. Eastern Europe is still rough around the edges, but classic cities like Budapest and Prague are real charmers at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe. If it’s attitude you want, try your charms on the French. Paris is always worth a look, and the wine country is as romantic as you’d imagine.
Italy is overrun by self-declared suave men who know you want them, so ladies beware. But it’s also home to ancient Rome, the watery magic of Venice and the fashion chic of Milan. In between all these nations lie the Alps. The skiing and hiking in Switzerland and Austria is world-famous, but you’ll pay dearly.
Germany has plenty of highlights as well. Fairytale castles at Heidelberg, the Rhine River Valley, Black Forest and beer-guzzling city of Munich are all southern attractions. Berlin is considered the hottest party spot in the world right now, proving that Germans are loosening up. Perhaps the open policies of Amsterdam are starting to have an influence.
Traveling between countries is easy thanks to convenient visa rules and excellent transport. Europe offers a full plate, so take your time and pick away at it slice by slice.
It is not surprising that a continent as large as Europe offers a wide range of attractions to suit all tastes. Whether manmade or natural, there is plenty to see and do, in fact so much so that you won’t be able to fit it all in during one trip. Ranging from ancient ruins to deserted beaches and from enormous national parks to exciting cities, Europe literally has it all.
The Vatican City is home to the Pope and is the smallest independent sovereign state in the world. There are a number of sights to see, but the most popular tourist attraction is the Sistine Chapel, the roof of which was painted by Michelangelo in 1508. Other sights include St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican library and the gardens.
Central London boasts a history unlike many other capital cities and is also home to a number of theaters, museums, historical buildings, Royal palaces and of course shopping facilities. A trip to London isn’t complete without doing a tour of the historic old town with its imposing towers, ornate buildings and cultural heritage.
The Acropolis in Athens looks down on the city from a great height. It is one of the most famous sights in Europe and is now a symbol of the country. It dates back approximately 2,500 years and houses the Parthenon, which was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. Despite being in ruins, the Acropolis is still awe-inspiring and well worth the trip to see it.
Disneyland Paris is a smaller version of its larger and older counterpart in the US. It is great for a family holiday and boasts theme parks, museums, sports facilities, shopping complexes, restaurants and accommodation.
Barcelona is one of Spain’s major tourist destinations. It is located on the coast and offers visitors the chance to experience true Spanish culture. Visit Parc Guëll and see some of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces or stroll along Las Ramblas, the most famous street in Spain. For those brave enough, there is the chance to watch real bull fights, or if you would prefer you could take a tour to visit some of the architectural wonders in the city.
The Alps are a mountain range stretching from Italy, right through France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and into Slovenia. The tallest and most famous mountain is Mont Blanc, although all offer hiking trails in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Scotland and has been in use for over 1,000 years. It was once a royal residence, but today is more of a museum. There is much to explore and many views to admire from the top of the hill.
This busy square began life as a horse market in the early 1900s. There is a lot of historical architecture lining the square and it is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. There are a number of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars located in and around the square. It is the true heart of the city.
- Eastern Europe
- Armenia , Azerbaijan , Belarus , Bulgaria , Czech Republic , Georgia , Hungary , Moldova , Poland , Romania , Russia , Slovakia , Ukraine
- Mediterranean Europe
- Albania , Andorra , Bosnia and Herzegovina , Croatia , Cyprus , Gibraltar , Greece , Italy , Kosovo , Macedonia , Malta , Montenegro , Northern Cyprus , Portugal , San Marino , Serbia , Slovenia , Spain , Turkey , Vatican City
- Northern Europe
- Denmark , Estonia , Finland , Iceland , Latvia , Lithuania , Norway , Sweden
- Western Europe
- Austria , Belgium , France , Germany , Ireland , Liechtenstein , Luxembourg , Monaco , Netherlands , Switzerland , United Kingdom
Things to See & Do
Europe is home to a wide range of different landscapes and weather patterns. Regardless of whether you want to climb a mountain, dive to the depths of the ocean or surf the waves in the sun, there is something for everyone.
The continent is divided into two main parts, Eastern and Western Europe. Western Europe is generally much more developed, although Eastern Europe has opened up and offers untamed nature and stunning beaches.
While Europe may not be as exotic as other destinations throughout the world, it does boast a huge array of wildlife and breathtaking scenery, which adds to the overall experience when visiting.
When to Go
As Europe is such a large continent, the climate throughout is extremely different depending on where you go. Most of Europe sees warm, but not overly hot, summers and cold winters. Rain is a major feature in most places and there can be periods of heavy rain throughout the year, regardless of the season.
Southern Europe generally experiences the best weather and many people from the northern parts make their way to the south for their summer holidays. Places such as Greece and Portugal actually experience very hot and dry summers whereas Scandinavia and the UK see cooler and often more bearable conditions.
June to October These months are generally regarded as the summer months, although it is possible to have heat-waves earlier in the year, which are actually getting more and more common. However, June marks the beginning of summer and also the beginning of the peak season in Europe. The European summer break from school is generally in July and August so there is always a rush of families getting away for a couple of weeks during this time.
The weather is warm throughout Europe and southern Europe in particular can often see temperatures reaching mid to high 30s (°C). Northern Europe is much more temperate with weather staying in the high-20s (°C), low-30s (°C).
Temperatures begin to cool down towards the end of September and throughout October, the climate is often enjoyably mild, but it is somewhat cooler than the previous months.
November to February This is a time you definitely don’t want to be in northern Europe if you are looking for sun. The most northern parts of Europe such as Iceland and Scandinavia have very short days and long nights. In fact, some parts of Iceland are dark for 24-hours during the depths of winter.
Other areas of northern Europe are brighter, but still experience bitter temperatures. Sleet and snow are not uncommon and when the weather becomes milder, rain is not uncommon either.
If you are a fan of winter sports then there are many places which will suit every need such as the Alps, the mountains of Eastern Europe and parts of Russia. Snow is seen in the UK and northern France, but not as much as in other areas.
March to May Springtime in Europe is a very pleasant season. Plants start flowering, days get longer and the sun begins to shine again. There is a noticeable difference in people’s moods as they leave the long winter nights behind them for another year.
Temperatures in areas such as Britain, France, Germany and northern Italy reach low-20s (°C) while in southern Europe, they are already hitting the 30s (°C). Many people opt to take spring breaks and it is a very good time of year to visit as tourist areas are less crowded and prices are much lower.
Northern Europe Northern Europe experiences much colder and wetter weather than the south. Winters are longer and darker and summers while warm are rarely as hot as countries such as Cyprus and Portugal.
Most people in northern Europe escape to the south even in the summer to enjoy the sunshine and blue skies as the weather can be very unpredictable in their home countries.
Areas in the extreme north of Europe experience ferocious winters and some towns even have 24 hours of darkness as it nears the winter solstice. The summer months are brighter, but still a lot colder than other countries even in the north.
Southern Europe If you are looking for guaranteed sunshine during the summer months or warmer weather during the winter months, you should make your way to southern Europe. The temperatures are much warmer than in the north and for many people are a lot more pleasant.
Europe is well connected by air with the rest of the world, with flights operating to every international capital on the globe. It is possible to fly direct to and from most locations, but stopping en route can often mean you make a saving.
The European summer holiday spans from June to August and sees air fares go up. Likewise, flights increase in price over the Christmas period. During other times of the year it is possible to find flight deals and low-cost package holidays. Europe’s busiest airports include London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Madrid Barajas and Amsterdam Schiphol.
From the US: flying to Europe from both the east coast and the west coast of the US is straightforward, with direct flights available to all European capitals from New York’s JFK and Los Angeles international airports. Prices peak in the summer months (June to August) and around Christmas.
From Canada: Toronto and Vancouver international airports service direct flights to European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome. For the best deals, avoid travel in June, July, August and December.
From the UK: while the UK is part of Europe, it is an island separated from the mainland by the English Channel. It is possible to take a budget flight to mainland Europe from most UK airports, but you can also arrive via the Channel Tunnel by Eurostar or take a ferry from Dover to Calais, France.
From Australia and New Zealand: direct flights operate from both New Zealand’s Auckland International Airport and Australia’s main air hubs at Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne to major European airports. Flights are typically cheaper from Australian airports, and the best deals can be had during the low seasons of September to November and January to May.
From South Africa: Johannesburg International Airport serves direct flights to all major European cities. Air fares increase over Christmas and during the European summer (June to August).
There are over 50 countries in Europe, all of different sizes and stages of development. Budget airlines offer flights all across Europe, but this is not the best way to see the picturesque towns and countryside. There are a number of overland routes which are a lot more fun and allow you fully experience every country you visit.
Train: Traveling by train is one of the most comfortable ways to travel and with excellent service on most of the railways, it is often extremely convenient. It is, however, important to remember that individual train tickets can prove to be expensive, especially if you are traveling through Western Europe so it is a good idea to look into the options of rail passes.
There are a number of different passes available such as the Eurail which allows travel through 18 countries. There are also youth passes for those under the age of 26. It is also possible to buy combined rail and bus tickets which offer huge savings on your travel.
Many countries in western Europe are connected by high-speed trains, for example the UK is connected to France and Belgium by the EuroStar and when you are on mainland Europe, you can reach virtually anywhere else. The trains in Eastern Europe, however, are not so developed and many take a long time to reach their destination.
If you are traveling long distances, you will find that it is much more convenient to fly or take the train; however, if you are on a tight budget, these modes might not be an option. There are a number of international bus companies linking European countries although if you are traveling throughout Eastern Europe, you will find that local companies offer much lower rates than in the West. They offer connections to destinations across eastern, western and central Europe.
Many local railways have been closed down in the East due to economic troubles so sometimes buses are the only way to get from A to B. However, these are usually local buses which although cheap, can be overcrowded and uncomfortable. However, nothing will let you experience local culture more than getting on a bus full of local people.
Car: The price of renting a car in Europe will depend entirely on where you are. As with most things, car rental is more expensive in the West. Driving through Europe will give you a lot more flexibility than taking public transport, but you should always be traveling with someone who can share the driving and the fuel costs as Europe is a very large continent. In order to rent a car, you will need a credit card, your driver’s license and be at least 21 years old.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement, but it is important to remember that not all EU members have signed the Schengen Treaty. The roads throughout most of Europe are very good and apart from in the city centers, traffic is usually scarce.
Air: With the sudden boom in low-cost airlines, flying is not only convenient but depending on available deals, it can also be economical. If you are on a tight schedule, flying may be the only viable option.
Ferry: If you have a lot of time to spare, you could consider taking a boat to one of Europe’s coastal destinations. There are a number of ferry links throughout Europe offering an enjoyable form of transportation.
Where to Stay
Finding accommodation in Europe is easy, with all countries in the region having the necessary infrastructure to accommodate tourists. If you want to stay in an upmarket hotel, you will need to book in advance, especially during the peak seasons (June to August and December). Budget accommodation, on the other hand, does not usually require advance reservation, except during peak holiday periods.
Quality of lodgings depends on the price you pay, with most high end establishments offering impeccable service and standards. Mid-range hotels can vary, while hostels typically offer basic yet clean no-fills accommodation. If you plan on camping, check the location of the campsite and its facilities before you arrive to ensure it suits your needs.
Hostels: are widely available in all major cities and most large towns in Europe. Popular among backpackers, this budget type accommodation typically provides clean private or dorm rooms as well as cooking facilities. Discounts are often available for students or members of hostel affiliations… more
Hotels: Europe boasts some of the world’s most luxurious and expensive hotels as well as plenty of mid-range, comfortable options for those with lower budgets. The capital cities of the region offer the most expensive places to stay, but cheaper hotel alternatives are usually available in the city suburbs. Standards are normally high… more
Camping: is a great way to experience the outdoors on a budget, and Europe offers some excellent sites with comprehensive facilities such as showers and onsite kitchens. Discounts are often available for students and members of camping affiliations… more
Health and safety
There are not many health concerns to be worried about on a trip to Europe. Western Europe in particular boasts excellent healthcare systems and world-class medical staff. Standards of hygiene are good and health and safety laws in the west are stringent.
In some of the less-developed countries, laws are not quite so strict and medical facilities in rural areas may be less developed. This being said, however, there are no major disease epidemics to be wary of and with common sense you should have a trouble free holiday.
As a general rule, the north, west and central Europe are somewhat safer than eastern and southern Europe but most people have a hassle free and enjoyable holiday wherever they go.
Crime: the main tourist hubs have opportunist thieves in abundance, just like anywhere in the world. Always keep hold of your belongings and never reveal valuables in public. By sticking to the main tourist tracks, you should encounter no problems. There are very low rates of violent crimes against tourists in European countries although there are certain areas you should avoid, but these do not usually hold any interest for tourists anyway.
Regional conflicts and terrorism: since 9/11, many European countries have been on high alert. The bombings in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) saw many countries enter a state of panic, and holidaymakers in Turkey have also come under attack. While the threat remains high, government agencies such as MI5 are doing all they can to catch terrorists before they strike.
Diseases: there are no tropical diseases to be wary of in Europe however you should still ensure standard vaccinations are up-to-date before you travel. Typhoid is found in parts of Turkey, while rabies is still found in certain parts of Europe.
Adverse weather: the weather throughout Europe is very different in each region. Northern and eastern parts see a lot of snow, which can be hazardous if you are driving. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of hurricanes affecting Western countries.
Women travelers: female travelers are advised to exercise caution when travelling alone in Europe, as with anywhere in the world. While women are generally safe travelling alone in daylight hours, traveling alone at night is not recommended. It is common for men to whistle or hiss at ladies in the street in some European countries, but this is usually non-threatening and should be ignored.
Work and Study
If you are an EU citizen, finding work in Europe is easy. Nationals of other countries must first apply for a work permit/visa before they can legally work in Europe, which can be a lengthy and complicated procedure that involves a lot of paperwork.
All European major educational institutes accept applications from international students, making studying here feasible. The rates international students pay are typically twice that of what nationals pay, however, making studying in Europe expensive. Living costs are also expensive, deterring some students. You will need to fulfill the university or college qualification and language requirements in order to come and study in Europe.
Once your paperwork is in order, finding work is straightforward using job centers, job newspapers and local job websites. Work in almost every field is available in major cities include language teaching and catering positions, while rural areas often have agricultural or factory work.
English is widely spoken in many European countries, but a basic understanding of the national language of the country you visit will help you enormously. If you can’t speak one of Europe’s national languages, you may prefer to study or work in an English speaking nation such as the UK.