Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000 km² (3,930,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why — a well-preserved cultural heritage, open borders, safety and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world's second smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.
The eastern border of Europe is poorly defined. The Caucasus states are sometimes considered part of Asia due to culture, history and geography, and much of Russia and Turkey is geographically part of Asia.
Some European countries are members of the European Union (EU), a supranational body with harmonized legislation. The most apparent result of the EU for a traveller are the Schengen Agreement and the Euro - the first is an agreement under which there are no border controls between signatory countries (only at the outside borders), the other is a common currency adopted by certain countries. That said, it is important to note that not all EU members adopted Schengen or the Euro, and not all countries that adopted Schengen or Euro are European Union members.
|Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia)
A rich and often turbulent history, with wonderful nature, charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, and mighty mountains liberally sprinkled with beautiful forests and pleasant lakes
|Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
Fascinating states with glorious beaches along an extensive coastline, medieval towns, and beautiful natural scenery
|Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands)
A largely flat area with a lot to offer. The Netherlands is known for its clogs, cheese, tulips, windmills, painters, and liberal attitudes. Belgium is a multilingual country with beautiful historic cities, bordering Luxembourg at the rolling hills of the Ardennes.
|Britain and Ireland (Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, United Kingdom)
Britain has a patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, plus a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the world. Ireland has rolling landscapes and characteristic customs, traditions and folklore.
|Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia)
The Caucasus is a mountain range lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is a dense, warm, friendly and generally safe region, with diverse landscapes and a wealth of ancient churches, cathedrals and monasteries.
|Central Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland)
Germanic culture meets Slavic culture in this region that straddles east and west, with historic towns, fairy-tale castles, beer, forests, unspoiled farmland, and mountain ranges, including the mighty Alps.
|France and Monaco
France is the world's most popular destination and one of the most geographically diverse countries of Europe. Attractions include Paris, the Riviera, Atlantic beaches, winter sports resorts of the Alps, castles, rural landscape, and its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.
|Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus
With the most hours of sun in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean is a haven for beach-goers, party-people and cultural enthusiasts alike, and is known for its rich and tasty cuisine.
|Iberia (Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain)
These countries are great destinations for their rich and unique cultures, lively cities, beautiful countryside and friendly inhabitants.
|Italian Peninsula (Italy, Malta, San Marino, Vatican City)
Rome, Florence, Venice and Pisa are on many travellers' itineraries, but these are just a few of Italy's destinations. Italy has more history and culture packed into it than many other countries combined.
|Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus
Russia is a vast country that spans all the way east to the Pacific Ocean. Ukraine is diverse, with a lot to offer, from the beach resorts of the Black Sea to the beautiful cities Odessa, Lviv and Kiev. Belarus is unique: the last dictatorship in Europe.
|Scandinavia (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
Spectacular scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and volcanoes, and known for the historic era of the Vikings.
- Amsterdam — canals, Rembrandt, hashish and red lanterns, the epicentre of social liberal attitudes
- Barcelona — Gaudi's cosmopolitan home on Mediterranean coast
- Berlin — the capital of reunited Germany since 1990, it was divided by force for 45 years during the Cold War and has emerged as an international cultural centre and an area of rapid development since the fall of the Berlin Wall
- Istanbul — Europe's largest city and only major city to span two continents and a fascinating melting pot of East and West
- London — Britain's vibrant capital and a true 'global city', famed for its contributions to popular culture
- Moscow — Europe's northern city is famous for its nightlife and the iconic Kremlin
- Paris — the capital of romance (and France) on the banks of the Seine
- Prague — magical city with its renowned bridges spanning the Vltava River
- Rome — the eternal city of seven hills and two thousand seven hundred years of history
- Alhambra — part fortress, part palace, part garden, and part government city, a stunning mediaeval complex overlooking Granada
- Alps — very popular mountain range for skiing/snowboarding and mountaineering, with Mont Blanc as its highest peak
- Cinque Terre — a gorgeous national park, which connects five picturesque villages
- Białowieża National Park — the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once spread across the European Plain
- Blue Lagoon — amazing geothermal spa with the water temperature around 40°C all year round, even in freezing conditions
- Meteora — six Eastern Orthodox monasteries built on natural sandstone rock pillars
- Neuschwanstein Castle — the well-known fairy-tale castle in the Bavarian Alps in Germany
- Plitvice National Park — beautiful turquoise-coloured lakes surrounded by a large forest complex
- Stonehenge — the well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument located on Salisbury Plain
The earliest concrete signs of written European culture can be found in Hellenic Greece. Homer (8th century BC), Hesiod (753 BC) and Kallinos (728 BC) are three of the oldest poets in Europe. The Romans believed that their city was founded in 753 BC Modern archaeologists and historians believe that the area of modern day Rome has been inhabited since at least 1000 to 800 BC
From 300 AD Christianity in Europe started to spread. Around 500 AD the Roman Empire collapsed, with most of it invaded by various "barbarian" groups, the most notable of which were the Franks in Gaul and Germania and the Visigoths in Spain. The Franks rose to power under the Merovingian dynasty in the 5th century and the conversion of their leader Clovis to Catholic Christianity proved decisive for Europe's future. The Visigoths were all but eliminated as a significant power when in 711 an Arab-Muslim force landed on the Iberian peninsula, conquering most of it within the next few years before being stopped in their advance further into Europe by the Frankish noble of the Carolingian dynasty Charles Martel and his army in a battle near Tours and Poitiers in 732. In 751, the Carolingian dynasty replaced the Merovingians as the heads of the Frankish empire in an bloodless coup and conquered various parts of Western Europe (mostly France, Benelux and Western Germany) under their most notable ruler Charlemagne (called Karl der Große (the great) in Germany and considered to be a founding father of both Germany and France), who was crowned "Holy Roman Emperor" by the pope in 800AD. The Carolingian empire largely disintegrated upon the death of Charlemagne in 814, and the last East-Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty died in 911. The period after this date is often called the High Middle Ages and lasted until around 1300. It saw a shift to urbanisation across Europe, initiating in Western Europe, and gave rise to universities, the first of which, University of Bologna, has remained in continuous operation since its founding in 1088. This was followed by the Late Middle Ages, which ended around 1500, giving birth to a period of European history normally referred to as the Renaissance or the rebirth. The people of this period actively rediscovered Classical Graeco-Roman culture and it was followed by a reformation of Christianity, with the rise of new sects in Europe, most notably Protestantism.
In modern times Colonialism came in several "waves" the first starting around 1492 with the European (re-)discovery of the Americas. Spain, Portugal and other western European countries establishing colonies and trading posts in the Americas as well as India and Africa. After the independence of the USA and Haiti at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century as well as the Napoleonic wars ended the first wave of colonialism with the independence of all of the Americas save several minor colonies and islands (such as Cuba). European interests turned to Africa, India and East Asia and from the 1880s onward Africa was colonised leaving only Liberia (itself a result of American colonialism and the emigration of former American slaves and freedmen) and Ethiopia as independent African countries by the begin of the first world war. While anti-colonialist movements and insurgencies plagued European attempts of colonisation from the beginning, it took the "catalyst" of two world wars and the success of Gandhi's (mostly) non-violent movement for Indian independence to decolonize most of Africa. Most African countries gained independence in the "African year" of 1960, but some countries were less quick in releasing their colonies into independence often fighting protracted and bloody wars to - unsuccessfully - try and hold onto their colonial possessions. In the case of Portugal these wars were one of the main reasons for the fall of the authoritarian "estado novo" and in France the end of the "fourth republic" was caused in part by the painful decolonisation of France's south east Asian colonies. Today only Spain has some small possessions in mainland Africa (Ceuta and Melilla). There are still many small islands around the globe and effects of colonialism are still visible both among the former colonisers and the former colonised with immigration from former colonies shaping the face of France, Britain and Spain in particular.
World War II and European Integration
Europe, prior to the conclusion of World War II, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war". National leaders realised after World War II that closer socio-economic and political integration was needed to ensure that such tragedies never happened again. Starting with humble beginnings, Europe's first inception was the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. The founding group of nations were Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Impressed with the results of the union, the six countries pressed on and in 1956 signed the Treaty of Rome, with the ultimate goal of creating a common market — the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1967, the union was formalised further with a the creation of a single European Commission, as well as a Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, that turned to direct democratic elections of MEPs in 1979, and European have happened every five years since than. The last European election was in 2014 and the next is scheduled to be in 2019.
From 1945 to 1990 Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain which divided Eastern Europe with the exceptions of Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus from Western Europe. The Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe along with Eastern Germany for 45 years; in 1989 protests occurred across Eastern Europe and the communist regimes were brought down by largely non-violent revolutions except Romania, which violently overthrew its dictator. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.
Post-1967 the EEC continued to grow rapidly; Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986 and Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. To date, Norway and Switzerland have resisted membership for historical and economic reasons. The European Union pressed on with economic integration and launched the euro (€) across several nations on 1 January 2002. Currently, 18 nations use the euro as their official currency. In addition, San Marino, the Vatican and Monaco, which are not EU members, have been granted official permission to use the euro. Andorra, Montenegro and Kosovo use the euro without a formal agreement.
In 2004, a further 10 countries joined the EU. These were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, in 2013 Croatia joined the EU and, as of 2014, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all official applicants.
Europe makes up the western one fifth of the Eurasian landmass. It's bounded by bodies of water on three sides: the Arctic Ocean to the north (the Nordkapp being its most northerly point), the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The Mediterranean Sea is a popular beach destination because of its climate. Europe's eastern borders are ill-defined and have been moving eastwards throughout history. Currently, the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Caspian and Black Seas and the Bosporus Strait are considered its eastern frontier, making Istanbul the only metropolis in the world on two continents. Cyprus is also considered a part of Europe.
Europe is a geographically diverse continent. Europe's highest point is Russia's Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains, which rises to 5,642m (18,510 ft) above sea level. Western Europe's highest point is the Mont Blanc in the Alps with 4,810m (15,771 ft) above sea level. Other important mountain ranges include the Pyrenees between France and Spain and the Carpathians that run through Central Europe to the Balkans. Most regions along the North and Baltic Seas are flat, especially the Low Countries, Northern Germany and Denmark. The coasts of the North and Baltic Seas feature labyrinthine archipelagos and hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and resorts, albeit in colder climates.
Europe's longest river is the Volga, which meanders 3,530 km (2,193 mi) through Russia, and flows into the Caspian Sea. The Danube and the Rhine formed much of the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, and have been important waterways since pre-historic times. The Danube starts in the Black Forest in Germany and passes through the capital cities Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade before emptying in the Black Sea. The Rhine starts in the Swiss Alps and caused the Rhine Falls, the largest plain waterfall in Europe. From there, it makes up the French-German border border flowing through Western Germany and the Netherlands. Many castles and fortifications have been built along the Rhine, including those of the Rhine Valley.
Europe's climate is temperate. It is milder than other areas of the same latitude (e.g. northeastern US) due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. However, there are profound differences in the climates of different regions. Europe's climate ranges from subtropical near the Mediterranean Sea in the south, to subarctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean in the northern latitudes. Extreme cold temperatures are only found in northern Scandinavia and parts of Russia in the winter.
Average annual precipitation diverges widely in Europe. Most rainfall takes place in the Alps, and in a band along the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to the west coast of Greece. Other regions with plenty of rainfall include the northwest of Spain, the British Isles and western Norway. Bergen has the most amount of rainfall in Europe with 235 rainy days a year. Most rain takes place in the summer, due to westerly winds from the Atlantic that hit the British Isles, the Benelux, western Germany, northern France and southwestern Scandinavia. In the Mediterranean this situation is reversed with most precipitation coming in the winter and summers being (mostly) dry.
The best time to visit Europe is in the summer. In August, the British Isles, Benelux, Germany and northern France have average highs of around 23-24°C, but these temperatures cannot be taken for granted. That's why in the summer many flights go from northern to southern Europe as northerners flee the rain and possible lower than average temperatures. The Mediterranean has the highest amount of sun-hours in Europe, and the highest temperatures. Average temperatures in August are 28°C in Barcelona, 30°C in Rome, 33°C in Athens and 39°C in Alanya along the Turkish Riviera. A general rule is that the further south and east one goes, the warmer it becomes.
Winters are relatively cold in Europe, even in the Mediterranean countries. The only areas with daily highs around 15°C in January are Andalucia in Spain, some Greek Islands, and the Turkish Riviera. Western Europe has an average of around 4-8°C in January, but temperatures drop below freezing throughout the winter. Regions east of Berlin have cold temperatures with average highs below freezing. Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia have average highs of -5°C and lows of -10°C in January. North Scandinavia also has cold winters, with averages below -10°C. Some activities are best done in the winter, such as winter sports in the Alps, where the high peaks have perpetual snow.
The Network of European Meteorological Services has a useful website providing up-to-date information for extreme weather, covering most of the EU countries.
Europe is a continent of wildly different countries, which are in the slow process of political and economic integration, mainly through the European Union (EU). The EU has growing influence over its member states and in international diplomacy. It has created a single currency (the euro, €), and a common market that promotes the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. Many countries outside of the EU have joined these agreements or made separate treaties.
Under the Schengen agreement, most EU members and some non-EU countries abolished border controls between them (see Get in).
These countries are members of the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Although not technically part of the Schengen area, there are no border controls when travelling to Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City from the neighbouring countries, so they can for all practical purposes be considered part of the Schengen area.
Rules for entering Europe depend on where you are going. Citizens of EU countries and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) can travel freely throughout the continent (except Russia, Belarus and the Caucasus), so the following applies only to non-EU/EFTA citizens.
If you are entering a Schengen country and you plan to visit only other Schengen countries, you need only one Schengen visa.
(1) Nationals of these countries need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
(2) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa.
(3) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
Only the nationals of the following non-EU/EFTA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania(1), Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina(1), Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia(1), Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova(1), Monaco, Montenegro(1), New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia(1, 2), Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan(3) (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work – see below). The counting begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving one Schengen country for another.
- However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they visit only particular Schengen countries. See the New Zealand Government's explanation.
If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt, unless you are Andorran, Monégasque or San Marinese), make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you cannot obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.
- British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar, are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
- British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general, do need visas.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
The 90 days visa-free stay applies for the whole Schengen area, i.e. it is not 90 days per country as some assume. Citizens of the above countries who wish to travel around Europe for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This can be done in any Schengen country, but Germany or Italy are recommended, because many other countries require applicants to apply from their home countries.
Non-Schengen countries, on the other hand, maintain their own immigration policies. Consult the country article in question for details. If you wish to visit a non-Schengen country and return to the Schengen area, you will need a multiple-entry visa. Cyprus, Ireland, and the United Kingdom are EU members, but they are not part of the Schengen Area while EU members Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area. To add confusion Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway are not EU members but part of the Schengen area.
The implications of this are simple: countries in the EU maintain similar customs controls. Therefore, you do not need to pass through customs when travelling to a non-Schengen EU country, but you may need to pass through immigration controls. The converse is true for non-EU Schengen countries: you must pass through customs, but not immigration.
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN, SEN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN, some 100 km from Frankfurt in Hahn), Paris (CDG, ORY), Madrid (MAD), and Amsterdam (AMS) which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe. However, nearly every European capital and many other major cities have direct long-distance flights to at least some destinations. Other, smaller airports can make sense for specific connections: for example, Vienna (VIE) has a very good network of flights to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while Helsinki (HEL) is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia.
Depending on your final destination it might make sense to avoid the last connection, or rather replace it with a train-ride, as many airports are connected to the train-network (sometimes directly to high-speed lines) and some airlines offer tickets for both train and plane in cooperation with a railway company (which often works out to be a steep discount). However due to the quirky nature of airline-pricing the exact opposite might be true as well, meaning that a "longer" flight might actually end up being cheaper.
The Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing and Vladivostok to Moscow is a classic rail journey. The Historic Silk Road is becoming increasingly popular with adventurers trying to beat down a new path after the finalized construction of a railway link between Kazakhstan and China. This new Almaty–Urumqi service runs twice per week, and Almaty is easily reached from Moscow by train. Other options include several connections to the Middle East, offered by Turkish Railways (TCDD). There are weekly services from Istanbul via Ankara to Tehran in Iran, but the services to Syria and Iraq have been suspended, hopefully temporarily, due to the troubles in those countries.
It is still possible, but expensive, to do the classic transatlantic voyage between the United Kingdom and the United States. The easiest option is by the historic, and only remaining Ocean Liner operator, Cunard Line, but expect to pay USD1,000-2,000 for the cheapest tickets on the 6 day voyage between Southampton and New York that sails around 10 times per year in each direction. If your pockets are not deep enough for this price range, your only other options of crossing the North Atlantic are pretty much limited to freighter travel and "hitchhiking" with a private boat.
Most major cruise ships that ply the waters of Europe during summer (June - September) also do cruises in Latin America and Southeast Asia for the rest of the year. That means those ships have a transatlantic journey twice per year, at low prices when you consider the length of the trip (at least a week). These are often called positioning cruises. MSC has several ships from the Caribbean to Europe at April and May.
There are several lines crossing the Mediterranean, the main ports of call in North Africa is Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia (See Ferries in the Mediterranean for more details), but there is also a little known option of going via Cyprus where you can use Louis Cruises crossings to Port Said in Egypt and Haifa in Israel as a regular ferry service. Keep in mind though, that you can only do this on routes out of Cyprus, and it requires special arrangements – Varianos Travel in Nicosia seem to be the only tour agency offering this option. If you're time rich, but otherwise poor, it may be possible to "hitchhike" a private boat.
You are legally allowed to bring through the EU border limited amounts of tobacco (exact numbers depend on your arrival country) and 1 litre of spirits (above 22% alcohol) or 2 litres of alcohol (e.g. sparkling wine below 22% alcohol) and 4 litres of non-sparkling wine and 16 litres of beer. If you are below 17 years old it's half of these amounts or nothing at all.
There are virtually no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement, except under special circumstances during major events. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen country is valid in all other Schengen countries. Be careful: not all European Union countries are Schengen countries, and not all Schengen countries are members of the EU. See the table above for the current list.
Airports in Europe are divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear passport control in the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. However, if travelling between an EU Schengen country and a non-EU Schengen country, customs controls are still in place.
Travel between a Schengen country and a non-Schengen country will entail the normal border checks. Regardless of whether you are traveling within the Schengen Area, at some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
As an example of the practical implications on the traveller:
- Travel from Germany to France (both EU, both Schengen): no controls
- Travel from Germany to Switzerland (both Schengen, Switzerland not in EU): customs checks, but no immigration control
- Travel from France to the United Kingdom (both EU, UK not in Schengen): immigration control, but no customs check
- Travel from Switzerland to the United Kingdom: immigration and customs checks
Citizens of EEA/Schengen countries never require visas or permits for a stay of any length in any other EEA/Schengen country for any purpose. The only remaining exception is the employment of Croatian workers in some countries.
- Main article: Rail travel in Europe
The trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying, especially in Western and Central Europe. High-speed trains like the Italian Frecciarossa, the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, the Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for everybody else) passes offer good value if you plan on traveling extensively around Europe (or even a single region) and want more flexibility than cheap plane (or some advance purchase train) tickets can offer.
The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB), which can be found here in English.
As most long-distance trains and almost all high-speed trains are powered electrically and through economies of scale even in Diesel-trains, trains are "greener" than cars and a lot "greener" than planes. How trains fare compared to buses depends mostly on three factors: the fuel (if electric, than how is said electricity generated), the occupancy and road congestion (congested roads make buses inefficient). The most fuel-efficient train that currently operates in Europe, Deutsche Bahn's ICE3 consumes the equivalent of 0.3 liters of gasoline in electricity per seat per 100 km. If you are a proponent of ecotourism the website of Deutsche Bahn offers a CO2 emission calculation tool to help you calculate the Carbon footprint for your trip.
EU Passenger Rights
European Union (EU) Regulation 261/2004 of 17 February 2005 gives certain rights to passenger on all flights, scheduled or chartered and flights provided as part of a package holiday. It only applies to passengers flying from an EU airport by whatever carrier, or from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier.
then you are entitled to a compensation, which is:
The airline also have to cover the following expenses:
Usually they will give you a prepaid phone card, and vouchers for a restaurant and a hotel.
Refund for delayed flight
If your flight is delayed 5 hours or longer you can get a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant).
All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.
- Main article: Discount airlines in Europe
Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey, Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as AirBerlin, Germanwings, EasyJet, Tuifly, Ryanair and WizzAir. All of these flights should be booked on the internet well in advance, otherwise the price advantage may become non-existent. Always compare prices with major carriers like British Airways, Air France-KLM or Lufthansa. Only in very few cases prices are higher than €80 on any airline when booking a month or more ahead of time (except on very long routes e.g. Dublin–Istanbul). You should also make sure where the airport is located, since some low cost airlines name very small airports by the next major city, even if the distance is up to two hours drive by bus (e.g. Ryan and Wizzair's Frankfurt-Hahn, which is not Frankfurt/Main International). Also note that budget airlines tickets include little service; account for surplus fees when comparing prices.
For very long distances, travelling by bus is obviously much slower but may also actually be more expensive than travelling by plane. However, bus travel is generally advantageous for shorter trips, trips on short notice, if you actually wish to see the countryside you're travelling through, if you have heavy luggage, or if you are a proponent of ecotourism.
Bus companies often operate only a handful of lines each, and cooperation between bus companies may be non-existent. Expect to have to check connections locally or separately for every company involved. Systems vary from one country to the next.
For those staying in one country, charter trips (often organised around the needs of migrants) may offer cheap international bus travel, when they happen to go to the right destination. Tourists seldom have a chance to notice the advertisements but you might try asking in ethnic shops.
There are some companies with more extensive international route networks, usually between major cities: Eurolines connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of Europe and Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow. Eurolines buses make very few stops in smaller cities, and are generally only viable for travel between large cities. Eurolines offers several types of passes but each individual journey must be booked in advance of its departure date/time. That means that, depending on availability, you may or may not be able simply arrive at the bus terminal and board any available bus. The pass works well for travellers who either prefer only to see major cities, or who intend to use the pass in conjunction with local transportation options. Pass-holders can travel between the following cities: Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Marseille, Berlin, Milan, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Bratislava, Munich, Brno, Nantes, Brussels, Oslo, Bucharest, Paris, Budapest, Perpignan, Cologne, Prague, Copenhagen, Riga, Dublin, Rome, Edinburgh, Siena, Florence, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Gdańsk, Stuttgart, Geneva, Tallinn, Gothenburg, Toulouse, Hamburg, Venice, Kraków, Vienna, Lille, Vilnius, London, Warsaw, Lyon, Zurich
The Baltic sea has several lines running between the major cities (Gdańsk, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga etc.). Most ships are very large and on a par with Caribbean cruise liners in size and in service.
In the Atlantic, Smyril Line is the only company sailing to the rather remote North Atlantic islands of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. It sails from Denmark, which also hosts numerous lines to Norway and Sweden. From the British isles several lines still cross the English channel to France, despite the opening of the channel-tunnel. There are also numerous services to Denmark, the Benelux and even across the Biscay to Spain. Further south there is a weekly service from Portimão to the Canary Islands via the remote volcanic Madeira island.
In the Mediterranean Sea a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate between Spain, Italy and Southern France. And across the Italian peninsula ferries ply across the Adriatic sea to Croatia and Greece, with Bari as one major terminal out of many.
And finally The Black Sea has several ferries plying across its waters, although service can be fairly sketchy at times. Poti, Istanbul and Sevastopol are the main ports. Nearly all the Black Sea ports have a ferry going somewhere, but rarely anywhere logical – i.e. often along the coast.
There are various ferries on the larger lakes and for crossing rivers. There are several regularly running cruise-lines on the larger rivers like the Rhine, Danube and the Volga. Boating excursions within Europe, particularly along the scenic rivers and between many of the islands in the Mediterranean, are an excellent way to combine travel between locations with an adventure along the way. Accommodations range from very basic to extremely luxurious depending upon the company and class of travel selected. Another famous line is the Hurtigruten cruise-ferries which sails all along Norway's amazing coastline and fjords.
The ease of driving on the continent varies greatly, and as a general rule east and west of the erstwhile Iron Curtain are two different worlds. Western Europe for the most part has good road conditions and an extensive and well developed highway network, whereas Eastern Europe is still working hard on the large backlog left from communist days.
During vacations, especially during the summer and around Christmas, driving on the motorways (freeways) can be very tiring owing to high volumes of traffic. In France school summer-holidays start on the same day all around the country and driving during that weekend should be avoided.
The traffic is right-handed, except in United Kingdom, Ireland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Malta and Cyprus (there is no land border with change of handedness). For the left-hand countries any references to right or left below might be reversed.
There are no uniform speed limits across the union. The fabled limitless German Autobahn is now confined to mostly rural sections. The majority of motorways/freeways have a 110–130 km/h (70–80 mph) speed limit, while the limit on undivided highways varies between 80 and 100 km/h (50–65 mph). For North Americans, a major difference is the left lane on motorways, which is not the "fast lane" you're used to, but rather the "passing lane". It's illegal to overtake on the right, so you should only occupy the outer lane when you are overtaking someone; stay there, and you will have other vehicles tailgating while flashing their lights in annoyance and traffic police eager to fine you. Remember to use turn signals when changing lanes.
Except for priority streets (check the symbol in the table) there is a general duty to give way to traffic from your right in crossings and intersections that are not marked, and other drivers have every expectation you adhere to this. This also applies to unmarked T-intersections, unlike in North America, England, Australia, Japan and most other places where the ending road should normally yield to the through road even if unmarked. But in the ubiquitous roundabouts (circles) you find everywhere across the continent, cars already in the circle always have the right of way; don't give way to incoming drivers while in the roundabout, or you will mess up the system, potentially causing a nasty accident. Finally, don't do right turns on red lights (unless for example, in Germany the light features a green right arrow sign, in which case right turning right on red is permitted, but important to note, only after coming to a dead stop first, otherwise a $120 fine can be charged despite you having arrived in the country that day), it's illegal, and because it's not common practice, also dangerous.
Markings and signs are similar throughout Europe but variations in design and interpretations exist so it may be very practical to research each country individually before you travel. In Germany there are so many signs that even the Minister of Traffic showed on television that he was not exactly sure what they all meant. Several signs are strung one after the other on the same pole and are in some way related to each other.
- Age: Almost everywhere, especially in the EU, you need to be 18 years old to drive, even supervised, and in countries with Learning schemes, it's usually an exhaustive procedure to get a permit, and rarely applicable to foreign citizens anyway. Exceptions include Portugal, Ireland and the UK.
- A warning triangle is compulsory nearly anywhere, as is using it in case of breakdowns.
- An alcohol testing device is now mandatory in France (even for non-alcoholics).
- Carrying hi-visibility (reflective) vests in cars is compulsory in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Serbia and Spain and gaining popularity elsewhere.
- Headlamp adjusters are compulsory equipment in most countries, but in the UK and Ireland only if you are driving a continental car.
- Original Registration Document is compulsory.
- Motor vehicle insurance certificate is compulsory.
- A black and white, 1–3 letter country identity sticker is compulsory for cars without EU license plates.
- International driving permit, while not compulsory for certain nationalities in some European countries, is cheap, and could save you from nasty incidents with authorities.
Avoid large cities if you are not used to driving in Europe. Most city centres were built long before the introduction of automobiles, and were not meant to cope with the levels of traffic common these days. So for the most part it may be a slow, frustrating and potentially dangerous experience, and even then, finding a parking spot can potentially take a long time and cost several euros when you find it. Instead park on the outskirts of town, where it is often free, and use the (usually extensive) public transit system instead. If you are renting, try to "work around having a car" while visiting large cities.
If you plan to rent a car to drive around Europe, it often makes sense to check the rates in different countries rather than just hire a car in the country of arrival. The price differences can be substantial for longer rentals, to the extent that it can make sense to adjust your travel plans accordingly, e.g. if you plan on travelling around Scandinavia by car, it will often be much cheaper to fly into Germany and rent a car there. Compared to North America, you should be prepared for smaller, more efficient cars, and most of them have manual transmission, so don't expect an automatic without requesting one when placing your order (and often paying extra). Some rental agencies also have stipulations in their contracts, prohibiting the rental of a car in one country and taking it to some others. It is for example common that a car rented in Germany may not be taken to Poland due to concerns of theft. This is less common the other way round, so if you are planning on visiting both countries by rental car, it might be easier (and cheaper) to rent a car in Poland and drive to Germany with it.
Driving in Europe is an expensive proposition – petrol (gas) prices hover around €1.30–1.80 per litre ($6.50–9 per US gallon) in much of Europe, while often cheaper in Russia. Rentals are around two to three times more expensive than in North America. Highway tolls are very common, city centre congestion charges increasingly so, and even parking can work up to €50 ($70) per day in the most expensive cities. Driving can be an enjoyable and feasible way to see the countryside and smaller cities, but few Europeans would rent a car for a vacation to a city such as Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam.
Cycling conditions vary greatly between different countries, between city centres, suburbs and countryside and between different cities in any one country, so see our individual destination articles. In general terms the Netherlands and Denmark are better destinations for cyclists than – say – Poland. For some general information on cycling in various countries (including Europe) see cycling.
The European cycle route network or EuroVelo consists of 14 routes linking virtually every country on the continent. Some of these routes are not finished but plans are to have 60,000 km of bike lanes; as of mid-2012 around 45,000 km were in place.
Hitchhiking is a common way of travelling in some parts of Europe, especially in former eastern bloc countries. It can be a pleasant way to meet lots of people, and to travel without spending too many euros. Don't forget to check out the tips for hitchhiking.
Note that in the former eastern bloc, you may run into language problems while hitchhiking, especially if you speak only English. It is not advisable to hitchhike in former Yugoslavia, for example between Croatia and Serbia, because you could run into real big problems with nationalists. Between Croatia and Slovenia it's usually not a problem. In Moldova and Ukraine, it's better to take a train or bus. In western Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Germany, it can be weary and tedious to hitch-hike.
Another method is hitchhiking through pre-arranged ride-sharing. Although this is not free, the price is usually much lower than even the cheapest bus or train-fare. There are several websites, most of them country-specific and/or catering to a specific language group, but long routes are not at all uncommon and international travellers are increasingly using this form of transport.
Many different languages are spoken in Europe. Most are members of the Indo-European language group, to which the following subgroups belong:
- Germanic languages — English, German, Dutch and the Scandinavian languages
- Romance languages (descendants of Latin) — French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian
- Slavic languages — most of the languages of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, including Russian, Ukrainian, Czech and Polish
English proficiency varies greatly across the continent, but tends to increase the further north you get, in the Benelux and particularly Scandinavia almost everyone can communicate in English with varying degrees of fluency. German-speaking areas in the middle also have good levels of proficiency. In the south and east you'll often be out of luck, especially outside major cities and tourist centres. English is nonetheless gradually becoming the main foreign language also in much of eastern Europe.
Speaking one of the Romance languages may be of some use in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania, while the same is true if you speak one of the Slavic languages in the East. German is also a useful foreign language in Eastern Europe.
Russian may be spoken as a second language in the formerly communist countries of eastern Europe, particularly by the older generation, and is still widely studied in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In some countries Russian may be widely known (as a former compulsory subject) but disliked, in which case using a few phrases in the local language, while hinting you know Russian, may break the ice.
The all too common concept of trying to "do Europe" is pretty unrealistic, and will most likely, if not ruin your vacation, then at least make it less enjoyable. While it is true that Europe is compact and easy to get around with efficient infrastructure set up everywhere, it also has more preserved history packed into it than virtually anywhere else. There are more than 400 World Heritage Sites on the continent, and that is just the very tip of the iceberg. So instead of running a mad dash through Europe in an attempt to get the ritual photos of you in front of the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben etc. over and done with, the key is prioritize, pick 2–3 sights you really want to see per week, and plan a route from that. There are likely to be some amazing, world class sights and attractions that you haven't even thought about, somewhere in between two given cities, and finding those will – in all likelihood – be infinitely more rewarding than following the beaten down post card route.
Historical and cultural attractions
Europe has been home to some of the world's most advanced civilisations, which has led to an astonishing cultural heritage today. Ancient Greece has been credited with the foundation of Western culture, and has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and arts of the European continent. Ancient Greek structures are scattered over Greece and Turkey, including Delphi, Olympia, Sparta, Ephesus, Lycia and of course the Parthenon in Athens.
Ancient Greece was followed by the Roman Empire, one of the greatest civilisations in the world, which took hold of large swathes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Visiting Roman ruins in Rome is a no-brainer, with the magnificent Colosseum, Pantheon and the Roman Forum. Many Roman ruins can also be found in Spain, such as the remains at Merida, Italica, Segovia, Toledo and Tarragona. With 47 sites, Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country in the world, directly followed by Spain with 43. Though notably less, France, (southern and western) Germany and England also have some Roman sites as there are in most places that were once part of the Roman empire. Several of those sites are UNESCO world heritage sites as well.
After the end of the Roman Empire and the so-called "dark ages" and prior to the rise of modern nation states, several medium sized and small territories vied for supremacy in Europe and quasi-independent cities in Italy, the Netherlands or Germany showed their wealth through churches and council buildings, many of which still exist. Those cities that were a residence in the medieval or early modern period of some duke, prince or king, often still have some of their grandiose palaces, theaters or opera houses, many of which are still in use or museums, examples include the Florence built by the Medici, the palaces of Paris or the former royal residence in Kraków, Poland. As Spain was conquered by Muslim invaders in the 8th century and parts of it stayed under Muslim rule until 1492 there are visible influences in architecture as well as the world famous Alhambra in Granada
- The Amber Road for motorists
- Cruising the Baltic Sea on a cruise ship
- E11 hiking trail for ramblers
- Bike (or drive) along the Romantic Road in South Germany
Europe is considered the spiritual home of classical music and opera, and the various European capitals are home to some amazing 'old world' opera houses, where the hundreds of years of history often enhances the experience into something otherworldly. However if opera singers give you headache, then fear not, since Europe has more modern music festivals than you could possibly ever visit. The Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Sziget fesztivál in Budapest and reigning champion Glastonbury, weighing in at 195,000 drunk souls, are widely considered the 3 big ones, but there are many more significant events. Alternatively, the revival Woodstock festival in Poland, while it doesn't boast the star-studded line-up of some commercial festivals, is great for those who want to do it on the cheap (there is no ticket to buy) and it attracted 700,000 music fans in 2011. Furthermore, there is the "Donauinselfest" which takes place every year in Vienna, and is said to be Europe's biggest free open-air event.
While Europe is known for its opera houses, the London West End is also home to many world leading productions of musical theatre.
Perhaps no other field has seen stronger European integration than sport. Most professional sports have Europe-wide leagues in place, and nearly every sport has a bi-annual European Championship.
- Football. (association football, called soccer in the United States) If you are already a football fan the game hardly gets any better than watching your favourite team battle it out against the world's greatest football clubs in the Champions League or the Europa League. Games in the pan-European leagues usually take place mid-week to allow for games in the national leagues to take place during the weekend. For the popular teams the tickets are often sold out weeks in advance. The strongest domestic leagues are (in no particular order) the German Bundesliga, the English premier league, the Spanish primera división, the Italian Serie A and (to a lesser extent) the French Ligue 1. The championship for national teams is held every four years in years that also have Olympic summer games. (e.g. 2016)
- Formula 1 car racing is a sport that excites people all across the continent, with many of the races being held at European venues.
- Cycling. Another sport that enjoys much wider popularity in Europe than virtually the rest of the world. Hundreds of competitions take place every year, but the 3 unrivalled events of the year are the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España, where thousands of thousands of spectators line up along routes that often extend more than one hundred kilometres. The whole season is managed in a league like format called the Protour.
- Skiing (alpine skiing) is a major sport in the mountainous countries of Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy.
- Rugby (rugby union) is an English sport that has a huge following in other countries such as Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy.
- Basketball. The pan-European Euroleague is the highest tier of professional basketball in Europe, featuring teams from 18 European countries and some of the best basketball you'll find outside the NBA. The regular season runs Oct-Jan and play-offs take place Jan-May.
- Handball (team handball or Olympic handball). An annual pan-European tournament, the Champions League, takes place every year. While the sport is little known outside Europe, it has a sizable following. Two teams with seven players each pass and bounce a ball to throw it into the football-style goal of the opposing team. The preeminent countries in this sport are Germany, the Nordic countries as well as France and some parts of the Balkans. As it is an indoor sport, halls can get quite packed and even 20,000 might be a sellout crowd.
Skiing and snowboarding
Europe is home to some fantastic ski resorts; the Alps are home of some of the best ski resorts in the world, and there are more here than anywhere else. Austria and Switzerland contain hundreds of resorts alone. Other Alpine ski destinations include France, Italy, Slovenia, Germany (Bavaria) and even tiny Liechtenstein. The largest area is Les Portes du Soleil, made up of 13 linked ski resorts in Switzerland and France, boasting over 650 km of marked runs.
But the fun doesn't stop in the Alps; the Scandinavian Mountains feature some of the world's most civilized and family oriented skiing areas, but the lower altitude also means it's a trade-of for shorter runs - Åre is the biggest, while way up north Riksgränsen allows skiing well into the summer. Scotland is home of 5 ski resorts, Nevis Range has the highest vertical drop at 566 meters, while Glenshee is the largest. A surprising option is Sierra Nevada in Spain, fairly large, just hours drive from the Mediterranean coast, and with a season often running into May - you can ski in the morning, and chill on the beach in the afternoon. To the north the Pyrenees shared with France and Andorra also offers excellent skiing at up to 2,700m (8,000 ft) altitude, Domaine Tourmalet is the largest resort in the area with over 100 km of pistes.
Eastern Europe is seeing increasing popularity since prices are much lower than elsewhere on the continent. The downside is that facilities are not as expansive or modern as elsewhere in Europe, but things are rapidly improving. Slovenia is a cheap alternative in the über-expensive Alps, Kranjska Gora is the largest resort in the country. The Carpathian mountains, with the highest runs at almost 2,200m (7200 ft), is another popular area; Poiana Brasov (Romania, 20 km, 11 lifts ) Zakopane (Poland, 30 km, 20 lifts ) and Jasna (Slovakia, 29 km, 24 lifts ) are the largest and most popular areas in the respective countries.
There are more than 360 national parks on the continent, which is not a surprise since Europe is the world's second-most densely populated continent. Many parks are small, some less than a single km², but there are also some expansive national parks to explore. The Vatnajokull National Park on Iceland is the largest, covering around 12,000 km² (7,500 sq miles), and the fascinating national parks of the Arctic Svalbard are not far behind, while Yugyd Va National Park in the Russian Urals is largest on the mainland itself. In total the national parks of Europe encompass an area of around 98,000 km² (37,000 sq miles).
Many cities in Europe are great for cycling. EuroVelo cycling routes is a development of many different bike routes throughout the continent, that cater for nearly all desires and levels of difficulties. In all of the different countries of the continent, parts of these routes exists. Some are already developed, some are only "under construction".
Europe has several places for whitewater sports and canyoning.
The rich diversity and cultural heritage, the presence of centuries-old artisanry traditions and fine industries, as well as a number of the world's most famous brands in all sorts of luxury and premium goods make Europe a shopper's paradise. There are regional specialties to be bought from every corner of the continent, and the main shopping streets and department stores in many a European metropolis are shooping meccas drawing eager buyers from all over the globe.
In terms of less glamorous purchases, Europe generally poses little problems. Retail is well-developed in most countries, and you should not have trouble finding stores offering basic groceries and other first-need items almost anywhere but the most remote, uninhabited areas. Issues such as store opening hours or credit card acceptance, however, vary greatly between countries, as does the probability of the salespeople speaking any foreign languages.
The euro (symbol: €, EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union, removing the need to exchange currencies when going from one country to the next. As such it is a boon not only to pan-European business, but of course also to travellers. One euro equals 100 cents; sometimes referred to as 'euro cents' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. Those countries which have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. Euros are sometimes accepted in European countries outside the Eurozone, but not universally, and at shops and restaurants the exchange rate may not be in your favor. Many hotels outside of the Eurozone also price and accept payment in euros. Money changers will generally give good to excellent exchange rates for the euro, and in a pinch they will be accepted by nearly everybody.
Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of few euro) which may be in addition to the fees your bank already imposes on foreign withdrawals. Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.
European ATMs do not usually have letters on the keypad. PINs longer than 4 digits are generally no longer a problem.
Credit card acceptance is not as universal as in the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, but growing steadily. Some countries mandate that merchants check your ID for purchases of as little as €50, and many shops will insist on ID for any credit card transaction.
An increasing number of European countries, notably the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and the Nordic countries, have moved to a chip and PIN system, where credit cards all have a chip built in and you have to punch in your PIN code instead of signing a receipt. Any store that displays Visa, MasterCard, Amex etc. logos is required to accept "traditional" sign-and-swipe cards, so be persistent if they initially refuse, although you may need to escalate to the manager. (With most terminals, swiping your card and simply waiting 20 seconds without entering the PIN will cause them to print out the signing slip.) However, with self-service like gas pumps and ticket vending machines, you may be out of luck.
With 50 intricately linked countries and 28 currencies squeezed into an area roughly the size of Canada or China, the planet's largest diaspora due to the continent's colonial ties with virtually the entire world, and more tourism arrivals than anywhere else, currency exchange is a fact of life in Europe, and the market is probably better established than anywhere else in the world, and readily available nearly everywhere. Banks will, nearly without exception, exchange all European currencies, and within the European Union banks will accept nearly any currency that is legally traded abroad. Specialized currency exchange companies are also widespread, especially in major tourist destinations, and are often slightly cheaper than banks. However, with ATMs accepting all major credit and debit cards available everywhere, many visitors simply withdraw money electronically to get as close to the real exchange rate as possible.
In Europe, tipping practices vary from region to region, although, in general, tipping is not considered obligatory. In European countries it is a legal requirement to quote prices including all taxes. The expectation when a price is advertised, is to pay that amount and no more. Restaurants post a menu outside including prices. If a service charge is to be added, this is usually indicated on the menu. If an establishment attempts to charge more than was shown on a menu, for example by adding a service charge not clearly posted, or by adding a tip by default, this is seen as an attempt to overcharge the customer.
Costs and taxes
The EU will seem expensive for most visitors. For souvenirs, prices will often be less at smaller stalls than in larger stores. When dining, many items that you might not expect to be charged for (e.g., water, bread) may appear on your bill.
Most goods and services offered in the region are required to include value added tax (VAT) in their published prices, especially the large print. The VAT may be refundable if you are a non-resident and take the goods out of the EU unused. Just request a voucher from the store and show it to customs at your exit point. To be safe, look out for a VAT refund sticker at the door or window of the store.
Although quite varied, the principles and main staples of continental European cuisine have laid the base for European cuisines. There's a world of difference between the historically available produce of the cold north and the Mediterranean south of Europe and, of course, the development of national cuisines depended highly on the available goods.
However, most European cuisines share a few characteristics and many are held in high regard worldwide, despite having relatively short traditions compared to, for example, those of China. Perhaps the most celebrated of European cuisines is the French one, which has had a strong influence on the modern development of fine dining in other countries. Italian cuisine is equally well-known and loved, and a range of dishes from other countries have gained popularity throughout the continent and the world. Think Spanish tapas or paella, Austrian pastries, German cakes, English Sunday Roast or Turkish kebabs, just to name a few.
Meat plays an important role in most European cuisines. Where Asian cooking has a preference for bite-size bits, many European dishes include full serving pieces. Steaks (of various meats) are popular all over the continent, as are accompanying sauces of all kinds. Potatoes became a major source of starch after the discovery of the Americas, besides bread, pasta, pastries and some forms of dumplings.
The dining scenes in European cities have been heavily influenced by food from the rest of the world. Europeans gladly mix their regional food traditions with those of other parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas, leaving both locals and visitors with a wide array of options in most of the larger cities.
For amateurs of fine dining, France is the place to go to experience the original versions of globally acclaimed and revered delicacies, as well as local specialities, which include escargot, frog legs and a variety of seafoods. Italy holds a wealth of culinary delights, some of which made their way worldwide, such as pizza or various kinds of pasta, but they often evolved into something quite different than one can experience on location.
Spain and Portugal see their cuisines increasingly gaining in popularity both across Europe and on a global scale. To a large extent based on seafood, which is no wonder given their long Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines and maritime traditions, they celebrate meals as much as the Italians do, and elevate small snacks, or tapas, to an art.
The Balkan countries, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Caucasus form a continuum where more and more oriental flavours are added, with fresh curd cheeses, tomatoes and roasted meat in many forms. Given the Islamic influences, you will find much less pork and more beef, lamb and chicken there.
Everywhere along the Mediterranean coast you will find an abundance of olive oil, which is a tasty and healthy alternative to the many other fats used all over the world. This may be the key to the secret of eating so well and so much while remaining trim and living long, which is the case in many locations across the Mediterranean.
Central Europe is home to simple, hearty cuisine including large portions of meat, especially pork, sausages, potatoes, cabbage and sour cream. This is certainly not the place to look for tips on eating less and getting thinner, but one for sure won't be leaving hungry. Moreover, while Switzerland, Austria and many places in Germany have prices matching their high standard of living, with the new EU members it is still possible to fill up very inexpensively compared to the rest of Europe.
The Nordic countries may be less known for their cuisine, except to frequent guests to IKEA restaurants, but they do have a very unique culinary tradition, often shocking other Europeans and non-European visitors by e.g. eating fish with sweet marmalade. Once you get over the initial shock and quirkiness, as well as the anxiety as to what is actually in those meatballs, you will find yourself well-nourished and perhaps pleasantly surprised at the smorgasbord, or the original buffet.
Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States do have much in common with both Central Europe and the Nordics, together with unique local delicacies. As their cuisines are less known globally, you can find many hidden gems and surprises, from the variety of soups and dumplings to the light and sweet desserts.
While Benelux and the British Isles may be actually the least known for their culinary prowess, there is a lot to be enjoyed there as well. There are the obvious choices like Belgian chocolate or Dutch cheese, but also much more to explore if you care to go beyond the typical British fish & chips in a local pub (which is also a treat to enjoy).
Europeans generally have liberal attitudes towards drinking, with the notable exception of Scandinavia (excluding Denmark). The legal drinking age varies between 16-18 in most countries, often with differentiated limits for beer and spirits. In most places drinking in public is both legal, and a common warm weather activity, and police are more likely to give you a warning and send you on your way to bed, than issue fines for drunken or rowdy behaviour. Except on the British Isles, the nightclubs rarely get going until past midnight, head for the bars and restaurants to find people until then. Of course drunk driving is a bad idea anywhere you go and is now enforced almost universally in Europe with fines in the 100€ and upward range and/or a temporary driving ban, depending on the severity of the offense. In short, do yourself and others a favor and don't drive under the influence, especially as the (usually) high quality dense network of public transport makes it unnecessary. There are sometimes controls for other substances as well and trace amounts of THC may be detectable days after consume, which may or may not be considered DUI by the authorities.
Europe is by far the biggest wine producing region in the world, France is the biggest and most famous, but 5 of the 10 largest wine exporters are European Nations; France is followed by Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and nearly all European nations have wine production of some scale. Wine production was started 4000 years ago by the Minoan civilization in present day Greece, and was spread across Europe by the Phoenicians and later the Romans. Unlike other regions, European wine producers place much more emphasis on tradition and terroir than on the grape variety, and wines in Europe will typically be labelled by region rather than by its grape, e.g. Chardonnay, unlike the common practice elsewhere. This is because European wine producers claim that their long history have allowed them to adapt production techniques to the unique conditions of their particular region, and things like the soil composition for a region also has much influence on the taste of the wine. Some of the best and most famous wine regions of Europe includes Bordeaux, whose name is as synonymous with its wines as the large city. Another famous French region producing excellent wines is Burgundy (Bourgogne) around the city of Dijon, it produces both red and whites - the most famous ones, often referred to as Burgundies, are red wines made from Pinot Noir or white wines made from Chardonnay grapes. Further north, the Alsace region close to the Germany, and Mosel across the border - grown on some of the continents most dramatic vineyards on very steep hills, are above all known for their excellent white wines. Further to the south, Tuscany in Italy is famous for its Chianti wines made from Sangiovese grapes, while La Rioja is arguably the most popular, and certainly among the best, Spanish wine regions.
In fact, many wine names indicate the place where the wine comes from, with EU laws forbidding use of the name unless it is from a specific place. Examples include Champagne, which has to come from the Champagne region of France, Port which has to come from Porto, Portugal, Sherry which has to come from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, as well as Tokaji which has to come from Tokaj, Hungary.
While wine is the most popular alcohol in Southern Europe, beer is the national drink for much of Northern Europe. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic make some of the finest brews in Europe and maybe the world. Visitors from many countries, especially those from East Asia or North America will find that European lagers have a richer stronger taste, and often a higher alcohol content than found at home.
- In Europe as elsewhere, the most popular beers are lagers, also known as Pilsner after the Czech city of Pilsen that originated the style.
- The United Kingdom, Ireland and partly the Belgian abbey breweries, on the other hand have strong brewing traditions in ale, which is brewed using quickly fermenting yeast giving it a sweet and fruity taste.
- Wheat beers are very popular in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and come in many varieties of their own. Traditional German Hefeweizen is unfiltered and cloudy, while kristall is filtered and looks much like lager. Belgian witbiers like Hoegaarden are often gently flavored and popular in summer, sometimes with a slice of lemon on the side. And in a class of their own are spontaneously fermented lambics, which are very sour and not to everyone's taste!
- Stout (porter) is a British and Irish speciality, with Guinness available around the continent. Made from roasted malts, stout is dark and strong in both taste and alcohol content, hence the name.
Most European nations have a national brand; like Carlsberg, Heineken or Stella, sold most everywhere – but the really good beers are often the smaller brands, which don't try to appeal to everyone. In recent years microbreweries have had a huge revival shooting up everywhere around the continent. If you really want to indulge, try one of the Octoberfests, held in many German cities, the most famously Munich (where they start drinking already in late September!). The area with the highest density of breweries in the world is Franconia, north of Bavaria if you were curious.
Another northern European favourite is cider, most commonly brewed from apples and sold both bottled and on tap in pubs. Taste and alcohol content can vary widely, from dense, cloudy and strong (8% or more) to light, weak (under 4%) and occasionally even artificially flavoured.
As elsewhere vodka, rum and gin are available everywhere. Scandinavia (except Denmark), Eastern Europe and Russia especially have an affection for vodka, and if you've so far only tried the usual suspects like Smirnoff or Absolut; you should try the vodka there; you may just end up surprised at how tasty the stuff can actually be. Elsewhere, most regions have a local speciality that local drinking comrades will happily fill in you, and eagerly wait for your funny faces when your throat and taste-buds screams in agony. Most likely it will be Slivovitz (also called Rakia) in South-eastern Europe and the Balkans (especially in Serbia), a strongly tasting and fruity brandy, usually made from plums. Other forms of brandy, made from grapes instead, such as traditional Brandy, Cognac or Port wine are popular in the UK and South-western Europe. Greece and Italy makes the popular Ouzo/Sambuca which along with the related, resurgent Absinthe, is made from star anise and sugar, giving it a liquorice like taste - watch for the many party fire tricks related to those drinks. In northern Europe you'll likely be served Schnapps (or Aquavit), usually made from fermented hops or potatoes accented by traditional herbs like dill or sloe, be careful, it suddenly kicks in without much warning. Finally, it will hardly come as a surprise to many that Whiskey (or Whisky) is popular with the Scots and Irish. While all these drinks have strong regional roots, you'll generally find one or two types of each, in virtually any bar on the continent.
Lodging cultures in Europe differ significantly by country, but most people across the continent sleep in hotels. Most medium-sized towns at least have one hotel, and usually have a couple of them in different price ranges. Rooms are generally expensive: they usually go for about €90-300 per night, and prices even exceed that if you're staying in one of the top-end hotels that most major cities have. These hotels usually feature quite some amenities, including a TV, telephone, breakfast, etc. Some countries, such as France, also have roadside hotels that are somewhat similar to motels in the United States.
Because of the relatively high cost of lodging, hostels are popular among younger backpackers. All major cities have them, but they are difficult to find outside the typical tourist places. At around €15–30 per night, hostels are significantly cheaper than hotels. Quality varies widely across the continent. Hostels in eastern Europe are much cheaper and of a much lower quality than those in the western part.
Camping is also popular with Europeans themselves. This ranges from Leave-no-trace camping in Scandinavia under the (more or less formally granted) everybody's right (Allemansrätten) to camp in the free nature for a night as long as nothing is damaged and no fences are crossed, to fancy "long term" camping grounds in e.g. Germany, where some people spend the better part of their weekends and holidays in semi-permanent caravans. Usually camping grounds are a cheap and comfortable way to stay – some even offer pre-built tents or caravans, which are already equipped with most of your basic needs – but sometimes they may be awkward to reach if you cannot or don't want to go there by car.
There are also several lodgings of quirky means in which to stay. In Sweden you can sleep in a hotel made completely out of ice; Greece and Turkey have hotels in sandstone or rock caves; and Sveti Stefan in Montenegro is an island village that has been entirely converted into accommodation.
The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pickpockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences. Remember alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures but overuse can lead to violence and poor judgement! In general, bars and pubs are not a place where alcohol causes these problems in Europe but it can end up being a big problem on the roads.
Most European countries have very low levels of violence compared to the United States. The main issues are drug use and gang related violence which are most prone in Britain and France, but it's virtually unheard of for any tourists to be involved in such issues. The few "trouble areas" to avoid are the run-down suburbs of certain urban areas (particularly in Europe's largest cities); some places in eastern and southern Europe do have much higher violent crime rates and can be very dangerous for non locals, but these areas shouldn't be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.
Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general, but as always when traveling in rural and forested or mountainous areas, take the proper precautions. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded. Time to take out the cell phone. Did you bring one?
For more information see Common scams which contains many Europe-specific scams.
There are no specific precautions required for staying healthy in Europe as most restaurants maintain high standards of hygiene and in the majority of countries tap water is safe to drink. However, for more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceutical regulations and dentistry standards etc., please consult the 'Stay safe' section on specific country articles.
EU/EEA citizens should apply for (or bring) the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which grants you access to state-provided healthcare within the European Union as well as Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein either at reduced cost or free of charge, under the same terms as a resident of the country you are visiting. If you are used to free healthcare in your own country, remember that some member states expect patients to pay towards their treatment, and you may be expected to do the same. And do remember that the EHIC does not equal a travel insurance; it doesn't cover private healthcare, the cost of mountain rescues or repatriation to your home country. Neither does it allow you to go abroad specifically to receive medical care.
If you are not an EU/EEA citizen, remember to buy a travel insurance policy. While some countries do provide free emergency care for visitors, any follow-up treatment and repatriation is your own responsibility, and some countries expect you to foot the entire bill for any treatment yourself – the fabled universal healthcare system does not equal free treatment for non EU citizens.
For emergencies you can dial 112 in any EU member nation as well as most other European countries – even when it is not the primary local number for emergency services. All 112 emergency centres within the EU are legally required to be capable of connecting you to an English speaking operator. 112 can be dialled from any GSM phone, even locked phones or ones without a SIM installed. Calls from a phone without a SIM card is handled differently in a few countries, Germany and the UK ignoring them altogether.