Europe welcomes more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market. Seven out of the ten most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why — a well-preserved cultural heritage, open borders, safety and efficient infrastructure make 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.
Europe is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. The eastern border of Europe is poorly defined. The Caucasus states are geographically part of Asia, but culturally European, and much of Russia and Turkey are geographically part of Asia.
Out of 50 European countries, 28 are members of the European Union (EU), a supranational body with generally harmonised legislation; several others being EU associates. The most apparent aspects 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, 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 the Euro are EU 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, picturesque Provence, 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, Cyprus and Northern 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.
|Nordic countries (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
Spectacular scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and volcanoes with opportunity for outdoor life, known for the Viking Age around AD 1000.
- 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
Europe has an area of 10,180,000 km² (3,930,000 square miles), and 780 million inhabitants. European nations came to dominate the world from the 16th century and onwards. As the continent was devastated by the World Wars in the early 20th century, most Europeans now seek peace and unity.
The Homo Sapiens reached Europe from Africa, and coexisted by the Homo Neanderthalensis for some millennia.
As writing, farming and urban culture spread to Europe from the Middle East, the earliest concrete signs of written European culture can be found in Ancient Greece, with poets such as Homer, Hesiod, and Kallinos dated to the 8th century BC. 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.
The city of Rome, inhabited since at least 800 BC, became the center of the Roman Empire, which conquered much of Europe, as well as North Africa and the Middle East, and came to define a common European identity, through the Latin language and alphabet, as well as law and architecture. Christianity and Judaism were both found throughout the Empire by the early second century AD and the former seems to have been particularly popular with soldiers along the Germanic borders. After two centuries of on and off persecution, Constantine officially tolerated Christianity and intervened in theological debates cementing a path that would lead to an openly Christian Empire that persecuted non-Christians and "the wrong kind" of Christianity alike. This pattern could be found throughout most of Europe in the ensuing millennium.
The Migration Period began around 300 AD, and saw especially Germanic tribes moving across the continent. Around 500 AD the Roman Empire collapsed, with most of it invaded by tribes, such as the Franks in Gaul and Germania, and the Visigoths in Spain. The millennium that followed the fall of Rome has by posterity been called the Middle Ages. However, the Roman scholarship survived in the Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople (today's Istanbul), and later in the Muslim World.
The Franks rose to power under the Merovingian dynasty, and converted to Catholic Christianity in the 5th century. An Arab-Muslim force landed on the Iberian peninsula in 711, wiping out the Visigoths, conquering most of Iberia within the next few years, before being stopped by the Frankish noble Charles Martel's army near Tours and Poitiers in 732. Much of Spain remained Muslim until the 15th century. The most notable Frankish ruler Charlemagne conquered much of Western Europe, and was crowned "Holy Roman Emperor" by the pope in 800 AD. The Carolingian empire largely disintegrated on Charlemagne's death in 814, and the last East-Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty died in 911. The 9th and 10th centuries are also remembered for the Viking raids and expeditions from Scandinavia across most of Europe.
The 10th to 13th centuries are known as the High Middle Ages, and saw a wave of urbanisation especially in Western Europe, with the rise of cathedrals and universities, the first of which, University of Bologna, has remained in continuous operation since 1088. The High Middle Ages were marked by the Crusades; a series of military campaigns launched by the Catholic church, many of them towards the Holy Land. Merchant-ruled city-states such as the Hanseatic League, Novgorod, Genoa and Venice, came to control much of commerce in Europe, while the Mongol Empire came to conquer most of the European plains in the 13th century.
The Black Death killed one-third of Europe's population around 1350.
Early modern period
- See also: Medieval and Renaissance Italy
The Middle Ages were considered to end in the 15th century, as an intellectual movement referred to as the Renaissance beginning in Italy and spread across Europe, rediscovered Classical Graeco-Roman culture. Book printing brought literature in vernacular languages besides Latin, which catalyzed reformation of Christianity, with the rise of new sects in Europe, most notably Protestantism. The period from the 15th to the 19th century is today referred to as the early modern times.
Warfare changed, as knights and archers were replaced by gunpowder weapons, including artillery that could tear down most medieval fortresses. A series of wars, especially the very destructive Thirty Years' War of the 17th century, replaced the political patchwork of noble's fiefs and city-states with centralized empires, such as the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
From the late 15th century, European navigators found the way to Africa, Asia and the Americas (see voyages of Columbus). They paved the way for Spain, Portugal and later other countries to establish colonies and trading posts on other continents, through superior military power, and epidemics that decimated much of the American population. The independence of the USA, Haiti and many other parts of the Americas at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century ended the first wave of colonialism. European interests turned to Africa, India and East Asia and from the 1880s onward Africa was colonised leaving only Liberia and Ethiopia as independent. Most colonies became independent well past World War II, and today only Spain has some small possessions in mainland Africa. Immigration from former colonies has shaped the face of Europe, and countries such as France, Britain and Spain in particular.
Age of Revolutions
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 18th century (see Industrial Britain), but took a century to spread to continental Europe.
Modern times in Europe are considered to have begun with the 1789 French Revolution, which was the beginning to the end of European aristocracy and absolute monarchy, and led to a series of war, including the Napoleonic Wars. The 19th century saw the rise of democracy, social reform and nationalism, with the unification of countries such as Germany and Italy. Some historians speak of the "long 19th century" beginning with the first major liberal European revolution in 1789 and ending with the beginning of the First World War, giving rise to the "short 20th century" that spans the 75 years from 1914 to 1989 and was dominated by the rise and fall of Soviet-style communism and an overall decline in the importance of Europe on the world stage.
World War I, at its time known as the Great War, saw unprecedented destruction, and made the end to the Russian, German, Austrian and Ottoman empires. The Soviet Union replaced the Russian Empire, and fascist movements rose to power in Italy, and later in Germany. While Europeans were weary of war, the League of Nation failed to stop the second World War, wich came to be the most destructive war ever in Europe.
World War II and European Integration
Europe, prior to the conclusion of World War II, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war", and the United States and the Soviet Union became the new superpowers.
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 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 elections have happened every five years since then. The last European election was in 2014 and the next is scheduled to be in 2019. European elections are second only to India in the number of votes cast.
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, Monaco and Andorra, which are not EU members, have been granted official permission to use the Euro. 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.
In 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, though there is no formally set date for them actually leaving yet and until such a date is set, things will proceed as if the UK had never voted "leave".
Europe makes up the western one fifth of the Eurasian landmass, bounded by bodies of water on three sides: the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. 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 culturally and historically. if not necessarily geographically. The geographic boundaries are a contentious issue and several eastern boundaries have been proposed, the most common of which are the Ural mountains and the Bosporus strait.
Europe's highest point is Russia's Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains, which rises to 5,642 m (18,510 ft) above sea level. Outside the Caucasus, the highest point is the Mont Blanc in the Alps with 4,810 m (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.
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.
Most of Europe has temperate climate. 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 and arctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.
In general, seasonal differences increase further inland, from a few degrees on small Atlantic islands, to burning summer sun and freezing winter on the Russian plains.
Atlantic and mountain regions have high precipitation; especially northwestern Spain, the British Isles, Norway, the Alps, and the Dinaric mountains on the western Balkans. North of the Alps, summers are slightly wetter than winters. In the Mediterranean most rain falls in the winter, while summers are mostly dry.
The best time to visit Europe is in the summer, though the Mediterranean might be less hot in spring or autumn. In August, the British Isles, Benelux, Germany and northern France have average highs of around 23°C, but these temperatures cannot be taken for granted. 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. In general, the south-east is warmer at summer.
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. Most of the Nordic countries have averages below -10°C.
The highest peaks of the Alps have perpetual snow.
Daylight varies greatly in northern Europe. At 60 degrees north (Shetland Islands, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg), white nights can be enjoyed in June, while the sun is above the horizon for only six hours in December. The variation increases with latitude, so that north of the Arctic Circle, visitors can see the Midnight Sun and the Arctic Night.
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 technically not 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.
The nationals of the following 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, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia(1), Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova(1), Monaco, Montenegro(1), New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia(1, 2), Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan(3) (Republic of China), Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports and all British nationals (including those who are not European Union citizens).
- The non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors noted above 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, can only stay 90 days within 180 days.
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.
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.
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN, SEN), Frankfurt (FRA), 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) (see: rail air alliances). 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. As everywhere: caveat emptor!
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 ongoing armed conflicts in those countries. For information on how to get from Istanbul to most other points in Europe by train see our itinerary on the Orient Express.
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, which sails around 10 times per year in each direction, but expect to pay USD1,000–2,000 for the cheapest tickets on the 6-day voyage between Southampton and New York. If your pockets are not deep enough, your 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 considering 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, 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 also here.
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.
Note that in 2015 the free mobility within the European Union has been disrupted somewhat by the large number of refugees entering the area. Some borders have been closed (at least partly) and traffic at some is much less smooth than normal. Identification documents are now being asked for at some boarder crossings. Expect delays at international borders.
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 travelling within the Schengen Area, at some ports and airports, staff will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport (this may now also occur at land borders, particularly Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland).
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. Roughly speaking, European high-speed rail tickets work similar to airline tickets with the best offers for non-refundable tickets on low demand routes and times and high prices for "last minute".
If you want flexibility without spending an arm and a leg, various passes can be a good deal. 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. Sometimes individual railroads offer one of passes for their country, but they are often seasonal and/or only announced on short notice.
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.
Most large cities in Europe have an extensive urban rail network.
EU Passenger Rights
European Union (EU) Regulation 261/2004 of 17 February 2005 [dead link] 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.
Dozens of budget airlines allow cheap travel around Europe, sometimes cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey, Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as Eurowings, EasyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair, Transavia, Vueling 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. Ryanair and Wizzair's Frankfurt-Hahn, which is not Frankfurt/Main International). Also note that budget airlines tickets include little service; account for fees (e.g. on luggage, snacks, boarding passes and so on) when comparing prices.
Before the 2010s, buses played a niche role at best in European intercity transportation. Cheap flights and high speed rail relegated them to second or third fiddle, serving the needs of migrants, secondary routes, or countries with poor rail, such as the Balkans, and sparsely inhabited areas such as the Nordic countries or Russia. However, legal reforms in Germany and later France have allowed bus companies to serve cities that had previously seen no or hardly any intercity service.
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, though the bigger players (e.g. Flixbus, Eurolines, Student Agency) are increasingly active in several countries.
For a long time, buses mostly served package tours, or were chartered for a specific trip. One exception to this was in a sense the European answer to Chinatown buses, companies based in Eastern Europe, the Balkans or Turkey and mostly serving as a means for the diaspora to visit the home of their forebears. While most of those companies still exist doing what they always did, they are today overshadowed by more tourist oriented companies with denser networks and a bigger focus on domestic routes.
Eurolines connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of Europe and Morocco. 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.
Touring (German variant of Eurolines), Sindbad (Polish), Lasta [dead link] (from Serbia), Linebus (Spanish) and National Express (from the UK) are other options. Newer players include Flixbus, student agency, Megabus and ouibus. Most of these companies originated in a certain country and still mostly serve that country, but cross border services or domestic services in a third country are becoming increasingly common.
The Baltic sea has several routes running between the major cities (Gdańsk, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, etc.) Most ships are very large and on a par with Caribbean cruise liners both in size and 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 has numerous lines to Norway and Sweden. 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.
There are unsurprisingly many ferry routes to, from, and around the British Isles, not just between Great Britain and Ireland, but also around the numerous other islands of the archipelago, most extensively in the Western and Northern Isles of Scotland. From southern England and the Republic of Ireland, several routes still cross the English Channel to France and Spain, despite the opening of the Channel Tunnel. The Channel Islands are also all connected to one another and to France and England by high-speed catamaran. In the North Sea, services operate from Belgium and the Netherlands to ports on the east coast of England.
In the Mediterranean Sea a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate between Spain, Italy and southern France, including Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics. And on the Italian peninsula's east coast, ferries ply across the Adriatic sea to Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece, with Bari as one major terminal of many.
And finally the Black Sea has several ferries sailing 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 same stretch of 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.
Driving in Europe is an expensive proposition – petrol (gas) prices hover around €1.30–1.80 per litre ($6.50–9 per U.S. 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, Berlin or Amsterdam. Many residents of the aforementioned cities don't even own a car.
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.
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 car 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. Getting a car into an old town can be physically impossible, prohibited, or at least very difficult.
The traffic is right-handed, except in the 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.
- 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.
Renting a car
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.
- See also: Cycling in Europe
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, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark are better destinations for cyclists than – say – Poland.
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.
Bike share systems are becoming increasingly common, especially in countries like France or Germany. One of the biggest companies in this emerging business is nextbike, who mostly honor memberships in one city for reduced rates in another. Other cities like Paris have city run systems which only cover one place, but there are often special discount rates for tourists.
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.
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 (Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish)
- Romance languages, which are the descendants of Latin — French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian
- Slavic languages — most of the languages of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, including Bulgarian, 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 the Nordic countries 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 was studied in school in countries behind the Iron Curtain, and is thus widely known (to varying degrees) by the older generations. It was not always liked and even people knowing it well might avoid using it. In such cases using a few phrases in the local language, while hinting you know Russian, may break the ice. Russian is still widely studied in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Countries that were part of the Soviet Union have significant Russian minorities.
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 you can cross Europe on train in a weekend and fly across it in a few hours, it has more historical sites than any other continent, with more than 400 World Heritage Sites on the continent and thousands of other sites worth seeing. 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. Europe is certainly worth more than one visit.
Historical and cultural attractions
Europe is full of deserted archaeological sites, as well as living old towns. Ancient Greece Ancient Greek structures are scattered over Greece and Turkey, including Delphi, Olympia, Sparta, Ephesus, Lycia and of course the Parthenon in Athens.
The Roman Empire left ruins across the continent. 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 have most other regions that were once part of the Roman Empire. Several of those sites are UNESCO world heritage sites as well.
The eastern half of the Roman Empire continued on as the Byzantine Empire, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean for a thousand years, until its capital (Constantinople) was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who in turn became the dominant military and political force in eastern Europe until the First World War. Constantinople's (now Istanbul's) most famous landmark, Hagia Sofia, is a testament to this history. After almost a millennium of being the largest Eastern Orthodox (Christian) cathedral in the world, it was converted in 1453 into one of the world's most impressive mosques.
After the end of the Western 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 and Germany showed their wealth through churches and council buildings, many of which still exist. Those cities that in the medieval or early modern period were the seat of power of some duke, prince or king often still have some of their grandiose palaces, theatres or opera houses, many of which are still in use or museums. Examples include the Medici Villas and palazzi in and around Florence, 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, including the world-famous Alhambra in Granada.
While much of Europe's land area is used for housing and farming, the continent also contains large areas of wilderness; especially in the north and east. The fjords of Norway and the Alps have spectacular views.
- 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
- The Elbe Radweg goes from the Czech Republic to the German North Sea Coast
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 and other countries where other sports are called Football) 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 One 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 football (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.
- Ice Hockey hugely popular in some countries of the former Eastern block the Russian (plus some teams from other countries) Kontinental Hockey League (often abbreviated KHL) is said to be the second best after the NHL and very close in quality as well as fierceness of competition. The Ice Hockey world cup is often held in Europe and usually draws huge crowds, especially in countries such as Slovakia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden or Germany. For some countries (notably Slovakia and Finland), success in Ice Hockey is almost as much an issue of national pride as success in soccer is to others.
- American football is also played by a growing number of enthusiasts, yet nowhere near the levels it enjoys in North America. The NFL is in the process of changing that, through the international series in London, though. Even some domestic events, like national finals or European championships may draw crowds in the five digit range. European competitions such as they are, are dominated by German, Austrian and to a lesser degree French teams all of which employ non-native (particularly American) talent in coaching and playing. While the chances of coming out of a European league to play in the NFL are slim, pay and benefits are usually enough to enable a bit of travel besides the "playing for pizza" as the Grisham novel would have it.
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 civilised 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.
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.
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).
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 shopping 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 (although not all) countries of the European Union, removing the need to exchange currencies when going from one country to the next and beneficial to both pan-European business and travellers. One euro equals 100 cents; sometimes referred to as 'euro cents' to differentiate them from their U.S. and other counterparts.
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 favour. Many hotels outside of the Eurozone also price and accept payment in euros.
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 a 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 them. Usually the machine will state the fee for the withdrawal you are about to make and ask you to confirm it.
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, and mostly limited to only VISA and Mastercard, with Mastercard much more widely accepted in some countries. American Express and Diners Club acceptance is quite limited in some countries, and some retailers consciously opt out from accepting them due to higher fees they would incur. JCB and UnionPay are also not readily accepted, and Discover's coverage is scant.
Many cashless transactions are actually being done by debit cards, which are technically processed differently than credit cards and using the latter may cause the retailer to need to use an alternative procedure. This is especially true with older-style credit cards without a chip, which may simply not get accepted. Most Europan 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.
Procedures for handling payments with unfamiliar cash types often involve checking the card against user IDs, so do not be surprised or offended if asked for one and do have a document with a photo handy, preferably a passport as a driver's license is often not deemed a valid ID in many European countries for such purposes.
Do note that actual credit and debit card acceptance schemes vary between countries, and you may be surprised to find out that your card inexplicably does not work at some points of sale in some locations, despite being otherwise fine. Moreover, the card acceptance signs displayed may not mean what you may expect them to, as "fine print" may deem your particular type of VISA or Mastercard not acceptable (e.g. because only chip-enabled cards are covered). It is always advisable to have cash at hand, also because many points of sale will not accept cards at all, for example stalls at Christmas markets.
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.
Tipping practices vary between countries in Europe. In most countries, tipping is not required, and displayed prices are required to include all service fees and taxes.
Costs and taxes
Many European countries are expensive; especially western Europe, large cities, and touristed areas. 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.
In the EU, most goods and services 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, the French cuisine contains the original versions of globally acclaimed and revered delicacies, as well as local specialities, which include escargot, frog legs and a variety of seafoods. The Italian cuisine 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.
The Spanish cuisine is gaining in popularity both across Europe and on a global scale, as well as the Portuguese cuisine. 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. See also Middle Eastern cuisine.
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 cuisine is home to dishes of seafood, game, berries, bread of different cereals. Perhaps the most known of all Scandinavian dishes are the humble Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), popularized alongside some other staples by IKEA restaurants. While simplicity is always a permeating value, do not be fooled by IKEA's tasty yet mundane offerings, as Nordic food has many more refined flavours. Of note is also the concept of smörgåsbord, a prototype for modern-day buffet, centered on fish and meats.
The Russian cuisine has much in common with the cuisines of Ukraine, the Baltic States, 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, and alcohol is considered a standard part of leisure gatherings. The legal drinking age varies between 16–18 in most countries, often with differentiated limits for beer and spirits. While inappropriate behaviour can earn you not only scorn or a boot from the premises, but also puts you at risk of getting arrested or fined, being drunk alone is not a crime, and it is tolerated.
Except on the British Isles, the nightclubs rarely get going until past midnight – head for the bars and restaurants to find people until then. Especially in the Southern part of Europe, alcohol makes its way to the table (and one's bloodstream) even earlier, as wine is considered a de rigeur part of a proper midday or evening meal. In some countries, it is also legal to consume alcohol in the outdoors off-premises.
Of course drunk driving is heavily penalized anywhere you go and is now enforced almost universally in Europe. Fines can be heavy, you can loose your driving licence and causing any incident under influence is considered criminal in many countries. There are sometimes controls for other substances as well – in many countries, driving under the influence of various psychoactive substances is also prosecuted. Some substances can be detected in your blood or urine days after consumption and the law does not necessarily care whether those trace amounts still affect your ability to drive.
Europe is by far the dominant wine region in the world, with five out of ten of the world's largest wine-exporting countries: France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal. Most European nations have wine production of some scale. The earliest known wine in Europe was made around 2000 BC 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, 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 most famous wine districts are Bordeaux (whose name is as synonymous with its wines as the city), and Burgundy (Bourgogne) around the city of Dijon which 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. The Alsace region close to Germany, and Mosel across the border – grown on some of the continents most dramatic vineyards on very steep hills – are known for white wines. Tuscany in Italy is famous for its Chianti wines made from Sangiovese grapes, while La Rioja is a well-known Spanish wine region.
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.
Benelux and Central European nations are known for beer; both quality and quantity. 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. A Czech Pilsner will taste notably different from those of most non-Czech breweries, being a bit "softer" and sometimes more "buttery" in taste.
- 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. The Nordic countries, 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. In Northern Germany, Korn is the liquor of choice, a clear beverage made from grains and usually not filtered. 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.
While Europe has nowhere near the variety of sugared soft drinks of the US, there are some non-alcoholic beverages that originated in Europe and are still best there. Juices are also plentiful and often excellent, with apple juice available in all price and quality categories, especially in Central Europe, as the area around Lake Constance and the altes Land near Hamburg are among the biggest apple growing regions in the world. In the Nordic countries you can try berry juices made with wild-growing forest berries. Muslim communities in places such as Turkey usually have a broad range of fruit juices, in lieu of alcohol.
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 sometimes 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, Jokamiehenoikeus) 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.
While there is an ongoing civil war in eastern Ukraine, and terrorist attacks in European countries have got the world's attention, Europe is generally one of the least violent continents.
In most European cities, the main risks for visitors 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.
Other crime 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.
Corruption and authority misconduct might be a problem in countries such as Russia.
The attitude towards LGBT people varies greatly. While most countries in the west allow same-sex marriage and have a tolerant attitude to sexual minorities (at least in large and cosmopolitan cities), Eastern Europe and especially Russia can be a dangerous destination for LGBT travellers.
While ethnic rivalry between neighbor nations is usually at a friendly level, and many European countries are multicultural since generations back, racism remains a problem in parts of Europe.
Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general, but as always be prepared when traveling in rural and forested or mountainous areas. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded.
For more information see Common scams which contains many Europe-specific scams.
Most restaurants in Europe, at least within the EU/EEA, maintain high standards of hygiene, and in most countries tap water is safe to drink. For more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceuticals, dentistry standards etc., see 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 require patients' fees.
The EHIC is not a travel insurance; it does not 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.
Not EU/EEA citizens should 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.
While Europe is more integrated than ever, many Europeans have a strong national identity. Avoid too negative generalizations about regions such as "Eastern Europe". Using the right terminology is especially important for smaller countries with a dominant neighbour (e.g. the Dutch dislike being described as Germans) and for ethnic minorities, such as the Basques in Spain and France.
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, usually even locked phones or ones without a SIM installed. Calls from a phone without a SIM card is handled differently in a few countries, for example authorities in Germany ignore them altogether.