Europe attracts more tourists than any other continent: over 600 million international visitors annually, more than half of the global market. Out of Earth's ten most visited countries, seven are in Europe, with good reason.
Although Europe is not one country, the ease of crossing borders might make you think otherwise, and transport infrastructure is generally efficient and well-maintained. At the other end of a short ride on a starkly modern high speed train, a brief flight, or an easy drive, you will likely be able to delve into a new phrasebook and culture.
Europe has cultural heritage dating back more than three millennia: the continent has seen the rise and fall of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, and birthed the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Countless kingdoms, republics and empires have left archaeological sites and old towns galore, and the most magnificent cathedrals in the world for you to explore. Aside from history, Europe is the home of high culture, is renowned for its diverse cuisines, and is justly celebrated for its exciting and romantic cities.
Europe stretches from the shivering Arctic Ocean in the north, to the pleasantly warm subtropical Mediterranean Sea in the south, and contains a vast array of temperate climates and variety of landscapes in between. The east of the continent is connected to Asia, and for historical reasons a boundary is usually drawn from the Ural mountains via the Caucasus to the Aegean Sea, while the continent's western extremities jut bracingly into the Atlantic Ocean.
|Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Moldova, Transnistria, Montenegro, North Macedonia, 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)|
The United Kingdom 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, and the breakaway states of Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia)|
The Caucasus is a mountainous region 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 and 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)|
Italy has more history and culture packed into it than many other countries combined. The island of Malta offers ancient sites, scenic getaways and marvellous aquatic activities.
|Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the autonomous Faroe Islands and Åland)|
Spectacular scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and volcanoes with opportunity for outdoor life, known for the Viking Age around AD 1000. Also known for being bastions of progressive politics with the world's highest tax rates and most comprehensive welfare states.
|Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the breakaway states of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic)|
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 beautiful cities. Belarus, sometimes called "Europe's last dictatorship", is the largest remaining Soviet-style country in the world.
- Amsterdam — canals, Rembrandt, hashish and red lanterns, the epitome of social liberal attitudes
- Barcelona — capital of Catalonia and home to Gaudí's famous Sagrada Família this place is much more than "Spain's second city"
- Berlin — scarred by four decades of division but experiencing an almost unprecedented boom, the capital of reunited Germany is one of Europe's most creative and innovative cities and still surprisingly affordable
- Istanbul — the heart of both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, this bi-continental city is a bridge between east and west and Europe's largest
- London — Europe's financial metropolis and the former heart of the British Empire, packed with all sorts of attractions from sports to museums and two millennia of history
- Moscow — the heart and brain of the largest country on Earth, Moscow has the heritage of both the tsars and the Soviets and all the other current or former occupants of the Kremlin
- Paris — the "City of Light" and one of the most visited places on Earth: romance, cuisine, the Eiffel Tower and a surprising amount of green await you
- Prague — home to Kafka and medieval emperors, this city has tons of well-preserved history as well as a vibrant nightlife to keep you fascinated
- Rome — an empire was named after this eternal city of seven hills and today it is chock full of old and new, and even contains its own state, the Vatican
- Alps — both a barrier and a bridge for millennia, Europe's climate is formed by them and the continent's transportation funneled into their passes. This mountain range is also Europe's most beloved winter sports and hiking destination, as well as home to mythical mountains like Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn
- Białowieża National Park — the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once spread across the European Plain
- Cinque Terre — a gorgeous national park, which connects five picturesque villages
- Gotland — a sunny limestone island in the Baltic Sea with a legacy from the Hanseatic League
- Hardangervidda — a mountain plateau in Norway with astounding views of mountains and glaciers
- Mallorca — a Spanish island famous for seaside resorts, nightlife, and spectacular landscapes
- Meteora — six Eastern Orthodox monasteries built on natural sandstone rock pillars
- Plitvice National Park — beautiful turquoise-coloured lakes surrounded by a large forest
- Stonehenge — the well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument on Salisbury Plain
Europe has an area of 10,180,000 km² (3,930,000 square miles), and 742 million inhabitants. European nations came to dominate the world from the 16th century and onward. As the continent was devastated by the World Wars in the early 20th century, most Europeans now seek peace and unity.
Homo Sapiens reached Europe from Africa through the Middle East roughly 40,000 years ago, and displaced the Homo Neanderthalensis, which died out around 30,000 years ago.
As writing, farming and urban culture all spread to Europe from the Middle East, European culture has owed much to "foreign" influences from its very beginning. The Mediterranean was one of the first centres of writing and city-states. Among its numerous cultures, those of Ancient Greece are the earliest well-known ones that arose in Europe. Greek poets such as Homer, Hesiod, and Kallinos dated to the 8th century BC are the oldest European writers still widely studied. 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.
The city of Rome, inhabited since at least 800 BC, became the centre 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 frontiers. After two centuries of on and off persecution, Constantine officially tolerated Christianity (though he did not convert until his dying moments) 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. Under the rule of Constantine's distant successor from another dynasty Theodosius, Christianity would be declared the state religion of Rome, and became mandatory for all Roman subjects, thereby leading to the eventual Christianisation of all Europe. Theodosius, who died in 395 after having briefly ruled both halves of the Empire, would also prove to be the last person to rule both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, as the land was divided among his sons after his death. While this was not seen as a dramatic move at the time and such divisions had occurred before, the rift never healed, and the Western Empire fell some eighty years later. The cultural divide would deepen and ultimately result in a schism of Christianity during the Middle Ages that endures today.
The Migration Period began around AD 300, and saw especially Germanic tribes moving across the continent, in part fleeing from Hunnic invasions. Military and political errors led to humiliating defeats for the Romans such as the Battle of Adrianople of 376 that saw emperor Valens and most of his army perish fighting Goths. Around AD 500 (AD 476 is a commonly cited date, but there are good arguments for slightly different dates) the Western Roman Empire ceased to be, with most of it invaded by Germanic 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.
The eastern half of the Roman Empire continued on as the Byzantine Empire, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean for a thousand years, was significantly weakened by the fourth crusade sacking Constantinople in 1204 and finally ceased to be when its capital (Constantinople) was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, who came to dominate southeastern Europe until the First World War. Roman scholarship survived in the Byzantine Empire, 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 Franks 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. Several crusades went nowhere near Jerusalem and one ended in the conquering and destruction of Constantinople, weakening the Byzantine Empire enough that it would collapse two centuries hence. 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 (bubonic plague) killed one-third of Europe's population around 1350, making it probably the worst epidemic in European history. The Black Death led to an increase in anti-Jewish pogroms and is cited as causing dissatisfaction with secular and religious authorities which had been largely powerless to stop it.
Early modern period
- See also: Medieval and Renaissance Italy
An intellectual movement called the Renaissance (rebirth) began in Italy and started to spread across Europe in the final years of the 15th century, rediscovering Classical Graeco-Roman culture. The invention of the printing press made books much more affordable, leading to broader literacy and the emergence of literature in languages besides Latin. This also enabled the faster spread of "heretical" ideas during the Protestant Reformation that unlike prior reform movements did not stay contained to scholarly circles (writing mostly in the vernacular and not Latin) and was not snuffed out in its infancy or contained locally like the 15th-century Jan Hus movement in what is now the Czech Republic. This period, which saw the invention of movable type, the voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, is usually considered the beginning of the Early Modern Era. The 17th and 18th centuries would bring about the Age of Enlightenment, which saw the birth of modern science, as well as the introduction of secularism and constitutional government. The ideals of the Enlightenment would greatly influence the founding fathers of the United States during the American War of Independence, with many of these ideals being incorporated into the United States Constitution.
Gunpowder weapons revolutionised warfare, 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 nobles' fiefs and city-states with centralised empires, such as the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
From the late 15th century, European navigators found the way to Asia, the Americas (see voyages of Columbus) and Oceania. 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 population, especially in America. 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, East Asia and Oceania, and from the 1880s onward Africa was colonised during what is commonly known as the "Scramble for Africa", leaving only Liberia and Ethiopia independent. Most colonies became independent in the decades following World War II, and today only Spain has some small possessions in mainland Africa, while France, Spain and Portugal continue to control some islands off the African coast. Immigration from former colonies has shaped the face of Europe, and of countries such as France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain in particular.
Age of Revolutions
- See also: Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, British Empire, Industrial Britain, Nordic history
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 of the end of European aristocratic power and absolute monarchy, and led to a series of wars, including the Napoleonic Wars. Although Napoleon was ultimately defeated, the legacy of his rule over much of Europe can still be seen today, with the concept of secularism (also known as the "separation of church and state") having been introduced by Napoleon into the occupied territories. 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.
The First World War, at its time known as the Great War, caused unprecedented destruction, and made the end to the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The Soviet Union replaced the Russian Empire, and fascist movements rose to power in Italy, and later in Spain, Portugal and Germany. While Europeans were weary of war, the League of Nations failed to stop the Second World War, which came to be the most destructive war ever in Europe.
Cold War and European integration
During the Second World War, there was destruction, wide-spread human suffering and large-scale war crimes. It singlehandedly ended the period in which the dominant power of Europe was the dominant power of the world, and the United States and the Soviet Union became the new superpowers.
The war led to a broad consensus across all political camps and in several countries that more cooperation among European countries was necessary to avoid another even bloodier war. Furthermore, the spectre of the Soviet-dominated East made cooperation appear more desirable for those countries in the West where parliamentary democracy had returned after the war. The first step was to cooperate in the fields of Coal and Steel (both essential to modern industry and any war effort) with West Germany, France, the Benelux states and Italy creating the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. While Britain was a sympathetic spectator, it believed at the time that its interest lay in the Commonwealth and the (at the time still considerable) remains of the British Empire, so it did not join this or any other attempt at European integration until two decades later. The six members of the European Coal and Steel Community meanwhile pressed on, signing the Treaty of Rome in 1956 and making more and more steps at common institutions, with formalised meetings of heads of government or ministers and a European parliament with democratic elections every five years. The 2014 elections were again the second biggest election in the world by numbers of votes cast (after Indian federal elections).
The end of the Second World War also gave rise to the Cold War, which was perhaps most visible in Europe. Most of Europe was either dominated by the Soviet Union or closely allied with the US, with only a handful of neutral countries like Yugoslavia, Austria, Finland and Switzerland and even those that officially stayed neutral often heavily leaned one way or the other. The remaining dictatorships in the western aligned countries slowly fell - Spain transitioned to democracy shortly after Franco's death, Portugal's "Estado Novo" did not long outlast its founder Antonio Salazar and the Greek military junta fell in 1974. Meanwhile, Leninist dictatorships in the East remained firmly entrenched, even in places like Romania, Albania or Yugoslavia where leaders were able to implement less Moscow-dominated foreign policies or in places like Poland, Czechoslovakia or Hungary where popular uprisings had to be quashed by Soviet or domestic tanks. However, when Mikhail Gorbachev took over in the USSR, the economic malaise and political oppression led to widespread protests and by 1989 most regimes were either falling or reforming and Soviet tanks were not rolling in this time. While this is rightfully remembered as a mostly peaceful revolution, there was some violence in Romania and its president Nicolae Ceaușescu was the only dictator to find a violent death. The fall of communism also re-ignited ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, resulting in violent conflicts that have never been resolved. Germany reunited in 1990 and the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 bringing the Cold War to an end.
As the process of European integration proved successful, most countries that could soon joined the European Communities. Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom (after France gave up on its longstanding veto to British membership) joined in 1973, while Greece, Portugal and Spain joined in the 1980s after their dictatorships had been replaced by democratic regimes. Another round of enlargements occurred in 1995 when due to the end of the Cold War three democratic and capitalist neutral countries - Austria, Sweden and Finland - joined after there was no Cold War need to withhold participation any more. At the same time more and more powers were given to the European level and it was renamed the European Union in 1992 with a new currency to be introduced in 2002 after attempts to link European currencies in stable fixed exchange rates faced threats of speculation. However, the euro, as the new currency came to be called, was not introduced in all countries then-members of the EU, and it is today used by countries that are not members of the EU and will likely not join the EU for years to come, like Monaco or Kosovo. Several other countries that had pegged their currencies to French francs or the Deutsche Mark now peg their currencies to the euro instead.
The end of the Cold War also raised the question of whether former Soviet allies could join the EU and when and how this would take place. Unlike most previous expansions of the EU, which admitted no more than three countries at a time, this expansion was the biggest to date and on 1 May 2004 four former Soviet satellites (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), three former Soviet Republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) one former Yugoslav Republic (Slovenia) and two former British colonies in the Mediterranean (Cyprus and Malta) joined the EU in what was dubbed the "Eastern Expansion". Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007 and Croatia became the second former Yugoslav Republic to join in 2013. Seven countries are in different stages of "accession talks", but none of them are anywhere close to resolution and some of them seem to be maintained more out of diplomatic courtesy than anything else. Iceland submitted an accession bid in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis but has subsequently expressed no intention of joining. North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are applicants, but are considered to be economically and politically not ready for joining. The continued negotiations with Turkey (which seem to only exist on paper anyway at the moment) are in constant threat of being ended outright over diplomatic disagreements with its government. Norway and Switzerland remain outside the EU and are not having talks about accession. However, all non-members mentioned here have various forms of bilateral agreements and often follow EU rules and regulations and are sometimes party to some European agreements that are partly linked to the EU.
While the Iron Curtain is no more, Russia joining the EU is generally regarded unthinkable, and in some of the former Soviet states or satellites, whether to seek cooperation with Russia or with the EU is a major political issue. Neither Russia nor the EU has been particularly keen to pursue closer political relations with the other, to the extent that they won't allow their own allies to have close relations with the other. Georgia and Ukraine have made overtures towards breaking away from the Russian sphere of influence, and joining the EU and NATO; in response, Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine and sponsored separatist movements in both countries.
In the 2000s, populist far-right parties have challenged the established parties in the EU, and there has been a rise in anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiment in many European countries. This has partly coincided with the Arab Spring and many refugees from upheavals in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries arriving in Europe, with the "immigration crises" in 2015 closing Schengen borders.
In 2016 the United Kingdom voted by referendum to leave the EU, and left it on 31 January 2020.
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.
Europe's highest point is Russia's Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains, which rises to 5,642 m (18,510 ft) above sea level. Outside the Caucasus, the highest point is Mont Blanc in the Alps at 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 eastern England, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark. The North and Baltic Seas also 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 a temperate climate. It is milder than other areas of the same latitude (e.g. north-eastern U.S.) 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 north-western Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland, 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.
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.
Winter in Europe might be most comfortable to spend in the light and warmth of a big city, unless you specifically want to enjoy the snow. In December, Christmas markets and other Christmas and New Year attractions can be found. While tourism peaks during the holidays, the rest of the winter is low season in cities, providing decently cheap accommodation, and smaller crowds at famous attractions.
While the winter sport season begins in December in the Alps and other snowy regions, daylight and accumulated snow can be scarce until February. Mountains in the Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians and Scandinavia have snow well into spring while the valleys get warm; allowing visitors to experience many seasons on the same day. The highest peaks of the Alps have perpetual snow.
Most of Europe has the most comfortable weather in summer, though southern Europe can get unbearably hot. In August, the United Kingdom, Ireland, 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 34°C in Alanya along the Turkish Riviera. Many workplaces close down in July or August, leaving the cities deserted and the seaside crowded.
Summers have longer daylight than winter; the variation increases with latitude. 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. North of the Arctic Circle, visitors can see the Midnight Sun in summer, and the Arctic Night in winter.
The Network of European Meteorological Services has a useful website providing up-to-date information for extreme weather, covering most of the EU countries.
Most European languages belong to the Indo-European language family, with grammatical similarities and shared vocabulary. They can be broadly divided into the following sub-families:
- Germanic languages — English, Scots, German, Dutch, Frisian and the Nordic languages (Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish)
- Romance languages, which are the descendants of Latin — national languages French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian, as well as regional languages such as Corsican and Galician.
- Balto-Slavic languages — are found throughout Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans; such as the Slavic Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Polish, Serbian, and the Baltic Latvian and Lithuanian
- Celtic languages — found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France, they comprise Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.
- Other Indo-European languages include Albanian, Armenian and Greek, as well as the Romani language (an Indo-Aryan language) of the Roma people.
There are also languages unrelated to the Indo-European languages. The Uralic language family includes Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Sámi and some minority languages in Russia. Turkic languages include Turkish and Azerbaijani. Other exceptions include Maltese (a Semitic language), Georgian (a Kartvelian language) and Basque (a language isolate).
Speaking a Romance language may be of limited use in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania as there are many similarities in words and grammar, while the same is true if you speak one of the Slavic languages in the East. Some training helps in identifying the similarities, as some of the differences are systematic.
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, though people working in the tourist industry usually speak at least basic English. In many formerly communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, English is widely spoken by the younger generation who grew up after the fall of communism, but not by older people.
Russian is still widely studied in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It was widely studied as a second language in Central and Eastern Europe by the generations who lived through the communist era, but has largely been supplanted by English among the younger generations. Countries that were part of the former Soviet Union have significant Russian speaking minorities.
German is also a useful foreign language in Eastern Europe.
The Latin alphabet stems from Europe, and is used for most European languages, often with some modified or additional letters. The related Cyrillic alphabet is used for Russian, some other Slavic languages and some non-Slavic minority languages spoken in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Both these alphabets were derived from the Greek alphabet. Other writing systems in use include the Georgian and Armenian alphabets.
These countries are members of the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, 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 it.
Rules for entering Europe depend on where you are going. Citizens of European Union countries and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) can travel freely throughout the continent – except Russia, Belarus and parts of 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, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova(1), Monaco, Montenegro(1), New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia(1), 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, Ukraine(1), United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports and all British nationals.
- 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.
The 90-day 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 and Ireland are EU members, but they are not part of the Schengen Area while EU members Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are in the process of joining the Schengen Area. To add confusion Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Gibraltar are not EU members but part of the Schengen area.
The United Kingdom also continues its own immigration policies after Brexit. If your rights in the European Union or Schengen depend on your connections with the UK, or vice versa, check your status and rights carefully in light of the ongoing negotiations.
Countries in the European Union maintain similar customs controls. They form a customs union and you usually do not need to pass through customs when travelling between EU countries. There are still some goods that need handling at customs, or special permits, etc., also travelling inside the EU, and the customs may do checks not only at the border. Check details if you have a pet, arms, medicines, exceptional quantities of alcohol, or similar.
Note the difference between EU countries and Schengen countries. Between what countries you have to pass through customs does not depend on where you have to go through immigration controls or vice versa.
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.
Countries not in the EU maintain their own customs policies.
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN, SEN), Frankfurt (FRA IATA), Paris (CDG IATA, ORY IATA), Amsterdam (AMS), Madrid (MAD), Moscow (SVO, DME, VKO), and Istanbul (IST) 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 IATA) is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia. If coming from North America, there is an abundance of cheap flights from the United States and Canada that connect in Reykjavík (KEF IATA) to virtually any major city in northern and western Europe.
If you are coming from Asia, Australia or New Zealand, the big Middle Eastern hubs of Dubai (DXB IATA), Doha (DOH IATA) and Abu Dhabi (AUH IATA) have an abundance of fights on Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways respectively connecting virtually all the major European cities to all the major cities in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
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 finalised construction of a railway link between Kazakhstan and China. The Almaty–Urumqi service runs twice per week, and Moscow is easily reached from Almaty by train. Other options include several connections from the Middle East offered by Turkish Railways (TCDD). There are weekly services from Tehran in Iran to Istanbul via Ankara, but the services from 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 many 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 without flying 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 are Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia. If you're time rich, but otherwise poor, it may be possible to "hitchhike" a private boat there as well.
There are virtually no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement, except under special circumstances during major events – and in later years during some crises. 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.
Since 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 border 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 Ireland (both EU, Ireland not in Schengen): immigration control, but no customs check.
- Travel from Switzerland to Ireland: 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
Europe, and particularly Western and Central Europe, has trains which are fast, efficient, and cost-competitive with flying. 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. 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. Sometimes individual railroads offer one-off 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 of the German railways (Deutsche Bahn, 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, then how the electricity is generated), the occupancy and road congestion (congested roads make buses inefficient). The most fuel-efficient train that operates in Europe, DB's ICE3, consumes the equivalent of 0.3 litres of petrol in electricity per seat per 100 km (62 mi). 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 that is usually the fastest way around town.
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 either flying from an EU airport (to any destination) by any carrier, or from a non-EU airport to an EU airport on an EU carrier. It is the carrier that operates the flight that is considered.
If you are denied boarding despite having a valid ticket, a confirmed reservation, and having checked in by the deadline given to you by the airline, 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.
If your flight is delayed 3 hours or more you are entitled to compensation: €250 (flights of 1,500 km (930 mi) or less), €400 (flights of more than 1,500 km (930 mi) within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km (930 and 2,170 mi)), €600 (flights of more than 3,500 km (2,200 mi)).
If your flight is delayed 5 hours or longer you get a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant).
If your checked-in luggage is lost, damaged or delayed, the airline is liable and must compensate you by up to €1300. You have to claim compensation in writing to the airline within 7 days (lost or damaged luggage) or within 21 days of receiving delayed luggage. If the damaged luggage had a defect not caused by the airline, you do not receive compensation.
All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100 ml/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1 l 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, however "legacy" airlines (or their subsidiaries) can be a better deal when you have luggage. The cheapest flights are often 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, 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). Budget airlines tickets include little service; account for fees (e.g. on luggage, snacks, boarding passes and so on) when comparing prices.
"Holiday charter" airlines
Many airports throughout central Europe have several airlines that serve warm water destinations around the Mediterranean, particularly Palma de Mallorca and Antalya. They are aimed towards outgoing tourists on package deals but almost all of them sell (remaining) tickets "unbundled". Depending on your plans, particularly if you go "against the flow" (e.g. Heading into a cold weather destination at the beginning of the holiday season) they can offer amazing deals and their luggage fees are usually among the lowest in the business. At some airports they may also be the only airlines on offer besides a lone flight by the flag carrier to its hub.
Cheap flights and high speed rail have relegated buses to second or third fiddle in many markets, 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 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 to 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), Linebus [formerly dead link] (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 many ferry routes serving the United Kingdom and Ireland, 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, Denmark and the Netherlands to ports on the east coast of England. The hovercraft has been withdrawn from Cross-Channel service due to competition from the Channel Tunnel, but there is still a hovercraft service from mainland Britain to the Isle of Wight.
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.
- See also: Driving in Europe
Driving in Europe is expensive – fuel costs around €1.30-1.40 per litre in most of the EU, 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 per day.
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. Arguably some former eastern bloc countries are going overboard with this, neglecting rail and bus networks in the process of being caught in auto euphoria.
Avoid large cities if you are not used to driving in Europe. Old towns are impossible or difficult to go through by car. If you arrive by car, consider parking in a suburb, and use public transportation – in many places called park and ride (abbreviated P+R). Generally speaking, the more urban focused your itinerary and the richer the countries you're headed to, the more miserable you'll be driving compared to taking trains, urban rail and the occasional bus.
Winter driving is an issue in northern Europe and the high mountains, and occasionally in the south.
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 15 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 2019, around 70,000 km are 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, which mostly honour 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.
In the more eastern countries, 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 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.
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 prioritise, 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. Each of the larger cities can entertain a visitor for more than a week, and Europe is certainly worth more than one visit. The classic Grand Tour took longer by necessity than many modern "Eurotrips", but you can still learn from the first "tourists".
Historical and cultural attractions
Europe is full of deserted archaeological sites, as well as living old towns. Structures from Ancient Greece are scattered around the eastern Mediterranean, including Delphi, Olympia, Sparta, Ephesus, Lycia and of course the Parthenon in Athens.
The Roman Empire left ruins across the continent. Rome itself has 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 Umayyid and Abassid Dynasties of the Caliphate left significant architectural influence in Iberia, with buildings like the Alhambra and the Mezquíta de Córdoba among the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Europe, if not the world.
Constantinople's (now Istanbul's) most famous landmark, Hagia Sofia, is a testament to the continuity from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans. 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.
The Ottoman Empire left significant influence in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, with many buildings and cultures deriving important concepts from them. Many Ottoman-era buildings can be found in places like Mostar, Veliko Tarnovo, Belgrade, Crimea, Albania, and of course Turkey.
The city-states and smaller states of the Middle Ages, especially in Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, showed their wealth through churches and council buildings. Most present or historical capital cities have some of their grandiose palaces, theatres or opera houses open to the public. Examples include the Medici Villas and palazzi in and around Florence, the palaces of Paris, or the former royal residence in Kraków, Poland. As parts of Spain were held by Muslims from the 8th to 15th centuries, there are visible influences in architecture as well, including the world-famous Alhambra in Granada, as well as La Mezquita, the former mosque in Córdoba that was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral in 1236.
Europe has dozens of market towns and almost just about every other town holds its rights to host markets.
While Europe is shaped by mankind, arguably more than any other continent, it also contains large areas of wilderness; especially in the north and east. Many mountain ranges are known for their beauty, such as the Alps, the Caucasus, and the Carpathian Mountains. Some other wonders of nature are the fjords of Norway, and the Icelandic Hot Springs. Most countries, except the smallest, have a national park system; see United Kingdom National Parks and Finnish National Parks.
There are more than 360 national parks on the continent. Many parks are small, some less than a single km², but there are also some expansive national parks to explore. The Vatnajökull 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).
Some parks and other notable natural areas include:
- Plitvicka Jezera (Plitvice Lakes) - Croatia
- The Matterhorn - Switzerland
- The Lake District - UK
- Crimean Peninsula - controlled by Russia since 2014 but claimed by Ukraine
- Azores - Portugal
- Lake Shkoder - Border between Albania and Montenegro
- Lake Prespa - North Macedonia, Greece, Albania
- Black Forest - Germany
- 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
- The Way of St James is a multi-path pilgrimage route from all parts of Europe to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
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 attracted crowds of around 600,000. 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.
- Association Football. (commonly referred to as just "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. 2020) usually in one or two predetermined host countries, although Euro 2020 will be hosted in 2021 in 12 cities across the continent. Lodging and transport may get crowded and expensive in the host country during such events and there will be big screens in public places all over Europe showing at the very least the games of the country you are in, but often all games.
- 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 upon 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. Rugby league originated in northern England and still has a strong following there, but to most Europeans "Rugby" means Union.
- 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 on the continent. 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. European championships are usually held in the early months of even years. World championships are still dominated by European teams and are usually held in the early months of odd-numbered years though not always in Europe. Handball is also contested at the Olympics, and just like the world championships, is dominated by European teams.
- Ice hockey is hugely popular in some countries of the former Eastern block, and in Norway, Finland and Sweden. 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. KHL expansion further into Europe is a perennial issue in the sport and often used as negotiation leverage by top teams in European leagues. The Ice Hockey World Cup, taking place yearly in May, is almost always held in Europe and usually draws huge crowds, especially when it is held in one of the "Big European Four" countries. 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. European teams also tend to do well at the Winter Olympics, with Finland, Sweden and Russia in particular typically posing the strongest challenge to American and Canadian dominance.
- Ice skating is popular in the winter months. Competitive speed skating is particularly popular in the Netherlands, which typically dominates the speed skating event at the Winter Olympics.
- 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. 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 "playing for pizza" as the Grisham novel would have it. Unlike many other sports that unfortunately have to deal with hooliganism and other problems, the atmosphere at American Football matches is usually very friendly and there is no problem taking the young ones to a game.
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; Norway and Sweden feature some of the world's most civilised and family oriented skiing areas, but the lower altitude also means it's a trade-off 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 metres, while Glenshee is the largest. A surprising option is Sierra Nevada in Spain, fairly large, just a couple of 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. Despite being in the middle of the Mediterranean, Cyprus has a growing ski tourism in the Troodos Mountains.
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 artisan 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 specialities 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.Europe is known for its fashion, and designer clothes. Also luxury watches and high end jewellery are famous in Europe.
- See also: European Union#The euro
The euro (symbol: €, EUR) is the common currency of many – although not all – countries of the European Union, and a few others, removing the need to exchange currencies when going from one country to the next and beneficial to 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. Although a large number of cash machines may offer free cash withdrawals, some operators will charge their own fees to do so – usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a fixed minimum amount. This is on top of the fees your card issuer already imposes. Read the labels and 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 and debit cards
Credit and debit card usage varies across Europe. In the British Isles and Nordic countries, cards are often used even for petty transactions, whereas in the likes of Italy, you may be out of luck in trying to use it to buy stamps. Although cards may be accepted widely, it is always advisable to have cash at hand, both as a backup if there are problems and because there still are many points of sale that will not accept cards at all, for example tobacco shops and stalls at Christmas markets. Cash may also be advised over cards if your card issuer charges an exorbitant foreign exchange fee, especially a fixed charge for small transactions; check the fine print before you plan to use your card.
VISA and Mastercard are the most widely accepted. 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. Alternatively, contactless payments (including Apple Pay and Android Pay) for relatively smaller transactions are also becoming more widespread.
Procedures for handling payments with unfamiliar card 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 valid for such purposes.
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. This is especially true with older-style credit cards without a chip, which may simply not get accepted. Most European 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. Even if your card already has a chip, it might not be accepted where a PIN is needed to move forward with the transaction. 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 is not acceptable (e.g. because only chip-enabled cards are covered).
In a few cases when using a debit or credit card, you may be offered an option to be charged in your home currency directly – at a rate set by the merchant, which may be bad. Insist on using the currency of the country you are performing the transaction in (e.g. pound sterling if the sale takes place in the UK). See Money#Dynamic currency conversion.
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, with some exceptions, exchange all European currencies, and within the European Union banks will accept nearly any currency that is legally traded abroad. Specialised 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 (though card issuers and banks may add their own withdrawal and foreign exchange fees).
Be careful when you see 'commission-free', 'zero commission' or 'no commission', the rate seen on the board may include additional fees which means a worse rate.
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
Europe is generally an expensive continent; especially the Nordic countries, Switzerland, large cities, and tourist areas. In general, prices are higher in the northwest, and lower in the southeast. 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: ask before sitting down. However, some countries are generally very inexpensive compared to American or Western European standards. In these countries – most of which are former Soviet states with low tourism levels – prices are low (even though they might be high in the local currency) and travellers can get a full dinner with drink for as low as $20 USD.
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. VAT commonly varies by country and sometimes by (class of) good within a country with "basic needs" like food and some goods taxed lower than "luxury" goods, but the systems vary from country to country and prices are often more affected by other factors than VAT. Unlike the US, there is no local sales tax, though many municipalities charge a tourism tax for accommodations, that naturally varies by place and sometimes by season or type of accommodation.
European cuisines are extremely varied. 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. Cuisines also often vary significantly between different parts of the same country.
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, Austrian pastries, German cakes, English Sunday roast or Turkish kebabs.
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 voyages of Columbus sparked trade with the Americas, besides bread, pasta, pastries and some forms of dumplings.
Traditional ingredients depend on the local climate. As a general rule, fruits, vegetables and spices become more common and diverse the further south you go.
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. Due to high levels of immigration from the former colonial empires, cuisines from Asia, Africa and the Americas are well-represented in the major cities of their respective former colonial metropoles.
Although service levels vary between countries, in general you will not get the same level of attentiveness in European restaurants that you will at those in the United States. This is not out of a desire to be rude, but rather due to the expectation for waiters to be as professional and unintrusive as possible. Tipping varies between countries and establishments, but a ten percent tip can be perfectly reasonable in many places. You'll almost never have your bill inflated by thirty percent of "tax and tip", and in many countries tipping is completely optional.
Most Europeans eat with the fork in their left hand, and the knife in their right hand. The American custom to grab the fork in the right hand is accepted, but will make a guest stand out as a foreigner. In most of Europe, it is rude to rest your elbows on the dining table; be sure to only rest your wrist. In many places, putting your hands in your lap at the dining table is also rude. You shouldn't make loud noises at the dining table, such as slurping, and you should be mindful of your volume when talking. The common practice of taking your leftovers home with you in the United States is generally uncommon in Europe, and might be met with some confusion at posher establishments.
At more upmarket establishments, with several glasses and sets of utensils, always remember to work your way inwards with regard to the utensils set up in front of you. For instance, the outermost wine glass is typically for white wine, which is usually drunk with the starter (usually a fish dish), while the middle glass is for red wine, which is usually drunk with the main course (usually a red meat dish), while the innermost wine glass is typically for dessert wine. Cutlery is also arranged in the same way, with the outermost cutlery being for the soup and/or starter, and the innermost cutlery being for the main course, and cutlery for dessert typically placed horizontally above your plate. When finished with a dish, lay your knife and fork at "25 past five" and the utensils and the plate will be taken away. For as long as they are left in 20 to four, you are signalling that you haven't finished, possibly confusing the waiter. Watch other diners if in doubt.
|Cuisines of Europe|
Balkan • Benelux • British & Irish • Central European • French • German (Bavarian • Franconian)
Georgian • Greek • Italian • Nordic • Portuguese • Russian • Spanish
For amateurs of fine dining, 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 seafood. 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.
Spanish and Portuguese cuisine are 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 Catalonia region in particular is home to an exceptionally high concentration of celebrity chefs and their fine dining restaurants.
Balkan cuisines form a continuum with Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and the Caucasus where more and more "eastern" 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 European cuisines are simple and hearty, including large portions of meat, especially pork, sausages, potatoes, cabbage, sour cream and desserts, with German cuisine as a representative example. 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. Central European cakes and chocolate are famous.
Nordic cuisine is characterised by dishes of seafood, game, berries, and bread of different cereals. Perhaps the most known of all Scandinavian dishes are the humble Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), popularised 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. Modern Scandinavian or New Nordic cuisine has also emerged in the past decade, integrating traditional Nordic flavours with international influences, and has been making waves throughout the fine dining world.
Russian cuisine has much in common with the cuisines of Ukraine, the Baltic States, Central Europe, the Caucasus 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. It has in particular been strongly influenced by Georgian cuisine.
In the Benelux, there are the obvious choices like Belgian chocolate or Dutch cheese, while the cuisine of Britain and Ireland has much more to explore if you care to go beyond the typical British fish and chips in a local pub (which is also a treat to enjoy), or Irish Stew.
Europeans generally have liberal attitudes towards drinking, and alcohol is considered a standard part of leisure gatherings. The legal drinking age varies between 16 and 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, if sometimes socially frowned upon.
Except in the United Kingdom and Ireland, nightclubs rarely get going until past midnight – head for 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. Drinking in public laws vary widely, with some countries have a "legal unless explicitly prohibited by the municipality" approach, whereas others have banned it everywhere, but don't necessarily enforce the ban. There are also often loopholes such as drinking "while going from some place to another" being treated differently from drinking while stationary. Regardless of the precise legal situation, police are much more likely to intervene if you kick up a fuss, behave loudly or disorderly or otherwise get on their or other people's nerves.
Of course drunk driving is heavily penalized anywhere you go and is now enforced almost universally in Europe. Fines can be heavy, you can lose your driving licence and causing any incident under the 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. Handling a bike may also be subject to DUI limits, but those are usually much more loosely enforced and higher to begin with. Police will usually not bother to control people on bikes specifically, but if they stop you for some other reason (e.g. lack of a tail light) and smell alcohol on your breath they may check you "just in case" and give you a fine for both.
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. For those travelers interested in fine wines that are less-well-known, look to Moldova for reds, Slovenia for whites, or to the wines made with the Kvevri method in Georgia.
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.
People in the "Beer Belt" of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Benelux, and Central Europe drink high-quality beer in large quantities. 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 beers 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, hoppy and fruity taste. These come in bitter, pale, mild and brown varieties.
- 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 flavoured 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 Guinness, Carlsberg, Heineken or Stella, sold most everywhere – but the really good beers are often the smaller local brands, which don't try to appeal to everyone. Microbreweries have had a huge revival shooting up everywhere around the continent. If you really want to indulge, try one of the Volksfeste, held in many German cities, most famously the Munich Oktoberfest, where despite the name they start drinking 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. The UK is the largest consumer and producer of ciders in the world, and the drink is also popular in Finland, France (Brittany and Normandy), Ireland, Spain (Asturias and Galicia) and Sweden. Frankfurt and the area surrounding it is also famous for Äbblwöi as the locals call their cider. Scandinavian varieties of flavoured cider (apple paired with other fruits, such as berries and citrus fruits) have become popular in parts of the continent, especially with younger drinkers.
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 rakija) in south-eastern Europe and the Balkans (especially in Serbia), a strongly tasting and fruity brandy, usually made from plums. Similarly named is the anise-flavoured drink raki, also popular in Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. Other forms of spirit, made from grapes instead, such as traditional brandy (including Cognac) and port 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, usually made from grains 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. Armenians love their potent local fruit spirit called oghi, made with only one ingredient, with mulberry (tuti oghi) being the most popular. Since the mid-2010s, there has been a significant gin renaissance starting in England, with small-scale distilleries springing up around the country, and indeed across Europe, and many new flavours and gin-based cocktails being pioneered. Finally, it will hardly come as a surprise to many that whisky (or whiskey) 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.
Many European countries are known for their distinctive coffee (Italy, France, Austria, Sweden) and tea cultures (Britain, Ireland, Russia, Turkey). Spain and Italy also have a particularly strong appreciation for hot chocolate. In Europe, hot chocolate is almost always dark, rather than milk chocolate, which is generally considered to be for children only.
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 travellers 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 (for a dorm bed), 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) right for anyone to camp in undeveloped areas for a night as long as nothing is damaged and no fences are crossed, to fancy "long term" camping grounds in places like 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. Many campsites have shuttle services, but they may not run at all times of the day or all that often.
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.
- See also: Common scams
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 are handled differently in a few countries; for example, authorities in Germany ignore them altogether.
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. Some countries, such as Russia and Belarus, have issues with corruption and authority misconduct. There are organised crime (mafia) syndicates in southern Italy and Russia, but it takes some effort to get involved in such issues as a tourist.
Pickpocketing is rampant in many of Europe's most touristy cities and is an issue in many more places, so it pays to take extra precautions and guard your valuables as much as possible. Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Madrid, Paris and Florence in particular have a reputation for being pickpocketing hotspots.
Alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures and overuse can lead to violence and poor judgement. In general, bars and pubs are not where you see these problems, but alcohol can cause trouble in the streets in the night.
Other crime issues are drug use and gang-related violence (which are most common in Britain and France). 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 should not be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.
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 rivalry between neighbouring nations is usually at a friendly level, and many European countries have been multicultural for generations, racism remains a problem in parts of Europe. It is more frequently directed against migrants and domestic minorities than visitors, but people of African and Middle Eastern origin in particular can in some circumstances be met by hostility. Similar to homophobia, racism is most outspoken in eastern Europe where some governments repeatedly stoke xenophobic fears for political gain. Perhaps the most widespread bigotry is Antiziganism or opposition against "Gypsies" (Romani people and other traveller groups). Even people who are otherwise open-minded and cosmopolitan may hold bigoted views on that issue.
Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general, but there is also wilderness. As always be prepared when travelling in rural and forested or mountainous areas. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded.
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 healthy' section in specific country articles.
EU/EEA/Swiss citizens should apply for (or bring) the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which grants you access to public healthcare within the European Union as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the United Kingdom, under the same terms as a resident of the country you are visiting. UK citizens can use their existing EHIC or apply for a new GHIC (essentially the same thing) for use in the EU only. If you are used to free healthcare in your own country, remember that some member states require patients' fees.
The EHIC is not 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.
Everyone – but particularly non 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.
Etiquette varies a lot between countries, even between neighbours, and not much can be said about European codes of behaviour in general. That said, attitudes tend to be more conservative the further east you go, particular in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. For instance, in Russia, it is a major faux pas for a man not to pay for a woman, even if they are not romantically involved.
While the continent is more integrated than ever, many Europeans have a strong national identity. Avoid generalisations about regions such as "Eastern Europe". Just what exactly constitutes "Eastern" Europe and "the Balkans" are hot button issues in some countries, as people from such countries don't like being associated with negative stereotypes or their communist past. Phrases like "old Eastern Bloc" and "ex-Soviet state" might be true in the right context, but are awkward in daily use. "Central Europe" is usually a safe term pretty far east. Similarly, Estonia likes to be called Nordic. If in doubt, just use the country name.
Even within countries, there are often ethnic and religious conflicts and secessionist movements, which can make the issue of national identity exceptionally sensitive.
Just as Nazi symbols are illegal to display in Germany and Austria, it is illegal to display Soviet and/or communist symbols in Germany (hardly ever enforced), Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.
The European Union mobile phone roaming regulations (the Eurotariff) regulate charges within the EU (plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), which means using a SIM card from one of these countries in another is usually no more expensive than in the country of the original operator (some exceptions apply). See European Union#Connect.