Europe Travel Guide 2017
Whether you love hiking or skiing, relaxing on a beach, or exploring city streets, Europe has something for everyone. A continent of contrasts, Europe is home to 50 different countries spanning a landscape that includes a polar region in the north and a subtropical climate in its far south, and all this despite being the world’s second smallest continent. Size isn’t everything though, as aptly proven by the huge popularity of Europe as a tourist destination!
And it’s not only Europe’s landscapes that offer great variety; its people, its history and its cultures can be so different from one country to the next. That’s why putting together a Europe travel guide is such a mammoth task. How do you condense such an amazing place into one single travel guide? Well, in reality you don’t and that’s why we’ve compiled this compact Europe travel guide which gives tourists a good introduction to the sights and sounds of Europe, highlights of some of its countries, and a few travel tips to help you on your way. Happy travels!
Getting Around Europe
We’ll start our Europe travel guide with a section on getting around. Thanks to the European Union and borderless frontiers, getting from place to place in Europe can be incredibly easy compared to just a few decades ago. International airports are in abundance so you can pick which country to arrive in and choose to stay there for the duration of your trip, or jet off to another European country for a multi-stop vacation. But, while flying between countries is fast and convenient it can be an expensive way to get around. If you’re not in a hurry, and want to see some more of Europe’s varied landscape as you go, trains are often the preferred method of transport for many visitors exploring this continent. For an even more affordable option you can travel from country to country by international bus service.
Domestic travel, within each country, is generally easy and relatively affordable too, with variations in price depending on where you are. The majority of Europe’s cities have excellent public transport systems in place so unless you want to head out from the cities and explore the open road, you generally don’t need a car when visiting most European cities. In fact, with traffic congestion, and limited and expensive parking, using a car in Europe’s cities is almost always not recommended.
Subways, trams, buses and light rail services are the preferred way to get around in big cities like London, Paris and Berlin, and if you do a little research once you’ve read through this Europe travel guide, you’ll find plenty of useful information online about multi-day and multi-use tickets that you can purchase to save yourself a lot of money over the cost of individual ticket prices.
European Travel Money Saving Tips
Talking of saving money; while Europe is an amazing place to visit, one of the downsides to this continent is the cost of everything. Europe is renowned as being an expensive place to live and to visit, with attractions, groceries, restaurants and shopping all, on the whole, being more expensive than most of the world’s other popular tourist destinations. When visiting Europe you should expect to pay elevated prices to stay in city center hotels, and if you want to pop into some of its excellent museums, dine out every night and do some shopping, you’ll need to come armed with a big wallet, or leave plenty of space on your credit card! But, as our Europe travel guide will show you, visiting Europe doesn’t always have to break the bank. Our tips below will help you to save money…
Accommodation Alternatives – The biggest cost when visiting Europe is accommodation. Hotels are notoriously expensive but if you’re only here for a few nights and you want a central location there haven’t always been other options. Not anymore! Now we have plenty of options from couchsurfing, to vacation rentals and home swapping. Each one can save you money and give you a better cultural experience as you’ll have the opportunity to live among the locals.
Don’t Dine Out Every Day – Dining out is another great way to eat into your vacation budget. It’s nice to visit a top-class restaurant maybe once or twice during your trip, but the more you eat out the more expensive it will be. Instead of uber-cool restaurants that attract tourists, look for the places that the locals eat in. Fast food doesn’t have to mean a burger and fries; find food stalls, food trucks and hole in the wall type places to savor the truly local cuisine while saving money. And, if you’re doing a home swap or a vacation rental, the chances are you’ll have your own kitchen so you can cook food yourself and save even more money.
Buy City Tourist Cards – Many cities in Europe offer tourist cards and while the initial outlay may seem expensive you could actually save a lot of money by using one. Museums and other attractions are usually included (whether it’s for free entry with your card, or a reduced price entrance) so you don’t always have to buy individual tickets everywhere you go. Transport options can also be included, or added, to a tourist card so that’s another saving.
Europe Travel Guide Highlights
Where do we start our Europe travel guide when this continent has so much to offer? We can’t possibly include everything, so instead we’ve picked some highlights – our favorite countries and cities, and what each one has to offer, plus we’ve tried to choose places that offer the most variety and those that are maybe a little different to the rest for whatever reason. So here goes…
No Europe travel guide would be complete without an entry on France, one of the world’s most visited countries. In fact, for many years Paris held the top spot as the world’s most visited city and it still ranks very highly in terms of tourist numbers. The City of Light, as it’s nicknamed, has an indomitable spirit that it seems will always attract visitors in their millions whether it’s the city’s world famous landmarks, its culture, its cuisine or a combination of all three. But there’s far more to France than just Paris.
In many ways France sums up Europe as a whole. It’s an incredibly diverse country which has so much to offer, from the classy streets of its capital city, to skiing in the Alps, to sunbathing on its beautiful Mediterranean beaches. But that’s not all, France also offers swathes of picturesque, rolling countryside filled with vineyards and farms, and little rural roads perfect for cycling on. Discover the quieter side to France and spend time in a gite, walk among the locals in a small town and enjoy fantastic food and wine; you can do all this and more in France.
Spain has many similarities to France – varied landscapes, fabulous cities, beaches and coastlines, but being further south it does have a different climate, different people and different cuisine that makes it a very distinct place to visit and a worthy addition to our Europe travel guide.
Spain’s coast has long been a popular tourist destination, providing miles of sandy beaches, lovely weather, and plenty of restaurants and bars to spend time in whether you’re on the Costa del Sol or one of the country’s smaller, less visited coastal towns. Remember that Spain does also include a number of islands – the Balearics and the Canary Islands which are both also popular as sun and sand destinations, and with the Canaries being so far south these islands enjoy an almost subtropical climate that you won’t find anywhere else in Europe. If you’re more of a city lover than a beach lover, Spain also has you covered with its popular cities of which Barcelona is top of the list. Its Gaudi architecture, museums, parks and historic buildings are complemented by its coastal location, so you actually could go to the beach when visiting Barcelona, or stay on the streets and enjoy its great shopping, nightlife and dining opportunities.
Italy has to be included on our Europe travel guide not least because this is one of the most visited countries in the world. Why is Italy so popular? Maybe it’s the 51 World Heritage Sites, or perhaps it’s the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany, maybe it’s the country’s amazing cities, or possibly even its beaches or its skiing opportunities.
The fact is, like so many other countries in our Europe travel guide, Italy offers such great diversity. It includes the chance to walk in the footsteps of the Romans and their magnificent landmarks when you visit Rome, or to discover the ancient city of Pompeii, buried beneath the volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. See the Renaissance in all its glory in Florence then take a tour of the amazing region of Tuscany where you could happily spend weeks exploring its range of cities and towns and hilltop villages. In Venice, float along canals and marvel at the bridges, piazzas and historic canalside buildings or come for the colorful and fun Carnival of Venice. Then there’s the cuisine and the variety you’ll find from one region to the next, whether its pizzas, fresh vegetables, cheeses, truffles or mouthwatering desserts, Italy has it all including the wines to go with it!
One of the smallest countries in Europe is the Netherlands and its top tourist destination is also its capital city. Amsterdam is a destination for your bucket list so it’s only fitting that it should be included in our Europe travel guide. There’s really no other place like Amsterdam in the world – it’s a unique city that has something for everyone.
Most famous for its 17th century canals, it’s these waterways and the picturesque buildings that line them, that give Amsterdam such an individual character. Criss-crossed by roughly 1,500 bridges, the 60+ miles of canals have given the city the nickname “Venice of the North” though the canals is where that similarity ends. Amsterdam is also famous as a liberal city where subjects that are taboo in other European countries are legally accepted here, such as prostitution in the Red Light District and marijuana in the city’s many coffee shops, but if these things don’t interest you Amsterdam still has ample more to see and do. Its museums (including the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House) are among the best in the world, and there are great markets to shop in, and parks to stroll through. By night it’s a lively city, but not excessively so. Bars and clubs provide a vibrant atmosphere for a pleasant night on the town.
The only Scandinavian country to appear on our Europe travel guide is Norway, chosen again for its variety of things to see and do. Norway is graced with spectacular natural beauty, most notably and famously in its fjords, cut into the landscape and flooded at the end of the last Ice Age. Take a cruise from the lovely city of Bergen and see the fjords from the water to really appreciate their sheer size. Bergen itself is a top destination for tourists with its historic buildings, port, and funicular to take visitors up Mount Floyen for amazing city and water views. Then there’s the capital, Oslo with its enticing mix of old and new, and a lively nightlife scene.
The downside to visiting Norway is that it can be incredibly expensive. This is definitely a country that you’ll want to use some of our Europe travel guide money saving tips in, to make savings on accommodation, food and attractions.
The United Kingdom
For many tourists the highlight of a visit to the UK is the capital city, London, which undeniably has a multitude of things to see and do. In existence since Roman times, London has grown and grown but still kept hold of its history and individual character. Today it’s one of the world’s most visited cities, home to world-renowned landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and the London Eye, but let’s not forget that the UK has many more appealing features too. The quieter side to the UK is its quaint villages where you’ll find thatched roof cottages and village pubs serving real ale and pub grub. There’s history almost everywhere you look, from the mysterious standing stones of Stonehenge to majestic cathedrals and elite universities. Then there’s Scotland with its breathtaking scenery and a culture all its own. The United Kingdom has a multitude of things to see and do and should definitely be featured in any Europe travel guide.
Like much of Europe, Greece has a lot to offer in the history department but here it’s all about ancient history and the remnants of the once powerful ancient Greeks. It’s no surprise then that Greece has numerous World Heritage Sites, including the spectacular Acropolis in Athens, but the wonderful Greek Islands are just as popular with tourists looking for sun and sand vacations that also combine great food and a lively nightlife. Even so, with over 200 inhabited islands this is a place you could come to disappear in, avoid the crowds altogether and just enjoy your own little piece of Greek paradise. Take a boat out and explore all the little coves and bays of the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian Seas to discover a Greece that it seems time forgot, or get out and rediscover the many ancient ruins that stand in every corner of the country.
Germany is the European Union’s most populated country, home to around 81.5 million people, yet there’s still plenty of space here for green countryside, mountains and rivers to provide a scenic backdrop to its bustling cities. Of those, Berlin is the most popular. It’s the country’s capital and largest city, and considering that it was divided only a short time ago, Berlin has grown to become a major world city and a major tourist destination. But this isn’t the only German city worthy of a mention on our Europe tourist guide. Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt all have their own unique appeal while the Bavarian countryside features lush green forests and fairytale castles including Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. Then there’s the German culture – the beer, the food, the festivals and more, all attract visitors in their thousands to this nation of proud people.
Sitting right at the edge of Europe, straddling the Bosphorus that divides Europe from Asia, is the city of Istanbul. While Turkey is mostly thought of as being Asian, Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city that’s become an interesting mix of the two continents and was named a European Capital of Culture in 2010. Home to massive modern shopping malls and a skyline to envy any European city, Istanbul is also entrenched with history. The historic peninsula has remnants from the different civilizations that have called the city home over the last 2,000+ years, including the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, creating a multitude of things to see including Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, the Grand Bazaar, and the Blue Mosque.
Bustling both day and night, Istanbul is a very busy city that might not appeal to all readers of our Europe travel guide, but, the city also offers the opportunity to get away from the crowds and the traffic if you take a ferry and visit the Princes Islands or take a cruise up the Bosphorus and enjoy the sights from the water.
Croatia is a beautiful country that features one of the world’s most revered historic walled cities but also some of Europe’s most underrated beaches. Dubrovnik is one of the Mediterranean region’s top tourist destinations, making Croatia more than worthy of inclusion in our Europe travel guide. Beautifully preserved (and painstakingly restored following heavy damage during the Croatian War of Independence), Dubrovnik really is a lovely place to visit, contained within its city walls and filled with stone houses and buildings, and cobblestone streets. What you might not realize is that Croatia has beaches and a coastline to rival Europe’s most popular sun and sand destinations. Its unpolluted waters mean that Croatia has an amazing total of 116 Blue Flag beaches, so you can visit popular destinations like Zlatni Beach on the Island of Brac and enjoy pristine blue waters that you might usually expect to find in the Caribbean. Inland Croatia is beautiful too, filled with nature reserves and national parks including the wonderful Plitvice Lakes National Park where there’s unspoiled countryside. Here you can hike through forests to stunning waterfalls, and see picturesque lakes and mountains.
So that’s it for our Europe travel guide. We’ve taken you from the far southern reaches of the continent to the far north, from its western limits to its borders with Asia, but we’ve really only touched on the surface of what Europe has to offer. If you have a year to spare, why not start exploring this amazing continent to discover the many other treasures that lie within it!