The Ultimate European Travel Guide

Molly Steckler
07/23/2021
train going down a city street in switzerland

Europe brings together a multitude of cultures, from the highly traveled, internal cities in the west to the quaint, adventurous, and historic towns in the east.

It’s easy to jump from one country to the next by a quick train ride or a local airline. However, you might need help planning if you are traveling to Europe for the first time.

Discover the must-see destination spots and a few lesser known gems. Learn to navigate your way through each city you visit. Take advice on how to plan a European excursion filled with adventure and discovery.

 

Jump Ahead

 

How to Choose Your European Destination

A trip to Europe may include traveling in both western and eastern Europe. These regions are only vaguely defined, but the two regions of the continent tend to have differences that are helpful to know when traveling in Europe.

Western Europe tends to be more tourist heavy, but each provides unique experiences to its travelers.

 

Western Europe

Home to traditional vacation destinations like France, Italy, Spain, and England, the countries located in the western part of Europe include many internationally recognized cities that often draw people to Europe in the first place. These renowned cities include Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and London, among others.

Western Europe is home to many world-famous attractions including the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, and Buckingham Palace. The region is known for its rich history and local museums that explore each country’s culture and innovation.

Travel within the European countries in the west is also fairly easy due to the reliable public transportation.

A Schengen visa allows you to travel freely between the 26 countries in Europe that participate in the Schengen Agreement. A majority of these countries are a part of Western Europe, thus allowing for ease of travel in this region.

 

Read through Schengen Visa: Everything You Need to Know before booking your trip to Europe.

 

Most Western European countries utilize the euro as their currency, saving you the need to exchange currency when you enter a new country.

U.S. travelers will also be pleased to know that English is widely spoken in Western Europe, an ideal vacation destination for English speakers timid about learn a new language.

Keep in mind travel in Western European countries tends to be more expensive than in Eastern Europe. Amenities like accommodations, restaurants, and shopping tend to charge a premium, especially in larger cities like Paris or Rome.  

 

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe includes countries like Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, and Slovenia.  This region is known for its friendly people. In fact, online travel magazine Days to Come claims “…its people are famous for hospitality.”

This region of Europe tends to be less tourist heavy, though its nature and history can prove breathtaking from quaint towns to bustling cities with rich culture. Its most visited cities include Prague, Budapest, Moscow, and Montenegro.

Accommodations and restaurants tend to be more affordable, a perk for those hoping for a longer stay or wanting a more affordable option for traveling in Europe.

Local transportation isn’t as convenient, especially in smaller towns, and the currencies vary widely within the region. However, these lesser known cities are ideal for those seeking an unusual adventure and an opportunity to explore the region’s vast and beautiful nature.

 

Top European Destinations (and Hidden Gems)

Europe includes many desirable vacation spots for any first time or experienced international traveler. Find vibrant cities and unique, hidden gems all across the region. You just need to know where to look.

This list will help you get started.

 

Pick from These Popular Destinations in Europe

 

eiffel tower view in paris

 

Paris, France

Nicknamed the “City of Lights,” Paris is the well-known capital of France and one of the most visited cities in the world. The city gleams with pride over its famous Eiffel Tower, first constructed in the 1880s. It remains to be a towering structure visible from rooftops and balconies across the city.

Another famous monument in the city is the Arc de Triomphe, located at the end of Paris’ famous Champs-Élysées. It was built in the early 1800s and allows for a 360-degree view of the city from the top of the structure.

Don’t forget to stop by the world-famous Louvre Museum, featuring the Mona Lisa and many more iconic artifacts in its collection, and the historic Cathédrale de Notre-Dame.

A trip to Paris also calls for a visit to local French cafes and bakeries to enjoy their famous pastries and delicate desserts.

 

ruins in rome italy

 

Rome, Italy

Rome is considered one of the oldest, continuously occupied cites in Europe. This capital of Italy is home to various historic landmarks that are telling of the city’s long history.

A stop at the famous Colosseum will amaze any spectator. This structure, built in 70 AD, was the largest amphitheater of its time and continues to leave millions of visitors breathless every year.

While there, don’t miss out on Palatine Hill, the legendary founding site of the city and home to Roman Empire palaces and other historic ruins.

Tour grand churches in Rome including St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest basilica of Christianity, and the Pantheon, a former Roman temple and now Catholic church dedicated around 126 AD.

Enjoy an afternoon around the Trevi Fountain, an iconic 18th century fountain in Rome. Also, visit several of Rome’s famous museums to help sort through the city’s long history, like the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo and the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

 

Read “How to Travel Rome on a Budget before you book your trip to the city.

 

millennium bridge in greater london

 

London, England

England’s capital sits in the south-eastern part of Great Britain. This international city is an economic powerhouse and home to many famous museums and monuments that tell the story of London’s history dating back to Roman times.

Witness the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or dip into the British Museum for an afternoon of learning and discovery.

The London Eye, the world-famous Ferris wheel, sits at the edge of the River Thames. Experience views of the many historic London monuments including Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

Those willing to venture farther north of the city can visit the iconic Abby Road, the backdrop of the famous Beatles album sharing its name. (Line up the family along that famous crosswalk to recreate the album cover photo!)

 

buildings lining the water in Amsterdam

 

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The city’s intricate canal system and old bridges appear in iconic photos of this nation’s capital. The Magere Brug might be the most famous, lit every evening for pedestrians.  

Also, witness over 60% of the city’s commuters traveling via bike, according to the Dutch Amsterdam website. This unique feature calls for various bike paths throughout the city.

View Vincent Van Gogh’s famous art and learn about his life in the famous Van Gough Museum located in Amsterdam. And don’t forget to visit the sobering Anne Frank House, which features a biographical museum of the famous World War II diarist and is visited by over a million people every year.

Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience tour is also worth taking to explore Heineken’s first brewery.

 

white wash buildings on the water in santorini

 

Santorini, Greece

Santorini is an island in the Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, which uniquely shaped the rugged landscape.

Its whitewashed houses tucked into the island’s cliffs overlook the underwater crater left behind by the volcano. The island continues to stand as a unique and picturesque vacation spot with its domed churches and priceless views.

Akortiri is the site of a prehistoric village that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption. These ruins are a notable place to witness the island’s history. Additionally, the Santorini caldera attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year to witness the beautiful sunset on the Aegean Sea. 

Well known for its wineries, Santo Wines winery will help to cap off your day on the beautiful island.

 

Don’t Forget These Hidden Gems of Europe

Europe is home to many other beautiful and curious cities that aren’t as well known to the rest of the world. Add these locations to your bucket list for adventure that isn’t so mainstream.

 

clear blue green water in forest in switzerland

 

Basel, Switzerland

In the northwest of Switzerland sits the town of Basel with a population of close to 200,000, according to United Nations data. This medieval town will make you feel as though you’ve jumped back in time with its 16th century Town Hall and its 12th century gothic cathedral.

The Basel Münster Cathedral is arguably the most famous landmark in Basel, according to the Basel Culture Unlimited. The Gothic-style cathedral is made up of sandstone walls and colorful roof tiles. It peaks with twin towers that rise high above the city.

Don’t leave without seeing famous Swiss art at the Tinguely Museum too.

Tourists wanting a grand cultural experience can schedule their trip to Basel during the annual Basel Carnival. The festival is a three-day celebration starting on Ash Wednesday and featuring joyful instruments and artistic performances.

Note the festival begins exactly at 4 a.m. on the first day, when the dark city is instantly lit up by thousands of hand-painted lights and loud music through the streets. It’s a memorable moment worth experiencing. 

 

water running through the town in slovenia

 

Bovec, Slovenia

This mountain town in northern Slovenia is perfect for any outdoor adventurist seeking unique scenery for their favorite activities.

Bovec is home to Triglav National Park to the east, a perfect location for rafting, hiking, and mountain biking in the Julian Alps. The park is made up of glacial lakes, mountains, and forests.

Travelers can spend the day at Kanin Cable Car, the local ski resort for adventurists hoping to ski down the Alps.

Bovec visitors can take a break from their active outdoor adventures to explore the Klu┼że Fortress, a castle that was part of a fort built in 1472. It was said to have served as protection for the Friuli from the Turks.

 

overhead view of buildings with orange roofs in split croatia

 

Split, Croatia

Split is the second largest city in Croatia, behind Zagreb. Find historic ruins and sites, as well as urban luxuries the city has to offer.

Split’s Diocletian’s Palace is the main attraction for the city. The 30,000 square meter property was home to the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century. Many shops, cafes, restaurants, and apartments are now located in the old buildings.

You’ll find the Cathedral of Saint Domnius in the Mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian. It is the oldest cathedral in Europe and remains a place of worship for Catholics.

The Riva is a boardwalk and popular pedestrian location where you’ll discover many restaurants and bars. It faces the Diocletian Palace and is home to much of Split’s nightlife.

Public, cultural events are also often held along this boardwalk. Stop in for a bite to eat at one of the restaurants or enjoy an evening with friends at the many bars located on this strip.

 

Accommodation Options in Europe

Europe provides an array of accommodation options for visitors, from traditional chain hotels to a night in a historic castle.

 

Hotels / Boutique Hotels

You can find traditional hotels in most populated cities in Europe. Those wanting a cozier or more local option with the benefits of hotel amenities can stay in boutique hotels located in both big cities and smaller towns.

 

Bed and Breakfasts

A B&B can be a more affordable accommodation that features a private room and complimentary breakfast. Airbnb.com is widely used to advertise available rooms and apartments to rent.  

 

Hostels

These dorm-like accommodations may be ideal for backpackers or travelers on a budget. Though they feature few amenities, they are an easy way to meet other travelers and get tips on where to travel to next. Use sites like Hostel World to find hostels throughout Europe.  

 

Here’s everything you need to know before staying in a hostel.

 

Homestays

Get put up with a local European family with Homestay.com. This local experience is often more affordable and allows you to get to know a local family.

 

Castle / Chateau / Castello / Parador

Experience a night sleeping in a castle during your trip to Europe. Many castles throughout Europe have been renovated into hotels with modern amenities for a unique experience.

These accommodations tend to be pricier, so you might consider a list of the best castles in Europe for a honeymoon, birthday, or anniversary trip. The Travel Leisure website also covers a list of affordable castle hotels.

 

Manor House / Villas

Rent a room or an entire luxury villa in the European countryside. These are large country homes or rural homes once owned by nobility or upper-class people in Europe and are a feature location for those wanting a high-class experience.

 

bus passing by with tower bridge in the background in london

 

Navigate Transportation in Europe

Modes of transportation can vary across Europe, but there are several common modes to consider when traveling locally and long distance.

 

Local Transportation

  • Underground Subway System – found in most major cities including Paris, London, Berlin, and Rome
  • Public Bus / Tram – found in larger and medium-size cities
  • City Bike Rental – highly popular in Paris
  • RideshareUber and BlaBlaCar are the most popular ridesharing services

 

Keep in mind these 8 ways to stay safe while taking public transportation in a foreign country

 

Long-Distance Transportation

  • Bus – Use Flixbus and OuiBus to find affordable travel options by bus.
  • Budget Airline – Affordable airlines like Vueling, Ryanair, and EasyJet are popular for international travel throughout Europe.
  • Train – A Eurail pass is an affordable option for those planning to do multiple long-distance trips by train. Travel blogger Nomadic Matt wrote a blog post all about Eurail passes and when you might need one.
  • Car Rental – Read the Earth Trekkers’ Guide before deciding to rent a car in Europe. 

 

European Culture

Europe is home to an array of different cultures, but these broad tips can ensure travelers are courteous during their visit.

 

Tipping

Tipping serves its traditional purpose of commending good service by leaving a little extra money for the waiters. However, many large cities have been highly influenced by the American culture of providing low wages and counting on higher tips to make up for it. Read Rick Steve’s guide to tipping in Europe before you travel.

 

Local Shopping

It is customary to say “hello” or “good morning” when you enter a local shop in Europe. Even if you aren’t fluent in the local language, learn how to say these phrases. 

 

Languages

Almost 90% of Europeans can hold a conversation in a second language or more, according to a European Commission Report. This is a positive for nervous travelers who want to visit a country but don’t have the time to learn a new language.

The most widely spoken languages in Europe are as follows:

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Russian (mostly eastern Europe)

 

Bigger cities and high tourist destinations often provide instructions in multiple languages to help visitors too.

It is wise to try to learn at least a few common phrases in a local language to be courteous and to help in situations when others may not speak the language(s) you do.

 

Learn tips for traveling without knowing the language if you plan to visit a European country that doesn’t speak your language widely.

 

How to Travel Europe on a Budget

Travel, especially international travel, can get expensive very quickly. Consider these tips on how to travel Europe on a budget to ensure you get the most out of your money and the experience.

  • Plan Ahead – Travelers who spend time making a plan for where they want to visit and how they will travel between destinations will find the most affordable options.

  • Travel in the Off-Season – Avoid the summer months when accommodations prices are higher. Consider traveling between October and April.

  • Look for Free Walking ToursSandeman’s New Europe Tours and Free Tours by Foot offer tours of many European cities without having to empty your wallet.

  • Travel in Eastern Europe – Prices for accommodations and restaurants tend to be lower.

  • Avoid Restaurants in Touristy Locations – Prices are often hiked up in touristy areas, so venture farther away from tourist attractions for a meal.

  • Consider B&Bs or Hostels – These tend to be more affordable accommodations, but typically offer fewer amenities.

  • Purchase a Museum Pass – The Paris Museum Pass and the Roma Pass are two examples of cost-effective passes for those visiting multiple museums or attractions.

  • Download the Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel – This free budget travel guide contains advice from real full-time travelers as well as tips specific to Eastern Europe.

 

Traveling to the Central European destinations of Krakow and Budapest or the Baltic state of Estonia? Explore these guides to traveling Krakow, Budapest, and Estonia on a budget.

 

Remember to Pack These Essentials

Packing for a trip to Europe can vary depending on the time of year and location you choose. Travelers planning to do city sightseeing should bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Those wanting to enjoy outdoor sports must bring necessary athleticwear.

Check the weather for the location(s) you plan to visit before packing. Also, don’t forget to include these four essentials:

 

Learn about Atlas Travel insurance and how it can benefit you on your next European adventure.

 

Resources and Sites That Make European Travel Easy

Navigating your planning process and navigating through a new city can bring a lot of confusion and questions. This list of apps, transportation and accommodations sites, and travel advice sites will ensure a smarter traveling experience.

 

Apps

  • TripIt – travel organization, iOS or Android
  • City Mapper – city transit, iOS or Android
  • Google Translate – language translations, iOS or Android

 

Transportation and Accommodation Search Engines

 

Travel Advice Websites

 

A trip to Europe can provide a unique experience and the opportunity to explore the many cultures found in the region. It all starts with creating a list of desired locations and finally making the decision to go.


Related Blog Posts


Learn How to Travel Abroad on a Budget
Download your Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel to get money-saving tips from real travel experts. You'll discover budget-friendly destinations around the world and learn where to splurge, where to save, and how to shop for the very best deals. 

KHE2FFFYH6SP-971744701-87

WorldTrips international travel medical insurance products are underwritten by Lloyd's. WorldTrips is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. WorldTrips has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by HCC Underwriting Agency, Ltd.