Europe Holiday Planning Guide
A mosaic of many different languages and nationalities, Europe draws nearly half a billion annual visitors with its wealth of cultural, artistic, and architectural attractions. Europe also features one of the world's most efficient rail and road networks, making travel a pleasant and easy experience. The world's smallest continent in terms of surface area, this colorful land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east boasts thousands of years of history, preserved and displayed in hundreds of world-famous museums, galleries, libraries, and universities. Offering travelers a seemingly endless variety of landscapes, Europe encompasses booming cities, tiny villages, lush river valleys, majestic mountain ranges, deep lakes, and sprawling seas. If you've already discovered the popular destinations of Italy, France, and Greece, don't feel you've exhausted your options: add the less-explored Balkans or Scandinavia to your Europe itinerary.
Places to Visit in Europe
Countries of EuropeEngland
: While England's sprawling urban areas provide easy access to world-class shopping, nightlife, and dining, the sweeping countryside features dozens of atmospheric villages and ancient remains of once-powerful societies.Italy
: A land of high fashion, fine art, and exquisite architecture, Italy boasts the largest number of World Heritage Sites in the world, making it an ideal place for a memorable holiday in Europe.France
: The world's most popular tourist destination, this country remains best known for its outstanding cuisine, rich history, distinct culture, and illustrious fashion industry.Spain
: A favorite destination for seaside vacations in Europe, Spain offers a relaxed lifestyle, excellent food, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivals.Turkey
: Located at the meeting point of Asia and Europe, Turkey offers a rich cultural heritage and pristine natural areas that inspire plenty of active Europe vacation ideas, including mountain climbing, scuba diving, rafting, and skiing.Germany
: One of Europe's easiest countries to explore thanks to an efficient transportation network, Germany draws visitors with its medieval castles, picturesque villages, sprawling natural areas, and savvy urban centers.Portugal
: Small in size but huge in terms of tourist attractions, Portugal features diverse landscapes that include lush vineyards, verdant valleys, sandy coastlines, and rolling hills dotted with historical towns and villages preserving age-old traditions, art, and culture.Ireland
: Ireland's gentle green hills include some of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, like historical castles and pristine natural parks.Greece
: Known as much for its sun-drenched beaches as for its ancient history, Greece features countless fascinating places to visit, including lively seaside towns, well-preserved ruins, and serene whitewashed villages.Scotland
: Though it boasts thousands of years of history, Scotland draws most of its visitors with a selection of modern whiskey distilleries, renowned golf courses, and award-winning museums.
Cities in EuropeLondon
: One of the world's leading cultural, financial, and political centers, this city offers visitors a comprehensive transportation system and easy access to well-known museums, galleries, monuments, public squares, restaurants, and shops.Paris
: Perhaps the ultimate destination for romantic Europe holidays, the City of Light features a lengthy list of Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as some of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world, like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.Rome
: The birthplace of the Roman Empire, this modern metropolis combines an immensely rich historical heritage with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, which many visitors choose to experience at one of the city's vibrant piazzas.Barcelona
: Youthful energy and outstanding architecture make Barcelona an ideal place for sightseeing in Europe, with plenty of chances to experience modern restaurants, chic bars, and swanky nightclubs.Istanbul
: This transcontinental city is a living reminder of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, with a World Heritage-listed town center known for both Islamic minarets and Christian church domes.Amsterdam
: Indisputably one of the world's great small cities, Amsterdam offers a cozy atmosphere and charming 17th-century architecture, as well as a dynamic nightlife scene and plenty of modern shopping options.Prague
: Over a thousand years old, this World Heritage-listed capital lures millions of annual tourists with its hilltop castle, picturesque bridges, and labyrinthine lanes.Dublin
: An increasingly popular stop on Europe itineraries, compact Dublin can easily explored on foot or by bicycle, and its traditional pubs make ideal places for meeting the natives and experiencing the colorful local culture.Berlin
: Germany's largest city, Berlin offers everything from elegantly restored medieval palaces to ultra-modern steel buildings, all with a healthy dose of innovative restaurants and internationally renowned art galleries.Lisbon
: Built on seven hills, Lisbon remains something of a hidden gem, delighting visitors with plenty of notable monuments and museums, as well as quaint alleyways and historical neighborhoods.
Things to Do in Europe
Popular Europe Tourist AttractionsEiffel Tower
: The starting point for many Europe sightseeing tours, this iconic Paris structure continues to impress visitors with its scale and grandeur, not to mention its breathtaking city views.Colosseum
: Among the greatest architectural achievements of the Roman Empire, this famous Roman landmark remains the largest amphitheater in the world, once capable of seating 50,000 spectators of animal fights and gladiatorial combats.Tower of London
: Among the world's most famous towers, this thousand-year-old structure stands on the north bank of the Thames River and notably includes an exhibit of over 23,000 royal gems. Louvre Museum
: Nearly 30,000 works of art make this renowned museum a perennial favorite among Europe attractions, famed for housing ancient religious artifacts and masterpieces by Michelangelo and da Vinci.La Sagrada Familia
: Barcelona's eye-catching symbol, this World Heritage-listed church astonishes sightseers with its height and intricate design, devised by celebrated architect Antoni Gaudi.Sultan Ahmed Mosque
: Named for its stunning blue-tile interior, this impressive Istanbul mosque boasts a total of six minarets, one main dome, and eight secondary domes, blending traditional Islamic style with Byzantine architectural elements.Van Gogh Museum
: This Amsterdam museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's works, including over 200 paintings and 600 drawings.Schönbrunn Palace
: Regularly cited as one of the most fascinating places to visit in Europe, this lavish Vienna palace includes over 1,400 rooms, and its grounds contain one of the world's oldest zoos.Park Güell
: One of Barcelona's many Antoni Gaudi structures, this garden complex features a network of scenic footpaths and offers unbeatable views of the surrounding area.Anne Frank House
: Once the hiding place of a Jewish family immortalized in a young girl's personal diary, this Amsterdam museum offers a sobering look at one of European history's darkest moments.
Planning a Europe Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Europe with Kids
Europe offers so many different activities suitable for travelers with children, you'll have no trouble filling up your itinerary with family-friendly things to do. If your holiday in Europe involves teenagers enthusiastic about outdoor adventures, try skiing or hiking the mountain slopes of Rhone-Alpes, one of the most picturesque regions in France
. Families with smaller children may opt for a more leisurely experience, like exploring the castles and ancient ruins scattered across England
. Other low-key adventures include easy sightseeing trips along the canals of Venice
, making sand castles on a beach in Greece
, or walking the old and narrow lanes of medieval Prague
. To spend some time indoors, explore the world-class museums of London
or hunt for unique souvenirs at a covered market in Istanbul
Things to Do in Europe with Kids
With literally hundreds of notable kid-friendly attractions, Europe remains one of the world's most popular destinations for family-oriented holidays. Begin exploring the continent's endless variety of attractions at one of its big cities, where you can explore historical sites like Parthenon
and Trevi Fountain
. To add a few lessons about the world's diverse natural ecosystems to your Europe itinerary, think about visiting places like Barcelona Zoo
. If you want the family to spend a few pleasant and educational hours indoors, consider visiting a big-city museum, such as Vasa Museum
. If, however, your kids prefer theme parks to museums and zoos, head to Disneyland Park
, or enjoy the modern amenities of Tropical Islands Resort
Tips for a Family Vacation in Europe
As you plan your family vacation in Europe, keep in mind the continent's size, varied climates, and different time zones. Avoid exhausting the family with too many distant places to visit and focus on activities and attractions best suited to your kids' interests. Basing your trip in a big city lets you take advantage of affordable hotels and easy access to public transportation. On the other hand, smaller towns or villages in beautiful natural surroundings may prove a slower-paced alternative while still keeping young ones entertained with things to see and do. Pick a few distant destinations to visit by train or car, and leave lots of time for short day trips that both you and the kids can enjoy on foot or by bicycle. Enlist the youngest members of the family to help plan your Europe itinerary, and keep things interesting by combining tours of popular museums with visits to castles, palaces, churches, and zoos.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Europe
Cuisine of Europe
A patchwork of many different cultures, Europe is also a hodgepodge of regional culinary traditions. You could spend months exploring the continent's gastronomic delights, concentrating either on renowned big-city restaurants or small-town bars and pubs serving up local specialties. Everybody knows Italy
as the place for pizza and pasta dishes, though a growing number of tourists head here to try its regional wines and beers. For outstanding tapas, or "pintxos" as the locals call them, stop through Basque Country
on your Europe trip. For tasty dishes combining both eastern and western culinary traditions, explore Serbia
--one of Europe's emerging destinations for gastronomic itineraries. Visit Russia
for great soups and stews, Bosnia and Herzegovina
for a range of kebab-inspired specialties, and Turkey
for outstanding baklava and a cup of world-famous coffee.
Shopping in Europe
Shopping is no small thing in Europe, which draws visitors to its big urban centers like Rome
, as well as broader regions like Amalfi Coast
and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur
. You can easily find plenty of conventional shopping options to add to your Europe itinerary, but if you're looking for a slightly different buying experience, consider exploring some of the continent's more unusual and authentic shopping attractions. Highlights include Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
, and Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
. Keep in mind that regional delicacies make some of the best souvenirs to take home. Think Swiss and Belgian chocolates, French wines, and high-quality German cheeses.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Europe
History of Europe
Europe's rich and turbulent history dates back thousands of years. Scientists have found evidence of human inhabitation on the continent that is up to 40,000 years old, but one of the earliest signs of a complex European culture comes from ancient Greece. The birthplace of Western civilization, this culture became a driving force behind revolutionary developments in early philosophy, humanism, medicine, and science.
Classical Greek culture exerted a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which in turn left an indelible mark on European law, language, architecture, and politics. During the "Pax Romana" period, this empire encompassed most of the European continent. To learn more about early Greek and Roman cultures, add a few ancient sites to your Europe itinerary, including Colosseum
and Acropolis Museum
The emergence of Christianity brought about the gradual collapse of the Roman Empire. By the early 8th century CE, the Carolingian Empire occupied large sections of Western Europe and formed the basis for the later Holy Roman Empire. This period also saw the rise of cities and universities, followed by a historical era known as the Renaissance. The grand flourishing of culture originated in Florence and spread across Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries. Art, philosophy, music, and the sciences thrived under the patronage of royal families, nobility, and an emerging merchant class. Enrich your Europe sightseeing experience by visiting Vatican Museums
, housing numerous Renaissance masterpieces.
The 18th century saw the emergence of the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual movement promoting scientific thought. Dissatisfaction with aristocracy led to the French Revolution, a violent yet hugely influential period of political and social upheaval in France. Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in the aftermath of this revolution and established a huge empire that encompassed much of Europe. Visit Arc de Triomphe
to pay homage to soldiers who fought in the landmark French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
A revolution of a different kind, the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and resulted in the rapid growth of European cities, giving rise to a new working class in the 19th century. If you're looking for some educational things to do in Europe, British Museum
provides insight about the changes European society underwent during this period.
Two hugely destructive world wars dominated the first half of the 20th century in Europe. World War I saw massive losses on all sides and ended in the disintegration of empires. World War II, sparked by Adolf Hitler's territorial ambitions, left much of the continent ravaged if not razed, and shook European civilization to its core with mass exterminations in Nazi concentration camps. For most of the second half of the 20th century, Europe remained a divided continent. While Western Europe integrated into what would eventually become the European Union, the continent's eastern section remained under strong Soviet influence until the 1990s. Though today's Europe continues to face new challenges, it celebrates its multiplicity of nations and languages. Get a sense of the scope of this heritage on your holiday in Europe by exploring some of its most popular sights, like State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace
and St. Peter's Basilica
Customs of Europe
Although European social etiquette differs greatly from country to country, and sometimes even from region from region, you can make your visit a more pleasant experience by following a few basic rules. Remember that a warm smile and an honest attempt to speak at least a few phrases of the local language go a long way in making friends in a new city or region. Shake hands and use a formal mode of address when meeting people for the very first time. Show respect by arriving on time to all your social engagements, be they formal dinners or casual parties. Avoid unpleasant social situations by refraining from comments about sensitive local subjects like politics, religion, or sports. Blend in during your holiday in Europe by dressing like a native, and politely ask a local friend, host, or hotel staff about anything that seems confusing or unusual from a foreign visitor's perspective.
Holidays & Festivals in Europe
All European countries celebrate their own official public holidays, with most nations observing Christmas, New Year's Day, Easter, and Labor Day (May 1). Many Europeans take their summer holidays in July and August, which usually translates into huge crowds on major roads, as well as in railway stations and international airports. You can also expect heavy traffic in late December, when many schools close for the end-of-the-year holidays and families enjoy an extended winter break. If you wish to add some local flavor to your Europe vacation, plan your visit around a regional festival. Visit Munich
during Oktoberfest, or head to Serbia
for the country's summertime Guca Brass Band Festival.
Europe Travel Tips
Climate of Europe
Europe lies mainly in the temperate climate zones, which are greatly influenced by the Gulf Stream. Known as "Europe's central heating," this warm ocean current makes the continent's climate milder and wetter than other areas of the same latitude. That said, weather can vary from place to place, so plan your Europe trip with the local climate in mind and remember that the best time to visit is in the summer. The Mediterranean countries offer the warmest temperatures and plenty of sunshine, which makes them hugely popular summer destinations. If you plan your visit for winter but wish to avoid the low temperatures and abundant precipitation of Central and Northern Europe, consider the Turkish Riviera or one of the many Greek islands.
Transportation in Europe
Most of Europe offers a reliable and efficient public transportation system, so you should have very little trouble exploring the continent's urban areas. While you can enjoy your tour of Europe by every modern mode of transportation, the train remains arguably the easiest and quickest way to get from one city--or town--to the next. If you can't find a railway service suited to your itinerary, consider renting a car or motorcycle. Traveling with your own vehicle provides you with unparalleled flexibility and allows you to get off the beaten path and tour remote rural areas.
Language of Europe
Most Europeans speak a tongue from one of three Indo-European language groups: Romance, Germanic, or Slavic. Many speak multiple languages, with the most commonly spoken tongues including English, Spanish, French, Russian, German, and Italian. For the sake of convenience during your vacation in Europe, learn at least a few basic phrases in the local language, and consider bringing along a phrasebook or pocket dictionary. If you wish to immerse yourself deeper into the native culture, look for accelerated language courses offered by many European private schools and universities.
Tipping in Europe
Though you'll find that tipping habits vary significantly as you move from country to country on your tour of Europe, you can generally play it safe by adding 5 to 10 percent to restaurant bills. Unless you feel the service provided was especially poor, leave taxi drivers, hotel porters, and bartenders a small tip to show your appreciation for a job well done. One rule generally applies across borders in Europe: to ensure the intended recipient actually gets the gratuity, tip in cash, not on your credit card.