Europe Travel Guide
With a population double that of the United States, Europe is an incredible land of historical treasures, ancient ruins, majestic castles, and diverse cultures.
Whether your Europe itinerary features one city or ten, you’ll find it helpful to learn as much as possible about your chosen cities before you arrive.
What languages do the locals speak? What currency do they use? How expensive is the food? Is it better to buy tours or go on self-guided adventures? Let’s get these questions answered before you plan your Europe itinerary.
If you’ve never been to Europe and want to experience the best of what the continent has to offer, start with this Europe travel guide, where you’ll learn about some of the best things to do in Europe, as well as how to visit Europe like a seasoned traveler.
Best Things to Do in Europe
1. Paris, France
Visiting Paris means experiencing the breathtaking history of a city with more than 2,000 years of continuous inhabitance.
In 250 B.C., Paris was a humble fishing village on the banks of the Seine River but would march through history as one of the most important cities in Europe.
Paris became the capital city of the region in the 6th century AD and would eventually become a European center for innovation, architectural marvels, and earth-shattering events like the French Revolution in the 1700s and the Nazi invasion during World War II.
Many centuries of war, strife, and local culture clashes have created a wholly unique city in Paris, and it’s certainly one of the first European destinations to consider as you plan your trip to the European continent.
Some of the best points of interest to experience in Paris include the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built in the mid-12th century, and the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889 after just two years of construction.
The Eiffel Tower was once derided by Parisians as a gauche architectural display but it would eventually become the most recognizable symbol of the city.
Other sites you’ll want to put on your Europe itinerary in Paris include the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, Luxembourg Gardens, and Sainte-Chapelle.
One of the best parts about visiting Paris is that you don’t really need a car to see all of these and other amazing historical sites. Public transportation is easily accessible and far less expensive than a rental car.
2. London, England
London is the most well-known city of the island nation of the United Kingdom, but it was actually founded by Roman invaders in the First Century AD.
The Roman Empire would eventually crumble under the weight of its own corruption, but London, or Londinium, as it was known then, would survive as a major port city for centuries.
When the British Empire grew to cover the globe during Queen Victoria’s rule in the 1800s, London was seen as the world’s center for technology, prestige, and power.
Today, visitors to London can experience an incredible amount of history in just a few days, with well-known sights like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Tower Bridge within walking distance of one another.
The city still runs its famous red double-decker buses, but you won’t find as many red phone booths as you might have seen decades ago. Some of the famous red kiosks are actually protected as historic locations, which means they’ll always remain a classic sight for tourists.
London is incredibly easy to get around with the extensive subway system that crawls along subterranean London like a spiderweb. The London Underground is affordable and easy to use, and all it requires is a few minutes spent walking up and down the stairs to the platforms.
You can also book one of the bus tours of London, where a bus will take you to famous London landmarks where you can hop on the bus or hop off it at your leisure for sightseeing.
3. Munich, Germany
The first city most people think of when they consider visiting Germany is Berlin, but if you’re looking to experience the history of Germany and famous sites like the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, you should actually head to Munich as your destination of choice.
Much of Berlin was destroyed in World War II by the ferocious bombing that occurred at the end of the war, which means much of Berlin has lost the historical architecture once found throughout the European continent.
Munich, on the other hand, offers some classic Deutschland tourist attractions that you shouldn’t miss. In the 16th century, Munich was made the capital of Bavaria, the precursor to modern-day Germany.
It was a center for the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation but the city experienced some difficulties when it engaged in a war with Sweden in the 17th century.
It was also impacted by a plague that wiped out a significant portion of the population. Fortunately, there’s no sign of plague in Munich today, just loads of classic landmarks and beautiful architecture.
As you plan your Munich journey, include the Marienplatz on your itinerary, which is a towering square with several landmark buildings around it, and the Munich Residenz, which is a museum housed in a gorgeous old building.
Tour the coach museum when you visit the 18th century Nymphenburg Palace and don’t forget your camera when you visit the Frauenkirche, a gothic-style church with huge domed towers.
4. Barcelona, Spain
It’s tough to choose just one city to visit in Spain, but if you’re limited on time and interested in adding Spain to your European itinerary, consider Barcelona as your destination of choice.
Like other major cities in Europe, Barcelona was initially founded by Romans about two thousand years ago even though it was inhabited for millennia before that by ancient Neolithic peoples.
Barcelona is an excellent European city to visit when you want to experience a balance of educational tourist sites and beautiful sandy beaches.
At one time, Barcelona was the capital of Spain, but today it’s the capital of the Catalonia region of the country.
The stunning architecture of the metropolis is actually quite unique as the city was planned in a grid format where the corners of buildings were cut off to help with traffic flow. Because of this design, many of the buildings in Barcelona are octagonal in shape.
If you’re traveling from the Americas or Asia, you might not be aware of the history of Barcelona as it relates to the Catalan people and their efforts to remain independent from Spain.
The War of Succession in the 18th century saw Catalonia lose its self-governing rights, and its fight for true independence continues to the present day. Visit the Museum of the History of Catalonia to learn more when you visit Barcelona.
5. Reykjavik, Iceland
The island nation of Iceland contains some of the most incredible geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and glaciers in all of Europe. The country has so many incredible waterfalls that you might actually experience what travelers call “waterfall fatigue” when you visit.
Around almost every bend in the road is another foss (the Icelandic word for waterfall). If you’re keen on a road trip that will take you to some of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see, you should put Iceland on your European itinerary.
Iceland is an extremely easy place to drive for almost any foreigner, but they do drive on the right side of the road, so you may need to practice a bit if you’re traveling from countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, or Indonesia.
Icelandic drivers are pretty chill, and much of the country is incredibly remote, which makes it prime territory for adventurous road-trippers.
Start your journey to Iceland in Reykjavik and take an afternoon to soak in one of the city’s incredible mineral hot springs and continue your visit along the Ring Road, which encircles the entire island.
Don’t forget your hiking shoes because you’ll walk about 20,000 steps every day, getting to all the amazing geysers, stunning waterfalls, and natural wonders.
If you travel to Iceland in the winter, you’ll get to see the aurora borealis (northern lights), and you might even see a volcano erupting, as there are around 130 volcanoes across the island.
6. Santorini, Greece
If the thought of the cold winds of Iceland makes you shiver, you might consider Santorini, which is one of the most beautiful Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.
Santorini might even take the crown as the most beautiful island in the world with its stunning cliffs, incredible turquoise water, and classic, white-washed houses.
Santorini is built over a caldera, which is the bowl left behind after a volcanic eruption. Rather than shy away from this volcanic masterpiece, early residents used the cliffs to build and create some of the most interesting homes anywhere on the planet.
The sunsets in Santorini are legendary, and the city is home to more than its fair share of luxury residences and hotels. If you’re seeking a wonderful, sun-filled European vacation, Santorini will hit all the marks with its beaches, picture-perfect scenery, and delicious and incredible food.
Plus, Santorini is ideal for history buffs who want to learn more about Santorini’s ancient settlements. Some scientists believe the ancient legend of Atlantis refers to the Greek Island and have spent years trying to find Atlantean ruins.
You’ll want to spend at least a few days in Santorini exploring everything the island has to offer. You might spend one day visiting the ruins of Thera or Akrotiri and another day hanging out on Perissa Beach. Visit Kamari Beach if you’re interested in pairing your beach day with some excellent food.
One of the most entertaining ways to get around Santorini is to rent a motorbike. The island has taxis and buses, but motorbikes give you the most freedom to travel when and where you want during your stay.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and is an excellent place to visit if you’re a history fan and want to see what Europe looked like centuries ago. Not only does Copenhagen offer a huge dose of shopping opportunities and trendy cafes, but it also delivers on appearance with its beautiful parks, palaces, and cobblestone streets.
It’s possible to enjoy all the sights and sounds of Copenhagen from the seat of a bicycle since the city is one of the most bicycle-friendly in all of Europe.
Copenhagen was founded in the 13th century and experienced early growth through fishing and trade. The town was occasionally attacked by Germans from the south but was expanded and fortified by a Danish king in the late 16th century.
After centuries of attacks from other nations and natural disasters like fires, things quieted down significantly as the city expanded and grew over the past 200 years.
Technically, you can probably see much of Copenhagen in just a single day, but you may find it better to set aside at least two days to explore the city. If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into the history and culture of Denmark, you should allocate three days of your European journey to Copenhagen.
The city is also reasonably close to several well-known tourist stops like Helsingør, which is the location of Hamlet’s castle of Shakespearean fame, and Frederiksborg Castle, which is in nearby Hillerød.
Most day trips from Copenhagen require less than an hour of travel by train.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Rome, Italy gets much of the attention when it comes to stories about the ancient world, but Istanbul was just as much an influence on the ancient world as Rome. The city’s history stretches back more than 2,500 years.
Four empires have called Istanbul their capital, the last of which was the Ottoman Empire which ruled the area from 1453 to 1922. Istanbul is a city of significant cultural influences and creativity, with incredible diversity in its population and architecture.
Istanbul is absolutely loaded with incredible historical sites like the Spice Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, and Dolmabahçe Palace.
You’ll find Byzantine-era churches throughout the city, as well as breathtaking locales for photographs, like the Basilica Cistern and the Süleymaniye Mosque. There are so many incredible sights to tour and see in Istanbul that anything less than three days is just not enough for your visit.
As you explore the different districts of the city, one of the surprising things you’ll discover is the vibrant nightlife where locals gather on rooftop clubs for dining, dancing, and incredible views of the skyline.
If you tend to rise early rather than stay up late, don’t worry. Istanbul has many cafes for coffee and breakfast, some of which sit on terraces with a view.
9. Dubrovnik, Croatia
The beautiful and historical country of Croatia is home to the fascinating city of Dubrovnik, which has within its borders an entire neighborhood listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Croatia was once part of Yugoslavia but broke away in 1991 when it declared its independence. The Croatian War of Independence would follow from 1991 to 1995 and eventually result in dramatic changes to the countries of southeastern Europe.
Today, Croatia and its stellar city Dubrovnik are safe for travelers and contain many amazing sights. The nickname of Dubrovnik is the “pearl of the Adriatic,” and its idyllic seaside neighborhoods and picturesque beaches certainly live up to that moniker.
If you’re a fan of the HBO television show “Game of Thrones,” you’ll love seeing all the locations the film crew used for that series. You can also buy a spot on a guided Game of Thrones tour, where the guide will show you all the notable locations.
One of the best tourist activities for your stay in Dubrovnik is the walking tour of the wall that allows you to stroll along the walls that surround Old Town. You’ll also want to take a walk along the Stradun, which is a major street in town that was active as early as the 13th century.
If your time in Croatia allows you to take time away from Dubrovnik, consider driving the 268 miles to Plitvice Lakes National Park, where you’ll see some of the most incredible waterfalls outside of Iceland.
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands, is the ideal home base for a tour of Holland. You’ll find that Amsterdam is one of the most exciting places to visit in Europe, as well as full of world class museums like the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.
Amsterdam was founded in the 1200s as a fishing village and was a humble town until the 1500s when an incredible expansion and a golden age led to immense prosperity.
At the close of the city’s golden age, the fortunes of Amsterdam would ebb and flow for centuries until a sustained economic recovery occurred in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution.
Throughout all of its ups and downs, Amsterdam has remained a vibrant city with a rich history, ripe for visits and tours. After you’ve had your fill exploring Amsterdam, a handful of easy day trips await to classic locales like the Keukenhof gardens and the Zaanse Schans windmill village.
If you’re trying to choose between Amsterdam and Copenhagen, which are somewhat similar to one another as far as sights and sounds go, your traveling companions might help you make a choice.
If you’re traveling with small children or family, Copenhagen is easier to get around for young people. On the other hand, Amsterdam is considered better for couples and those who want to enjoy some nightlife during their romantic getaway.
11. Rome, Italy
It’s not uncommon to know a lot about Rome before you ever step foot in the city due to its importance to antiquity and the Roman Empire that ruled over Europe for so many centuries.
Ancient Rome was just a small town on the Tiber River in the 8th century BC but would eventually become the most important city in an empire that stretched across present-day Europe, Asia, Africa, and Britain.
Despite involvement in countless wars over the centuries, The Eternal City has maintained many of its ancient sites, which have become some of the most popular destinations in Europe. For example, the famous Rome Colosseum has endured a number of earthquakes and uprisings over the millennia and even survived bombings in World War II.
Other ancient sites that belong on any Rome itinerary are the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Forum, and the Castel Sant’Angelo. Don’t forget to include the “newer” venues, too, like the 18th-century Trevi Fountain, the 15th-century Sistine Chapel, and Vatican City.
Rome is often quite crowded with tourists, and the best option for maximizing your time in the ancient city is planning an itinerary that uses the city’s bus system.
The city maintains an app that explains what buses to use on your route, and the system is also quite affordable. Unless you consider yourself a Formula 1 capable driver, leave automobile driving to the Italians and stick to public transport.
Where to stay in Europe
Europe is home to some of the most magnificent luxury hotels and resorts in the world, as well as cute boutique hotels and small establishments that make it easy to experience the local flavor of the area.
Booking your stay well in advance of your travel dates is the easiest way to save money on your vacation, particularly if you plan to travel during the high travel season of the early summer.
Consider also that some places like Paris shut down almost entirely in the months of August and December when many of the city’s inhabitants go on their yearly holidays.
- Hotel Splendide Royal Paris – Relais & Châteaux
- The Savoy
- Mandarin Oriental, Munich
- Hotel El Palace Barcelona
- The Reykjavik EDITION
- Phos The Boutique
- Nimb Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus
- Hotel Excelsior
- Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
- Fendi Private Suites
How to Get Around in Europe
Most European countries make it easy to get around via train travel, which means you’ll only rarely need a car to see the best tourist sites. The European train system is ideal for travelers because it was built with people in mind rather than the transport of physical goods, which was the case with the American and Canadian rail systems.
If you’re traveling from a country from across the Atlantic Ocean like the United States, where train travel is almost a novelty outside of New York State, don’t worry. It’s easy to use the train system virtually anywhere in Europe. You can even hop on one of the many small budget airlines that operate throughout the continent to reach another country.
If your group is interested in exploring Europe as budget travelers, the most economical way to see the continent is definitely by train. You can purchase train passes in advance that allow you unlimited rides with more than 50 different train companies.
However, don’t assume that using a car is off-limits for your travel throughout the European continent. Many Eastern European countries are very accessible for road trips, especially when you’re traveling outside the major cities. For example, one of the best ways to reach Plitvice Lakes from Dubrovnik is by car, so you can rent a car to accomplish your day trips.
The Scandinavian countries are also easily navigable by cars, so don’t be afraid to get behind the wheel for a Norwegian road trip. If you plan to drive a car in Europe, don’t forget your international driver’s license.
Travel Tips Europe
One of the biggest sources of income for many European countries is tourism, which means traveling throughout the continent is incredibly easy because everything is built around welcoming visitors.
With a modest amount of planning, you can experience everything you want to see in Europe without any real complications or headaches whether you’re visiting the wineries of western Europe or sitting on a Mediterranean beach in southern Europe.
However, it does help to know a little about Europe before you go, particularly if you want to see the sights like a local. Here are a few tips to consider as you draw up your itinerary.
Don’t Try to See Every Country in the European Union
Europe is a continent with thousands of years of history, and it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew by trying to see too much of it at once. If you’re only able to spend a week in Europe, consider staying in just a single country or adding just a few major locations to your schedule.
A week is enough to see Paris, travel south to see France’s wine regions, and spend a day in Monaco, but don’t try to stuff in a few days in Spain and Italy, too. Particularly if you’re trying to create a travel guide to Europe on a budget, you may find yourself stretched too thin to enjoy your travels if you cram too much into your itinerary.
One of the best ways to plan your European vacation is to start with the city or venue that you most want to visit and expand your itinerary from that location. For example, if you want to vacation in Santorini and have a week to spend on your trip, consider flying into Athens to spend a few days and then taking a second flight to Santorini for the rest of your tour.
Don’t try to see the entire Aegean Sea. Focus on what you’d most like to see and enjoy a relaxing and unhurried vacation.
Europe Is Safe But Not From Pickpockets
Many European citizens enjoy low crime rates and relative safety, but you’ll want to keep an eye on your valuables because just about every busy city in Europe is home to pickpockets.
These thieves are quite active because there are so many travelers on the continent who are awed by the sights and forget to make sure their valuables are safe.
Not only is it a good idea to have an internal pocket on a jacket or shirt for your wallet and passport, but it’s also important to keep an eye on your rental car should you decide to rent one.
Thieves will definitely take advantage of your rental car should you leave your suitcase in full view of any passerby. You don’t need to worry every moment about thieves, but try to remain aware of where your valuables are and whether you’ve secured them.
Many But Not All European Countries Use the Euro
One of the convenient aspects of traveling throughout Europe is that many countries use the same currency: the Euro. This currency is the official money of the European Union, and countries may choose to use this common currency or use their own.
Some notable exceptions include Sweden and Denmark. Other EU countries that use their own currency include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. The United Kingdom, which recently left the European Union, has always used its pound sterling and never adopted the Euro while it was a member of the EU.
After you plan your itinerary, but before you book your arrangements, make a plan for how you’ll spend your money. You might find it most economical to pay for as much as possible in advance with a credit card that doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees.
For any cash transactions, you’ll generally find banks and credit unions offer the best exchange rates for Euros and the other currencies used throughout Europe.