Europe is a continent full of incredible cities, towns and landscapes. For those that haven’t visited before it may seem daunting on where to start. If you’re planning your first visit then in this post you’ll find everything you need to know. From where to go, when to go, how to get around and much more. Here is your guide to visiting Europe for the first time.
Where to Go?
When planning a trip to Europe, you may be wondering where to go. Europe has everything, from beaches, historic cities, ski resorts, national parks, landscapes, you name it! A good way to get inspiration can be by following travel accounts on Instagram, as well as searching online for blog posts.
All along the Mediterranean Sea are endless beautiful destinations to visit. Such as the Balearic Islands, Cyprus, Amalfi Coast, Greek Islands, Malta and so many more. As well as along the Mediterranean you’ll find beaches along the Portugal Coast which faces the Atlantic Ocean including places such as the Algarve.
City and Architecture
Many cities in Europe have wonderful historic architecture. A few favourites include Dresden, Vienna and Barcelona. For some ideas on cities to visit read 10 of the best cities to visit in Europe.
History and Culture
If history and culture is your thing you could consider places like Berlin, Krakow and Tallinn. Although most cities in Europe will be packed with enough to keep most history buffs entertained.
Europe isn’t short of fantastic ski resorts, including the Three Valleys in France, Zermatt in Switzerland and St Anton in Austria. Skiing and snowboarding can provide the perfect winter getaway where you’ll be up in the mountains surrounded by snow and beautiful scenery. Europe is a destination that definitely won’t disappoint with many snow-sure resorts throughout the continent.
Best Time to Travel in Europe
The climate in Europe can vary a lot between destinations. It’ll generally be hotter around the Mediterranean and southern Europe, and colder in north Europe, such as Norway, Finland, Estonia.
The higher up you go in Europe the shorter the days may be in the winter, and the longer they may be in the summer. For example in Norway in June, the sun may rise at 3.53am and then set at 22:43pm, whilst in December the sun sometimes rises at 9:18am and sets at 15:12pm. A good site to check sunrise and sunset times is timeanddate.com.
Schools and workers in Europe get lots of holidays throughout the year, with the main period often being July and August. During this time you’ll often find prices are higher for accommodation, flights and package deals, as this is considered peak season. Schools also have half-term, Easter and Christmas holidays too. These dates do vary slightly between countries.
For example to get an idea of school holidays in England you could go to gov.uk/school-term-holiday-dates and put in a postcode (they suggest one on that page). This may not give you the exact dates but should give you an idea.
Winter is from around December to February and can be cold and snowy in some destinations. Also, the days will be shorter, such as in Tallinn, Estonia where at some points there are only 6 hours of sunlight.
Benefits of travelling in the winter are that it may snow, it tends to be quieter and it will probably be cheaper. Towards the north of Europe you may even see the Northern Lights during this month.
Spring is between March and May and many cities will have beautiful tulips around the city, which make for wonderful picturesque images. You may even find parks that contain cherry blossom trees which are some of the most beautiful to see. Although the climate will tend to be warming up there may be spring showers, so remember your coat when visiting during this season.
Summer is around June, July and August. This is the best time to go on beach holidays, although it’s peak season, therefore flights and accommodation will be more expensive. You’ll also find most destinations a lot busier.
Autumn begins mid-September and lasts until about end of November. This a fantastic time to travel and you’ll find beautiful colours on most trees which make for wonderful photographs. For more picturesque images try and head out of cities, or to smaller towns in the mountains. A favourite is Hallstatt in Austria. You could also consider Plitvice Lakes, Bled, Vintgar Gorge and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Transportation and Getting Around
Download Offline Maps
A good thing to do when travelling to a new destination is to download offline maps. Google Maps is a great tool for travellers and using the App you can download areas for destinations around the world. The map isn’t fully searchable, as there’s only so much data you can download, but it has roads, streets and more. If you link it with your main Google account you could save markers on the map to help find places of interest. Also if you use Gmail you may find your accommodation and various other things are automatically marked on the map.
Transportation Between Cities
Once in Europe, you’ll find it easy to get between cities, as well as to other countries.
Fly – easyJet is a great airline to use to get around Europe. They offer cheap fares and are also generous with their luggage allowance. British Airways is also becoming a bit more competitive offering good flights and luggage options. Of course, there are other budget airlines such as Ryanaire, Wizz Air and various others, but sometimes they are overly strict with hand luggage weight and size. You’ll find a bit more on airlines further down in this post.
Trains – Trains are a quick way to get around Europe and connections are generally quite good between major cities. A good place to start looking for trains is goeuro.com. Alternatively, head to the national rail service for the country you are visiting. Whenever booking trains make sure you book in advance as the prices can get quite steep last minute. For example in Austria when using the OEBB you should book your trains at least one week in advance to get the best prices.
Buses – A cheap way to get around is to use a bus service such as FlixBus. Flixbus make it easy to find your connections using their route map seen below. There are sometimes options for night buses too, which is a good way to save money on accommodation for a night.
Transportation to/from Airports
Many cities in Europe have good transport services to easily get to and from the airport. You should be able to get from the airport to the city by shuttle buses, trains, or if you wanted you could use Uber and taxies. If you are travelling somewhere out of a major city or town you may have fewer options available. By doing your research in advance this will make your arrival and departure easier and should allow you to find the cheapest option if you are on a budget.
Transportation Within Cities
Once you get to a city in Europe most will have a good public transport system, which may include subways, trams, buses and overground trains. You can often purchase travel cards which will allow unlimited travel and occasionally the city cards (mentioned further below) include free travel.
Also available in many cities is Uber and taxies. If you are travelling for business and need to expense your travel, then using Uber may help, as you will be able to easily log your transportation costs.
Many cities in Europe now have city bike programmes which allow you to hire a bike for a short period of time from a docking station. The docking stations would be located all around the city and once you’ve finished you can return the bike to any docking station that has a free slot. Hiring bikes is often very cheap and sometimes even free.
If you are wanting to see more rural areas, go hiking, or go on a road trip, then hiring a car may be a good option. Some car hire companies allow you to pick the car up at one destination and then drop it off at another. You may find that booking in advance is the cheapest way to do this. Hertz is one such provider of car rentals around Europe.
Here are some of the airlines you could consider to travel around Europe. Whenever you book with an airline ensure you always know the cabin baggage allowance, ie size and weight, so you don’t end up having to pay more at the airport.
easyJet – easyJet have great prices and have connections between many countries in Europe. They don’t seem to have a weight restriction on hand luggage, which makes flying with them on a budget really easy. Read our full review on easyJet.
British Airways – BA is also a great airline and has connections both within Europe as well as long-haul routes. They often have competitive prices and allow two items of hand luggage when you travel.
Ryanaire – A budget airline offering crazy good prices, such as London to Stockholm for only £16 (when available). You often have to pay for extras such as food, drinks, checked luggage etc, which is how they make their money. Ryanaire mainly flies out of London Stanstead or Dublin airport which has the most connections, although there are heaps of routes throughout Europe. They still aren’t our first choice, however, they have improved their website and are doing a lot to offer a better service. If you do book with them make sure you follow every rule, such as for boarding passes and luggage etc, as their fines/airport fees are ridiculous.
Air Baltic – Air Baltic are ok although not that cheap and charge quite a lot for checked baggage. They have lots of routes within Europe and various long-haul routes.
Wizz Air – Another budget airline and offering pretty good prices. You have to generally pay for baggage, including large cabin bags, but the prices aren’t too bad. They have most of their connections in Europe, although some connections in the Middle East.
Norwegian Air – Offering some great deals such as London to Dubrovnik for only £40 (when available). That flight was early though taking off at 5.35am, but worth it for the price.
Thompson Airways – Thompson offer lots of package holiday type vacations, as well as sometimes flights only. They have lots of connections throughout Europe and some outside of Europe.
In Europe, it is extremely easy to visit multiple destinations due to the connections available and these types of trips offer lots of benefits. You can take the train, buses or even fly between cities and major destinations.
When planning a multi-destination trip, make sure you plan your trip to allow at least a full day or two in each place, otherwise, you’ll feel completely rushed. Ideally, two full days would be perfect for many European cities.
The cost of food, drink and accommodation can vary between each place. For example in Budapest beer is crazy cheap at around €1.50, whilst in London a pint may cost you over £5, so they are on totally opposite ends of the scale. It’s the same with accommodation, Budapest is extremely cheap if you want it to be, whilst London is often very expensive.
When thinking about how much you’ll need then consider using Numbeo to get an idea of average prices and eating out. You could also have a look at local restaurants and the online menus to see the prices.
Before booking a flight consider looking at accommodation prices on Booking.com, and make sure there are plenty of options based on your budget.
When on a trip it is important to try and enjoy yourself though and not over budget. Ie if you have a low budget it might be nice to have one expensive meal and then eat cheap for most of the other times.
When booking your accommodation, especially if you are on a budget or just want to be able to walk everywhere, then try and stay as central as possible. So before booking, look at the best area to stay and where most of the attractions are, and then try and find something in the area, or at least which has good transport links.
Depending on where you go there will be lots of different types of accommodation available and when looking consider these sites:
- Booking.com – A favourite of ours where we book most of my accommodation. You can book hotels, hostels and lots of other accommodation types here.
- Airbnb – On Airbnb you rent rooms or full apartments from people. The properties are often to a very high standard, but of course read the reviews from previous guests before booking.
- hostelworld.com – For booking hostels around the world as well as in Europe.
- homeexchange.com – Home Exchange allows you to swap your place with a traveller who wants to visit where you live. It’s a way of helping each other save money on accommodation.
- couchsurfing.com – Using this website you can find people that will often host you for free, so perfect for the budget traveller.
- trustedhousesitters.com – Here you stay at someone’s house and watch their house or sometimes their pets whilst they go away.
Check for Bedbugs
Whenever you visit anywhere in the world and you stay in a hotel, hostel or other accommodation, then it’s worth checking for Bed Bugs. To read about what you should do if you stay somewhere that has bed bugs read: Travel Tips: What to do if your hotel has Bed Bugs. Please note a bedbugs experience isn’t associated with the hotel above.
Main attractions – Before heading to a destination we recommend doing a little research on things you’d like to see. You may find some attractions are closed on certain days of the week, so look on their official website. By looking on the official website you may even get cheaper tickets. And a good tip is to visit attractions early if possible as you may then avoid the crowds.
Free tours – A good way to learn about a city is to go on a free tour. Such tours are not completely free though and the guides generally work for tips. To find free tours head to Google or another search engine, and search “destination + free tours”.
Free attractions – Similar to the free tours many destinations have free attractions. This may be churches that are free to visit, beaches, parks, hiking and various other things. Again head to Google and search “destination + free things to see and do” which should hopefully bring up some good articles and ideas.
Many cities in Europe offer City Cards which often provide free or discounted access to many attractions, and sometimes free travel on public transport. If there are lots of things you want to do in the city, then this is a great way of saving money. You may find this acts as a motivator to see more, as you want to get your money’s worth.
Students and Under 25’s
If you are a student then consider getting an ISIC card. This card allows you to prove you’re a student and gets your discounts on lots of things throughout Europe. Head to isic.org/cards to find out more and search for discounts.
If you are 25 and under you may also be able to get cheaper rail travel, such as the Eurostar which has Youth Tickets for ages 12-25.
Many cities in Europe have a good water supply that allows you to drink from the tap, although always check official websites or ask at your hotel or accommodation. It’s also worth having a travel water bottle with you at all times, as when you are out exploring all day you can easily become dehydrated.
Plug Sockets and Electricity
Most countries in Europe have the standard Type F plug socket. The United Kingdom uses Type G, Italy sometimes has Type L. We recommend the Skross PRO World Travel Adapter which we’ve used all around the world (except Japan).
As well as being able to plug your device in, you should be aware that countries can have different voltages. This means that if you plug in your device and it can’t handle the supplied voltage, then you may have problems and ruin your device. On most plugs or power packs for your electronics, you will be able to see the voltage that your device can handle. Ie the charger below can handle 100V-240V at 50/60Hz.
A good site to visit is power-plugs-sockets.com which tells you the plug socket type for each country and also the voltage. You can sometimes find this information on local tourism board websites, or ask your hotel.
Working and Short Term Jobs
If you are wanting to work in Europe then many of the catering and service businesses may be able to help. For example, hostels often have short-term employees as do bars. Of course, make sure you check the visa/work permit requirements first. You could also look on workaway.info which has various opportunities.
Depending on where you are coming from you could consider travelling with only hand luggage. This will make it a bit easier to move around, and cheaper if you are going to fly as many airlines offer free cabin luggage. If you do intend to fly with hand luggage only, then make sure you check the weight restrictions and size. You can use a Luggage Scale with Measuring Tape for this.
Security and Terrorism
All around the World there can be cases of street crime and other small problems, although in recent years certain parts of Europe has unfortunately been hit by terrorism.
If you’re a UK citizen use gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, which provides information on general safety and security, as well as terrorism concerns. Even if you are not from the UK you can also use this website to get an idea on the UK Government recommendations. You may find information on local government websites with advice on safety and security as well.
Protecting your Stuff
Whenever out and about always keep an eye on your stuff. Don’t leave your phone on a restaurant table, or have your bag loose under your chair. When sitting at a restaurant wrap the straps around your leg and keep your phone secure when you’re not using it. For more tips head to 20 Tips for Keeping you and your Possessions Safe Whilst Travelling.
Although it really varies from city to city, it’s always worth being streetwise and careful of your wallet and money whilst out and about. A good thing to have is a Travel Money Belt which can go under your trousers or dress. If not using a safe at your hotel then keep spare cards, the majority of your money and your passport in there. Do remember to keep this under your clothes, not above and visible to others.
Careful of Scams
It’s always worth being careful just in case, as some destinations can be quite bad for pickpocketing and other street crime. A great post on some of the scams out there is on theplanetd.com/common-travel-scams.
Visas and Length of Stay
Many European countries now allow short-term visa-free visits. This will be individual to where you’re from, so check your country’s requirements before you start booking.
As a given, always travel with adequate insurance when you travel. If you are going on a winter sports holiday, then you need to make sure you have the correct insurance as it doesn’t often come automatically.
Throughout most major destinations in Europe, you will have no problem getting WiFi. You should be able to find WiFi at hotels, many restaurants, some attractions and maybe even transport hubs, trains or buses. For example on Railjet trains in Austria have WiFi and FlixBus bus services often do as well.
Recommended Apps and Websites
Many countries have different apps so it’s hard to make a complete list. Some apps which are multinational include:
Google Translate – Google translate is a great app to use when you don’t have English text, such as in restaurant menus, signs and notices. In the App you can even use your camera to translate, although it’s a little fiddly.
Download for Android | iPhone
XE Currency – This app allows you to choose various currencies and then you put in an amount, such as the local currency of the destination, and the app converts it into all the other currencies you’ve selected. Download for Android | iPhone
We recommend Booking.com for accommodation. For flights you can start searching below.