Europe is the second smallest continent, with an area of 10,400,000 km² (4,000,000 square miles). Its borders are much disputed, reflecting cultural and political factors instead of geographical ones. There is much here for the traveller to enjoy, with a bewildering array of diversity and culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery.
Europe defies easy categorization, with its compact size and complex history. The following are five (loosely defined) regions.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed and implemented the treaty.
These countries are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Note that not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union.
At some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your id-card or passport. Travel to and from a Schengen Agreement country to any other country will result in the normal border checks.
The Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for everybody else) passes offer good value if you plan on traveling extensively around Europe (or even a single region) and want more flexibility than cheap plane tickets can offer.
These countries are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
¹ Official EU applicant countries.
² Montenegro uses the Euro as it's official currency. UN-administered province of Kosovo uses the Euro.
³ Winter time. In summer (last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October): WET → WEST (UTC+0 → +1), CET → CEST (+1 → +2), EET → EEST (+2 → +3)
4 Russia uses multiple time zones. EET in Kaliningrad Oblast, MSK (UTC+3) in Moscow, up to UTC+12 near Alaska.
Note: Russia and the Caucasus are sometimes considered to be a part of Asia.
Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries was a region ravaged by large-scale wars. National leaders realized after World War II that closer socio-economic and political integration was needed to ensure that such tragedies never happened again. Starting with humble beginnings, the EU's first form was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The founding group was Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Impressed with the results of the union the six countries pressed on and in 1956 signed the treaty of Rome, with the ultimate goal of creating a common market- the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1967 the union was formalised further with a the creation of a single Commission, as well as a council of ministers and a EU parliament.
Post-1967 the EU continued to grow; Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973. Greece joined in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986 and Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. The EU pressed on with economic integration and launched the Euro(€) across several nations in January 2002.