Europe encompasses an area of 10,400,000 km² (4,000,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. It is one of the world’s seven continents. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why - a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different Phrasebook.
Interesting facts about Europe: 1. Europe is the second smallest continent with roughly 4 million square miles. 2. Europe is designated as a continent for political reasons. There is no geographic basis for the claim. 3. Europe is home to more than 700 million people, but birth rates are stagnant. 4. Most scholars believe Europe was named after Europa, a Phoenician Princess in Greek mythology. 5. The smallest country in Europe is the Vatican, which is considered a separate country from Italy even though it is in the middle of Rome. 6. The largest city in Europe is Paris with a population of just under 10 million people. 7. La Sapienza University in Rome is the largest university in Europe with a whopping 184,000 students. 8. Europe produces just over 18 percent of all the oil in the world. 9. The European Union has 25 country members. 10. 80 to 90 percent of Europe was once covered in forest, but this has been reduced to 3 percent in Western Europe. 11. Europe has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. 12. Europe has been racked with war throughout its history to the point where more than 70 former countries have been conquered and no longer appear on maps. 13. The first country to join the industrial revolution in Europe was Great Britain. 14. The 10 most generous countries in the world when it comes to charitable giving are all located in Europe.
Europe probably has more human history packed into it than any place on earth. Starting with ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity, the Viking Age, through the Renaissance, to the development of the nation states which explored the world and built empires (Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands), and in the past century the World Wars and the growth of the European Union, ... in Europe you won't go short on history.
Europe's longest river is the Volga, which meanders 3,530 km (2,193 miles) through Russia, and flows into the Caspian Sea. Europe's highest point is Russia's Mt. Elbrus, which rises to 5,642 m (18,510 feet) above sea level. Western Europe's highest point is Mont Blanc in the French-Italian Alps, which rises to 4,810 m (15,771 feet) above sea level. Other important high mountain ranges include the Pyrenees between France and Spain and the Carpathians that run through Central Europe to the Balkans. Cyprus is also considered part of Europe.
Europe's climate ranges from subtropical near the Mediterranean Sea in the south, to subarctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean in the northern latitudes. There is much here for the traveller to enjoy, with a bewildering array of diversity and languages and culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery, let alone some of the leading cities of the world.
See also European Microstates.
These are the nine most visited European cities, in order of popularity:
Europe is a continent of many wildly different countries. A subset of these countries are in the slow and painful process of coming together as the European Union (EU).
Not all EU countries have adopted the euro (€), the European Union single currency (see Buy), while a few countries outside the EU have adopted it. Likewise, most — but not all — EU members and a few non-EU countries have have joined the Schengen agreement, which abolished border controls between them (see Get in). Here is a handy reference table, up to date as of 2009:
¹ Official EU applicant countries.
² Kosovo uses the Euro as its official currency.
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 on Chukotka and Kamchatka.
5 Officially not a Schengen member, but Schengen visa holders are generally allowed entry.
6 Independence disputed, claimed by Serbia.
Note: Parts of Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus are sometimes considered to be a part of Asia due to both culture, history and geography.
Rules for entering Europe depend on where you are going. EU/EFTA citizens can travel freely throughout the continent (except Russia, Belarus and the Caucasus), so the following assumes you are not one.
If you are entering a Schengen country and you plan to visit only other Schengen countries, you need only one Schengen visa. Citizens of some non-EU member countries don't need visas if they are traveling for tourist purposes and their stay lasts no longer than 90 days within a 180 day period inside the Schengen area. Under these conditions, citizens of the following countries can enter without a visa: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Guatemala, Vatican City, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.
It is important to note that the 90 days visa-free stay applies for the whole Schengen area, i.e. it is not 90 days per country as some assume. Citizens of the above countries who wish to travel around Europe for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This can be done in any Schengen country, but Germany or Italy are recommended, because many other countries require applicants to apply from their home countries.
Non-Schengen countries, on the other hand, maintain their own immigration policies. Consult the country article in question for details. If you wish to visit a non-Schengen country and return to the Schengen area, you will need a multiple-entry visa. It should be noted that Bulgaria, Romania, Ireland, and the United Kingdom are EU members, but they are not part of the Schengen Area. To add confusion Switzerland, Iceland and Norway are not EU members but part of the Schengen area.
The implications of this are simple: countries in the EU maintain similar customs controls. Therefore, one does not need to pass through customs when travelling to a non-Schengen EU country, but they may need to pass through immigration controls. The converse is true for non-EU Schengen countries: you must pass through customs, but not immigration.
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN), Paris (CDG), and Madrid (MAD) which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe. However, nearly every European city has direct long-distance flights at least to some destinations elsewhere, and other smaller airports can make sense for specific connections: for example, Vienna (VIE) has a very good network of flights to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while Helsinki (HEL) is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia. Western Europe is the largest air hub in the world with London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Dublin, Manchester, Brussels all within an hours flying distance from each other. From East Asia, Hong Kong and Bangkok are served by long-haul flights to most major European cities.
The Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing and Vladivostok to Moscow is a classic rail journey. Also after the finalized construction of a railway link between Kazakhstan and China, the Historic Silk Road is becoming increasingly popular with adventurers, trying to beat down a new path, this new Almaty - Urumqi service runs twice per week, and Almaty is easily reached from Moscow by train. Other options include several connections to the middle east, offered by the Turkish Railways (TCDD) . There are weekly services from Istanbul via Ankara to Tehran in Iran, and Damascus in Syria, as well as a sketchy service to Baghdad.
It is still possible, but expensive, to do the classic transatlantic voyage between the United Kingdom and the United States. The easiest option is by the historic, and only remaining Ocean Liner operator, Cunard Line, but expect to pay 1000-2000 USD for the 6 day voyage between Southampton and New York done around 10 times per year in each direction. If your pockets are not deep enough for this price range, your only other options of crossing the Atlantic are pretty much limited to Freighter travel. There are several lines crossing the Mediterranean, the main ports of call in North Africa is Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia (See Ferries in the Mediterranean for more details), but there is also a little known option of going via Cyprus where you can use Louis Cruises crossings to Port Said in Egypt and Haifa in Israel as a regular ferry service. Keep in mind though, that you can only do this on routes out of Cyprus, and it requires special arrangements - Varianos Travel in Nicosia seem to be the only tour agency offering this option.
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. Be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union. See the table above for the current list.
Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks.
Travel to and from a Schengen Agreement country to any other country will result in the normal border checks. Note that, regardless of whether you traveling within Schengen or not, at some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
Especially in Western and Central Europe, the trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying. High-speed trains like the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, 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.
The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB), which can be found here in English.
All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100 mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.
Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey, although this fact should be balanced with consideration to the enviromental impact of short distant flights and the hassle of the airport experience. Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as AirBerlin, Germanwings, EasyJet, Tuifly, Ryanair and WizzAir, with the lowest fares usually found on routes which go to or from cities in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. All of these flights should be booked on the internet well in advance, otherwise the price advantage may become non-existent. Always compare prices with major carriers like British Airways, Austrian Airlines or Lufthansa! Only in very few cases prices are higher than € 80 on any airline when booking a month or more ahead of time (except on very long routes e.g. Dublin - Istanbul). You should also make sure where the airport is located, since some low cost airlines name very small airports by the next major city, even if the distance is up to two hours drive by bus (e.g. Ryan- and Wizzair's Frankfurt-Hahn, which is not Frankfurt/Main International).
For longer distances, travelling by bus often isn't any cheaper than flying with a low cost airline. It's worth considering if you travel at short notice, wish to see the countryside you are traveling through, have heavy luggage, or are keen on reducing your travel-related CO2 emissions.
The Baltic sea has several lines running between the major cities (for example Gdansk, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga etc). Most ships are very large, parallelling Caribbean cruise liners in size and in service. This is also true of the Mediterranean Sea where a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate off the coast of: Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Southern France to Corsica, and across the English channel.
Besides ferry connections to and from the UK and other countries, there are also various ferries on the larger lakes and for crossing rivers. Furthermore, there are several regularly running cruise-lines on the larger rivers like the Rhine or the Danube.
Boating excursions within Europe, particularly along the scenic rivers and between many of the islands in the Mediterranean , are an excellent way to combine travel between locations with an adventure along the way. Accommodations range from very basic to extremely luxurious depending upon the company and class of travel selected.
Travel between the Faroese Islands, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Scotland is possible through Smyril Line whose fairs can be cheaper than flying.
You can also cross Europe from North to South on a river cruise going from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea, which is one of the cheapest ways to see all of Western Russia.
The ease of driving on the continent varies greatly, and as a general rule east and west of the old iron curtain are two different worlds. Western (old) Europe for the most part have a good road conditions and a extensive and well developed highway network, where the Eastern (new) Europe, are still working hard on the great backlog left behind from socialist days. During vacations, especially during summer and Christmas vacations driving on the highways can be hellish, particularly in Germany (listen for the word Stau in the automated traffic broadcasts).
There are no uniform speed limits across the union, but there is a set of traffic signs valid in all EU member states, and nearly all other countries you can check on the right.
Hitchhiking is a common way of travelling in some parts of Europe, especially in former eastern bloc countries. It can be a pleasant way to meet lots of people, and to travel without spending too many euros. Don't forget to check out the tips for hitchhiking.
Note that in the former eastern bloc, you may run into language problems while hitchhiking, especially if you speak only English. It is not advisable to hitchhike in former Yugoslavia, for example between Croatia and Serbia, because you could run into big problems with nationalists. Between Croatia and Slovenia it's not a problem. In Moldova and the Ukraine, it's better to take train or bus. In western Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Germany, it's easy and fast to hitchhike.
The euro (Symbol: €; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cent; officially referred to as 'euro cent' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts. Established in 1999 and introduced in cash form on January 1st, 2002, the euro removes the need for money exchange. As such it is not only a boon to pan-European business, but of course also to travellers.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. Those countries which have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. By law, all EU countries (except Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) have to eventually adopt the euro, with the next round of enlargement now expected around 2012.
Outside the EU, Kosovo and Montenegro have unilaterally adopted the euro, but all other countries still retain their own currencies. Euros are widely accepted in European countries outside the Eurozone, but not universally, and at shops and restaurants the exchange rate is rarely in your favor. (Many hotels, though, price and accept payment in euros.) Money changers will generally give good to excellent exchange rates for the euro, and in a pinch they will be accepted by nearly everybody.
Since it has been only a few years since the introduction of euro cash, some people may still use the old national currency names. They mean euros and cents, so just substitute the two mentally.
It's a VERY BAD idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into euros, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to leave your personal information with the bank as a precaution against money laundering.
Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of few euro). Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.
European ATMs do not usually have letters on the keypad. PINs longer than 4 digits are generally no longer a problem.
Credit card acceptance is not as universal as in the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, but growing steadily. Some countries mandate that merchants check your ID for purchases of as little as €50, and many shops will insist on ID for any credit card transaction.
An increasing number of European countries, notably the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Nordic countries, have moved to a chip and PIN system, where credit cards all have a chip built in and you have to punch in your PIN code instead of signing a receipt. Any store that displays Visa, Mastercard, Amex etc logos is required to accept "traditional" sign-and-swipe cards, so be persistent if they initially refuse, although you may need to escalate to the manager. (With most terminals, swiping your card and simply waiting 20 seconds without entering the PIN will cause them to print out the signing slip.) However, with self-service like gas pumps and ticket vending machines, you may be out of luck.
The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pickpockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences. Remember alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures but overuse can lead to violence and poor judgment! In general, bars and pubs are not a place where alcohol causes these problems in Europe but it can end up being a big problem on the roads.
Most European countries have very low levels of violence. The few "trouble areas" that should be avoided are the run-down suburbs of certain urban areas (particularly Europe's largest cities London and Paris) and some places in eastern and southern Europe do have much higher violent crime rates, and can be very dangerous for non locals, but these areas shouldn't be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.
Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general but as always when traveling in rural and forested / mountainous areas take the proper precautions. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded. Time to take out the cell phone. Did you bring one?
For more information see Common scams which contains many Europe-specific scams.
There are no specific precautions required for staying healthy in Europe as most restaurants maintain high standards of hygiene and in the majority of countries tap water is safe to drink. However, for more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceutical regulations and dentistry standards etc, please consult the 'Stay safe' section on specific country articles.