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. Europe's longest river is the Volga, which meanders 3,530 km (2,193 miles) through Russia, and flows into the Caspian Sea. Eastern 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.
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 culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery.
Europe defies easy categorization, with its compact size and complex history. The following are five (loosely defined) regions in Europe:
See also: European Union, 27 European states in various stages of economic and political union.
¹ Official EU applicant countries.
² Kosovo (administered by the UN) 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.
Note: Parts of Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus are sometimes considered to be a part of Asia.
Europe, prior to the conclusion of the Second World War, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war". 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 inception was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The founding group of nations were 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 formalized further with a the creation of a single European Commission, as well as a council of ministers and a EU parliament.
Post-1967 the EU continued to rapidly 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. To date, Norway and Switzerland have resisted membership for historical and economic reasons. The EU pressed on with economic integration and launched the Euro(€) across several nations on 1 January 2002. Currently 18 nations, plus the UN administered Serbian province of Kosovo use the Euro as their official currency. In addition to Kosovo, San Marino, The Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and Montenegro which are not EU memebers, have been granted official permission to use the Euro.
As of 2007, Macedonia, Croatia, and Turkey are official applicants.
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN), Paris (CDG), and Amsterdam (AMS) 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.
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.
As of January 2008, these countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. Switzerland, Lichtenstein and possibly Cyprus are set to join by the end of the 2008, and Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join in 2011 or so, but the UK and Ireland remain outside Schengen for the foreseeable future.
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.
As of 2006, Eurail covers the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey.
The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB) and can be found here in English.
Train travel in this continent is explained in full detail on the Rail travel in Europe article.
Main article: Discount airlines in Europe
Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey. Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as airBerlin, Centralwings, easyJet, HLX, Ryanair, SkyEurope Airlines 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, LOT 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)..
European Union (EU) Regulation 261/2004 of 17. February 2005 gives certain rights to passenger on all flights, schedule or charter and flights provided as part of a Package Holiday. It only applies to passengers flying from an EU airport or from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier.
Then you are entitled to a compensation, which is:
The airline also have to cover the following expenses:
Usually they will give you a prepaid phone card, and vouchers for a restaurant and a hotel.
Refund for delayed flight
If your flight is delayed 5 hours or longer you can get a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant).
Eurolines connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of the continent and Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow.
For longer distances, travelling by bus often isn't any cheaper than flying with a low cost airline. It's only worth considering if you travel at short notice, 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, paralleling Caribbean cruise liners in size and in service. This is also true of the Mediterranean Sea where a large number of ferry's and cruise ships operate of 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 Faroe Islands, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Scotland is possible through Smyril Line whose fairs can be cheaper than flying.
Ridesharing (Carpooling, Hitchhiking) is a common way of travelling in some parts of Europe, especially former Soviet countries. It is a pleasant way to meet lots of people, and travel without spending too many euros. Don't forget to check out the tips for hitchhiking.
"Especially former Soviet countries", in these countries you often will have language problems, don't hitchhik in ex-Yugoslavia for Example from Croatia to Serbia (you could get big problems with nationalists). From Croatia to Slovenia it's no problem. It's better to take train or bus in Moldova and the Ukraine. In western Europe specially in the Netherlands and Germany it's easy and fast to hitchhike (trains and buses are very expensive).
The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pick-pockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences.
Most European countries have very low levels of violence. The few "trouble areas" that should be avoided eg. certain areas in the UK and France do have much higher violent crime rates, but they are of no interest to the average tourist. Northern, Western and Central Europe are generally a little safer than Southern and Eastern Europe.
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.