Despite being the sixth largest in size, Europe is a diverse continent with a wide variety of cultures, landscapes, and climates. From food, history, land, and sea, Europe offers more than enough activities for a well-rounded trip. Here you'll have an opportunity to combine centuries-old cultural, architectural, culinary, and artistic wonders with awesome adventure activities.
While deciding on a European destination to visit may be challenging (there's so much to choose from!), one thing is for certain: planning is essential. Use this Europe guide to help you figure out where to go, what to do, and how to choose a tour to experience it all.
There is plenty of adventure to enjoy throughout Europe. From climbing to camping, hiking, and skiing, active travelers will love the variety of outdoor activities here. If you love trekking, try the famous Camino de Santiago -- or Pilgrim's Route -- in northern Spain. Other great hiking trails can be found in the fjords of Northern Europe, throughout the Alps, across the grassy hills of the UK, or along the sunny Mediterranean coast. Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Scotland also offer some of the best treks.
Another great activity in Europe is cycling. Romania is an up-and-coming highlight destination, though classic spots typically include France, Italy, and Spain. Cycling fanatics won't want to miss catching the Tour de France if it lines up with the trip!
Culture & Food Tours
Europe is an ideal destination for foodies and culture enthusiasts. With such a variety of ethnicities and nationalities throughout the continent, you can enjoy flavors of the world at premier dining establishments or home-cooked meals from home stays, mom and pop restaurants, and street vendors. From Spanish tapas to English tea, German bratwurst, Turkish baklava, Greek barbecue, and Belgium waffles, there will never be a shortage of delectable flavors.
While dining your way through Europe, be sure to explore preserved medieval villages, castles, modern architecture, gothic cathedrals, museums, and more. There are centuries of stories to be told of Europe and and array of ways to listen.
Throughout Southern Europe you'll find some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Head to the Mediterranean Sea to beach, swim, and sail along the the Adriatic Sea, for instance. Or float in the Aegean. If you seek more active adventure, visit the European countries whose coasts run along the Atlantic Ocean and surf some of the world's most sought after breaks.
Northern Lights Tours
The aurora borealis (northern lights) occur when solar wind particles collide with air molecules in the earth's atmosphere. The result is an amazing, colorful light show, visible at high latitudes. The best places in Europe to see the northern lights are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland -- even the Danish territory of Greenland for the really adventurous traveler! They are best seen away from cities, whose light pollution impedes visibility. And although it's possible to see the northern lights at any time of year, the darker months are generally a better time.
Planning Your Trip
Here are logistics and details to know when planning for a trip to Europe.
Best Time to Visit Europe
European countries experience four seasons in varying degrees. The summer months (June to August) bring the best weather, although it can get hot in much of southern Europe. Some countries, such as France, are notorious for all but shutting down in the month of August, as locals take their annual vacations. It may be more challenging in this month to eat out. The summer months also bring the most tourists, so you're unlikely to have anywhere to yourself!
Shoulder seasons such as spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are great for moderate temperatures and crowds. While you can visit Europe comfortably at any time, in most places it's best to avoid winter for outdoor adventure activities (unless, of course, those will include sports like skiing or snowmobiling). Much of Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe experiences heavy snowfall and cold temperatures in the winter.
Europe is also a popular destination in December for holiday-focused travel, and all winter long for trying to experience the Northern Lights. Expect traditional winter weather and pack appropriately if you book a tour in this season!
What to Look for in a Tour to Europe
When booking a tour to Europe, check to see what amenities are included. Some operators may provide meals, accommodations, transportation, and necessary equipment while others provide the bare essentials. If you are on a budget, try booking tours with shorter durations that allow you to secure your own accommodations. Otherwise, let your tour guide take the reins a lead you to some of Europes iconic destinations and discoveries off the beaten path.
Typical Tour Costs
Tour package prices for European travel can vary greatly, depending on the destination. Whether you spend $500-$1,000 on a shorter, less inclusive experience or $10,000 on a longer, more luxurious tour package, your time in Europe will surely be intriguing and exciting.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
After you've decided where and when to visit Europe, pack according to the expected climate and for a series of activities. In Europe you'll find people don't wear cargo shorts and running sneakers when out, for instance, as most locals dress to impress when exploring during the day and night -- if they are not being physically active, of course.
On the other hand, outdoor activities meet dedication with European locals. If your going to trek, expect everyone around you to go all out with equipment so make sure your tour package at least offers the option to rent a few items.
Other Tips for Travel in Europe
- Budgeting & currency: many countries throughout Europe share the same currency: the Euro. There are some countries, however, who still use their own. Much of Europe is relatively expensive compared to other regions of the world, although prices do vary. Costs are highest in Scandinavia and Finland (especially Norway), while Eastern Europe is the cheapest region.
- Transportation: Much of Europe has great railway systems. These range from efficient and expensive in Western Europe, to cheaper and budget quality in Central and Eastern Europe. Short and long-distance buses are also a good option throughout Europe, and usually less expensive than taking the train. If traveling between cities and larger towns, use a tool such as Skyscanner to compare cheap flights on budget airlines such as EasyJet or Ryanair. With even just a little advance planning, these flights can often be cheaper than land transport. Travelers who crave more autonomy should consider renting a car to traverse the region.
- Accommodations: Facilities and standards vary across Europe. In most countries (with the exception of some Eastern European places like Russia) there are numerous youth hostels and pensions (bed and breakfasts) as well as more upmarket hotels. Confirm with your tour provider if accommodations are included in the tour package.
Health & Safety
Most European destinations do not require vaccinations beyond recommended routine vaccines being up-to-date. These countries also often have good health care (sometimes much more budget-friendly than across the Atlantic), food and drug regulations, and clean drinking water. Stay informed about health recommendations and travel notices on the CDC website.
Mare sure your travel and health insurance covers any activities you plan to participate in, and that you are physically capable of participating in the tours you book.
Every country in Europe is different, but in general most crimes on the European continent involve pickpocketing or petty theft -- especially where a lot of tourists flock, such as in Paris, Spain, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Pick-pocketing is also a possibility anywhere on crowded public transport and at major tourist sites. It is wise to avoid keeping all your belongings in one place.
While there may be some terrorist activity alerts in the media, don't let that deter you from exploring new destinations. Remember these events are challenging to predict, can happen in many places, and may not be worth canceling a trip over. The best solution is to check your government's travel warnings, and read thoroughly if they apply to a region you're considering visiting, so you can make an informed decision.