Europe: How the West Is One
Of Europe's numerous countries, there are only about a dozen that outsiders regularly think of as potential vacation spots. In this guide to European travel we will use the Web to explore travel opportunities to the continent and illuminate some methods of travel that will make navigating Europe easier. This guide will help you acquire the basic tools to book your vacation, and position you to get the most out of your trip to Europe.
The continent of Europe, although often considered small, is actually comprised of 45 countries. Over half of these are members of the economic organization called the European Union, one-quarter use the euro as their currency, a handful share the same languages, and each one has a unique history and culture. In this section are sites that will provide an informative background to the countries that comprise Europe, lending inspiration even to the seasoned Euro-traveler.
- For a list of the countries that comprise Europe, consult Aneki, an online almanac, which provides a simple list along with brief facts on each country.
- On many travel sites, Europe is sometimes designated as either Eastern Europe or Western Europe, though politically speaking these terms are increasingly passé. They were used primarily during the Cold War to describe the "Iron Curtain" separating the Soviet-controlled "East," including the countries now referred to as the Balkans, from the "West," which includes nations such as France, Spain, and Germany. It's just as easy to divide Europe into western, northern, central, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean, but in truth many of these designations overlap.
- The European Union is primarily an economic partnership between, as of January, 2008, 27 European countries. Other candidates are currently in negotiation. The EU application process requires adherence to the Copenhagen criteria, a set of rules that essentially requires a secular and democratic government, among other stipulations. Explore Europa (a "portal to the EU") for a simple list and map that profiles EU countries and current candidates.
- The Euro currency, which was another step toward integrating EU members, began in 2002. But not all EU countries use the Euro. Those who do are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain. Three other countries-England, Sweden, and Denmark-still use their own currency but also accept the Euro. [current as of January, 2008]
- The links accompanying the travel guidebooks we recommend in this section will take you to each book's page on Amazon.com, where you'll be able to read professional and customer reviews and purchase the book. All of these books can, of course, be purchased from other bookstores online and off.
For a background on 20th century European history ...
The European Union's European Navigator
(ENA) provides historical background and useful official documents and clippings exploring the formation of Europe. The perspectives are drawn primarily from government officials, lawmakers, journalists, and other writers, and each section introduces you to different angles of modern European history.
For printed travel guidebooks ...
Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door
2007 was written by a seasoned and Europe-obsessed travel writer who has also produced other books, television and radio series, and a Web site that we profile in the "How will I get around when I'm in Europe?" section of this guide. He updates his series of printed travel guides yearly, with country and region additions including a general Europe guide. One Amazon.com user recommends this book especially for new travelers to Europe, and another suggests reading the book in its entirety before departure. You can access portions of the book online at Rick Steves' Web site
Let's Go Europe
is an annual Europe guide from the Let's Go travel series that covers the continent very thoroughly. This guide is best for the ambitious traveler-one who is considering tackling several European countries at once, rather than just one or two.
Europe on a Shoestring
is from Lonely Planet, the well-known travel-guide publisher that also produces "Shoestring" guides on individual countries and regions. The Europe edition is a popular resource with students and other travelers interested in getting the most out of their money. Emphasis is on the western European countries, but one reader notes that the 2007 guide has been updated to include every European country. Lonely Planet also posts extensive Europe travel content online
For travel articles in newspapers, magazines, and blogs ...
is an online travel magazine that covers all regions, and has an especially thorough and innovative section on Europe. Emphasis is on thrift, spotlighting surprising locales and affordable hideouts. Also check out this index of articles
on Europe, including pieces on "Italy's Newest Art District," "Paris's Top Baguettes," and "Ditch the Crowds," a profile of the Andalusia region of Spain.
published this article, "Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide," with the soloists in mind, but the advice is pertinent to anyone going to Europe. Get simple tips for booking accommodation and transport, and link to multiple resources: airlines, accommodation finders, and users' trip reports
For resources on tourist attractions ...
World Travel Guide
is an encyclopedic travel resource with a page devoted to notable tourist attractions in many European countries. Click on the name of the attraction for more information about the sight as well as contact information and amenities available, such as parking.
is the popular event magazine covering dining, music, readings, lectures, art shows, comedy, and more. Check out the "City Guides" section for a directory of events and sights in dozens of European cities.
Free in Europe
is an ultimately helpful listing of free tourist attractions in numerous European countries, despite its cluttered layout. The site lists churches, cathedrals, shopping areas, gardens, and more, and includes direct links to the destinations' official sites where applicable. Be aware that some links on this site do not work, but the majority do and are quite useful.
It's good to be well informed about the history and culture of the countries you'll be visiting in Europe, but it's also wise to take note of the general technicalities of travel abroad, including safety and security, entry requirements, and practical tips pertaining to your destinations. Below are a handful of sites that will guide you through the process, providing tools, resources, and documents to cover the logistical aspects of your trip to Europe.
- Before reading this section, consult the findingDulcinea Travel Web Guide for general information directed at United States travelers going overseas. You'll find sites with information on visas, passports, security and safety, as well as other general resource sites to help you prepare for your journey, whether you're looking for packing tips or insurance comparison sites like InsureMyTrip.
- As with any overseas trip, whether for study, business or pleasure, U.S. residents should utilize the Department of State and its Bureau of Consular Affairs prior to a European trip. At this site (included below for security, customs, and visa information) you will find very comprehensive information about your travel destinations, including travel warnings and requirements specific to each country.
- You can also register your trip using the department's free service, allowing you to be easily contacted in the case of a family emergency back home or a crisis where you are traveling.
- Fortunately, the countries listed in the Department of State's travel warning list seldom include any in Europe. But with heightened terrorism concerns, you are advised to check this oft-updated list regardless of your destination.
- Be advised that August is a national month of vacation for most every country in Europe. While July will also be quieter, in August cities are particularly changed, with businesses closed for at least a week and most workers vacationing in the country or abroad. Therefore, the best destinations in early summer are cities, whereas mountain, beach, and generally more remote resorts are popular later in the summer.
For security, customs, and visa information ...
The U.S. Department of State
puts together a comprehensive guide called "Background Notes" that covers every country in the world for the benefit of travelers. These guides are updated frequently and will give you an encyclopedic rundown of a country, shedding light on military and political situations and noting whether the U.S. government has issued any warnings. After exploring the link above, take a look at the "Consular Information Sheets
" page, which explains the foreign entry requirements for every country, including vaccination and visa needs.
For practical tips ...
Europe for Visitors
is the reference site of Durant Imboden, a well-known U.S.-born European travel writer who has been mentioned in publications like USA Today and The Washington Post. His site is an important tool both for the first-time and seasoned European traveler. The section "Other Practical Information and Travel Tips" provides some important links and advice on safety, learning languages, traveling on your own, cameras, tax-free shopping, and more. Also check out the index to "General Advice
", which provides insight on insurance, money, luxury travel, packing, and beyond.
World Travel Tips
is an independent site that includes user input and pinpoints what makes each country in the world unique: What is its population? What are its major cities and unique towns? What customs should you be aware of before you arrive? For example, the country profile page of Russia quickly and clearly brings you interesting cultural anecdotes, and profiles some potential travel destinations.
For other travelers' advice and stories ...
is a relatively new travel site specializing in destination guides by a hired staff of travel writers, and has an accommodation section that's very useful for last-minute hotel and hostel deals. Browse the "Europe Forum" to discuss travel ideas and experiences with other site users (free membership is required). Site users can also contribute their experiences in the "Blogs," "Photography," and "Forums" sections.
My European Adventure
is the blog of California resident Daniel Scriver, who spent 40 days traveling around Europe in 2006. He documented his whirlwind trip with photos and video in this neatly designed blog.
is one of the largest travel sites on the Web, depending on traveler input for its vast amount of content. Users upload travel photos, create blogs chronicling their journeys, review accommodations, and generally aide their Web-surfing peers in a better understanding of the locations they've visited. Visit the "Europe Blogs" section and choose the countries that interest you to view illustrated diaries of others' experiences.
This section highlights sites to get you from here to there, specific to the type of vacation you’re planning. Whether you want to book transportation and accommodation in one step, or find an inexpensive flight, the Web can help.
- Europe is known for playing host to some of the cheapest airlines in the world, including RyanAir, BMI, and easyJet. Consulting with the official sites of such airlines will get you in touch with great deals and a wide range of destination choices.
- Try a flight meta search engine, such as one of our Picks, which search multiple airlines' Web sites and a slew of other flight-search sites.
- Take special note of transportation deals that allow you the most flexibility with the fewest penalties.
- Even if you're not a backpacker, it can be useful to leave yourself more time to roam than you originally intended. Explore the possibility of an open-ended ticket on the flight or cruise sites you visit.
- Talk to customer service representatives of the sites you are using to ensure you know all your options, and as an added confirmation of your itinerary. Reps can often fill in the information that is not on the Web site or not easy to find.
For one-stop travel planning ...
provides planning for "backpacking, hostels, bus, and train travel on a budget across Europe." Apart from all the tools needed to book a multi-destination European trip, there's also a handy bookstore that includes the "Let's Go" and "Lonely Planet" series. The instruction on the site is not vast, but you will find plentiful accommodation reviews, advice on ticket buying, a heavily used forum section, and a rental car search engine.
For flight search engines ...
Tickets to Europe
is more specialized than many other flight search engines. The focus is on travel to and from the United States and Europe, including less mainstream destinations like Hungary and Estonia. Airfare is not as cheap as on the flight search engines in our next section, but this accounts for the trans-continental aspect, as well as for any transfers necessary within the United States and Europe. The site's "Travel Tools" section is also worth a look. Here you'll find currency converters, weather information, country dialing codes, and more general travel resources.
has a clean and fresh design approach to flight, hotel, and car rental search. The site produces many search results for U.S.-to-Europe flight travel and trawls more than 140 other sites in compiling its data. As an alternative to a site like Expedia, Kayak is optimal, as it includes large airlines like Alitalia, smaller carriers like BMI, and other engines like LastMinuteTravel.com.
Accommodation choices in Europe are vast and varied, from high-class hotels to quick and easy hostel offerings. This section includes a series of sites that will get you started on booking your accommodation.
- In light of the weak dollar, consider combining modes of accommodation while in Europe: a pricey hotel with several hostel stays, or camping combined with hotels.
- European countries are rarely as hot or humid as parts of the United States, so A/C is not customary.
- While many accommodation sites now have adequate photography of hotel rooms, try to supplement your research by reading user reviews of hotels on sites like EuroTrip and Sleep and Tell. You can also likely find the homepage of the individual hotels by doing a simple search of their name in Google or another search engine, and the official sites, more often than not, will have photographs or tours of their rooms.
- Buy an alarm clock in the airport or bring one from home, as most European hotels do not have them.
For hotel and hostel accommodation ...
, whose slogan is "We've been there," trawls hotel sites like Booking.com to find the most affordable hotel rooms in dozens of European cities, including Lisbon, Krakow, and Nice. The site's clean design and clear pictures take the mystery out of finding hotel and hostel accommodation. The site is also spruced up with useful features like its "European Bus Guide" section, which we recommend in the "How will I get around?" section of this guide.
is a directory of some of the most high-end hotels in the world, whether they're known for their famous architect, special amenities, or gorgeous locations. Several unique places in Europe are on the list, including the Xara Palace in the city of Mdina, Malta, and the 1896 industrial shell that now houses the Gastwerk Hotel in Hamburg, Germany.
is a large database of hostel room listings worldwide, with two sections devoted to Western Europe and Eastern Europe/Russia. Head to one of those pages for a clean, uncluttered index of the cities and towns in which hostel listings can be found. Even lesser-known countries, such as Andorra, are covered. The site also benefits from "brutally honest" comments and reviews from users.
For camping resources ...
is an online publication specializing in resources for international studying, working, and living. This article discusses camping around Europe, taking into consideration RV travel and tents. Author Edward Newton "has traveled to more than thirty countries for trips of up to one year.”
is a UK-based site that has compiled a list of campgrounds in approximately 30 European countries. There are useful details to the site, such as the amenities search, which includes swimming pool, shower/hot water, and coast proximity. There are also campground selections specifically with winter sports, disabled travelers, and naturists in mind (top right-hand side of the page).
For reviews and tours of accommodation ...
Sleep and Tell
is a hotel review site that includes 16 major European countries, including Germany, the UK, Portugal, and Turkey. Users give hotels ratings that include categories such as "cleanliness of rooms," "spaciousness of rooms," and "hotel surroundings." The hotels' individual profile pages list their ratings, amenities, photographs of the property and rooms, an explanation of basic features and location, and quotes from former guests.
is one of the most thorough European hotel reviews on the Web, as it covers all 45 European countries. But reviews are not as comprehensive as on SleepAndTell. You will find photographs of the hotels, the average price of a room, and in some cases, "Stories" accompanying the hotel's page, written by former guests. Browse the "Hotels in France" page, for example, and you will be presented with a blog-type design that lists large, clear photos of hotel rooms with accompanying words about the experience of a stay there.
, mentioned in the "How do I get there?" section of this guide, has a good hostel directory and review section that covers 20 or so of the most popular country destinations in Europe. Where applicable, users have provided comments to describe their stays; if not, the directory solely lists location and contact information.
Although the romance behind European travel is traditionally linked to the locomotive, the continent does boast some of the most affordable air travel in the world, as well as bicycle-friendly roads throughout much of the continent. Below are some general sites that will aid every stage of your journey. If you are planning to rent a car, purchase a Eurail pass, buy affordable airfare, or simply find subway maps, the sites below will get you on your way.
- Upon first glance, many flight search engines might seem the same. However, if you have a look at a site's specific offerings (usually listed on the homepage or in an "About Us" section) you'll discover what each individual search engine is best equipped for. For example, you might consider how many airlines or other search engines are included in a site's search tool.
- Take note of independent sites that explain transportation or general travel issues for you, because they are less biased and are often created by seasoned travelers or residents of a particular place. They are generally doing a service, not trying to sell a product.
- As with any online transaction it's wise to get in touch with a representative from the site, either by phone or e-mail, especially in the case of intra-European travel, where flexibility and open-endedness are often important aspects of the transportation experience. Learn what restrictions your tickets have and ask about special offers, which are often available for students, children, seniors, and groups.
For information on the Eurail and other rail services ...
, a European travel expert who has produced television and radio shows, also has an excellent Web site where you'll find possibly the best independent, unbiased guide to Eurail on the Web. Start at "Step 1: How Eurail Passes Work" to learn which countries cover the passes and what each type of pass can be optimally used for. Move on to Step 2 for suggested timetables and guides to using the Eurail to create a multiple-step vacation. It's also worth exploring Steves' "Plan Your Trip
" section, which is a general guide to European travel highlighting some of Steves' destination picks, other travelers' suggestions, and a "Favorite Links" area at the bottom of the page, which lists accommodation options, transportation links, and sightseeing ideas.
clearly explains the variety of rail options available while traveling in Europe, whether you're visiting one country, two, or several (see the menu in the left sidebar). Specials and promotions are clearly highlighted on the homepage, as are some of the most popular train itineraries including Italy, France, and Switzerland. The site also features a hotel finder, specials targeted at students, groups and seniors, and a ticket shipment tracker tool.
is the official site of the trans-European train company. Here you will find the most accurate timetables and secure means of purchasing Eurail tickets, which can be mailed to your door in five days. Consult the Eurail FAQ
for a quick summary of the Eurail system and answers to payment and ticket type queries.
For a database of European subway and tram maps ...
is a site that has been online since 1997, started by a German man who has since compiled dozens of subway and tram lines for European cities, which can be printed out and taken on your trip. The design of the site is clean and colorful, and the number of lines currently available is extensive, ranging from Amsterdam to Warsaw with about 40 in between.
For air travel ...
is a Europe-based low-cost flight search engine with a crisp, bright design. Momondo offers a price calendar, which lets you view fares across days quickly and easily, and has created a hotel search. For high end, "highly individualized" hotels, visit "Hip Hotels",
which have been chosen by the site staff. This human-powered editorial element is an encouraging feature. For flights and hotels, Momondo also searches hundreds of other sites, including engines like Expedia
, based in Reykjavik, Iceland, immediately tells its visitors that more than 650 airlines are used in its search process. An added bonus of this clean and easy-to-use site is its Travel Guides
, which tell you all of the airlines based in a country, as well as every airline that flies to that country. This site is an excellent bookmark as an airline reference source, even if you do not book through it.
is a flight search tool targeted at the European traveler, though you will also find airfare results for flights to and from the United States, Australasia and the Middle East. SkyScanner, unlike some of the flight search sites you may be used to, like Travelocity and Expedia, often features low-cost European-based airlines like RyanAir and easyJet in its results. User reviews report that this site is best for flights originating in the UK.
For bus travel ...
, the accommodation finder, also features a very comprehensive guide to bus travel around Europe. The staff admits to being "train snobs" before discovering the perks of cheap cross-European air and bus fare. Check out the "Bus Information by Country"
section to find specific routes available for 35 European countries (and counting).
is a bus tour operator for dozens of well-known European cities and several smaller destinations, such as Lagos, Spain, Siena, Italy and Bordeaux, France. The "European Explorer" section explains options for Europe enthusiasts, and the emphasis is on adventure and flexibility. Go to the "Trip Options" section to learn about the company's northern, southern, and western loops, as well as the Flexitrip, which lets you travel between two or more separate loops.
For bicycle travel ...
has an online directory of bike rental facilities in dozens of European countries and cities.
Euro-Bike and Walking Tours
provides single- and multiple-country bike and walking tours in Europe and New Zealand. Consult the index page of current tour options for brief descriptions of what's on offer. Click on the links to the individual tours' pages to learn pricing, accommodation, and a more detailed itinerary.
provides quick descriptions and pricing for bike tours up front, with listings available in dozens of European destinations. You can book your tour through the site, and it is recommended to surf around GORP, as this is one of the best specialty adventure travel sites around. You can find user reviews of equipment, accommodation, and transportation, much of which is relevant to travel in Europe. Be sure to check out "Top Europe Trips," which lists many adventures, not just bicycle-bound trips.
For cruises ...
is a cruise search engine that covers several major cruise lines including Cunard, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, all of which operate Europe-specific cruises out of ports such as Istanbul, St. Petersburg, and Monte Carlo. Use the search engine on the right-hand side of the page to do your own search based on desired locations. Take note of other areas of the site, such as "Group Cruises" and "Last Minute Cruises," both listed at the top of the page.
will give you more from the traveler's point of view, with written reviews and ratings of cruises worldwide. Click on any of the six categories of Europe cruise destinations to learn more about routes and regions. The "Find a Cruise" option (located at the top of the page) allows you to book through the site. Be sure to check out the "Features
" section, with tools like "Ask the Editor" and special articles on cruise-related safety issues, particularly weather.
For car rental ...
is the global rental car service and offshoot of popular low-cost airline easyJet. easyCar offers three different classes of cars and many makes in over a dozen countries. Pick-up is available at many locations in major cities or at airports. The easyCar site is particularly easy to use, too, mimicking the clean orange design and simple search functions of easyJet.com.
is a rental service catered to U.S. and Canadian residents looking to rent a car in Europe, as well as some African and Middle Eastern countries. Conveniently, cars can be picked up and returned in different countries. and insurance add-ons are also available through the site. The site is an excellent pre-trip organizational tool, allowing model selection, providing insurance add-ons, and even a hotel-finder tool, located in the left-hand sidebar.
is a rental car wholesaler that offers some great deals for the top destinations across Europe. If you're planning a European road trip, this site is for you.
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