Home to some of the world’s most magnificent museums, spectacular scenery and exciting cuisine, Europe really is a blockbuster continent. It’s incredibly diverse too, home to 44 countries that sprawl across roughly 3.9 million square miles. While it might look easy to travel the length and breadth of it on a map, don’t underestimate the reality. If you’re planning a trip, take a look at our cheat sheet on how to travel Europe first.
Top tips on how to travel Europe
1. Sort your passport out
Non-EU citizens will need to have a passport that is valid for at least three months after the date you plan to leave the EU country you’re visiting. It will also need to have been issued within the previous 10 years. British citizens can use this handy tool to check how long their passports will be valid – other countries have similar tools.
Some countries require a visa too. You’ll usually need to apply for a visa from the consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting. If you’ve secured a visa from a Schengen Area country, you’ll automatically be able to travel to other Schengen countries without additional visas. You may also need to provide additional documents such as proof of lodging, return ticket and invitation letters depending on the country you’re visiting.
2. Catch a train where you can
For the most part, Europe’s train network is comfortable, affordable and efficient. While interrailing might not be quite as cheap as it once was, it’s still a popular way for Europeans to travel across the continent – and non-EU citizens would be wise to follow suit. Eurail offers a range of different rail passes valid in over 40,000 destinations in 33 countries across Europe. It’s flexible, you can choose to map out your route in advance or decide on your next destination on the day too.
If you’re planning on travelling long distances, consider taking a sleeper service for part of the journey. You’ll get to make the most of your valuable sightseeing time and save on accommodation too.
3. Plan your route
For most people, the biggest obstacle to a European getaway is budget. By planning at least part of your adventure in advance, you’ll almost certainly save a few extra pennies. Flights, trains and accommodation tend to be cheaper when purchased in advance in most countries. It also makes it easier to balance the trip between expensive and more affordable cities. Once you get down to the nitty-gritty, you might realise that you only have enough time and funds for a handful of superstar cities.
Don’t shy away from central and eastern Europe either. Countries like Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary are bursting with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, burgeoning food scenes and spectacular scenery, for a fraction of the costs in Scandanavia or Northern Europe.
4. Take it slowly
If you’re travelling from further afield, it can be tempting to cram as many destinations onto your bucket list as possible. But part of the charm of Europe is in the subtleties of the day-to-day and getting under the skin of a city. Most of Europe’s most famous cities – London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona and Prague – deserve at least a few days each. Remember, you can always come back for more.
5. Budget realistically
In some places, it’s possible to have a 5* experience on a shoestring budget. This is not the case in Europe. In most cities, you’ll need to pay for its most iconic and celebrated experiences. Northern and western Europe doesn’t have a strong street food scene either, like much of Asia. When you need to start budgeting for eating out at cafes and restaurants or finding accommodation with kitchens, that brings up the price – a lot. Better to stay in a handful of places than blowing your budget early on and ending up eating a supermarket sandwich in Paris.
6. Travel off-season
If you want to make your budget stretch further, it’s worth considering a trip in the low season (November to April). Prices are generally at least 30% cheaper than those in high season (June and August) and you’ll also get faster access to star attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London and the Colosseum. If you’re an outdoorsy type looking for some winter sports action, November until February are the best months to visit too. Temperatures in southern Europe don’t tend to drop below 10 C, though if you’re sensitive to cold temperatures you might want to avoid northern Europe. The shoulder season, from April to June, is a lovely time of year to explore Europe too.
7. Make your reservations in advance
While your parents might speak wistfully about rocking up in a French village in ’77 and getting a room at a charming little gîte, the reality is that most good hotels, B&Bs and hostels book up in advance. Unless you’re booking extraordinarily last minute, you’ll usually pay a premium too. Accommodation platforms like Booking.com and Expedia.com often offer cut-price rates offseason or on weeknights too.