In terms of land area, Europe may be the second-smallest continent but the 50 or so European countries offer an extraordinary diversity, from Russia in the north to Greece in the south, west to the Azores and east to the border of Asia.
The countries of Western Europe are prosperous and stable and first in mind for family holidays, while some of the Central and Eastern European states are luring budget-minded travelers keen to enjoy the sun outside the pricey Eurozone.
Travelers visiting Europe have a wealth of holiday itineraries from which to choose: touring Ireland’s Burren limestone plateau, seeing the Northern Lights in Sweden or Norway and exploring the French villages in Provence, skiing in the Swiss Alps or relaxing on a beach in the Greek islands.
Europe’s jewel-like capitals have a captivating charm, with unique cultural, architectural and historic characters and sites. Romantic Paris is renowned as the beautiful City of Lights; stately Vienna was the center of the Habsburg Empire for more than 600 years; stunning spire-dotted Prague is a gem of art and architecture, while medieval Krakow was once Poland’s capital and seat of kings.
Mediterranean summers are hot and winters mild. In central and northern Italy and France, the climate is more temperate with humid summers and cold, damp winters. Spain and Portugal can be very hot and dry in summer, with cold and wet winters. Winter in Madrid and Spain’s high central region can be quite cold. Central Europe has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot to warm and winters cold with temperatures below freezing. Snow can fall as early as mid-September in the Alps, and the ski resorts start opening in November and remain open until April. A continuation of the Gulf Stream (North Atlantic Drift) keeps the climate in Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, and Iceland fairly mild. Iceland’s climate is close to that of New York, and Scandinavia is more like New England or the Great Lakes region in the U.S. In the UK winters are cold and wet with occasional snow, and summers generally warm with showers. Most Europeans are on vacation in August. Some shops and attractions are closed in the cities, and the beaches and mountains are mobbed. Check your favorite travel website for tips on peak and off seasons.
The peak season in Europe depends entirely on where you are going. You’ll find flights to Europe more expensive during the summer and school holidays, and generally from May until September is the peak months. However Southern Spain and parts of Greece have very pleasant weather during the winter too, so it all varies because of how big Europe is. You’ll want to secure your flight tickets early though to make savings on your flights to Europe, especially if you are visiting during a festival or half-term holiday.
Again this varies tremendously depending on where your flights to Europe are taking you. Countries such as Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries suffer from extremely low temperatures and lots of snowfall, however they have great ski and Winter sports activities on. Most popular destinations such as Spain, France and Germany are in the quietest period during the winter, so you’ll find cheap flights to Europe then, as well as good deals on your accommodation too. The cost of flight tickets also vary drastically depending on your country of choice so research several countries and find one that suits you before booking your flights to Europe.
Aim to book your flights to Europe at least a month or two in advance the save money on your flight tickets. This is especially necessary during the summer and during festivals as the cost of flights to Europe will shoot up during the peak season. In the winter you can grab bargains on flights to Europe and on accommodation, and while you can find deals last minute it’s still suggested to secure your flight tickets early. If you are flexible then you can find great deals on flights to Europe, but the price will vary drastically from one European country to the next so decide on your ideal vacation destination before looking for flights to Europe.
Flight time varies considerably depending on your departure city and destination in Europe. For a flight from New York to London, you can expect to be there in about 7 hours. From Chicago to Paris, you’re looking at about 12 hours, and Los Angeles to Rome takes just over 13 hours.
The major U.S. carriers that offer direct flights to Europe are American Airlines, Delta and United. If you have an international departure point, take a look at flights with Brussels Airlines or Air Berlin.
European fashion tends to be a touch more formal than American fashion, so nice jeans and long-sleeve shirts are good choices for everyday wear. Bring comfortable shoes, as you’re going to do a lot of walking and Europe is known for cobblestone streets. The season and your destination play a large role in what you pack. You’re fine with only lighter clothes on a summer getaway in Madrid, whereas a winter trip to Berlin calls for heavier layers to stay warm.
You can get the Airport Express directly from the airport, although it only makes 3 stops before returning the airport. Due to this you’ll have to jump on the metro to get to your final destination in Madrid, so if you’re carrying lots of baggage this can be quite tiresome and inconvenient. Another option is to get a taxi directly from the airport, although this can be quite costly. If there are a few of you to split the fare though, a taxi can be an ideal transport option. Perhaps the easiest way is to jump on the metro from T1 or T4 and go straight to the center of the city. The metro runs regularly and is an effective way to travel.
The easiest and one of the quickest ways to get to the center of Paris is to jump on the metro directly from the airport. A slightly cheaper option, although not as quick, is to get a bus. There is a regular bus service that operates from the airport and you can find times and destinations at the airport. Lastly you can opt for a taxi, although taxis in France are quite expensive. This is a quick way to get to your hotel so if you’re travelling with friends it can be a great option.
From Frankfurt airport you can get trains to any major city in Germany, as well as to the center of Frankfurt. You might also get a free shuttle transfer from your hotel, so once you’ve booked your flights to Europe, browse accommodation and see if you can find a hotel that offers this service as it makes getting to the city easy and cheap. If you want you can also get a taxi, it’ll take around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic but will cost more than the train. The cheapest option is to get one of the many buses that operate to and from the airport, you can find more information out regarding times and specific locations once you’ve arrived in the airport.
Europe is very well connected by planes, trains and buses. There are regular flights between major cities, especially from busy airport hubs in the UK, Germany or France, where low-cost airlines offer cheap flights around Europe.
Trains run throughout mainland Europe, with the Eurotunnel connecting the UK to France.
Buses (coaches) are a cheaper alternative, however, they are typically much slower and often less comfortable than trains.
If you’re driving, consider renting a diesel car, which often gets better mileage. They can be a good deal in countries that subsidize diesel. The UK and Ireland operate left-hand traffic but in the rest of Europe they drive on the right.
If you’re traveling independently, it is still worth checking out tours (such as a one-day city or 14-day country tours) that can be combined with your itinerary.
If you find yourself in Rome, head north of the city center to experience Vatican City. Even those who aren’t religious appreciate the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica and the art collections in the Vatican Museums. Those museums house works of some of the most famous Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. There’s so much to see here and it’s such a popular area that you should visit in the morning so you have plenty of time to take it all in.
In the Wiltshire area of England about 2 hours outside of London is Stonehenge, considered one of the seven wonders of the Medieval world. The ring of massive stones is much more impressive in person than in pictures, and you can learn about it in the nearby visitor center or on a tour. To get as close to the stones as possible you need to book special access tickets. Keep in mind that these are very popular and require you to book well in advance. Even without special access, you can still get close enough for some great photos.
After walking miles every day seeing the sights, there’s no better way to relax than dipping your toes into the white sand of one of Spain’s gorgeous beaches. To get away from it all, reserve a camping space on the Illas Cies, a group of three islands near Galicia. You get there by catching a ferry from Vigo. If you’d prefer something closer to the city, La Concha Beach is an exciting option right by San Sebastian.
(prices quotes are from London)