If you are heading to Europe for the first time, you are in for a real treat. I remember my first time in Europe like it was yesterday. I stepped onto Iceland out of all the countries in Europe, bright-eyed and ready to see what the continent had in store for me. Since that day over 10 years ago, I have visited Europe nearly every year, always traveling to different regions.
I’m proud to say I have now traveled to nearly every country in Europe and have prepared some of my favorite essentials and some completely random Europe travel tips for first-timers.
A note on these Europe travel tips
Considering that Europe comprises approximately 53 independent countries and is roughly the size of USA, providing in-depth travel tips for each country of this diverse region that encompasses various cultures, languages, and topographies is a challenging task.
Hence, many of these travel tips for Europe offer general guidance for your journey across the continent, particularly if you plan a multi-country trip. If you search around this website, we have specific travel tip sections for destinations like Switzerland, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Ireland, etc.
These Europe travel tips are written mainly from the perspective of people from Canada and the United States, though any other non-European – or even a European will also find these tips helpful!
Our Top Europe Travel Tips
When is the Best Time to Travel to Europe?
Wondering the best time to visit Europe is, and don’t know where to start? If you’re planning a trip to explore Europe, all we can say is – great idea! Europe is a fantastic continent, with as many diverse cultures as there are cuisines and landscapes to try out and soak up. The weather in Europe can also be – well–mixed. Summer in one part of Europe might not match up to what you were imagining.
Also, when it’s Fall in, say…Norway, it’s still complete summer weather down in Greece. From Scandinavia to the Balkans to the Mediterranean, the climate in Europe varies a lot.
However, Europe is the absolute busiest during the summer season. Major cities like Krakow, Paris, and Madrid will be at their peak between June and August, so we always recommend…
Travel in the Off/Shoulder Season
We recommend traveling during the shoulder and off-season months to escape the crowds. Shoulder seasons throughout most of Europe are April, May, early June, mid-September, and October. Winter is off-season unless you are in a ski destination like Zermatt or Lech or exploring the fabulous European Christmas markets.
The off-and-shoulder seasons are when you’ll find the lowest crowds and prices so it may be worth planning around this time!
Get a Travel Credit Card
Most destinations around Europe accept credit cards, and when we can, we pay for almost everything with our travel credit card. Why? Because we gain points on every purchase, and those points lead to free flights. Free flights keep us traveling longer – yay!
Our favorite travel credit is the Chase Sapphire Reserve because it comes with unique perks, like car rental insurance, no foreign transaction fees, Priority Pass, good point redemption, and much more. We break down all our favorite credit cards here!
Always Have a Bit of Cash on You!
Not everywhere in Europe runs on credit cards only, and it’s essential to always have some local currency on you. Not every country in Europe is in the eurozone either (more on that later), though most places in Europe will accept the Euro if you’re in a pinch, even if it’s not their main currency.
It’s always important to always have cash on you while traveling. Smaller businesses, especially those run by older people, might not accept cards, and you don’t want to interrupt your time running to the ATM!
Get Cash from the ATM
Forget traveler’s checks and exchange money back home; the best place to get cash in a foreign country is directly from the ATM. The ATM will give you the fair market exchange rate.
At most, you’ll be paying the ATM fee to access your cash unless you have the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account Debit Card. We have had this debit card for over ten years and have never paid an ATM fee anywhere, as they reimburse all fees worldwide!
Avoid Certain ATMs!
That said, always go to an ATM that looks the most legit. In foreign countries, we try to go to the ATMs run by actual banks when they are available.
You’ll find “certain” ATMs all over Europe, I can’t mention the actual name of these ATMs because they have threatened legal action against us before for doing that (no joke!).
These ATMS are blue and yellow, and their name has the word “net” in it. These ATMs are everywhere in Europe, and I can’t believe they are legal. They are mainly located in high-tourist areas and major cities and stay in business by unsuspecting tourists who want convenience in a foreign country.
They are notorious for scamming and preying on people at every transaction step. They charge high fees and give terrible exchange rates. Their main tactic is confusion until you press the wrong button, and BAM, they just deducted €20 from your account without you even realizing it. Just AVOID THEM.
Hold Onto Those Coins!
In the eurozone, you’ll notice that the coins you get are worth a lot of money. Instead of getting handed paper bills, you’ll get €1 and €2 coins, equal to more than $1 and $2, so keep track of them!
Get an Adaptor
For most of Europe, the associated travel adaptor is type C, which is the plug that has two round pins. Though the UK uses the Type G plug, some places use the Type J plug. It’s a lot to note and keep track of, so we recommend grabbing a Universal Travel Adaptor. This is the one we have!
Get Travel Insurance
It’s important to leave for your trip with travel insurance! Travel insurance protects you when traveling, whether for lost baggage, trip cancellation, or an injury. We have always had travel insurance in our 10+ years of traveling, but thankfully have never had to use it! We travel with HeyMondo insurance.
Renting a Car in Europe
We have rented a car on nearly all of our European trips, and it helps us get away from the cities and into less touristed areas. We recommend renting a car for at least six months before your trip to get the best price.
Read the booking details, but most car rental agencies have very flexible cancellation policies and will let you cancel your car up to 24 hours in advance. So there’s no reason not to reserve early! We recommend searching Discover Car Hire for the best car rate comparison.
Learn How To Drive a Manual Car
This tip is mainly for my North American friends that mainly drive automatic. One of my top Europe travel tips is learning to drive a manual car if you plan to rent one in Europe. Manual cars are king in Europe, and while most Americans drive automatic cars back home, it’s quite the opposite in Europe. We’ve rented probably 50 or so cars during our travels in Europe, and I can count the number of times we’ve been given an automatic vehicle.
Unless you specify automatic on your rental car booking, assume you will be given a manual car. Renting an automatic car in Europe is possible, but this always costs much more.
Drive on the Left
If you’re visiting the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) or Ireland, remember that they drive on the left-hand side of the road (with the steering wheel on the right side. This may not be very clear to you at first if you’re coming from North America, and it is something to be aware of when renting a car in a new country.
When driving around much of Europe, you’ll notice the roads are nothing more than a tiny two-lane road, just big enough for two cars to squeeze by. This is particularly notable in parts of Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, and Greece, though we have seen it everywhere.
Major highways are standard, but once you get off the road, you’ll quickly notice why most Europeans drive small cars.
Rent the Smallest Car You Can
All these small roads mean you should be mindful of the size of the car you rent. We recommend renting the smallest car you can in Europe if you can manage. Not only will this save you money on the rental, but it may save you a lot of stress.
Get a Local Sim
For international travel we generally try to tell people to get a local sim in their destination, or an eSim instead of paying roaming or international charges with their home carrier.
Although these international plans from your home country will make life simpler, they are often incredibly expensive. So calculate your own cost vs. time expenses when planning. If you would rather save money we highly recommend grabbing a Sim card in your destination, this can typically be done at the airport upon arrival. Sim cards are now made even easier with companies like Airalo, where you can get eSims before you land!
Do you enjoy being given a glass of water when you go out to eat? I know I sure do. However, throughout most of Europe, this isn’t common.
Europeans, known for their discerning taste in water, often accompany their meals with bottled water – still or sparkling – more for its flavor than for health reasons. In restaurants, servers find it perplexing when someone doesn’t opt for premium bottled water to complement their excellent meal. However, they likely know the gist if you appear to be an American or Canadian.
Ordering bottled water in Europe is common, but ordering tap water in Europe is not. Even more, if you ask for tap water in places like Greece or Italy, you’ll probably get a confused look from the waiter. Luckily a bottle of water is never more than a few euros, but if you’re backpacking or on a budget, it can up your meal costs.
That being said, it’s certainly possible to be given tap water in Europe; it’s common in some restaurants where they filter water. It all depends on where you’re traveling!
Tipping is not as common in Europe as it is throughout North America, and you certainly are not expected to tip 20% of your bill. The service charge is already built into your account while dining out, though, in some countries, it is customary to leave a euro or two as a token of appreciation, or up to 10% in places like the UK.
Summer = Busy Time
Many say the best time to visit Europe is in the summer. After all, this is when the sun is shining, the temps are warm, and you can jump into the warm Mediterranean. However, summer in Europe can be somewhat of a gong show, primarily if you visit busy places like Rome, Venice, Mykonos, Santorini, Barcelona, and Paris.
We visit Europe in the summer every year but try to be a bit selective in our destination. For instance, we visited the Faroe Islands last July, knowing it’s far from the tourist path. Instead of visiting Athens and Santorini, we travel to off-the-path Greek islands like Serifos and Ithaca.
What I’m trying to say don’t book a flight to Florence in August, and complain about how busy it is. It’s summertime, and you’re in one of the most visited places on the planet. Not to mention, August is when most Europeans take their vacation. So you have all the international visitors, and then domestic visitors on top of that.
If you are not looking for crowds, travel to some less frequented destinations, like Montenegro, Albania, or Georgia. Alternatively, travel in May or September. These are shoulder mouths and is when you’ll find fewer tourists and lower prices.
Summer Heat Waves
Speaking of summer in Europe, I should mention how hot it can get in Europe during June, July, and August. Every year it seems it gets hotter and hotter throughout Europe, and with climate change, this will not go away.
It’s essential to remember this, especially when traveling in Southern Europe in the summer. Temperatures might reach over 35C for multiple days on end. If the heat scares you, book a trip further north. Think Scotland, Finland, Norway, Iceland, or maybe even Greenland!
Ensuring your accommodation has air conditioning in the summer is also essential. Air conditioning isn’t a god-given right in Europe as it seems in the USA, so if you’re like me and have to sleep cool, double-check for AC.
Another treat that we North Americans take for granted is iced coffee. Whenever I’m in Europe in the summer, I struggle to find an iced coffee. I’m not talking about a hot coffee with ice cubes thrown in (which you may get if you ask an Italian for an iced coffee), but a good old-fashioned cold brew or a proper iced latte with an espresso shot or two.
It’s not impossible to find by any means. Typically if you’re in a hip city like Helsinki or Berlin, you head for the hippest third-wave coffee shop or Starbucks you can see. However, throughout much of Europe, it’s best to forget you know what iced coffee is.
This excludes Greece, though, where you can order a frappe or freddo cappuccino well into midnight and chat it up with the Greeks!
Not Everywhere Uses the Euro
Because you’re traveling in Europe doesn’t mean you are in the eurozone.
The euro area, commonly known as the eurozone, consists of 20 member states within the European Union. These countries have adopted the euro as their official currency and sole legal tender, fully implementing Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) policies.
The 20 countries that are part of the eurozone are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. On the other hand, seven EU member states have not joined the eurozone: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. These countries continue to utilize their respective national currencies.
Countries that are not part of the European Union:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- San Marino
- Vatican City (Holy See)
the Schengen Zone
The Schengen Zone, also known as the Schengen Area, is a group of European countries that have abolished passports and other types of border controls at their internal borders. This agreement allows for people’s unrestricted movement within the member countries.
This “free” type of travel means you can visit Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in one day and never have to show your passport. It’s not just Europeans who get this benefit, but all travelers. American and Canadian citizens are given a 90-day visa on arrival to travel around the Schengen Zone. Depending on your nationality, you’ll have to check the visa requirements for the Schengen Zone.
I’m not picking on Americans; I swear (I am one)! But Americans tend to talk very loudly as if they are the only people in the room, and their voice must project over everything.
This is not the case in Europe, and people keep their conversations to themselves and their groups. It’s best to pay attention to your surroundings while traveling Europe.
It’s not just summer in Europe that’s busy, but you can expect around the holidays to be quite busy too. This is especially true in European cities and where you can find famed Christmas markets like Austria, Germany, and France.
If you’re booking a Christmas trip to Europe, book your trip well in advance to get the best rates!
Prepare for lots of Unplanned holidays
When traveling in Europe, you may run into holidays. I’m not talking about Christmas and Easter, but holidays you may have never even heard of—things like the Feast of Assumption in Italy or Whit Monday in Germany.
Sometimes places shut down for the holidays, so it can be worth checking your calendar and destination to see if any of these holidays will affect your trip.
Those Old cobbled streets
Consider how much you’ll be walking with luggage when thinking about your Europe trip and packing. I mention this because in much of Europe, particularly in city centers and the old historic districts, the streets are just the same as they were 400 years ago—cobbled stone.
This means rolly suitcases and high heels are not your friends. I rarely bring high heels to Europe because I would twist my ankle!
When choosing luggage for Europe, this might mean you opt for a travel backpack instead of a suitcase!
Always carry some change around with you when walking the streets of Europe. It can be tough to find an accessible restroom unless you are a patron at an establishment or can slyly find a Mcdonald’s to sneak into.
Many public restaurants throughout Europe are not free and typically charge up to a euro to use.
If you’re a student and on your way to Europe, do not forget your student ID. This piece of plastic may save you loads of money at museums and national attractions. Pay attention when purchasing your tickets, as there is often a student price.
Free Walking Tours
If you want to save money while traveling Europe, we recommend joining a free walking tour! You can find free walking tours in many major cities in Europe, and yes, they are free! It’s only expected to leave a small token of appreciation for your guide who just showed you around the city.
Get a Eurail Pass
If you plan extensive travel around Europe, we recommend looking into a Eurail or RailEurope Pass. You can see up to 33 countries with one pass, which is ideal for those that want to move around Europe quickly rather than explore one central area.
There are so many pass options catering to every type of traveler it would be impossible to list them all here. We recommend taking a look at their website.
Buses in Europe
Train travel isn’t the only way to get around Europe. Buses are another option, though often they take longer than the train, they are typically cheaper. Each country has its bus service, but some lines like Flixbus and Megabus also take you long distances internationally.
If you plan to travel around Europe, don’t disregard budget airlines. While budget airlines aren’t as popular in the US and Canada, they are ubiquitous throughout Europe. We’ve even booked tickets around the continent for as little as €10. How do they make money with such low airfare? They charge you for almost everything else, including high fees for baggage, seat selection, and water.
RyanAir is the big one, but other European low-cost carriers include EasyJet, Transavia, WizzAir, and Norwegian. We’ve flown with countless low-cost airlines, and the only one we’ve ever had issues with is Volotea (don’t book with them!).
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
One of my top Europe travel tips is to get on an early schedule. The earlier you are up, the fewer the crowds, especially in prominent iconic places like The Duomo in Florence or Milan, the Trevi Fountain, the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower, and Buckingham Palace.
If you’re traveling between June and September, you’ll need to wake up extra early!
While dining out in Europe, it’s best not to expect North American service. Someone won’t automatically come to refill your soda as the glass gets emptier, your waiter won’t constantly check on you, and when you are done with your meal, your server will not immediately bring you your check. You will likely have to ask for it.
Slow service is not bad in Europe; when you go out to a meal in most of Europe, it’s all about enjoyment and not meant to be rushed.
I’ll never forget my first visit to Europe when someone offered me a cigarette. Never being a smoker, I politely declined, just before someone else chimed in saying “of course she doesn’t want one, she’s American!”
While the US does a lot wrong, one thing many North Americans have in common are our (non) smoking habits – at least compared to Europeans.
While traveling Europe, you’ll likely notice that there are lots of smokers, especially the further east you get. Serbia, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Greece have some of the highest smoking rates in the world. Don’t try to tell them to put out their cig or to stop blowing the smoke in your face, throughout most of Europe smoking is pretty normal.
What to Pack for Europe?
What you pack for Europe depends on where you will go and at what time of year. There’s a lot to this continent and the weather changes in all the regions. Southern Europe is, obviously, typically hotter than Northern Europe. The Mediterranean is warmer, and the Alps are cooler. We have a complete Europe packing list to check out before your trip.
Bring Comfortable Shoes
When traveling Europe, I typically leave high heels and stilettos at home. We recommend wearing more practical footwear unless you’re going to a wedding, Milan fashion week, or a high-dollar dinner.
I’m not saying you need to don Crocs and Tevas around Vienna; comfortable shoes matter when traveling Europe. You’ll be walking a lot. Do you remember what I said about those cobbled streets? I typically bring a pair of Allbirds and a pair of cute walking sandals when traveling Europe!
There’s More To a Country Than The Capital City
The first time I backpacked Europe straight out of college, I mainly only visited capital cities. They were all easily connected via train and bus to all the other European countries. However, Germany is not just Berlin; the UK is not just London, France is not Paris, and Italy is not just Rome – you get the picture.
European cities are incredible, but we enjoy getting out of them when we travel Europe. Here are some of our favorite places to visit in Europe.
Don’t Try to See It All!
One of my top Europe travel tips is to chill out with your trip and not try to see it all. There are over 50 countries in Europe. So don’t book a two-week trip intending to “do Europe,” because we promise each little town and city demands a few days of exploration.
You’ll run yourself ragged if you try to squeeze in four countries in two weeks – trust me! We travel to Europe every year, multiple times, and often stay between 1-3 months at a time. We have spent at least three years of our lives traveling around Europe, traveled to almost every country on the continent (still missing Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and Malta) and every year we keep adding to the neverending bucket list! It will always be there, so don’t over plan your first trip.
My Favorite Europe Booking Resources
- Skyscanner: We find most of our flights off Skyscanner, I love to search their “everywhere” feature, which shows new destinations to travel to!
- Booking.com: We book most of our accommodation abroad on Booking.com!
- Get Your Guide: Get Your Guide is a booking platform for booking the best tours and excursions in whatever country you are in! Look for cooking classes, walking tours, museum passes, and just about anything you could want to do!
- Airalo: Get an eSim!
- XE: Download and keep on your phone for up to date exchange rates!
- Ferry Hopper: We use this mainly while traveling Greece, though it covers ferry schedules all over Europe.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.