Tips for the first time traveler
The biggest question on the lips of those traveling to Europe for the first time is: “Where do I start?” With 44 nations, each with its own personality, choosing where to go, what to do and how much to pack into a single trip can be a bewildering decision. An organised European tour is ideal for anyone who wants to get a flavour of several countries in one trip without the stress of sorting out the logistics. Or you might prefer to focus on getting to know just one destination.
The day trip to Mljet was particularly special. The island and monastery looked like a picture in a fairy tale, and swimming in the Adriatic was magic.
– Ann Anderson on our cycling vacation in Croatia
If you want to be steeped in history and culture, you can’t go wrong with Italy, Greece or France, while Georgia, Romania or Russia will deliver historical thrills without the heaving crowds. And don’t forget that Europe is as much for outdoor enthusiasts as it is for culture seekers. If you love watersports, Croatia and Montenegro are brilliant choices. Meanwhile, Europe’s wild spaces deliver wildlife adventures, including wolf spotting in southern France, husky safaris in Finland and tracking bison in primeval Polish forest.
Keep reading to discover our tips for your first vacation to Europe…
Our Europe Vacations
What to expect
History & culture
I think we will all remember watching the cubs not-so-gently nursing with their mom, the mucky, fun mess of making bear ice cream, and just watching the bears be bears.
– Heather Jain on our volunteering with bears family vacation in Romania
Language & culture
Traveling to Europe & getting around
If you'd like to chat about Europe or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
There’s a huge amount to see and do in Europe and you don’t want to exhaust yourself by trying to pack in as much as possible. Instead, look through our highlights, choose one or two favourites, and take your time to really enjoy your destination.
Croatia’s coastline is sublime, and with more than 1,000 islands anchored offshore you won’t be short of beaches or sailing routes. You just have to choose between Istria, the mini Italy of the north, and Dalmatia, the coastline heading south and home to the ancient seaside cities of Split and Dubrovnik. Elsewhere, you’ll find a handful of national parks protecting mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lakes, all still relatively unknown.
Beach breaksThere’s a beach for your every mood in Europe. Want blissful blue waters and soft sands to rival the Caribbean? Head to Greece, or the Spanish and Italian islands. Beachside glamour comes courtesy of the French Riviera, while dramatic, wind-battered wonders can be found on the Scottish and Welsh coastlines. Norway’s deep fjords and remote islands, meanwhile, transform ferry rides into some of the most scenic voyages in Europe.
FranceFrance may be known for its fine cuisine, world-class art and architecture and cultural sophistication. But it’s the beauty of the great outdoors – made for walkers, bikers and skiers – that brings people back again and again. With extraordinary highlights such as the Alps, Pyrenees and picture-perfect Provence, as well as some of the finest sand dunes in Europe, outdoor enthusiasts will scarcely know where to begin.
For too many people Greece is solely about sun, sand and sea. Yes, the islands are glorious – but try to make time for its other highlights, too. There are rivers, mountains and dramatic gorges, plus quiet hiking trails as easy or as difficult as you wish, and even snow covered peaks in winter. Not to mention the thousands of years of colourful history revealed through some of the world’s finest archaeological sites.
ItalyItaly is packed with both natural and man-made treasures, from the mountains of the north right down to the sun-baked island of Sicily. In the middle you have Tuscany, with its vineyards and world-famous art, and just next door are the less starry hills of Umbria and Le Marche. The peaks of the Dolomites are ripe for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter, whilst the Amalfi Coast is scented with lemon blossom and full of retro glamour.
Offbeat destinationsParis and Rome are undeniably lovely – and they’ve got the crowds to prove it. So how about a jaunt around Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova or a short break to Georgia, known for its heritage sites, ancient wine traditions and polyphonic folk singing. Got beaches on the brain? Try sizzling on the sands in Bulgaria or strolling Sweden’s windswept Kulla Peninsula.
Beyond the Algarve beaches and city break hotspots of Lisbon and Porto, Portugal remains a mystery to many foreign tourists. The interior is a patchwork of vineyards, hills and bucolic woods rustling with wildlife, while the country’s 1,800km coastline is dotted with wild beaches and laid-back fishing villages. Get around on hiking or cycling vacations with nights spent in distinctive country inns called quintas.
Railway vacationsOn a European railway vacation, every station you arrive at promises new adventures. Mainland Europe has an excellent and generally inexpensive rail network so you get to cover serious ground while sitting back and taking in spectacular scenery. A multi-country tour could take you to some of Europe’s top highlights. But you could also choose to focus on the Scottish Highlands, or take a slow ride though the best of Bulgaria.
Winter breaksWinter allows some breathing space in usually heaving Venice, Barcelona or Paris, while twinkling Christmas markets pull in the crowds across Germany and Austria. For winter sports fans, Lapland is a fantastical expanse of frost-tipped forest and frozen lakes in winter, where you can try husky sledding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing under huge, crisp skies.
Hard to pick whether the best part of the vacation was sailing with dolphins and turtles, diving with octopus, or eating all the delicious local foods.
– Jen McDaid after returning from our diving and sailing vacation in Greece
...and what not to do
Best time to go
How long is needed to see Europe?
In a week
With a week, you’re best off sticking to one country. Decide what you’d most like to do and see where’s best to do it. For example, you could brush up on your Spanish on a walking vacation in the Picos de Europa, try a multi activity break in Montenegro, or opt for a yoga vacation in Greece. A week is also just enough time to get stuck into some winter sports, such as a husky safari in Finland or snow shoeing in the Dolomites.
In two weeks
With two weeks to play with, you can get into some real depth on a small group exploration of Spain, a self drive vacation in Montenegro, or a Turkey history tour. This is also enough time to explore two or three countries in the same region, such as Spain and Portugal, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or the rich cultures of Georgia and Armenia.
Three weeks or more
This is where you get to embark on some serious adventures. You could try a cruise in the Arctic, spend a month on a backpacking adventure around the Mediterranean or Eastern Europe, or combine Europe with Asia by boarding the Trans Mongolian railway and exploring Russia and beyond. Got even more time to spare? Cross France, Austria, Romania and Russia on your way from London to Vietnam.
More about Europe
When is the best time to visit Europe? Check out our temperature chart and travel advice that spans all the way from Finland to Spain.
Our Europe travel guide lifts the lid on what we rate and what we don’t, including information about the food, shopping and people.
Read our Europe map and highlights for ideas on where to go in Europe. They'll help you get to grips with distances and travel times.
Our top activities in Europe range from activity vacations and wildlife watching to cultural touring and cookery classes. Read our guide for more.
Sure, you won’t see the Big Five, but our top 10 wildlife vacations in Europe explain where the wild things are.
Find out which tours have made our top 10 European adventure breaks, as well as when to go and our recommended guides.
From studios high in the Austrian Alps to sailing boats – take a look at our best yoga vacations and retreats in Europe.
Cooking and food vacations in the Mediterranean are a feast for the senses. Discover why.
Find out what we recommend when it comes to family vacations in Europe and read tips from our expert partners on where to travel with kids.
Read our Europe travel tips on why you shouldn’t skip the Peloponnese, going off-track in Spain and respecting Croatia’s past.
Overdevelopment, cruise ships, pollution and captive cetaceans are hot topics when it comes to responsible tourism in Europe.
Find all our Europe guides in one place, from Croatia to Finland and everything in-between, and discover some of our activity guides.