Are you thinking of traveling to Europe for the first time? Europe is filled with rich history, captivating architecture, magnificent scenery and an array of cultures. And now that countries in the European Union are reopening for American travelers who have approved vaccines, many are considering a visit. Where you want to go and what you will experience depends a lot on your interests and preferences. However, it can be daunting knowing where to start when planning your first Euro trip. Questions like: What is the best time to travel? What can I expect? What should I bring with me? If this will be your first time visiting, here are the top 10 travel tips for Europe.
When is the Best Time to Travel to Europe?
This really depends on the country and season because of the diverse climates. Generally speaking, the most popular time is during the summer months from June – August or peak season. This is when the weather is the nicest and temperatures reach as far as 30+ celsius. Therefore, this is the time the majority of tourists flood in and attractions are most crowded. However, in some areas of Southern Europe, for example, temperatures can reach 40 Celcius. So it can feel quite unpleasant. Keep in mind that during the month of August is when cities and shops close down. Many Europeans go on holiday for several weeks.
September to October may be the ideal time to travel to Europe. The weather isn’t too hot or cold and you’ll notice fewer crowds. Being the tail end of high season, you’ll notice a price drop in flights, hotels, and attractions.
Winter or low season gets a bad rep because of cold temperatures but what many may not realize, is that this is a great opportunity to travel. Prices are at their lowest, there are little to no crowds and winter brings its own charm. Snow-covered landscapes, Christmas markets and thrilling winter sports are some of the magical things you can experience. And if you visit around the holiday season, the atmosphere is lively and high-spirited. If you’re traveling to Europe for the first time, I would highly consider winter.
How Long Should My Trip to Europe Be?
Europe is too big to see everything in one go. Visiting multiple countries in a span of a few weeks can be overwhelming, and this alongside little sleep can lead to ‘vacation burnout’. I personally think that slow travel is the best type of travel, visiting one country and traveling to various cities gives you the opportunity to experience it all. But it’s understandable that on your first-time trip, you’d like to check a few places off your bucket list. In this case, I’d go for two to three countries max that are within close proximity or bordering one another.
For example, If you’re planning a trip to Europe for 2 weeks, I suggest 4 days in London, 5 days in Paris, and 4 days in the South of France. This way the travel time in between destinations won’t take up too much of your holiday and you have some wiggle room. Also, don’t cram your schedule with a long itinerary. First-time visitors tend to make the mistake of covering too much at a time – spending half days in cities to see it all. Realistically, four to five days in a city is just enough time for you to explore, unwind and savor your surroundings.
Learn Basic Phrases of the Local Language
English is a widely spoken language especially in most parts of Europe, but to assume that everyone speaks is inconsiderate and rude. This is why it’s important to learn a few simple phrases and the basics to get you by. Purchase a small language book or take a crash course. Thank you, hello, goodbye, and directions are just some of the essentials that will come in handy. And don’t be too self-conscious about whether your pronunciation sounds off – the locals will appreciate that you are making the effort to try.
Take Note of Public and Local Holidays
It’s important to research any upcoming holidays specific to the country you are traveling to. Having lived in three European countries myself, no two holidays are the same nor fall on the same calendar date. Holidays like Easter, Christmas and New Year’s are typically celebrated. However, each country will have its own observed holidays that are religious or memorials. For instance, in the Netherlands, we have King’s Day and Liberation Day. If you plan a 2 day trip to Amsterdam and arrive on May 5th, it will be an inconvenience finding out that nothing is open. Do your research before booking to save yourself time, money, and disappointment. If you’re traveling to Europe for the first time I would do due diligence on this before making any bookings.
Bring a Pair (Or Two) of Comfy Shoes
Unlike in the States, which relies heavily on cars because of large distances, walking is common in Europe due to the concentrated areas. Many cities are designed to be walkable. Heading to the bakery, supermarket, hair salon may be blocks away from one another. Furthermore, with cobblestone streets and sidewalks being common in Europe, bringing a pair of comfy shoes is essential for all the miles of walking and sightseeing. Wearing heels is not practical on this type of surface, especially if you’re not accustomed to it. If you can’t go out without some type of heel, then I suggest a durable wedge or espadrille. Needless to say, you will be walking in Europe a lot.
Food Service and Tipping
Food service in Europe is completely different from what we have in the states. To be frank, there isn’t much of a service culture in Europe. If you’re on the terrace and expect that the waiter will come to take your order right away – they won’t. Waiter’s are not tipped generously like back home and tipping, in general, is not common. The service charge is already included in the bill but a couple of coins or a euro is nice to include. Be mindful that this can vary with each country and a tip may be customary – so research this beforehand.
Avoid the Tourist Traps as Best Possible
Any major city (especially in Western Europe) will have its fair share of pickpockets, scammers and overpriced attractions and food establishments that cater to tourists. Some of these gimmicks will be easy to spot and some disguised more cleverly. This is why the key is to do your research and due diligence beforehand. Never go to one of those restaurants where the waiter lures you in from the street. Instead, find out where the locals go to eat, hang out and spend a night out. Venture out of the central areas and off beaten track, for a more authentic experience. At the end of the day, if the destination you are visiting is popular, then it’s unlikely that you can avoid tourists completely. Seeing famous landmarks is a part of traveling and the crowd that comes along with it. Just ensure to do your research, get up early and get there before the crowds and tours get there.
Take Public Transportation
A great way for getting around Europe and getting a real feel of the city is by taking public transport. Generally, trains are a great way to travel around Europe (at least for western and central Europe). Not every place will offer Uber, nor will it be easily accessible.
Plan Some Down Time
Even in the most beautiful of cities, constantly being on the go will leave you feeling exhausted. That’s why it’s important to rest and rejuvenate. Schedule some time to aimlessly walk around and get lost in the magic of it all. Coming in with no expectations is one of the best ways to experience the real charm and pulse of a place.
Important Safety Measures Traveling to Europe For the First Time
Take photos of your credit cards, bank cards, bring a few copies of your passport and store them in the cloud. This way if anything happens or is stolen, you will still have the numbers and have access to get replacements. Contact details from your bank and insurance will also come in handy if you need them, so make sure you also look those up beforehand.
Also, keep in mind that not all stores in Europe accept Visa credit cards and in some Southern European countries you will still find places that only accept cash. This is one of the most important tips for traveling to Europe for the first time that I wish I knew; I learned the hard way.
I am European but I still think this is a super helpful list and I can say I definitely walked into one or the other tourist trap…