Europe is a fascinating continent with dozens of countries, each having so much to offer with its specific history, culture, architecture, landscapes, and language. European countries are a traveler’s dream, but planning a trip to Europe can be both nerve-racking and an overwhelming experience, as there are so many places to go to and so many things to take into account.
That’s why I’ve created this very comprehensive guide on how to plan a trip to Europe so that you can make the most of your holidays on this beautiful continent. I detail all the things you need to take into account when planning your holiday, and I have added loads of useful and practical tips.
- 1. Planning your trip
- 2. Booking Everything
- 3. Practical aspects to keep in mind
- 4. Enjoy!
1. Planning your trip
a. Where to Go
Unless you have a lifetime to discover Europe, you will not be able to see everything there is to see in just one trip. If you are undecided, try and think about which type of trip you are aiming for, and think about your interests. Keeping this in mind, I suggest you make a list of the places you absolutely want to see during this specific trip and place them on a map. Then, you can do the same for places that you would like to see but won’t feel too bad if you end up missing them.
For inspiration, don’t hesitate to check out guide books, Pinterest and Instagram, blogs, and websites, as these will help you to know which places are actually worth it and even find hidden gems!
Now, it’s time to make a choice: counting roughly 3-4 days minimum for each big city and around 1-2 days for other destinations, and starting with your must-sees, select your main destinations for this trip. The map will help you to group some things together, to avoid “wasting” too much time in transport. The goal here is to have a rough itinerary in mind, that you will fine-tune later on.
b. Length of Your Trip
Another thing that you should define before booking and planning your trip to Europe is how much time you’ll have at hand. Maybe you could only clear a week off work, or maybe you have several months ahead of you. Keep in mind that there is no ideal length for a trip to Europe, but of course the longer your holiday, the more places you’ll be able to see.
Here are some things I’d recommend:
- For bigger cities, I’d suggest at least 3-4 days. It can of course be less if you only want to see some specific things, but this will allow you to get a nice overview of the city without rushing from one thing to another. Longer is always better though!
- For smaller cities, towns, or other specific places, 1 or 2 days can work, depending on the destination. You can always check online what is the recommended amount of time for the specific place you want to go to.
- Plan for chill days or downtime. Traveling to Europe can be exhausting and you’ll probably walk a lot. Having a few days to wander around or just planning for chill moments is essential if you want to truly enjoy your holiday.
- Take into account transportation and possible delays when you go from one city or country to another one.
c. When to Go
This is another essential aspect that you might want to take into account. Not only this will influence your budget, as some seasons and times of the year are more expensive than others, but it will also depend on what you want to do.
For this, refer back to what you want to do: see Paris in spring and the Christmas markets in Vienna? Then you might want to plan two different trips as they will be pretty hard to do at the same time. Do you absolutely want to visit Malta or Sicily but can’t stand the heat? Then avoid going there in summer.
To avoid crowds, it is generally better to go in the off-season, as summer is the busiest time of the year for touristic destinations, but this means that some places might be almost closed and completely empty during the winter months, so maybe it is better to go in spring or fall. This might be the case for less-famous Greek islands or small seaside towns that don’t have a lot of international tourists, for instance.
This is of course an important part of planning your trip to Europe, as it will determine a lot of other aspects of your holiday. If you are not willing to compromise on some things, like a specific hotel, or a restaurant, or if you absolutely want to go to one specific destination that is known to be expensive, take those things into account straight away.
Some countries, cities, and regions are very affordable in Europe, while others can be crazy expensive, and the general rule is that the more touristic and “famous” a place is, the more expensive it will be, both when it comes to flights, accommodation, and food options. However, Southern and Central/Eastern European countries tend to be cheaper than Northern ones.
2. Booking Everything
Now that you have a rough itinerary, some sort of budget, and the dates and length for your trip, you can start booking your tickets!
a. Flights to Europe
Your flights and your accommodation will probably be the most expensive parts of your trip, so it can be quite stressful to book, but there are ways to make it easier – and cheaper:
- If you plan on going to several big cities in Europe and don’t need to visit them in a particular order, try to compare the flight to all of these destinations and pick the cheaper one.
- If it fits with your itinerary, check bigger European airports that will save you a layover (typically: Amsterdam, Paris, London, Rome, or Frankfurt).
- Flying during the week is generally cheaper than at the weekend, so if you can be flexible with your dates, go for it!
- Booking return flights is generally cheaper, but it is not the most time-efficient.
- Take advantage of the websites helping you to find cheaper flights (Skyscanner, Kayak, Google flights), but avoid booking through third-party websites or travel agencies unless you really trust them: in case of a cancellation or delay, it will be much more complicated to get your money back! I usually prefer to book the actual flight straight from the airline’s website.
b. Transportation within Europe
You’ll most probably want to move from one place to another during your trip to Europe, and this can be quite expensive as well. The good thing is that there are many options you can choose from.
You can find pretty cheap flights within Europe that will take you from one country to another. Just keep in mind that some airports can be pretty far from the city center and that you need to go there in advance. Sometimes, taking the train will allow you to save time!
The railway network is fantastic in some countries and close to non-existent in others, but taking the train is usually the best solution to travel within a country. Taking a night train will also allow you to save time and money, though it might not be very comfortable. For train tickets, my preferred option is the Trainline website and the website of the railway companies in each country. Another amazing option is the Eurail website and, if you are planning to take the train a lot, the Eurail pass will allow you to save a lot of money!
This is a very cheap option that is perfect for shorter distances, and that also offers the possibility to travel at night to save time. You can check offers on the Trainline website but also on the Flixbus website.
Cars are especially advisable if you go to more isolated places in the countryside or further away from bigger cities. If you are only staying in big cities, I would definitely not recommend renting a car, as the public transportation systems are usually quite good, traffic and parking can be a nightmare and it can just be very stressful overall.
Depending on your budget, you have a whole lot of options available to you for your trip to Europe. Hotels (luxury or not) are probably the most comfortable option, though they can be quite expensive. For this, I usually book via Booking, which offers you rewards and discounts regularly, making even some fancier options very affordable. You can also book whole apartments and not just “traditional” hotels.
Another option is of course Airbnb, which is great to find unusual stays, but it is getting more and more expensive, especially in very touristic areas. That’s why I prefer it for lesser-known regions or for stays in the countryside.
If you’re on a budget, hostels are the way to go (you can also find them on Booking) and they have the added benefit of often being located right in the city center. Another very cheap option is Couchsurfing, which allows you to meet locals but you’ll have to compromise on comfort most of the time.
d. Visits and Experiences
If you absolutely want to visit a place or go on a specific tour, I’d highly recommend you book the tickets in advance, as this will help you plan your days later on. For extremely popular attractions or tours that you don’t want to miss (e.g. the Vatican in Rome, ice cave, or Northern Lights tours in Iceland), I’d even suggest checking if there are available tickets for your dates before booking your flights and then adjusting your dates if needed.
3. Practical aspects to keep in mind
Once you have booked everything, you’ve done the hardest part to plan your trip to Europe, but there are still a few things that you might want to keep in mind and possibly get ready for before leaving.
a. Passports and Visa
This is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Depending on where you come from and where you are going, you might need to apply for a visa to get to Europe and, regardless of your country of origin, you should have at least 6 months of validity remaining on your passport. Most countries in Europe are part of the so-called “Schengen Area”, meaning that you won’t need a country-specific visa and you probably won’t have to go through border controls when going from one country to another, but make sure, just in case, that you won’t need a specific visa or authorization where you are going.
While the euro is the main currency in Europe, not all countries have it, so it might be useful to check whether the country you are going to is using the euro or their own national currency.
Each country in Europe has its own language (and sometimes languages), and English is not always widely spoken. You’ll be fine with English in the bigger cities and touristic areas, but if you are planning to go to lesser-known areas, you’ll probably encounter people that can’t speak English. Also, even in bigger cities, not everyone is comfortable with English.
For all of these reasons, and also to show your appreciation, I’d highly suggest learning a few words or sentences to get by in each country you are planning to visit. It is always very appreciated by the locals!
In general, there are no specific rules when it comes to tipping in Europe. You don’t have to tip waiters, and it is mostly if you really want to (for example: a really friendly waiter or great food/service). In any case, rounding up the bill by a few euros works just fine!
e. Opening hours
When planning your days, keep in mind that the opening hours of shops, restaurants, and even some museums and tourist attractions could be different than what you are used to. For instance, shops – including supermarkets – are closed on Sundays in many countries, and museums can be closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. In many Mediterranean countries, restaurants also open quite late in the evening, as locals eat dinner around 9 pm or even later.
There is a reason why Europe is a bucket-list destination for so many people, with its rich and varied history, delicious food, stunning cities and towns, and breathtaking landscapes. Now you have all the tools you need to plan a wonderful trip there, and you can rejoice in the anticipation of your trip by fine-tuning your itinerary, checking out where you’ll eat, creating playlists, and learning more about the culture and history of the countries you’ll visit!