Europe has so much history, a variety of cultures, languages, food, people… that there really is no reason not to visit. But with so many travellers visiting Europe – East, West, North, South, and Central, the region is changing rapidly and has sure evolved quicker than I could have imagined since I first visited over 7 years ago. So, here they are! Our best tips for travelling in Europe fory our first time.
Tips For Travelling in Europe
1. Research and Planning is key
If I could take back the $400, 8 hour drive from Romania to Serbia, I would. Sadly I foolishly led myself to believe there just must be a train I could catch, instead of doing a little research to find out well in advance. Europe is a tricky one because the West is so crowded with visitors and the East is still so difficult to travel throughout in comparative terms. I love a challenge, so I love venturing East… just be sure to do your research and planning in advance. Especially taking into consideration that during winter, almost everything in Europe changes – opening (or more appropriately closing) hours; weather; light in a day; and so on and so forth.
2. Book everything in Advance
For normal holidays, it is more than sufficient to book your airfares and accommodation, and merely turn up to see what takes your fancy / where you’ll spend your time. But for Europe, especially during March (spring break) or Summer (June, July, August), you’ll often be stuck without a bed or disappointed to miss one of the top attractions if you do not book in advance.
3. Don’t book through third party sites for attractions + activities
Sites like “Viator” are a great place to start when researching the various attractions and activities you can enjoy in a new city, but they’ll also charge you up to double the amount for the bookings. Instead, go directly to the attraction’s website to book or for activities, a quick Google search will take you there.
4. Don’t let anyone help you with your bags on trains especially
The old saying goes “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”. And alas, in most circumstances it is. Anyone offering to help you with your bags will proceed to demand cash from you – so to avoid the hassle, keep a tight grip on your bags. On that note, make sure you watch your bags when you depart each station – as they might just so happen to wander off with another passenger.
5. Cheap airlines vs. National Carriers
The age old debate – to save a few bucks and take the risk of paying the price of a new limb just for overweight bags, or to book with an established airline and save the hassle? If you’re going to fly with a cheap airline, be sure to take portable scales around with you – they’ll save you hundreds of dollars. Similarly, consider your luggage constraints in advance and book the necessary weight for your limit, rather than handing over hundreds of dollars for slightly overweight bags.
6. Choose the Right Credit Card
Do yourself a favour – avoid fees wherever you can. They add up. 28 Degrees Mastercard has always been my go-to card, but on the 1/1/2014 they introduced cash advance fees on withdrawals. Thus, the new “best” credit card in Australia is the Citibank Travel Card. On that note, don’t forget to ring your bank to inform them of your travel plans!
7. Seize the Day
Big cities in Europe (I’m talking London, Paris, Rome, etc) are always heaving with tourists. And I mean always. To see the city a different way (and often more enjoyable), start your day early and finish when you pass out on your bed, unable to exert even an ounce of energy.
8. “Skip the Line” Passes
Don’t like waiting? Nor do I when my time is limited! Many European cities offer “skip the line” passes which allow you to do just that – skip. the. line. Amazing!
9. Walk Everywhere
Not only will you save money, but you will also see more of the city, the more you explore on foot.
10. Don’t exchange cash, Instead opt for the ATM
Cash exchanges were the “in thing” about a decade ago. Nowadays it is much cheaper and easier to simply stick your card in the ATM and withdraw the cash you need in the local currency.
11. Carry some Euros, Always
While not all European countries are on the Euro (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK), it still pays to always carry some cash around with you. Euros will get you by in most countries, and in others you will need to withdraw a little cash on arrival. Save yourself the hassle of not being able to buy lunch because you couldn’t read the “cash only” sign.
12. When Packing, Consider the Cobblestones
Summer in Europe provides ample opportunity to dress up and enjoy the sunshine. Winter is even more of a trap with all your clothing items suddenly being x10 heavier – i.e. coats, jeans, boots, etc. But when you pack, consider the cobblestone streets and walkways you’ll be dragging that 25 kilogram case over – it ain’t easy! Save yourself the dead arms and always pack less, never more and hardly ever enough. What you don’t need, you can always buy there.
13. Avoid Restaurants with Pictures of Food
This is a general rule to follow across the globe, because quite frankly there could be nothing more off putting than choosing your food based on a photograph. Usually (if not always) these places are a dive. Avoid.
14. High Speed Trains – Use Them
While they may put you a few extra dollars out of pocket, they will work wonders in terms of getting you from A to B in much less time, giving you more time to explore your next destination. You’ve come all this way on a timeframe (be it 3 weeks or 3 months), so make the most of every moment.
15. Do try the Local Cuisine
On my first trip to Europe I was almost petrified of eating anything I hadn’t seen before. What was it? What’s in there? I would visually dissect any pastry or pizza and convince myself it just wasn’t worth the worry. But nowadays, things have changed. I TRY EVERYTHING… and so should you. There will be nowhere in the world that serves pasta like the italians, no better chocolate than in Belgium and Switzerland, and no better excuse to eat copious amounts of gelato for every meal of the day. Go all out!
16. A note on House Wine
It is cheap…. and scrumptious.
17. Eat as Far Away from the Major Attractions as Possible
And/or research great eats before you go. If you have food intolerances, you should make an extra effort to find a number of places you can eat throughout the city and save yourself the hassle of walking for hundreds of metres to no avail.
18. Allow yourself a mix of “Tourist” & “Traveller”
I’m always reading how important it is to be a traveller and not a tourist… but I’m going to make a bold claim here and say it is entirely okay to be both. Having a blend of both major attractions and off the beaten path experiences will give you a well-rounded experience of a new city.
19. When in London
There are many great free attractions on offer, especially by way of museums! Check out how to experience London on a budget to cut down the costs of one of the world’s most expensive cities to visit.
20. When in Rome
The Roma Pass is entirely worth your while if you plan on visiting loads of the sights and attractions in Rome (honestly, who doesn’t!?), as well as giving you free metro transport throughout the duration you purchase. It also allows you to use a much shorter access line saving a lot of time and trouble.
21. When in Paris
You’re allowed to drink alcohol in public areas in Paris, I repeat: alcohol. public. areas. So you’re looking for the perfect picnic!? Grab a bottle of French champagne, cheese, bread, and head for the Eiffel Tower. You won’t regret it.
22. When in Amsterdam
The best way to get around Amsterdam and feel like a local is to hire a bike for the day. If you want to take it one step further, consider renting a houseboat for your stay (there are a few on offer through Air BnB).
23. When in Berlin
Just because German food is traditionally heavy carbs + meat, does not mean you have to eat this way in Berlin! Quite the contrary! Berlin is incredibly vegetarian + vegan friendly, even having a fully vegan supermarket! There are some fantastic smoothie bars on offer, as well as plenty of options to eat and stay healthy.
24. When in Venice
A gondola seats six, so pack yourself in like sardines as the price is per gondola, not per person. Don’t use a map in Venice – ever. Half the fun of this city is to get lost. Don’t skimp out and only visit for one day, this city deserves at least two.
25. When in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is expensive – there’s no denying it. But many of the top attractions are free to see and experience, even museums on Wednesdays!
26. When in Prague
Don’t miss the chance to catch a 2.5 hour bus to Cesky Krumlov, arguably the prettiest town in all of Europe!
27. When in Lisbon
Take to the streets and explore Alfama neighbourhood on foot. It is here where you will find the most authentic and accurate reflection of Portuguese way of life, as well as many great cheap eats options.
28. When in Budapest
Don’t miss your chance to bath in Europe’s largest thermal bath, Szechenyi, for around $12 for the day.
29. When in Vienna
Head to the Opera an hour or more earlier and take the side entrance. It is here where you will be able to purchase “standing only” tickets for a few euros, much cheaper than the 60 euros + price tag on regular tickets.
30. Swap Driving for Trains
Driving in Europe is a nightmare, particularly if you’re crossing into other countries and trying to drive a rental car one-way. The easiest way to travel throughout Europe has always been to use the train network. A great option is to invest in a travel pass to ease the paperwork.
31. Come Prepared
This is a bit of an odd one to talk about, but certainly worth mentioning. Imagine yourself in India eating plenty of spicy foods your body is not used to, and imagine what would happen as a result when you rush to the bathroom. Then imagine this is reverse when considering all the bread and pasta your body is likely to consumer in Europe — then imagine the reverse effect. Yup, come prepared with medicinal help to avoid trying to ask for them at the chemist counter.
32. Night Trains
Are a great way to save money on accommodation for the evening and are often cheaper than trains during the day. Book in advance to save money as prices typically hike nearer to the date.
33. Ski in Cheaper Locations
Plan on skiing in Europe during the winter? So do many others! If you head to the French or Swiss alps, you’re gonna have to be prepared to hand over the big bucks. Alternatively, consider the likes of Slovenia or Poland for cheaper but still great slopes.
34. Be Aware of Political Unrest
Political unrest in Europe is not uncommon, so be sure to check online before and during your trip incase any arises.
Europe has some fantastic festivals on offer that will make your experience all the more enjoyable and memorable. Consider: The running of the bulls (Pamplona, Spain), St Patrick’s Day (Dublin, Ireland) and King’s Day (Amsterdam) among many others.
36. Carpe Diem!
& perhaps the most simple tip of them all – never forget to seize the day.
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