Europe offers Aussie globetrotters a feast of visual sensations and epic landmarks right out of the history books and fairy tales.
Prodigious cathedrals, ominous castles, monuments of breathtaking grandeur and cosmopolitan cities—as well as some of the planet’s most spectacular landscapes and extraordinary natural beauty—make Europe the land to explore.
Planning a trip to Europe is no simple task. From narrowing down your must-see destinations and devising an itinerary to booking rail transportation and buying travel insurance, travelling to Europe requires significant preparation. We’ve broken down the basics, starting with the top destinations for curious and adventurous travellers.
Quick Travel Notes
Etiquette & Customs: European etiquette and customs vary by country and culture. For example, in Italy, “bella figura” (cutting a fine/good figure), or the way you present yourself, and making a good impression are highly valued as part of Italian social etiquette. In France, travellers can come off discourteous or arrogant by initially speaking English, assuming the person with whom you’re speaking understands. Prepare before your trip to be able to speak a respectable amount of elementary French in conversation. Travel Etiquette offers etiquette tips in various European countries, including Germany, Greece, Spain, Poland and more.
Ecotourism: VisitEurope.com in a partnership with TouringNature.com offer an ecotourism guide on European culture, heritage and areas of natural beauty, preservation and conservation. VisitEurope.com provides information on the five Ecotourism Pan-European Routes that cross 35 European countries, help develop ecotourism and connect natural parks, UNESCO-chosen heritage sites and biosphere reserves. travellers can also rely on these routes for discovering significant natural and cultural sites, as well as places of sustainable development.
Transportation: Riding the railways is the practical and efficient way to hop around Europe and even see the country. Europe’s cross-country rail network of high-speed, night, express, scenic and airport-transfer trains transports travellers locally and internationally. The following European travel guide expands upon Europe’s railway system and recommends RailEurope.com.au for more train-travelling details.
Temperature & Weather: The expansive continent of Europe consists of diverse climates varying from sub-tropical to sub-arctic. June through September mark the summer season, which is typically Europe’s high season. Winter is a peak season for tourism in alpine regions. Europe’s spring and autumn shoulder seasons (April to mid-June, mid-September to October) bring in fewer crowds, which makes it a budget-friendly time to travel because of reduced airfare and hotel prices.
Do, See & Explore
The vision of backpacking for a month throughout Europe sounds adventurous. Planning a romantic European excursion as your honeymoon is magical. But the continent is made up of more than 50 countries, which is why we suggest zeroing in on a few destinations or major tourist attractions to avoid overwhelming your itinerary (and your budget).
Of course, there are always the favourite European hotspots, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome, but the following eight destinations are also worth considering:
- Jungfraujoch, Switzerland: RailEurope calls Jungfraujoch so remarkable, it’s always peak season. Jungfraujoch is a breathtaking col (a pass between two mountain peaks) and high-alpine snowy wonderland between the Jungfrau and Mönch in the Bernese Alps. The natural wonder is a visual sensation unlike anything in Australia.
- Ireland: Tour the majestic Cahir, Kilkenny and Dunguaire castles that symbolize the romance and grandeur of this country. Visit Blarney Castle in County Cork, one of the most famous and visited castles in Ireland, renowned for its vibrant gardens and underground caves.
- Porto, Portugal: Porto, known as the Cidade Invicta (unvanquished city), is an age-old sea city adored for its charming towns, renowned architecture and rich history. Head to Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the local port wine cellars and don’t miss the the 14th-century São Francisco church.
- Amsterdam: The Netherlands’ capital city is a European playground where people from across the globe come to experience the notorious Red Light District, known for its cannabis cafés and erotic services. Beyond this tantalizing urban area, the city is also known for its rich artistic heritage and 400-year-old waterways.
- Venice, Italy: St. Mark’s Basilica draws in five to six million visitors annually who come to see this elaborate masterpiece representative of refined Byzantine art. After admiring the cathedral’s astounding mosaics, experience Venice with a gondola ride and tasty gelato.
- Spain: The great cities of Spain (Barcelona, Madrid and Seville) will open your eyes to revered architecture of Spanish heritage and awaken your senses to amazing cultural landmarks. Taste delicious tapas, stroll the Gothic Quarters, visit the legendary art museum Prado and get lost in the charming streets of Santa Cruz.
- Athens, Greece: Athens claims the title “the historical capital of Europe” and rightfully so. The charming metropolis is home to the ancient citadel Acropolis, a masterpiece emblematic of classical Greece.
- Dubrovnik, Croatia: After all the sightseeing and trekking around Europe, make a stop in Dubrovnik to relax on one of the Banje, Uvala Lapad or Copacabana beaches. Lounge on Banje’s sandy beaches or take a plunge in the clear waters of Uvada Lapad. Beach bum the afternoon away and then let loose in the city’s nightlife with a cocktail or two.
Health & Safety
More than eight million Australians travel overseas annually, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides consular services to more than 10,000 Aussie travellers in need of assistance. No traveller wants to imagine an abrupt end to their trip due to illness, natural disaster or serious crime. Yes, building a dream itinerary is exciting, but proper preparation is essential. Research, research, research—and keep in mind the following tips for safe and secure travel overseas:
- Subscribe to free email notifications by SmartTraveller.gov.au to receive up-to-date travel advice and the latest information for a specific country or international issues.
- Register travel details and contact information with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure DFAT can contact or find you during an emergency.
- Protect yourself with comprehensive travel insurance. An insurance policy will cover emergency costs like a medical evacuation, serious illness or injury, theft of valuables, lost or damaged baggage and flight cancellations or interruptions. Limits usually apply so check the PDS before you buy.
- Prepare and copy your documents and check expiration dates. Acquire and safeguard your passport, the most essential travel document required for leaving Australia. In advance, verify if the countries you plan to visit require a visa. Also, bring extra passport photos in case you need to replace a lost or stolen passport.
- Make a doctor’s appointment for a basic checkup six to eight weeks before your trip. Get the proper vaccinations and also check that any medications you have to bring are legal in the countries you plan to visit. Bring extra medication and a doctor’s letter just in case.
- Avoid areas at high risk for severe terrorist activity and civil unrest. Respect local customs and cultural etiquette. Be vigilant about your personal belongings (especially credit card information) and be extra aware of your surroundings.
Getting Around in Europe
Riding the rails isn’t just the practical way to see Europe—it’s part of the experience of travelling this beautiful continent. Once you touch ground in Europe, trains will be your most efficient means for getting around and crossing country lines. Europe’s high-speed trains will get you around without the baggage limitations and steep hidden fares found with flying. The Channel Tunnel (or “Chunnel”) that links England and France carries the most sophisticated high-speed Eurostar or Eurotunnel trains in the world.
The European rail network runs trains locally and internationally, offering rail travellers flexibility with frequent departures and first-class amenities. The network includes the following train options, according to VisitEurope.com:
- Night Trains: Night trains have sleeping compartments for first-class riders, couchettes for second-class riders and fares available for all price points. Popular night trains include the Trainhotel Elipsos, Riviera and Paris-Germany trains.
- Scenic: Journeying throughout Europe by train is one of the best ways to soak in the scenery. Aboard the Glacier Express, Bernina Express or Wilhelm Tell Express, tourists will experience the true beauty of Switzerland as they pass by snow-capped mountains, alpine landscapes and sparking shorelines. Cogwheel railways (like Norway’s Flåm Railway) showcase Norway’s magnificent natural brilliance, including the country’s majestic mountainsides and serene fjords.
- InterCity Airport-Trains: Rather than hail a taxi or ride a bus from city to city, train-to-city connections get you to your destination conveniently and economically. VisitEuope.com recognizes the following major European airports for quality airport-train services: Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona Prat, Berlin Schoenfeld, Birmingham, Brussels National, Copenhagen.
- Visit RailEurope to help plan your cross-country European excursions and find the best routes. Book in advance, find fares, check out schedules, and make rail pass reservations. RailEurope.com’s travel map serves as a helpful interactive tool for custom-planning your European journey.
Planning for the worst-case scenarios and all types of emergencies may damper your excitement, but it’s a necessary precaution. While railway-riding, city-hopping and sightseeing, anything can happen. But as long as you’re prepared with adequate travel insurance the unexpected may not have to end your journey prematurely.