Best time to visit Europe and more: your essential Europe travel guide

03.25.24 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images
Want to explore Europe? Before you book your trip, check out our Europe travel guide to help you decide when to visit, what to do, where to stay, and more.

It’s easy to see why so many Americans love going on European adventures: You can easily visit multiple countries in one vacation, experiencing a variety of cultures, languages, and landscapes along the way. From the romantic waterways of Venice and historic sites of Athens to the majestic mountains of Switzerland and vibrant nightlife in Barcelona, Europe has something for everyone.

If you're planning your vacation, our Europe travel guide can help. It’s got all the essentials you’ll need to plan your getaway, including where to stay in Europe, the best time to visit Europe, and even what to pack for your trip. So, let’s dive in!

“To make the most of your European adventure, thorough planning is essential. With a well-thought-out plan, you can understand local customs and be more prepared for practical details like visas and currency. So, don't wing it, plan it!”

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s assistance partner, World Travel Protection.

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What to know about Europe before you go

Europe has incredible landmarks and picturesque views awaiting every traveler; but before you head off on vacation, keep these details about Europe in mind:

Language: There are over 200 languages spoken across the continent. Although English is widely understood in many parts, it's always helpful to learn a few phrases in the local language of the countries you'll be visiting.

Currency: The Euro is the most common currency used throughout Europe. However, remember that some areas, like the United Kingdom and Switzerland, use their own currencies (the Pound Sterling and Swiss Franc respectively). Be sure to research the currencies for the countries you intend to visit before leaving on your European vacation.

Visa requirements: American travelers can visit countries in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days without a visa. For longer stays, or if you're planning to work or study, you'll need to apply for a visa. You can find more information on the U.S. Department of State website.

Driving side: In most European countries, people drive on the right side of the road. However, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, vehicles drive on the left.

Electric plugs and voltage: Europe generally uses Types C, E, or F plugs with two round pins, and the standard voltage is 220-240V. But the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland use Type G plugs. So, it's a good idea to carry a universal adapter to ensure your U.S. devices can be charged.

Dialing code: Each European country has its own dialing code. For example, the code for the United Kingdom is +44, while France's is +33. You can search your destination’s dialing code and calling instructions here.

Time zones: Europe spans four main time zones, from GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) in countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland, to GMT+3 in countries such as Finland and Greece. It’s a good idea to look up your destination’s time zone before leaving and adjust all your clocks when you arrive.



When’s the best time to visit Europe?

The ideal time of year for a European vacation depends on what you want to do and see during your getaway.

Here’s what you need to know about Europe’s travel seasons to help you decide on the best time to visit Europe for your trip:

Seasons in Europe:

High season: June through August is the peak tourist period in Europe, but with nice weather comes crowds and higher prices! Summertime offers sunny beaches and vibrant festivals, which is why it’s a much-loved destination during this time.

Low season: From November through March, you’ll find fewer tourists and lower prices, but chillier weather. Christmas markets and skiing can be a highlight for tourists visiting during this time, with Europe's winter wonderland offering its own charm.

Shoulder seasons: April through May and September through October are the sweet spots with moderate weather and smaller crowds. The shoulder seasons are an ideal time to see Europe's beauty unfold in spring blossoms or autumn colors.

What to do in Europe: 10 best events to attend

If you want to immerse yourself in the culture of European countries and make memories that last a lifetime, each of these events is deeply rooted in local traditions.

Here are 10 annual events in Europe that you might enjoy:

1. Carnival of Venice (Venice, Italy)

Typically celebrated in February, this event is known for its stunning masks and elaborate costumes.

2. St. Patrick’s Day (Dublin, Ireland)

On March 17th, the Irish capital comes alive with parades, music, and plenty of green to celebrate Ireland's patron saint.

3. International Kite Festival (Berck-sur-Mer, France)

If you find yourself in France in April, don't miss this colorful spectacle, where the sky is filled with kites of all shapes and sizes.

4. Fiesta de San Isidro (Madrid, Spain)

Every May, Madrid comes alive with traditional music, dance, and colorful parades to honor the city's patron saint, San Isidro.

5. Cannes Film Festival (Cannes, France)

A prestigious event that showcases the best in international cinema, drawing celebrities and film enthusiasts to the French Riviera in May each year.

6. Il Palio (Siena, Italy)

This thrilling horse race, held in July and August, involves 10 riders competing around the town square.

7. Keukenhof Tulip Festival (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Renowned globally for its breathtaking displays of tulips spread across extensive gardens, this vibrant event from March through May attracts visitors from all over the world.

8. La Tomatina (Bunol, Spain)

Held on the last Wednesday of August, this world-famous tomato-throwing festival is a delightful, messy celebration of tomatoes!

9. Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)

The last two weeks of September and beginning of October mark the world's largest beer festival. Enjoy traditional Bavarian music, food, and, of course, local beer!

10. Festival of Lights (Lyon, France)

In early December, Lyon transforms into a wonderland of light installations, creating a magical atmosphere.

What to do and see in Europe

Europe is packed with jaw-dropping sites that blend ancient history and modern culture, so you may not be sure where to begin when you create your “what to do in Europe” bucket list.

Here, we’ve put together our top places to visit to help you fully absorb Europe’s incredible culture.

What to do in Europe: 10 places to visit during your trip

1. Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

A symbol of love and iconic architecture that illuminates with twinkling lights at night.

2. Colosseum (Rome, Italy)

This ancient amphitheater is a testament to the grandeur of the Roman Empire.

3. Acropolis (Athens, Greece)

Step into the pages of history at this ancient citadel perched high above the capital city.

4. Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)

This is Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece that continues to captivate visitors.

5. Louvre Museum (Paris, France)

Home to thousands of artworks, including the “Mona Lisa”.

6. Neuschwanstein Castle (Bavaria, Germany)

A fairy-tale castle amidst the lush German mountains.

7. St. Peter's Basilica (Vatican City, Rome)

An awe-inspiring structure, the focal point of the Vatican.

8. Stonehenge (Wiltshire, U.K.)

A prehistoric monument shrouded in mystery and allure.

9. Amsterdam Canals (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Explore the city's waterways by boat for a unique perspective.

10. Matterhorn (Zermatt, Switzerland)

A must-see for nature enthusiasts, this Alpine wonder is a sight to behold.

What to do in Europe: 10 cultural highlights

1. Gondola rides (Venice, Italy)

Enjoy a timeless and tranquil way to experience the iconic waterways of this enchanting city, gliding past centuries-old architecture and under historic bridges.

2. Flamenco Dancing (Seville, Spain)

This passionate dance is the heart and soul of Spanish culture.

3. Vienna Opera House (Vienna, Austria)

Catch a performance at one of the oldest opera houses in the world.

4. Vatican Museums (Vatican City, Rome)

Home to an extensive collection of art and historical pieces.

5. Guinness Storehouse (Dublin, Ireland)

Experience the process of brewing the famous Irish stout.

6. Montmartre (Paris, France)

This artistic hub was home to world-renowned artists like Pablo Picasso.

7. Hofbräuhaus (Munich, Germany)

Visit this historic beer hall and partake in traditional Bavarian lifestyle.

8. Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Explore Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to the present day.

9. Basilica Cistern (Istanbul, Turkey)

Marvel at the grandest of several hundred ancient underwater reservoirs beneath the city.

10. Amalienborg Palace (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Relish the art and architecture at this royal residence comprising four identical rococo palaces.

Read our Europe travel guide before you see views like this one of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

What to eat and drink in Europe: 5 must-try menu items

As a melting pot of cultures, Europe offers a culinary journey that's just as diverse as its history and landscapes. From hearty traditional dishes to the exotic flavors of contemporary cuisine, each country has a unique gastronomic delight.

Let's unwrap our top five must-try foods and drinks that Europe has to offer:

1. Pizza in Naples, Italy

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and its traditional Neapolitan pizza is an absolute must-try. With its thin, soft, and chewy crust and a simple yet flavorful topping of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, it's unlike any pizza you’ve had back home.

2. Croissant in Paris, France

Start your day in Paris with a flaky, buttery croissant from a local bakery. This quintessential French pastry, paired with a cup of café au lait, is what Parisian breakfast dreams are made of.

3. Paella in Valencia, Spain

Head to Spain's southeastern coast to try Valencia's world-renowned paella. This delectable dish is a delicious medley of saffron-infused rice, meats, beans, and a variety of vegetables.

4. Bratwurst in Berlin, Germany

These grilled sausages come in many regional variations and are a staple at German markets and beer gardens.

5. Belgian beer in Brussels, Belgium

Belgium has more individual styles of beer than any other country in the world, making it a beer lover's paradise. In Brussels, you can sample anything from fruity lambics to potent Trappist brews.

Most popular European airports to fly into from the U.S.

When planning your trip to Europe, choosing the right airport to fly into can make a world of difference in your travel experience.

Here are five excellent European airports that offer direct flights from the U.S., renowned for their efficiency, amenities, and connectivity:

Fiumicino “Leonardo da Vinci” International Airport (Rome, Italy): As the largest airport in Italy, Fiumicino offers direct flights from various U.S. cities and is only about 30 minutes by train from Rome’s city center. Plus, you can find connecting flights to other Italian cities or European destinations.

Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris, France): Also known as Roissy Airport, Charles de Gaulle is the largest airport in France and a popular entry point for U.S. travelers. Its proximity to Paris and high-speed rail connections to other major European cities make it a convenient choice.

Frankfurt Airport (Frankfurt, Germany): As the busiest airport in Germany, Frankfurt Airport offers an extensive network of flights to U.S. cities. Its modern amenities, quality lounges, and efficient rail connections to other German cities add to its appeal.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Amsterdam, Netherlands): Schiphol's strategic location, top-notch passenger amenities, and expansive network of direct flights to U.S. cities make it an attractive gateway to Europe. It also boasts excellent rail connections to many European towns and cities.

Barajas Airport (Madrid, Spain): Barajas, officially known as Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, offers direct flights from several U.S. cities. It's well connected to Madrid's city center by metro, and its vibrant array of shops and restaurants makes layovers more enjoyable.

How to get around in Europe: best transportation options

Once you've landed in Europe, the real adventure begins! The continent's extensive and efficient transportation network offers a variety of ways to explore.

Here are different ways to travel through Europe that each offer a different pace, budget, and travel style:

Bicycling: Europe is incredibly bicycle-friendly, with many cities having dedicated bike lanes and rental services. Bicycling is not only a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to get around but also allows you to take in the sights at your leisure. Cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are famous for their bike culture, but you'll find opportunities to pedal your way across many other European locales as well.

Public transportation: Europe's public transportation is second to none. Buses and trains are an affordable and reliable way to navigate cities and countries. From the Paris Métro to Switzerland's scenic train routes, public transportation offers an authentic local experience. Plus, many cities offer day or week passes, making unlimited travel more affordable. For cross-country journeys, consider the Eurail pass, which offers flexible train travel across 33 European countries.

Taxis and ride apps: Taxis are abundant across Europe and can be a convenient option for shorter distances or when you're laden with shopping bags. Remember, it's common practice in Europe to hail a taxi from a designated taxi stand rather than flagging one down on the street. In addition to traditional taxis, ride-hailing apps like Uber, Bolt, and FreeNow are widely used in many European cities, making it easy to get a ride right at your doorstep.

Where to stay in Europe: top neighborhoods for tourists

These neighborhoods offer a unique lens through which you can experience the genuine culture and essence of their respective cities.

Here are some places you can call home during your European adventure:

1. Le Marais (Paris, France)

This historic district is a blend of old-world charm and hip trendiness. With its narrow, winding streets, exquisite squares, and a variety of stylish boutiques and eateries, Le Marais has a unique character that's both inviting and enchanting.

2. Trastevere (Rome, Italy)

Known for its bohemian vibe, Trastevere is an enchanting neighborhood with winding cobblestone streets, vibrant markets, and charming eateries serving authentic Italian cuisine.

3. El Born (Barcelona, Spain)

This trendy neighborhood is a hotbed of culture, full of narrow medieval streets, distinctive boutiques, and exceptional bars and restaurants. El Born's vibrant nightlife scene is a magnet for the fun-loving crowd.

4. Alfama (Lisbon, Portugal)

Alfama, one of Lisbon's oldest districts, offers a true taste of local culture with its narrow lanes, historic buildings, and famous Fado music bars. The area is best explored on foot — or via one of Lisbon's iconic yellow trams.

5. Prenzlauer Berg (Berlin, Germany)

Prenzlauer Berg is an incredibly diverse neighborhood brimming with trendy shops, quaint cafes, and a plethora of nightlife options.

6. Grachtengordel (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

This UNESCO-listed canal district oozes charm with its 17th-century architecture, chic boutiques, and cozy cafes. Grachtengordel is an ideal base for exploring Amsterdam's numerous cultural offerings.

7. Plaka (Athens, Greece)

Plaka, Athens' old historical neighborhood, is a maze of narrow streets nestled at the foot of the Acropolis. The area, with its neoclassical architecture and traditional tavernas, is perfect for experiencing Greek culture.

8. Södermalm (Stockholm, Sweden)

Known for its creative spirit, Södermalm is home to an array of indie boutiques, art galleries, and vintage shops. The neighborhood also boasts some of Stockholm's best views.

9. Malá Strana (Prague, Czech Republic)

This historic district is filled with Baroque architecture, charming gardens, and stunning views from the Prague Castle. Malá Strana is a fairy-tale neighborhood that transports you back in time.

10. Kazimierz (Krakow, Poland)

Once the center of Jewish life in Krakow, Kazimierz is now a bustling district filled with historic sites, trendy cafes, and vibrant nightlife. It's a neighborhood where traditional meets modern.

Read our Europe travel guide before you see views like this one of Hallstatt, Austria with water and mountains.

What do I need to travel to Europe? Your Europe packing list

Remember, the key to successful packing is to prioritize essentials, be versatile, and remember less is more.

Here, we unpack some must-have items for your European getaway.

Travel adapter

European countries use different types of plugs and sockets than we do in the U.S., so don't leave home without a universal travel adapter. This handy device will ensure all your electronics stay charged and ready to use.

Comfortable walking shoes

Europe's historic cobblestone streets can be a challenge for tender feet, so pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Whether you’re exploring the ancient ruins of Rome or strolling through the Louvre, you'll appreciate a solid pair of shoes that can go the distance.

Packable rain jacket

The weather in Europe can be unpredictable, so it's always a smart move to pack a lightweight, packable rain jacket. Not only can it keep you dry during unexpected showers, but it can also serve as a windbreaker on breezy days.

Copies of travel documents

Never underestimate the importance of having hard copies of your travel documents. Keep a set of photocopies of your passport, driver’s license, and itinerary in your luggage. It's a simple step that can save a lot of hassle if original documents are lost or stolen.

Travel-size toiletries

Remember, in the U.S. we're used to the 3-1-1 liquids rule, which says you can bring containers holding up to 3.4 ounces of liquid each in one clear plastic bag on an airplane. But because many European airlines have their own baggage policies, you can avoid issues by packing travel-size toiletries that meet airline regulations.


While Europe is famed for its cuisine, having some familiar snacks from home can tide you over during long travel days or unexpected delays. Plus, it might save you from late-night hotel mini-bar prices.

Travel insurance

One of the best items to pack before you leave for Europe is travel insurance. When you set out on the adventures you've planned with inspiration from our Europe travel guide, our travel insurance plans can help you travel confidently knowing you have financial support and 24/7 travel assistance. And don’t forget to bring along our Travel On app, so you can get real-time security alerts, destination information, and more!

Read our Europe travel guide before you see views like this one of San Gimignano, Tuscany with homes and green hills.

Public holidays to keep in mind when planning your Europe trip

When planning your European adventures, it's important to be aware of the public holidays celebrated in your destination countries. These dates can affect everything from tourist attractions' operating hours to the availability of public transportation.

Keep in mind, these are just a few of the continent-wide holidays. Individual countries have their own set of public holidays that might impact your travel plans, so it's always a good idea to check the specific dates for holidays in the countries you're visiting.

Here is our list of public holidays in Europe that can give you a unique glimpse into local cultures and traditions:

New Year's Day: January 1

Just like in the U.S., New Year's Day is celebrated across Europe, with many businesses and attractions closing their doors to ring in the new year.

Easter: March or April

Easter is a major holiday in many European countries, with Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday often observed as public holidays. Be sure to check local customs as some towns hold processions, parades, or other unique celebrations.

King’s Day: April 27

The vibrance of King’s Day transforms the streets of Amsterdam into a sea of orange as the Dutch joyfully celebrate their monarch's birthday.

Labor Day: May 1

Known as May Day in Europe, this is a public holiday in many countries. As a day to honor workers, expect rallies and parades, particularly in major cities.

Duke’s Day: June 23

Known as "Fête Nationale" by locals, Duke’s Day ushers in a wave of celebration across Luxembourg to mark the occasion of the Grand Duke's official birthday with a blend of tradition and festive spirit.

Bastille Day: July 14

If you're in France, remember Bastille Day — a national holiday commemorating the start of the French Revolution. The festivities include parades, fireworks, and parties.

Assumption of Mary: August 15

In many Catholic countries in Europe, this day is observed as a public holiday. Note that many businesses may close.

All Saints' Day: November 1

In several European countries, this is a day to honor the saints. Many people will visit cemeteries to remember their loved ones.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day: December 25 and 26

Just like in the U.S., Christmas is widely celebrated across Europe. In addition, many countries also observe Boxing Day on December 26. Expect closures and revised schedules during this period.

Ready to start planning your trip to Europe?

See how our Travelex travel insurance plans can help protect your European vacation.


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