We all dream of visiting Europe at least once. Planning a trip to Europe for the first time can be tedious and overwhelming: figuring out how to get from one city to another, booking hotels and activities, etc. That’s why in this post I will give you the best tips for planning your first trip to Europe.
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In this post you will find:
- Tips for planning your first trip to Europe
My first trip to Europe happened without even planning it : I saw a cheap plane ticket from Buenos Aires to London and as an impulse I bought it. 4 months later I was visiting the old continent all by myself. I assure you: Europe is a must, regardless of the country you decide to visit. If you’re planning your first trip by yourself, this recommendations will help you organize your Europtrip.
Useful tips for planning your first trip to Europe:
When to visit Europe
The first thing you need to decide is when will you travel to Europe. In my opinion Europe is always a good idea. Each season has its pros and cons and of course the weather varies accoring to each country.
Winter in Europe (December to March) can be quite cold, but that’s not a problem if you’re planning on visiting cities. As winter is the low season it is possible to get hotels for a lower price and you will also find less people on the streets. If you’re planning to visit Europe during winter read: winter packing list for Europe.
In summer (June to September) most of the big cities in Europe are full of tourists and the prices for accommodation and flights increase due to the high season.
If possible, I recommend traveling to Europe during spring (from March to June) or autumn (from September to December).
Flights to Europe
The most important part of planning a trip: the plane ticket. To find cheap flights I recommend using Skyscanner, with which you can create alerts based on your destination and dates. I also love using the Skyscanner App, you can find more info on How to find cheap flights with Skyscanner App.
Find cheap flights to Europe here.
Plan your itinerary
In Europe, all the countries might seem small and close to each other compared to America but it is a big continent divided is a continent divided into 50 countries. The common mistake many travelers make when traveling to Europe for the first time is trying to cover many destinations in a few days.
Every city is different and deserves time so don’t over-pack your itinerary. My recommendation is to spend 4-7 days in big capitals like London or Paris and 2-4 days in other smaller cities. If you try to cover too many cities in a few days, believe me you will end up exhausted and seeing nothing in each city.
To start planning your itinerary, make a list of all the cities you’d like to visit. Then grab a map (or go to Google Maps) and start tagging the cities and search how long it takes to travel between them. Filter the first list of cities prioritizing the cities that interest you the most and build your itinerary according to the number of days you have available.
I recommend you choose the places you are going to visit by areas. You will save time and costs in transfers. Some examples:
- London, France, Belgium and Netherlands (these were the countries I visited on my first trip to Europe).
- Spain, France and Italy.
- Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
Check what documents you need
Check what documents you need for your chosen destination. Of the 50 countries that are part of Europe, 26 of them are part of the Schengen Area.
Within the Schengen area there are no border controls and while there are many countries that are part of it such as Spain, France or Italy, there are other countries that aren’t (United Kingdom for example).
Citizens of Canada, United States, Mexico (among others) can enter any country in the Schengen Area without a visa and stay a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period. Here you can check if you need to apply for a Schengen visa before traveling according to your passport.
For the countries that aren’t part of the Schengen area, you will need to check the specific requirements.
Transport within Europe
Most countries in Europe are very well connected by air and land routes. These are the options to move between countries and cities:
There are several low cost airlines that allow you to move cheaply from country to country. Some of these companies are: Ryan Air, Vueling, etc. As always I recommend using Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights. If you travel by plane, remember you will have to add the cost of transportation to and from the airport and also the waiting time.
Trains are generally the best way to get around in Europe because they are really fast and comfortable. The big advantage of traveling by train is that most stations are located in the city centres, so they save you a lot of time. If you plan on visiting numerous countries or making a lot of train trips in Europe, consider purchasing a Eurail Pass which gives you unlimited travel by train by a certain number of days (depends on the type of pass). Train fares can be expensive, but you save time and travel comfortably.
The cheapest option to move around Europe are buses. Trips are generally really long but it is worth checking the options because bus trips are usually very cheap.
- Other options are: ferries (some cities are connected), hitch-hiking, rent a car (Might be a good choice if you are going with a group), or carpooling.
- Within the cities I recommend using public transportation in most cities, it is excellent. Also walk, European cities are very walkable and there is no better way to know a city.
Book your accommodation in advance
Accommodation is usually the most expensive cost of the trip, so I recommend booking it in advance as you will be able to get better prices. Europe is full of options for accommodation, these are some:
- HOTELS AND HOSTELS
Hotels are usually much more expensive in capital cities and during high season. However if you book in advance, you can find very good deals.
Hostels in Europe are the cheapest option and there are many options in terms of hostel category. You can book either private or shared rooms. If you’re traveling by yourself staying in a hostel is the best option.
To book both hotels and hostels I recommend using Booking.com
- AIRBNB APARTMENTS
Renting an apartment through Airbnb is a very good option if you are traveling in a group or want to feel like you’re home and maybe cook. Airbnb is not legal in all European countries so you need to check that. If you are new to Airbnb, sign up using this link to get USD$17 off your first booking
If you want to know about other accommodation options read: How to find cheap and free accommodation
Budget for traveling Europe
How much money do you need to travel Europe? Your budget depends on many factors: how you want to travel, type of accommodation, duration of your trip, what you want to eat, and other factors. Also there are some cities like London which are more expensive, and others (mostly in east Europe) where you’ll find cheaper prices. Here are some average costs so you can estimate your budget according to the type of trip you choose to do:
- Accommodation: Hostel (€15-30 per night), hotel (€50-80 per night), Airbnb apartment (the whole place,€ 50 per night).
- Transportation between cities: this is very personal because it depends on how many transfers to make and in which means of transport. I recommend using Omio and Rail Europe to estimate the costs of your trip.
- Transportation in the cities: A subway trip usually costs between €1 and €5. In London, it is a bit more expensive (£3).
- Food: Main dish and drink in a restaurant (€10-25), a sandwich in a supermarket (€3), coffee (€1-3), fast food in small shop (€5-10), beer in a bar (€6). Obviously buying food in supermarkets is the cheapest option and you can take advantage of that if you stay in a hostel with kitchen or an apartment. For only €10 at least 3 people could eat.
- Activities: Prices of museums and other attractions vary so it’s hard to give a good general cost. Some museums have a free day, so check each museum’s website before going.
Take free walking tours
I highly recommend taking SANDEMANs Free Tours. They are available in most European cities and it is the perfect introduction to a new city. I’ve gone on tours with SANDEMANs in Amsterdam and London and loved them.
Bring some cash
Despite the fact that you can pay practically everything with a debit or credit card, I recommend that you bring some cash for small expenses such as tips, some meals or taxis.
In most countries the official currency is the euro, but there are other countries that use different currencies so check the official currency of the places you are visiting before traveling.
You can withdraw cash from the country in which you are at ATMs with your card, although depending on your bank and country of origin this can sometimes imply high fees. You can also bring US dollars and change them at any exchange house (avoid changing money at airports since the commissions are always high).
Try to travel as light as possible, you’ll be more comfortable to move between cities. Also if you are traveling in a low-cost airline, you will be charged for checked luggage. So try to pack all your things in a carry on or backpack.
Streets in Europe are frequently paved so they aren’t the best for carrying a giant suitcase with wheels.
I also recommend that you wear comfortable and light clothing because you will surely be walking many kilometers most of the days.
For everyday use, I recommend a small backpack. These are some of my favorites: 10 best Herschel backpacks for travelers.
Bring a universal adapter
Plugs aren’t the same in all european countries. A universal adapter has compatibility with more than 150 countries and you will never have to buy adaptors in every country you visit. You can get one on Amazon for less than $10.
Get travel insurance
Health insurance is always worth having for traveling to any country. For entering Europe, travel insurance is a mandatory requirement only for travellers who need to apply for a Schengen visa.
However I recommend to get travel insuranceas you never know if you’ll need it.
I hope this post helped you plan your first trip to Europe. If you have any questions please comment below or send me an email.
Other useful posts abour Europe:
- Best places to visit in March in Europe
- Winter packing list for Europe
- 20 tips for visiting London for the first time
- Best Budget places to stay in London
- How to spend 2 days in Amsterdam
- Where to stay in Paris: best areas and hotels
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