First-time travel to Europe? Since you are planning this trip, here’s all need to know for your first time travelling to Europe.
I can only imagine what Europe must look like to foreigners, but I can totally understand why so many travellers want to visit Europe. Since you are planning to make this trip at some point, I want to lay down all you need to know for your first time travelling to Europe.
As a European travel blogger, I understand why Americans travel to Europe, and I know that everyone wants to make the absolute best out of their trip. Once you are ready to get the tickets, all the crazy thoughts start racing through your mind, trying to figure out the best places to travel in Europe, travel adaptors, credit cards and other logistical challenges.
Planning your trip to Europe
Before you start planning your flights to Europe and search for accommodation, it’s important to be aware of the travel conditions. If you’re about to fly for the first time, check out my guide on flying alone for the first time.
When talking about Europe as a continent, we are referring to 46 countries, according to the Concil of Europe.
However, most foreign travellers intend to travel to countries that are part of the European Union (EU). To add some more confusion to this thing, there is a Schengen Zone, which includes most countries from the EU and some non-EU countries.
It’s confusing, I know, but I want you to get this right and do everything right so that you can successfully plan your first-time travel in Europe.
Depending on your citizenship, you may or may not need a visa or a visa waiver form before you arrive in Europe. That’s why it is important that you understand the diplomatic relation between your country and the one you want to travel to, as well as what zone they are in.
You also need a valid passport that has been issued within the last ten years, and the validity period extends to at least three more months after leaving the EU.
There are 27 countries in the Schengen zone, and there are 18 other non-Schengen countries that DO allow entry if you hold a valid Schengen visa.
Here’s a map to make things easier:
The Schengen visa allows tourists to stay in the Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days within six months. This means that the total duration of stay is of maximum 90 days, in any period of 180 days.
There are other types of visas, but we’ll be talking about travelling to Europe for holiday purposes.
You can find all the information about the Schengen Area visa at https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/.
Here are the categories for tourists and what you should remember (I added links to official websites for more info):
- Countries that do not require a Schengen Visa. However, as of 2022, these nationals will need to apply for a visa waiver called ETIAS.
- Nationals who require a Schengen Visa to visit Europe.
- If you’re not sure what visa or form you need to enter Europe, you can use this checker to verify the requirements for entering Europe for your nationality.
It’s important to note that the Schengen Area is designed to remove border controls between countries. That means that most European countries do not have a land border anymore, and after first entering the Schengen Area, you will not get verified by costumes while travelling within the Area.
Non-Schengen Area or Non-EU countries
There are a few countries that are part of the EU, but not Schengen. It is important to check your Minister of Foreign Affairs web page and the exact terms and conditions for entering that particular European country.
For instance, I live in Romania, which is exactly one of the few European countries that are in the situation described above. Some countries may need a visa to enter Romania, while others may not need it.
EU countries that are not in Schengen (updated July 2023):
As for the rest of the European countries that don’t belong to any of the areas, you need to specifically check the requirements for your nationality on your government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Americans travel to Europe
Citizens of the US do not require a visa to enter the Schengen Area and most European countries. However, since 2021, US citizens have the ETIAS Visa Waiver.
Here is all you need to know about US citizens travelling to Europe.
ETIAS Visa waiver
ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System, and it is meant to speed up border security checks and contribute to global security.
This is a form intended for the nationalities that want to enter the Schengen Area, which is not required to have a visa. Until 2022, these nationalities did not require any registration to travel to the countries in the Schengen Area.
The process requires applicants to fill in an online form, providing all necessary info about their upcoming trip to Europe and will require a small fee. It is similar to the ESTA system in the US.
If you’re unsure what paperwork you need to have to enter Europe, check the ETIAS Eligibility Checker.
Health preventions and news
Due to the 2020 world pandemic, each country in the EU has a different status regarding infection rate, and there can be some restrictions to travel between them.
If you come from a high-risk country, the EU and other European countries might not be open to your country. That’s why it is essential to check the latest updates regarding the pandemic situation.
Here’s the official EU website for how you can travel into Europe from third countries.
Best places to travel in Europe
What are the best places to visit for your first-time Europe travel?
I’ve said it before, and I will tell you right now that the best places and must-see places are pure marketing, and each individual should decide for himself.
Also, the best place for anything sounds pretty vague. You need to compare it to something to call a place or a thing the best.
If you want to find the best place regarding prices, then you will come up with a list of locations. But if you want to see the ultra-famous and most touristy places, then you might get another list of places to visit in Europe. However, if this is your first trip to Europe, consider some of these places I’ve included in this 3-week Europe itinerary.
In the end, it’s up to you and the kind of person you are.
That’s why I see travel as a way of discovering yourself as well as discovering the world. Travel is as much of an inner journey as it is a life experience. If you feel the same, then I’m glad, because you might find here some tips to get you researching about what are the best places to travel in Europe for you.
Travelling on a budget is a big topic, and most of my travels are budget travel, although I occasionally splurge on hotels or experiences that I really want. And I believe that we should all find this balance and enjoy whatever makes our souls happy.
Cheapest places to travel to in Europe
Backpackers and long-term travellers might want to select some cheap places in Europe to add to their itineraries. That’s one way to make your travels last longer.
Some of the best cheap places in Europe are:
Obviously, there are more, but this is a good palace to start researching.
Most popular places in Europe
If you consider the best places to travel in Europe to be the most popular places, then you should plan your budget accordingly. It’s a known fact that tourist places have insanely high prices for accommodation and restaurants.
However, I do believe that you should live your dream and see these places if your heart desires it. Just don’t try to do it all on your first-time European travel, as it may be just too much to see and too expensive.
In no particular order, here are the most famous places to visit in Europe:
- Paris, France
- Rome, Italy
- London, United Kingdom
- Barcelona, Spain
- Santorini, Greece
- Dubrovnik, Croatia
- The French Riviera- Nice, Cannes, France
- Athens, Greece
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Venice, Italy
There are so many other places, but these came to mind first. If you’re looking to visit some of these, check out this Europe itinerary for 3 weeks that includes some of the must-see cities.
European road trips are the best way to see as much as possible during your trip. This is also the way to go to discover less crowded places but equally beautiful.
The thing about Europe is that some countries, especially Western countries, have really good public transport, which allows you to easily navigate between cities and smaller towns. But I simply adore the freedom of going on a road trip and being able to spontaneously adapt my itinerary to the present moment.
You never know when you will find a new place you had no idea about, which is absolutely gorgeous, and you want to see more of it. That’s the kind of perk only a European road trip can offer.
Going on a 2-week Europe itinerary, or longer if you have the time, is one of the best ways to experience the local culture. These itineraries for Europe will force you to explore outside of the tourist sites and experience the true lifestyle of the locals.
For the past few years, I’ve tried to plan different road trips in different parts of Europe, and I can recommend some of these European itineraries to you.
- Baltic road trip: A wonderful trip through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
- Eastern Europe trips: I suggest Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
- Balkans trip: Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Croatia.
- Central Europe: Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland.
- Portugal, especially the Algarve area.
Best time to travel to Europe
What’s the best time to visit Europe? This is a question that you should answer for yourself, as it might be more about the weather and some costs to visit popular places.
It comes down to your weather preferences and absolutely must-see places.
Some places are better to visit in specific months of the year, while others make no difference, except for weather changes.
Winter starts in December; that’s when most European cities already have the Christmas markets ready.
March is the first month of spring, and it’s still cold, but it could be a great time to visit some of the most tourist spots that are not too crowded during that time. I recommend Portugal and Spain in March.
April is full of blooming trees almost everywhere.
May is my favourite month for travelling in Europe. The weather is perfect, the sun sets late, and most places aren’t crowded, as most tourists plan their holidays starting in late June.
June, July and August are the busiest and most expensive months to travel in Europe. Everyone seems to be on holiday, everything is booked, and prices go through the roof. However, this is the perfect time to visit half of Europe and, most specifically, the Northern part (check out Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark), which is otherwise covered in snow and grey clouds.
September is great for visiting tourist beach destinations, as they are cheaper and have fewer tourists. Think about the Adriatic Sea.
October and November are generally cold and rainy but are nice for city breaks in major capitals of Europe. It depends from year to year, but you might pay less to visit London, Munich and Prague during this time of the year.
Best travel apps in Europe
What are the best travel apps in Europe? Apps saved my life as a traveller as they made everything so much easier. Road trips are easy to plan, and tickets for planes, busses and trains can be easily purchased (and often at a discount) using mobile apps.
Here are the travel apps used in Europe that I personally use and recommend:
- Google Maps
- Uber and Bolt for in-city short trips (taxi)
- Kiwi.com to get the best combo flights from different airlines (you need to pay close attention to the conditions of each flight. Some users get confused when they try it for the first time. I used Kiwi a lot, and I absolutely love it. Saves me lots of money.
- Booking.com, Airbnb and HostelWorld for accommodation.
- Colibra Flights for instant compensations for delayed or cancelled flights.
- Donkey Republic for shared bikes. The service is available in many cities in Europe, and you can get a monthly subscription to use their bikes. I used this in Berlin a lot.
- Flixbus and Omio for cheap bus rides between cities.
- BlaBlaCar for car-sharing between cities.
- RentalCars for car rentals.
- AirHelp for claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights in Europe.
- RailEurope for travelling by train.
- GetYourGuide to book all experiences and day trips.
Best places to travel alone in Europe
I love that so many travellers decide to also travel alone. I travelled alone in Europe many times, and I enjoyed each one of my trips. In fact, one of my most popular posts is about planning my backpacking trip through Europe alone.
I believe that’s one very powerful tool to help with your personal development that we should all use.
There are many benefits to travelling alone in Europe, and the best one is that it pushes your limits and guarantees to boost your self-confidence.
However, when it comes to the best places to travel alone in Europe, some places are definitely better than others, especially if this will be your first solo travel experience.
Here’re my personal preferences when it comes to the best places to travel alone in Europe:
- Berlin, Germany
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Vienna, Austria
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Dublin, Ireland
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Bruges, Belgium
I’ve been to all these places by myself and with friends, and I believe they are safe and offer many occasions to get friends with the locals. These are not the cheapest places in Europe, but I promise that you’re going to love them.
Another point I want to make here is that you need to try at least once to stay in a hostel. Nowadays, hostels in Europe are chic, and many have private rooms.
The benefits of staying in hostels are:
- You get to meet cool and new people
- Hostels are cheaper than hotels.
- You can find out about local events and cheap places to eat from the hostel staff and other travellers.
- Hostels often organise special socialising events.
Best accessories to travel in Europe
When travelling to Europe for the first time, you might not be aware that Europe uses a different kind of plug and voltage. Also, travelling light in Europe is usually better, as low-cost airlines charge a lot for check-in luggage.
The best accessories to travel in Europe:
- Good and comfy walking shoes. My personal choice is Skechers.
- Plug converter and adaptor. Note that European appliances are 220 volts. Check it your charges say “110–220”, and you are ok.
- A backpack smaller than 56 x 45 x 25 cm so that you can easily take it in planes and buses. You’ll walk a lot in Europe, especially if you plan to visit multiple cities and want to travel on a budget.
- Power bank to keep your phoned charged throughout the day.
- A local SIM card, If you stay longer in each country, then I recommend getting a SIM for each country. If you want to buy only one card to use in all countries in Europe, get the Orange Holiday World or the Airalo eSIM.
What to consider before buying a backpack for travel to Europe
Before deciding what luggage to buy for your trip to Europe, I strongly recommend setting your itinerary and figuring out what kind of transport you will use.
If you need to fly between the cities, check the airline you want to use and see their specific requirements for cabin luggage. Ryanair and WizzAir are two of the most used low-cost airline in Europe, and they have different requirements for the cabin bag. Also, they ask their customers to pay for proper cabin luggage, so it is worth checking the price for that also.
For most companies, the cabin luggage size should be 56 x 45 x 25cm, but you should always check the website of the company you’re using to make sure your luggage is ok. I cannot stress this enough!
Ready for Your First-Time Travel to Europe?
There you have all my sincere recommendations for your first-time travel to Europe. I hope these will help you successfully plan your trip. Make sure to check out my guide about planning your solo trip to Europe.
If you have any questions, send an email my way, and I’ll be more than happy to help.
And don’t forget the most important part of your travels. ENJOY!