The countries of Western Europe are prosperous and stable and first in mind for family holidays, while some of the Central and Eastern European states are luring budget-minded travellers keen to enjoy the sun outside the pricey Eurozone.
Europe's capitals are jewel-like, each one more spectacular than the next. Paris is the City of Lights, the most beautiful and romantic capital; stately Vienna was the centre of the Habsburg Empire for more than 600 years; red-roofed Prague the city of a hundred spires and medieval Krakow, once royal capital of Poland.
The continent offers a wealth of holiday ideas: touring the Burren in Ireland, viewing the Northern Lights in Norway or Sweden, skiing in France or Switzerland or lying on the beach in Spain or Portugal.
Airlines offering cheap flights to Europe have opened up countries and revealed little-known tourist gems.
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Mediterranean summers are hot and winters mild. In central and northern Italy and France, the climate is more temperate with humid summers and cold, damp winters. Spain and Portugal can be very hot and dry in summer, with cold and wet winters. Winter in Madrid and Spain’s high central region can be quite cold.Central Europe has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot to warm and winters cold with temperatures below freezing. Snow can fall as early as mid-September in the Alps, and the ski resorts start opening in November and remain open until April.A continuation of the Gulf Stream (North Atlantic Drift) keeps the climate in Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, and Iceland fairly mild.Most Europeans are on holiday in August. Some shops and attractions are closed in the cities, and the beaches and mountains are mobbed.
Getting around Europe
Europe is well connected by planes, trains and buses. It is easy to take flights between major cities, especially if you start or finish in the UK, Ireland, Germany, or France — all countries where low-cost carriers offer cheap Europe flights.
Trains run throughout mainland Europe and, since the Eurotunnel was constructed, also connect the UK to France. Check out www.raileurope.com for tickets and advice as well as interactive route maps.
Buses (coaches) are readily available and a much cheaper way of travelling. However, they are typically a lot slower and often more uncomfortable than trains. Eurolines is a good low-cost coach operator to check.
If you’re driving, consider renting a diesel car. Diesels often get better mileage and are a great deal in countries that subsidize diesel. Drive on the left in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and keep the speed below 130 kmph (80 mph) on the Autobahn.
Even if you’re planning on travelling independently, check out tours as many (such as a one-day city or 14-day country tour) can be combined with independent travel.
Europe insider information
- Ireland has produced some of the world’s greatest poets and writers and remains a retreat for golfing, fishing, and hiking. The cities are vibrant; the countryside is peaceful and wears its scenery, ruins, and monuments with grace.
- Germany’s cities are leading cultural, financial, and educational centres, and include two of the greenest cities in Europe. From modern to Middle Ages architecture, world-renowned exhibits and performances, and the all-time best Oktoberfest, Germany is a country of many facets.
- France is a land of variety: more than 400 types of cheese, 25 languages and dialects, prehistoric caves, and the Louvre. France offers sumptuous beaches, bustling cities, quiet villages, and mountain resorts. And the cuisine is as diverse as the country.
- The passion, culture and history of Italy — one of the few countries everyone knows something about. Whether your ideal holiday is soaking up the arts, visiting the Vatican City, hiking, or luxuriating in a spa, you can find it in Italy.
- On the Iberian Peninsula, step back from Spain’s beaches to find fascinating sights and charming towns. The world now comes to explore Portugal with its modern resorts and towns where old traditions remain the way of life.
- The Netherlands has a rich history as a world power; Luxembourg has dense forests, medieval castles, and Battle of the Bulge memorials; and Belgium is a feast for connoisseurs and gourmands.
- Austria has the regal buildings and culture from its days as the heart of the Hapsburg Empire. The country’s hospitality and cuisine make it a year-round destination, topped only with its winter sports, historic cities, and cultural institutions.
- Cheap flights to Europe depart from several airports around the UK. Ireland, Germany and France are particularly well connected.