Ah Europe, that enigmatic cluster of countries encompassing a mishmash of cultures, a cacophony of languages and an array of beautiful landscapes. It’s an integral item on everyone’s travel bucket list but can be a little overwhelming.
So, what do you need to know about Europe before you step off the plane? You’re probably ready to immerse yourself in seemingly endless sunshine, delicious local cuisine and cultural traditions. But do you have the correct visa? Have you sorted out what currency to bring? And have you checked the train timetable?
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom for travelling in Europe, gained through experience by the Rabbie’s team.
Many people arrive in Europe with a wad of Euros, expecting every country to use them. But in reality, only 19 of 51 European countries have adopted the Euro as their national currency. You can check if the country you’re visiting accepts the Euro here.
If you’re in Europe during July or August, it’s wise to book your accommodation ahead of time. Summer is peak tourist season in Europe; and if you arrive at your destination hoping to find a bed at a hostel, you may discover everywhere is booked out.
Using data overseas can be expensive, and most of us have become reliant on the maps on our phones. Unfortunately, it’s a sure-fire way to chew up a tonne of data. Plan ahead and download city maps offline using the Google Maps app. Or kick it old school and pick up a paper map from the Tourist Information point at your destination.
Buildings in Europe can be refreshingly charismatic, with unexpected twists and turns and breathtakingly unique architecture. But they can also be inconvenient for the traveller who likes to bring a lot of luggage. Because a large majority of hostels, BnBs and hotels reside in old buildings, many don’t have elevators. So be aware that whatever you pack may need to be hauled up several flights of stairs on a hot Summer’s day.
This comes as a surprise to many tourists living outside of the EU. If you don’t want to mess about with multiple adaptors, try a multi-country adaptor. It’s convenient and space-efficient in your luggage.
If you like to be in bed by 10 pm, you’ll need to change your sleeping patterns in Europe. Well, that’s if you want to eat dinner out in countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. Most locals don’t dine until around 10 pm (especially in Spain), and many restaurants won’t open their kitchens until much later than you’re used to. Likewise, people tend to rise later, especially in winter, so attractions typically open mid-morning. Just be sure to check opening times and plan your day accordingly, so you aren’t left wandering grumpily on an empty stomach.
The Siesta is a beautiful thing but can frustrate travellers if they’re unaware of this Spanish tradition. In the hot mid-afternoon locals take naps, which means shops can be closed in a few Spanish, Portuguese and Italian villages. Our advice? Take the opportunity for a cheeky mid-afternoon nap. It’ll refresh you for the evening ahead.
The Schengen Area is made of 26 European countries. These countries have open borders for travellers, so you don’t need to go through border control when leaving one country and entering the next.
Some nationalities may require one visa to move within the entire Schengen Area, making travel extremely convenient. Others don’t require a visa at all but are only allowed to travel within the area for a certain number of days. Be sure to check the rules and regulations of the Schengen Area with your home government before you leave. You can find out more about the Schengen Area here.
It’s vital to check whether you need a visa to enter a country. To avoid all kinds of issues, it’s best to research this before you go. Depending on your nationality and the country you’re visiting, you may be able to obtain a visa at the airport or you may not need a visa at all. But getting a visa for some European countries can be a lengthy process which can take over a month to organise. So plan, plan, plan.
We'd always recommend taking the train. It's the most environmentally friendly way to travel long distances in Europe. They can also be comfortable, and it's always enjoyable to watch the scenery whizz by. Make sure you book ahead to get the best prices.
But if you’re pressed for time and cash, you can always check check cheap flight deals. Again, it's always best to book ahead to avoid price hikes.
Many people choose to stick with their home provider and switch on international roaming when overseas. But it’s worth looking at local sim cards which offer similar rates all over Europe. If you have an unlocked phone, getting a multi-country European sim card can save you a pretty penny compared to typical roaming rates.
Want to eat at a restaurant right near the Trevi Fountain in Rome? You’ll most likely be paying a criminal price for your meal. If this is the experience you want, that’s totally fine. But we can guarantee that if you venture into the residential neighbourhoods, you’ll find reasonably priced cuisine; and it’s often more authentic too. Don’t be shy - download the Google Translate app and tackle the non-English menus.
Remembering your manners is important when travelling to other countries. You’ll visit Copenhagen where basically everyone speaks English, but then enter another European city and have a completely different experience. Here are a few rules to live by when considering language and travelling in Europe:
You don’t want to arrive in an absolutely heaving Munich without realising Oktoberfest is in full swing. Or turn up at the Vatican Museums on Easter Sunday, expecting them to be open for business. Google public holidays and major events in the country or city you plan to visit before you head off.
You will need to pay with coins to use most public toilets in Europe. And you never know when small change can come in handy.
Yes, we’re serious. If you’ve ever been stuck alone and naked in a shower stall scratching your head at the buttons and dials on offer, you’ll know what we mean. Showers around Europe can be confusing, and they’re all different. It isn’t just simple cold and hot taps here. Have a gander of the system in your room and if you can’t work it out, politely ask the service desk in your hotel or host at your BnB.
Paying with your bank card is incredibly convenient. But there’s a catch. The card machine may give you the option of buying in your home currency, or the local currency. Always pay in local currency. There are often hidden and high exchange rates involved in paying with anything else.
Public transport differs from place to place, even within the same country. It’s wise to inquire about the procedures involved with taking the local bus, train, tram or ferry when purchasing your ticket. Look out for ticket validation machines, as many metropolitan areas in Europe require you to stamp your own ticket before alighting the service.
We hope this advice helps you to be prepared for a stress-free holiday in Europe. Because it’s more important to focus on which mouth-watering local dish you’re going to try next, not whether you have enough spare change to use the bathroom.