Lake in Slovenia with the alps in the back.
Stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations.
It's easy to see why - a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visitingEurope a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world's smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.
Europe's climate is temperate. It is milder than other areas of the same latitude (e.g. northeastern US) due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. However, there are profound differences in the climates of different regions. Europe's climate ranges from subtropical near the Mediterranean Sea in the south, to subarctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean in the northern latitudes. Extreme cold temperatures are only found in northern Scandinavia and parts of Russia in the winter.
Average annual precipitation diverges widely in Europe. Most rainfall takes place in the Alps, and in a band along the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to the west coast of Greece. Other regions with plenty of rainfall include the northwest of Spain, the British Isles and western Norway. Bergen has the most amount of rainfall in Europe with 235 rainy days a year. Most rain takes place in the summer, due to westerly winds from the Atlantic that hit the British Isles, the Benelux, western Germany, northern France and southwestern Scandinavia.
The best time to visit Europe is in the summer. In August, the British Isles, Benelux, Germany and northern France have average highs of around 23-24°C, but these temperatures cannot be taken for granted. That's why in the summer many flights go from northern to southern Europe as northerners flee the rain and possible lower than average temperatures. The Mediterranean has the highest amount of sun-hours in Europe, and the highest temperatures. Highest average temperatures in August are 26°C in Budapest, 28°C in Barcelona, 30°C in Rome, 33°C in Athens and 39°C in Alanya along the Turkish Riviera. A general rule is that the further south and east one goes, the warmer it becomes.
Winters are relatively cold in Europe, even in the Mediterranean countries. The only areas with daily highs around 15°C in January are Andalucia in Spain, some Greek Islands, and the Turkish Riviera. Western Europe has an average of around 4-8°C in January, but temperatures drop below freezing throughout the winter. Regions east of Berlin have particularly cold temperatures with average highs below freezing. Russia is an exceptional case as Moscow and Saint Petersburg have average highs of -5°C and lows of -10°C in January. Some activities are best done in the winter, such as winter sports in the Alps. The highest peaks of the Alps have perpetual snow.
The Network of European Meteorological Services website provides up-to-date information for extreme weather, covering most of the EU countries.
Costs and Taxes
The EU is generally expensive for most visitors.
When buying souvenirs, it costs substantially less to purchase from smaller stalls than the stores affiliated with to larger establishments.
As for dining, most service items that are complimentary in your home country (e.g. water, bread) may not be so in the continent.
However most goods and services offered in the region are required to include value added tax (VAT) in their published prices, especially the large print. The VAT is refundable if you are a non-resident and intend to export the good you purchased outside the EU, just make sure you request for a voucher from the store and show them to customs at your exit point. To be safe, be on the lookout for a VAT refund sticker at the door or window of the store.
The euro (Symbol: €; ISO 4217 code: EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cents; sometimes referred to as 'euro cents' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts. Established in 1999 and introduced in cash form on 1 Jan 2002, the euro removes the need for money exchange. As such it is not only a boon to pan-European business, but of course also to travellers.
It is interesting that each member nation has a unique design at the back of the euro coins minted in their country. Rest assured that regardless of the origin of the designs at the back, the euro coins are legal tender anywhere throughout the euro zone.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. Those countries which have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. By law, all EU countries (except Denmark and the United Kingdom) have to eventually adopt the euro though in practice plans for this in the remaining newcomer EU states are being put on hold pending the outcome of the current economic crisis facing Europe.
Outside the EU Montenegro has unilaterally adopted the euro, but all other countries still retain their own currencies. Euros are widely accepted in European countries outside the Eurozone, but not universally, and at shops and restaurants the exchange rate is rarely in your favor. (Many hotels, though, price and accept payment in euros.) Money changers will generally give good to excellent exchange rates for the euro, and in a pinch they will be accepted by nearly everybody.
Do not accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into euros, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to leave your personal information with the bank as a precaution against money laundering.
For emergencies you can dial 112 in any EU member nation as well as most other European countries - even when it is not the primary number for emergency services. All 112 alarm centrals within the EU are legally required to be capable of patching you through to an English speaking operator. 112 can be dialled from any GSM phone, even locked phones or, in most countries, phones without a SIM installed.
The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pickpockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences. Remember alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures but overuse can lead to violence and poor judgment! In general, bars and pubs are not a place where alcohol causes these problems in Europe but it can end up being a big problem on the roads.
Most European countries have very low levels of violence compared to the United States. The main issues are drug use and gang related violence which are most prone in Britain and France, but it's virtually unheard of for any tourists to be involved in such issues. The few "trouble areas" that should be avoided are the run-down suburbs of certain urban areas (particularly in Europe's largest cities) and some places in eastern and southern Europe do have much higher violent crime rates, and can be very dangerous for non locals, but these areas shouldn't be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.
Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general but as always when traveling in rural and forested / mountainous areas take the proper precautions. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded.