If you’re ready to say goodbye to the U.S. and bonjour, ciao or hola to Europe, here are some country highlights and other tips to get you started on planning your perfect European getaway:
European Travel Tips
There’s a lot to keep in mind when traveling across the pond, especially to a country where you don’t speak the language. Though Europe is a collection of diverse countries, there are some general things to know about this Old World continent that will help you plan and enjoy your trip.
- Learn a few polite key words, standard greetings and salutations in each country that you visit, including: good morning, how are you, I’m fine, thank you and please. Another helpful phrase that needs no explanation is: “Where is the bathroom?”
- In the majority of European locales, waiters and other restaurant workers are paid full salaries and don’t depend on tips as wait staff do in the U.S. It’s standard to leave just a few Euro (unless you have a very large group) as a tip for each meal.
- Before leaving for your trip, make sure your passport is up-to-date, as well as your license if you plan to rent a car. Check in with your bank to let them know you’ll be vacationing in Europe so they are aware and don’t freeze your account. Ask about their credit and debit card policies for ATM use abroad.
- Pack lightly, if you can! Many charming old buildings in Europe don’t have elevators, so it won’t be fun to carry a very heavy bag up several flights of stairs. Also, if you forget some essentials, you should be able to find what you need abroad.
-Purchase converters and adapters so you can charge your phone, dry your hair and plug in your laptop without ruining your devices or blowing out the power.
Italy is one of the top spots for Americans on their European travels due to its seductive culture, scenic landscapes, ancient history and rich cuisine. Some of the best things to do in Italy are to wander down narrow, ancient streets and duck into various opulent and ancient churches. Indulge in the Italian tradition of a four-hour meal in a fancy restaurant, relishing in “il dolce di fare niente” - the beauty of doing nothing. Here are some of the must-see cities and sights on your Italian vacation:
Your Roman holiday will be filled with architectural gems known the world over. Take a tour of the Colosseum, spend a few hours traversing the ruins and stare up at remarkably well-preserved temples in the Roman Forum. Walk down an unassuming, narrow alley until you emerge in a wide-open piazza and are graced by the magnificence of the Pantheon. Other must-visits are the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the fountains of Piazza Navona and the Borghese Gardens. Grab gelato at tiny Old Bridge and massive La Palma - two of the best gelaterias in the city.
The Tuscan countryside is romantically written about by authors around the world, and when you pay a visit to Siena, Florence or the smaller surrounding cities, you’ll know why. Stay at a bed and breakfast in the rolling, sunflower-laden countryside outside Siena, and make sure to spend some time in the city center as well - Piazza del Campo (the town square) and the Siena Cathedral are particularly breathtaking. In Florence, the center of the European Renaissance, make an appointment ahead of time for the renowned Uffizi Gallery, shop for gold jewelry on Ponte Vecchio, climb the steep steps inside the Florence Duomo for thrilling views and don’t miss seeing Michelangelo’s famous “David” at the Accademia di Belle Arti.
The U.K. is a good place to visit for your first trip to Europe because there’s no need to learn a new language. You might want to learn a few British slang words though: A restroom is “the loo,” a stroller is a “pram” and “knockered” means completely exhausted. Here are some tips and top spots for U.K. holidays:
London is a massive, cosmopolitan city brimming with culture, history and fun. While you are here, take a ride on the London Eye, tour Her Majesty’s Buckingham Palace, learn about the sordid and magnificent history of the Tower of London and make an appointment ahead of time to climb the 334 steps up Big Ben’s belfry for excellent views of Westminster. Also, take advantage of London’s fabulous museums such as the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, an architectural gem that holds the Rosetta Stone and other famous antiquities - they’re all free to visit! Your trip will not be complete without a shopping trip at Harrod’s and a stroll through part of the 350-acre Hyde Park.
Ireland is known for its emerald countryside and scenic cliffs overlooking the sea. While in Dublin, one of the top things to do is visit the ancient Dublin and Malahide castles. Walk through the historic, gothic-style St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century, have a picnic in Phoenix Park or St. Stephen’s Green and go shopping on quaint Grafton Street. Other must-visits are the Trinity College Library, the Kilmainham Gaol panopticon prison and the National Museum Ireland. Take a tour and raise a glass at the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery.