When it comes to diverse culture, history, and scenic landscapes, there’s no place quite like Europe. From the vineyards of rural Tuscany to the vibrant city life of London, Europe has a seemingly endless number of sites that entice travelers from all walks of life. But as a first-time visitor, it can be difficult to know which places to visit. That’s because due to language barriers and ease of getting around, some countries in Europe are more “beginner-friendly” than others.
While every country in Europe has something to offer, there are certain places we want to recommend for your first international trip.
Which European country should I visit first?
For your first international trip, we recommend visiting England, France, Germany, Greece, or Italy. These destinations are popular amongst international travelers, especially those who have never been abroad before. As such, you can expect plenty of tourist attractions, a variety of accommodation options, and a well-developed infrastructure for foreign visitors.
There are many advantages to each of these countries, which can make planning your trip a little challenging. To help you decide where to go first, let’s explore each of these destinations in more detail.
If it’s your first time traveling abroad, England should be at the top of your bucket list. Not only is the country brimming with history and fascinating sites, but the native language is also English! That means you won’t have to worry about dealing with a language barrier in restaurants, hotels, or anywhere else you visit.
Start your trip in London, England’s buzzing capital city. Here, you can visit iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Or, hit up the culturally rich neighborhoods of Camden, Marylebone, and Covent Garden for a day of shopping and dining.
After London, you can choose to explore one of the many other unique cities in England. Manchester is a must for sports enthusiasts, while Bristol is a popular destination for art, live music, and nightlife.
And don’t forget about the charming rural villages! There’s nothing like enjoying a cuppa (British slang for tea) in a local pub or garden cafe in the middle of the English countryside.
France is the most visited country in the world – and it’s easy to see why. The historic architecture, stunning scenery, and delectable cuisine are unlike anywhere else on earth. And due to the high number of tourists, France has a well-developed tourism industry that caters to first-time European travelers. So even if you don’t speak French, you won’t have to worry too much about getting around.
No trip to France would be complete without a visit to Paris. This romantic capital has something for every type of traveler. Art lovers will be overwhelmed by the number of world-class museums and galleries, while shoppers will relish the sheer number of fashion boutiques and retail shops.
And history buffs will have dozens of landmarks, monuments, and buildings to admire as well (the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are two of the most iconic attractions to visit).
But France isn’t just about the glitz and glamour of Paris. You can also enjoy the tranquility of rural Provence, the sun-soaked beaches of the Côte d’Azur, or the majestic castles of Bordeaux. Best of all, the well-connected railway system makes it easy for travelers to visit all of these destinations and more during their trip.
With fairytale-like castles, bustling metropolitan cities, and awe-inspiring scenic landscapes, Germany is an excellent choice for your first international trip.
It’s one of the most powerful countries in Europe, which means English is widely spoken in most major cities (although the outskirts and small towns may be more difficult to get around). The living quality is also relatively high, with a robust education system and top-tier medical facilities.
You can make it a strict city trip by visiting Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, and Munich. Each of these destinations has an array of sights and attractions to entertain anyone interested in history, culture, and art. Or you can choose to visit some of the smaller towns (Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a fan favorite) to see a slice of authentic German life.
Germany is also known for its landscapes, especially in the southern part of the country. Go skiing or hiking in the Bavarian Alps or simply enjoy a quiet getaway in the Black Forest. There are also several picturesque lakes within a short drive from Munich, like Königsee or Chiemsee, where you can go swimming or boating in the late spring and summer.
If you’re craving a bit of sun and relaxation, then there’s no better place to go in Europe than Greece. In addition to the beaches on the mainland, Greece is also home to over 6,000 different islands (although only 227 of them are inhabited).
You can’t go wrong with any of them, although Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, and Corfu are some of the most popular destinations for tourists.
Although most travelers come here for the islands, the mainland of Greece is not to be overlooked. The capital of Athens is a historical treasure chest, with numerous structures and monuments that date back to the 5th century BC. After all, Greece is considered to be the birthplace of western civilization!
However, the best parts of Greece are in the places you’d least expect. Venture away from the main tourist path and immerse yourself in the local life. The charming villages (on the mainland and on the islands) are known for their delicious tavernas, lively squares, and friendly locals.
Many first-time travelers fall in love with Italy the second they step foot in the country. The cities are filled with architectural masterpieces, like the colosseum in Rome or the Duomo in Milan, although the smaller towns are also equally enticing with their narrow alleys and cobblestone piazzas.
And the food! You can’t talk about Italy without mentioning its cuisine. Pasta, pizza, gelato – this country is a gastronomic delight for practically every palette.
The big cities of Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan are must-see stops on your first trip to Italy. While you could easily spend the entire time in the cities themselves, the reliable railway system makes it easy for you to explore the smaller towns in the outskirts too.
Sienna, Bologna, and Verona may not be as well-known as the major cities, although they are worthy competitors in terms of culture, history, and food.
Italy also has a few notable natural attractions if you’re looking for a break from the bustle of city life. Head to the north to spend a weekend on Lake Garda or Lake Como. The Italian Alps are also close by if you’re looking for top-notch skiing or hiking opportunities. If you’re in the south, you can visit the Amalfi Coast for some of the best coastal views of the Mediterranean.
Although this may be your first time to Europe, we know it surely won’t be your last. This continent has something worth exploring around every corner. So get out there and see what this amazing planet has waiting for you!
Planning Your First Trip to Europe: Factors to Consider for an Unforgettable Experience
By taking into account your budget and travel style, the time of year and season, as well as your travel interests, you can create a memorable and enjoyable experience tailored to your preferences.
Budget and Travel Style
When choosing which European countries to visit, it’s essential to consider your budget and preferred travel style. Europe offers a wide range of accommodations and dining options to suit different budgets and travel preferences. Whether you’re seeking the charm of affordable hostels or the luxury of five-star hotels, Europe has got you covered.
From savoring street food delights to indulging in fine dining experiences, there’s a culinary adventure waiting for everyone.
Keep in mind that Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary generally offer more affordable options compared to their Western counterparts like France and Germany. Meanwhile, Southern European gems like Spain and Italy offer a delightful mix of budget-friendly and luxury experiences.
Time and Season
Each season holds its own allure, and understanding the weather and tourist crowds will help you plan accordingly.
Spring (March to M ay)
As spring brings warmer weather and fewer crowds, it’s an ideal time to witness the mesmerizing flower displays in countries like France, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Summer (June to August)
If you’re seeking sun-soaked beaches, a vibrant outdoor cafe culture, and a lively atmosphere, summer is the peak tourist season in Europe. Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece offer an irresistible summer vacation experience.
Fall (September to November)
Fall entices with fewer crowds and lower prices, making it a fantastic time to explore European treasures. Countries like Germany and Switzerland adorn themselves with stunning foliage, while France and Italy invite you to immerse yourself in the magic of the wine harvest season.
Winter (December to February)
Winter in Europe can be truly enchanting, especially in countries boasting snow-capped mountains and delightful Christmas markets. Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic are known for their winter wonderlands.
Europe is a treasure trove of history, culture, nature, and gastronomic delights.
Culture and History
If you’re fascinated by ancient monuments and historical landmarks, countries like Italy and Greece offer an immersive cultural experience. France and England boast iconic museums and art galleries that will captivate any art lover.
Nature and Scenery
For nature enthusiasts, Switzerland and Norway offer breathtaking landscapes that will leave you in awe. From hiking majestic trails to skiing down pristine slopes, these countries provide endless outdoor adventures.
Food and Drink
Each European country has its own gastronomic delights, but starting your journey in France, Italy, or Spain will tantalize your taste buds. Savor delectable cuisine and indulge in renowned wines as you embark on a gastronomic adventure.
Whether you’re captivated by vibrant city life, historic architecture, sun-soaked beaches, or the tantalizing world of gastronomy, Europe has something extraordinary in store for you.
Popular European Cities to Explore: Unveiling Cultural and Historical Gems
From ancient wonders to artistic masterpieces, each destination offers a unique blend of history, art, and vibrant city life.
Rome and Florence: A Journey through Time
In Rome, the eternal city, you’ll be transported back in time as you immerse yourself in its rich history and awe-inspiring architecture.
Don’t miss the chance to explore the iconic Colosseum and the Roman Forum, where you’ll witness the grandeur of ancient Roman civilization. Vatican City, a sovereign city-state within Rome, will provide a spiritually enriching experience. Surrounded by magnificent monuments and the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll be left in awe.
Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, is an art lover’s paradise. Marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, and lose yourself in the architectural beauty of the Florence Cathedral. As you cross the picturesque Ponte Vecchio bridge, you’ll feel the city’s cultural heritage come alive.
Paris and Barcelona: A Tapestry of Art and Culture
Our next stop is Paris, the enchanting City of Lights, renowned for its artistic and cultural heritage.
Let the Louvre Museum captivate you with its vast collection of art, including the world-famous Mona Lisa. Discover iconic landmarks such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, which add to the city’s magical ambiance.
Barcelona, with its distinct Catalan culture, will leave you spellbound. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of La Rambla, where street performers, local markets, and bustling cafes create an unforgettable experience.
Antoni Gaudí’s architectural wonders, such as the ongoing masterpiece of Sagrada Familia and the whimsical Park Güell, showcase the city’s artistic prowess.
London and Madrid: A Blend of History and Modernity
London, the vibrant heart of the United Kingdom, offers a perfect blend of historical landmarks and modern marvels. Explore the Tower of London, a historic fortress that has withstood the test of time.
For breathtaking views, head to the Shard, a symbol of the city’s architectural prowess. The British Museum and the National Gallery house impressive collections of art and historical artifacts, inviting you to delve into the country’s rich heritage.
In Madrid, the bustling capital of Spain, you’ll experience the city’s lively energy. Discover the vibrant atmosphere of Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
Art enthusiasts will be delighted by the Prado Museum, home to masterpieces by renowned artists like Goya and Velázquez.
Cultural and Historical Attractions: Dive into the Past
While exploring Europe, make sure to visit the continent’s most iconic museums and monuments. The Louvre in Paris, housing masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, is a must-see.
In London, the British Museum offers a journey through human history and culture, while the Acropolis Museum in Athens provides profound insights into ancient Greek civilization.
Impressive monuments like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Parthenon in Athens showcase architectural brilliance and embody the historical significance of their respective countries.
Historical Towns and Cities: Stepping into the Past
Europe is dotted with historic towns and cities waiting to be discovered.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, stands out as a top choice. Stroll through Prague’s enchanting Old Town Square and cross the Charles Bridge, immersing yourself in the city’s medieval charm. Prague Castle, a symbol of Czech power throughout the centuries, offers a glimpse into the nation’s rich history.
Vienna, the capital of Austria, is another gem to explore with its rich musical heritage and stunning Baroque architecture.
Marvel at the opulent Schönbrunn Palace, once the imperial summer residence, and visit Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, a magnificent example of Roman Catholic architecture.
Embarking on a European journey that includes visits to museums, monuments, historical towns, and cities promises a truly memorable experience.
This exploration will deepen your understanding of the continent’s cultural and historical background, leaving you with lasting memories of its diverse and captivating heritage. Get ready to be captivated by Europe’s captivating tapestry of art, history, and cultural treasures. Bon voyage!
Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities: Embrace Europe’s Splendor
From stunning coastlines and picturesque beaches to majestic mountains and unforgettable hiking trails, the continent is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
Beaches and Coastlines: A Taste of Paradise
One of the most unforgettable experiences during my European travels was the discovery of breathtaking beaches.
Spain, in particular, boasts remarkable coastlines along the Mediterranean, with golden sands and crystal-clear waters that invite relaxation and rejuvenation.
The Costa Brava and Costa del Sol regions in Spain are exceptional beach destinations that will captivate you with their beauty. For a more dramatic coastline, the Amalfi Coast in Italy is an absolute must-visit, with its charming villages perched on steep cliffs and overlooking the azure Mediterranean.
Here are some of my favorite beach destinations that will leave you yearning for more:
- Costa Brava, Spain
- Costa del Sol, Spain
- Amalfi Coast, Italy
Mountains and Hiking: Embrace the Great Outdoors
As a passionate mountain lover and avid hiker, I had the privilege of exploring two magnificent mountain ranges in Europe: the Swiss Alps in Switzerland and the Dolomites in Italy.
The Swiss Alps offer a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with a wide array of activities ranging from leisurely walks to challenging hikes. The cascading waterfalls and glacial lakes are a testament to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature that surrounds you.
The Dolomites in Italy provide equally unforgettable hiking experiences, with their unique rock formations and a rich tapestry of flora and fauna. These treks offer breathtaking vistas that will stay etched in your memory.
Here are a few unforgettable mountain hikes I experienced:
- Swiss Alps: Eiger Trail (Moderate difficulty)
- Swiss Alps: Lauterbrunnen Valley (Easy difficulty)
- Dolomites, Italy: Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Moderate difficulty)
Cuisine and Wine: A Gastronomic Journey
Europe is a gastronomic paradise, offering a rich tapestry of flavors and culinary delights. For food enthusiasts, France should undoubtedly be at the top of the list.
The country is renowned for its delectable pastries, exquisite cheeses, and classic dishes like coq au vin and ratatouille. Italy, too, tantalizes taste buds with its mouthwatering pizzas, pastas, and gelato.
Spain delights with a variety of exotic and flavorful dishes, such as paella, tapas, and churros. And let’s not forget Portugal, a must-visit for foodies seeking delightful pasteis de nata and bacalhau.
Here are some culinary highlights from these countries:
- Coq au vin
- Pasteis de Nata
When it comes to wine regions, France stands out with its internationally renowned areas such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne. Each region boasts unique qualities and grape varieties.
Italy offers a diverse assortment of wines as well, from the bold reds of Tuscany to the crisp whites of Veneto. Spain and Portugal also have their own incredible wine regions, with Rioja in Spain known for its red wines and Portugal’s Douro Valley recognized as the birthplace of Port wine.
Here are some noteworthy wine regions and famous wines:
- Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
- Tuscany, Veneto
- Chianti, Prosecco
- Douro Valley
- Port, Vinho Verde
Whether you’re relaxing on stunning beaches, embarking on exhilarating mountain hikes, indulging in delicious cuisine, or savoring world-class wines, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal will undoubtedly provide a remarkable start to your European adventure.
Accommodations and Transportation in Europe: Enhancing Your Journey
From charming hotels and cozy B&Bs to efficient train networks and flexible car rentals, Europe offers a variety of options to suit your preferences.
Hotels and B&Bs: Embrace Authentic Experiences
In European cities, you’ll find a wide range of hotels that cater to different budgets and preferences. Boutique hotels, in particular, provide unique and authentic experiences, allowing you to immerse yourself in the local culture.
These intimate establishments offer personalized service and often showcase the charm of historic buildings or reflect the artistic spirit of the city.
In smaller towns and rural areas, Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) present a wonderful opportunity to connect with locals and gain a deeper understanding of their culture and traditions.
These cozy establishments provide comfortable lodging and a warm, welcoming atmosphere, making you feel right at home.
Trains and Car Rentals: Seamless Transportation Options
Efficient train networks make traveling across Europe a breeze, offering convenience and a chance to enjoy scenic views along the way. Trains are particularly useful for intercity journeys and even cross-border travel. High-speed trains like the Eurostar and the TGV provide time-saving and comfortable options for exploring multiple cities.
Let’s take a closer look at these train travel experiences:
- Countries: UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands
- Features: High-speed, city center to city center journey, slightly higher cost
- Country: France
- Features: High-speed, comfortable, covers major cities in France
In some cases, renting a car gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and smaller towns at your own pace. Europe’s well-maintained roads and clear signage make driving a viable option.
Just remember to obtain a valid international driving permit, familiarize yourself with the driving rules of each country, reserve a car with a reputable rental company, and consider opting for a smaller car in cities with limited parking spaces.
Planning Itinerary and Tips for Your European Adventure: Unveiling the Best Experiences
Planning your European adventure is an exciting endeavor, and to ensure a memorable trip, it’s essential to consider your itinerary and follow a few helpful tips. Let’s explore suggested itineraries, travel time considerations, and practical tips that will enhance your journey.
Suggested Itineraries: Classic and Enchanting Routes
For a first-time visit to Europe, a classic tour that includes iconic cities like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona is highly recommended. This itinerary allows you to immerse yourself in diverse cultures and explore famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, and Sagrada Familia.
Rick Steves’ Europe is an invaluable resource for planning your trip, offering suggested itineraries and other helpful travel tips.
If you’re interested in discovering Eastern Europe’s charm, consider an enchanting itinerary that includes cities like Budapest, Prague, and Krakow.
This route exposes you to stunning architecture, rich history, and unique culinary experiences that will leave you captivated.
Travel Time: Efficient Transportation Options
Europe boasts an excellent transportation system, making it easy to travel between cities.
Trains are a popular and efficient option, with the high-speed Eurostar linking Paris to London in just over 2 hours. Budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet offer convenient city-hopping options if you prefer flying. Remember to factor in time spent at airports, train stations, or bus terminals when planning your schedule.
To fully appreciate the cities you visit, I recommend spending at least 3-4 days in major cities. This will allow you to explore their offerings and immerse yourself in their unique atmosphere. Smaller towns or rural areas may require 1-2 days to explore, depending on their attractions and your interests.
Tips: Making the Most of Your European Adventure
Here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey across Europe:
- Research the seasonal weather and pack accordingly. Europe’s climate can vary, so be prepared for both warm and cool temperatures, as well as the possibility of rain.
- Consider purchasing a SIM card or portable Wi-Fi device to have easy internet access during your travels. This will prove invaluable for navigation and staying connected with loved ones.
- Take advantage of city cards or passes available in many European cities. These cards often provide discounted entry to top attractions, museums, and transportation. Examples include the Paris Pass, Rome’s Omnia Card, and the Budapest Card.
- Respect cultural differences and adhere to local customs. Conduct a little research before your trip to familiarize yourself with etiquette rules and social norms that may be unfamiliar to you. This will help you navigate interactions and show respect to the locals.
- Use reputable sources for booking accommodations and transportation to ensure the best possible experience. Websites like Booking.com and reputable travel agencies can provide reliable options that suit your preferences and budget.
By considering these factors and following the recommendations, you’ll be well-prepared to create a fantastic itinerary and make the most of your first European adventure. Embrace the diverse cultures, iconic landmarks, and unforgettable experiences that await you. Enjoy your journey and create memories that will last a lifetime!