Europe

Europe
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Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000 km2 (3,930,000 square miles), 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, safety and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe 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 second smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries. The eastern border of Europe is poorly defined. The Caucasus states are sometimes considered part of Asia due to culture, history and geography, and much of Russia and Turkey is geographically part of Asia. Politically, some countries are members of the European Union (EU), which aims to integrate the states of Europe in a common political framework. However, Europe is a diverse region and countries have varying ideas of what membership means. (less...) (more...)

Population: 738,199,000 people
Area: 10,180,000 km2
Highest point: Mount Elbrus 5642 m
Density: 72.5 people per km2
Number of countries: 50
Most populous city: Moscow
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Countries in Europe

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Albania (Albanian: Shqipëria) is a small country in the Balkans. It shares borders with Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

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Andorra is a small (pop. 73,100, size 464 km2), mountainous country in the Pyrenees mountains in Europe, and is on the Iberian Peninsula, on the border between France and Spain, in Western Europe.

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Armenia (Armenian: Hayastan) is a landlocked country in the Caucasus that is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest. This former Soviet republic straddles Asia and Europe and boasts an ancient and ... (read more)

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Austria (German: Österreich, literally "the Eastern Realm" or "Eastern Empire") is a landlocked alpine German-speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Germany and Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east and Slovenia and Italy to the south. ... (read more)

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Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus and variously considered part of Europe or Asia. The country lies on the Caspian Sea between Russia and Iran and is bordered to the west by Georgia and Armenia. The autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan lies between Armenia and Iran with a short border with ... (read more)

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Belarus is in Eastern Europe. It has borders with Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

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Belgium (Dutch: België, French: Belgique, German: Belgien) is a low-lying country on the North Sea coast in the Benelux. With the majority of West European capitals within 1,000 km of the Belgian capital of Brussels, and as a member of the long-standing international Benelux community, Belgium sits at ... (read more)

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Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina, Босна и Херцеговина, usually shortened to BiH) is a European country located on the Balkan peninsula. It was formerly part of Yugoslavia but gained independence in 1992. It borders Croatia to the north, west and southwest, Serbia to the east and Montenegro to the ... (read more)

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Bulgaria (България) is a country in the Balkans on the western side of the Black Sea. It is surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south, and Turkey to the southeast. Being located close to the Turkish Straits means the key land ... (read more)

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Croatia (Croatian: Hrvatska) is a Mediterranean country that bridges Central Europe and the Balkans. It is on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy on the western side. It is bordered by Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the north, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Serbia in the ... (read more)

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Cyprus (Greek Κύπρος, Turkish Kıbrıs, ) is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey. After Sicily and Sardinia, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is geographically part of Asia. Three states occupy the island: the Republic of Cyprus (a member of the European Union) is ... (read more)

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The Czech Republic , or Czechia is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia to the south-east.

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Denmark (Danish: Danmark) is a country in Scandinavia. The main part of it is Jutland, a peninsula north of Germany, but also with a number of islands, including the two major ones, Zealand and Funen in the Baltic Sea between Jutland and Sweden. Separated from the other Islands, Bornholm lies by itself ... (read more)

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Estonia is a Baltic state in northeastern Europe. It has land borders with Latvia and Russia. With a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, Estonia also has sea borders with Finland and Sweden. A growing number of foreign visitors have been traveling to Estonia in recent years. According to ... (read more)

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Macedonia (Macedonian: Македонија Makedonija) is a landlocked country in the Balkans. It is bordered by Serbia and the disputed region of Kosovo to the north, Albania to the west, Bulgaria to the east, and Greece to the south. The majority population is ethnic Macedonian and Orthodox but there is also a ... (read more)

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Finland (Finnish: Suomi, Swedish: Finland) is in Northern Europe and has borders with Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and Sweden to the west. The country is a thoroughly modern welfare state with well-planned and comfortable small towns and cities, but still offers vast areas of unspoiled nature. ... (read more)

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France , officially the French Republic (French: République française) is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain ... (read more)

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Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო, Sakartvelo) is a country in the Caucasus. It lies at the eastern end of the Black Sea, with Turkey and Armenia to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Russia to the north, over the Caucasus Mountains.

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Germany (German: Deutschland) , officially the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is the largest country in Central Europe and most populous EU state. It is bordered to the north by Denmark, to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, and to the ... (read more)

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Gibraltar , colloquially known as The Rock, (or simply 'Gib'), is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom with a 2004 population of approximately 27,800 people. It sits at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, and is bordered by Spain to the north. The people of Gibraltar are British citizens.

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Greece (Greek: Ελλάς, Hellas) is a country in Southern Europe, on the southernmost tip of the Balkan peninsula, with extensive coastlines and islands in the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean Seas. It shares borders in the north with Albania, the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria, and Turkey. It has an ... (read more)

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Hungary (Magyarország) is a country in Central Europe. Member of the European Union and the Schengen Border-less Europe Agreement. The country offers many diverse destinations: relatively low mountains in the north-west, the Great Plain in the east, lakes and rivers of all sorts (including Balaton - the ... (read more)

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Iceland , (Icelandic: Ísland) is a mountainous island nation in the north Atlantic Ocean, located between Europe and North America. Though not part of the continental mainland, the country is considered European. The name of the country - Iceland - may not be that appropriate: although 10% of Iceland is ... (read more)

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Ireland (Irish: Éire) is an island in north-western Europe which has been divided politically since 1920. Most of the island is made up of Ireland (Irish: Éire), a.k.a. Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) . The remainder is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

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Italy (Italian: Italia) , officially the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana), is a large country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, it is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art ... (read more)

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Latvia (Latvija) is a European state with a coastline on the Baltic Sea. One of the three Baltic states, it is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, a World ... (read more)

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The Principality of Liechtenstein (German: Fürstentum Liechtenstein) is a small alpine German-speaking country doubly landlocked by Switzerland and Austria (it is landlocked by landlocked countries). It is the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire and is an independent state with very close ties to ... (read more)

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59 hotels in this place

Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva) is a Baltic country in northeastern Europe. It has a Baltic Sea coastline in the west and borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, Poland to the southwest, and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) to the west.

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28 hotels in this place

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (Luxembourgish: Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg, French:Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, German: Großherzogtum Luxemburg), is a landlocked Benelux country bordered by Belgium, France and Germany at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin cultures. It is the only Grand Duchy in the world and ... (read more)

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158 hotels in this place

Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea that lies south of the island of Sicily, Italy. The country is an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Għawdex or Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) being inhabited.

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Moldova is a small land-locked country in Eastern Europe, north of the Balkans, surrounded by Romania to the southwest, across the Prut river, and Ukraine to the north and east. Unrecognized Transnistria occupies a sliver of the area bordering Ukraine east of the Nistru River.

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The principality of Monaco or the city-state Monaco lies in between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by the French Riviera to the east and west, with the Italian Riviera only a few kilometres farther to the east.

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Montenegro (Montenegrin: Crna Gora, Црна Гора) is a country in the Balkans, on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the north, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east, and Albania to the south. To the west of Montenegro is the Adriatic Sea. Montenegro's tourism suffered ... (read more)

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The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland; often called Holland in English and other languages — although that name properly refers only to two western provinces of the country) is a small country in the low-lying river delta of northwestern Europe. With over 16.7 million people in an area roughly twice the size of ... (read more)

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Norway (Norwegian: Norge) is the westernmost, northernmost — and in fact the easternmost — of the three Scandinavian countries. Best known for the complex and deep fjords along its west coast, it stretches from the North Sea near Denmark and Scotland into the Arctic Ocean where it borders northern Finland ... (read more)

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Poland (Polish: Polska), is a country in Central Europe. It has a long Baltic Sea coastline and is bordered by Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast), Slovakia, and Ukraine.

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Portugal , in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western ... (read more)

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Romania (România) is a country on the western shores of the Black Sea (only Dobruja is located north of the Balkan Peninsula). It is a country of great natural beauty and diversity and a rich cultural heritage. Romania enchants visitors with its scenic mountain landscapes and unspoilt rural areas, but also ... (read more)

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Russia (Russian: Россия) is by far the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, spanning Eastern Europe and northern Asia, sharing land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, by administering the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave on ... (read more)

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San Marino (officially the Republic of San Marino) is the third smallest state in Europe (after the Vatican City and Monaco), and claims to be the world's oldest republic. According to tradition, it was founded by a Christian stonemason named Marinus in 301 A.D. San Marino's foreign policy is aligned with ... (read more)

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Serbia (Serbian: Србија, Srbija) is a country located at the crossroads of Central Europe and the Balkans. An independent nation-state since the early 19th century, after World War I it co-founded Yugoslavia along with other South Slavs. After Yugoslavia's dissolution in 2006, Serbia resumed its status as an ... (read more)

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Slovakia or Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovensko or Slovenská republika, both names are officially recognized), is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Slovakia is a ... (read more)

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Slovenia (Slovenija) is a country in Central Europe that lies in the eastern Alps at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, with Austria to the north, Italy to the southwest, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south. Despite its small size, Slovenia has a surprising variety of terrain, ranging from ... (read more)

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Spain (Spanish: España) is a diverse country sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the country with the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after Italy, and the largest number of World Heritage Cities. Spain is considered an exotic ... (read more)

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Svalbard (Russian: Шпицберген, Shpitsbergen or грумант, Grumant) is a group of islands located between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. The islands are directly north of Norway, and under Norwegian rule since 1920.

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Sweden (Swedish: Sverige) is the largest of the Nordic countries, with a population of about 9.5 million. It borders Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark via the bridge of Öresund (Öresundsbron). The Baltic Sea lies to the east of Sweden, as does the Gulf of Bothnia, which separates Sweden from ... (read more)

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Switzerland (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansch: Svizra), offically the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to ... (read more)

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Ukraine (Ukrainian: Україна, Ukrayina) is a country in Eastern Europe. It lies at the northwest end of the Black Sea, with Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland to the northwest, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and Romania to the south west and south, with Moldova in between. Most of the country ... (read more)

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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) is a constitutional monarchy comprising most of the British Isles. The Union comprises four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the ... (read more)

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The Old City of Kraków, referred to in Polish as Stare Miasto, forms the historical kernel of this vibrant Polish city and is the first target for most travellers to the city, with regard to accommodation, eating out, entertainment, and attractions.

Interesting places:

  • Archaelogical Museum of Krakow
  • Main Market Square
  • Town Hall Tower
  • Church of St. Wojciech
  • Cloth Hall
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394 hotels in this place

Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany in Italy, with a population of about 366,500. The city is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence was the home to powerful families, creative geniuses and scientific masterminds who left their legacies in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Strozzi Palace (Palazzo Strozzi)
  • Piazza della Repubblica
  • Battistero di San Giovanni
  • Ponte Vecchio
  • Loggia del Mercato Nuovo
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Santorini is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. It is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the strange white aubergine (eggplant), the town of Thira and naturally its very own active volcano. There are naturally ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Catholic Cathedral
  • Oia Castle
  • Museum of Prehistoric Thira
  • Wall Paintings of Thira Exhibition
  • Santorini Folklore Museum
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203 hotels in this place

Innere Stadt is the most inner district of Vienna. It's historic centre dates back to roman ages.

Interesting places:

  • People\'s Garden
  • Albertina
  • Imperial Crypt in Vienna
  • Capuchin Church
  • Stephansplatz
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189 hotels in this place

The capital of Portugal, Lisbon has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with a contemporary culture that is alive and thriving and making its mark in today's Europe. Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is one of the rare Western European cities that face the ocean and uses water as an ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Castle of Sao Jorge
  • Rossio Square
  • Santa Justa Elevator
  • National Theatre of D. Maria II
  • Comercio Square
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284 hotels in this place

Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Joy Madrid
  • Convent de las Descalzas Reales
  • Plaza de Oriente
  • Almudena Cathedral
  • Royal Monastery of the Incarnation
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339 hotels in this place

Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the 16 states (Länder) of the Federal Republic of Germany. Berlin is the largest city in Germany and has a population of 4.5 million within its metropolitan area and 3.4 million from over 190 countries within the city limits. Berlin is best known for its ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Marienkirche
  • Neue Wache
  • German Historical Museum
  • Berlin State Opera
  • Red Town Hall
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Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. With a unique, youthful atmosphere, world-class classical music scene as well as a pulsating nightlife increasingly appreciated among European youth, and last but not least, an exceptional offer of natural thermal baths, Budapest is one of Europe's most delightful and ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Szechenyi Istvan Square
  • Szechenyi Chain Bridge
  • Hungarian National Gallery
  • Buda Castle
  • Vigado Concert Hall
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500 hotels in this place

Barcelona the capital and largest city of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city, with a population of nearly two million people. The city, located directly on the northeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, has a rich history dating back at least 2,000 years when it gained prominence as a Roman town under ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Roman Tombs
  • Palau de la Musica Catalana
  • Barcelona Cathedral
  • Palau Guell
  • Gran Teatre del Liceu
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216 hotels in this place

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland located in the Central Belt region of the country. With a population of approximately 450,000 (1 million in the city region), "Auld Reekie" (Edinburgh) manages to combine both ancient and modern in a uniquely Scottish atmosphere. Watched over by the imposing Edinburgh ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • St. Giles\' Cathedral
  • Edinburgh Dungeon
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • National Gallery of Scotland
  • Princes Street Gardens
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Points of Interest in Europe

The all too common concept of trying to "do Europe" is pretty unrealistic, and will most likely, if not ruin your vacation, then at least make it less enjoyable. While it is true that Europe is compact and easy to get around with efficient infrastructure set up everywhere, as previously mentioned, it also has more preserved history packed into it than virtually anywhere else. There are more than 400 World Heritage Sites on the continent, and that is just the very tip of the iceberg. So instead of running a mad dash through Europe in an attempt to get the ritual photos of you in front of the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben etc. over and done with, the key is prioritize, pick 2–3 sights you really want to see per week, and plan a route from that. There are likely to be some amazing, world class sights and attractions that you haven't even thought about, somewhere in between two given cities, and finding those will – in all likelihood – be infinitely more rewarding than following the beaten down post card route.

Historical and cultural attractions

Europe has been home to some of the world's most advanced civilisations, which has led to an astonishing cultural heritage today. Ancient Greece has been credited with the foundation of Western culture, and has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and arts of the European continent. Ancient Greek structures are scattered over Greece and Turkey, including Delphi, Olympia, Sparta, Ephesus, Lycia and of course the Parthenon in Athens.

Ancient Greece was followed by the Roman Empire, one of the greatest civilisations in the world, which took hold of large swathes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Visiting Roman ruins in Rome is a no-brainer, with the magnificent Colosseum, Pantheon and the Roman Forum. Many Roman ruins can also be found in Spain, such as the remains at Merida, Italica, Segovia, Toledo and Terragona. With 47 sites, Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country in the world, directly followed by Spain with 43.

Rail

  • Scenic railway lines in Europe

Itineraries

  • The Amber Road for motorists
  • Cruising the Baltic Sea on a cruise ship
  • E11 hiking trail for ramblers

GUM Department Store - Moscow

House of Nobility - Stockholm

Field of Mars - St. Petersburg

Latvian National Opera - Riga

St. Catherine\'s Passage - Tallinn

Clementinum-Prague National Library - Prague

National Monument - Amsterdam

Marienkirche - Berlin

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo - Venice

People\'s Garden - Vienna

Kauppahalli - Helsinki

New Market Square - Dresden

Szechenyi Chain Bridge - Budapest

Torgalmenningen Square - Bergen

Westminster Bridge - London

Pont d\'Arcole - Paris

Palazzo dei Conservatori - Rome

St. Mary\'s Church - Gdansk

St. Michael\'s Golden-Domed Monastery - Kiev

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About Europe

History

The earliest concrete signs of written European culture can be found in Hellenic Greece. Homer (8th century B.C.), Hesiod (753 B.C.) and Kallinos (728 B.C.) are three of the oldest poets in Europe. The Romans believed that their city was founded in 753 B.C. Modern archaeologists and historians believe that the area of modern day Rome has been inhabited since at least 1000 to 800 B.C.

From 300 A.D. Christianity in Europe started to spread. Around 500 A.D. the Roman Empire collapsed, with France at that time coming under the rule of the Merovingians, Spain coming under occupation from North African Berber Muslims and other countries essentially invaded by various barbarian groups. In 714, the Carolingian Empire was founded and lasted until 911 occupying large parts of Western Europe. The period after this date is often called the High Middle Ages and lasted until around 1300 which saw a shift to urbanisation across Europe, initiating in Western Europe, and gave rise to universities. This was followed by the Late Middle Ages which ended around 1500, giving birth to a period of European history normally referred to as the Renaissance or the rebirth. The people of this period actively rediscovered classical Graeco-Roman culture and it was followed by a reformation of Christianity, with the rise of new sects in Europe, most notably Protestantism.

Between 1492-1972 many European nations (like Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Russia, France and the Netherlands) ruled or had ruled over most of the known world, with the exception of East Asia (Mainland China, Japan and Tibet) and parts of Antarctica. This was called colonialism and was stopped after World War II in favour of a more humane, liberal and cost-effective method called globalism.

Europe, prior to the conclusion of World War II, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war". National leaders realized after World War II that closer socio-economic and political integration was needed to ensure that such tragedies never happened again. Starting with humble beginnings, Europe's first inception was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The founding group of nations were Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Impressed with the results of the union, the six countries pressed on and in 1956 signed the Treaty of Rome, with the ultimate goal of creating a common market — the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1967, the union was formalised further with a the creation of a single European Commission, as well as a Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

From 1945 to 1990 Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain which divided Eastern Europe with the exceptions of Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus from Western Europe. The Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe along with Eastern Germany for 45 years; in 1989 protests occurred across Eastern Europe and the communist regimes were brought down by largely non-violent revolutions except Romania, which violently overthrew its dictator. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.

Post-1967 the EEC continued to grow rapidly; Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986 and Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. To date, Norway and Switzerland have resisted membership for historical and economic reasons. The European Union pressed on with economic integration and launched the euro (€) across several nations on 1 January 2002. Currently, 17 nations use the euro as their official currency. In addition, San Marino, the Vatican and Monaco, which are not EU members, have been granted official permission to use the euro. Andorra, Montenegro and Kosovo use the euro without a formal agreement.

In 2004, a further 10 countries joined the EU. These were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, in 2013 Croatia joined the EU and as of 2013, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are official applicants.

Climate

Europe's climate is temperate. It is milder than other areas of the same latitude (e.g. northeastern U.S.) 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. Average temperatures in August are 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 has a useful website providing up-to-date information for extreme weather, covering most of the EU countries.

Geography

Europe makes up the western one fifth of the Eurasian landmass. It's bounded by bodies of water on three sides: the Arctic Ocean to the north (the Nordkapp being its most northerly point), the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The Mediterranean Sea is a popular beach destination because of its climate. Europe's eastern borders are ill-defined and have been moving eastwards throughout history. Currently, the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Caspian and Black Seas and the Bosporus Strait are considered its eastern frontier, making Istanbul the only metropolis in the world on two continents. Cyprus is also considered a part of Europe.

Europe is a geographically diverse continent. Europe's highest point is Russia's Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains, which rises to 5,642 m (18,510 ft) above sea level. Western Europe's highest point is the Mont Blanc in the Alps with 4,810 m (15,771 ft) above sea level. Other important mountain ranges include the Pyrenees between France and Spain and the Carpathians that run through Central Europe to the Balkans. Most regions along the North and Baltic Seas are flat, especially the Low Countries, Northern Germany and Denmark. The coasts of the North and Baltic Seas feature labyrinthine archipelagos and hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and resorts, albeit in colder climates.

Europe's longest river is the Volga, which meanders 3,530 km (2,193 mi) through Russia, and flows into the Caspian Sea. The Danube and the Rhine formed much of the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, and have been important waterways since pre-historic times. The Danube starts in the Black Forest in Germany and passes through the capital cities Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade before emptying in the Black Sea. The Rhine starts in the Swiss Alps and caused the Rhine Falls, the largest plain waterfall in Europe. From there, it makes up the French-German border border flowing through Western Germany and the Netherlands. Many castles and fortifications have been built along the Rhine, including those of the Rhine Valley.

Activities

Despite ever growing competition from the United States and nations with new found wealth, Europe is still the spiritual home of classical music and opera, and the various European capitals are home to some amazing 'old world' opera houses, where the hundreds of years of history often enhances the experience into something otherworldly. But if opera singers give you a headache, and you would much rather head-bang, fear not, Europe has more music festivals than your liver will ever hold up to. The Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Sziget fesztivál in Budapest and reigning champion Glastonbury, weighing in at 195,000 drunk souls, are widely considered the 3 big ones, but many other ones are not the slightest bit small. Alternatively, the revival Woodstock festival in Poland , while it doesn't boast the star-studded line-up of some commercial festivals, is great for those who want to do it on the cheap (there is no ticket to buy) and attracted 700,000 music fans in 2011. Furthermore, there is the "Donauinselfest" which takes place every year in Vienna, and is said to be Europe's biggest free open-air event.

While Europe is known for its opera houses, with America being regarded as the traditional home of musical theatre, London is also home to many productions of musical theatre, particularly in the West End. In fact, the standard of musical theatre productions in London is usually considered to be on par with Broadway in New York.

Sports

Perhaps no other field has seen stronger European integration than sport. Most professional sports have Europe-wide leagues in place, and nearly every sport has a bi-annual European Championship.

  • Football. If you are already a football fan the game hardly gets any better than watching your favourite team battle it out against the world's greatest football clubs in the Champions League or the Europa League . Games in the pan-European leagues usually take place mid-week to allow for games in the national leagues to take place during the weekend. For the popular teams the tickets are often sold out weeks in advance.
  • Basketball. The pan-European Euroleague is the highest tier of professional basketball in Europe, featuring teams from 18 European countries and some of the best basketball you'll find outside the NBA. The regular season runs Oct-Jan and play-offs take place Jan-May.
  • Handball. An annual pan-European tournament, the Champions League , takes place every year. While the sport is little known outside Europe, it's one of the most popular sports on the continent. Two teams with seven players each pass and bounce a ball to throw it into the football-style goal of the opposing team.
  • Cycling. Another sport that enjoys much wider popularity in Europe than virtually the rest of the world. Hundreds of competitions take place every year, but the 3 unrivalled events of the year are the Tour de France , the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España , where thousands of thousands of spectators line up along the often hundred kilometre plus routes. The whole season is managed in a league like format called the Protour .
Skiing and snowboarding Skiiing with the iconic Matterhorn as the backdrop

Europe is home to some fantastic ski resorts; the Alps are home of some of the best ski resorts in the world, and there are more here than anywhere else. Austria and Switzerland contain hundreds of resorts alone. Other Alpine ski destinations include France, Italy, Slovenia, Germany (Bavaria) and even tiny Liechtenstein. The largest area is Les Portes du Soleil, made up of 13 linked ski resorts in Switzerland and France, boasting over 650 km of marked runs.

But the fun doesn't stop in the Alps; the Scandinavian Mountains feature some of the world's most civilized and family oriented skiing areas, but the lower altitude also means it's a trade-of for shorter runs - Åre is the biggest, while way up north Riksgränsen allows skiing well into the summer. Scotland is home of 5 ski resorts, Nevis Range has the highest vertical drop at 566 meters, while Glenshee is the largest. A surprising option is Sierra Nevada in Spain, fairly large, just hours drive from the Mediterranean coast, and with a season often running into May - you can ski in the morning, and chill on the beach in the afternoon. To the north the Pyrenees shared with France and Andorra also offers excellent skiing in up to 2,700 meters (8,000 ft) altitude, Domaine Tourmalet is the largest resort in the area with over 100 km of pistes.

Puerto de la Ragua, Sierra Nevada (Spain)

Eastern Europe is seeing increasing popularity since prices are much lower than elsewhere on the continent. The downside is that facilities are not as expansive or modern as elsewhere in Europe, but things are rapidly improving. Slovenia is cheap alternative in the uber-expensive Alps, Kranjska Gora is the largest resort in the country. The Carpathian mountains with the highest runs at almost 2200 meters (7200 ft) is another popular area; Poiana Brasov (Romania, 20 km, 11 lifts ) Zakopane (Poland, 30 km, 20 lifts ) and Jasna (Slovakia, 29 km, 24 lifts ) are the largest and most popular areas in the respective countries.

National parks

There are more than 360 national parks on the continent, which is not a surprise since Europe is the world's second-most densely populated continent. Many parks are small, some less than a single km², but there are also some expansive national parks to explore. The Vatnajokull National Park on Iceland is the largest, covering around 12,000 km² (7,500 sq miles), and the fascinating national parks of the Arctic Svalbard are not far behind, while Yugyd Va National Park in the Russian Urals is largest on the mainland itself. In total the national parks of Europe encompass an area of around 98,000 km² (37,000 sq miles).

Outdoor activities

Many cities in Europe are great for cycling. EuroVelo cycling routes is a development of many different bike routes throughout the continent, that cater for nearly all desires and levels of difficulties. In all of the different countries of the continent, parts of these routes exists. Some are already developed, some are only "under construction".

Europe has several places for whitewater sports and canyoning.

Drinks

Europeans generally have liberal attitudes towards drinking, with the notable exception of Scandinavia (excluding Denmark). The legal drinking age varies between 16-18 in most countries, often with differentiated limits for beer and spirits. In most places drinking in public is both legal, and a common warm weather activity, and police are more likely to give you a warning and send you on your way to bed, than issue fines for drunken or rowdy behaviour. Except on the British Isles, the nightclubs rarely get going until past midnight, head for the bars and restaurants to find people until then.

Wine

Europe is by far the biggest wine producing region in the world, France is the biggest and most famous, but 5 of the 10 largest wine exporters are European Nations; France is followed by Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and nearly all European nations have wine production of some scale. Wine production was started 4000 years ago by the Minoan civilization in present day Greece, and was spread across Europe by the Phoenicians and later the Romans. Unlike other regions, European wine producers place much more emphasis on tradition and terroir than on the grape variety, and wines in Europe will typically be labelled by region rather than by its grape, e.g. Chardonnay, unlike the common practice elsewhere. This is because European wine producers claim that their long history have allowed them to adapt production techniques to the unique conditions of their particular region, and things like the soil composition for a region also has much influence on the taste of the wine. Some of the best and most famous wine regions of Europe includes Bordeaux, whose name is as synonymous with its wines as the large city. Another famous French region producing excellent wines is Burgundy (Bourgogne) around the city of Dijon, it produces both red and whites - the most famous ones, often referred to as Burgundies, are red wines made from Pinot Noir or white wines made from Chardonnay grapes. Further north, the Alsace region close to the Germany, and Mosel across the border - grown on some of the continents most dramatic wineyards on very steep hills, are above all known for their excellent white wines. Further to the south, Tuscany in Italy is famous for its Chianti wines made from Sangiovese grapes, while La Rioja is arguably the most popular, and certainly among the best, Spanish wine regions.

In fact, many wine names indicate the place where the wine comes from, with EU laws forbidding use of the name unless it is from a specific place. Examples include Champagne, which has to come from the Champagne region of France, Port which has to come from Porto, Portugal, Sherry which has to come from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, as well as Tokaji which has to come from Tokaj, Hungary.

Beer

While wine is the most popular alcohol in Southern Europe, beer is the national drink for much of Northern Europe. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic make some of the finest brews in Europe and maybe the world. Visitors from many countries, especially those from East Asia or North America will find that European lagers have a richer stronger taste, and often a higher alcohol content than found at home.

  • In Europe as elsewhere, the most popular beers are lagers, also known as Pilsner after the Czech city of Pilsen that originated the style.
  • The United Kingdom, Ireland and partly the Belgian abbey breweries, on the other hand have strong brewing traditions in ale, which is brewed using quickly fermenting yeast giving it a sweet and fruity taste.
  • Wheat beers are very popular in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and come in many varieties of their own. Traditional German Hefeweizen is unfiltered and cloudy, while kristall is filtered and looks much like lager. Belgian witbiers like Hoegaarden are often gently flavored and popular in summer, sometimes with a slice of lemon on the side. And in a class of their own are spontaneously fermented lambics, which are very sour and not to everyone's taste!
  • Stout (porter) is a British and Irish speciality, with Guinness available around the continent. Made from roasted malts, stout is dark and strong in both taste and alcohol content, hence the name.

Most European nations have a national brand; like Carlsberg, Heineken or Stella, sold most everywhere - but the really good beers are often the smaller brands, which doesn't try to appeal to everyone. In recent years microbreweries have had a huge revival shooting up everywhere around the continent. If you really want to indulge, try one of the October fests, held in many German cities, the most famously Munich (where they start drinking already in late September!).

Another northern European favorite is cider, most commonly brewed from apples and sold both bottled and on tap in pubs. Taste and alcohol content can vary widely, from dense, cloudy and strong (8% or more) to light, weak (under 4%) and occasionally even artificially flavored.

Spirits

Like elsewhere on the planet; Vodka, Rum and Gin is available everywhere. Scandinavia (except Denmark), Eastern Europe and Russia especially have an affection for Vodka, and if you've so far only tried the usual suspects like Smirnoff or Absolut; you should try the Vodka there, you may just end up surprised at how tasty the stuff can actually be. Elsewhere, most regions have a local speciality that local drinking comrades will happily fill in you, and eagerly wait for your funny faces when your throat and taste-buds screams in agony. Most likely it will be Slivovitz (also called Rakia) in South-eastern Europe and the Balkans (especially in Serbia), a strongly tasting and fruity brandy, usually made from plums. Other forms of brandy, made from grapes instead, such as traditional Brandy, Cognac or Port wine are popular in the UK and South-western Europe. Greece and Italy makes the popular Ouzo/Sambuca which along with the related, resurgent Absinthe, is made from star anise and sugar, giving it a liquorice like taste - watch for the many party fire tricks related to those drinks. In northern Europe you'll likely be served Schnapps (or Snaps, Aquavit), usually made from fermented hops or potatoes accented by traditional herbs like dill or sloe, be careful, it suddenly kicks in without much warning. Finally, it will hardly come as a surprise to many that Whiskey (or Whisky) is popular with the Scots and Irish. While all these drinks have strong regional roots, you'll generally find one or two types of each, in virtually any bar on the continent.

Shopping

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 January 1, 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.

Outside the EU, Kosovo and Montenegro have 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.

ATMs

Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of few euro) which may be in addition to the fees your bank already imposes on foreign withdrawals. Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.

European ATMs do not usually have letters on the keypad. PINs longer than 4 digits are generally no longer a problem.

Credit cards

Credit card acceptance is not as universal as in the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, but growing steadily. Some countries mandate that merchants check your ID for purchases of as little as €50, and many shops will insist on ID for any credit card transaction.

An increasing number of European countries, notably the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and the Nordic countries, have moved to a chip and PIN system, where credit cards all have a chip built in and you have to punch in your PIN code instead of signing a receipt. Any store that displays Visa, MasterCard, Amex etc. logos is required to accept "traditional" sign-and-swipe cards, so be persistent if they initially refuse, although you may need to escalate to the manager. (With most terminals, swiping your card and simply waiting 20 seconds without entering the PIN will cause them to print out the signing slip.) However, with self-service like gas pumps and ticket vending machines, you may be out of luck.

Exchange

With 50 intricately linked countries and 28 currencies squeezed into an area roughly the size of Canada or China, the planet's largest diaspora due to the continent's colonial ties with virtually the entire world, and more tourism arrivals than anywhere else, currency exchange is a fact of life in Europe, and the market is probably better established than anywhere else in the world, and readily available nearly everywhere. Banks will nearly without exception exchange all European currencies, and within the European Union banks will accept nearly any currency that is legally traded abroad. Specialized currency exchange companies are also widespread, especially in major tourist destinations, and are often slightly cheaper than banks. However, with ATM's accepting all major credit and debit cards available everywhere, many visitors simply withdraw money electronically to get as close to the real exchange rate as possible.

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.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Europe on Wikivoyage.

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