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It is nearly impossible not to love Europe. With its kaleidoscope of cultures, foods, languages, and geography, there is something to appeal to anyone and everyone. As complex in its history as it is in its regional boundaries, Europe encompasses everything from Italy to Sweden, the British Isles to Russia. Whether it is your first time or just your first time this year, there is always something new to uncover in this great continent.
Eastern Europe is becoming more popular each year. Low rates coupled with pristine villages, breathtaking backdrops, eclectic cities and a medley of unique cultures draws curious travelers from all over the globe. While cities like Prague have been on the radar for some time, comparable destinations like Poland’s lively Krakow are only just burgeoning. Wine lovers are beginning to flock to Slovenian countryside to sample some of the world’s finest pours as history buffs flood cities like Warsaw and Bratislava to comprehend Europe’s Communist timeline. Eastern Europe offers fantastic alternatives to the crowded beaches of the Mediterranean and overrun ski slopes of the Alps. Catch a stunning opera performance in Moscow, soak up the medicinal effects of Hungary’s many thermal baths, marvel at the incredible architecture of Latvia, likely at a fraction of the cost you would spend elsewhere in Europe.
Central & Northern Europe
The plethora of things to see and do in Central and Northern Europe can nearly overwhelm. Germany not only hosts the largest beer celebration in the world, it also boasts some of Europe’s greatest museums. Austria is more than its incredible Alps - its also home to Vienna, the city of Music, seat of the Habsburg Empire, and some of Europe’s finest desserts. Northern Europe is breathtaking with its Norwegian fjords, Swedish islands and inlets, Northern Lights and National Parks. Both city-dwellers and nature-lovers will fall in love with the central and northern regions of Europe.
There is a reason nearly every avid traveler has been to Western Europe. It is downright beautiful. From the Italian Amalfi Coast to Switzerland’s lake district; from the Greek Islands to Spain’s wine lands; Portugal’s green mainland to the French Riviera; Western Europe’s landscape is known across the world for its beauty. Visit the biggest cities in fashion like Paris or Milan; sample tapas in Seville or fresh seafood in Santorini; party like a rockstar in Ibiza or surf in a quiet village outside of Lisbon; take a long walk through history in Rome, or head to Piemonte and sip on arguably Italy’s most delicious wine. Many people come to soak up the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe, and few people forget it.
The United Kingdom
Whether you are looking to frolic in the green, cattle-spotted pastures of Ireland, sample scotch in the Harry Potter-like atmosphere of Scotland, or rub shoulders with the Royal Family in glitzy London, the United Kingdom offers an array of experiences. Feel the fanatic pulse of ultimate fandom as you take in a football match in Manchester. Hunt down the infamous monster in the Scottish Highlands’ Loch Ness. Learn how to make and properly drink an Irish Coffee in the country of Ireland. Absorb the almost-too-fantastical-to-be-true Isle of Skye in the British Isles. The list seemingly never ends, and that’s a good thing. The UK presents so many options, your dream vacation is sure to come true.
BEST TIME TO VISIT EUROPE
While vast, Europe’s general climate is easy to divide. Nearly all countries experience all four seasons, and summer time, which runs June - end of August, is easily high season. Europeans, many of whom are blessed with the entire month of August off, travel to neighboring countries. In terms of warm weather and seasonal festivals, the time to go is summer. In terms of crowds and prices, the time to go is anything but. Shoulder season, April - May and September - October, see lower temperatures, less tourists, and generally lower prices. May and September are excellent months to consider, especially in Eastern Europe. Easter holidays are priced at their peak, and the week leading up to Easter, known as Saints Week, can be a very exciting and culturally immersive time to visit, especially in traditionally Catholic countries like Spain and Portugal. February’s medley of Carnival celebrations span the continent, and prices rise. With the exception of ski towns and Christmas Markets, the wintry months of November through March are quiet and cold. If the Northern Lights are what you’re after, head to Iceland or Norway during the months ranging from late September through late March for optimal viewing.
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN EUROPE
The traditional Eastern European diet of meat, potatoes, cabbage, and dumplings of some kind still exists. However, be prepared to taste test unique and modern spins on classic dishes while touring the region. Enjoy fancy renditions (or not!) of chicken kiev in Ukraine, pierogi in Poland, goulash in Hungary, stroganoff in Russia, and of course, the classic borscht soup. As for sipping, much of the Balkans/Former Yugoslavia (think Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia) offer a rendition of fruit brandy known as Rakia, though the ways in which to drink is vary from country to country. Hungary’s Unicum is a sharp herbal flavored digestive that is great for sipping after a long day of sightseeing. Slovenia is producing some very delicate, delicious wines from its three wine-growing regions. Last but certainly not least, the vodka debate is still looming large. The exact regional origin of vodka is yet to be determined, but rest assured the spirit is available in high quantity, and quality, in whichever country you choose to go.
Central & Northern Europe
Whether you choose to stick to traditional dishes like German bratwurst, wiener schnitzel in Austria, stroopwafels in the Netherlands, meatballs, smoked salmon, smorgas and lingonberry in Scandinavia, or decide to venture into each country’s growing food scene, you won't be disappointed. Typical foods can be found everywhere - from restaurants to street corners - but so can some of Europe’s top chefs, especially in big foodie cities like Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, just to name a few. Notable foreign influences can be found in the culinary scene, especially those of Turkish or Arab origin. Due to Central Europe’s climate and agriculture scene, hops grow like wildfire and some of the world’s best beers can be found here, especially Bavaria, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. In the Northern districts, sip on mead, a drink derived from fermented honey; schnapps to fend off the chilly air; and sweet ciders, a nice substitute for beer.
A medley of cultures means a medley of traditional dishes, that vary drastically from one region to the next within each individual country. Northern Italy’s food scene, heavy on the meat, polenta, rice, and creams, is notably different from that of the South and of the Coast, which tend to rely on seafood, olive oil, fresh vegetables. Regardless, the most traditional Italian dish of all is found everyone in many variations. Pasta is a lunchtime staple throughout the country, and many true Italians absolutely cannot live without it. From pesto in the North to tomato sauce in the south, you are sure run into this carb fueled dish at every turn. Italy is a wine region in itself, and it’s up to you to find your favorite. Tuscany, Piemonte, and Sardinia are only three of the many regions producing top-rated wines and proseccos. France, also a fabulous producer of wines and champagne, pairs its famous spirit well with traditional dishes such as Coq au vin, which is chicken actually cooked in wine, Bœuf bourguignon, and course, an array of tasty cheeses. Spain, like Italy, drastically varies in culinary delight from region to region, but is widely known for its tapas scene, a collection of small bites highlighting local ingredients from octopus to patatas bravas, ham croquettes to garlic shrimp. Matched with a delicious glass of crisp Albarino or Rioja wine, you’ll be dining like a true Spaniard in no time.
The United Kingdom
Big cities in the UK, Dublin, Glasgow, Dublin, and especially the Uber-international city of London, offer an almost too-much-to-handle variety of cuisine. Influences from all over the world infiltrate the region’s top restaurants, from India to Italy. Nonetheless, there are a handful of very traditional foods to try. Fish & chips or pork pie in England, the eclectic mix of ingredients that make of the Scottish sausage known as haggis, the hearty English Breakfast boasting toast and marmalade, eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms…all which can be paired nicely with a typical English tea or the harder, but regional, cider distilled from local apples.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM EUROPEAN WEATHER
In terms of the Europe continent as a whole, November is the wettest month, winter days boast the least amount of sunlight, and summer months are the driest, with longer days. Russia and Scandinavia are subject to Midnight Sun, a varying period of time in which the sun can be visible for up to 24 hours, mainly during June and July. The least amount of sun lasts from late September until late March, when the famous Northern Lights are at their peak, with Norway being a prime country in which to experience them.
As far as temperatures are concerned, you can expect the following:
UK and Ireland - Note that between Southern England and Orkney Islands in Scotland the temperatures can show differences of nearly 2C/10F. January high temps range from a cool 2C/34F - 9C/48F. Spring months rise to an average of 7C/44FF - 16C/60F. The warmest months of July - August see lows of 10C/50F in Scotland’s Orkney Islands and 23C/74F in Southern England. Autumn in October shows an average of 7C/44F - 14C/57F.
Eastern and Central Europe - The two groupings of countries can be lumped into the nearly the same averages, with January being prime for skiers, but brutal overall. Low averages start at a nippy -5C/23F, highs hitting upwards of 1C/33F. May is much more pleasant, where averages rise to 8C/47F to 19C/67F. July and August are certainly the warmest, with lows around 13C/56F and highs averaging 24C/76F, though it is known to get much hotter at times. October dips again to 4C/39F at its low to 13/56 at its high, similar to May temperatures.
Scandinavia - The Northernmost countries on our list mean coldest winter temperatures. January can fall to -6C/21F, with a high of only 3C/37F. May is more manageable, with lows of 6C/42F and highs of 16C/61F. July is very pleasant with a low average of 20C/68F and a normally sunny high of 26C/79F. Autumn numbers drop to an overall average of 6C/43F, give or take a few degrees.
Southern Europe is likely the most appealing throughout the year, with January averaging a high 7C/45F and a low 0C/32F. Spring brings a high of 18C/64F and an average low of 7C/45F. Summer can be quite toasty, with numbers creeping past 30C/86F during the sunny days. October offers a mild low of 10C/50F and high of 20C/68F.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I SPEND IN EUROPE?
Depending on where you are coming from and how long your flight time will be, anywhere from 7 days to one month can be a sufficient amount of time. A week can easily be spent exploring one city and its immediate surroundings. See below for combination ideas.
WHAT EUROPEAN COUNTRIES CAN I COMBINE?
Europe could be tackled regionally. While one country, or even one city, could keep you occupied for days or weeks, flight times make it worthwhile to combine a country or two, or even three. For shorter trips of 7 - 10 days, consider a tasting of Southern Italy starting in Rome, traveling south through Naples and the Amalfi Coast. A quick jaunt around Greece could begin in Athens, while the majority of your days are spent island hopping by boat. A 12 - 15 day trip could easily combine Spain and Portugal, with a quick hop to Tangier or Morocco. Ireland and Scotland could be combined with a stop in London to get a feel for the varying UK cultures. A Central to Eastern European tour could easily draw together Germany, Austria, and Poland; or Russia and the Ukraine. This is only a small example of the hundreds of combinations that Europe offers for trips of any length. Let us customize your ultimate European adventure!