Europe is a continent and is situated at the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia and is separated from Asia with rivers and oceans. It is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and large portions of Asia. This gave Europe an important role in global affairs but this declined in the mid 20th century when the Cold war startet and United statesof America and the Soviet union became dominant world powers.
The European union and Schengen area
The European Union traces its history to European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and European Economic Community (EEC). It was first proposed as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. ECSC was formally established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and it was signed by France, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Between these states the ECSC would create a common market for coal and steel. The union have grown from its original 6 member states to 28 member states. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. A monetary union, the eurozone, was established in 1999 and is currently composed of 19 member states with Euro as the currency. With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants, in 2010 the EU generated an estimated 26% of the global economy.
Places to sleep
The Schengen area consists of most European countries that have implemented the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen area operates very much like a single state for international travel with border controls for those travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls. All member states of the European union, except United Kingdom and Ireland, and non-member states such as Norway and Iceland have signed this agreement. Tourists benefit from this because they get the Schengen Visa. This has made travelling between its member countries much easier and less bureaucratic. Travelling on a Schengen Visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country. The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa” and it is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe. Upon the issuance of the visa, the visa holder is allowed to enter all member countries and travel freely throughout the Schengen area. A Schengen visa allows the holder to travel freely within the Schengen countries for a maximum stay of up to 90 days in a 6 month period. Travel in the Schengen zone is an informative article which provides additional information.
European geography and geology
Europe have great variation within relatively small areas in geographical terms. The southern regions are mountainous, and moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees, and Carpathians into low plains. This extended lowland is known as the Great European Plain. An arc of uplands also exists along the north-western seaboard, which begins in the western parts of the islands of Britain and Ireland, and then continues along the mountainous, fjord-cut Norway. The climate is milder in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the globe due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream not only carries warm water to Europe's coast but also warms up the prevailing westerly winds that blow across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean. Travelling between The new world and Europe the sailboats travelled along the Gulf stream. 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. There is much here for the traveller to enjoy, with a bewildering array of diversity and languages and culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery, let alone some of the leading cities of the world.
Travel to Europe
European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why - a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe easy, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture. The easiest way of travel to Europe is by aeroplane. The largest air travel hubs in Europe are London, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, and Amsterdam which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe. Nearly every European city has direct long-distance flights at least to some destinations elsewhere, and other smaller airports can make sense for specific connections: for example, Vienna has a very good network of flights to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while Helsinki is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia. It is still possible to do the classic transatlantic voyage between the United Kingdom and the United States. The easiest option is Cunard Lin, but expect to pay 1000-2000 USD for the cheapest tickets on the 6 day voyage between Southampton and New York done around 10 times per year in each direction. If your pockets are not deep enough for this price range, your only other options of crossing the North Atlantic are pretty much limited to Freighter travel. There are several lines crossing the Mediterranean, the main ports in North Africa is Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia. Visit the page Ferries in the Mediterranean in Wikitravel.org for transportation between Europe, Africa and the middle east by ferry.
Travelling within Europe
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed and implemented the treaty. Be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union. Airports in Europe are thus divided into Schengen and non-Schengen sections, which act like domestic and international sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear passport control in the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. However, if travelling within the Schengen Area to or from one of the Schengen countries outside the EU, customs controls are still in place. Travelling within the Schengen area airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport. Especially in Western and Central Europe, the trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying. High-speed trains services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, the Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for everybody else) passes offer good value if you plan on travelling extensively around Europe and want more flexibility than cheap plane tickets can offer. For very long distances, travelling by bus may actually be more expensive than traveling by plane. However, bus travel is generally advantageous for shorter trips, trips on short notice, if wish to see the countryside you are travelling through and if you have heavy luggage.
If you have planned to travel long distances with bus check out Eurolines. Smyril Line is the only company sailing to the rather remote North Atlantic islands; Iceland and the Faroe Islands It sails from Denmark, which also host numerous lines to Norway and Sweden. From the British isles a huge number of lines still cross the English channel to France. And there are also numerous services to Denmark, the Benelux and even across the Biscay to Spain. In the Mediterranean Sea a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate between Spain Italy and Southern France. Across the Italian peninsular ferries also ply across the Adriatic sea to Croatia and Greece, with Bari as the main terminal. The Black Sea also has several ferries plying across it's waters, albeit service can be fairly sketchy at times. Poti Istanbul and Sevastopol are the main ports, but nearly all the Black Sea ports has a ferry going somewhere, but rarely anywhere logical - i.e. often along the coast. The ease of driving on the continent varies greatly, and as a general rule east and west of the old iron curtain are two different worlds. Western Europe for the most part have good road conditions and an extensive and well developed highway network, whereas Eastern Europe are still working hard on the great backlog left behind from communist days. During vacations, especially during summer and Christmas vacations, driving on the highways can be hellish, particularly in Germany. There are no uniform speed limits across the union and markings and signs are similar throughout Europe but variations in design and interpretations exist. Almost everywhere in the EU you need to be 18 years old to drive.
Languages in Europe
English proficiency varies greatly across the continent, but tends to increase the further north you get, in the Benelux and particularly Scandinavia most everyone is able to communicate in English with varying degrees of fluency, while in the south and east you'll often be out of luck, especially outside major tourist destinations. Austria, the German-speaking part of Switzerland and the former West Germany are also reasonable bets for English speakers. Speaking one of the Romance languages is likely help you a great deal in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania, while the same is true if you speak one of the Slavic languages in the East.
In Europe you have a variety of places to spend the nights. You may choose from enything from catsles, hotels, hostels, river/canal boats (Harry Blake and Hoseasons are good places to start in the UK and House boats is a good start in Holland) and camping. You may sleep in a tent but restrictions may occur if you want to camp somewhere else than in public campsites.
Money and banking
The Euro is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One Euro equals 100 cents. Each member nation has a unique design at the back of the Euro coins minted in their country. 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. 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. 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. An increasing number of European 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. With 50 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. 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. Specialised 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.
Vaccine and health
There are no specific precautions required for staying healthy in Europe as most restaurants maintain high standards of hygiene and in the majority of countries tap water is safe to drink. However, for more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceutical regulations and dentistry standards etc, please consult the 'Stay safe' section on specific country articles. EU/EEA citizens should bring the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which grants you access to state-provided healthcare within the European Union as well as Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein either at reduced cost or free of charge. Remember that the EHIC does not equal a travel insurance; it doesn't cover private healthcare, the cost of mountain rescues or repatriation to your home country. Neither does it allow you to go abroad specifically to receive medical care. If you are not a EU/EEA citizen, remember to buy a travel insurance policy, while some countries do provide free emergency care for visitors, any follow-up treatment and repatriation is your own responsibility, and some countries expect you to foot the entire bill for any treatment yourself - the fabled universal healthcare system does not equal free treatment for non EU citizens.
For emergencies you can dial 112 in any EU member nation as well as most other European countries - even when it is not the primary number for emergency services. All 112 alarm centrals within the EU are legally required to be capable of patching you through to an English speaking operator. 112 can be dialled from any GSM phone, even locked phones or ones without a SIM installed. The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pickpockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences. Remember that alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures but overuse can lead to violence and poor judgment. In general, bars and pubs are not a place where alcohol causes these problems in Europe but it can end up being a big problem on the roads. Most European countries have very low levels of violence compared to other parts of the planet. The main issues are drug use and gang related violence which are most prone in Britain and France, but it's virtually unheard of for any tourists to be involved in such issues. The few "trouble areas" that should be avoided are the run-down suburbs of certain urban areas and some places in eastern and southern Europe do have much higher violent crime rates, and can be very dangerous for non locals, but these areas shouldn't be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.
European cuisine and drink
Europeans generally have liberal attitudes towards drinking, with the notable exception of Sweden and Norway. The legal drinking age varies between 16-18 in most countries, often with differentiated limits for beer and spirits. Europe is by far the biggest wine producing region in the world and France is the biggest and most famous. While wine is the most popular alcohol in Southern Europe, beer is the national drink for much of Northern Europe. 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. The most popular beers are lagers. Another northern European favourite is cider which most commonly is brewed from apples and sold both bottled and on tap in pubs. Like elsewhere on the planet; Vodka, Rum and Gin is available everywhere. Eastern Europe and Russia especially has an affection for Vodka, and if you've so far only tried the usual suspects like Smirnoff or Absolute; you should try the Vodka there. Visiting the Nordic countries you should try aquavit. 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, 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. It is great variety of European cousine.
The cuisines of Europe and Western countries are diverse by themselves, although there are common characteristics that distinguishes Western cooking from others cousine. Compared with traditional cooking of Asian countries, for example, meat is more prominent and substantial in serving-size. Steak in particular is a common dish across the West. Similarly to some Asian cuisines, Western cuisines also put substantial emphasis on sauces as condiments, seasonings, or accompaniments. Many dairy products are utilised in the cooking process, except in nouvelle cuisine. Wheat-flour bread has long been the most common sources of starch in this cuisine, along with pasta, dumplings and pastries, although the potato has become a major starch plant in the diet of Europeans and their diaspora since the European colonisation of the Americas. Maize is much less common in most European diets than it is in the Americas; however corn meal, or polenta, is a major part of the cuisine of Italy and the Balkans. when it comes to Mediterranean Cuisine you will find a large assortment of small savory dishes to begin the meal. Meat lovers will revel in delicious preparations of lamb, beef, and seafood; thanks to the extensive use of vegetables, pulses, cheeses, seeds and nuts, this cuisine is a pleasure for vegetarians as well. Maltese dishes blend Mediterranean and African flavours: Try patizzi, a vegetarian filled pastry, or the fish and vegetable pie, lampuki. On the western Black Sea coast, the cooking of Romania and Bulgaria have been influenced by both Russian and central European cuisine and in Turkey you’ll also find some Middle Eastern touches. Do not expect to resist the urge to try the favourite tiny sausages or nut or cheese-filled dessert pastries – it just won’t work. In Balkan partake of oysters, shrimp and both salt and freshwater fish, and sample kulen, a traditional dried pork sausage that is the root of much rivalry between its makers.
Both Croatia and Slovenia grow black and white truffles in abundance and use them beautifully in Italian-inspired dishes. In Slovenia, try one of more than seventy varieties of štruklji, filled savory pastries. In Serbia and Montenegro you’ll see plentiful use of pork, especially in the form of delicious cured hams. On the Central European table try fish from the Danube, hearty soups, stuffed peppers and cabbage leaves, innumerable types of dumplings, and pastries filled with poppy seeds or cheese will tempt you in Poland and Slovakia. Hungary, renowned for its goulash and paprika-based dishes, has dozens of other specialities to try. If you’re in the Czech Republic at Christmas time, feast on the traditional Christmas meal of carp and potato salad. In Lithuania try the smoked meat and fish specialities, and the tasty black rye bread you’ll find on every table. The harsh climate of the Baltic States has long made food production a challenge, but in Latvia and Estonia you’ll enjoy plentiful vegetables, meat and fish, dairy products, and excellent bread, the backbone of the diet. The German culinary inheritance is quite pronounced in these countries. Holland and Belgium share a passion for one of the ultimate treats in anybody’s book: fritjes (French fries or crisps, depending on your hometown), served in a paper cone. In Holland have a warm, caramel-filled stroop waffle for good sightseeing fuel. No visit to Belgium is complete without a pot of moules (mussels) and a sampling of its famous chocolate, among other specialties. Thanks to being nestled between Belgium, France, and Germany, Luxembourg offers its own delicious interpretation of several rich culinary traditions. Alpine and Rhine cousine includes the fondue and rosti of Switzerland and Austria, heavenly, satisfying marriages of cheese and potato. Unparalleled sweet treats will temp you as well; after all, milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland.
Pastries in many countries are generically named viennoiserie, after the amazing confections of Austria’s capital city. Germany immediately brings to mind the world of würst, every kind of sausage imaginable, all manner of hearty bread, dumplings of all sizes, and delicious fruit in soups, desserts, and liqueurs. France and Italy are the two giants in European gastronomy; their importance to western cuisine is almost incalculable. Beloved Italian cuisine brings us pasta, in its limitless forms, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, risotto and polenta, pizza, the divine dried ham, prosciutto, and let us not forget gelato, its famous ice cream. In France you’ll also find a tremendous variety in local cuisine, from dairy-rich Norman cooking to the garlic-infused, African-influenced Provencal dishes, and from the alpine region near the Swiss border and Germanic Alsace to the heat and dryness of the southwest. Famous for producing over 450 kinds of cheese, Dijon mustard, and countless other classics, gastronomy in France is one of its greatest cultural treasures. In Iberia Spain has an exceptional climate for growing fruits and vegetables and also benefits from a long coastline and access to plenty of seafood. It is perhaps best known for olives and olive oils, cheeses, and tapas, the tiny dishes of delight served with aperitifs. Paella is a seafood and rice stew that brings everyone to the table. Portugal offers a luscious variety of foods, including its well-known bacalhau, dried and salted cod. Moorish, African, and Spanish influences have combined over the centuries into a wonderful mix of flavours. Travelling to Portugal you should try bacalhau which is made from Dried and salted codfish from Norway.
The British are very active in sustainable food production and appreciating local culinary riches, such as their famous cheeses, inimitable puddings and sweets, and all sorts of game, fish, lamb, and beef dishes. Traditional pubs sit side by side with an increasing number of “gastro-pubs” in England. Wales holds many festivals and events to celebrate its gastronomic know-how. Rugged Scotland, known for beautiful fish, haggis and oatcakes, is proud of its growing number of excellent restaurants. Ireland, like its British neighbours, produces wonderful cheeses and fish. The Irish climate is responsible for the famous Irish soda bread, as the wheat that grows well on the island is leavened best with bicarbonate rather than yeast.
The ubiquitous sea and severe winters shape Nordic cooking. Fish is consumed and preserved in an astonishing variety of ways, and summer fruits – especially berries - and vegetables are traditionally preserved for the long winters as well. Cheese, ham, and sturdy bread are staples throughout the Nordic countries, but Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway all have their own take on how to dine well in the far north, with an ever-wider selection of contemporary restaurants. Finland is famous for its Vodka while the other Nordic countries are proud of their aquavit. Iceland is experiencing something of a food renaissance, and offers fabulous contemporary cuisine. Traditional favourites include smoked lamb sandwiches, hardfiskur (dried fish strips), and the unique Icelandic combination of chocolate and liquorice.