50 Random But Essential Europe Travel Tips

What is the best time to book tickets to Europe?
What is the proper tipping etiquette?
Should I get a rail pass?
Is it better to book with hotels directly or through a third party?

These are all questions I asked myself before I became the travel geek (I would say expert but frankly it sounds way too serious) that I am today. It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing and, yes, I made a fool out of myself more times than I can count but I lived to tell the tale and tell you how NOT to go through the same embarrassing situations.

I may not know much, but what I do know is how to explore Europe efficiently. Here’s everything I learned throughout 8+ years of frequent (we’re talking multiple times a year) of travel to the Old Continent.

My Top Europe Travel Tips

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Itineraries & Planning

Don’t get overwhelmed. When it comes to travel, less really is more. Find a focus and stick to it.

Establish a route that reflects that focus. Circle your destinations on a map and figure out a logical geographical order between them – but don’t commit to anything until you’re confirmed flights or train schedules.

Consider multi-city flights or free stopovers (with Icelandair to Reykjavik, Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, AerLingus to Dublin, Virgin Atlantic to London, FinnAir to Helsinki, for example). Flying into one city and out of another isn’t necessarily more expensive than a regular roundtrip, and might give you more leeway with your itinerary. If you’ll be renting a car, however, remember that agencies can charge you a one-way drop-off fee.

Don’t travel to Europe in the summer if you can avoid it. It’s more expensive and unnecessarily crowded.

Minimize one-night stays. Don’t underestimate how exhausting it can be to change hotels every night. Travel burnout is a thing.

If you’d rather join group tours, look into BusAbout and Contiki (if you’re under 25), or G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.

Mid-week flights are usually cheaper. Be flexible with your travel dates. Set up alerts if you need to.

Get a travel credit card if you can. Most of them offer extensive travel insurance and even lounge access.

Consider river cruises. Hint: they’re not just for retirees.

Unlock your phone and get a local SIM card. If you need constant WiFi access, get a MiFi device.

Ticketing sites will change the prices they show you depending on your browsing history. Before your start researching flights and accommodation, clear your cookies or open an incognito window.

europe travel tipsEurope Travel Tips

Transportation

If you’re on a budget, flying into your preferred airline’s main hub (British Airways = London, Air France = Paris, Lufthansa = Frankfurt, etc.) will always be the cheapest possible option. Combine that with a low-cost flight from the same airport if you need to travel elsewhere in Europe.

If you have a layover in London, try to make it 7+ hours. Central London is just an hour away by tube from Heathrow airport.

Don’t always think you need a Eurail pass. Look up the reservation fees and seat prices, do the math and book your tickets accordingly. Remember that high-speed trains always require reservations, and they are not cheap.

Train tickets are usually open-ended; therefore, you will need to validate your tickets at the small machines by the tracks. And no, the “I’m such a silly foreigner” will not talk you out of the hefty fine you’ll inevitably get.

Always check the train number before you board, especially if you arrived on the platform in advance. Trains can be as close as three minutes to each other and yet go in completely different directions.

If your itinerary only takes you to capital cities, don’t even think about renting a car.

Skip taxis, and take public transit. If you must, take an Uber. They’re cheaper!

Buy European train tickets online directly from the official national railway sites, not from third-party agencies who take a commission.

isle of skye tourseurope travel tips

Food

In Italy, restaurants charge extra to eat in. Have your meal to go or be prepared to fork out an extra 2-5 euros for a sit-down meal.

Splurge on lunch, and skimp on dinner. Restaurants will often have a “daily meal” special, i.e. a fixed price three-course menu offered at lunchtime.

In Europe, water and bread are rarely free. Especially when it magically lands on your table without you requesting it.

Don’t wait until you’re hungry to start scouting for food. This never ends well.

For the love of all this is holy never EVER eat in any of the steakhouses in London.

Don’t pay extra for breakfast at the hotel. Grab something at the nearby bakery instead; sure, it’s not bacon (hello buffet breakfast), but it’s local.

Restaurants in Europe seldom offer round-the-clock service (aside from the really touristy ones). Family-owned, traditional restaurants are usually closed between 2 pm and 7 pm.

Restaurants are not your only option. For fresh produce and gourmet experiences, head to the city’s market in the morning to grab what you’ll need for a picnic.

In Grenada, order a drink and get a free tapas delivered to your table. In northern Italy, order a glass of wine or a beer during aperitivo (5-8 pm) and get free access to a small buffet of local specialities.

Eat where the locals eat. If there’s a tourist bus parked in front of the restaurant you’re eyeing, if it has a multi-language menu, or if it’s filled with people who look exactly like you, you’re in the wrong place.

Unsure what to order for dessert in France? Ask for a café gourmand, which consists of an espresso served with 3 or 4 bite-size versions of the restaurant’s current dessert selection.

In Italy, don’t order cappuccinos after 10 am unless you want to be their laughing stock for the rest of eternity.

Tap water in Western Europe is fine to drink, but you should be considerably more careful in Eastern Europe.

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Money

Unless you’re American and currently benefit from the amazing exchange rate with the euro, stick to European countries that have yet to enter the Eurozone (besides the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, obviously). Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Croatia are all budget-friendly destinations for us Canucks.

If you’re a student, bring your student ID and consider getting an ISIC. You can get discounted rates on everything from museum admission to transportation.

It is not uncommon for train stations to charge for toilets – keep your a few 50 cent coins handy.

At restaurants, check the menu to see if service is included (it usually is). But know that it is customary to leave the leftover small change if you pay in cash.

Never withdraw or exchange money at the airport. Exchanges rates are terrible.

Don’t bother getting tonnes of Euros before you leave. Just stop at the first ATM you see (outside the airport, of course!) and withdraw whatever you’ll need for the duration of your trip. Only carry what you need for the day, and leave the rest in your room’s safe.

If you want to make your life simpler, get a chip-and-PIN credit card. And don’t even think about traveller’s cheques. This isn’t 1985.

Make sure you spend all your coins before you leave as you can’t exchange them back home. If you’re at the airport and you realise you have coins left, purchase something with your coins and pay the balance with your card. Clerks are used to it.

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Attractions

If you plan on visiting world-class attractions like the Colosseum, the Louvre Museum, the Vatican Museum or the Prado Museum, for example, book your tickets online. You won’t have to endure the long queues once you get there.

City passes are often, but not always, worth their price. Read the fine print before you purchase one.

In Athens, you can still enjoy the view of the Acropolis from one of the many hotel rooftop terraces without having to pay for an actual drink as there’s very minimal security. Just look like you know where you’re going! I recommend the Royal Olympic Hotel.

Google “free guided tours” for each city you visit. Unless you are looking for in-depth information on a specific topic, free guided tours are a great way to get the lay of the land. Don’t forget to tip your guide, though!

In Paris, don’t climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. For better views of the city (and the tower itself), go to Tour Montparnasse or Arc de Triomphe instead.

Most museums in London are free to enter, including the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the V&A Museum, the Science Museum, and the Saatchi Gallery.

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Accommodation

Never, ever book a hotel near the airport unless you are flying out early the next day. It’s never worth it.

On the same note, try to avoid staying in the immediate vicinity of train stations. They can become quite sketchy at night.

Looking for private accommodation that doesn’t break the bank? Consider luxury hostels (like Generator Hostels) or budget-friendly chains (like Ibis Budget, easyHotels, Travelodge). Remember that you’ll only be spending a few hours in your room. Apartments are also a worthy alternative.

Avoid booking through aggregators or third-party websites. You may get better rates, but you’ll get the crappiest room. Call the hotel and ask them to match the price!

32 Comments on 50 Random But Essential Europe Travel Tips

  1. Ahmed Gusto
    February 1, 2016 at 8:08 am (12 months ago)

    Haha, I like the idea of clearing the browser history or incognito mode. Thanks for the tips, its very helpful. I will definitely be using your tactics when booking my next holiday

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm (12 months ago)

      Happy to help!

      Reply
  2. Map & Fork
    February 1, 2016 at 11:04 am (12 months ago)

    In many countries in Europe water IS free indeed (France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc…)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm (12 months ago)

      From my experience, it’s still not a common occurrence! But water is indeed free in the countries you mentioned.

      Reply
      • Malinki Crane
        September 18, 2016 at 5:22 am (4 months ago)

        You have to ask for tap water (which is free) or the presumption is you want bottled (which isn’t free).

  3. Renata
    February 1, 2016 at 11:10 pm (12 months ago)

    Awesome tips! Thank you! I’m just not sure if I agree 100% about accommodation issues. When I traveled to Europe last year, I booked everything through third-party websites (booking.com and hostelworld) and I didn’t have any problems with those rooms!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 3, 2016 at 1:34 pm (12 months ago)

      Good for you! My experience differed vastly, and I always prefer to book with the property directly.

      Reply
  4. Luda
    February 2, 2016 at 4:37 pm (12 months ago)

    Thank you for these tips, really helpful! I had no idea you could get an International Student card– looking into this for the next trip :)
    Also, I definitely agree on keeping change for public toilets, and not looking for a restaurant when you’re already hungry … I’ve ran into these a few times before and it’s not fun ;(

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 3, 2016 at 1:31 pm (12 months ago)

      Happy to help Luda!

      Reply
  5. Marissa My Greece My Travels
    February 3, 2016 at 2:51 pm (12 months ago)

    Nice list! Ha ha, I’ve gotten the look when I ordering a cappuccino in Italy at the “wrong” time. . ;) Good tips. Europe is a must go for any travel lover.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 4, 2016 at 4:59 pm (12 months ago)

      I KNOW, right? Sure, they’ll still serve it, but they’ll still laugh at you for doing so.

      Reply
      • Solize
        May 20, 2016 at 1:06 am (8 months ago)

        Thank you very much, these are great tips. Sorry if I’m ignorant, but what is the story about cappuccino after 10am?

      • Marie-Eve
        May 26, 2016 at 2:05 pm (8 months ago)

        It’s just that Italians don’t normally drink cappuccino after 10am, only tourists do.

  6. Tushar
    February 10, 2016 at 12:47 am (11 months ago)

    Hey Marie,
    Love your blog! Noticed you don’t mention Airbnb anywhere? Should it be avoided like the plague for a first timer travelling to Europe? It seems for a couple Airbnb is cheaper than a private room at a hostel.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 10, 2016 at 11:54 am (11 months ago)

      Hey Tushar,

      I don’t mind airbnb at all! I just don’t have much experience with it so I’d rather not comment or speculate :-) But I heard great things about it!

      Reply
      • Tushar
        February 10, 2016 at 6:05 pm (11 months ago)

        Thanks :)

  7. Leigh | Campfires & Concierges
    February 25, 2016 at 10:46 pm (11 months ago)

    “Don’t wait until you’re hungry to start scouting for food. This never ends well.”
    Truer words have never been spoken.
    Except for the very next line, LOL!
    “For the love of all this is holy never EVER eat in any of the steakhouses in London.”
    So true! My friend and I were like why did we just spend $100 each for something we’d get at Denny’s back home?

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 29, 2016 at 8:24 am (11 months ago)

      Those steakhouses are the worst! The brighter the neon signs, the worst they are.

      Reply
  8. sb
    March 11, 2016 at 5:26 am (10 months ago)

    Really helpful article!
    In Spain and Italy people eat later, so I wouldn’t think restaurants would be closed from 2-7. Also *Granada (Spanish city) and Grenada (Caribbean country) – I loved the tapas culture there!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      March 11, 2016 at 11:05 am (10 months ago)

      In many places in Europe restaurants close for siesta and between lunch and dinner – restaurants that do remain open usually only cater to tourists!

      Reply
  9. Katie
    March 21, 2016 at 6:11 am (10 months ago)

    Thanks for this! I’m a 31 year old married woman from New Brunswick, and I stumbled upon your blog last night when I impulsively booked a solo trip to London/Genoa.

    I did Europe solo at the age of 22, but I haven’t been back since.

    I look forward to exploring your site more!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      March 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm (10 months ago)

      It’s grand time you go back to Europe Katie! :) Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Reply
  10. Inge
    April 14, 2016 at 9:40 am (9 months ago)

    The cappuccino rule no longer applies. All the rest are good advice.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm (9 months ago)

      Well, in some ways it still does. They’ll serve it to you but you will look like a tourist by even asking for one. It’s just not the way Italians do it!

      Reply
    • Jennifer
      August 4, 2016 at 3:43 am (6 months ago)

      I was in Italy back in May, and there was one day where I ordered a cappuccino and pizza slice together at 1pm. I knew it was weird, but I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink yet so I needed some caffeine. Anyways, not only did the waiter look at me weirdly, a tour guide specifically came over to “nicely” laugh at me and tell me very loudly what all was wrong with this meal. For five minutes.

      Reply
  11. Gee
    April 17, 2016 at 5:23 pm (9 months ago)

    We are going on a 23 day trip to Europe and all the things that you mentioned made us laugh. We are finding out the tours that are offered on Expedia and some of the others tours sights are sooo much more then just going on line and avoiding the lines. Thanks again for the laugh and info.

    Reply
  12. Sarah
    June 10, 2016 at 2:34 am (7 months ago)

    Great post! Thanks for the tips xxx

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      June 10, 2016 at 9:48 am (7 months ago)

      Happy to help Sarah!

      Reply
  13. Monika Melo
    August 25, 2016 at 12:52 am (5 months ago)

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. My husband and I always has prefere places where local eat, but in some places in Europe (specially Paris) last year it was difficult for us to find those places, any tip there?
    On the other hand, we are planning going this year to Europe (Christmast/New Year Eve) with our teenagers kids, would you have any recommendation for us? Thanks in advance :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      August 29, 2016 at 11:30 am (5 months ago)

      Happy to help! It’s indeed hard to find places where tourists don’t go, but if you venture out in non-touristy neighbourhoods you’ll have a better chance. And if everyone inside the restaurant has a camera, it’s not a good sign!

      As for Christmas in Europe, the markets are a huge must. I loved Bratislava and Budapest, as well as Dresden, Esslingen, Munich and the smaller towns like Wernigerode and Stade.

      Reply
  14. Penny
    September 11, 2016 at 10:31 am (4 months ago)

    Great post! In just six weeks I am going to Southern France for the first time. I am staying three months and definitely want to blend in as much as possible!

    Before I go to my apartment (which I reserved through Air BnB – I’ll let you know how that turns out) I am spending a few days in Nice and the surrounding area. My biggest concerns are figuring out the bus and train routes. I do not plan on renting a car. Or, should I? Would driving myself be a better option?

    Thank you much! I enjoy your blog!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 13, 2016 at 11:25 am (4 months ago)

      There are many buses in the area and you should have no problems at all. From Nice to Monaco, take a seat on the right hand side of the bus for the best sea views!

      Reply

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