The countries of Western Europe are prosperous and stable and first in mind for family holidays, while some of the Central and Eastern European states are luring budget-minded travellers keen to enjoy the sun outside the pricey Eurozone.
Europe’s capitals are jewel-like, each one more spectacular than the next. Paris is the City of Lights, the most beautiful and romantic capital; stately Vienna was the centre of the Habsburg Empire for more than 600 years; red-roofed Prague the city of a hundred spires and medieval Krakow, once royal capital of Poland.
The continent offers a wealth of holiday ideas: touring the Burren in Ireland, viewing the Northern Lights in Norway or Sweden, skiing in France or Switzerland or lying on the beach in Spain or Portugal.
Airlines offering cheap flights to Europe have opened up countries and revealed little-known tourist gems.
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Mediterranean summers are hot and winters mild. In central and northern Italy and France, the climate is more temperate with humid summers and cold, damp winters. Spain and Portugal can be very hot and dry in summer, with cold and wet winters. Winter in Madrid and Spain’s high central region can be quite cold.Central Europe has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot to warm and winters cold with temperatures below freezing. Snow can fall as early as mid-September in the Alps, and the ski resorts start opening in November and remain open until April.A continuation of the Gulf Stream (North Atlantic Drift) keeps the climate in Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, and Iceland fairly mild.Most Europeans are on holiday in August. Some shops and attractions are closed in the cities, and the beaches and mountains are mobbed.
Europe is well connected by planes, trains and buses. It is easy to take flights between major cities, especially if you start or finish in the UK, Ireland, Germany, or France — all countries where low-cost carriers offer cheap Europe flights.
Trains run throughout mainland Europe and, since the Eurotunnel was constructed, also connect the UK to France. Check out www.raileurope.com for tickets and advice as well as interactive route maps.
Buses (coaches) are readily available and a much cheaper way of travelling. However, they are typically a lot slower and often more uncomfortable than trains. Eurolines is a good low-cost coach operator to check.
If you’re driving, consider renting a diesel car. Diesels often get better mileage and are a great deal in countries that subsidize diesel. Drive on the left in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and keep the speed below 130 kmph (80 mph) on the Autobahn.
Even if you’re planning on travelling independently, check out tours as many (such as a one-day city or 14-day country tour) can be combined with independent travel.
(prices quoted are from London)