7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (2023)

If you are planning your first trip to Europe, it can be an overwhelming experience. Where should you go? How much will it cost? How many places can you visit?

Does this sound familiar?

We get emails every day from people who want advice planning their first trip to Europe. And we see the same questions over and over again. So we wrote this post to answer your questions and give you some things to think about as you plan your Europe itinerary.

Table of Contents

How to Plan Your First Trip to Europe

Don’t Try to See Everything on Your First Visit

I can’t tell you how many times we get emails that go something like this: “I have 10 days in Europe and I am planning to visit Rome, Venice, Paris, London and Belgium. Do you think that’s too rushed?”

It’s just like saying “I have 10 days in the United States. I would like to visit Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Miami, and Los Angeles. Do you think that’s too rushed?”

We get it. Europe is huge and it’s loaded with “must-see” spots. Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, and Venice all make the must-see list for many first time travelers Europe. They are all amazing places to visit. And with so many fantastic sites to see, it can be very difficult to narrow your list down to just a few destinations.

You will have a much better time if you don’t try to get to a new city every day. The longer you spend in each place, the more you get to know it. There are some cities, like London, Paris, and Rome, which literally could keep you very busy and very entertained for a good five or more days.

Here are some basic guidelines for how many places you can visit depending on how much time you have:

  • With 7 days: 2 cities OR one city with day trips
  • With 10 days: 3 cities OR 2 cities with day trips
  • With 14 days: 4 cities OR a road/train trip through one or two countries

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (1)

Barcelona, Spain

If you look at your itinerary and you wonder if you are moving too fast or you are trying to squeeze too much in, odds are, you probably are.

If you have 10 days and you plan to visit 4 major cities, it can be done, but it will be a rushed, exhausting experience. And you will be spending most of that time on trains and planes. Don’t forget that you will have to spend time traveling between destinations as well as packing, unpacking, and checking into hotels.

(Video) Europe Travel Tips And Tricks | First Timers Guide

Here is a sample itinerary through London, Amsterdam, and Paris:
  • Day 1: Arrive in London
  • Day 2: London
  • Day 3: London
  • Day 4: London
  • Day 5: Morning train to Amsterdam, sightseeing in the afternoon
  • Day 6: Amsterdam
  • Day 7: Morning train to Paris, sightseeing in the afternoon
  • Day 8: Paris
  • Day 9: Paris
  • Day 10: Fly home

On this itinerary you get to three major cities. And even this itinerary is a bit rushed. You could really use an extra day in each city simply because there is so much to see and do in each of them.

For some more examples on how to plan 10 days in Europe, check out these itineraries:

Examples of visiting 3 cities:

Examples of exploring one region:

  • 10 Day Bavaria Itinerary
  • 10 Days in Norway: The Ultimate Road Trip through the Fjord Region

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (2)

Amsterdam

Don’t Forget to Factor in Travel Time

So let’s say that you have 10 days in Europe and you’ve narrowed down your itinerary to 3 cities. How do you get around?

That depends on where you are going.

For cities that are close to one another, say Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, the train would be your best option. If you are visiting Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, then you will use a combination of planes and trains to get around.

Getting from city to city takes time, of course. And you need to factor this in, not only when planning your itinerary but also choosing where to go.

Just as a rough estimate, it will take about 4 hours, or half of a day, to get between two cities. This time can go up if the cities are far apart. So, if you are visiting three cities, you will lose about one day in total just traveling from place to place.

We usually plan to transfer between cities first thing in the morning. By taking an early train, we can usually check into our hotel by noon and have the entire afternoon for sightseeing. Occasionally, we will take an evening train if we want to have a little extra time in our departure city.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: What about luggage? Let’s say you arrive by train to Florence at 11 am. It’s too early to check into your hotel, so what should you do with your luggage? You have two options. You can either store you luggage at the luggage storage area in the train station (and retrieve it at the end of the day) or have your hotel hold your luggage for you. We email our hotel ahead of time just to make sure they can hold our luggage for us (but so far no one has told us no).

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (3)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

(Video) How to Plan Your First Trip to Europe

Using Trains versus Planes

In some scenarios, you might have the option to fly or to take a train to get from one city to another. When looking at travel times, a one hour flight may look a lot more time efficient than a 3 hour high speed train, but that is not always the case.

There is much longer check-in process for flights (we usually check in two hours before our flight). For train travel, in most cases you can arrive just before your departure time, although some high-speed trains request that you arrive 30 minutes before departure time.

Train stations are located in city centers. From the station, it might be just a short walk or metro ride to get you to your hotel. Airports are located outside of the cities and it can take 15 to 30 minutes (or even longer in some cities) to get into the city center. You’ll have to do this twice and this could tack on another hour to your travel time if you plan to fly.

We tend to lean towards train travel whenever possible. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s much more eco-friendly than plane travel.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: You can save time (and money on a hotel room) by booking an overnight train. It might also be worth getting a rail pass if you plan to hop from city to city.

Use Open Jaw Flights to Maximize Your Time

Open jaw flights arrive in one city and depart from a different city (for example, you arrive in London and depart from Paris).

You can save a lot of time by booking different arrival and departure cities.

Let’s say you want to visit Rome, Florence and Venice (who wouldn’t?!). If you fly to Rome and then fly home from Venice, you save about half of a day, the time it would take to backtrack to Rome.

In many cases, it is not more expensive to do this. We have flown open jaw many times for the same price as a round trip flight.

In some cases, it may be more expensive to fly open jaw. If it is, then you have to decide if it is worth spending a little extra money to save some time. Maybe it’s worth spending a little more money for extra time in Venice than to take the train back to Rome (and don’t forget to figure that train cost into the decision to take an open jaw flight).

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (4)

Hallstatt, Austria

What about Jet Lag?

Jet lag is the feeling of fatigue you get from crossing multiple time zones. Some lucky people have minimal symptoms while others can feel exhausted for several days.

(Video) 14 Important Things to Do Before Your Europe Trip

If you are flying to Europe from the USA, most likely you will be on an overnight flight, arriving in the morning or midday. There is a very good chance that you will feel tired on your first day but if you had trouble sleeping on the airplane, you may feel more like a zombie.

To get over jet lag quickly, it’s usually best to stay awake that first day and go to bed early. I will admit that there have been a few times where we took a midday nap because we desperately needed it.

With this being said, it is usually best not to schedule a busy list of things to do on the first day of your itinerary. Sure, you will be excited to be in a new place and that can be energizing, but it will still be difficult for most people to function at 100% on that first day.

Should You Rent a Car?

There are some spots in Europe that are simply perfect for a road trip. Norway, Ireland, Slovenia and the Balkan Peninsula are all some of our favorite spots to explore with the freedom that a rental car provides. But before you rent a car there are some things you should know before you go.

If you are considering renting a car for your European trip, we have an article all about exciting things like International Drivers Licenses, how to choose a rental car company, vignettes and more. Read it here:

10 Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Europe

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (5)

Colmar, France

How Do We Plan Our Itineraries?

Before you plan out your itinerary you need to do some research first. Flight costs, time of year, hotel availability, and tour availability all need to be factored into your decision-making.

Let’s say you decide to spend 10 days in Ireland. What do you need to know before you start making reservations?

We start off by researching flight costs. If you can be flexible with your dates you might be able to save money by flying mid-week versus the weekend.

Once we have our flight dates, we plan out our itinerary within those specific dates.

If you are planning a tour or a visit to a major attraction, make sure those dates align and work with your itinerary.

(Video) European Travel Skills: Planning Your Itinerary

You can also do a quick hotel search to make sure that there are no surprises with hotel costs or availability. If you are booking your trip well in advance (4 months or earlier) this will be less of an issue. But at destinations like the Isle of Skye, the Lofoten Islands, the Cinque Terre, the islands in Croatia, and the south coast of Iceland, hotels can sell out many months in advance, leaving either no availability or dreadful places that you normally wouldn’t consider.

Once everything looks like it works out, we book our flights and then book the hotels, the rental car (if necessary) and activities.

Nowadays, with the increase in tourism, it also helps to research the main sights you are visiting and then book your tickets in advance. We recently went to San Francisco and missed out on touring Alcatraz because tickets were sold out for three months!!

In our articles, we let you know what you need to reserve ahead of time to avoid disappointment (like our Alcatraz experience). It may be extra work to book your tickets ahead of time, but in today’s world it has become a necessity in order to see some of the world’s most popular sites.

Have fun planning your first trip to Europe! And if you still have questions about your itinerary, feel free to comment below.

For more travel ideas and inspiration, take a look at our Itineraries page. We have lots of sample itineraries for Europe as well as Asia, Africa, South America, and the USA.

More Information to Help You Plan your First Trip to Europe

EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in Europe, check out our article 30 Beautiful Places to Visit in Europe and the 20 Best Hikes in Europe.

EUROPE ITINERARY IDEAS: Let us take the guesswork out of planning your next trip to Europe. Check out our articles 10 Ways to Spend 10 Days in Europe and One Week in Europe: 25 Amazing Itineraries.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide. And tips and tricks for taking great photos in our article How to Take Better Photos while Traveling.

7 Things to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe (6)

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this articleand/orany of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

FAQs

What do I need to know before traveling to Europe for the first time? ›

More Tips For Visiting Europe For The First Time
  • Try and master a few phrases in the local language. ...
  • Learn about and respect the local customs. ...
  • Sign up for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Notify your bank that you will be away and make sure that your debit cards can be used in Europe.

How do I plan a perfect Europe trip? ›

How to Plan a European Vacation in Eight Easy Steps
  1. Decide where you want to go and create a budget. ...
  2. Establish a route and timeline. ...
  3. Decide on the cities you'll fly in and out of. ...
  4. Figure out other transportation. ...
  5. Make a rough itinerary. ...
  6. Adjust by cutting, streamlining, or adding to fit your timeline or budget.

Is 7 days enough in Europe? ›

With seven days, you have enough time to visit two big cities or one big city with day trips. A road trip through one small region can also easily be done if you have one week in Europe. With 7 days, you really only have six full days for sightseeing. These seven-day itineraries start on your arrival day.

What should you not forget on a trip to Europe? ›

Whether you're taking a train across France or relaxing in the Blue Lagoons in Iceland, we want to make sure that your travels are well prepped for.
...
Other Items To Not Forget On Your Europe Packing List:
  • Sleep Mask.
  • Disinfecting Wipes.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Headphones.
  • Flip Flops.
  • Activated Charcoal.
  • Solid Shampoo.
  • Travel Pillow.
10 Jun 2019

Which month is best for Europe trip? ›

Although Europe is a year-round travel destination, the best time to visit Europe is during the summer months of June to September. This is the time when the sun is high, the beaches are warm and the weather is sunny.

Which European country should I visit first? ›

1) Italy. Italy is full of ancient wonders, delicious food, coastal villages, and beautiful hilltop towns. While most folks visit Rome or Venice, there are plenty of other wonderful places to visit such as Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Florence, and other areas in southern Italy.

What should I pack for 7 days in Europe? ›

15 essential packing items for a Europe trip
  • Versatile clothing.
  • Comfortable shoes.
  • Accessories.
  • Sun protection.
  • Rain protection.
  • Day bags.
  • Toiletries.
  • Medical kit.

How much money do you need for 1 month in Europe? ›

1 month in Europe budget (travelling by car)
Economy class flights for 2 adults^$ 5,000
Travel insurance (28 day duo policy)$ 265
$13,735
Spending money* – $1250 per week x 4 weeks$ 5,000
Grand total for 2 adults$18,735
6 more rows
8 Feb 2016

How much clothes do I need for 2 weeks in Europe? ›

The easiest way to create a simple packing list for 2 weeks in Europe is to take 7 tops. Based on the Travel Fashion math example mentioned above, this should provide you one unique top per day per week. Alternatively, you can also mix things up and take 5 tops plus 2 dresses or 7 dresses.

What can you not bring to Europe? ›

As a general rule, you cannot bring meat, meat products, milk and milk products (e.g. charcuterie, cheese, yogurt) into the EU. You must declare any animal products you have in your luggage and present them to Customs.

What is the 90 day rule for visiting Europe? ›

Your total stay in the Schengen area must be no more than 90 days in every 180 days. It does not matter how many countries you visit. The 180-day period keeps 'rolling'.

What are the rules for visiting Europe? ›

You may need to do extra things before you travel to an EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, such as: check your passport.
...
At border control, you may need to:
  • show a return or onward ticket.
  • show you have enough money for your stay.
  • use separate lanes from EU , EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing.

What items are not allowed in checked luggage in Europe? ›

Explosives and inflammable items - fireworks or aerosol spray paint for example, and other inflammable and toxic substances such as acids - are prohibited on flights. They may not be carried in either cabin or checked baggage. No weapons of any kind are allowed on board the aircraft.

What shoes should I wear to Europe? ›

Bring comfortable walking shoes

Generally speaking, the only people who wear white running shoes are Americans in sneakers. Leave them behind. Best to don comfortable walking shoes for cobblestones and city environments, as Europeans love to walk. No cheap flip-flops or running shoes either.

How much cash should I bring to Europe? ›

How much money can I travel with? If your money isn't in cash, there's no limit to how much you can travel with. If it is in cash, however, you'll have to declare it if it's over 10,000 euros (or the equivalent in your local currency) when entering or exiting an EU member state from outside of the EU.

What are 5 things you need to travel? ›

Make sure you also pack what you need for your specific trip.
...
1. Pack the Essentials
  • First aid kit.
  • Prescription medications.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Your ID.
  • Passport.
  • Hotel reservations and itineraries.
  • Headphones.
  • Electronic devices and chargers.
7 Aug 2020

What is the cheapest month to travel to Europe? ›

The late fall and winter months—from mid to late October through mid-to-late March—are often the cheapest time to fly to Europe (though fares can spike in December). It's often cheaper to fly to Europe mid-week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in particular.

How early should you plan a Europe trip? ›

A good rule of thumb for planning a trip to Europe is to take at least six months. And if you really want to benefit from early preparation, a year may be even better.

What is the easiest country in Europe? ›

Portugal

What make Portugal the easiest country in Europe to gain citizenship is that there are no physical presence requirements. Meaning you only need to hold your resident permit in order to qualify for naturalization. You don't need to spend most of the year in the country like most other countries.

What are the 3 least visited countries in Europe? ›

7 least visited European countries, but they're worth to pay them...
  • Moldova (11,000 visitors per year)
  • Liechtenstein (54,000 visitors per year)
  • Belarus (119,000 visitors per year)
  • San Marino (139,000 visitors per year)
  • Monaco (292,000 visitors per year)
  • The Republic of Macedonia (351,000 visitors per year)

What are the top 3 European countries to visit? ›

The Top 10 Most Visited Countries in Europe
  1. France – 89.4 million visitors. ...
  2. Spain – 82.7 million visitors. ...
  3. Italy – 62.1 million visitors. ...
  4. Turkey – 45.7 million visitors. ...
  5. Germany – 38.8 million visitors. ...
  6. United Kingdom – 36.3 million visitors. ...
  7. Austria – 30.8 million visitors. ...
  8. Greece – 30.1 million visitors.

What is the kindest country in Europe? ›

Here are the full top ten friendliest countries in Europe, according to this year's Condé Naste Traveller Readers' Choice Awards.
  • Greece.
  • Iceland.
  • Finland.
  • Turkey.
  • Denmark.
  • Netherlands.
  • Italy.
  • Spain.
5 Oct 2022

What country has most beautiful woman? ›

Venezuela

How do I pack for 7 days? ›

Packing List for a Seven-Day Trip in One Carry-On Bag
  1. 5 shirts.
  2. 3 shorts or skirts.
  3. 2 dressy options (mix and match with accessories and outerwear)
  4. 1 outerwear — sweater or jacket.
  5. 1 pair sneakers.
  6. 1 pair dressy shoes.
  7. 1 pair flip-flops.
  8. 1 hat.
19 Sept 2022

How many clothes do you need for a 7 day trip? ›

Do the clothing countdown: If you need a mantra to help streamline your wardrobe, use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule for a weeklong trip: Limit yourself to no more than five sets of socks and underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat. The list should be adjusted to suit your needs.

Is 10 days enough in Europe? ›

Ten days is just enough time to get a taste of this country. For first timers to Italy, Rome, Florence and Venice typically top the “must-see” list. With 10 days, you have enough time to visit these three cities and add in another spectacular destination, the coastal towns of the Cinque Terre.

Is $100 a day enough for Europe? ›

Backpackers should expect to spend between $40 – $70 USD/day in Eastern Europe, $70 – $100/day in Western Europe, and $150 – $200/day in the Nordic countries.

Is 100 euros a day enough in Europe? ›

Virtually impossible to predict, we'd advise a figure roughly around €100 a day for spending money in Western Europe and about €40–60 a day for Eastern Europe. Budget Your Trip has thankfully provided a Travel Cost Index that maps out the average daily travel price of real travellers, per person per day.

Should I bring cash to Europe? ›

key takeaways. European travelers should always have some cash on hand; getting it from an ATM abroad is usually the easiest, most advantageous way. Credit cards are generally accepted, especially in cities; but check with your card issuer about foreign transaction fees and currency exchange fees.

Do they wear leggings in Europe? ›

Coming back to visit California is sometimes so exciting because I can finally wear my comfy leggings all day! Do people still wear leggings & shorts in Europe? The answer is “yes,” they do wear shorts and tennis shoes when they are purposeful, going hiking, going to work out, or to the beach.

How many shoes should I take to Europe? ›

Shoes also take a lot of space in your luggage, so we recommend bringing 2 pairs. One pair should be the most comfortable walking shoes that you will wear during the day. These might be tennis shoes or sandals, depending on the weather. Another pair can be used to wear during the night when you go out.

What should I wear to Europe in 2022? ›

As mentioned, layering is key for traveling in Europe. Bring a long-sleeve shirt or flannel to throw on for travel days or casual cooler evenings. If you're going out at night, it's nice to have a cute cardigan to wrap yourself in when it gets chilly.

What items are not allowed in checked luggage? ›

Flammable liquids and solids such as lighter refills, lighter fuel, matches, paints, thinners, fire-lighters, lighters that need inverting before ignition, matches (these may be carried on the person), radioactive material, briefcases and attache case with installed alarm devices.

How much cash can you carry on a plane Europe? ›

Although there's technically no legal limit on how much money you can carry on a plane, if you're traveling internationally you must declare amounts of more than $10,000 on your customs form, fill out form FinCEN 105, and be prepared for possible interviews with law enforcement to explain the amount of money you're ...

How do I not look like a tourist in Europe? ›

Don't go too casual

Lately, American-style baseball hats, brands that are more visible, and sneakers are pretty popular all around Europe. If you're someone who loves jeans and a t-shirt no matter where you travel, wear a nice cardigan over your outfit (not in summer).

What country does not require a visa? ›

US Passport Visa-Free Countries 2022
CountryVisa RequirementsTravel Advisory Level
BotswanaNot RequiredLevel 4: Do Not Travel
BrazilNot RequiredLevel 3: Reconsider Travel
British Virgin IslandsNot RequiredLevel 4: Do Not Travel
BruneiNot RequiredLevel 4: Do Not Travel
155 more rows

Which Schengen country is easy to get visa? ›

Lithuania. This country is the easiest one to get a Schengen visa. As per the reports, officials grant visas to almost 98.7% of applicants.

How many European countries can you visit in 2 weeks? ›

There are 44 countries in Europe, full of fascinating cultures and experiences. Ideally, through a Europe two weeks itinerary, you should be able to cover three or four countries at least.

What do I need before traveling to Europe? ›

What do I need to enter the Schengen area?
  • A U.S. passport (with applicable visas, if needed), valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen area. ...
  • Sufficient passport validity for each country you will visit.
  • Justifiable purpose of travel.
26 May 2022

What is the first country you should visit in Europe? ›

1) Italy. Italy is full of ancient wonders, delicious food, coastal villages, and beautiful hilltop towns. While most folks visit Rome or Venice, there are plenty of other wonderful places to visit such as Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Florence, and other areas in southern Italy.

What documents do I need to enter Europe? ›

What do I need to enter the Schengen area?
  1. A U.S. passport (with applicable visas, if needed), valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen area. ...
  2. Sufficient passport validity for each country you will visit.
  3. Justifiable purpose of travel.
26 May 2022

What is the first thing you need to prepare when going abroad? ›

Students first need to apply for a passport prior to studying abroad. Prospective study abroad students should get a clean bill of health from a doctor and also secure health insurance. Cheap plane tickets can be found through websites like Skyscanner and Student Universe. When packing, less is more!

Should I bring a water bottle to Europe? ›

You can help reduce plastic waste and save money by bringing your own reusable water bottle. You can refill it in destinations where it's safe to drink the tap water, or use the filtered water at your hotel, or drinking fountains and refill stations found across Europe.

Which country gives Schengen visa easily? ›

In general, Lithuania is the easiest country to obtain a Schengen Visa from, with officials granting 98.7% of applications. The nation also receives fewer applications than countries such as Germany or France, as they are extremely popular with tourists and business travellers.

What 3 documents do you need to get on an international flight? ›

Passport, Travel Visa and National ID Card

Proper identification is the foundation of international travel. As a result, you should ensure to always have an official identification document with you. You can even consider having multiple documents such as your passport, national ID card or driver's licence.

Can I enter Europe without visa? ›

How long you can stay without a visa. You do not need a visa for short trips to EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein if both of the following apply: you're staying for 90 days or less in a 180-day period. you're visiting as a tourist or for certain other reasons.

What are the 5 most important things you should do before traveling? ›

Let's hear it!
  • Research the Destination. Before travelling, do a little research about the places you'll be visiting. ...
  • Plan Ahead. Don't leave your travel plans up to chance. ...
  • Don't Leave Home Without Your Identification Card. ...
  • Research more about your Destination. ...
  • Learn The Lingo. ...
  • Summing Up.

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