Tips & Ideas

Tips & Ideas

First Timer’s Guide to Europe

submitted by: Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Bienvenidos. Willkommen. Bienvenue. Benvenuto. Boa vinda.

However you say it, Europe is welcoming lovers with open arms. With currency issues simpler than ever thanks to the Euro, lovers are finding more and more reasons to vacation on the

Choosing Europe for a honeymoon or romantic getaway is an easy decision. Now the tough part: selecting your destination. With an excellent railway network and several low-cost European air carriers, though, why choose just one? Combine several destinations to sample different cultures, cuisines, and experiences.

If the two of you plan to hop around Europe, it’s best to do a little pre-trip planning before you ever pack your bags. One purchase you might want to consider before your journey is a rail pass, some which must purchased outside Europe. You’ll pay more if you wait and purchase individual tickets when you arrive.

Buying just the right railpass can be tricky. Travelers have the option of flexi-passes, which can be used over a two-month period, consecutive day passes, limited country passes, and more.

You’ll also want to make some hotel reservations if you’ll be traveling during peak summer months. Europe has a wide variety of accommodations: paradores in Spain, luxury hotels in cities like Paris and Prague, castle hotels in France and Germany, hostels for the young at heart, and bed and breakfast inns throughout the countryside. Many accommodations include breakfast in the room rate.

You’ll need that good breakfast to tackle the huge number of attractions that tempt travelers. Regardless of your interests — fine art or fine food, liking or high fashion — you’ll find a destination that’s custom made for your travel plans.

For art lovers, Florence is a definite capital. As the home of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, this Italian city is called the “cradle of the Renaissance.” Galleries such as the Uffizi can provide a whole day’s entertainment. In Paris, the Louvre boasts treasures such as the Mona Lisa and can easily fill a full day with sightseeing.


Bringing home a souvenir of your European travelers is an easy order — you can choose from flea markets, antiques shops, duty free shops, and unique boutiques. Look for these good purchases:

Austria: porcelain, lace
Belgium: chocolate, crystal
Denmark: silver, porcelain
Finland: pewter, crystal
Germany: music boxes, cameras
Greece: pottery, wood carvings
Italy: leather (Florence), clothing
Malta: lace
Netherlands: Delft porcelain, crystal
Norway: ski wear, glassware
Portugal: Port wine, wrought iron
Spain: lace
Sweden: glass, furniture
Switzerland: chocolate, cheese, watches

Italy and France are also tops for foodies. Meals stretch through course after course, usually accompanied by local wine, and these meals can be as memorable as a museum or historic attraction.

You can work off all that fine dining with a walk, hike, or bicycle ride; opportunities for adventure abound. Bicycle rentals are easy (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have rentals at many railroad stations). You’ll have a choice of flat, relaxing routes and lung-expanding experiences.

And don’t forget to pack your hiking boots as well. You can opt for a chilly hike on an alpine glacier in Switzerland or hut-to-hut hiking in Scandinavia. Long-distance routes along the Norway and Sweden border wind for over 200 kilometers.

For all its alpine beauty, Europe also boasts many beach destinations. The Riviera has long been the playground the rich and famous but throughout the Mediterranean you’ll find plenty of sun and sand. You can take your pick from bustling beach destinations like Sicily’s Taormina or Cyprus’s Larnaca or little visited beach sites like Malta’s tiny Gozo or Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Regardless of your travel interests, you’ll have the option of going it alone or with a group. Guided European tours can be a way to explore the region without the worries of getting from place to place and making arrangements. You’ll find tours ranging from one week to a full month. Some trips concentrate on one country while others that take in an overview of much of the continent.

Specialized tours are also available for certain travel interests. Walking tours offer the chance to stroll the coastal plains, hike ancient rights of way, visit historic castles, or scale the mountain peaks. Experienced tour operators offer an in-depth look at the lush landscape with both self-guided walking tours and guided treks that include luggage transfer. Companies such as The Wayfarers offer first class inns and hotels with gourmet local dishes and regional wine. Tour participants always have the option to ride in a back-up van.

Or maybe you’d like the idea of staying in local bed and breakfast inns to meet local residents and learn more about customs and culture of the region? Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door tours offers many bed and breakfast options. “European bed and breakfasts offer double the cultural intimacy for half the price,” notes Rick Steves, author and host of the popular PBS series.

Would you prefer to do your sightseeing from a boat instead of a bus? Luxury yachts from Sea Cloud Cruises ply the waters of the Danube, Italy’s Po, and the Rhine from March through October. River cruises are slow and leisurely with stops at small medieval towns as well as cities like Vienna and Budapest along the way. Companies such as Elegant Cruises & Tours package river cruises with luxury rail journeys for maximum sightseeing.

However you choose to tour Europe, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for fun. For an all too brief time, live like a European, soak up the local atmosphere, and don’t try to pack too much into your vacation. Remember, the attractions you don’t visit on this holiday will be a good starting point for your next trip!


  • Many European restaurants add service charge directly to the bill. Check before leaving an additional tip.
  • Make sure you board the correct car on train journeys. Along the way, many trains split and head off in separate destinations.
  • On your first day in Europe, spend as much time in the sunshine as possible to avoid jet lag. Don’t give in to the urge to nap!
  • Dress conservatively for cathedral visits. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are prohibited in many churches.

Paris Permenter & John Bigley are founders of – a romantic travel site featuring getaways of special interest to lovers in search of a honeymoon, a destination wedding, or a weekend away.