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Continent Tour Destination : Europe

Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000km² (3,930,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. 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 a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world's smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.

The eastern border of Europe, for instance, is not well defined. The Caucausus states are sometimes considered part of Asia due to geography, and much of Russia and almost all of Turkey are geographically Asian. The UK, Ireland and Iceland all manage to sneak in.

Must-visits include France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Don't let your sense of adventure fail you by missing out on Scandinavia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, or the microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. For a more exotic European adventure, be sure to tour the Balkans.

Many European countries are members of the European Union (EU), which has its own currency (the Euro) and laws. There are no border controls between signatory countries of the Schengen Agreement (only at the outside borders). Note that not all EU members adopted the Schengen Agreement (open borders) or the Euro, and not all countries that adopted Schengen or Euro are European Union members.

Regions

Map of Europe's regions
Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia)
Balkans have a rich, though often turbulent, history with wonderful nature, charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, and mountains with beautiful forests, pleasant lakes, and stunning beaches.
Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
Three fascinating states that have glorious beaches along an extensive coastline, medieval old towns, and beautiful natural scenery. Estonia has linguistic and cultural ties with Finland.
Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands)
The Netherlands is known for its clogs, cheese, tulips and windmills, and for its liberal attitudes and painters. Belgium is a multilingual country with beautiful historic cities, bordering Luxembourg at the rolling hills of the Ardennes and the Netherlands at the cycling paradise of Limburg.
Britain and Ireland (Ireland, United Kingdom)
Britain is a diverse patchwork of Celtic and Germanic cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Ireland has rolling landscapes and characteristic customs, traditions and folklore.
Central Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland)
Central Europe is the region where Germanic culture meets Slavic culture. It is home to innumerable historic towns, fairy-tale castles, beer, forests, unspoiled farmland, and plenty of mountain ranges, including the mighty Alps and Carpathians.
France and Monaco
France is the world's most popular tourist destination known for its gastronomy, history, culture and fashion. Some of its tourist attractions include Paris, the French Riviera, the Atlantic beaches, the Alps, castles of the Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy, and the rural landscape of Provence. Monaco is a beautiful, ultra-wealthy principality overlooking the Mediterranean.
Greece, Cyprus and Turkey
Counting the most amount of sun-hours in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean is a haven for beach-goers, party-people and cultural enthusiasts alike.
Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan)
A region presenting a remarkable mix of landscapes, ranging from high mountain peaks and wine-growing valleys to lush Black Sea resorts. Like the Balkans, Caucasus is at the intersection of Christian and Islamic cultures and is among the more "exotic" areas of the continent
Iberia (Andorra, Portugal, Spain)
The Iberian countries are great destinations for their rich and unique cultures, lively cities, beautiful countryside and friendly inhabitants.
Italy (Italy, San Marino, Vatican City, Malta)
Rome, Florence, Venice and Pisa are on many travellers' itineraries, but these are just a few of Italy's destinations. Italy has more history and culture packed into it than many other countries combined.
Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus
Russia is a country of vast, empty expanses that spans all the way east to the Pacific Ocean with an immense diversity of peoples along the way, and cultural hot spots such as Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Novgorod on the European side. Ukraine is a diverse country that has a lot to offer, from the beach resorts of the Black Sea to the beautiful cities Odessa, Lviv and Kyiv. North of Ukraine lies Belarus, a country unlike anywhere else in Europe.
Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
Spectacular scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and volcanoes. Finland is culturally distinct as it has a language unlike the Scandinavian languages.

Top cities

How do you choose a few cities to represent a continent full of deep history and profound culture? This will change over time; but here's our "top cities":

  • Amsterdam — canals, Rembrandt and red lanterns, the epicentre of liberal attitudes
  • Berlin — the capital of reunited Germany since 1990, it was divided by force for 45 years during the Cold War and has emerged as a international cultural centre and an area of rapid development since the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Copenhagen - Capital of Denmark is a beautiful city which sits in two islands: Zealand and Amager.
  • Istanbul — the only major city to span two continents and a fascinating melting pot of East and West
  • London — Britain's vibrant capital, a true 'global city'
  • Madrid — Spain's capital city
  • Moscow — Europe's largest city is famous for its nightlife and the iconic Kremlin
  • Paris — the capital of romance (and France) on the banks of the Seine
  • Rome — the eternal city of seven hills and two thousand seven hundred years of history

Other notable cities

  • Athens - the Acropolis, ancient temples, medieval churches, early modern neoclassical mansions; the birthplace of Western civilization with a history of 3,400 years
  • Lisbon - Top world destination 2018, world discoveries started from here.
  • Barcelona — Gaudi's cosmopolitan home on Mediterranean coast
  • Budapest — One of the most picturesque capitals of Europe
  • Prague — magical city with its renowned bridges spanning the Vltava River
  • Riga - the capital of Latvia, is beautiful of its architecture and medieval town.
  • Saint Petersburg - a magical city with beautiful palaces
  • Sarajevo - the capital of Bosnia, is a small city, but nice, because its museums shows nearly everything you want to hear about
  • Tallinn - The capital city of Estonia, is a wonderful city with a medieval town and modern towers
  • Valletta - the capital of Malta, a true definition of "walking through history".
  • Vilnius - the capital of Lithuania, is an old city with a glorious history.
  • Venice - a city in Italy, when you can move only by sailing on it

Other notable destinations

Understand

History

Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance with an astonishing cultural heritage

The earliest concrete signs of written European culture can be found in Hellenic Greece. Homer (c. 800 BC), Hesiod (753 BC) and Kallinos (728 BC) are three of the oldest poets in Europe. The Romans believed that their city was founded in 753 BC, while modern archaeologists and historians believe that the area of modern day Rome has been inhabited since at least 1000 to 800 BC.

From 300 AD Christianity in Europe started to spread. Around 500 the Roman Empire collapsed, with France at that time coming under the rule of the Merovingians, Spain coming under occupation from North African Berber Muslims and other countries essentially invaded by various barbarian groups. In 714, the Carolingian empire was founded and lasted until 911 occupying large parts of Western Europe. The period after this date is often called the high-middle ages and lasted until around 1300 which saw a shift to urbanisation across Europe, initiating in Western Europe, and gave rise to universities. This was followed by the late middle ages which ended around 1500, giving birth to a period of European history normally referred to as the Renaissance or the re-birth. The people of this period actively rediscovered classical Greco-Roman culture and it was followed by a reformation of Christianity, with the rise of new sects in Europe, most notably Protestantism.

Between 1492 and 1972 many European nations (like Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Russia, France and the Netherlands) ruled or had ruled over most of the known world, with the exception of parts of Asia, Japan, Thailand and Tibet) and Antarctica.

The European Union

Europe, prior to the conclusion of World War II, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war". National leaders realized after World War II that closer socio-economic and political integration was needed to ensure that such tragedies never happened again. Starting with humble beginnings, the EU's first inception was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The founding group of nations were Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Impressed with the results of the union, the six countries pressed on and in 1956 signed the Treaty of Rome, with the ultimate goal of creating a common market — the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1967, the union was formalised further with a the creation of a single European Commission, as well as a Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

From 1945 to 1990 Western Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain from Eastern Europe. In 1989 protests across Eastern Europe led to primarily non-violent revolutions and in 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved and the Cold War ended.

Post-1967, the EU continued to rapidly grow; Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973. Greece joined in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986 and Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. To date, Norway and Switzerland have resisted membership for historical and economic reasons though both have close relations with the EU. The EU pressed on with economic integration and launched the euro (€) across several nations on 1 Jan 2002. Currently, 18 nations use the euro as their official currency. In addition, San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and Montenegro, which are also not EU members, have been granted official permission to use the euro.

In 2004, a further 10 countries joined the EU. These were: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined; Croatia joined in July 2013, while Albania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all official applicants.

Geography