What to Expect on Your First Trip to Europe: A Guide for First-Time Visitors

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Since my teenage years, I have always had a deep love for Europe. The rich history, magnificent architecture, and the vibrant way of life have always fascinated me. But what truly makes traveling in Europe special is the ease with which one can explore the continent.

I vividly remember my first trip to Europe and the mix of excitement and nervousness that engulfed me. The thought of venturing into the unknown was both thrilling and anxiety-inducing. However, as I embarked on my journey, I quickly realized that Europe, despite being vastly different from my home country of Canada, was a place where I felt comfortable and at ease.

If you are planning your first trip to Europe, it is natural to feel apprehensive. The fear of the unknown often clouds our minds, causing unnecessary stress and worry. To help ease your concerns and make your first European adventure memorable, we have put together this comprehensive guide for first-time visitors.

What to Expect on Your First Trip to Europe

In this guide, we will address common questions and concerns that first-time travelers often have. From small, specific details to more general travel tips, we aim to provide you with valuable insights to make your journey smoother.

For seasoned travelers, some of these points may seem obvious. However, for those embarking on their maiden European voyage, we hope you find this guide immensely helpful. It is important to note that experiences may vary across different regions in Europe, and the information provided is based on our personal experiences.

Electricity in Europe

  • The electricity supply in Europe is 220v, which means that devices using North American voltage (110v) will require a transformer. Most modern electronic devices such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, and camera chargers have built-in converters that can accommodate voltage changes (110-240V). It is advisable to read the label of your devices to ensure compatibility. Personally, I prefer to travel with dual voltage hair appliances, such as a blow dryer and hair straightener, to avoid the need for a converter.
  • European electrical sockets typically have two round pins, except in Switzerland, where three pins are used. Great Britain and Ireland have three rectangular pins. To use your electronics, you will need an adapter that matches the socket type in the country you are visiting.

Hotels

  • Hotel rooms in Europe can be smaller than those in North America. It is important to manage your expectations in this regard. During my visits to Paris and Wurzburg, I encountered relatively small hotel rooms. However, this was not a consistent experience throughout the continent.
  • When booking hotel rooms, it is worth noting that the bed descriptions can be confusing. In many cases, you can expect either two twin beds pushed together or two single mattresses with separate duvets/comforters placed on one double bed frame.
  • Unlike some hotels in North America, European hotels do not typically provide washcloths for face cleansing. It is advisable to bring your own washcloth to ensure personal hygiene.

Restaurants

  • In most European restaurants, bottled water is served as the norm, and tap water is not commonly offered. If you prefer tap water or non-carbonated water, be sure to request it while ordering.
  • Compared to North America, Europeans tend to have dinner at a later hour. It is important to adjust your expectations and be prepared to linger longer in restaurants. The staff in European restaurants are not in a rush to bring the bill unless requested.
  • Tipping in Europe is appreciated but not expected in the same way as in North America. Tips are generally more modest, such as rounding the bill to a convenient number. The menu often specifies if service charge is included. If not, a 5% tip is considered normal, while a 10% tip is considered generous.
  • Restaurants in popular tourist destinations and large cities often provide menus in multiple languages for the convenience of international visitors.
  • It is worth noting that bread may be placed on your table without request, and it may come with a charge. If you prefer not to pay for bread, simply refrain from eating it.
  • Breakfast offerings vary across different European countries. Some places offer pastries and coffee, while others serve cold cuts and cheese. In my experience, breakfasts in France were different from those in Ireland, where I enjoyed hot and hearty meals similar to those in Canada.

Transportation in Europe

  • Trains are generally the most convenient and efficient mode of transportation in Europe. The comprehensive rail network, affordable ticket prices, and picturesque scenery make train travel a popular choice. Personally, I have enjoyed traveling by train throughout Europe. If you plan to visit multiple countries or take several train trips, consider purchasing a Eurail Pass to save time and money.
  • Public transportation networks in major cities are well-developed and offer cost-effective options for getting around. Metros are particularly easy to use and can save both time and money when navigating large cities.
  • When using taxis, it is essential to choose reputable companies. Conduct some research prior to your trip to identify the “official” taxi company and familiarize yourself with their distinctive features. If in doubt, seek recommendations from your hotel.
  • Bike-sharing programs have gained popularity across Europe. Many cities offer bike rental services, allowing you to conveniently travel from one destination to another. During my time in Paris, bicycles became my preferred mode of transportation.
  • European cities are known for their pedestrian-friendly design. Many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes for exploring on foot.

Public Washrooms

  • Public washrooms are available throughout Europe, but it is important to note that you may be required to pay a small fee to use them. The charges for using public washrooms typically range from €0.50 to €1.00. While the idea of paying for washroom access may seem unusual, it often ensures cleanliness and maintenance.
  • In some large cities like Paris and London, you may come across coin-operated public toilets on street corners. These self-cleansing facilities usually provide 15 minutes of toilet use after inserting the required coins.
  • Certain cafes and fast-food establishments may provide the access code to their washrooms on the receipt, making a purchase necessary. Despite being an inconvenience, it is worth considering if you are in need of restroom facilities.
  • Confidently walking into a cafe or hotel, especially busy ones with outdoor seating, may allow you to use their washroom without making a purchase. Establishments are generally welcoming, as long as you exhibit a sense of belonging.

Safety in Europe

  • Europe is generally a safe destination for travelers. However, it is crucial to exercise caution and common sense, just as you would in any other part of the world.
  • Pickpocketing can be a concern in crowded areas and tourist hotspots. It is advisable to keep your valuables secure and remain vigilant of your surroundings, particularly when using public transportation. Be wary of individuals using distractions or approaching you for directions, as they may be attempting to steal from you. I encountered such incidents during my stay in Paris, where pickpockets often used tactics like hiding their hands under a jacket or newspaper.
  • Prior research can help you identify areas that should be avoided, especially at night.

Wheelchair Accessibility

  • It is important to note that wheelchair accessibility in public buildings is still not widespread across many European countries. While some cities have designated curb cuts and accessible facilities, others may pose challenges for wheelchair users due to cobblestone streets and lack of infrastructure.
  • Contacting tourism offices and local transit providers before your trip can provide valuable information on accessibility options. Websites like Sage Travelling offer comprehensive accessibility reviews for various European cities.

What to See on Your First Trip to Europe

Choosing destinations and planning an itinerary can be overwhelming due to the myriad of options available in Europe. For recommendations and a sample itinerary, I encourage you to read our post “5 Weeks in Europe: Our Itinerary’s Hits and Misses”. Our Europe Travel Guide and a list of the best cities to visit in Europe are also great sources of inspiration.

Tours in Europe

For a wide selection of tours and tickets for attractions and activities across Europe, I highly recommend visiting a trusted site that offers a large inventory.

Accommodations in Europe

When it comes to arranging accommodations for European trips, our go-to website is Booking.com. We have been using it for years and find it extremely reliable. To support our website, I kindly ask you to consider booking your European accommodations through the provided link. This costs you nothing extra and helps sustain our content. Thank you for your support!

More Europe Travel Guides

For further travel guides and itineraries, take a look at the following articles:

  • 2 Weeks in Switzerland: Itinerary for Active Travellers
  • Swiss Travel Pass Guide: How to Buy and Use the Swiss Travel Pass
  • 2 Weeks in Ireland: Road Trip Itinerary
  • Solo Travel in Ireland: 7 Reasons Ireland is a Great Place to Travel Alone
  • Exploring Bavaria: The Best Places to Visit on a Trip to Bavaria, Germany

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