So you want to visit Europe, but you’re unsure of which route to take. First of all, we’re not surprised that you have your sights set on the ‘old continent’. Europe has some of the greatest physical and cultural diversity for a peninsula of its size and it’s brimming with lusted vacation spots.
From the rolling countryside and bicycle-choked streets of northern Europe to the winding coastal roads and bustling resorts of the south, not forgetting the heady nightlife and rustic cuisine of the Eastern Block, there’s so much to do and see and each country promises a new experience.
You can’t fit everything into one trip, but you can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time in Europe. Whether you have three weeks or three months, our guide looks at the best routes to take when traveling around the continent. Let’s get into it.
How to Get Around Europe
Europe is advanced when it comes to tourist infrastructure. You can easily get around by public transport and travel across borders via high-speed trains, cars, and buses, with many bustling capital cities located within a few hours of each other. We’ll talk about the best transport for different legs of your trip, but it’s up to you whether you want to commit to one mode of transport or switch between them. Check out some of your options below:
Setting off on a road trip around Europe is one of the most freeing ways to get around since you can choose exactly when and where you want your days to take you. You won’t be limited by public transport schedules and are able to make day trips as you please, but you will be limited when it comes to longer distances that are easier to travel by plane, especially if you’ve come in your own car and not a hire vehicle.
Interrailing is one of the best options when it comes to getting around Europe and train travel is famously popular on the continent. Not only are trains fast and efficient, but you can sit back and relax and watch the landscapes unfurl without worrying about traffic and tolls. However, train travel can be expensive in Europe, especially if you don’t book in advance. Interrailing passes can help cut some of these costs.
Some longer distances are best traveled by plane. Although Europe is well connected, it isn’t convenient to travel from the southwest to anywhere in central or Eastern Europe on the ground, for example, if you wanted to get from Spain to Italy or Italy to Germany. While flying can be a hassle with checked baggage fees and longer waiting times, there is a multitude of budget airlines to choose from in Europe which makes it more economical.
Europe is served by a vast network of bus routes like the Flixbus and Eurolines services which are surprisingly comfortable and convenient. Busses are less efficient and certainly slower than trains and planes, but they’re definitely the cheapest way to get around and a good choice for shorter distances. A combination of trains, buses, and planes is the best option when traveling around multiple countries in Europe, but a car could come in handy if you want to spend more time in one country.
Best Route to Travel Through Europe: The North
Where else to start your European adventure than the English capital? London is one of the greatest cities in the world, steeped in Roman history but with a modern skyline punctuated with iconic landmarks. You’ll need two to four days to take in its highlights, from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace; Piccadilly Circus to the British Museum; and upbeat Shoreditch to dynamic Brixton.
Whether you’re coming from across the pond or another European country, London is a bucket list destination but one of the most expensive on this list, so it’s a good option to tick off early and fly into.
London > Amsterdam
London is served by several major international airports including Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), and Stansted (STN). Long-haul flights and arrivals from European budget airlines are plentiful.
The UK has many other highlights, and if you’ve got the time we recommend visiting the Cotswolds and Devon, as well as Edinburgh in Scotland and Snowdonia in Wales. But London is also conveniently located close to the rest of Northern Europe. Amsterdam in the Netherlands is just one hour by plane and the driving time is less than seven hours. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can get to Amsterdam by bus, crossing the English Channel at Dover, in around 11 hours.
Amsterdam is known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system, narrow houses, and hectic cycle paths. Its museum district is home to the Van Gogh Museum, as well as Rijksmuseum where some landmark Rembrandt and Vermeer works are housed. There’s also the Venustempel Sex Museum if you’re after something a little bit different.
Three days in Amsterdam is a perfect amount of time to get a feel for the city. Be sure to visit Ann Frank’s house and take a picnic to Vondelpark when you’re there.
Amsterdam > Bruges
From Amsterdam, you could head to Scandinavia if you’re looking to explore Northern Europe to a fuller extent. Cities like Copenhagen and Stockholm are quintessentially Nordic but distinct in cuisine and culture and definitely worth visiting. However, our route encompasses more of the backpacker, road trip, and interrailing-friendly destinations in Europe so that you can cover more of the continent.
Head to Bruges in Belgium next if you’re skipping Scandinavia. It’s less than three hours by car from the Netherlands’ capital and the high-speed train takes the same amount of time. Bruges is also a city of canals with cobbled streets and medieval buildings. Zeebrugge, the city port, is an important center for European trade and fishing. Two days is the perfect amount of time to spend exploring the old town and checking out sites like the ornate 14th-century city hall, Markt Square, and the Belfort tower.
Bruges > Paris
Next up is Paris. The city of love is one everyone should visit in their lifetime and is usually at the top of the agenda for first-timers to Europe. Stroll the Champs-Élysées, taking in the Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame, make a stop-off at the Louvre, and catch the Eiffel Tower twinkling after dusk.
Bruges and Paris are connected by rail and it takes just 2 hours and 50 minutes on the train with more than 30 services operating daily. Paris is also connected by the Eurostar to London if you’re skipping out any stops. There’s also the option to take the bus that goes through the Channel Tunnel which is much cheaper than the high-speed train.
From Paris, you have the rest of France on your doorstep. If you want a taste of the châteauxs and prime vineyards of the wine region, head to the Loire Valley. Move south to Bordeaux for bustling city life and great surf and finish in Nice on the French Riviera for fine seafood and white sand beaches.
Best Route to Travel Through Europe: Spain and Italy
Nice > Barcelona
If you’re looking to save money, you can get from Nice to Barcelona by hopping on and off trains and busses. There is a direct bus between the cities but it takes around nine hours and costs €40 on average. If you want to get to Spain quicker, the flight is around 1 hour and 20 minutes and there are plenty of budget airlines offering regular services from Nice Cote d’Azur Airport.
Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia on Spain’s northeastern coast. The vibrant city is known for its incredible architecture and modernist landmarks like the fantastical Sagrada Familia church that towers above the skyline with its Gothic spires. The Picasso Museum and Fundació Joan Miró house collections of modern art by their namesakes, while the palm-lined city beach sprawls the length of the city.
Be sure to visit the historic Gothic Quarter and its hole-in-the-wall tapas bars and do a spot of shopping on La Rambla too. Barcelona also has great nightlife with backpacker hostels, classy rooftop bars, and raging underground clubs lining the seafront. We recommend at least four days to make the most of all that this energetic city has to offer.
Barcelona > Madrid
Take a trip over to Spain’s central capital next. Madrid is brimming with elegant boulevards, leafy parks, exciting art museums, and baroque palaces and plazas of Hapsburg Madrid. The city is two and a half hours direct by high-speed rail from Barcelona with departures every hour or so from Barcelona Sants train station.
Madrid > Costa del Sol
From Madrid, you should also check out some of Spain’s sumptuous coastline. If you’re after more city beaches, head a few hours southeast to Valencia. South of Valencia is the Costa del Sol with its bustling resorts, and Granada is further south still at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains with its grand medieval architecture and Moorish landmarks.
Costa del Sol > Milan
The best way to get over to Italy from southern Spain is by plane. You’d need to change at least three times and stop over in France if you wanted to travel by train, but this is an option if you fancied a few nights in another French city like Lyon. Milan is 2 and a half hours by plane from Málaga and only 1 hour 55 minutes from Valencia, with several budget airlines operating regular flights every week.
Milan is Italy’s northern capital of fashion, design, and finance. The city is home to the national stock exchange as well as high-end restaurants and boutique designer stores. Milan’s historical landmarks also testify to the city’s centuries of refined art and culture. The Gothic Duomo is an emblem of Milan and one of the largest cathedrals in Europe while the Santa Maria Delle Graze convent houses Leonard da Vinci’s masterpiece “The Last Supper”.
Two days is enough to get a taste of Milan. We recommend taking a day trip over to Lake Como if you have any more days to spare in Northern Italy. The glacial waters sit at the foot of the Alps and colorful fishing villages line its shores. In the summer months, Lake Como is alive with water activities and there are pebbly beaches and swimming spots around the water’s edge.
Milan > Venice
Head east to Venice next, the iconic floating city with its gondola-choked canals, narrow streets, charming squares, and impressive St. Mark’s Basilica. Italy is well-connected by a network of railways and 17 direct trains that travel from Milan to Venice daily, operated by Italo, Trenitalia, and Frecciarossa. Book in advance and the train from Milan to Venice could cost you just €20 for the two-hour journey.
From Venice, you can check out Verona, the historic setting of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or head to Bologna, the foodie capital of central Italy. However, visiting Rome is a nonnegotiable and the capital has to make your list.
Venice > Rome
Rome is full of energy with some of the most visited sites in the world. The city is the product of 3,000 years of urban development and its ancient landmarks live in harmony with its gritty cosmopolitan atmosphere. You need at least three nights to make the most of Rome and make it around the top landmarks from the Pantheon to Vatican City.
Rome is just two hours by high-speed train from Bologna or four hours if you’re coming straight from Venice. The capital is also served by two international airports, the largest of which is the busiest airport in the country, making Rome a great vantage point for traveling onward to central and eastern Europe. Yet, if you’re after a taste of Italy’s south, head to edgy Naples followed by the Sorrentine Peninsula where you’ll find the lemon groves and winding coastal roads of Amalfi. Sicily is also worth visiting and you can fly from its capital, Palermo, to Berlin in two and a half hours.
Best Route to Travel Through Europe: Central and Eastern Europe
Palermo > Berlin
Berlin, Germany’s dynamic capital, dates back to the 13th century. But perhaps more relevant is its turbulent 20th-century history of which there a plenty of reminders all over the city from the haunting Holocaust memorial to the graffitied remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Berlin is also renowned for its heady nightlife with the city’s robust drinking culture and slew of elusive techno clubs. Visit for three to four days to get a taste of it all.
Berlin > Prague
Prague is less than five hours by train from Berlin and this is a popular route with backpackers. Prague is the largest city in the Czech Republic. The Vltava River bisects Prague and the capital is known as “the city of a hundred spires” thanks to its Gothic churches and towers. The Old Town is the heart of Prague’s historic core and you’ll find colorful baroque buildings and the medieval Astronomical Clock in its tower which gives an animated hourly show.
Prague > Krakow
Prague also has fantastic nightlife with most of the bars and clubs centered around the river and the old town. Don’t miss Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. Next, head to Poland’s Krakow, the second-largest and one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s nestled near the Czech border and seven hours by bus or train from Prague.
Krakow’s charming old town is the center of action in the city and it’s ringed by Planty Park and the city’s walled remains. It’s best known for its well-preserved medieval core and Jewish quarter and is a popular base for day trips to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi concentration camp-turned-museum, and memorial.
Krakow is also brimming with basement bars and beer gardens. You need three days to make the most of the city, and a few more if you want to visit some of the sites outside of Krakow including Auschwitz, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and Zakrzówek—the limestone quarry which is now a magical wild swimming spot.
Krakow > Budapest
From Krakow, you can reach Budapest in six hours by crossing through Slovakia. The scenic train journey takes you through rural Hungary and past the Renaissance mansions that line the lakes outside of the capital. Budapest is an exciting cosmopolitan hub known for its thermal baths, unique Ruin Bars, eclectic architecture, and the wide Danube that bisects the city.
Take in the impressive Parliament building in its Gothic Revival style, the turreted fortress of Fisherman’s Bastion, and its city views, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Buda Castle, and Széchenyi Chain Bridge. You can fit a lot into a few days but we recommend three to four nights in the city to get a real feel for it.
Budapest > Split
To finish your European adventure and time in the Eastern Block, venture down to Croatia to soak up its perfect blend of western and southeastern European culture. Several trains operate every day between Budapest Keleti Station and Zagreb Central Station. The journey takes around six hours. After exploring the capital, you can head to Split or Hvar Island on the Dalmatian coast by bus or train in another six hours to enjoy some beachside relaxation and dynamic nightlife.
Some other spots worth checking out in Croatia include the incredible walled city of Dubrovnik, Korcula Island, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and Italianate Pula on the Istrian Peninsula.
When is the best time to visit Europe?
The summer months are the busiest and most expensive time to visit Europe, but they’re still best suited to a multi-country trip since you’ll find the most favorable weather across the continent. Most of Europe experiences a temperate climate. Western and Northern Europe is characteristically Oceanic with warm summers, cold winters, and frequent rain, while the south is Mediterannean with hotter summers and mild winters. If you want to skip some of the crowds but still get sun, consider visiting in May, June, or September.
How long do you need to travel around Europe?
How much time you need to travel to Europe depends on how many places you want to visit. If you’re looking to tick a few countries off your list, you could spend 2-5 days in a different capital and visit 5 destinations in two to three weeks. If you want to get a feel for one country, we recommend at least ten days split between two to three destinations, such as one or two cities and one coastal spot. If you’re road-tripping, we recommend at least three weeks for a real European adventure.
How much should I budget for three weeks in Europe?
Europe isn’t characterized by one ubiquitous economy. Some countries are much more expensive than others and you’ll need three times as much cash to get by in London as you would in Krakow. That said, you should budget around 850 EUR a week in Europe with all your travel and accommodation included in order to live comfortably, which would mean 2,250 EUR for a three-week trip. However, if you’re traveling on a shoestring or sticking to lower-cost destinations in the east, you could get by on 200-300 EUR a week.