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Travel tips

6 things to experience your first time traveling to Europe

Dec 19, 2019 by Jamie Gallerani

It’s uncanny... even if you visited Europe over and over, you’d never feel like you’d seen the whole place. But, that’s exactly why it’s so magical. There’s always a new country to visit and a new culture to step into.

Is it your first time traveling to Europe? Here are six quintessentially European things to check off your list.

1. Go for a stroll

Even if you don’t opt for one of our Walking Tours, Europe will still beckon you to set off on foot. The continent’s narrow streets were built long before cars came to be, and walking most places is a cultural norm. In Italy, there’s even an evening promenade called la passeggiata, and cars are banned in ancient city centers from Ghent to Zermatt to Florence. That makes for a relaxing stroll indeed.


2. Get into the coffee culture

Drinking bold-roast coffee at a cafe is a must your first time traveling to Europe. Here’s how to fit in with the locals as you enjoy your pick-me-up.

Go with tradition in Budapest

There are modern cafes aplenty in Hungary, but locals still prefer to gather at Budapest’s historic kávéház, or coffeehouses. In a word, these legendary institutions are opulent, and are where everybody from intellectuals to politicians have caught up on the gossip through the ages. Imagine if those gold-leafed, art-bedecked walls could talk...

Know when (and how) to get coffee in Italy

Do you love cappuccino but want to avoid any confused side-eye in an Italian cafe? Then be sure to order before noon! Italians peg the frothy, milk-based brew as a breakfast drink, and think espresso is best for the rest of the day. Also, be sure to pay at the register first and hand your receipt off to the barista at the counter (or prepare to pay a bit more to sit at a table).

Get superstitious in Turkey

It’s not every day that you come across a fortune teller at your neighborhood Starbucks, but these skilled falcu are usually waiting in the wings at popular cafes in Istanbul. Just make a wish and flip your cup over on the saucer, and they’ll divine your future from the pattern of the grounds. We knew drinking coffee could dictate how the rest of your day goes—but the rest of your life? It’s worth a shot!

Forget about café au lait in Paris

If you’re heading to a Parisian cafe for breakfast, use the term café crème to order your coffee with foamed milk. Even though your server will likely know what you mean if you say café au lait, it’s usually used to describe the milky morning coffee locals sip from bowls in their own homes. What’s with the bowl, you ask? The brew cools quickly, and there’s more room to dip a breakfast pastry.

3. Try dining alfresco

Picture it: you, at the sidewalk cafe, cocktail in hand. Eating and drinking outdoors in Europe lends a certain je ne sais quoi to any meal—and gives you a front row seat for people watching, street performances, and some of the world’s most breathtaking views.

Club Go Globetrotter Verna discovered this herself while on tour in Paris. “One of the best dishes that I’ve ever tasted was beef bourguignon, which I enjoyed at a sidewalk cafe near the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris. I don’t know if it was the moment in time that made it so rich and tasty or the food itself, but it was divine! There is nothing like taking in magnificent views of the Eiffel Tower and enjoying the company of wonderful people while having a delicious dinner along with good French red wine.”


4. Master your air-kiss etiquette

The cheek-to-cheek air kiss is a common way for friends and family to say “hey” in Europe. Here are some tips for your first time traveling to Europe so you don’t end up with an unintentional swak on your lips.

Don’t pucker up

This greeting doesn’t usually involve touching your lips to someone’s cheek. Instead, touch cheeks while making a soft smooching sound, then turn your head and do the same on the other side.

Put hands to shoulders

Your best bet is to lightly put your hands on the other person’s shoulders while you go through the air-kiss motions.

Count them out

The number of air kisses depends on which country you’re in. Germans, Greeks, Italians, and Spaniards go for two, while three is the magic number in Slovenia and Belgium.


5. Make each sunset an occasion

Whether you’re sitting at a cafe or on the steps of a historic church, there’s no wrong place to watch the sun go down when you’re visiting Europe for the first time. Here’s Go Ahead staffer Nicole’s pick for one of the best end-of-day seats in the house.

“My favorite place to watch the sunset is Buza Bar while on tour in Dubrovnik, Croatia. You can grab your favorite drink and relax on the cliffs outside the famous Walls of Dubrovnik while watching the sunset over the Adriatic.”

6. Visit a farmers’ market

Forget supermarkets—Europeans favor outdoor farmers’ markets for all things fresh, local, and seasonal. While visiting one of these outdoor setups in Italy, it was the simplicity of the honest flavors that won traveler Zoe’s heart.

“My mother and I had an afternoon to wander around Venice and found ourselves in a market where we purchased fresh, sweet-smelling peaches, crusty bread, and salty prosciutto and salami. We carried our bags to a quiet canal and watched the fishermen come and go while we ate. It wasn’t fancy but the rustic flavors were simple and delicious and my Italian grandfather would have definitely approved!”

Have your own tips about traveling to Europe for the first time? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook!

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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