As one of the world’s most popular continents for tourists, Europe’s major cities offer a variety of unforgettable experiences. It also has its share of surprises in store for people from abroad. These are a few of the things that may baffle and surprise tourists their first time in Europe.
The length of the day
The majority of Europe lies at a latitude that most of us are not used to living in. For perspective, Florence in Italy lies at about the same latitude as Toronto in Canada. This puts cities like London, Prague, and Paris far closer to the Earth’s North Pole. What this means for day-to-day life is that the days in the summer are extremely long and the days in the winter are extremely short. Tourists might be surprised to find the sun creeping in their hotel window at 4 am and not setting again until 9:30 pm in June. This makes for long, sunny days to get a lot of mileage out of but it can mess with your sleep. In the winter, the sun will be setting by 4 or 5 pm, so you’ll be seeing a lot of the city at night.
There’s no air conditioning
Also in part because of its latitude, most of Europe is cold for the majority of the year. Of course, there is plenty of summer heat, but much of the continent isn’t equipped to deal with temperatures they only face one or two months a year. So if you’re looking for Airbnbs in Europe, you’ll be surprised to find that many of them have heating but few have air conditioning. But don’t worry. Unless there’s a heat wave, cracking a window at night will keep the temperature cool enough to sleep comfortably. If there’s a heat wave though, God help you.
There are no elevators
Travelers who like to carry 70 pounds of wardrobe when they travel will be surprised and dismayed to find they may have to lug that bag up and down four flights of stairs at your European hotels. Many apartment buildings and local hotels are simply too old and cramped to accommodate an elevator. If you need disability access, you should look for accommodations far in advance to ensure you get a decent rate on a place that has elevators and other accessibility needs. Sticking with major hotel chains is also a safe bet in that case.
Everyone speaks English
Certain destinations in Europe get a bad rap for being snobby toward anyone that doesn’t speak their language. But in actuality, most Europeans speak English as a second or third language because as part of primary school education, students are taught different languages other than their mother tongue. Many adults seek out English schools and tutors because knowing English helps when conducting international business. In cities you’ll probably visit your first time in Europe, the vast majority of locals will speak English. So don’t be afraid of the French. They’re not that bad and they don’t expect you to speak French.
A lot of things are under construction
Europe is old and many of its precious buildings, sights, bridges, and cute cobblestone streets are under a constant rotating state of renovation. So you might be really excited for Big Ben or the Trevi Fountain and find it covered in scaffolding. It’s disappointing, but it happens often. So you should be mentally prepared to see some things halfway through the restoration process.
Drinking is really cheap
Europeans love their wine and beer. Drinking in other parts of the world may not be such a normal part of the culture or it may be seen as a luxury activity. But having a glass of wine with dinner is par for the course in any major European city. This means it’s also affordable for the average person. Sometimes it’s cheaper to drink alcohol than water or soda. Beer can be as little as 1-2 euros, and you can buy an entire bottle of wine at dinner for 10-20 euros. If you want to be extra cheap, you can get drinks at the grocery store for half that and drink on the go. Public drinking is not a punishable offense in most European countries as long as you’re not acting like an asshat.
Public transportation is really efficient
Particularly if you come from a driving city, you might snub your nose at taking the bus or metro. But most European cities have incredibly efficient public transportation that eliminates the need to hail cabs or request Ubers – not only are those options expensive, they sometimes take longer to get you where you’re going. Tourists might also be surprised to find many of these systems work on the honor system, so there are no barriers to enter the metro or tram. That doesn’t mean you should travel without a ticket though. If you encounter an official doing a check, you could be fined for not having a ticket to ride.
Travel is really affordable
Though getting to Europe might cost you a pretty penny, one of the things that surprise tourists in Europe is that moving from one place to another in the continent is extremely affordable. Constant buses, trains, and flights connect people in neighboring and not-so-neighboring countries. Understanding why travel is so cheap in Europe requires a little bit of geographical perspective. The entire United States is about the size of all of Europe. Texas alone can fit about 5 or 6 European countries. That’s why you may be surprised to find that a flight from Berlin to London costs less than the price of breakfast… and sometimes takes less time depending on your server.