Ah, Europe. A magical and diverse continent jam-packed with fascinating cities, stunning scenery and enough art and delicious food to satisfy even the most cultural foodie.
Whether it’s the buzzing nightlife and incredible history of Berlin, the incredible new Nordic dining of Copenhagen, the placid lakes of Slovenia or the sun-baked Mediterranean coast, there’s an amazing amount to discover. Rugged Scottish Highlands, Renaissance art in Italy, ancient monuments of Rome, Indonesian rijstaffel in Amsterdam, the Imperial Cafes of Vienna – we could go on (and on, and on).
So with such a rich choice, how are you even going to start? Planning a trip can be really stressful and the stress only increases the more options you have. That’s why going on a tour is one of the best traveling choices you can make to really discover Europe.
Although tours get a bad rep, they’re actually one of the best ways to help you get to know a place more – with local guides taking you places you wouldn’t have found on your own, you get a much deeper understanding of the countries. Not to mention the fact that they remove all of the pressure of planning.
But this brings us back to that same challenge of choice – how do you choose your tour operator? It’s vital not to go with a wild card operator, someone you don’t know and can’t trust. Have a look at some of the best European tour companies, each focused on different areas to suit every traveler.
This is one of the most established tour companies in Europe and has been delivering interesting, varied and affordable tours since 1947. That’s basically when tours as we know them appeared, so Trafalgar was always at the forefront of travel!
It’s a great way to meet like-minded travellers who really love getting to the heart of a place, enjoying cultural experiences and visiting unique places. The accommodation is always great (no hostels here!) and the perks include queue skipping and private access. Participants get to go beyond the big name sights to learn how to cook in Italy or tour farms in France.
With such a premier reputation, it won’t come as a surprise that Trafalgar is particularly popular among the older crowd with what might be called a ‘classic touch’. This doesn’t mean it’s slow, or dull, simply that you’ll spend more time chatting with people and getting to know a place through the locals, rather than bungee jumping off mountains. Another plus is the cost – Trafalgar specializing in offering tours great for those on a budget.
European tours include things like ‘Best of’ country tours, ‘Great Italian Cities’, ‘Spanish Wonder Summer’ and ‘Traditional Europe’. Their experience and expertise is evident at each stage and you’ll discover more than you ever expected.
As the name might suggest, this is one of the best European tour companies for its fun sense of adventure in all the tours it runs. It helps that it was established by a traveller at heart, Bruce Poon Tip, who got the idea after backpacking in Asia.
It’s always said that the focus was not on helping with holidays, but on “changing people’s lives” and that ethos lives on. Going on one of these tours means you won’t just see things; you’ll experience them. You use local transport (pack light!), eat at locally-owned restaurants and generally get to the core of the places you go. There’s an emphasis on sustainable travel practices that we can definitely get on board with.
Choose from a range of tours, from Classic to Active to YOLO. With such a variety of options, G Adventures can suit all kinds of travellers, although their original target market is still strong – people who don’t want to play it too safe, don’t want their experience airbrushed and like to take risks. The tours are usually quite active but the company are moving away from their traditional 18 to 39 age range.
Whoever’s on the tour with you, you know they’ll be up for a laugh and keen on authentic experiences – just like you! We love the ‘London to the Mediterranean on a Shoestring’ and ‘Discover Moorish Spain’ tours, but these are just a couple on a long list.
If you’re bored of going to cities, traipsing around museums and then never finding the best nightlife, then a Contiki tour is perfect for you. It specialises in providing lifelong travel memories for people between the ages of 18 and 35 – young, adventurous people who want to have a lot of fun while exploring new places.
It’s all about spontaneity on a Contiki trip, not lengthy itineraries planned down to the last second. There are loads of different concepts to the trips, from ‘High Energy’, which does what it says on the tin, to ‘In Depth Explorer’ if you like cultural travel, to multi-country ‘Discover’ tours which always have a wide mix of activities and destinations. You can camp, ski, head to festivals or cruise; whatever floats your boat, really.
Contiki is a bit of a by-word for party tours now and it’s definitely for people who want to have fun both day and night. They say that 50% of their travellers are going solo and everyone expects to make friends and socialise. It’s not all tequila body shots, we promise, but whether you’re nearer the 18 or 35 end of the age range you’ll definitely need a lot of energy!
In Europe you can choose from Greek Island Hopping, a Berlin to Budapest trip or even a short city break like Christmas in Amsterdam, or many more. Whatever you go for, you’re guaranteed a memorable time.
You might have already guessed this from the name, but this is definitely one of the best European tour companies if you’re looking for fearless adventuring (in a supported context, of course!). Its brand is all about ‘real life experiences’, so expect big detours from the beaten track!
As most tours have a maximum of 10 participants, you’ve got a lot more chance to get close to the local culture and way of life than you would with massive groups in coaches. You’ll use public transport and stay at independently run accommodation, all with plenty of free time. Be warned: if you like things to be super-planned, steer clear!
There are no official age limitations although the average travellers are aged between 18 and 45. What is differentiated is the level of comfort (or the cost, depending on how you want to look at it!). There is a choice of ‘Basix’ tours for those of us on a shoestring, ‘Original’ with a bit more on offer and ‘Comfort’ for the highest level of activities and accommodation.
We love the idea of the ‘Iceland Discovery’ tour for something truly different, or Dubrovnik to Athens for some of the Mediterranean’s most gorgeously rugged coast.
Love the idea of all these fascinating tours but have no idea how you would ever pay for one of them? Enter BusAbout, a wallet-friendly tour company that wants to help adventure-hungry travellers experience as much as they can without breaking the bank.
There’s a wide-ranging bus network that allows travellers to ‘hop on’ and ‘hop off’ flexibly and independently. They might not be business class but they’re comfortable enough and you can watch movies or use the Wi-Fi. The drivers and guides are always keen travellers and happy to share what they know about the countries you’re going around.
It’s the perfect way to maintain your independence while learning more about places and getting to know other like-minded people on the journey. It’s also pretty ideal if you’re not a fan of flying!
From the super budget, to the super luxe, this is one of the best European tour companies for high-end cruises and sheer relaxation. You can enjoy all the beauty this continent has to offer and you don’t even have to leave the boat if you don’t want to!
There’s something incredibly peaceful about gliding along the majestic rivers of Austria and Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy or more; drinking in the scenery, you can enjoy all the extra touches on board one of these sophisticated boats. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the suits means passengers can open their rooms up to the outdoors and the food is delicious.
Yes, it’s pricey, but the great thing is that so much is already included, so once you’re on board you don’t need to worry about hidden costs – entry to must-see sites, for example, or alcohol with your meal. It’s mainly for the over-50s, although anyone will enjoy the romance and indulgence of the water.
One of our favorite European rivers to explore is the magnificent Danube, especially as it travels through a variety of destinations, but there’s something to discover on all of them.
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!