I can’t help but feel kinship with Western Europe. This eclectic & fascinating swath of Europe spurred more firsts for me than any other. It was the first region I visited outside of North America, the first place I lived outside of Canada, and, most of all, the area where I first fell in love with travel!
Whether your travel preferences take you rambling through the green pastures of Ireland, tracing history in the cities of United Kingdom, sipping on trappist brews in a small pub in Belgium, hunting for windmills in the Netherlands, or gazing upon fields of lavender in France, let this Western Europe travel guide help light the way…
When to visit Western Europe
Like much of the continent, deciding when to go to Western Europe is always simple. For the most part, however, Western Europe is a year-round destination. Each season (along with each sub-region on the sub-continent) will have its own ups and downs at different times of year. No matter which time you choose, you should have little problem scooting around and seeing the best Western Europe has to offer.
Overall, the best time to visit in Western is in the spring or the fall. Like much of Europe, the summer brings hot & humid weather to the region along with hordes of tourists from all around the world.
In spring & fall, you’ll get, not only smaller crowds, but more favourable conditions in Western Europe. Temperatures in the months of May, September, and October are often still warm to mild. Thanks to the lower density of tourists roaming around the region, you’ll often better availability of accommodations, lower prices, and shorter line-ups at the most popular attractions.
Where to go in Western Europe
Attempting to paint a picture of Western Europe in one broad stroke is bound to end in difficulty. Spanning the area between Europe’s western & northern Atlantic coasts and the middle of the continent & its southern-most countries, Western Europe is exceedingly diverse with a range of cultures represented.
Although neighbouring countries like the United Kingdom & Ireland or Belgium & Netherlands share a certain historical pedigree, the differences from each other can seem vast. And that’s all part of the charms that visiting Western Europe will throw your way.
Not sure how to begin planning your visit? Here are a few of the top Western European destinations to add to your travel plans…
Whether it’s the glorious chocolate, thirst-quenching trappist brews or stunning townscapes that draw you, one thing’s certain: you won’t leave Belgium unsatisfied. When you dream of the picture-perfect European medieval town, there’s a good chance it’ll resemble one of Belgium’s main tourist centres—whether its the lovely squares and canals of Bruges or Ghent or the elegant streets of the capital of Brussels.
Besides its eye-popping architecture and palate-pleasing highlights, Belgium is the perfect European destination of history buffs. Since time immemorial, Belgium has been at a crossroads of marauders stomping through for continental supremacy. It was right here in Belgium (then part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands) at the Battle of Waterloo that Napoleon was ultimately defeated. Elsewhere in Belgium, you’ll stumble across reminders of both the major world wars of 20th-century including Flanders Fields, immortalized by the era’s most famous war poem.
One of the world most coveted destinations, France appears atop more travel bucket lists than, perhaps, any country in Western Europe. The capital of Paris is one of the world’s most famously romantic places, drawing young couples and honeymooners like no other place on the planet.
Of course, it would be a crime to limit your time in France to the City of Lights. The country is far more diverse than many give it credit for. Beyond its street-side cafes, world-class museums, and art galleries, France is home to everything from stunning palaces and chateaus in the north to white-sand beaches on the French Riviera and ski resorts in the Alps.
Aside from its obvious and varied attractions, France draws visitors for one other major reason: food. France is one of the world’s definitive culinary capitals, often credited with elevating the art of cooking to unexpected heights. Whether its savouring beef bourguignon in Burgundy or shucking oysters along the Mediterranean, France captivates the tastebuds more than any country in Western Europe.
Not sure where to start planning your trip to France? Here are some resources:
Rockin’ out a surname like O’Rourke, you can bet that Ireland was top of mind when I created my first Western Europe travel plans. After visiting a couple of times since, it’s a place that continues to intrigue me to explore. (Finding a castle in the middle of the isle bearing one’s name certainly helps!)
I don’t think there’s a destination in the region more riddled with stereotypes than the Emerald Isle. While the odds of running across a sarcastic leprechaun are unlikely (okay, impossible), what I guarantee you’ll discover is a country jam-packed with dramatic landscapes, quaint villages, ancient castles, a rich cultural heritage, and, best of all, a wealth of hospitable characters.
Not sure where to start planning your trip to Ireland? Here are some resources:
Famous for its liberal capital of Amsterdam, the Netherlands is, unfortunately, often overlooked as a whole when travellers craft their Western European itineraries. Beyond its biggest city and most popular tourist centre, the epicentre of the Dutch universe is a surprising fun ride, even if the joys come in ways completely unique to the country.
If you’ve ever dreamed of European cycling trip but were always intimidated by the landscapes, this is finally your chance. The Netherlands is practically built for biking with its extremely flat geography dipped, throughout much of the country, below sea-level. Its small size and easy-riding terrain also means that travelling between interesting places can often be measured in minutes rather than hours.
And let’s not forget the profound effect the Dutch have had on modern European culture. Despite its compact size, some of the most famous European artists in history hail from the Netherlands including Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Its unique architectural styles—found in places as varied as New York City, Jakarta, Melaka, and Curacao—are at their best here, especially on the streets of cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Delft.
After spending a year living in the United Kingdom, I can with certainly say few places in the world feel more like home for me than the isle nation of Great Britain. Comprising the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom delivers a larger variety of compelling scenes than you’d expect from looking at tourist brochures.
For many travellers, the stars of Great Britain are lively historic cities like London, Bath or Edinburgh; others fall in love with the UK, instead, while rolling through quiet medieval villages in the Cotswolds or hiking in the Lake District. What both groups can agree upon though is that however you choose to plan your holidays in the United Kingdom, you’ll be spoiled for choice and won’t leave disappointed.
Not sure where to start planning your trip to United Kingdom? Here are some resources:
- One Day in Edinburgh: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Edinburgh: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Edinburgh: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Glasgow: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Glasgow: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Glasgow: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
…more Western European destinations & travel guides to come!
Transportation in Western Europe
By air: For travellers visiting from across the pond, there’s a whole slew of major gateways to Western Europe. The airports with the most connections to international destinations include London Heathrow (LHR), London Stansted (STN), Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG), Brussels Airport (BRU), and Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS).
By train: If you’re already in Europe, the train can be a comfortable and convenient alternative to getting into the region. Some of the more popular routes to major Western European cities from other destinations in continental Europe include Berlin to Amsterdam (6h), Duisburg to Brussels (4h48m), Madrid to Paris (9h45m), and Barcelona to Paris (6h15m), Geneva to Paris (3h10m).
By train: As with most of Europe, trains are often the quickest & most comfortable way to scoot around Western Europe. Connections between major Western European cities are frequent and improving all the time. If you’re planning to travel extensively by train, you’ll save a ton of money by picking up a Eurail Select Pass before you leave. Some of the most popular routes within the region (quickest times indicated) include Amsterdam to Brussels (1h50m), Brussels to Paris (1h22m), Paris to London (2h16m), and London to Edinburgh (4h14m).