Photos: A European tour

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  1. Venice, Italy

    Gondolas line the bank near Venice's grand canal with the San Giorgio Maggiore church in the background. (Peter Deilmann Cruises via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rome, Italy

    The Colosseum is one of the best-known attractions in all of Italy, and is the largest elliptical amphitheater built in the Roman empire. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. London, England

    The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben clock tower, located along the River Thames, are seen at dusk from Westminster Bridge. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Berlin, Germany

    Tourists take pictures of themselves at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The memorial, designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in May 2005, is made up of more than 2,700 concrete steles that form a curved landscape in the heart of Germany's capital. (Barbara Sax / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Granada, Spain

    The Alhambra palace in Granada, although one of 21 finalists, missed out on being named one of the new seven wonders of the world. (Jose Luis Roca / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paris, France

    This bird's-eye view of Paris at dusk, with the Eiffel Tower and L'Hotel des Invalides prominent, show why the capital's nickname is the "City of Light." (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lindos, Greece

    The ancient town of Lindos is famous for its Acropolis, which stands on a 380-foot-high hill overlooking Lindos and the Aegean Sea and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Eyeswideopen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Dublin, Ireland

    People walk past The Temple Bar, which should not be confused with its neighborhood, also called Temple Bar, in central Dublin. Ireland's capital has been voted one of the top 25 cities of the world to live in. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lisbon, Portugal

    Belém Tower was built in the early 16th century as a ceremonial gateway to the city, and to serve as a defense at the mouth of the Tagus River. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Sebastiano Scattolin / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Barcelona, Spain

    Columns and arches of the Sagrada Familia rise high in this Roman Catholic church, which has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Florence, Italy

    A woman looks over Florence from the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on the city's cathedral church began in 1296 and finished in 1462. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. County Mayo, Ireland

    Ashford Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and sits on 350 acres of manicured gardens and land, now ranks among the finest hotels in Ireland. About a two-hour drive from Dublin, the castle has played host to myriad high-profile events, including actor Pierce Brosnan's wedding. (Tourism Ireland via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaag, Netherlands

    A cyclist pedals along rows of tulips near the village of Kaag, outside of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch often use cycling to get around, and Amsterdam is considered one of the most bike-friendly large cities in the world. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Amsterdam, Netherlands

    A tourist smokes at a coffeeshop "de Dampkring," or "Atmosphere," where a part of the "Ocean's Twelve" movie was filmed, in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The city is famous for its nightlife, cultural activities and red-light district. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Stockholm, Sweden

    Boats line up on the shoreline in Stockholm, the capital and largest city in Sweden. The city is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Krakow, Poland

    The Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Krakow, Poland, is one of the most well-known tourist spots in the city and noted for its gothic, medieval architecture. However, most people come to Krakow because of its proximity to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi's concentration camps, which is now a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Jon Hicks / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nice, France

    Hundreds of people enjoy sunbathing on the beach in Nice on the French Riviera. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels, Belgium

    The Grand Place in the heart of Old Town in Brussels, Belguim, is marked by many 17th-century buildings and flower markets. (Jean-Pierre Lescourret / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Greek islands

    Oia, on the island of Santorini, Greece, is on a clifftop village filled with white structures and gorgeous sunsets. Santorini offers seaside tavernas, cliffside paths, black volcanic rocks and of course, sunshine and the Aegean Sea. (Saundra Virtanen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pamplona, Spain

    Revelers hold up their red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. The annual festival is best known for its daily running of the bulls. (Susana Vera / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Prague, Czech Republic

    The buildings in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, are constructed in many architectural styles from Romanesque to gothic to art nouveau and modern. (Michal Cizek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Reykjavik, Iceland

    Tourists stand in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik, Iceland. The Blue Lagoon's waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through rocks of lava. Many also believe the mineral-rich waters may have health benefits. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. St. Petersburg, Russia

    The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is seen on the bank of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 7/5/2006 5:28:26 PM ET 2006-07-05T21:28:26

Did you take a memorable trip to Europe that you would like to write about? Submit a trip report and we'll send you a link to your article and maybe even choose it to be the "Trip Report of the Week."

1.Decide on your destination
Is a whirlwind five-city tour what you have in mind? Or perhaps you shudder at the thought of visiting another museum and long for a relaxing week picking lavender in the south of France. The thing about Europe is that with so many countries, cities and sights worth seeing, the choices can be overwhelming. Think about what your ideal vacation is and begin your research. Check out our article Europe on and Off the Beaten Path for inspiration, and of course consult our members' trip reports.

2.Get your documents in order
Is your passport valid? Do you need a visa in the country you are visiting? Our article on passports includes everything you need to know about getting or renewing a passport, including links to forms you can download to expedite the process.

Keep in mind that if you are traveling with a child, a he or she needs a passport too. If you're reading this in a panic because you don't have a valid passport -- calm down -- a passport and visa expeditor can help you get yours fast.

3.Book your airfare
This is, perhaps, the most stressful part of planning a trip. You could lock in a reasonable fare early, but what if there is a major sale? You wait and wait for the sales to start and meanwhile the fares are creeping up. With the number of Americans traveling to Europe at its peak since 9/11, most experts agree that travelers aren't likely to see airfares to the continent take a dip for summer travel. If you don't have your heart set on traveling there this summer, consider going this fall -- the sales are already in progress. Check our Europe Bargains and Features page often -- it's updated daily with the latest sales.

4.Get creative with your flights
Until recently, booking a multi-leg flight required the help of a travel agent. However, the Web sites we have come to rely on for booking our simple round-trips -- specifically Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and Kayak -- have progressed by leaps and bounds in terms of booking multi-city flight itineraries -- check out our case study here to see who came out on top. However, because these booking engines don't search results from discount airlines abroad you might end up paying quite a bit more than if you did the legwork yourself and booking two separate trips or booking an open-jaw ticket.

5.Keep in mind that Europe has discount airlines too
Europe, just like the U.S., has discount airlines. The trouble is, most of the search engines we have come to rely on don't account for those flights (just as they don't account for several American discount airlines either). The two most popular of these discount airlines are easyJet and Ryanair -- famous for super-discounted flights all over Europe. Consider flying to a large hub like London and connecting to a smaller city on one of these airlines. Be aware though that you may have to fly into one airport in London and out of another, as Ryanair and easyJet both operate the majority of their flights out of smaller airports. For a crash course on the international discount airlines, check out this article from Traveler's Ed.

6.Book your accommodations
Whether it's a five-star city hotel or a countryside villa, booking your accommodations well in advance, particularly during high season, is paramount. If you're traveling with a group or with several family members, consider a city apartment rental instead of several hotel rooms. BCNinternet.com specializes in apartment rentals in Barcelona, while Parisnet.net is a good place to start your search for a rental on the Left Bank. Besides city-specific Web sites, you might also want to consider a home exchange. Two excellent sources for booking hotel or bed and breakfast accommodations all over Europe are Venere.com and BedandBreakfast.com.

7.Figure out how you will get around
For many, train travel is what automatically comes to mind when we think about traveling in Europe. Be sure to research your options long before you leave the United States -- many of the passes we have become familiar with (Eurail is by far the most famous) need to be purchased in advance. If you are planning on doing most of your traveling within one country, consider one of the many European country passes available.

A less expensive, if less scenic, option may be to travel on one of the discount airlines mentioned above. This is probably your best option if you want to see several cities but are short on time.

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For those who can't bear the thought of adhering to any sort of schedule, renting a car is a great option. Be aware that there are several considerations beyond what side of the road you'll be driving on. You might need an International Driving Permit -- and you'll have to secure it before you leave home. Keep in mind that European rental cars are often smaller then their American counterparts -- a subcompact here is probably significantly larger than what you'll get in Europe. Visit our list of European rental car companies to help you get started.

8.Get excited
You've decided on your destination, booked your plane tickets and have made hotel reservations. What's left? Now is the time to do more research -- find that off-the-beaten-path leather shop or a cooking class in Provence -- and get excited for your trip. Visit our Europe Bargains and Features page to help you get started, our message boards to get answers to all your questions from our members, and our trip reports page to read the highlights and lowlights of other people's trips. And since even seasoned independent travelers need a good old-fashioned guidebook to help them along the way, we've chosen some of the best in our Guidebook Guide.

9.Figure out the money
It has long been accepted that using your credit card abroad would yield the best exchange rate for travelers. However, there has been a recent surge in the number of banks and credit card companies that have quietly added transaction and currency conversion fees for purchases made overseas. Making a call to your credit card company before you leave home is the best way to avoid a huge headache later -- like when your monthly statements arrives and you owe several hundred dollars more than you anticipated. When you arrive at your destination, you want to make sure you get the best exchange rate -- check out our article on this topic for tips.

10.Tie up the loose ends
Don't forget to stop your mail and call the pet sitter! Our own Traveler's Ed outlines the steps you need to take before you leave the house to ensure a stress-free trip in Make Your Next Trip a Breeze Before You Leave the House. When it comes time to pack, be sure to consult our packing checklist and our packing tips.

And when you get back, remember to tell us all about your trip -- your trip report could be featured on IndependentTraveler.com!

The Independent Traveler is an interactive traveler's exchange and comprehensive online travel guide for a community of travelers who enjoy the fun of planning their own trips and the adventure of independent travel. You can access our wealth of travel resources and great bargains here at www.independenttraveler.com, or at www.bargainbox.com.

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