Image: European smokes
Rick Steves
Europeans are serious about not smoking.
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/28/2009 11:15:51 AM ET 2009-01-28T16:15:51

Every year when I update my guidebook series, I find out what's new in Europe. Here's a review of what Americans can expect the next time they cross the Atlantic. Note that this is a continent-wide look at the latest in Europe. In upcoming columns, I'll cover what's new per major country.

In 2009, it's not the “old Europe” anymore as countries continue to open up their borders. Several Eastern European countries, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic States, have recently done away with border controls for travel within Europe. This means you can now go from country to country without stopping to show your passport. Switzerland plans to join in as early as March.

Clean air has come to once-smoky Europe. Trains used to have both smoking and nonsmoking compartments, but now entirely smoke-free cars are standard in much of Europe. Smoking is not allowed anywhere on trains in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden or Poland. Smoking areas (clearly marked) are still offered on some trains in Spain, Denmark, Finland and most of Eastern Europe.

Because of the high cost of hotels and the sinking economy, short-term apartment rentals are becoming more popular. Budget travelers can stay in spacious accommodations with a kitchen (generally stocked for a self-service breakfast) for the price of a moderate hotel room. I used an apartment as my base several times last year. It gave me a good excuse to shop in the local markets, enjoy the economy of eating in and bask in the feeling of being a “temporary local.”

Cell phones are becoming a necessity — I'll never travel again without one. While many American cell phones work overseas, the per-minute cost can add up. Save money by purchasing a phone abroad (you'll also gain a local phone number so your new European friends can call you without paying to call the United States). You can buy a basic cell phone in most countries for $40 to $50, which typically includes some call time. The EU is looking into standardizing roaming fees across Europe. But for now, when you cross a border, you'll need to buy a SIM card, a small chip with a country-specific phone number that costs $10 to $20. In 2008 I routinely purchased SIM cards from dispensing machines at train stations after arriving in a new country.

Users of some handheld wireless devices (most notably the iPhone) have been surprised with astronomical bills for unintentional roaming — such as when the phone constantly checks for new e-mails. This default feature can be turned off to avoid per-kilobyte charges. If you are going to use your smart phone, be sure to call your provider to activate international service before you leave — and to ask about extra charges for international roaming and data transfer.

The cheapest way to call between Europe and the United States is using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), such as Skype and Google Talk. If you make a lot of calls to someone in Europe, both of you have good Internet connections and you don't use this ... then you're throwing away money.

And no one wants to throw away alcohol. Given the stringent U.S. rules on limiting liquids on flights, many travelers have purchased duty-free alcohol — only to be forced to dump it out, even if it's sealed in a special security-friendly bag. It usually happens to those with a layover (in Europe or the U.S.) who have to go through a new round of security checkpoints. If you want to purchase duty-free liquor, buy it at your final stop in Europe or from the flight attendants on the plane during the last leg of your journey, and don't open the specially sealed bag. If you have a layover in the United States before your final destination, put your liquid duty-free purchases into your checked bags as soon as you clear customs.

Each year a few tried-and-true travel tips become worthless as technology changes the way we live. I finally deleted all discussion of traveler's checks and film cameras in my guidebooks, relegating that information to the trash heap of tourism history. I will never sign a traveler's check again, as ATMs are now the only way for travelers to change money smartly. Anyone with a camera in Europe should bring an extra digital memory card or stick.

The biggest change for 2009 is the European interest in our recent presidential election. When you travel, expect friendly smiles and lots of questions about our new president.

More on Rick Steves | European travel

(Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, Wash. 98020.)

© 2009 Rick Steves ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Photos: A European tour

loading photos...
  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
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments