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Europe

The continent of Europe comprises nations, which are some of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. Hence, tourists can be sure that whether they travel with spouse or family, they are bound to have happy memories to take back home. Moreover, those planning a vacation in the continent can choose from a range of Europe tour packages that caters to young and adult both. Anybody planning a holiday here would find it daunting to finalise the itinerary as choices are endless.
From London in England and Paris in France to Rome in Italy and Vienna in Austria, the continent is home to numerous destinations, which are part of the wish list of travellers around the globe. Taking into consideration what tourists plan to do during their Europe holidays, they can finalise their itinerary. Those who wish to admire architectural marvels and relish historical landmarks would take hours to decide what to see and what to miss.
The continent boasts of the globally renowned Eiffel Tower, Athens? Acropolis, Sagrada Familia, Notre Dame Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Colosseum, Louvre and Stonehenge. There are numerous other notable attractions that command attention of travellers holidaying in Europe, such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Vatican City and Edinburgh. Exploring the Romantic Road to Neuschwanstein in Germany; Golden Circle in Iceland; royal lifestyle in St.Petersburg in Russia and snow-clad Alps in Switzerland are some of the popular things to do during Europe holidays. While in Europe, tourists can indulge in numerous activities like hiking, trekking, skiing, bungee jumping, swimming, go-karting and biking, depending upon what that particular place is famous for. Shopping is something that tourists can enjoy to heart's content as Europe boasts of globally renowned shopping destinations.
Shopaholics would love to shop in Paris, Milan, London, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Vienna, Athens, Lisbon, Zurich and Glasgow, to name a few popular ones. Besides shopping, tourists can satiate their taste buds with popular European cuisine, such as Italian pasta, French bread and Greek potatoes. Depending upon which country they are visiting, tourists can taste sumptuous dishes like Ukrainian borscht, Belarusian potato babka, Polish pierogi, Hungarian gulyas and Belgian mussels with pommes frites, among others. No matter whichever part of the continent tourists are visiting, they would find several attractions to see and exciting activities to enjoy, along with stunning vistas to admire.
Countries to cover in Europe

ALBANIA

Beyond vague recollections of its Communist past, few travellers know much about Albania. Its rippling mountains and pristine beaches, lands littered with historical Roman ruins and pretty Ottoman towns remain largely undiscovered. Most never see the alluring azure lakes or the picturesque valleys occupied by immensely hospitable locals, and instead bypass the country for its far more popular neighbours. Following decades of isolationist rule, this rugged land still doesn’t seem to fit into the grand continental jigsaw, with distinctly exotic notes emanating from its language, customs and cuisine. But it’s those idiosyncrasies that make it such an intriguing and rewarding corner of Europe begging to be explored. Most travellers make a beeline for the capital, Tirana, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars. However, those seeking to take Albania’s true pulse should head to the mountainous hinterlands, particularly sleepy hillside towns of Berat and Gjirokastra – both essentially open-air museums of life in Ottoman times. Keen hikers will want to explore the valley of Valbona, where karst limestone mountains harbour astonishing biodiversity, and as the snowcapped peaks of the interior drop down to the ocean, the immaculate beaches along the Ionian coastline are among the Mediterranean’s least developed sands.

AUSTRIA

Glorious Alpine scenery, monumental Habsburg architecture, and the world’s favourite musical – Austria’s tourist industry certainly plays up to the clichés. However, it’s not all bewigged Mozart ensembles and schnitzel; modern Austria boasts some of Europe’s most varied museums and contemporary architecture not to mention attractive and sophisticated cities whose bars, cafés and clubs combine contemporary cool with elegant tradition. Long the powerhouse of the Habsburg Empire, Austria underwent decades of change and uncertainty in the early twentieth century. Shorn of her empire and racked by economic difficulties, the state fell prey to the promises of Nazi Germany. Only with the end of the Cold War did Austria return to the heart of Europe, joining the EU in 1995.
Politics aside, Austria is primarily known for two contrasting attractions – the fading imperial glories of the capital, and the stunning beauty of its Alpine hinterland. Vienna is the gateway to much of central Europe and a good place to soak up the culture of Mitteleuropa. Less renowned provincial capitals such as Graz and Linz are surprising pockets of culture, innovation and vitality. Salzburg, between Innsbruck and Vienna, represents urban Austria at its most picturesque, an intoxicating Baroque city within easy striking distance of the mountains and lakes of the Salzkammergut, while the most dramatic of Austria’s Alpine scenery is west of here, in and around Tyrol, whose capital, Innsbruck, provides the best base for exploration.

BELGIUM

Belgium is perhaps the world’s most misunderstood nation, but also one of its most fascinating, punching far above its weight in all sorts of ways. With three official languages, and an intense regional rivalry between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south that perpetually threatens to split the country in two, it’s actually a miracle that Belgium exists at all. But its historic cities – most famously Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent – are the equal of any in Europe; and its cuisine is reason alone to justify a visit, with a host of wonderful regional specialities. Belgium also boasts some pockets of truly beautiful countryside in its hilly, wooded south and the flatter north – and, perhaps most famously, it produces the most diverse range of beers of any country on the planet.
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BULGARIA

With several dramatic mountain ranges, superb beaches, numerous historic towns and a web of working villages with traditions straight out of the nineteenth century, Bulgaria has a wealth of attractions crammed into a relatively compact country. More than anything else, this is a land of adventures: once you step off the beaten track, road signs and bus timetables often disappear (or are only in Cyrillic), and few people speak a foreign language, but almost everyone you meet will be determined to help you on your way.

CYPRUS

Birthplace of Aphrodite and crossroads between three continents, Cyprus has seduced and inspired generations of travellers for hundreds of years. And it continues to do so today. The promise of Cyprus is one of dazzling beaches, shimmering blue seas, endless summers and tables groaning under heaped platters of mezé and bottles of sweet chilled wine.
On the cusp between West and East, between Christian and Muslim, and with towns and cities that are vibrantly modern yet bear witness to the island’s long and culturally diverse history, Cyprus is blessed with a balmy climate and a rugged landscape of coast and mountains dotted with vineyards, villages and monasteries. Cyprus has earned its place as one of Europe’s tourist hotspots. From quaint, rustic cottages to luxury hotel complexes, from welcoming village tavernas to burgeoning fine-dining restaurants, from coastal resorts with all the tourist bells and whistles to empty wilderness peninsulas and forested mountains, Cyprus can cater for all tastes. And native Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, are famous for the warmth of their hospitality.
Venture beyond the resorts, with their karaoke bars and restaurants knocking out fish and chips, pizza and, more recently, Russian stroganoff, and it’s not hard to find another Cyprus. Traces of the exotic and Levantine are never far away, from ruined Lusignan and Venetian castles and elegant Islamic minarets to cool mountain villages hiding sacred icons from the very first days of Christianity.
No stranger to turbulence and strife, Cyprus has suffered waves of foreign invaders, from Mycenaean Greeks and Persians to sunburnt Crusaders, Ottoman pashas, and British Empire-builders. More recently, it has attracted numerous Russian expats. Internal division, too, has left its mark on the island. First, in the 1950s and 60s, came the struggle by Greek Cypriots for independence and union with Greece, then intercommunal violence prompted by fears among the minority Turkish Cypriots regarding what union with Greece might mean for them, and finally the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 which resulted in its de facto partition between a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south. Bitterness caused by the split lives on today. However, in recent years the easing of tensions and the gradual opening up of the Green Line has made it easier for travellers to explore the island as a whole. It is now possible to experience both sides of the divide in one day, and in the capital you can immerse yourself in two distinct cultures – Greek and Turkish, Christian and Muslim – simply by walking down a street and crossing between the two halves of the city.
Cyprus, then, offers the traveller not only a welcome whose warmth is legendary, but both hedonistic pleasure and cultural diversity out of all proportion to its size.

ENGLAND

No one enjoys knocking England more than the English, but – modesty and self-deprecation aside – it’s a great place to visit or explore, and whether you’re a resident or tourist the country retains a boundless capacity to surprise, charm and excite. England has always had a history and heritage to be proud of, and a glorious regional diversity – from coast to hills, festivals to foodstuff – with few parallels. But for all the glories of the past, in recent times it’s had an injection of life that makes it as thrilling a destination as any in Europe.
As more and more people choose to holiday at home, it’s worth recalling just how much England has changed in the last two decades for locals and visitors alike. Who could have predicted city breaks and shopping sprees in Leeds and Bristol, or the all-conquering march of music and arts festivals, or that camping would become cool? Accommodation and food in particular, the two essentials on any trip, were once a lottery, with many English hotels and restaurants seemingly intent on removing hospitality from the hospitality industry. Not any more. In boutique B&Bs, designer hotels and yurt-festooned campsites, there’s an embarrassment of rich beds for the night, while an ever-expanding choice of real English food and drink – locally sourced and championed in cafés, restaurants and pubs, at food festivals and farmers’ markets – challenges every lazy stereotype.
So for every person who wants to stand outside the gates of Buckingham Palace or visit the Houses of Parliament, there’s another who makes a beeline for the latest show at Tate Modern, the cityscape of downtown Manchester or the revitalized Newcastle waterfront. Yet this flowering of urban civic pride is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been steady since the Industrial Revolution, and industry – and the Empire it inspired – has provided a framework for much of what you’ll see as you travel around. Virtually every English town bears a mark of former wealth and power, whether it be a magnificent Gothic cathedral financed from a monarch’s treasury, a parish church funded by the tycoons of the medieval wool trade, or a triumphalist civic building raised on the back of the slave and sugar trades. In the south of England you’ll find old dockyards from which the navy patrolled the oceans, while in the north there are mills that employed entire town populations. England’s museums and galleries – several of them ranking among the world’s finest – are full of treasures trawled from its imperial conquests. And in their grandiose stuccoed terraces and wide esplanades, the old seaside resorts bear testimony to the heyday of English holiday towns, at one time as fashionable as any European spa.

FRANCE

You could spend a lifetime of holidays in France and still not come close to exhausting its riches. Landscapes range from the fretted coasts of Brittany and the limestone hills of Provence to the canyons of the Pyrenees and the half-moon bays of Corsica, and from the lushly wooded valleys of the Dordogne and the gentle meadows of the Loire valley to the glaciated peaks of the Alps. Each region looks and feels different, has its own style of architecture, its own characteristic food and often its own dialect. Though the French word pays is the term for a whole country, people frequently refer to their own region as mon pays – my country – and this strong sense of regional identity has persisted despite centuries of centralizing governments, from Louis XIV to de Gaulle.
Despite this image of pastoral tranquillity, France’s history is notable for its extraordinary vigour. For more than a thousand years the country has been in the vanguard of European development, and the accumulation of wealth and experience is evident everywhere in the astonishing variety of places to visit, from the Dordogne’s prehistoric cave paintings and the Roman monuments of the south, to the Gothic cathedrals of the north, the châteaux of the Loire, and the cutting-edge architecture of the grands projets in Paris. This legacy of history and culture – le patrimoine – is so widely dispersed across the land that even the briefest of stays will leave you with a powerful sense of France’s past.
The importance of these traditions is felt deeply by the French state, which fights to preserve and develop its culture perhaps harder than any other country in the world, and by private companies, which also strive to maintain French traditions in arenas as diverse as haute couture, pottery and, of course, food. The fruits of these efforts are evident in the subsidized arts, notably the film industry, and in the lavishly endowed and innovative museums and galleries. From colonial history to fishing techniques, aeroplane design to textiles, and migrant shepherds to manicure, an array of impressive collections can be found across the nation. Inevitably, however, first place must go to the fabulous displays of fine art in Paris, a city which has nurtured more than its fair share of the finest creative artists of the last century and a half, both French – Monet and Matisse for example – and foreign, such as Picasso and Van Gogh.
There are all kinds of pegs on which to hang a holiday in France: a city, a region, a river, a mountain range, gastronomy, cathedrals, châteaux. All that open space means there’s endless scope for outdoor activities, from walking, canoeing and cycling to skiing and sailing, but if you need more urban stimuli – clubs, shops, fashion, movies, music – then the great cities provide them in abundance.

ITALY

Ask an Italian where in the world they would most like to live, and the odds are that they will say “right here”. Indeed, most people – not just Italians – have raved about Italy since tourism began, and to be honest the country really does have it all: one of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in Europe; the world’s greatest hoard of art treasures (many on display in fittingly spectacular cities and buildings); a climate that is on the whole benign; and, most important of all for many, a delicious and authentic national cuisine. The country is not perfect – its historic cities have often been marred by development, and beyond the showpiece sights the infrastructure is visibly straining – but for its places to visit, many of the old clichés still ring true; once you’ve visited, you may never want to travel anywhere else.
Italy might be the world’s most celebrated tourist destination, but it only became a unified state in 1861, and as a result Italians often feel more loyalty to their region than to the nation as a whole – something manifest in its different cuisines, dialects, landscapes and often varying standards of living. However, if there is a single national Italian characteristic, it’s to embrace life to the full – in the hundreds of local festivals taking place across the country on any given day to celebrate a saint or the local harvest; in the importance placed on good food; in the obsession with clothes and image; and in the daily ritual of the collective evening stroll or passeggiata – a sociable affair celebrated by young and old alike in every town and village across the country.
There is also the country’s enormous cultural legacy: Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any country in the world; there are considerable remnants of the Roman Empire all over the country, notably in Rome itself; and every region retains its own relics of an artistic tradition generally acknowledged to be among the world’s richest. Yet if all you want to do is chill out, there’s no reason to be put off. There are any number of places to just lie on a beach, from the resorts filled with regimented rows of sunbeds and umbrellas favoured by the Italians themselves, to secluded and less developed spots. And if you’re looking for an active holiday, there’s no better place: mountains run the country’s length – from the Alps and Dolomites in the north right along the Apennines, which form the spine of the peninsula; skiing and other winter sports are practised avidly; and wildlife of all sorts thrives in the country’s national parks.

SPAIN

If you’re visiting Spain for the first time, be warned: this is a country that fast becomes an addiction. You might intend to come just for a beach holiday, a walking tour or a city break, but before you know it you’ll find yourself hooked by something quite different – the wild celebration of some local fiesta, perhaps, or the otherworldly architecture of Barcelona. Even in the best-known places to visit – from the capital, Madrid, to the costas, from the high Pyrenees to the Moorish cities of the south – there are genuinely surprising attractions at every turn, whether it’s hip restaurants in the Basque country, the wild landscapes of the central plains, or cutting-edge galleries in the industrial north. Soon, you’ll notice that there is not just one Spain but many – and indeed, Spaniards themselves often speak of Las Españas (the Spains).
You might think you are on holiday in Spain – your hosts may be adamant that you’re actually visiting Catalunya, and will point to a whole range of differences in language, culture and artistic traditions, not to mention social attitudes and politics. Indeed, the old days of a unified nation, governed with a firm hand from Madrid, Does any of this matter for visitors? As a rule – not really, since few tourists have the time or inclination to immerse themselves in contemporary Spanish political discourse. Far more important is to look beyond the clichés of paella, matadors, sangría and siesta if you’re to get the best out of a visit to this amazingly diverse country.
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TURKEY

A mesmerizing mix of the exotic and the familiar, Turkey is much more than its clichéd image of a “bridge between East and West”. Invaded and settled from every direction since the start of recorded history, it combines influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, the Balkans and Central Asia. Mosques coexist with churches, Roman theatres and temples crumble near ancient Hittite cities, and dervish ceremonies and gypsy festivals are as much a part of the social landscape as classical music concerts or football matches.
The friendliness of the Turkish people makes visiting a pleasure; indeed you risk causing offence by declining invitations, and find yourself making friends through the simplest of transactions. At the big resorts and tourist spots, of course, this can merely be an excuse to sell you something, but elsewhere, despite a history in which outsiders have so often brought trouble, the warmth and generosity are genuine.
Despite official efforts to enforce a uniform Turkish identity, the population is remarkably heterogeneous. When the Ottoman Empire imploded, refugees streamed into Anatolia, including Muslim Slavs, Greeks, Albanians, Crimean Tatars, Daghestanlis, Abkhazians and Circassians. There they joined an already mixed population that included a very sizeable minority of Kurds. Thanks to recent arrivals from former Soviet or Eastern Bloc territories, that diversity endures. Another surprise may be Turkey’s sheer youthfulness: more than half the population is under thirty, with legions of young people working in coastal resorts, and shoals of schoolkids surging through the city streets.
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RUSSIA

European Russia stretches from the borders of Belarus and Ukraine to the Ural mountains, over 1000km east of Moscow; even without the rest of the vast Russian Federation, it constitutes by far the largest country in Europe. Formerly a powerful tsarist empire and a Communist superpower, Russia continues to be a source of fascination for travellers. While access is still made relatively difficult by lingering Soviet-style bureaucracy – visas are obligatory and accommodation usually has to be booked in advance – independent travel is increasing every year, and visitors are doubly rewarded by the cultural riches of the country and the warmth of the Russian people.

GREECE

While its economic reputation has taken a battering, Greece remains a premier-league travel destination. Its incredible historic sites span four millennia, encompassing both the legendary and the obscure. Its convoluted coastline is punctuated by superb beaches, while its mountainous interior urges you to dust off your hiking boots and explore. Yet perhaps its greatest riches are the islands, ranging from backwaters where the boat calls twice a week to resorts as cosmopolitan as any in the Mediterranean.
For anyone with a cultural bone in their body Greece cannot fail to inspire. Minoans, Romans, Arabs, Latin Crusaders, Venetians, Slavs, Albanians and Turks have all left their mark, and almost every town or village has a link to the past, whether it’s a delicately crumbling temple to Aphrodite, a forbidding Venetian fort or a dusty Byzantine monastery decorated with exquisite frescoes. And let’s not forget the museums stuffed to bursting with Classical sculpture and archeological treasures.
But the call to cultural duty will never be too overwhelming on a Greek holiday. The hedonistic pleasures of languor and warmth – swimming in balmy seas at dusk, talking and drinking under the stars – are just as appealing. Bar a few upmarket and “boutique” exceptions you may struggle to find five-star comfort – orthopaedic mattresses, faultless plumbing and cordon bleu cuisine are not the country’s strongpoint – but this isn’t really what the Greek experience is about. Greek food, for example, is at its best fresh, abundant and uncomplicated, while the genuine welcome you receive at the simplest taverna is often enough to get you booking next year’s break as soon as you have returned home.
Whatever you come here for, it’s clear that Greece needs its tourists like never before. For the last few years it’s been synonymous with financial calamity with a titanic debt crisis seemingly ready to engulf Europe. However, this seems to have put off few people (visits to the islands were up 30 percent in 2011). Perhaps they know what we’ve known since the first edition of this guide was published thirty years ago – Greece can offer surprises and a true sense of discovery to even the most demanding traveller.






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