The movie Pulp Fiction was right: the thing about Europe is the little differences. Thanks to the continent’s huge global influence, newcomers find it foreign and, at the same time, reassuringly familiar. Often dubbed a ‘living museum’, this is a place rich in history and tradition. Fairy-tale castles cast their shadows over lush green valleys and Gothic churches stand proudly amid beautifully preserved medieval towns. Galleries overflow with masterpieces from the likes of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rodin, Van Gogh and Picasso. Festivals have evolved from ancient pagan rituals. Hell, even beer drinking has a time-honoured track record, especially in countries such as Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany. 

This complex region presents a patchwork of varied landscapes and an enticing smorgasbord of more than 30 nationalities. Snowy Alps, the fabled aurora borealis and the Mediterranean Sea are all yours for the taking, as are French chic, Italian passion, Nordic minimalism, Spanish flair and much, much more. 

Reproduced with permission from the Lonely Planet website © 2009 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd