Europe encompasses an area stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. Europe's climate ranges from subtropical near the Mediterranean Sea in the south, to subarctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean in the northern latitudes. There is much here for the traveler to enjoy, with a bewildering array of diversity and culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery.
In recent years Europe has been making impressive strides toward opening its doors to everybody, including travelers with limited mobility. Its biggest cities offer the most accessible sightseeing opportunities for your time and money.
In London, taxis will whisk you between more wheelchair-ready sights than you've got time to see. Just a few hours away by train, Paris and Amsterdam are doing their best to catch up to London.
European air carriers have significantly different policies regarding people with disabilities than U.S. airlines. The European Commission recently drafted legislation that went into effect in 2006 to force airlines to meet the needs of people with disabilities. It's worth looking into the differences between airlines you're considering. Some airlines may require a doctor's certificate for all independent air travel; others may require that you travel with a personal assistant.
Be sure to tell the airline if you need a wheelchair at airports, as they have wheelchairs and porters to push them. There's no charge, but the porters will be grateful for tips. Be sure they make it a note in your reservation so it's in their computer. Arrive at the airport well ahead of the earliest time they tell you to be there. At least an hour for domestic flights, two hours for international, and add 30 minutes to an hour to wait for someone to come with the wheelchair and any other hassles you may encounter.
A growing number of hotels have elevators and rooms with accessible bathrooms. Wheelchair Accessible Europe lists hotels throughout Europe offering accessible rooms (www.wheelchairaccessibleeurope.com).
The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN), Paris (CDG), and Madrid (MAD) which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe.
Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey. Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as airBerlin, Centralwings, easyJet, HLX, Ryanair, SkyEurope Airlines and WizzAir, with the lowest fares usually found on routes which go to or from cities in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary.
For travel to and around Europe on a budget you can find dramatically low fares by flying the airlines that cut the passenger perks. While you may not get a free cup of coffee on your flight, you will be happy knowing that you are paying the least amount possible to get from point A to point B. There are number of these airlines within Europe. Find the cheapest airfare to Europe by flying into a hub like London or Dublin then transferring to a flight on a no frills airline to your ultimate destination. This can give you the flexibility of stopping over in the hub city for no additional cost and save you a considerable amount of money over flying direct.
Especially in Western and Central Europe, the trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying. High-speed trains like the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed and implemented the treaty. Be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union.
There are no specific precautions required for staying healthy in Europe as most restaurants maintain high standards of hygiene and in the majority of countries tap water is safe to drink. However, for more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceutical regulations and dentistry standards etc, please consult the 'Stay safe' section on specific country articles.