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7 reasons to visit Europe this year

Panoramic view of the historic city of Passau reflecting in famous Danube river in beautiful evening light at sunset, Bavaria, Germany A view of the historic city of Passau, on the Danube River, in Bavaria, Germany. | Photo by JFL Photography/stock.adobe.com

Get those travelin’ shoes out. The European Union has opened the door for U.S. visitors to the Continent. But is this the right time to go? That depends on you. This year will be different, but those differences also make compelling reasons to dust off your passport and book a flight. Here are 7 reasons to put Europe on your must-visit list in the second half of 2021.

1. Attractive prices 

Christmas Market in Tallinn, Estonia

The Christmas Market in Tallinn, Estonia. | Photo by Roman/stock.adobe.com

You can still find airfare bargains this late in the game, said Scott Keyes, author of Take More Vacations and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights,  a free and subscription service for fare hunters. He has been seeing deals to Europe even from secondary markets.

Also, you can get great deals on hotel stays, said Melinda Sue Platero, a AAA travel advisor in Newport Beach, California. Because many hotels are at less than capacity, free upgrades may be available and service may be even more attentive, she said.

River cruises, too, are offering savings, said Gary Murphy, senior vice president of sales and co-owner of AmaWaterways. Visitors are expressing interest in 2022, but capacity for 2021 remains and needs to be filled, he said. European Christmas markets or a taste of Bordeaux at bargain prices? Make that a yes.

Read more: 10 reasons to take a river cruise.

2. Flexibility in bookings 

An airplane flies over Paris with Eiffel Tower in the background

Flying over Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background. | Photo by Song About Summer/stock.adobe.com

Airlines and hotels haven’t always been as financially forgiving as they are now. Many airlines have dropped their change fees.

Hotels, too, are more flexible, Platero said, with many offering cancellations without penalty as late as 24 hours in advance. Many tour operators are also building in more flexibility for those who book trips this year.

3. An even warmer welcome 

A hotel receptionist greets a guest.

A hotel receptionist greets a guest. | Photo by Kamil Macniak/stock.adobe.com

Like every place that makes a living from tourism dollars, European towns and cities are eager for visitors. “We are going to be exceptionally warmly received when we travel back to Europe,” said Melissa Da Silva, president of Trafalgar, which offers guided vacations on seven continents, including Europe. The reopening allows countless Europeans to get back to work and, for those in the hospitality industry, to do what they do well by opening a new world to visitors.

4. A singular, more personal experience

At the Colosseum in Rome

At the Colosseum in Rome. | Photo by Davide Angelini/stock.adobe.com

You will never have a trip to Europe like the one you’ll have this year. Wary travelers may not be ready, but the intrepid will benefit from reduced crowds. They must remember, though, that not all attractions will be open as cities stutter-step back to life.

Being flexible enough to roll with whatever happens is key to enjoyment and a hallmark of a good traveler. Fewer travelers also mean it will be easier to reserve a restaurant table, ask detailed questions of a tour guide, or quiz shopkeepers about lesser-known, must-see places.

Meanwhile, those nervous about navigating COVID-related requirements or sudden closures might find peace of mind traveling on a group tour this year, said Trafalgar’s Da Silva. “We’re taking care of all the logistics,” she said. “We take care of accommodations, transportation. If there are changing protocols, we’re on top of that so you don’t have to be.”

Read more: 12 surprising reasons to take a guided tour.

5. A different aesthetic

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia. | Photo by Team Daf/stock.adobe.com

If you’ve been trapped at home and/or in your home office, you’re due for a change of scenery. How lovely, then, to marvel at the scenery of Slovenia around Lake Bled, Ireland’s enticing Cliffs of Moher, or Denmark’s Faroe Islands and the stunning Múlafossur Waterfall. Who would not want to see La Sagrada Família in Barcelona or Notre-Dame in Paris, both works in progress, and reflect on the genius in their creation?

6. A break from your culinary doldrums

A couple eats gelato on vacation.

A couple eats gelato on vacation. | Photo by ReeldealHD Images/stock.adobe.com

Keyes, of Scott’s Cheap Flights, swooned over a wood-fire–cooked paella at Casa Carmela in Valencia, Spain, and pronounced it “absolutely incredible and unbelievably delicious.”

Murphy, of AmaWaterways, said when he’s on one of his vessels that’s docked on a European river as the sun rises, he follows his nose to the nearest bakery and enjoys morning coffee with a pastry.

And just try to refrain from gelato in Italy.

Read more: A Danube River cruise aboard the revolutionary AmaMagna.

7. A connection with history 

The Poseidon Temple in Sounion, Greece.

The Poseidon Temple in Sounion, Greece. | Photo by rh2010/stock.adobe.com

Mark Anderson, president of Adventure Vacations of La Jolla, California, has a “need to touch old stones,” he said. “I need to touch walls that were handcrafted by Romans two millenniums ago or by Greeks or Etruscans even earlier, said Anderson, who specializes in European travel, especially France. “To bear witness to the thousand generations that preceded us is an awesome thing.”

Catharine Hamm formerly was the travel editor of the Los Angeles Times.

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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