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  • People sunbathe on the cliffs of Saltholmen, on the outskirts of Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Reuters
  • Cooling off in a fountain outside the Southbank Centre in London, England.
    Cooling off in a fountain outside the Southbank Centre in London, England. Photo: Getty Images
  • Girls have a swim in the Mediterranean sea, in Nice, southeastern France.
    Girls have a swim in the Mediterranean sea, in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: AP
  • Morgan Stanley says now is not the time to dive back in to the sharemarket, while Citi says it makes sense to buy into ...
    Morgan Stanley says now is not the time to dive back in to the sharemarket, while Citi says it makes sense to buy into the dips. Photo: AP
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France, Friday. Temperatures in the area rose to 28 degrees Celsius.
    People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France, Friday. Temperatures in the area rose to 28 degrees Celsius. Photo: AP
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France. Temperatures in the area rose to 26 degrees Celsius.
    People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France. Temperatures in the area rose to 26 degrees Celsius. Photo: AP
  • Jennifer Perez, 19, pours water on her friend Marijose Sanchez, 19, as they try to cool off while sunbathing during a ...
    Jennifer Perez, 19, pours water on her friend Marijose Sanchez, 19, as they try to cool off while sunbathing during a hot spring day in Madrid, Spain. Temperatures will rise up to 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of Spain, the Spanish Agency of Meteorology (AEMET) said. Photo: Reuters
  • People have lunch in front of the lake of the Parc de la Tete d'or, in Lyon, central France.
    People have lunch in front of the lake of the Parc de la Tete d'or, in Lyon, central France. Photo: AP
  • A rainbow appears in the spray as a young woman cools off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as ...
    A rainbow appears in the spray as a young woman cools off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
  • A young girl jumps into the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower to cool off from the heat as unusually warm ...
    A young girl jumps into the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower to cool off from the heat as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
  • People take in the sun as others cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm ...
    People take in the sun as others cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
  • People cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in ...
    People cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
  • Young men play with a ball as they cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually ...
    Young men play with a ball as they cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
  • A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun and heat as people row boats on the Grand Canal at the Chateau ...
    A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun and heat as people row boats on the Grand Canal at the Chateau de Versailles, near Paris, as unusually warm temperatures arrive in France. Photo: Reuters
  • People cool down in the  fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France.
    People cool down in the fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France. Photo: AP
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Hoek van Holland.
    People sunbathe on the beach in Hoek van Holland. Photo: AFP
  • People take a rest on a warm day, on the promenade des Anglais in Nice, southeastern France.
    People take a rest on a warm day, on the promenade des Anglais in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: AP
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
    People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
    People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
    People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
  • Nina Lascano practices her balance while on a paddle board floating on Lake Union in Seattle.
    Nina Lascano practices her balance while on a paddle board floating on Lake Union in Seattle. Photo: AP
  • A child drinks as he cools off in a fountain as he enjoys unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France.
    A child drinks as he cools off in a fountain as he enjoys unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
  • Children play in fountains as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France.
    Children play in fountains as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
  • People sunbathe on the beach along the Promenade Des Anglais as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, ...
    People sunbathe on the beach along the Promenade Des Anglais as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
  • A young boy runs  in the  fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France.
    A young boy runs in the fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France. Photo: AP
  • A swan swims in front of people sunbathing along the Seine river in Paris, as the temperature reaches 30 degrees.
    A swan swims in front of people sunbathing along the Seine river in Paris, as the temperature reaches 30 degrees. Photo: AFP
  • Tourists enjoy sunny weather in Germany's highest beer garden atop of the 2,962 metre Zugspitze mountain in Grainau near ...
    Tourists enjoy sunny weather in Germany's highest beer garden atop of the 2,962 metre Zugspitze mountain in Grainau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany. Photo: Reuters
  • People sit on the grass of the Champ de Mars to watch the women's semi-final match of the Roland Garros 2015 French ...
    People sit on the grass of the Champ de Mars to watch the women's semi-final match of the Roland Garros 2015 French Tennis Open on a big screen set up at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: AFP
  • A child is seen in silhouette as she cools off in a fountain during an unusually warm and sunny day in Nice, ...
    A child is seen in silhouette as she cools off in a fountain during an unusually warm and sunny day in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
  • People swim in the Mediterranean Sea during an unusually warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
    People swim in the Mediterranean Sea during an unusually warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
  • A man takes in the sun along the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
    A man takes in the sun along the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
  • Lifeguards sit in an coastguard watchtower as people enjoy the sunny weather on a beach in Biarritz, southwestern France.
    Lifeguards sit in an coastguard watchtower as people enjoy the sunny weather on a beach in Biarritz, southwestern France. Photo: AFP
  • Women and children cool off in the Water Mirror (Miroir d'eau), the World's largest reflecting pool, as they enjoy the ...
    Women and children cool off in the Water Mirror (Miroir d'eau), the World's largest reflecting pool, as they enjoy the sunny weather in the western French city of Bordeaux. Photo: AFP
  • People swom in the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
    People swom in the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
  • Two elderly people sit on the blue chairs of the Promenade Des Anglais near the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and ...
    Two elderly people sit on the blue chairs of the Promenade Des Anglais near the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
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of Enlarge image

  • People sunbathe on the cliffs of Saltholmen, on the outskirts of Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Cooling off in a fountain outside the Southbank Centre in London, England.
  • Girls have a swim in the Mediterranean sea, in Nice, southeastern France.
  • Morgan Stanley says now is not the time to dive back in to the sharemarket, while Citi says it makes sense to buy into ...
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France, Friday. Temperatures in the area rose to 28 degrees Celsius.
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France. Temperatures in the area rose to 26 degrees Celsius.
  • Jennifer Perez, 19, pours water on her friend Marijose Sanchez, 19, as they try to cool off while sunbathing during a ...
  • People have lunch in front of the lake of the Parc de la Tete d'or, in Lyon, central France.
  • A rainbow appears in the spray as a young woman cools off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as ...
  • A young girl jumps into the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower to cool off from the heat as unusually warm ...
  • People take in the sun as others cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm ...
  • People cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in ...
  • Young men play with a ball as they cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually ...
  • A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun and heat as people row boats on the Grand Canal at the Chateau ...
  • People cool down in the  fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France.
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Hoek van Holland.
  • People take a rest on a warm day, on the promenade des Anglais in Nice, southeastern France.
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia.
  • Nina Lascano practices her balance while on a paddle board floating on Lake Union in Seattle.
  • A child drinks as he cools off in a fountain as he enjoys unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France.
  • Children play in fountains as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France.
  • People sunbathe on the beach along the Promenade Des Anglais as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, ...
  • A young boy runs  in the  fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France.
  • A swan swims in front of people sunbathing along the Seine river in Paris, as the temperature reaches 30 degrees.
  • Tourists enjoy sunny weather in Germany's highest beer garden atop of the 2,962 metre Zugspitze mountain in Grainau near ...
  • People sit on the grass of the Champ de Mars to watch the women's semi-final match of the Roland Garros 2015 French ...
  • A child is seen in silhouette as she cools off in a fountain during an unusually warm and sunny day in Nice, ...
  • People swim in the Mediterranean Sea during an unusually warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
  • A man takes in the sun along the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
  • Lifeguards sit in an coastguard watchtower as people enjoy the sunny weather on a beach in Biarritz, southwestern France.
  • Women and children cool off in the Water Mirror (Miroir d'eau), the World's largest reflecting pool, as they enjoy the ...
  • People swom in the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France.
  • Two elderly people sit on the blue chairs of the Promenade Des Anglais near the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and ...
  • People sunbathe on the cliffs of Saltholmen, on the outskirts of Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • Cooling off in a fountain outside the Southbank Centre in London, England. Photo: Getty Images
    of
  • Girls have a swim in the Mediterranean sea, in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: AP
    of
  • Morgan Stanley says now is not the time to dive back in to the sharemarket, while Citi says it makes sense to buy into the dips. Photo: AP
    of
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France, Friday. Temperatures in the area rose to 28 degrees Celsius. Photo: AP
    of
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Nice, southeastern France. Temperatures in the area rose to 26 degrees Celsius. Photo: AP
    of
  • Jennifer Perez, 19, pours water on her friend Marijose Sanchez, 19, as they try to cool off while sunbathing during a hot spring day in Madrid, Spain. Temperatures will rise up to 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of Spain, the Spanish Agency of Meteorology (AEMET) said. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People have lunch in front of the lake of the Parc de la Tete d'or, in Lyon, central France. Photo: AP
    of
  • A rainbow appears in the spray as a young woman cools off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • A young girl jumps into the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower to cool off from the heat as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People take in the sun as others cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • Young men play with a ball as they cool off from the heat in the fountains across from the Eiffel Tower as unusually warm temperatures arrive in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun and heat as people row boats on the Grand Canal at the Chateau de Versailles, near Paris, as unusually warm temperatures arrive in France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People cool down in the fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France. Photo: AP
    of
  • People sunbathe on the beach in Hoek van Holland. Photo: AFP
    of
  • People take a rest on a warm day, on the promenade des Anglais in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: AP
    of
  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
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  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
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  • People jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Fiesa, Slovenia. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • Nina Lascano practices her balance while on a paddle board floating on Lake Union in Seattle. Photo: AP
    of
  • A child drinks as he cools off in a fountain as he enjoys unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • Children play in fountains as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People sunbathe on the beach along the Promenade Des Anglais as they enjoy unusually warm and sunny weather in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • A young boy runs in the fountains at Andre Citroen square in Paris, France. Photo: AP
    of
  • A swan swims in front of people sunbathing along the Seine river in Paris, as the temperature reaches 30 degrees. Photo: AFP
    of
  • Tourists enjoy sunny weather in Germany's highest beer garden atop of the 2,962 metre Zugspitze mountain in Grainau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People sit on the grass of the Champ de Mars to watch the women's semi-final match of the Roland Garros 2015 French Tennis Open on a big screen set up at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: AFP
    of
  • A child is seen in silhouette as she cools off in a fountain during an unusually warm and sunny day in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • People swim in the Mediterranean Sea during an unusually warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • A man takes in the sun along the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
    of
  • Lifeguards sit in an coastguard watchtower as people enjoy the sunny weather on a beach in Biarritz, southwestern France. Photo: AFP
    of
  • Women and children cool off in the Water Mirror (Miroir d'eau), the World's largest reflecting pool, as they enjoy the sunny weather in the western French city of Bordeaux. Photo: AFP
    of
  • People swom in the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Marseille, France. Photo: Reuters
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  • Two elderly people sit on the blue chairs of the Promenade Des Anglais near the Mediterranean Sea during a warm and sunny day in Nice, southeastern France. Photo: Reuters
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Heatwave across Europe

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You might think you know what to expect on that big trip to Western Europe: amazing sights, overpriced coffee, unhelpful French people and drunken backpackers. And on some occasions you'll be right.

However, there's plenty that will surprise you on your first holiday in one of the world's great tourist destinations.

Everyone smokes

As an Australian, you'll have got used to the fact that not many people smoke any more. Until you get to Europe, and are engulfed by tobacco fumes in just about every public space. Prepare to take your lunch on the terrace with a side dish of passive smoking.

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European shares have followed the Asian market lead.

European shares have followed the Asian market lead. Photo: Reuters

Europe doesn't have to be expensive

While it's known as a pricey destination, you'll be surprised at how cheap some Western European cities can be, particularly in the south of Spain, Portugal, and Berlin. In places like Amsterdam, however, be prepared to spend.

It's hot. Really, really hot.

You might be picturing snow-capped mountains and people named Heidi singing to cows, but if you're heading to the south of Spain or Italy in mid-summer, prepare for the weather to be extremely hot. Almost unbearably hot. (Photo gallery: Europe heats up for summer)

The food is good. But it's not always good.

Despite its reputation, Europe is not a wonderland of reliably delicious food. For every Michelin-starred fine-diner or amazing local bistro, there are 10 or 20 establishments serving pretty average cuisine. Do your research, however, and you'll be one very happy customer.

The coffee is bad. But it's not always bad.

If you're used to Australian-style flat whites, you're going to be disappointed in France, or in Germany, or in Switzerland, or even in most of Spain. The coffee just isn't good. Italy is your saviour. Italian coffee rocks.

Wine is ridiculously cheap. So is cheese.

You don't have to pay 20 euros a bottle, or even 10. Head down to the supermarche and you'll be able to pick up a decent bottle of table wine for six or seven euros, plus some fresh bread and a block of the best cheese ever for the same price. Dinner is served.

You don't have to queue

While travellers to Europe often tell horror stories of two- or three-hour queues to get into the most famous attractions, there are ways around it. For Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia, for example, booking tickets online will allow you to skip the line entirely. At the Louvre in Paris, arriving at the "Port des Lions" entrance will also help you avoid the bulk of the crowds. Do your research.

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Crime is not rampant

Despite what you may have heard, street crime is not a huge problem in Western Europe. In fact with a few simple precautions like zipping up your bag and not keeping a wallet in your back pocket, your travels should be hassle free, even in formerly dodgy cities like Barcelona and Rome.

Trains can be expensive

I know how I can save money, you think – I'll take the train. Except intercity trains in Europe, if you don't book in advance or use a rail discount card, can be extremely expensive. Often more expensive than flying.

Buskers are great

Surely the best buskers in the world reside in Europe. From the old guy playing accordion outside the restaurant to the full jazz band playing in the city square, there's some serious talent on the streets of Europe, and it only costs you a few coins to enjoy it.

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Yes, in southern Europe, siesta is a real thing.

Yes, in southern Europe, siesta is a real thing. Photo: Getty Images

You'll be overwhelmed. And underwhelmed.

Some of the world's most famous attractions – the Coliseum, La Sagrada Familia, the Eiffel Tower, the Swiss Alps – are truly gob-smacking to see in the flesh. Others, meanwhile, like the Spanish Steps in Rome, or the Manneken Pis in Brussels, will leave you scratching your head and wondering if you actually came to the right place.

Everything works. Unless there's a strike.

Public transport in Europe is amazingly good, from the U-Bahn in Berlin to the hire bikes of Seville and the trams of Amsterdam. The only time you'll struggle is when there's a strike – which should only occur about once every fortnight or so.

You can't buy a Europe-wide local SIM card

Annoyingly, for travellers, if you're planning to visit more than one European country, there's no local SIM card you can buy that will work across the EU (at least not one with reasonable rates). For the best rates, buy a new local SIM in each country.

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Europe can actually be hot. Really hot. Locals need to find innovative ways to cool down.

Europe can actually be hot. Really hot. Locals need to find innovative ways to cool down. Photo: Getty Images

Tourists eat early; locals eat late

This holds true for most of the southern countries, where there appear to be two restaurant sittings per night: one at about 7pm for all of the tourists, and one at about 9.30pm for the locals. If you want to get the proper experience, get used to eating late.

Asian food sucks

It doesn't matter how much you're craving that plate of dumplings, or that bowl of pho. Do not – I repeat, do not – go out for Asian food in Europe. You'll be eternally disappointed. Stick to the local stuff.

Southerners really do take siestas

It's mid-afternoon, and all of the shops are closed. In fact it's like a zombie apocalypse in town, with all of the doors and windows shut and not a single person on the streets. That's because everyone's gone for a siesta. They'll reappear at about four.

Everyone hangs out together

One of the great things you begin to notice in Europe is that everyone – old, young, families, singles, hipsters, nerds – tends to hang out together, gathering in piazzas and plazas, drinking in bars and eating in restaurants. There's a strong "going out" culture in much of Western Europe, which breeds a safe, friendly atmosphere.

You can drink pretty much anywhere

You can drink in the park. You can drink on the street. In some places you can drink on public transport. That's because, mostly, everyone behaves themselves. Don't give Europeans reason to doubt that.

Some stereotypes are true. Some are wildly off base.

As you travel around you'll realise that some of those tired old national stereotypes really do have a basis in truth, whereas others – Italians dress well; Germans are boring; the French are rude – are just plain wrong.

It's not that far away; it's not that expensive to get there

Here's the most surprising thing about Europe: it's really not that far away. A day of travelling and there you are on the other side of the world, seeing things you never thought you'd see, eating amazing food, meeting amazing people. And if you shop around for airfares, it's not even that expensive to get there.

What did you find surprising about travelling in Western Europe?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: 20 things that will surprise first-time visitors to the UK

See also: 10 things every backpacker in Europe needs to do

Listen: Flight of Fancy – the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

The things that will surprise first-time visitors to Europe

To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

from traveller.com.au

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