The second smallest continent, Europe occupies the western portion of the Eurasian landmass and is situated entirely within the Northern Hemisphere. It is a continent of vastly diverse geologic structure and landscapes, a fact that has made it challenging to define its borders with precision. Although it contains fewer natural resources than other continental regions, its people—particularly its educated and skilled workers—have become its main resource. With a long history of human development, Europe is considered the birthplace of Western civilization, and its cultural heritage remains one of its greatest global assets today.
The geographical diversity of Europe has influenced the cultures that developed there. Physical features, weather-related phenomena, and local resources profoundly shaped how historic European cultures prospered, interacted with each other, and believed their world worked.
During the 20th century, the European Union has reduced its borders to make it easier for citizens and travelers from different nations to move about. The EU has also established a single currency, the euro, to facilitate trade within the region.
While the EU has strengthened the economies of many member countries, it is not without its faults. High sovereign debt and sluggish growth in some regions of the continent have created challenges for European integration, which is ongoing.
Although the exact boundaries of Europe are contested, most scholars recognize that it is an economic unit with a common market and common currency. The creation of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the European Union in 1993 has greatly enhanced economic cooperation between a number of countries.
Historically, the economy of Europe has been based on the abundant supply of natural resources—including timber, coal, and iron ore. However, in modern times the principal resource of Europe has been its educated and skilled workforce, which is becoming increasingly important to the global economy. Services now dominate most of the continent’s economies, while manufacturing and agriculture have largely declined in importance.
As a result, tourism has become one of the primary industries in Europe. The continent is renowned for its art, music, cuisine, and literature. Its rich cultural heritage, particularly the evolution of Western civilization, is evident in museums such as the Louvre and the Royal Opera House. Europe is also famous for its automobiles, and companies such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have built a global reputation for engineering cars with dynamic designs and engaging driving experiences. Travelers to Europe should note that most European cities are walkable, and the use of public transportation is encouraged. Car rental is possible, but expensive and not recommended for first-time visitors to the region. It is also recommended that travelers bring a medical kit with ibuprofen and other essentials in case of illness or injury. In addition, travelers should know that tap water and bread are rarely free in Europe. A passport is required to enter most European countries, and some require a visa for entry. Visa requirements vary by country, and it is advisable to check the website of each individual country for specific information.