Europeans associate the continent with prosperity and ideals of national and personal security, as well as with freedoms of expression and intellectual inquiry. But a country’s membership in the club of “Europe” isn’t simply a matter of geography; it has profound political and social implications. The definition of Europe has varied greatly over the centuries, and is in flux even today.

Various European countries are home to diverse cultures and languages, and many have a long history of religious tolerance and intellectual inquiry. In a global economy where economic and social issues are increasingly important, Europe’s enduring strengths will be tested.

The continent contains a rich store of natural resources, including soil, forest, sea, and minerals such as coal. However, human beings are now its most valuable resource. In manufacturing and service industries, Europe maintains a dominant position. Its population is generally highly educated and skilled, and its urban areas are thriving.

Europe’s topography is varied and rugged, with high mountains and deep valleys. The Alps in south-central Europe are the highest, with peaks reaching more than 15,000 feet (4,800 meters). The craggy coast of Norway has numerous bays, lakes, and fjords. In addition to the Alps, the highlands of Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland offer landscapes of rounded summits, steep slopes, and deep canyons.

Many of the continent’s major rivers flow from the Alps down to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Europe’s lowest point is the Black Sea coast of Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

The earliest settlers of Europe were hunters and gatherers who adapted to changing climates. Around the time of Christ’s birth, farmers developed crops such as wheat and oats, and herded animals such as sheep and goats. In the west, Mediterranean conditions encouraged the development of olive and grape crops, while southeastern Europe’s fertile steppes were well-suited for grain cultivation.

Across the continent, Europeans continue to enjoy a wide range of cultural activities and sports. Soccer (football) has a strong following, as do rugby, cricket, and tennis. European films and television programs are popular in the United States, and American TV shows such as House of Cards have incorporated elements of espionage, humour, and drama drawn from Europe.

European cities and towns are served by a network of highways, rail lines, and canals. Most are well-developed, although some are still under construction or in poor condition. Trains and buses are more commonly used than cars, especially in the cities of Europe. Travelers can buy a train ticket and then hop between destinations, saving money on air travel. This is known as city hopping. It’s also possible to purchase a multi-city bus pass, such as Flixbus. The bus system in most European countries is reliable and inexpensive, so traveling by bus is a great way to explore the cities of Europe. In some countries, such as Spain, there are even high-speed trains that link several cities in a single trip. The trip from London to Paris, for example, takes about 2.5 hours.

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