The Best Travel Apps for Europe: What Your Smartphone Wishes You Knew

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Nov 14
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THE BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR EUROPE

Travel apps can simplify your life but they can also be gimmicky, clunky and clog up your phone. Here's a tried and thoroughly tested list of the best travel apps for Europe. It is, if you will, what your smartphone wished you knew.

So, whether it's the UK, France, Italy or beyond, here's the electronic travel gear designed to give you the best trip, with all the best travel tips.

Most of these apps are free. I have flagged up those that aren't. If you buy through these links then I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!

The Best Travel Apps Tried and Tested on an iphone while travelling

Don't get stuck in black and white. Update your travel apps!

The Best Travel Apps for Europe: Updated Every Year

I've been keeping this list of best travel apps for years, from the days when apps were still a novelty and had to be explained. It pained me to delete that entire section! Oh well. As the blacksmith had to move on, so do we.

Which apps still deserve their place on the list? And which have fallen from favour.

Ah, the intoxicating power rush of it all ;-)

Plenty have been removed in this year's update. I felt a little sad before opening the trapdoor and sending them on their way. Each app represents hours and hours of work on behalf of their developers and they're gone in the blink of a cursor. 

But in all seriousness, here are the travel apps that I actually use for travel in Europe, all the time. And that's what makes them, in my mind, the best travel apps out there.

Hope you find this useful - and happy travels!

Anything I've missed? Pop it in the comments below...

Some Notes

  • Each of these travel apps have been tested on an iPhone. Most have equivalent versions for other smartphones, such as Android. Most are free and I've noted if they're not. 
  • Download apps on wifi at home if you can. Always check your roaming charges before you go. 
Smartphone apps for Travellers to Europe

Pin now, read later: the most useful apps for travel in Europe

The Travel App Hotlist

Let's start at the beginning with apps that help you book flights and hotels, save money and generally plan your trip. We'll then move on to apps that help travellers on the ground, that provide entertainment, find wildcards and even help you sleep. 

The Best Apps for Finding Flights in Europe

Skyscanner

If time spent on Skyscanner converted to time spent at the gym, I'd have an Olympic medal by now.

Unlike so many other apps, Skyscanner allows you to search for flights on a flexible basis. This is enormously useful.

  • Flying back from a different city? No problem.
  • Want to know where you can fly from an airport? That's easy.
  • Want to change your dates or simply find the cheapest day to fly? Done, done and done.

The app then takes you to the airline's website so you can book over there - and typically, you don't need to enter the information again. Brilliant.

The Best Apps for Finding Hotels in Europe

I use a broad smorgasbord of websites when it comes to looking for and booking hotel stays. Clearly, Europe has all the big hitters like:

Hotel Tonight for Last Minute Hotel Stays

But when time is tight, Hotel Tonight is my go to every time.

It is so EASY to use and it lets you search for hotels not just for tonight but also for the next few days with a few, hard to miss buttons. Perfect for when you're jet lagged, disoriented, stressed and short on time.

Apparently half of all hotel bookings occur within the seven days before the stay, so I'm not (ahem) the only last minute merchant out there.

The Best Trip Planning Apps

Best Travel Apps for Europe Fancyhands

Hire a dedicated team to help you around the clock for less than the proverbial cup of coffee

Your Own Concierge App: Fancy Hands (Paid)

I've tried and tested so many concierge or assistant apps but the non-travel focused Fancy Hands remains the clear winner.

You can submit tasks by email, text, or audio and one of a faceless team of assistants will deal with your query, 24 hours a day. Each task is allocated 20 minutes - if it takes them longer than that then they will ask if you want to use another task. They can make phone calls on your behalf and make purchases on your credit card (with agreement) to a value of up to 200 USD.

Perfect for trip research, reporting delays, finding alternative routes, buying tickets and searching for parking options while you drive around. The list is so long I should probably write another post about it.

Transportation Apps for Europe

By and large, public transport works very well in Europe unless you're in specifically rural areas. Main cities have metros, subways, Uber, taxis, buses and often trams. And there are plenty of free apps to help you find your way around. 

Google Maps

Let's start  with the big one. If you're not already award of this, you can tap in the place you're looking for into Google Maps and it will automatically pick up where you are and give you a range of transport routes: walk, public transport, drive or taxi. 

This is a great first stop for getting almost anywhere but beware! Google maps does struggle in narrow, built up areas. In other words, all those quaint neighbourhoods built before the invention of cars and found all across Europe. 

The other downside is that it doesn't always keep reliably up to date with service disruptions. For that, if you're in a big city, then use Citymappr below. 

Top tip: did you know you can create maps on Google ahead of your trip and then access them offline? Perfect for creating a bespoke itinerary.

Citymapper

Citymapper, on the other hand, does keep up with most service disruptions. It covers the main European cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam and Milan and I'm sure there's a joke to be had in there somewhere about Brussels and Birmingham (also covered.)

I wish I had discovered this before my last trip to London, when the buses, Underground and overland services all started repair work at about the same time. The updates here in real time would have shaved at least an hour from my journey, if not more.

Road Tripping Apps for Europe

There's nothing I love better than planning a perfect road trip, and here are the European travel apps to help you do just that. Note that many of the road trip planner apps that pull everything together in one place only cover the US (I'm looking at you Roadtrippers!)

But that's OK. Europe is a patchwork after all and we can use a patchwork of apps!

Waze Navigation and Traffic

This is the SatNav your phone always wanted to be. Avoid paying the (extortionate) SatNav fee when hiring or renting a car and use Waze instead.

Train and Rail Apps

In the UK, if you find yourself travelling the same routes multiple times, then check out the train company apps. GWR, for example, covers from London to Wales and the Southwest. 

Trainline, UK

The Trainline is a free app which allows you to search for timetables and prices and is always easy to use. It covers Virgin Trains, GWR, LNER, National Express and more in the UK and some other European routes.

National Rail Journey Planner, UK

National Rail Journey Planner looks a little old school but it covers the UK network and it's the app I find myself using the most. You can search for routes, timetables and buy tickets. And perhaps most reassuringly, you can hit the button that simply says: get me home.

DB Bahnhof Live

I once spent two winters on assignment on the Continent, travelling from Istanbul to Berlin, Toulouse to Milan, Geneva to Paris by train. I lived on the DB websites and only wished they had an app. 

The free DB Bahnhof Live app is the powerhouse of train travel in Europe.

The Best Travel Apps for Reading

Pocket

I'm at the stage when I can hardly remember how my life used to function before I found Pocket. Enter the URL of a web page into Pocket and it will store the article and pictures there for you so that you can read it offline. Perfect for loading up with travel articles and background reading for any train or plane journey en route to your destination.

Kindle

I alluded to this at the start, but really. I am still amazed by this. You can have almost any book in the world available to read on your phone. No heavy hardbacks, no time-consuming choice (this always used to slow me down in the bad old packing days.) No having to leave books behind in order to fit in souvenirs/accommodate the confusing law of physics that says that somehow-the-same-pile-of-stuff-will-never-fit-back-into-your-suitcase-the-way-it-did-when-you-first-packed-it-at-home.

Personally, I still find it much easier to read books on the Kindle Paperwhite than the iPhone app. But if weight is an issue, the Kindle app will transfer all your reading material right across to your phone or tablet.

The Best Travel App to Avoid Jetlag

Sleepstream (Paid)

I've written about Sleepstream before, over here on How to Sleep on a Plane.

Essentially, sleep doesn't come easily to me and I only wish I'd discovered this app back when I was a tired and harried junior doctor changing shifts every other day. Sleepstream plays a variety of soothing soundtracks to drown out the background noise of crying babies, outside roadworks, chattering passengers and so on. (Obviously, don't use it to drown out the sound of your own crying baby.)

You can even put it on a timer to prevent all your battery juice draining away. A real sanity saver. See also: how to sleep better on the road.

The Best Money Apps for Europe

Hey hey! Obviously, this is not professional financial advice. So please don't treat it as such! These are just money apps that I've found useful when travelling in Europe. Cheers!

Xe Currency

Yes, we should all remember to look up the exchange rate in advance and we should all be able to perform simple sums in our heads. But...Well, we should all be able to cook our own food too and that doesn't stop us from going out to restaurants...(In case that was too cryptic, Xe currency does all the currency brainwork for you.)

Monzo

I love Monzo for two reasons. One, its app based banking system gives good rates of exchange and is ridiculously easy to use. The other is the crazy hot pink colour of the card. It's hard to steal or lose something that looks as bright as this! 

I use it as a debit card that I preload before travelling. It's really easy to keep track of what you spend, split bills, and manage receipts for work. Plus, if someone does steal your card, you get an immediate alert every time the card is used. This lets you leap right into your lost and stolen card routine before someone empties your account or leaves you stuck with bills you shouldn't have to pay. 

Getting Off the Beaten Track 

Spotted by Locals (Paid)

I love these guys and the work they do. Over 67 cities now have their own Spotted by Locals entry, an offline guide with unusual points of interest and places to eat and drink that skip the tourist crowds.

I've used them in off the radar places like Sophia in Bulgaria as well as possibly the most visited place on earth: Rome.

They're a really stand out offering when it comes to the best travel apps in Europe.

Wildcards

The Best Travel App for a Daytime Snooze 

Dayuse.com is a free app let's you get 75% off 3 to 5 star hotel stays by only using them in the day. Does that sound a little weird? Kinda. Until you remember how jet lag can kick in after an overnight flight or how hard it is to juggle napping children and suddenly all becomes clear...You can use all the hotel amenities and cancel for free pretty close to your booking time as well. 

Google Translate

Ah, where would we be without you, Google Translate? Still wandering around the streets of Bremen only being able to remember how to ask the way to the station, I suppose. 

Again, it's not sexy but it is insanely useful. Download, translate and go.

More Travel Tips


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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • manonthelam says:

    I’m a big fan of ColorNote for making lists and notes, and TrailWallet for keeping track of expenses.

  • Dan26 says:

    My favorite has to be whatsAPP too as I find it so reliable of keeping in touch with people

  • Ellen Smithfield says:

    One of my favs has to be Simply Declare. I hate scrambling to figure out what I have to declare to the border when we are returning home from anywhere. It’s simple, and I liked the free version enough to upgrade to the paid. Plug in my allowable amount, and add my purchases on the go, no stress and it keeps me in real time exchange rates. I use it for currency exchange before I buy too, so I never get caught.

  • Pocket is a great one, and I’m also a big fan of whatsAPP to stay in touch with family and friends while abroad. Great list- thanks for sharing!

  • Don’t know about the apps but I really would like batteries with longer life to be able to really appreciate all the apps!

  • Very useful, thanks!

  • Theresa says:

    Oh, some new discoveries for me!

    My niece was just visiting me here in Rome, and she made a comment that we’d be lost without my phone. I’m not normally a fan of mapping things (I prefer paper maps and getting lost) but I will say that in a city this big, Google Maps makes it incredibly easy to figure out which way to go (and way less noticeable than a paper map — hugely important in a touristy area).

    I’ve also been using Kindle on this trip. I don’t think I’ll be a convert to ebooks in real life (I love real books too much) but it has made this trip possible — I’m on sabbatical and will have read probably 100+ books by the year’s end; I could never carry or find these books on the road).

    Another vote for WhatsApp. It’s the best.

  • Evernote is really helpful. You should also try Wunderlist, a German app. It’s pretty easy to handle.

    • Abi King says:

      Oh, that’s really interesting. I have Wunderlist on my phone and desktop but use it to manage work assignments and home lists (car insurance, Christmas present lists and the like) rather than for travel. How do you use it for travel? Perhaps it has introduced more features than when I first started using it…

  • I’m all about these apps as well. I use XE and Google Maps everyday, and they are both lifesavers!! I’m becoming a big fan of Trover as well for traveling, as I’ve discovered a few really cool hidden spots because of it. What’s App is also VITAL to my traveling.

    • Abi King says:

      Ooh, thanks for reminding me about Trover. I remember when it was launched but haven’t tried it again for a while. Will give it a go – cheers!

  • Danielle says:

    This is super helpful! I’m always looking for new travel apps, and I know they’re reliable when someone else has tried them out. I especially appreciate the Pocket suggestion. I’d never heard of it!

    My only addition would be maps.me for when I’m in a country and don’t have wifi all the time. It’s been a life saver because I’m terrible at directions!

  • Sarah says:

    I totally agree with skyscanner! The best flight app/site out there for sure. I would also add, in Europe at least, Hotels is really good.

    • Abi King says:

      Interesting. I’ve had mixed results with them but will merrily give them another go in case things have changed…

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