When we first wrote this article in March of 2020, it was difficult to imagine that a year later, the entire world would still be in the grips of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) had just declared the pandemic, yet it still seemed impossible that the virus would spread so rampantly or last so long — or that travel to Europe — or just about anywhere — would grind to a halt for more than a year. A year later, more than 1 million Europeans have died from Covid-19, more than 40 million more have been infected, and most of the continent is still very much in the grips of the virus.
Yet there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccine rollouts accelerate, especially in the U.S., travelers filled with that oft-mentioned 'pent-up desire" are looking at whether it's safe to travel to Europe and when they'll be able to go. And while it's too soon to travel to most countries in Europe right now, we maybe have a clearer idea of when it might be possible to visit the continent again.
As we've learned with all things related to the coronavirus pandemic, the situation is constantly in flux and there are a lot of "ifs", "maybes", and "it depends". But for right now, here's a run-down of current restrictions, travel bans, and advisories for travel to Europe.
The Risks of Travel to Europe
As more and more Americans are vaccinated, they're naturally anxious to get back to traveling, and Europe has long been a favorite destination. But Europe, which at first seemed to get the coronavirus infection rate under control quicker than the rest of the world, is once again in a bad way. As of April 5, there were more than 100,000 new infections per day across Europe, the majority coming from France, Germany, Poland, and Italy. Covid variants, which may or may not respond to vaccines, are present throughout the continent. So the short answer is even if you could travel to Europe — more on that below — it's still not safe to do so.
Travel Restrictions and Closures in Europe
Most of Europe remains under some form of lockdown, meaning its own citizens aren't permitted to undertake non-essential travel between countries. In many cases, as in Italy and France, residents can't even leave their own towns other than for essential business. By June, the European Union (EU) hopes to have in place its Digital Green Certificate program, which would allow EU citizens and residents who are vaccinated or can provide proof of Covid immunity or a negative test, to move more freely within EU borders.
The EU enacted an entry ban on non-essential travel from non-EU countries last March. While that blanket ban has been eased, the EU is encouraging its member states to err on the side of caution. As a result, most EU countries are still not welcoming U.S. travelers, Those countries that are permitting Americans to enter generally require proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure. Some countries will require visitors from the U.S. and other countries to quarantine for anywhere from 5 to 14 days upon their arrival.
Travelers willing to test, quarantine, or jump through other hoops should keep in mind that even if they can enter a European country, they might not be able to do or see much. In Italy, for instance, state-run and most private museums, monuments, and archaeological sites remain closed. A large swath of the country is still on "Zone Red" lockdown, meaning, for example, that you currently wouldn't be able to travel between Florence (in Tuscany, a Zone Red) and Rome (in Lazio, an Orange Zone). Across the country, bars and restaurants are closed except for carry out, so if you want to sit in that lovely piazza and drink a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe, you're out of luck. Many hotels remain closed, simply because there aren't enough guests to justify remaining open — and the scene in Italy is the same as in most of the EU.
There are rumblings in the EU that the continent will reopen to travelers by this summer, but that depends on how vaccine distribution — currently at a snail's pace — picks up and whether the daily infection rates go down. Greece says it will reopen to EU and non-EU travelers by mid-May, providing they test negative for Covid or present proof of Covid antibodies or a vaccine. Iceland is currently open to all travelers who can provide proof of a Covid vaccine or prior infection — others can test upon arrival and quarantine for 5-6 days before they're free to roam. At the moment, none of the most-visited EU countries — France, Italy, Germany, and Spain — have announced similar plans.
U.S. Government Advisories
At the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), placed all of Europe under a "Level Orange" travel advisory, meaning that U.S. residents should avoid all but essential travel to Europe. A year later, and Europe is under a "Level Red" advisory, which simply means: avoid all travel. U.S. passport holders returning from the EU are currently required to have a negative Covid test 72 hours before flying and are advised to isolate at home for several days upon return.
Think About Europe for Later This Year
As hard as it is to wait to travel, it's still prudent to wait a little longer before packing your bags for Europe. As things start to improve, we may be able to look to Europe by late summer or fall — an especially safe bet if you can book fully refundable travel. But for now, so many of the things you come to Europe for — its culture, cuisine, history, and people — are still not accessible. At TripSavvy, we encourage our readers to discover, explore, and appreciate destinations across the world, and we will continue to celebrate the joys of travel. Once the virus abates and travel warnings and bans are lifted, it will be safe to return to Europe and travel freely and securely.