featured, geography, journey, route, Travel

European geography for dummies

Just a little fun for some and much needed helpful information for others! Don’t worry, no one is judging, I’m sharing ūüėČ

Pop quiz to see where you’re at.¬† This is the consequence of hilarious conversations in many hostels throughout my travels.¬† You’ll find the quiz answers in the blurb I’m about to impart! Good luck.

  • What country is the largest island in the European continent?
  • What and where is the smallest country?
  • How many countries, as well as England, are in Great Britain?
  • Gibraltar is part of which country?
  • Where do you find Lapland?
  • Where is Yugoslavia?
  • What is the most westerly EU capital city?
  • What is the most easterly EU capital city?
  • Which Scandinavian country is not part of the EU?
  • How many EU countries use their own currency and what are they?
  • Which 4 non-EU countries are part of the Schengen Zone?

Feel happy?¬† Feel informed?¬† If not, read on…

There are 50 countries in the continent of Europe with a total of more than 852 million people living on the continent. Only 28 of the European states/countries belong to the European Union.

Great Britain is the largest island in Europe!  Did you think it was Greenland? Greenland is economically and politically part of Denmark however geographically (but not culturally) is part of North America.

The Vatican City is the smallest country in Europe and the world, both by population and by size.¬† Located within Italy’s capital city of Rome.

What’s in a name?

Let us start with my homeland.¬† Yes, I’m from England which is just one small country within the British Isles. This handy diagram may help

British Isles, GB and UK.jpg

  • So… the British Isles includes The United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland.
  • The UK’s full name is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • Great Britain or Britain comprises 3 constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales

Did you know?¬†¬†The ‘Great’ in Great Britain (Britannia Major in Roman times) is to distinguish it from the other, smaller “Britain”: Brittany (Britannia Minor) in northwestern France.

It’s important to remember that the Republic of Ireland is a completely separate state from the United Kingdom, that seceded from the Union in 1922 and gained full independence in 1937.


Benelux is a name for 3 counties: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The Low Countries is a coastal region consisting of the Netherlands and Belgium, and the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, and Ems rivers (in France and Germany) where much of the land is at or below sea level.

Strictly speaking, Scandinavia consists of Iceland, Denmark including the Faroe Islands, Sweden and Norway.

In broader terms, Finland and Iceland are in addition to Scandinavia when talking about the Nordic Countries.


The Balkan PeninsulaThe Balkan Peninsula is more or less equivalent to the region known as Southeastern Europe. This great map shows the Balkan Peninsula which includes areas that were the former Yugoslavia. The Balkans or Balkan states are defined differently, by political borders rather than geography. I’ll not confuse you too much.

Those not considered as ‘the Balkans’ are Greece and the European part of Turkey, depending on which book or website you’re reading. That’s politics for you!

Slavic states are those countries with Slavic-speaking communities. These include many of the Balkans: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Baltic States

The Baltics or Baltic States. were once occupied by the Soviet Union, but they were among the first to break away in 1990‚ÄĒ1991 and today are proud members of both the European Union and NATO.

On my map to the right, can you see Kaliningrad Oblast under Lithuania? A small exclave of Russia that you need to get a Russian visa and proceed through customs to enter.

Europe has a number of island dependencies and lesser known territories in proximity to the mainland continent.

  • The Isle of Man is part of the UK. Gibraltar is not an island but a peninsula of Spain yet also part of the UK.
  • The Faroe Islands and Greenland are autonomous territories of Denmark.
  • Svalbard is administered by Norway; a land frozen all year round except for 3 weeks of summer.
  • A different one: √Öland is an autonomous territory of Finland however culturally belongs to Sweden with a majority of native Swedish speakers.
  • A really confusing one: The Channel Islands are an archipelago (group of islands) in the English Channel off the Normandy coast of France. Divided into two British Crown Dependencies, the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey. The former includes the islands of Alderney, Sark and Herm, and smaller islands are divided between the two bailiwicks. The islands are not part of the United Kingdom or European Union, but rather are possessions of the British Crown with independent administrations. Their inhabitants are British citizens. Told you that wasn’t exactly simple!

Lapland!  On my travels I have been surprised many have not heard of Lapland. More than one country has a Lapland; derived from the Sami people (also Sámi or Saami) traditionally known in English as Lapps or Laplanders.

Ultimately the most northerly regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden; traditional areas inhabited by the Sami people. Plus this is a rare term for the Russian province Murmansk.  Lapland is synonymous with Christmas due to the herds of reindeer, links to Santa Claus and abundance of pines, spruces and snow.

The Mediterranean countries are those with a coast in the Mediterranean Basin:  Portugal, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, San Marino, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta and the British territory of Gibraltar.

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain located on the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. It consists of four provinces including all important Barcelona.  As of October 2017, the Catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain as Madrid prepared to to impose direct rule.

The Amalfi Coast lies in the southwestern region of Campania, Italy.¬† Not to be confused with¬†The Dalmatian Coast which is Croatia’s dramatic limestone cliff shoreline and islands scattered offshore.

Alpine countries have the Alps and Danubian countries lie along the River Danube.  Are you noticing a naming trend?

Those that were…

Yugoslavia WAS divided in 1991 and 1992. It no longer exists. The huge area consisted of current countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

The USSR WAS the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or shortened to The Soviet Union. A socialist state that existed between 1922 and 1991.

Prussia WAS once the leading state in a huge German Empire, existing in various guises from 1701 to 1947. I’ll be attempting more on this subject in my ‘European History for Dummies’. It will take this dummy a while to compile and simplify!

Czechoslovakia WAS the combined countries of now independent Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They completed a conscious uncoupling in 1993. A once troubled country. Forced partial incorporation into Nazi Germany between 1939-1945. Shortly followed by Soviet bloc command 1948-1990.

Europe and the EU are different folks

EU countriesThe EU is the European Union. A politico-economic union of European nations. It consists of 28 members as of 2017 (I’m ignoring the UK’s Brexit till the deal is done).

The most westerly EU capital city is Lisbon, Portugal.  The most easterly EU capital city is Nicosia, Cyprus.

People think Norway and Iceland are in the EU – nope!

As part of the EU membership, countries can opt in or out of the Euro currency.  Nine European country specific currencies continue.  Did you get these answers below?

Currency map


For many international travellers the Schengen Area is all important.

The zone consists of 26 countries where internal border checks have largely been abolished.

Formed of 22 EU countries and 4 non-EU – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985, near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, by five of the ten member states of the then European Economic Community.

Shengan Area

My last did you know…?¬†¬†Europe is named for the Greek mythological character Europa, mother of King Minos of Crete. The god Zeus turned himself into a bull in order to seduce Europa. She climbed on his back and he dived into the sea and carried her to Crete.¬†¬†Why was she so easily seduced by a bull?¬† ¬†Worrying.

Hope you feel smug and/or enlightened; full of knowledge!  Hope your answers were correct too.  Happy travelling.

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