35 Best Books to Read
Before You Go to Europe

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Top Books to Read Before Traveling to Europe

Prepare for your European travels, or get inspired and book a trip! With diverse genres and perspectives, these stories span different eras, settings, and cultures, providing a comprehensive understanding of the history, art, architecture, and local life of some of Europe's most captivating destinations. From gripping memoirs to page-turning mysteries and historical fiction, this list will help you connect with the places and culture of each destination.

France Provence Countryside Lavender Blue Sky

1. A Year in Provence


"A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle invites readers to savor the enchanting beauty and leisurely pace of life in the Provence region of southern France. Set against the picturesque backdrop of charming villages, rolling vineyards, and lavender fields, the book chronicles a year-long journey through the changing seasons and the delightful idiosyncrasies of the Provençal way of life. Mayle's narrative captures the essence of everyday moments, from culinary indulgences and cultural traditions to warm interactions with the locals, offering readers an intimate and immersive experience of this idyllic destination.

Country Roads of France

Expert Netherlands Girl With The Pearl Earring Restored Fresco Johannes Vermeer

2. The Girl With A Pearl Earring


"The Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier unfolds in the enchanting city of Delft, Netherlands, during the 17th century. The novel provides a fictionalized account of the creation of Johannes Vermeer's famous painting of the same name, as seen through the eyes of Griet, a young maid who becomes a muse and subject of the artist's work. Chevalier's evocative prose captures Delft's domestic details, societal norms, and artistic environment, transporting readers to a time when the city's streets, canals, and homes were alive with the spirit of the Dutch Golden Age. The novel offers a glimpse into the artistic process and the complex relationships that evolve within a painter's studio and a bustling 17th-century Dutch household.

Best of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg

England London Big Ben At Night With Lots Of Sky

3. The Night Watch

FICTION by Sarah Waters

"The Night Watch" by Sarah Waters is set in London during and after World War II. The novel elegantly navigates through three different periods, offering readers a poignant glimpse into the lives of its characters during the war and its aftermath. Against the backdrop of a city scarred by conflict, the narrative takes us through its protagonists' wartime experiences and personal struggles, shedding light on the complexities of love, desire, and resilience amidst the backdrop of a city in transition. Waters skillfully captures the atmosphere of a city rebuilding itself while revealing the intricacies of the characters' relationships, aspirations, and secrets, creating a multi-layered historical panorama.

WWI and WWII Battlefields

Germany Bremen

4. In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century

NON-FICTION by Geert Mak

"In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century" by Geert Mak embarks on a sweeping journey across the continent, traversing the landscapes, cities, and historical events that shaped Europe during the 20th century. As Mak crisscrosses the continent, readers are transported from war-torn battlefields and political hotspots to the bustling metropolises and remote villages that witnessed the dramatic shifts of the century. The book's panoramic view encompasses the full spectrum of European experiences, offering readers a poignant and insightful exploration of the tumultuous history, cultural transformations, and shared humanity that define the complex tapestry of Europe.

European Whirl

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5. Eat, Pray, Love

NON-FICTION, MEMOIR by Elizabeth Gilbert

"Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert embarks on a transformative journey that spans three distinct and captivating locations. Beginning in Italy, readers are swept into the vibrant streets of Rome, where the author indulges in the pleasures of food, language, and culture. The narrative then transports us to the tranquil landscapes of an ashram in India, where introspection and spirituality take center stage. Finally, the journey concludes in Bali, Indonesia, where the lush scenery and the warmth of its people contribute to the author's quest for balance, self-discovery, and love. Across these diverse locales, Gilbert's memoir weaves a tale of healing and exploration, drawing readers into the immersive beauty of each place and the emotional landscapes they evoke.

Best of Italy

France Paris Eiffel Tower Red Sky

6. The Sun Also Rises

FICTION by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway transports readers to the vibrant and bohemian atmosphere of 1920s post-World War I Europe. The novel's narrative unfolds against a backdrop that spans from the charming streets of Paris to the rustic landscapes of Pamplona, Spain. Through the eyes of the characters, we experience the lively cafes, bustling markets, and the exuberant energy of the Festival of San Fermín, capturing the essence of an era marked by disillusionment and a search for meaning. Hemingway's evocative prose paints a vivid picture of a generation grappling with the aftermath of war and seeking solace, connection, and authenticity in the heart of Europe.

European Traveler

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7. The Da Vinci Code

FICTION by Dan Brown

"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown unfolds across a captivating tapestry of European cities and landmarks, immersing readers in a suspenseful journey that spans from the grand halls of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, to the historic streets of London, England. As the protagonists follow the trail of cryptic clues, the story takes them through the mysterious depths of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, the shadowy corners of a secretive mansion in France's countryside, and other iconic sites across Europe. This intricate blend of art, history, and conspiracy leads readers on an enthralling quest that unravels the enigmatic web surrounding the novel's central mystery.

Paris Explorer

Spain Barcelona Park Guell Mosaics

8. The Shadow of the Wind


"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is primarily set in Barcelona, Spain. The novel is set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It follows the story of a young boy named Daniel Sempere, who discovers a mysterious book by an obscure author in a hidden library known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The book's intricate and captivating plot takes readers through Barcelona's streets, neighborhoods, and hidden corners, creating a vivid and atmospheric portrayal of the city.

Easy Pace Spain

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9. Under the Tuscan Sun

FICTION by Frances Mayes

"Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes transports readers to the picturesque landscapes of Tuscany, Italy. Set in the charming countryside, the memoir chronicles Mayes' journey as she fulfills a spontaneous impulse to purchase and restore an abandoned villa in the heart of the region. Through her vivid descriptions, readers are immersed in the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, from its sun-soaked vineyards and olive groves to its quaint villages and local markets. Mayes' narrative captures the enchanting atmosphere of the region while exploring themes of renewal, self-discovery, and the connections between people and place.

Country Roads of Umbria and Tuscany

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10. The Historian

FICTION by Elizabeth Kostova

"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova takes place in various European locations. The story's settings include cities such as Amsterdam, Istanbul, Budapest, and other areas in Eastern Europe, as the characters embark on a quest to uncover the truth about the historical figure Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Dracula. The narrative unfolds across different periods and locations, giving the novel a rich and immersive sense of place.

European Traveler

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11. The Grand Tour: Travelling the World with an Architect's Eye

NON-FICTION by Harry Seidler and Kenneth Frampton

"The Grand Tour: Travelling the World with an Architect's Eye" by Harry Seidler and Kenneth Frampton guides readers through a global architectural exploration encompassing a diverse array of cities and landmarks across different continents. The authors' keen observations and analyses offer readers a virtual journey through iconic architectural marvels and urban landscapes, from ancient wonders to modern metropolises. From Europe to Asia, the Americas to Africa, the book's pages unfold a rich tapestry of architectural history and innovation, inviting readers to traverse the world's architectural heritage through the discerning lens of two prominent architects.

Switzerland Lucerne Stanserhorn Jungfraujoch Europe Alpine View Of Mountainscape

12. Swiss Watching: Inside Europe's Landlocked Island

NON-FICTION by Diccon Bewes

"Swiss Watching: Inside Europe's Landlocked Island" by Diccon Bewes is a witty and informative exploration of Switzerland. The book delves into this landlocked country's unique characteristics and cultural nuances, taking readers on a journey through its stunning Alpine landscapes, picturesque towns, and vibrant cities. With a blend of humor and insight, Bewes delves into the Swiss way of life, examining topics ranging from politics and economics to language and identity. Through the author's observations and interactions, readers gain a deeper understanding of Switzerland's intriguing blend of tradition and modernity, making for an engaging exploration of this remarkable European nation.

Glorious Switzerland

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13. Madrid


"Madrid, 1936" by Pablo Balbontín transports readers to the tumultuous and politically charged atmosphere of the Spanish capital, Madrid, in 1936. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the novel captures the intensity and chaos of the era as it follows the intertwining fates of a diverse cast of characters. From the vibrant streets to the war-torn landscapes, Balbontín's narrative paints a vivid picture of a city gripped by social upheaval, ideological conflicts, and personal struggles, giving readers a poignant and immersive insight into a pivotal moment in Spain's history.

Easy Pace Spain

Netherlands Amsterdam Anne Frank Holland

14. The Diary of a Young Girl


"The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank unfolds within the confines of a hidden annex in Amsterdam, Netherlands, during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Anne's poignant and introspective diary entries provide a deeply personal account of her life in hiding with her family and another family. Through her observations, reflections, and dreams, readers gain insight into the daily challenges, hopes, fears, and moments of connection that define their existence. Anne's writings offer a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and provide a vivid window into the harrowing experiences of those who sought refuge from persecution.

Greece Corfu Beach Bay Boat Island Cay

15. My Family and Other Animals

NON-FICTION, MEMOIR by Gerald Durrell

"My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell transports readers to the enchanting Greek island of Corfu. Set against an idyllic Mediterranean landscape backdrop, the memoir chronicles the author's adventurous childhood escapades and the comical interactions with his eccentric family members and the local inhabitants. With vivid descriptions of the island's flora, fauna, and natural beauty, Durrell's narrative captures the essence of Corfu's landscapes, from olive groves and azure waters to charming villages. Through a blend of humor and wonder, the book offers an intimate portrayal of a unique and enchanting place that profoundly influenced the author's love for nature and animals.

Secrets of Greece Including Corfu

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16. The Little Paris Bookshop

FICTION by Nina George

"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George unfolds against the romantic backdrop of Paris, France, and the scenic landscapes of the French countryside. The novel centers around Monsieur Perdu, a literary apothecary who operates a floating bookstore on a barge along the Seine River. As Perdu embarks on a journey to heal his emotional wounds, readers are treated to a literary voyage that takes them from Paris's bustling streets to Provence's serene beauty. George's evocative descriptions capture the allure of these settings, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the world of books, love, and self-discovery.

Wonderful France

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17. Expo 58

by Jonathan Coe


"Expo 58" by Jonathan Coe transports readers to the heart of the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, also known as Expo 58. Set in the vibrant atmosphere of post-war Europe, the novel follows the adventures of Thomas Foley, a British civil servant, as he is assigned to oversee the UK Pavilion at the international event. Against the backdrop of this global exhibition that showcases technological progress and cultural diversity, Coe's narrative takes readers on a journey through the pavilions, exhibitions, and social gatherings of the fair. The novel offers a vivid portrayal of the unique time period and captures the spirit of optimism, innovation, and international connections that defined this historical event.

Country Roads of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands

Italy Naples Bay Of Naples View From Castel Dell Ovo

18. My Brilliant Friend

FICTION by Elena Ferrante

"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante unfolds against a vibrant and complex neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The story follows the lifelong friendship between two young girls, Elena and Lila, as they navigate the challenges and opportunities of their impoverished yet fiercely passionate community. Set in the post-World War II era, the narrative delves into the intricacies of the neighborhood's social dynamics, family ties, and cultural traditions. Through the lens of this neighborhood, Ferrante's novel explores the depth of the characters' relationships, illuminating the multifaceted layers of friendship, ambition, and the pursuit of education in a place brimming with harsh realities and profound beauty.

Italian Scene

Luxembourg Tours Luxembourg Castle

19. The Expats

by Chirs Pavone


"The Expats" by Chris Pavone takes place in the captivating backdrop of Luxembourg, a small European country known for its international institutions and financial industry. The novel follows Kate Moore, an American expatriate, and her family as they relocate to Luxembourg for her husband's job. As Kate navigates the challenges of adapting to expat life and the complexities of her husband's secretive work, the narrative immerses readers in the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere, its picturesque neighborhoods, and the intricate world of international espionage. Pavone's suspenseful plot unfolds against the alluring backdrop of Luxembourg's modernity and historical charm, adding depth to the novel's exploration of identity, trust, and the intricate web of international intrigue.

Best of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg

Expert France Paris Table Setting Wine Food Drink

20. White Truffles in Winter

by N. M. Kelby


"White Truffles in Winter" by N. M. Kelby transports readers to the sumptuous world of 19th-century France, mainly focusing on the enchanting city of Paris and the picturesque countryside of Provence. The novel delves into the life of the (fictionally) renowned chef Auguste Escoffier, capturing his culinary genius, creative struggles, and complicated relationships. As the narrative weaves between Paris and Provence, readers are treated to a vivid tapestry of gourmet delights, extravagant feasts, and the cultural nuances of urban and rural French landscapes. The book's richly detailed settings create a backdrop that mirrors the complexity of its characters' lives and the enduring allure of French cuisine and culture.

Burgundy and Provence

Switzerland Lucerne Bridge From Behind

21. Hotel du Lac

by Anita Brookner


"Hotel du Lac" by Anita Brookner unfolds in the serene and elegant setting of a fictional Swiss lakeside resort called the Hotel du Lac. The novel follows the life of Edith Hope, a British writer who finds herself at the hotel in the wake of a romantic mishap. As she navigates the tranquil surroundings and interacts with the other guests, the narrative captures the nuances of social interactions, introspection, and the juxtaposition of solitude against the backdrop of a picturesque lakeside retreat. Brookner's evocative descriptions bring the hotel and its surroundings to life, creating a contemplative atmosphere that mirrors the internal journey of its protagonist.

Best of Switzerland

England London Buckingahm Palace Guard On Duty

22. The Royal We

by Heather Cocks And Jessica Morgan


"The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan unfolds primarily in Oxford, England, and subsequently in London, providing readers with a peek into the fictionalized world of British royalty. The novel follows the charming and relatable protagonist, Bex, an American exchange student who unexpectedly falls in love with Nick, who happens to be the future King of England. As the narrative captures their evolving relationship, the authors vividly portray the academic atmosphere of Oxford University and the bustling streets of London. Through a blend of romance, humor, and the pressures of royal life, the book immerses readers in the interplay of personal desires and public duty within a setting deeply intertwined with British history and culture.

London Explorer

Greece Delphi Temple Of Apollo

23. The Song Of Achilles

By Madeline Miller


"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller transports readers to the ancient world of Greece, primarily focusing on the time of the Trojan War. The novel is set in various locations that are integral to Greek mythology, such as the grand city of Troy, the mighty kingdom of Mycenae, and the iconic battlefield where Achilles and Hector clash. Through the eyes of Patroclus, the novel's narrator, readers experience the complexities of heroism, love, and fate as they unfold against these legendary landscapes. Miller's prose evokes the rich tapestry of ancient Greek culture and mythology, immersing readers in a vivid and immersive portrayal of the times and places that have become the stuff of epic legends.

Best of Greece

Germany Baden Baden Houses Canal

24. A Tramp Abroad

by Mark Twain


Reading "A Tramp Abroad" by Mark Twain can provide an engaging and entertaining introduction to the European travel experience, particularly if you're planning to visit a destination like Baden-Baden. In the book, Twain shares his humorous and insightful adventures as he travels across Europe, including his time spent in Germany. Twain's witty observations and humorous anecdotes can offer a unique perspective on the cultural quirks, societal interactions, and scenic landscapes you might encounter during your journey. His descriptions of the local customs, architecture, and people can add an extra layer of depth to your travel preparations, helping you approach your visit to Baden-Baden with a mix of anticipation and amusement.

Rhine River Valley

Italy Florence David Statue Face Italian Flag

25. The Agony and the Ecstasy

by Irving Stone


"The Agony and the Ecstasy" by Irving Stone is set against the backdrop of Renaissance Italy, primarily focusing on the life of the renowned artist Michelangelo. The novel transports readers to iconic cities such as Florence and Rome, where they can vividly experience the artistic fervor, political intrigue, and cultural transformation of the era. Through rich historical detail and immersive descriptions, Stone's narrative brings to life the artistic struggles, personal challenges, and creative triumphs of Michelangelo as he crafts masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel ceiling and David. The book's setting captures the essence of the Italian Renaissance, offering readers a glimpse into the profound impact of art and culture on the shaping of Western civilization.

Great Italian Cities


26. Normal People

By Sally Rooney


"Normal People" by Sally Rooney is set in modern-day Ireland, primarily focusing on the lives of two central characters, Connell and Marianne. The novel takes readers on an intimate journey through their complex relationship, tracing their connection from their school years in the small Irish town of Carricklea to their experiences as university students in the bustling city of Dublin. Rooney's narrative captures the shifting dynamics of social class, friendship, and love in contemporary Ireland, immersing readers in the vividly depicted landscapes of both rural and urban settings. Through its exploration of identity, vulnerability, and intimacy, "Normal People" provides a nuanced portrayal of the emotional landscape of its characters against the backdrop of a changing Ireland.

Irish Experience

Scotland Scottish Highlands Deer Mountainscape

27. Outlander

By Diana Gabaldon


"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon is primarily set in the captivating landscapes of Scotland, with occasional ventures to other historical locations. The novel follows Claire Randall, a World War II nurse who inadvertently time-travels from the 1940s to the 18th century. Through rich historical detail and evocative descriptions, the narrative immerses readers in the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the bustling streets of Edinburgh and the intricate social and political dynamics of the time. Gabaldon's storytelling weaves a tapestry of adventure, romance, and historical intrigue, drawing readers into the vividly depicted settings of Scotland and beyond.

Highland Trail inspired by Outlander

France Strasbourg Old Town

28. Chocolat

By Joanne Harris


"Chocolat" by Joanne Harris is set in the picturesque French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. The novel introduces readers to Vianne Rocher, a mysterious chocolatier who arrives in the village with her young daughter. Against the backdrop of this quaint and traditional community, Vianne opens a chocolate shop that challenges the norms and customs of the villagers during the Lenten season. The story unfolds as Vianne's delectable creations and her ability to awaken desires through her confections disrupt the routine and conservatism of the town. Harris's evocative prose transports readers to the cobblestone streets and cozy shops of Lansquenet, creating a rich and immersive atmosphere that captures the allure of small-town France and the power of indulgence and transformation.

A Portrait of Majestic France


29. The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho


"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho takes readers on a spiritual and philosophical journey across various locations in Spain, Egypt, and beyond. The novel follows Santiago, a shepherd, as he embarks on a quest to fulfill his personal legend and discover his true purpose in life. From the charming countryside of Andalusia, where Santiago begins his journey, to the vibrant markets and deserts of North Africa, the narrative transports readers to a world of self-discovery, mysticism, and universal truths. Coelho's evocative prose weaves a tapestry of landscapes that mirror Santiago's inner transformation, reminding readers of the interconnectedness between the external world and the journey of the soul.

Portugal Pinhao Countryside Douro River

30. The Elephant’s Journey

By José Saramago


"The Elephant's Journey" by José Saramago is set in the 16th century and follows the true story of an elephant's journey from Lisbon, Portugal, to Vienna, Austria. The novel captures the epic adventure of this elephant, Solomon, as he embarks on a remarkable journey across diverse landscapes and through the historical cities of Portugal, Spain, and Italy before reaching his destination in Vienna. Saramago's narrative masterfully blends historical events and imaginative storytelling, allowing readers to experience the vibrant and varied landscapes of Europe during this time period. Through Solomon's journey, readers are treated to a vivid portrayal of cultural differences, societal dynamics, and the marvels of a world in transition, creating a captivating and whimsical exploration of place and history.

Mediterranean Highlights

Expert Airport Bw Walkway Travel

31. Flights

By Olga Tokarczuk


"Flights" by Olga Tokarczuk is a kaleidoscopic novel that spans various locations and timelines, offering readers a unique exploration of travel. The book's settings range from contemporary cities to historical landmarks across the world, with a particular focus on Europe. Through interconnected stories and vignettes, Tokarczuk navigates airports, hotels, museums, and landscapes, creating a narrative that reflects the fluidity and complexity of human movement and experience. The novel's meditative prose weaves together the physical and metaphysical dimensions of travel, inviting readers to contemplate the profound connections between places, people, and the quest for understanding in a world constantly in motion.

Flavors of Europe

Iceland Waterfall Woman In Knit Sweater Watching From A Distance

32. Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland

By Sarah Moss


"Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland" by Sarah Moss immerses readers in the unique landscapes and culture of Iceland. Through the eyes of the author, who spent a year teaching and living in the country, the narrative offers an intimate and introspective exploration of Iceland's natural beauty, its people, and the challenges of adapting to a new environment. From the rugged terrain and geothermal wonders to the remote villages and the harshness of the winter climate, Moss's evocative prose captures the essence of Iceland's landscapes and its inhabitants. The book provides a captivating window into the complexities of living in a place where nature and human connection are intertwined, offering readers a compelling journey of discovery and self-reflection.

Natural Wonders of Iceland

Czech Prague Old Town Square

33. Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague

By Myla Goldberg


"Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague" by Myla Goldberg is set in the enchanting city of Prague, Czech Republic. Through the author's insightful observations and reflections, the book takes readers on a captivating journey through the streets, neighborhoods, and historical landmarks of this ancient European capital. As Goldberg delves into the city's rich history, architecture, and cultural tapestry, readers are transported to the heart of Prague's old-world charm and its layers of stories from different eras. The narrative weaves personal experiences, historical anecdotes, and meditations on the passage of time, offering a deep and introspective exploration of a city that embodies the intersection of past and present.

Prague, Vienna and Budapest

Norway Northern Light Blue Sky Green Aurora Borealis

34. The Ice Palace

By Terjei Vesaas


"The Ice Palace" by Tarjei Vesaas is set in a remote and starkly beautiful Norwegian village during the cold winter months. The novel focuses on the lives of two young girls, Siss and Unn, as their friendship develops against the backdrop of the natural world's frozen landscapes. The icy river, snow-covered forests, and the titular ice palace itself serve as symbols of the characters' emotional states and the mysteries that bind them. Vesaas's evocative descriptions of the village and its surroundings create an atmosphere that is both captivating and haunting, emphasizing the delicate interplay between nature and the human psyche in a setting where the external environment mirrors the internal struggles of the characters.

Best of Norway

Scotland Island Skye Isle Neist Point Expert

35. Valley at the Centre of the World

By Malachy Tallack


"Valley at the Centre of the World" by Malachy Tallack is set in the remote and picturesque Shetland Islands, located off the northern coast of Scotland. The novel captures the lives of the residents of the fictional valley of the small village of Mail, focusing on the interconnectedness of the community and the intimate relationship between the people and the land. Tallack's descriptive prose vividly portrays the rugged landscapes, turbulent weather, and unique way of life in this isolated corner of the world. As the narrative delves into the lives and histories of the villagers, readers are transported to a place where the natural environment and human existence are deeply intertwined, providing a glimpse into the intricate bonds that form in a small and closely-knit community.

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