Comprising 44 countries (depending on how you count them), the small but mighty continent of Europe is home to fascinating culture, history and politics. Over 500 million tourists visit each year, making it one of the most popular destinations worldwide.
If you’re looking to learn more about this continent, you’re in the right place. This list of fascinating facts about Europe will provide context for future visits to the continent and also make you the envy of your friends when it comes to trivia night!
Related: (opens in new tab)
21 Fascinating Facts About Europe
1. One in ten Europeans was conceived in a bed from IKEA
The Swedish home goods store is well ingrained into European culture and is beloved for its easy flat-pack furniture which has made (and undoubtedly broke) many romantic relationships. Although the source of this fact is not exactly known, the New York Times reported that one in every ten Europeans was conceived in a bed purchased from IKEA.
We are hoping that these babies were conceived in the privacy of the couple’s own home; however, with the average size of an IKEA store clocking in at 300,000 feet, we’re sure secluded corners are easy to find somewhere!
2. Europe is the second-smallest continent
Despite having a population nearly double that of South America, Europe is the world’s second-smallest continent, with only Antarctica being smaller. Don’t be fooled by its small size though, Europeans have certainly made their mark on the planet, colonising huge swathes of the world. In fact, the only continent that the European colonisers didn’t reach was Antarctica, predominantly because it was so hard to get to.
3. The name Europe comes from Greece
Greek mythology tells us that Europa was a princess, abducted by Zeus (who was in bull form at the time). After she was taken to Crete, she gave birth to Minos. It is after her, that Europe was named.
The word Europa was first applied to central Greece and then the whole of Greece. By 500 BCE, the Greeks were using the word to describe the whole continent, with Greece at its heart.
4. France is the most visited country in Europe
When it comes to levels of European tourism, France takes the biscuit. As well as being the most popular tourist destination on the continent, it is actually the world’s most touristed, with 90 million people visiting annually pre-pandemic.
Visitors flock to the country to experience jaw-dropping architecture, spooky Halloween getaways, luxury honeymoon experiences, world-class artwork and mouthwatering cuisine. And of course, Disneyland Paris attracts a fair few people too…
5. There are more UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe than in any other continent
UNESCO recognise different sites based on their cultural, scientific or historical significance. There are 1,154 of these sites scattered around the world and Europe is the continent that houses the most.
Of the most famous UNESCO sites in Europe, there is the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Italy’s Mount Etna and The Alhambra in Spain.
6. The newest country in Europe is Montenegro
Although some sources claim that Kosovo is the latest country to appear on European soil, this is technically a disputed country which isn’t recognised by the UN. The newest official European country is Montenegro, which formed in 2006 after splitting from Serbia.
A number of European countries were born of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, including Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.
7. Four out of five of the only transcontinental cities in the world are in Europe (partially)
There are only five cities in the entire world that sit on two continents. The most famous of these, Istanbul, a major city in Turkey, lies in both Asia and Europe. There are also two cities in Russia that sit between Europe and Asia, Orenburg and Magnitogorsk. The final Europe/Asia split city is Atyrau in Kazakhstan.
Only one transcontinental city doesn’t sit partially in Europe and this is Suez in Eygpt which straddles the border between Asia and Africa.
8. More Europeans died of Spanish Influenza than in World War I
There is no disputing that the two World Wars of our time are a stain on our global history. An estimated 16 million lives were lost in the first World War alone, which feels incomprehensible to many of us.
However, what many don’t know is that the Great Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 claimed even more lives. It is estimated that between 50 million and 100 million people died of influenza during this time, which is around 1 in 18 people!
9. Lions used to roam Europe
Even though we think of lions as African animals, this hasn’t always been the case. It is thought that thousands of years ago, we had lions right here in Europe. Fossils and bone fragments have been found to indicate that as recently as 3,000 years ago, lions were wandering through parts of southeastern Europe.
It is believed that during the Roman Empire, they would have used lions in the gladiatorial games that took place in amphitheatres.
10. 64% of the world’s wine hails from Europe
When it comes to the finer things in life, few things are better than wine. Despite wine being made all over the world, Europe is the primary producer of vino. In fact, it is estimated that in 2020, Europe accounted for 45% of wine-growing areas worldwide and 48% of total wine consumption.
Of the three leading wine producers, all of them are in Europe. France, Spain and Italy hold the top spots.
11. Europe is home to the European Union
The European Union is a political and economic union of 27 member states, all of which are geographically in Europe. However, not all countries in Europe are members of the EU. For example, Norway is in Europe geographically but not in the EU.
The purpose of the European Union is to garner favourable trade deals around the world for its members, allow freedom of movement with no internal borders throughout the continent and keep peace on an international scale.
At present, only the United Kingdom has left the European Union. However, many more countries are seeking to join the bloc.
12. The world’s second most active volcano resides in Europe
Collecting the award for both the largest and most active volcano in Europe is Mount Etna, located in Sicily, Italy. Eruptions are a frequent occurrence with 16 being recorded in 2001 alone!
In fact, over a six-month period in 2021, there was so much volcanic material belched from the volcano that its height was increased by around 30 metres! Luckily for nearby residents, Etna’s lava flows rarely make it into inhabited areas, meaning that they get to reap the benefits of the incredibly fertile land nearby with only a comparatively small amount of risk.
13. Europe is home to the world’s smallest country
Vatican City, a small enclave in Italy, is the world’s smallest country. Spanning around 49 hectares, the city-state became independent of Italy in 1929, under the Lateran Treaty. Not only the smallest country in terms of size, Vatican City is almost the smallest country when it comes to population levels. Not even 500 people live there!
Europe’s largest church calls Vatican City home; St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a popular pilgrimage site and is also known for being the world’s most famous liturgical spot. The Pope presides over a number of liturgies in the church and the adjoining St. Peter’s Square.
14. The oldest human remains discovered in Europe are in Atapuerca, Spain
According to scientists, the most recently discovered human remains are likely to be over a million years old and could even be as old as 1.4 million. It is estimated that the remains predate Homo sapiens!
They have been discovered in the Atapuerca Mountains of northern Spain, a pitstop on the epic European hike, El Camino de Santiago. It is hoped that the discoveries of these ancient human remains will reveal more about how people evolved on the continent of Europe.
15. Europe houses the largest museum in the world
If you’ve already had the pleasure of visiting the continent, you’ll know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fascinating museums in Europe. Housing great works of art to religious artefacts and quirky modern collections, there is something out there for everyone (even people who don’t like museums!).
The largest of the world’s museums is the Louvre in Paris, home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. It boasts nearly 73,000 square meters of exhibition space and is an essential attraction on any Paris itinerary.
16. There is a rainforest in Europe
When you hear the word rainforest, your mind is likely to jump to the humid forests of the Amazon or the lush foliage of Borneo. What probably doesn’t spring to mind is anywhere in Europe.
However, Europe is actually home to its very own rainforests, just not as you’re probably imagining them. Perućica is on the southeastern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Białowieża stretches across Poland and Belarus. If you’re visiting the continent and want to experience some truly unforgettable scenery, make sure you pencil in a visit to at least one of these!
17. The tallest waterfall in Europe is Mongefossen
Holding the accolade for the tallest single-drop waterfall in Europe and the fourth tallest in the world is Mongefossen Falls, situated in Norway. As with any waterfall competing for official recognition, there is some debate about exactly how tall it is but the most commonly accepted figure is around 773 metres.
18. Five countries straddle the Europe-Asia tectonic plates
Even though most of the countries in Europe sit on the Eurasian tectonic plate, there are a few notable exceptions which sit on two different plates at the same time. Five transcontinental countries straddle both Europe and Asia, they are Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.
Russia is the largest of these and the largest country (by landmass) in the entire world. Over three-quarters of the country is located within Asia’s borders. Despite this, a whopping 80% of its population lives in the part of the country which sits in Europe.
19. The geographical midpoint of Europe is debated
When it comes to official locations in relation to the wider continent of Europe, many of these are still debated. Essentially, the locations change depending on where you draw the line around Europe. Do you include only the mainland or stretch right out to the islands?
Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania and Sweden are all examples of countries that have claimed the midpoint of Europe before. There is still no official midpoint of the continent.
20. Europe’s Dark Ages lasted for around twice as long as the USA has been a country
Essentially a term used for the early Middle Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, this period marks a decline throughout the continent in terms of cultural, intellectual and economic progress. It is estimated that this period stretched from 500CE to 1000CE. The USA declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, making it around 250 years old.
It is worth noting that in recent years, some historians have raised questions about the existence of the European Dark Ages, instead attributing the lack of progress throughout this period to a relative ignorance of historians.
21. Europe’s highest toilet sits at 4,260 metres above sea level
When you’re exploring the great outdoors, you often have no choice but to duck behind a rock if nature calls. Not at the top of France’s Mont Blanc though! Back in 2007, two public toilets were installed to help keep the summit clean. Since installing the dry toilets, patches of yellow snow are no longer part of the scenery!
What is your favourite Europe fact on this list? Let us know in the comments!