Basic Phrases You Need to Survive Europe

If you’re traveling to Europe, it’s good to know that a lot of people will know basic English, especially around Western Europe and Scandinavia. But if a sudden panic starts to invade your body about those who don’t speak fluent English, then rest assured that with a few basic phrases in the local language and some body gestures, you won’t have any problem wandering around Europe. Most natives will definitely appreciate your efforts and will reward you with a handful of tips. And who knows… you might even blossom a never-ending friendship!

Basic phrases you can use

1. Classification and mutual intelligibility

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Tourists

If you’re reading this, then you probably have limited or very basic knowledge about European languages. Don’t worry, here’s a classification about similarities so that you don’t need to translate basic phrases in all European languages. This will be very useful when you can’t get an Internet connection during your trip. The first language on each category will be enough to communicate with locals from the same group of countries.

  • South Slavic languages: Bulgarian, Slovenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Macedonian.
  • West Slavic languages: Polish, Slovak, and Czech.
  • Hellenic language: Greek.
  • Turkic languages: Turkish.
  • Uralic languages: Hungarian and Finnish.
  • Goidelic language: Irish Gaelic.
  • North Germanic languages: Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish.
  • West Germanic languages: German, Austrian German, Swiss German, Luxembourgish, Dutch, and Flemish (Dutch and Belgian).
  • Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian.

2. Greetings

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Tourists giving greetings

There are many chances that locals will understand the following basic phrases in English, but let’s not risk it. In Greece, for instance, they say yes using “ne”. Sound confusing? It’ll be even more confusing when you realize they also move their heads in the other way around to gesture/mimic these two words. At that moment, you’ll be very grateful and happy to have this basic knowledge written down on a notebook. You’re welcome.

  • Yes / No.
  • Hello / Goodbye / Good morning / Good evening.
  • Please / Thank you / You’re welcome.
  • Excuse me / Sorry.
  • I speak English / I don’t understand / Slower / Repeat.
  • What time is it?
  • My name is…

3. Directions

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Lost tourists

These may not be necessary in leading-edge countries like Germany or Sweden, where all traffic indications are where they’re supposed to be. However, street signals might not be so clear in Eastern Europe and you might lose your way. Just like that, you’ll discover the most magical corners of those lands, but you’ll need some help from locals in order to get back on track.

  • I’m lost.
  • Where is..?
  • Straight / Right / Left / Map.
  • Toilet / Hotel / Restaurant / Bank / Bus / Train station
  • How far is..?

4. Transport

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Confused tourists

When thinking of transportation, it all comes down to the staff at the information counter or the train inspector. If you have a Eurail Pass, all these traveling or connection misunderstandings will mostly disappear. The planning will be done by the time you are traveling and you won’t need to buy tickets or make reservations every time you jump on a train. However, for timing matters it’s always better to make sure you’re on the right platform – and taking the right train.

  • Which platform / stop?
  • Passport / ID.
  • Do I have to change trains?
  • Do I need a seat reservation? / I have a seat reservation.

5. Dining

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Happy couple

Food is a very important topic. Vegetarians, vegans, and people with food allergies should be very alert when trying new dishes. Others like to experience new flavors and won’t have any problem with any of the dishes in the menu. Whether you’re an adventurous food lover or a picky eater, you might want to know what you are ordering. This way you can avoid the disappointment in your eyes when your dish comes over as a plain green salad.

  • How much for this?
  • What is this? / I would like this.
  • I’m allergic to… / I’m vegetarian / I’m vegan
  • Menu / Check / Cash / Credit card.
  • Water / Coffee / Bread / Meat / Fish / Dessert.
  • Can you recommend a restaurant?

6. Drinking

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Tourist couple

Speaking of important topics, let’s be honest, drinking is one. If you’re not traveling with kids, an irreplaceable part of your trip will happen in a bar. That’s when you’ll need your magic notebook to save you from horribly expensive drinks and lonely evenings.

  • Beer / Wine / One more please.
  • Small / Medium / Large.
  • Do you have a cheaper one?
  • You look beautiful.
  • You are very nice.
  • Cheers!

* You can use the notebook to exchange drink names, prices, or… phone numbers.

7. Accommodation

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Tired tourists

Hotel and hostel receptionists usually have a basic knowledge of English. However, these few basic phrases will take you out from desperate situations that I hope you never experience. As I keep repeating, let’s not risk it.

  • I have a reservation for…
  • Do you have any available room for..?
  • I would like to stay for … nights.
  • The … in the room doesn’t work.

8. Emergency

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Worried couple

No comment on these ones. Let’s hope you won’t have to use them. But, have them on your notebook in case someone else (for example… you) does.

  • Can you help me? / Help.
  • I’ve lost my phone / keys / wallet / address.
  • Can you call me a taxi?
  • Can I use your phone?
  • Pharmacy / Hospital / Ambulance / Police.

* Remember to write down the emergency number of every country you visit. You can also dial 112 as a backup emergency number.

Easy. You only need to translate 24 very short basic phrases (and a few words) on a notebook. It might sound like too much work living in a world loaded with translation apps, but when you run out of megabytes in the middle of Bosnia, you’ll remember my post. You’re welcome again!

Still want some apps to look up basic phrases?

Basic phrases to survive in Europe | Tourist couple with phone

If you’re confident that you won’t run out of battery (or data) on your cell phone, then you can use these apps to translate basic phrases:

  • Google Translate: Translate text by typing or using your phone’s camera. You can even download specific languages for offline translations. (iOS | Android)
  • Duolingo: Pick a new language and practice your speaking, listening, reading, and writing by completing fun lessons. (iOS | Android)
  • Hostelworld: The app’s new “Speak the World” function allows you to speak into your phone’s microphone and have your words spoken back in your choice of language, all in real time. (iOS | Android)

For more travel hacks:
6 free travel apps (that you’ll actually use)
8 secrets to better smartphone photos on your travels
Where to meet other travelers on your Europe trip