Traveling to another country is fantastic. You get to have new experiences, make some memories, and relax a little. However, regardless of your reasons for traveling, you should always be aware of local laws and regulations. There are a surprising number of European laws that a visitor wouldn't know about. Plus, while many laws are similar across the United States, each country in Europe can have vastly different ones. The last thing anyone wants on their vacation is an unpleasant encounter with the police, along with an often hefty fine.
Most laws that address clothing focus on preventing public indecency, but certain areas in Europe take it a step further. Make sure to change before leaving the beach in some Spanish cities, such as Barcelona or Malaga, because you might receive a $300 fine for walking around in your swimsuit. This only gets worse on the island of Mallorca, where the fines can reach up to $600. Regardless of how proud you are of your tan, it’s probably not worth it.
Don’t be surprised if you arrive in Germany and a local reminds you to be quiet. This isn’t a sign of rudeness but is due to the fact the Germans really like their silence. While the specifics vary between regions, most of the country has specific laws on when you can make noise, especially on Sunday. During certain times you cannot make any noise that would escape your room. This includes loud music, talking, cars, and almost anything else that could be loud. Switzerland has some similar regulations, though they’re a little less serious about them.
While corporal punishment is rapidly falling out of favor, it is still prevalent in the West. However, a rising number of European countries are making it illegal to hit your child, even for corporal punishment. Sweden was the first country to outlaw physical punishment in 1966, and many countries have followed. France is among the most recent to ban corporal punishment in 2019. Think twice before giving your child a spanking, because you might be incurring a serious fine.
Even people who know almost nothing about Germany have probably heard of the Autobahn. It is a source of German pride and is among the world’s most famous roadways. Many sections of the Autobahn have no speed limits and drivers can regulate themselves. However, this carries a heavy responsibility and a potential fine. Stopping or running out of gas on the Autobahn brings a significant fine because a stopped car poses a huge risk to other drivers. This also applies to walking on the highway. So gas up first and if you do happen to break down, definitely don’t get out and walk along the road.
In recent years, even bars and clubs in the U.S. prevent customers from smoking. It should come as no surprise to most people that many places in Europe are moving to ban smoking in public. Examples of this include:
If you’re a smoker, make sure to check ahead of time to make sure you can smoke without a hefty fine.
If you happen to be traveling while in the later stages of pregnancy, certain countries might have rules that you might not expect. In most areas, you can name your child basically whatever you want. That’s not the case for these countries. Germany’s laws state that your child’s first name must indicate their sex and not impact them negatively. Denmark has similar restrictions, but they also have a list of 7,000 names that you must use. Parents in Iceland must go through an appeal process to use a name that is not on the nation’s official list. In Norway, parents can’t pick a name that is traditionally a middle or last name, unless they come from a culture that does so regularly.
Just as many countries have restrictions on what clothes you can wear, there are also a surprising number of footwear-related laws in Europe. People in Greece can receive a fine for wearing high heels or particularly sharp-heeled boots because their shoes may damage ancient structures and floors. Driving in flip-flops or sandals is illegal in several countries, such as Spain. Wearing flip-flops in certain Italian cities is also punishable. For example, hiking in flip-flops in Cinque Terre carries a fine upwards of $3000 because of the risk of falling on the rocky trails.
When speaking to a police officer, it makes sense to be polite. However, if you don’t speak the language of the country you’re visiting, you might make a simple but serious mistake. Some languages have formal and informal pronouns. In countries such as Germany or the Czech Republic, using the wrong pronoun might cause you to receive a fine. While it’s unlikely that most police officers will take offense to a mistake from a visitor to their country, it’s always a possibility. So if you’re in Germany, make sure to use “Sie” rather than “du” when addressing an officer.
Laws restricting alcohol consumption are nothing new. Every country has them and they vary significantly. However, the United Kingdom has an archaic but enforceable law on the books. Specifically, it is illegal to get drunk in a pub. Now, it’s unlikely that a police officer will walk into a pub and start arresting people, but it is a common way to remove people who are making a scene. Some areas allow you to drink in public, but only in specific circumstances. For example, it’s common to see people drinking in the park in Germany, but drinking while riding a bicycle is illegal. If you’re in Rome, you can drink in public until midnight. However, after 10 p.m. you have to stop drinking out of glass containers while outside.
One of the most iconic things you can do while on a beach is to build a sandcastle. However, double-check the local restrictions because doing so might be against the law in regions of Italy, Germany, and Spain. Often these rules extend to any kind of sand sculpture, not just castles. Most restrictions exist to prevent obstacles that may obstruct rescue or medical teams. Some regions say that the sculptures block the view for other tourists. Regardless of the reason, skip the castle or you might just get a fine of up to $300.