How to Find Free WiFi Networks in Europe


Whether it is to stay connected to your business or simply keep up with family and friends while traveling abroad, Internet hotspots are a commodity in Europe. Though differing in Internet protection laws and accessibility from country to country (in Italy you need a passport to even log on a computer, for instance) here are some basic strategies to keep you from becoming stranded in the digital world.

Things You'll Need

  • Laptop
  • Find the nearest McDonalds. Though it may seem like the last place you'd want to be on a European vacation, the one eternal constant when it comes to wireless Internet availability is a McDonalds or McCafe. Nearly always providing wall-sockets to plug in your computer, a small espresso or donut will get you hours of free Internet: integral when needing to book a whole week’s accommodations, or catch up on your blog.

  • Search for a local cafe or bar with wireless Internet access. These can be particularly useful for a late-night session on the computer. In Europe it is considered perfectly polite to nurse a pint of Guinness or glass of du vin rouge for hours, and this holds true for customers on their laptops as well. Keep in mind, however, that many local establishments may not be able to afford the costs required for the wireless router, and it is perfectly good etiquette to walk in and ask first.

  • Check your hostel or hotel. Though it may seem like a no-brainer, your most consistent and reliable source will be wherever you happen to be staying. If the location you're staying at does not provide wireless Internet, chances are the receptionist can tell you of a place that does.

  • Walk over to the local tourist office during business hours ( that is, morning or afternoon) and ask if they provide Internet access to tourists and, if not, where they recommend for a local wireless hotspot. Often a receptionist can suggest a more creative idea: such as trying the local college campus or church, or even recommend outdoor areas where you can connect to free public servers.

  • Use your intuition. Be on the look-out for any location that announces “Free WiFi” (the French, Spanish, and Italian pronounce it “wee-fee”). Check hotels, even if you are not staying in them, as some have been known to share their router codes to travelers in dire need. Check laundromats and museum lobbies. Though most train and bus stations will refer you to a McDonalds, always ask at the information booth. Ask and ask again. If you remain diligent, charming and highly intuitive, you will find your way to more wireless Internet options than you can handle, and save a great number of euros in the process.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you did not bring a laptop or mini-PC along with you on your travels, you will be limited to the numerous Internet Cafes found in practically every European city. For those backpackers and adventurers traveling on a budget, it is possible to gain access to free or less-costly Internet. This generally involves going to public libraries or the libraries of schools and colleges (without the backpack, of course).
  • Though violent crime statistics are much lower in Europe than in other countries, theft and pickpocket rates remain one of the most frequent dangers to the European traveler. When accessing a hotspot, be sure to keep your belongings within reach and work with your back to the wall whenever possible (as Internet cafes are one of the most popular pickpocketing locations).
  • Photo Credit Bryan Markus
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