Although quite varied, the principles and main staples of continental European cuisine have laid the base for European cuisine as is it known in "western countries", also outside of the European continent. There's a world of difference between the historically available produce of the cold north and the Mediterranean south of Europe and of course, the development of national cuisines depended highly on the available goods.
However, most European cuisines share a few characteristics and many are held in high regard worldwide, despite having relatively short traditions compared to e.g. that of China. Perhaps the most celebrated of European cuisines is the French one, which has had a strong influence on the modern development of fine dining in other countries. Italian cuisine is equally well-known and loved, and a range of dishes from other countries have gained popularity throughout the continent and the world. Think Spanish tapas or paella, German cakes, English Sunday Roast or Turkish kebabs, to just name a few.
Meat plays an important role in most European cuisines. Where Asian cooking has a preference for bite-size bits, many European dishes include full serving pieces. Steaks (of various meats) are popular all over the continent, as are accompanying sauces of all kinds. Potatoes became a major source of starch after the discovery of the Americas, besides pasta, pastry and some forms of dumplings.
The dining scenes in Europe's cities has been heavily influenced by food from the rest of the world. Europeans gladly mix their regional food traditions with those of other parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas, leaving both locals and visitors with a wide array of options in most of the larger cities.
For amateurs of fine dining, France is the place to go to experience the original versions of globally acclaimed and revered delicacies, as well as local specialities, which include escargot, frog legs and a variety of seafoods. Italy holds a wealth of culinary delights, some of which made its way worldwide, such as pizza or various kinds of pasta, but they often taste evolved into something quite different than one can experience on location.
Spain and Portugal see their cuisines increasingly gaining in popularity both across Europe and on a global scale. To a large extent based on seafood, which is no wonder given their long Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines and maritime traditions, they celebrate meals as much as the Italians do, and elevate small snacks, or tapas, to an art.
The Balkan countries, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Caucasus form a continuum where more and more oriental flavours are added, with fresh curd cheeses, tomatoes and roasted meat in many forms. Given the islamic influences, you will find much less pork and more beef, lamb and chicken there.
Everywhere along the Mediterranean coast you will find an abundance of olive oil, which is a tasty and healthy alternative to the many other fats used all over the world. This may be the key to the secret of eating so well and so much while remaining trim and living long, which is the case in many locations across the Mediterranean.
Central Europe is home to simple, hearty cuisine including large portions of meat, especially pork, sausages, potatoes, cabbage and sour cream. This is certainly not the place to look for tips on eating less and getting thinner, but one for sure won't be leaving hungry. Moreover, while Switzerland, Austria and many places in Germany have prices matching their high standard of leaving, with the new EU members it is still possible to fill up very inexpensively compared to the rest of Europe.
The Nordic countries may be less known for their cuisine, except to frequent guests to IKEA restaurants, but they do have a very unique culinary tradition, often shocking other Europeans and non-European visitors by e.g. eating fish with sweet marmalade. Once you get over the initial shock and quirkiness, as well as the anxiety as to what is actually in those meatballs, you will find yourself well-nourished and perhaps pleasantly surprised at the smorgasbord, or the original buffet.
Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States do have much in common with both Central Europe and the Nordics, together with unique local delicacies. As their cuisines are less known globally, you can find many hidden gems and surprises, from the variety of soups and dumplings to the light and sweet desserts.
While Benelux and the British Isles may be actually the least known for their culinary prowess, there is a lot to be enjoyed there as well. There are the obvious choices like Belgian chocolate or Dutch cheese, but also much more to explore if you care to go beyond the typical British fish & chips in a local pub (which is also a treat to enjoy).