Europe could receive more American travelers this year than the record 13.12 million set in 2000. In an upward trajectory since 2003, US arrivals in Europe climbed past 12 million, to 12.6 million in 2005 -- four percentage points from 2000, surpassing the European Travel Commission's projected 12.4 million.

"It's wonderful to see rising numbers for a third straight year," said Conrad Van Tiggelen, ETC chairman. "While Europe is America's favorite overseas destination with more than 40% of overseas travelers, we are always communicating new reasons to visit."

Indeed, Europe's popularity has stood steadfast in recent years despite the downturn in global travel following 2001, fluctuating exchange rates and competition from emerging destinations.

"For this generation in particular," Van Tiggelen continued, "we try to show that Europe is a constantly evolving blend of culture, beauty and excitement, with some of the most cutting edge travel trends."

"Europe hopping" is the latest trend -- mixing countries in unusual ways, thanks to Europe's 50 low-cost airlines. Fly from Barcelona to Bratislava for euro 100, for example, Berlin to Belfast for euro 35, or Glasgow to Krakow for euro 20. The ETC website ( has a search engine with 500 flight connections.

Film tourism has taken off in the wake of blockbuster movies, and this year brings the huge Da Vinci Code movie. France, Britain and Scotland have teamed up with Eurostar, the high-speed train connecting Paris and London, to offer Da Vinci Code travels and an online promotion ( with extraordinary prizes including free lifetime travel Eurostar and accommodations for five years at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and Claridge's in London.

Today's time-pressed Americans are combining Europe vacations with personal passions. Car enthusiasts can tour the Aston Martin and Mini Cooper factories before taking a car on the road. Foodies can learn haute cuisine in Paris from celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse, or at the Ritz Escoffier School. Violin making can be learned in Cremona, lace making in Brussels, and so on.

American cruise passenger totals grew by 9% last year to 9.76 million, (out of 11.18 million worldwide) as Americans grasped its cost-effectiveness and comfort. Northern Europe and the Mediterranean were among the top destinations, and this year the Med is hotter yet. Major cruise lines and ports are ratcheting up projects to meet demand.

Retiring Baby Boomers herald a coming wave of mature travelers. With more leisure time, they are catching on to the European pastime of renting a countryside villa for a month of "la dolce vita." While Provence, Tuscany and Greece remain popular, lesser-known regions also make great home bases for day trips. Slovakia, for example, is ideally positioned for exploring the Adriatic, Budapest, Vienna and Krakow.