I understand credit cards in Europe have a chip in them for greater security, and I know my card does not have one. Will we have trouble charging? Will restaurants and bars typically take a credit card, or will we run into "cash only" situations?
Without a chip and pin card you miss a couple of opportunities - typically with automatic machines like unattended gas stations and ticket machines in train and metro stations. It's not too hard to work around these, but you lose a small amount of convenience.
I've never had a problem at any hotel, train station (other than automatic ticket machines), or rental car companies using my credit card.
I had a problem only one time at a retailer, in a small Danish town. I'm sure the retailer was simply not familiar with how to process a signature purchase. It wasn't a big deal. I asked where the closest ATM was, walked a block, got cash, went back and completed my purchase. Any retailer who deals regularly with tourists will know how to process a signature purchase - so 99 percent of the time, you will have no problem.
It's a tiny bit more convenient to have a chip and pin card, but should be really low on your priority list. I'd worry more about using an ATM card that doesn't overcharge you for foreign transaction fees.
Your card will work just fine except in un-manned kiosks or booths. Most of those take cash though, so have plenty of change if you need to use them (such as the metro ticket kiosks).
Often you will be asked to enter your PIN. If so, just tell them "no PIN" and they will understand they have to print a receipt for you to sign.
Often you will be asked if you want the charge in euro or dollars. ALWAYS charge in the local currency. Converting to your own currency allows them (and their bank) to set the exchange rate - never in your favor.
This is a not a direct answer but we have drifted to using cash about 95% of the time. It eliminates many of these types of concerns. Also, eliminates nearly all concerns about your credit card number being compromised. Europe is far more cash oriented than the US. We just find it far easier to use cash.
We just got back from Spain a few weeks ago. No problems whatsoever in any part of Spain except for Santander. The restaurants could not process our credit cards. Even the hotel had to manually enter the numbers on the keypad before they could process them. Other places ask for a PIN, and like the others said, you can respond "no PIN." Fortunately, Santander was the only place in Europe I've ever had this issue. And it's not a small town, so I'm not sure why it was a problem. I'm not sure what advice to give you about this, but you can always try using the cards and pay with cash if it's a problem. Good luck.
The Chase Visa we used in Spain this past November has a chip, but it doesn't call for us to type in a PIN like the Eurpean cards do; we still have to sign a receipt like we do in the US with cards that have only a magnetic stripe on the back. The credit card processing machines in Europe should allow for swipe cards or chip cards, but seems there's always an exception out there.
Only in the bus station in Segovia, where the staff in the ticketing office took a looooong break, and there were several self-serve ticket machines that took only chip & PIN cards, and just one that took our card or cash but had a looooong line, was this even an issue for us. As noted earlier, other self-serve machines (including some gas pumps we encountered after-hours in Italy when there was no station attendant on duty) wouldn't let us complete a transaction without a PIN, but for the most part, if you're interacting with a human waiter or salesperson, your swipe car will work just fine. Call your credit card company and see if a chip or chip/PIN card might be an option thru them before your trip?
If you have time, get a chipped card. I read the replies above. 99% of the time...true in rural France our signature card worked 95% of the time and several of those times when it didn't we waited till the next day to put gas in the car. No big deal, but one more thing to keep track of.
Then we tried to return the rental car with a full tank...ugliest moments of a six week trip. The gas station closed half an hour early while we were in line, leaving cars waiting in line as they dragged the barriers between cars and pumps. Fill up the next day? We had to turn the car in about half an hour after the gas station opened the next morning. And don't you know it, we showed up early and their was this long line waiting for gas. Ugly. Get a chipped card.
One more thought. Do you remember the term 'ugly American'? The traveler who insists that THEY in THEIR country use our systems? This is one more case.
In two years we will all have chipped cards for security reasons. Why not jump the line?