Antimicrobial stewardship programmes (ASPs) are designed to improve antibiotic use. A survey was systematically developed to assess ASP prerequisites, objectives and improvement strategies in hospitals. This study assessed the current state of ASPs in acute-care hospitals throughout Europe. A survey containing 46 questions was disseminated to acute-care hospitals: all Dutch (n = 80) and Slovenian (n = 29), 215 French (25%, random stratified sampling) and 62 Italian (49% of hospitals with an infectious diseases department, convenience sampling) acute-care hospitals, for a Europe-wide assessment. Response rates for the Netherlands (Nl), Slovenia (Slo), France (Fr) and Italy (It) were 80%, 86%, 45% and 66%. There was variation between countries in the prerequisites met and the objectives and improvement strategies chosen. A formal ASP was present mainly in the Netherlands (90%) and France (84%) compared with Slovenia (60%) and Italy (60%). Presence of an antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) team ranged from 42% (Fr) to 94% (Nl). Salary support for AMS teams was provided in 68% (Fr), 51% (Nl), 33% (Slo) and 12% (It) of surveyed hospitals. Quantity of antibiotic use was monitored in the majority of hospitals, ranging from 72% (Nl) to 100% (Slo and Fr) of acute-care hospitals. Participating countries varied substantially in the use of ‘prospective monitoring and advice’ as a strategy to improve AMS objectives. ASP prerequisites, objectives and improvement activities vary considerably across Europe, with room for improvement. Stimulating appropriate system prerequisites throughout Europe, e.g. by introducing staffing standards and financial support for ASPs, seems a first priority.