Surveillance systems for varicella in Europe are highly heterogeneous or completely absent. We estimated the varicella incidence based on seroprevalence data, as these data are largely available and not biased by under-reporting or underascertainment. We conducted a systematic literature search for varicella serological data in Europe prior to introduction of universal varicella immunization. Age-specific serological data were pooled by country and serological profiles estimated using the catalytic model with piecewise constant force of infection. From the estimated profiles, we derived the annual incidence of varicella infection (/100·000) for six age groups (<5, 5–9, 10–14, 15–19, 20–39 and 40–65 years). In total, 43 studies from 16 countries were identified. By the age of 15 years, over 90% of the population has been infected by varicella in all countries except for Greece (86·6%) and Italy (85·3%). Substantial variability across countries exists in the age-specific annual incidence of varicella primary infection among the <5 years old (from 7052 to 16 122 per 100 000) and 5–9 years old (from 3292 to 11 798 per 100 000). The apparent validity and robustness of our estimates highlight the importance of serological data for the characterization of varicella epidemiology, even in the absence of sampling or assay standardization.