In 2006 two rotavirus vaccines were licensed for use in young children in Europe. This study aimed to estimate the mortality and hospital admissions due to rotavirus in children aged <5 years in the WHO European region using data from routine sources and published literature. We grouped 49/52 countries in the region by their World Bank Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. We obtained for children aged <5 years: populations, hospital discharges for diarrhoeal disease, estimated mortality rates and the percentage of deaths attributable to diarrhoeal disease, from WHO data sources or published literature, and combined them to estimate country-specific diarrhoeal disease mortality. Rotavirus-attributable percentages of hospital admissions due to diarrhoeal disease were obtained through a literature search, and an income-group median applied to countries in each GNI category. In the countries we studied in the WHO European region, rotavirus infection causes an estimated 6550 deaths (range 5671–8989) and 146 287 (range 38 374–1 039 843) hospital admissions each year in children aged <5 years. Hospital admission rates were similar across income groups (medians 2·0, 2·8, 4·2 and 1·9/1000 per year in low-, lower-middle-, upper-middle- and high-income countries, respectively). Seven countries, mostly in the low- and lower-middle-income groups, accounted for 93% of estimated deaths. Disease burden varied dramatically by income level in the European region. Rotavirus vaccination in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey could potentially prevent 80% of all regional rotavirus deaths. Data from low-income countries is still sparse, and improved disease burden studies are required to better inform regional vaccine policy.