Large clinical studies describing the typical clinical presentation of diabetic foot ulcers are limited and most studies were performed in single centres with the possibility of selection of specific subgroups. The aim of this study was to investigate the characteristics of diabetic patients with a foot ulcer in 14 European hospitals in ten countries. The study population included 1,229 consecutive patients presenting with a new foot ulcer between 1 September 2003 and 1 October 2004. Standardised data on patient characteristics, as well as foot and ulcer characteristics, were obtained. Foot disease was categorised into four stages according to the presence or absence of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and infection: A: PAD -, infection -; B: PAD -, infection +; C: PAD +, infection -; D: PAD +, infection +. PAD was diagnosed in 49% of the subjects, infection in 58%. The majority of ulcers (52%) were located on the non-plantar surface of the foot. With regard to severity, 24% had stage A, 27% had stage B, 18% had stage C and 31% had stage D foot disease. Patients in the latter group had a distinct profile: they were older, had more non-plantar ulcers, greater tissue loss and more serious comorbidity. According to our results in this European cohort, the severity of diabetic foot ulcers at presentation is greater than previously reported, as one-third had both PAD and infection. Non-plantar foot ulcers were more common than plantar ulcers, especially in patients with severe disease, and serious comorbidity increased significantly with increasing severity of foot disease. Further research is needed to obtain insight into the clinical outcome of these patients.