Timely outbreak investigations are central in containing communicable disease outbreaks; despite this, no guidance currently exists on expectations of timeliness for investigations. A literature review was conducted to assess the length of epidemiological outbreak investigations in Europe in peer-reviewed publications. We determined time intervals between outbreak declaration to hypothesis generation, and hypothesis generation to availability of results from an analytical study. Outbreaks were classified into two groups: those with a public health impact across regions within a country and requiring national coordination (level 3) and those with a severe or catastrophic impact requiring direction at national level (levels 4 and 5). Investigations in Europe published between 2003 and 2013 were reviewed. We identified 86 papers for review: 63 level 3 and 23 level 4 and 5 investigations. Time intervals were ascertained from 55 papers. The median period for completion of an analytical study was 15 days (range: 4-32) for levels 4 and 5 and 31 days (range: 9-213) for level 3 investigations. Key factors influencing the speed of completing analytical studies were outbreak level, severity of infection and study design. Our findings suggest that guidance for completing analytical studies could usefully be provided, with different time intervals according to outbreak severity.