By Robert Shrader | Published on March 2, 2022
Europe's stunning scenery and timeless history heat up in the summertime.
Possibilities for European summer vacations are as endless as the dozens of languages, cultures and culinary traditions that dot the continent. Visit perfect Paris or ravishing Rome, and take a classic summer vacation with a glass of champagne or prosecco in front of the glittering Eiffel Tower or towering Colosseum. Or wander off Europe's beaten path, adventuring your way through the cobbled streets of the Baltic States or the pristine coastlines of the Balkan nations. Whether you relax underneath the midnight sun in Scandinavia or dance the night away at clubs in Ibiza or Mykonos, Europe beckons this summer.
Regardless of which Europe destinations you're traveling to this summer, the warmer — and drier — months present the perfect opportunity to practice your photography game. Capture the sun setting behind Florence's iconic Duomo church from atop the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint across the Arno River, or rise early to capture Amsterdam's row houses reflected in its famous canals before boats disturb the perfect stillness of their waters.
Summer is also a great time to photograph Europe's stunning nature. Take a day trip from Paris to Mont St. Michel, and take advantage of the plentiful daylight to get a shot of the otherworldly church at both low tide and high tide, when it appears to be floating on top of the sea. Or, discover the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland, where fresh vegetation along the Cliffs of Moher glows an enchanting emerald, and the only thing more satisfying than the colorful towns every few miles are the fresh lobsters and fish you can enjoy in all of them.
It might seem cruel, given how wonderful it is to visit the beach during summer trips to Europe, but this warm (and bikini-friendly) time of year is one of the best times to indulge your inner foodie. Sit outside in France's former papal city of Avignon and enjoy unique boeuf tartare (decadent raw beef mixed with egg yolk and other fixings), or eat the best pasta or pizza of your life along the Tiber River in Rome.
Summer is also the perfect time to savor fresh seafood in Europe. Head to local eateries on the islands of Mykonos or Santorini in Greece, and tear into tender fresh octopus, or enjoy sumptuous, fresh Norwegian salmon filets in Oslo. Savor paella in coastal Spanish cities like Valencia or Girona, ideally washing it down with fresh sangria.
A highlight of European summer vacations, no matter where on the continent you travel, is a visit to an amazing winery. While the obvious choices are the award-winning vineyards of Tuscany near the Italian city of Florence or Bordeaux, and Burgundy in southern France, dozens of regions throughout Europe have burgeoning wine scenes. Take a day trip from Belgrade, Serbia, to the wine town of Sremski Karlovci, or travel from London to Cornwall, which might just be Europe's most surprising wine destination. Take a river cruise (or simply a car or bus trip) into Portugal's Douro Valley, which is Europe's capital of port wine production.
It's not a shock: Many of the best places to visit in Europe in summer are right on the coast, and directly or indirectly involve a beach. Both public ferries and private speed boats run between the Greek islands, where you choose mainstream options like Mykonos and Santorini in the Cyclades, or buck popular norms and visit islands like Crete, Corfu and Paros. Another great destination for sun is the islands just off the coast of Croatia, anchored by captivating Korčula.
None of which is to say that you have to head to the Mediterranean to take an interesting island trip in Europe this summer. Head to any tour company in the center of Stockholm to book a public or private boat tour to the Stockholm archipelago, where scruffy evergreens rising above rocky shores juxtapose with colorful wooden houses. Or head even farther north to Norway's Lofoten Islands, which literally hug the Arctic Circle and where you're unlikely to find many other tourists.
Speaking of the Arctic Circle, one of the most special things about taking summer trips to Europe is seeing phenomena that only occur at this time of year — namely, the midnight sun in Scandinavia. The best way to experience this is traveling as close as possible to the Arctic Circle, whether that's Rovaniemi in Finland, Kiruna in Sweden or Akureyri, the largest of the cities along Iceland's northern coast. If you visit these places on the summer solstice, it literally stays light all night.
You can also enjoy more plentiful sunshine than usual in Scandinavian cities. Sip craft beers in Stockholm's trendy Södermalm district late into the night on evenings in June or July, or practice your selfie game along Copenhagen's colorful Nyhavn canal literally until midnight, when some ambient light will remain. The late light of summer also presents the optimal opportunity to discover Bergen, the city in western Norway that is the de facto gateway to the country's famous fjords.
Want to enjoy the best of both worlds on European summer vacations? Head up into the Alps, where snow can still cling to the tops of mountains, but where hiking trails are delightfully clear, and the crystalline lakes of the region beckon you to swim. The most obvious place to hike is in Switzerland, which offers hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails from mainstream destinations like Zermatt (where, on a clear day, you can see the Matterhorn) and Interlaken, to more secluded spots like Engelberg and Melchsee-Frutt.
Of course, the Alps extend far beyond Switzerland, and even other relatively popular Alpine destinations, from the Bavarian Alps in southern Germany, to the French Alps near the city of Geneva. Visit underrated Slovenia and take an excursion into the Julian Alps, in whose foothills you'll find fluorescent Lake Bled. Hire a canoe and paddle out to the church in the middle of the lake, or hike up to 11th-century Bled Castle to take in a stunning panorama of the landscape.
Many of the best places to visit in Europe in summer are ones you've probably never heard of. For example, you can fly from the city where you arrive to Riga, the gateway to the beautiful Baltic States. Stay in Latvia and visit Rundale Palace, which is known as the Latvian Versailles, or travel to nearby countries like Lithuania and Estonia, where you can climb sand dunes on the enchanting Curonian Spit and traipse through the old town of Tallinn, respectively.
Plenty of underrated destinations exist in Europe's south as well. Fly to Zagreb or Belgrade to explore the Balkans to see the towering mosques of towns like Mostar and the golden beaches of the city of Split. Alternatively head far east into Russia, where the pristine palaces of St. Petersburg juxtapose with the grand squares and soaring skyscrapers of underrated Moscow.
The amazing weather and bright sunshine of summer trips to Europe make it the perfect opportunity to discover culture on the continent. Sign up for a guided walking tour of Palatine Hill or the Trastevere culinary neighborhood in Rome, or make your own way through the treasures of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, whether you explore the innards of the ornate Sagrada Familia Church, or ascend the viewpoint of Park Güell, where avant-garde art pairs with one of Europe's best sunsets.
Another European cultural destination that's at its most beautiful during the summer is Schloss Neuschwanstein, a fairy tale castle in the mountains of Bavaria just south of Munich. Furthermore, summer is the best time to discover culture in lesser-visited parts of Europe, whether you ascend the city walls of Croatia's Dubrovnik, or traipse through the cobbled streets of Kraków, whose charming churches and ornate houses have made it the de facto jewel of Poland.
Although the continent is home to one of the world's most extensive and convenient train networks, many of the best places to visit in Europe in summer are only accessible via car. One of the most popular European road trips is to rent a car in Florence and explore the beautiful small towns of Tuscany. Likewise, a car is the best way to discover Algarve, the stunning strip of beaches and whitewashed towns along Portugal's southern coast.
Traveling to one of Europe's more underrated destinations, but want to discover it by car? Road trips are just as enjoyable off the beaten path as they are along the mainstream. Rent a car in the Balkans and visit Plitvice Lakes and its hundreds of waterfalls in Croatia, or pick up a car in Keflavík Airport in Iceland and drive it onto the wild and forlorn Snaefellsnes Peninsula, whose Kirkjufell Waterfall is one of the most enchanting spots you'll ever see.
So many people plan their European summer vacations with the intention of re-inventing the wheel, whether to escape crowds, dazzle social media followers or simply stay on their toes. However, if you can deal with a few (or a few thousand) other tourists, and don't care about how strangers on the internet perceive your trip, why not focus on the classics? Spend two weeks in Europe, for example, hopping between capitals like London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.
You can apply this same strategy to nature-focused trips to Europe. The hiking trails of the Alps and the pristine waters of Norway's fjords are busy during the summer, but there's a very good reason for that. Likewise, while the islands of Greece's Cyclades chain (namely Santorini and Mykonos) are at their busiest when the temperatures are highest, they're worth visiting in the summer.