It’s that time of year again when the southern hemisphere starts to shiver, but the northern hemisphere shines as the European summer begins. European summer days are best filled with gelato, beach swims, road trips, promenade walks, cobblestoned streets, and island sailing. Here’s 10 of the best destinations to spend a few days or a week soaking up the long summer days.
The Greek Islands. They just scream summer holidays, don’t they? The sun, the sea, the salty breeze, and those gorgeous whitewashed buildings. But you won’t be the only one there so try and head here in the summer shoulder seasons of May to early June and September. It will still be pleasantly warm but less crazy – especially when you want to catch the sunset at Oia.
While on Santorini island, don’t miss lazy days on the red and black sand beaches and the Akrotiri archalogical site. The best way to get around is by hiring a quad bike.
You can easily reach the rest of the Greek Islands from Santorini, with ferries leaving regularly to many islands, including Mykonos, Ios and Crete.
Cheap and cheerful Lagos is the perfect place to relax for a few days. The big draw card is the beaches, framed by rocky cliffs. Take a swim, or enjoy the views along the cliffs. Or you can take a boat trip along the coast. Don’t forget to sample some fresh seafood while you’re there. Portugal’s capital Lisbon is easy to reach from Lagos and is only a three hour bus ride.
Spain is another one of those countries that epitomises summer. With long days ending with tapas and wine, and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, Spain offers much for the traveller. Valencia is one of the Spanish cities you must visit during your European summer holiday. Not just to take part in the annual La Tomatina festival held in nearby Buñol in August, but because the city offers great food and bright blue days, mixed in with culture and history.
In Valencia, you can easily sit on the beach by day, sipping juices and chowing down on gelato, and by night dine on tapas until late at night while indulging on Spanish wine. And don’t forget all the churros you can eat – for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can wander Valencia’s old town quite happily for hours with its street art, vintage clothing stores, and historical buildings. Make sure you check out the Torres de Quart, Cathedral, Miquelet bell tower, a bullring that looks like Rome’s Colosseum, and the many plazas. Make sure you visit Mercat Central de Valencia – the central market and one of Europe’s oldest.
The fabulous city of Budapest offers a multitude of things to do in the summer months. You can cruise down the Danube River, enjoy a picnic by the musical fountain on Margaret Island, catch some city views from Buda Castle or St Stephen’s Cathedral, relax in a thermal spa, and then party on at the ruin bars by night. A favourite spot of locals during the summer is Lake Balaton, only a couple of hours drive out of Budapest.
Did someone say road trip? Iceland is a road tripper’s paradise in the summer. It’s easy to rent a car, hop on the Ring Road and drive around the whole island. Summer is the best time to visit Iceland for a road trip because the roads are free of snow and you will get beautiful views of the lush green fields and gushing waterfalls. Or you can also hike the many volcanoes – or even go inside the Thrihnukagigur volcano. After all that driving, make sure you track down a thermal bath and relax. The Blue Lagoon is a tourist favourite, but there are many other thermal baths scattered across the island.
Forget Paris, the south of France is where it’s at in the summer months. With it’s beautiful beaches, picturesque towns, and delicious food, what’s not to love about the south?! You may not have heard of towns like beachside Cassis, charming Aix En Provence, historical Avignon, or the fascinating hilltop village of Les Baux des Provence, but they are the perfect spots to spend summer days. Cassis was one of my favourite finds in France with its turquoise beaches inside rocky inlets called calanques. Then there were the lavender fields of Provence, and the beautiful towns that always had a castle and picturesque cobblestoned streets.
You’ll keep coming back to Krakow summer after summer. Everyone loves the vibe of Krakow – and also how cheap everything is. Points of interest include the Wawel Hill castle precinct, the Jewish district and the Old Town. Krakow is close to several sights of interest such as the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz Concentration Camp, as well as a three hour bus ride to the picturesque Tatra Mountains. The Tatra Mountains straddle the Polish and Slovakian border and are a hiker’s paradise. Krakow also serves as a good jumping point to neighbouring countries such as Germany, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofoten Islands, located in Norway’s north, are pretty any time of year but if you want to road trip or hike then summer is the best time to visit and you’re more likely to get sunny days. I guarantee you will want to stop every five minutes to take a photo – the landscapes are just so pretty with their towering mountains and sprawl of bright red fisherman huts. The best bang for buck hike is the Reinebringen hike. Once you reach the top you’ll be looking down into a deep blue crater lake and the interconnecting islands of Lofoten.
Italy is another summer hotspot – and for good reason. Is there anything better than gelato and an aperol spritz on a hot summer’s day? There are lots to see in Rome, from the Colosseum and Roman Forum, to the favourites of the Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. Rome gets ridiculously humid though and busy, so plan to go early or late in the summer months or be an early bird and get out and about before the crowds. Then lose the map and wander this beautiful city while enjoying every flavour of gelato you can find! Rome serves as a convenient jumping point to other parts of Italy such as Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Venice and Cinque Terre.
Hop on board a sailing ship and cruise the Croatian islands and ports. Sailing tours leave frequently from Split in the summer months and it’s a rite of passage for any traveller to Europe. The most popular route is Split to Dubrovnik stopping at islands and ports along the way such as Hvar and Korcula. While in Croatia, don’t miss the turquoise lakes and waterfalls of the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park.