Visiting Europe during the summer has been one of the quintessential traveling experiences since the Grand Tours of the aristocracy in the 1600s. Since then, the popularity of many European cities has exploded, so much so that it’s relatively difficult to find uncrowded European destinations in summer. While Paris, Rome and London remain the heavy hitters, there are a number of lesser-known places just as worthy of visiting throughout the continent.
Sicily, a truly picturesque place.
Sicily, sitting off the Italian coastline, is the largest island in the Mediterranean. With a sunny, dry climate, the island has the perfect weather to be a fantastic beach tourist destination. The peak tourist season on Sicily actually tends to happen around spring and autumn, making it a great summer European getaway.
One of the most fascinating things to do on Sicily is explore the ruins that depict its history. Sicily has been dominated by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Aragonese and Normans at one time or another, and the island’s culture is a rich tapestry to match. In addition, there are six UNESCO World Heritage Sites – both historical and natural. To fully explore the natural beauty of Sicily, embark on one of the many hikes that wind through and around the island. The raw natural power of the active volcano Mt. Etna is awe inspiring.
Read more about things to do in Sicily.
Lyon is one of the historical and gastronomical hubs in France. Boasting the titles of the birthplace of cinema, a vibrant cultural scene, and gateway to the Rhone-Alps region, Lyon is surprisingly under-visited for being the third-largest city in France.
June and July are among the best months to visit Lyon. The weather is hot, daylight lasts for hours, crowds are only a fraction of those of Paris, and the city comes alive. Lyon is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in France. It also has a number of free attractions in its churches, parks, traboules (passageways) and cheap museums, making it relatively cheap to visit. Historical attractions include the Fourvière Basilica and the Vieux Lyon, but the big draw to tourists visiting Lyon is the food scene. The best restaurants have been awarded the Authentique bouchon lyonnaise label, judged for the quality of their food and atmosphere.
The Rhine makes this city extra special.
Cologne, in Western Germany, is the place to be for those spending summer on the Rhine River. The river cuts through the center of the city, which pulses with an energetic atmosphere come the beautiful weather of summertime. Cologne is one of the most liberal cities in the country, the residents love their city, and it’s simply a nice place to be. The city is also one of Germany’s most multi-cultural cities.
Cologne is full of history but the real attraction is the colossal Kölner Dom; Germany’s largest cathedral, the Dom is covered in Gothic gargoyles and soaring to heights of almost 160 meters. The Old City is another highlight, as is the ultra-modern chocolate museum. Furthermore, Cologne is known for both its breweries and its music scene.
As a whole, the country of Poland is one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. It follows then, that the capital Warsaw is one of Europe’s most uncrowded cities come summertime, and it’s both a blessing for those who do visit and a shame that so many miss out. Warsaw isn’t the prettiest city in Europe, but it makes up for it with its rich history.
The sights of Warsaw are almost exclusively located within its Old Town. Warsaw was almost completely obliterated during WWII. The Old Town is largely postwar restoration, though there are a number of original structures in the area. Visitors come to Warsaw for the museums, including one dedicated to the uprisings that occurred during the war, and the walking tours that capture the greater historical background of the city.
Read more about things to do in Warsaw.
Ljubljana is hands down one of the prettiest cities in Eastern Europe, which is why it’s so wonderful that it’s a relatively unknown destination. Oft referred to as a ‘mini Prague,’ the Slovenian capital is a must visit for those who love the fairytale European aesthetic. Ljubljana has a real small town feel, and the café culture is one of the best in Europe. Tables fill the streets come summertime, and café patrons are serenaded street musicians. Summer is really the time the city comes alive.
There are two festivals that celebrate Ljubljana in summer, the Druga Godba in late May/early June, and the Ljubljana Festival that runs from July to August. Outside of the festivals, big attractions of the city include the Ljubljana Castle, National Museum of Slovenia and multiple churches and cathedrals.
Check out tours and activities in Slovenia.
Porto is known for two things: being one of the oldest cities in Europe, and its port. Porto has a long history – so long in fact, that the entire city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Porto’s history shows through the multiple architectural styles represented in the city; from Romanesque, to Baroque, to Gothic, Porto seems to have it all. The river Duoro is a big attraction in the summer months, with cruises a popular activity.
The best thing about visiting Porto however lies in the fantastic port that the region produces. Porto is the port wine capital, and taking a wine tour and visiting the wine caves to taste some of the region’s best wines and port is a must when visiting Porto.
Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is one of the most vibrant cities in Britain. Melding history with a modern urban vibe, Cardiff is very quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations for those visiting the United Kingdom. Cardiff Castle is just one example of the way Cardiff blends culture, history and everyday life, sitting in the city center surrounded by housing and commercial buildings alike.
Cardiff claims to have the largest concentration of castles in its city than anywhere else in the world. With the warmer weather comes a burst of energy in the entertainment scene. The area around Cardiff Bay in particular is known for its cultural attractions.
Read more about the castles of Wales.
Belgium is such a small country that many visitors to Bruges come and go in a day, particularly during the summer season. This is fantastic news for those looking for a laid back European vacation as the city remains relatively uncrowded.
Bruges is one of Europe’s most photogenic cities with a cityscape that is dominated by medieval features including a 13th-century bell tower known as the Belfy. In fact, much of the city has been styled to reflect the aesthetic of the middle ages, with all the convenience of modern times. Visitors to Bruges come for that aesthetic, but there is more to the city than meets the eye. In particular, Bruges capitalizes on the stereotypes of Belgium; this is a city made for chocolate lovers and beer connoisseurs.
It seems like cities in Europe are forever being labelled ‘the most beautiful.’ In truth, they each have their own unique flavor, and for Budapest, that beauty comes from the baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau aesthetic that dominates the city. Budapest has become known for its party culture – both after the sun goes down and during elaborate summer festivals. Summer is a time for concerts, street fairs and cultural festivals in the Hungarian capital. In addition, in summer the bars extend their tables out onto the streets, and a number of summer-only pubs open their doors.
Budapest isn’t without its history though, and most historical attractions can be found within Buda, the Western half of the city. It’s here that you’ll find a range of sites featuring architecture and history from medieval to neo-Gothic and beyond.
Read more about things to do in Budapest.