With summer already in full swing, it’s the perfect time to come up with a last-minute itinerary and see at least some of Europe’s grandeur. We’ve seen the same places win all the praise years on end. That is why we have decided to provide you with the unique best summer destinations in Europe and introduce you to locations you might not have considered in the past.
Some of these places you’ve probably heard of as they’re staples in most Europe tours, and we would do them a disservice if we omitted them altogether. However, we’ve gotten rid of the ubiquitous destinations and replaced them with something fresh and undeservingly cast aside.
1. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has rocked most of the lists of best summer destinations in Europe in 2019, and for obvious reasons. It’s one of the few capitals we’ve decided to feature on our own compilation of best destinations.
Good portions of the city are protected by UNESCO, from buildings along the picturesque banks of Danube to Andrássy Avenue. The entirety of Budapest breaths history, culture, and not any less important – thermal spas. Check out the famous Parliament Building, Heroes’ Square, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the House of Terror. Don’t forget to take some time off and stroll the wonderful promenade along the Danube River, and enjoy the comforts of Gellért Baths.
Read more: What to do in Budapest
2. Rotterdam, Netherlands
Despite the extensive bombing of the city during World War II, Rotterdam stands proudly to this day, displaying incredible architecture and a wealth of culture, and also posing as a major trade route of Southern Netherlands.
Some of the most iconic landmarks of Rotterdam are its Euromast Tower, a 606-feet tall observation station that provides incredible views of the city, Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, a church that is the last medieval structure, dating back to 15th century, and Markthal Rotterdam. The last one is a semi-circular marketplace decorated with the most amazing art, the work of Arno Coenen. If you have enough time, check out the Maritime Museum and its exhibits, central to the existence of Rotterdam on Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt river delta.
3. Malaga, Spain
The birthplace of Pablo Picasso naturally reverberates with culture, making Malaga far more than just another resort town on Costa del Sol. No, it is a city of great importance, with valuable heritage to boast.
Make your visit to Malaga a homage to this great artist of the 20th century. Visit Casa Natal, his actual birthplace located on Plaza de la Merced. After that, head out in the direction of Picasso Museum and see some of his earliest works. When you’re done, you’ll realize that there’s still so much that Malaga has to offer, especially in relation to its Islamic roots. The best representative of Moorish architecture is La Alcazaba, a palace of exquisite beauty. After that, make sure to stop by Malaga Cathedral and Castillo de Gibralfaro.
4. Porto, Portugal
Home to Port, a rich-flavored fortified wine made from distilled grape spirits only in the Douro Valley, Porto has an incredible array of landmarks to see, especially beautiful during the summer when they’re washed in majestic colors.
It’s really hard to say where to start your exploration of Porto. Perhaps, you could begin your journey from the very center of the city, a site protected by UNESCO and you can see for yourselves why. The extensive list of magnificent structures is deserving of an article to call its own, but we’ll just have to enumerate them here. Serralves Museum & Villa, an awe-inspiring Art Deco villa, Gothic Church of São Francisco, Baroque Clérigos Church and Cais da Ribeira (a riverside walkway) only scratch the surface of what Porto is all about.
5. Hamburg, Germany
Let’s show some love for cities other than Berlin! While the capital is astonishing and an endless collection of history and culture, the exact same can be said about the city of Hamburg.
With roots reaching as far as the days of the Hanseatic League, Hamburg has always had a rich history that’s deeply connected to the sea and trading. Even today, it stands as one of the busiest ports in Europe. In relation to that, many projects and landmarks have a lot to deal with seafaring, places like the International Maritime Museum and Speicherstadt. The latter literally means the City of Warehouses, where lines of red-brick buildings flow together and help people remember 1888 when the free city of Hamburg joined the German customs zone.
6. Cinque Terre, Italy
The ‘Five Lands’ and the entire coastline west of La Spezia are a part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a pure paradise of the Italian region of Liguria, and yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read more: A Guide to Italian Beaches
The five villages comprising Cinque Terre are Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza. Each one of them is picturesque heaven on Earth, and each one of them begs a visit and at least a day spent there. It’s easily one of the best summer destinations in Europe, where you can go hiking, cliff diving, exploring narrow cobblestone streets, or just plain eating your way through ‘Five Lands’. The only downside is that it is a pretty huge tourist destination, so if you’re after something quaint and less touristy, this isn’t the place to be.
7. Reykjavik, Iceland
Summer is the perfect time to head out north and visit one of the far-off cities in Europe – Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
For a city that’s not that big, with only about 200,000 residents to boast, it sure does have a wealth of breathtaking landmarks that few other cities can match. By far, the most stunning place of all in Reykjavik is Hallgrímskirkja Church, an expressionist work of art. It exposes a viewing platform at the top, the perfect place to see literally the entirety of the city. Harpa Concert and Conference Hall is a futuristic structure all in glass, a place of such magnificence that you won’t ever forget. If you’re lucky, you might catch a performance by Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra there.
8. Kotor, Montenegro
The Bay of Kotor is simply overflowing with incredibly beautiful towns and monuments of old, easily the best place to spend your summer if you find yourself in Balkans.
The most picturesque place of all is undoubtedly the old town of Kotor, a Venetian heritage dating back to the 12th century. Old building rise above narrow streets dotted with rogue cafes that remind you that the town is still pretty much alive and has local populace. Drop by San Giovanni Fortress and Saint Tryphon’s Cathedral to see what Kotor is all about. Climbing the former will reveal breathtaking vistas of the bay, while the latter is one of the only two Roman Catholic cathedrals in Montenegro.
9. Santorini, Greece
While Santorini perfectly fits the role of a destination overly advertised for years now, it would be a real shame not to add it to this aggregation of amazing summer destinations in Europe.
Read more: Honeymoon on Greek Islands
What is there left to be said about Santorini that hasn’t already been repeated a hundred times over in the last couple of years? This stunning group of islands that surround a volcanic caldera is as romantic as any place in Paris really. Sunsets over Santorini, accompanied by indigenous Assyrtiko wine and delicious Greek salads are all that a couple in love really needs. If you want some action as well, hike to Oia or climb the caldera (with a tour group naturally).
10. Paphos, Cyprus
Traveling to Cyprus might exactly be the thing you need this summer, and what better place to check out than the ancient town of Paphos, the birthplace of Aphrodites.
By now, you probably already realize that choosing Paphos for your summer vacation is choosing adventure and exploration. There won’t be nearly as much lounging around here as there will be diving into the culture of Ancient Greeks. Paphos Archaeological Museum is a great starting point, with numerous artifacts of old on display. Medieval castle of Paphos is a square structure with a very intriguing past about which you can find out more when you get there. To top it all off, visit St. Paul’s Pillar and Kato Paphos Archaeology Park.
11. Geneva, Switzerland
The contemporary value of Geneva in the everyday lives of Europeans in indeterminable and the part it has to play in the future of humankind is Shakespearean.
After such an overly dramatic prelude, you may feel as if we’re overdoing it a bit. But truth be told, Geneva is all the things we’ve stated and more. Being the very heart of diplomacy that it is, hosting United Nations meetings, Red Cross conventions, and pioneering the future at CERN, there’s so much value to be gained from visiting such a city that it’s really hard not to overexaggerate its importance. But also – fondue and chocolate!
12. Shetland, Scotland
Why should you pick the Shetland Islands for your summer destination? The answer is quite simple really – outdoor activities for friends and families.
Summer is the best time to visit this archipelago consisting of 15 islands as that’s when the days will be longest (and weather more bearable). Visiting Shetland also means going out of your way to avoid tourist crowds, a polar opposite of Cinque Terre and other great tourism hubs. Your options here are truly endless, from cycling, rock climbing, and hiking, all the way to learning about the history of Shetlands at Shetland Museum & Archives and Scalloway Museum.
13. Lyon, France
Lyon is a real gem of France and the center of culinary tourism in the country. However, there are so many different places and secrets to discover here that you will surely find something to your liking.
Read more: Amazing European Aquariums
The greatest secret of this very old city (about 2,000 years old) are passageways known as Traboules. It’s not quite definite yet how many of these passages exist, but they’re mainly located in Vieux Lyon and the Croix Rousse. This little tidbit ought to have sparked an explorer in you! For some architectural splendor, make sure to visit Fourvière Basilica, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, and Lyon Cathedral. Most of all – eat your way through the city to truly understand the meaning of bliss.
14. Poznan, Poland
Eastern Europe is slowly becoming more open to tourism and is developing its potential to the fullest extent possible. The same goes for our two last entrants, making them worthy and unique summer destinations. Let’s start with Poznan in Poland.
Known as the town from which Catholicism has originally spread to the rest of Poland, Poznan quite expectedly has a lot of lovely historic buildings and a very rich spiritual heritage to discover. Poznań Cathedral is a Gothic building that managed to preserve a great deal of history in its halls, including Flemish tapestries and sculpted panels of Mary and the Passion. Church of St Stanislaus is a representative of the Baroque movement, which also used to be a Jesuit college. Add Poznan Town Hall and Old Market Square to your itinerary as well, and you’ll have an awesome experience in Poland!
15. Riga, Latvia
Finally, we reach Riga in Latvia. This city is the perfect summer destination for people looking to enjoy a new, largely undiscovered destination in the east.
What is Riga? It is a seamless amalgamation of tradition and the contemporary. During the day, discover the amazing relics of its past such as the House of the Blackheads and the Town Hall Square. Their history goes all the way back to the days of the Hanseatic League, and their extravagant exterior reflects the wealth the people enjoyed back then. At night, have a taste of nightlife in Riga, go on a pub crawl, and find out about its more vibrant part of the identity.
Hopefully, you’ve found something to your liking and have at least a vague idea about where you’d like to go. Whether you plan on learning or staying active (or both), you’ll have a place to call your own this summer.