When the days start to lengthen and the air feels warmer, Europe begins to wake up for the summer. Sidewalk cafés come to life, while colorful sun umbrellas appear on the beaches.
Cities prepare for the long, festive nights of June and July, where further north, daylight lasts until late in the evening. Wherever you visit, though, summer is a wonderful time to explore Europe, with glorious sunny days and a sense of celebration in the air.
From romantic Greek islands to buzzing central European capitals and the Scandi-chic cities of the north, here are some of the best places to visit in Europe in summer.
Santorini is surely the jewel in the Greek islands’ crown. Clustered around the sunken caldera of an active volcano, pretty white-washed villages sit on towering cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean blue of the sea below, while iconic vistas look over to two smoldering volcanic islands in the bay below.
As one of the best beach destinations in Europe, there’s plenty to see here. Highlights include the volcanic black sands of Perissa Beach, the winding streets in the iconic villages of Imerovigli and Fira where infinity pools seem to spill into the Aegean below, and a number of fantastic boutique wineries to boot.
The quintessential Santorini experience, though, is sitting in a café in the village of Oia and watching the fiery skies of one of the best sunsets in the world accompanied by a soundtrack of appreciative “oohs” and “aahs” from the hundreds of people who take in this magnificent daily spectacle.
Arriving in Istanbul can feel like being taken back in time. Now a thoroughly modern metropolis, the city retains a feel of a time gone by, spanning as it does the two great continents of Europe and Asia, and feeling like the perfect melting pot of both cultures.
Some of the most iconic places in Istanbul include the Byzantine Hagia Sophia and the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque—both of which can be seen from almost any vantage point in the city.
Also make time to take in the Basilica Cistern, a large underground reservoir built by Emperor Justinian I (527-565), and the magnificent Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman emperors.
All will fight for your attention, but Istanbul is the kind of city that cries out to be lived at street level among the visitors and the locals. Barter for Turkish souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar, pick up pungent spices at the Spice Market, wander around pretty Gülhane Park or stroll through ornate Victorian arcades such as Çiçek Pasajı.
You could spend a month exploring Istanbul markets and streets and still feel as though you’ve only scratched the surface.
If Santorini is the romantic destination of choice in Greece, nearby Mykonos is its oh-so-sophisticated party island sister, adored by many as one of the best summer destinations in Europe.
Famed back in the 1950s as a hippy hangout, the transformation of this European island over the years into the place to be seen in summer has been quite spectacular.
A long-time favorite of Europe’s LGBTQ+ community, the main town, Hora, is a perfect example of stylish, stark white Cycladic architecture, its charming port hiding a warren of tiny alleys lined with chic boutiques, bustling bars and high-end eateries.
Slightly out of Hora, the island’s iconic 16th-century windmills stand guard, while the sea laps at the feet of the cafés of Little Venice, a small community built by Venetian merchants to resemble their homeland and is now a hip hotspot.
The walled city of Dubrovnik, with its views over the Adriatic, is, without doubt, Croatia’s most upmarket destination, with a glamorous summer scene that attracts A-listers on their megayachts.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town is one of Europe’s most evocative destinations, its winding, pedestrian-only streets lined with elegant palazzi, monasteries and Baroque churches. The ancient walls are dotted with stone forts, once used to ward off marauding pirates but now often the setting for summer concerts.
Spend a day here simply wandering. Each corner reveals another delightful scene of one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe. Or take the 15-minute ferry ride from the harbor to the pine-shaded island of Lokrum and bask on the rocks, taking dips into the clear Adriatic to cool off.
Walking around magnificent Firenze, the birthplace of the Renaissance and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a little like walking around a living, breathing museum.
The narrow, cobbled streets of Florence, lined with medieval palaces, ornate churches, and incredible art museums could be straight from a movie.
See Michaelangelo’s famed David at the Accademia Museum, climb up to the incredible Duomo of Florence Cathedral for stupendous views, and stroll across the Ponte Vecchio that spans the Arno River—surely the only bridge in the world that houses jewelers and art dealers.
Fashionista? No problem; the Gucci and Ferragamo museums will keep you occupied for hours. And if you want an alternative viewpoint during your two days in Florence, why not tour the city’s markets with a local chef, or jump on an electric cart for an hour to cover more ground and get to pack in more of this fascinating city?
Barcelona is a magnificent melting pot of a city where every step brings another delight. Lying by the glittering Mediterranean, it is home to world-class architecture, culture and food, as well as some of the best nightlife in Europe, and one of the world’s greatest club soccer teams, FC Barcelona.
Architecturally, Barcelona’s buildings span more than 2,000 years. Highlights include the ancient walls of Roman-era Barcino, Antoni Gaudí’s still unfinished iconic La Sagrada Família church and the Montjuic Communications Tower by modern master Santiago Calatrava, and the medieval streets of the Barri Gòtic—one of the best neighborhoods in Barcelona.
Art lovers can visit museums dedicated to Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, while foodies can sample every popular Barcelona dish, from Basque-style tapas bars to a host of Michelin-star restaurants.
As this is one of the best shopping cities in Europe, shopaholics can browse everything from Europes’ oldest food market, La Boqueria, to high-end boutiques. The most difficult decision to make is what to see first—which is why a guided tour is the best way to get an overview before you delve deeper into the mix.
Marseille has been one of Europe’s most significant ports for both trade and immigration between Europe and Africa ever since it was founded by the Greeks in 600BC. Today, that status remains, but the city also unlocks the wider Provence region to visitors.
In the heart of the city itself, there is much to enjoy: the Vieux (Old) Port, the Byzantine Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the Bohemian Le Panier quarter and the magnificent murals of Cours Julien are just a handful of the many things to do in Marseille.
Away from the heat of the city, this charming rural part of Provence, France unfolds: see the Côte Blue (Blue Coast) from a kayak, take a gourmet tour of arty Aix-en-Provence or visit the charming village of Cassis with its vibrantly colored houses reflecting in the shimmering waters of the harbor.
Read: What to Eat in Provence
Compact and quirky, with a frontier feel, Iceland’s capital is certainly one of the best summer destinations in Europe if you’re looking for something different.
The city center of Reykjavik, its streets lined with hip coffee shops, bars and boutiques, can be walked around in no time at all, and all the main sights are easily accessible.
Good places to start are two vantage points, one from the bell tower of the striking Hallgrimskirkja church, designed to look like a Viking longboat, and the other from Perlan, a rotating restaurant in a giant glass dome that sits on four water towers. Both offer incredible views of the city and the surrounding volcanic landscapes.
Iceland’s unique geology and its history go hand-in-hand and the National and Saga museums offer insights into Iceland’s Viking past. Leaving the city opens up a different world—one that’s more like a lunar landscape.
Discover charred fields of solidified lava, roaring waterfalls, explosive geysers, and frozen glaciers, or simply sit back with an ice-cold drink in an Icelandic hot spring like the famed Blue Lagoon and take in this otherworldly scene.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Dutch capital Amsterdam is quite simply an art lover’s dream, so much so it’s said you can’t walk for more than a mile without coming across a masterpiece.
Two of the city’s most celebrated sons have their own dedicated spaces: the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of works by the famously tortured artist, while the Rembrandt House Museum recreates the home of the famed Dutch Master.
Both of their works can also be found alongside those of other Masters in the incredible Rijksmuseum, one of the best museums in Europe. The Stedelijk Museum, meanwhile, plays host to Matisses and Mondrians.
While this may all feel very high-brow, the city has a lovely laid-back feel. It’s compact, easy to get around and impossibly pretty thanks to its canal-lined streets, in turn lined with pretty 17th-century gabled houses in Downtown Amsterdam.
If you have at least three days in Amsterdam, make like a local and cycle around to discover superb restaurants and relaxed cafés, or take a trip out to the surrounding countryside for typically picture-postcard windmills and magnificent gardens.
Founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BC, Italy’s third-largest metropolis, the bustling port of Naples, is thought to be one of the oldest settled cities in the world, as well one of Europe’s most important ports, thanks to the access it gives to the wider Mediterranean.
The strategic location of this port city has long made it a magnet for visitors, many of whom enjoy its somewhat chaotic feel: big, brash and with its own way of doing things that can come across as more hot-headed than the supposedly cooler cities of the north.
Highlights of a visit include dining on the famed pizza, discovering its mix of old and new architecture, and sights such as the Piazza Municipio, Naples’ City Hall and the medieval castle Maschio Angioino.
A trip here also offers the chance to see some of Italy’s most incredible landscapes on the isle of Capri and the beautiful Amalfi Coast, as well as the doomed city of Pompeii, covered in and preserved by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.
Dating from the High Middle Ages, Germany’s capital, artsy Berlin, lived through a checkered 20th century and remnants of that past are abundant in the form of the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial and the remains of Checkpoint Charlie, one of the gates between the then-divided east and west parts of the city.
Another gate, the nearby Greek Revival Brandenburg Gate, is one of Berlin’s most alluring—and most photographed—landmarks and serves as a symbol of reunification.
More than 30 years later, Berlin is more culturally diverse and inspiring than ever, from the five world-famous museums on Museum Island to the graffitied East Side Gallery on the last remaining section of the Wall.
Alongside the famous sights, there’s café culture, shopping and top-class restaurants too, all of which make for a visit that stays long in the memory.
Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, could easily be dubbed the “Milan of the north”, such is its effortless Scandi-chic feel. Hip locals dressed in designer clothes from the city’s boutiques sip coffees and cocktails in stylish cafés and bars, and there are more Michelin stars in the city than in any other Scandinavian capital.
Yet despite this youthful feel, old-style “Wonderful Copenhagen” is still there to be discovered: Europe’s oldest theme park, the ornate Tivoli Gardens, the waterside Little Mermaid sculpture, the opulence of the royal Amalienborg Palace and the Old Stock Exchange.
Spending one day in Copenhagen is enough for a brief taste, as the city is compact and easy to navigate. Yet Copenhagen, one of the best summer destinations in Europe, is worth exploring in detail.
And with time to spare, you can even add a second country to your visit by whizzing across the magnificent Oresund Bridge to the Swedish city of Malmö, across the water.
Set in an archipelago of 14 islands, Stockholm’s maritime history is long and rich, with the heart of the city the tiny island of Gamla Stan, home to some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval buildings.
The city’s maritime (and ergo Viking) history can be explored in the fabulous Vasa Museum which is home to a famed restoration of a warship that was sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628.
The Royal Palace, the Stadshuset City Hall and the “Great Square” Stortorget, in the heart of Gamla Stan, should also feature highly on a list of must-sees.
Despite this deep history, Stockholm is a thoroughly modern capital with cool bars and high-end boutiques lining many of its streets and relatively new sights, such as Gamla Stan’s Ice Bar and the interactive ABBA The Museum, spring up all the time.
The Scandinavian city can be discovered on foot and by boat, while a quirky alternative is to jump on a rooftop tour of Gamla Stan that offers a unique bird’s-eye view of the city below.
Ready to delve deep into Europe’s culture? Browse our luxury cruises to Europe and plan your summer escape.