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Anywhere but Paris: Your 2024 Guide to a Crowd-Free, Affordable, and Refreshing European Summer

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Lori Zaino
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Lori Zaino

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Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lan...
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The 2024 Summer Olympics are set for July and August in Paris. In late 2023, accommodations in the City of Light were up 300% for these peak dates, with hotel rooms costing more than €1,000 per night. Combine high prices and intense crowds with the swelteringly high temps that plague many parts of Western Europe in the summer months, and — poof! — those visions of a romantic, dreamy (and affordable) summer vacation in a city like Paris or destinations like Spain, Greece, and Italy, seem to disappear.

But all is not lost. If you want to avoid the crowds, high prices, and intense heat this summer (or at least avoid 2 out of the 3), you can still have a wonderful European vacation in summer 2024. Here’s how to plan your trip and where to go.

How To Choose a Destination in Europe for Summer 2024

If you’re looking for the least crowded cities in Europe in summer, start by avoiding some of the most popular destinations, such as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. Data shows that bookings in these spots increased by up to 86% from 2022 to 2023, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

When it comes to European travel in the summer of 2024, here’s what to consider:

Crowds

Certain destinations are becoming increasingly popular, especially in summer. Events such as the Olympics mean that a city like Paris will be busy and full this summer. Other spots, like the aforementioned Rome, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, are seeing major increases in summer bookings, meaning you’d face long lines and crowds, especially at popular tourist attractions, in these cities.

You may also want to avoid crowded and popular islands such as Mykonos, where a lack of tourist and transportation infrastructure can make it hard to get around or access key attractions.

Heat

The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record in Europe, according to scientists, and as someone who survived that summer in Spain (and 15 summers before that in the Mediterranean), I can attest to the fact that European summers in many popular destinations are slowly but surely becoming unbearable. Reports of tourists collapsing outside the Colosseum in the hot Roman sun and wildfires in Greece in 2023 are making locals and future tourists concerned about what summer 2024 will bring.

Take temperature into consideration when planning European travel in the summer of 2024. Ensure that if you do choose a particularly hot destination, your accommodation has air conditioning — it’s not a given in Europe.

Prices

Summer is one of the most expensive times to travel, especially in Europe. And with peak award pricing on almost every airline, gone are the days you could expect to catch a deal using points or miles. With both cash and reward prices high, you’d spend a lot just flying to Europe this summer.

Choosing a more affordable destination (maybe skipping Paris, where hotel rooms are triple the price, thanks to the Olympics) can help you save money on things like accommodation, meals, and activities.

The 10 Best Destinations in Europe This Summer: Avoid the Crowds, Beat the Heat, and Save Money

Here are some of the best destinations for avoiding crowds, beating the heat, or getting better prices this summer. Although each place might not meet all 3 requirements, we did our best to pull in cities and islands where you can expect to win with at least 2 out of the 3 factors.

1. Istria, Croatia

Rovinj Istria
The charming city of Rovinj in Istria, Croatia. Image Credit: Moritz Bechert via Pixabay

Let all the tourists head to Dubrovnik, fighting the sweaty crowds through the tight streets, attempting to have an authentic moment in the tiny walled city. Yes, Dubrovnik is incredible, but it’s best to visit in the off-season. Spend summer in the real Croatia: Istria.

Istria is a peninsula in northwest Croatia, home to around 300 miles of stunning coastline and centuries’ worth of historic sites. It’s known among locals for its quaint seaside and hilltop villages like Rovinj, Motovun (get your medieval wall fix here instead of Dubrovnik), Porec, and Hum. Porec features one of Croatia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Euphrasian Basilica, while Hum is reportedly the smallest town in the world.

Although Istria sees Croatian tourism in the summer, you wouldn’t encounter nearly as many visitors as you would along the Dalmatian Coast — it’s also more affordable and cooler than other areas of the country.

One of the best ways to explore the island is via road trip — fly into Pula (PUY) then rent a car, or take a road trip from a larger city further from the peninsula, like Zagreb (ZAG) or Zadar (ZAD).

Hot Tip:

If you’re renting a car in a European country, make sure to rent using a card that gives you bonus points for car rentals and also offers car rental insurance, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Use the card for your car rental for 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points and benefit from primary collision damage waiver insurance, which can cover you in the case of theft or damage. Make sure to read the fine print before renting to ensure you get coverage in whatever European country you’re visiting.

2. Azores, Portugal

Azores
The Azores in Portugal. Image Credit: Yves Alarie via Unsplash

The Azores, a Portuguese archipelago of 9 volcanic islands, lies in the middle of the Atlantic, slightly more than halfway between the U.S. and Europe. The off-the-beaten-path destination remains pleasantly cool(ish) in the summer, never seems to feel crowded (ferry to the smaller islands for fewer crowds or stick around the larger islands for more to do), and is affordable. You can also fly nonstop to the largest island, Sao Miguel Ponte Delgada Airport (PDL), on Azores Airlines from New York (JFK) in under 6 hours.

The island’s remote location and dramatic scenery (think volcanic craters, craggy cliffs, and moss-covered mountains) make it feel decidedly exotic, from its bubbling natural hot springs to its famous crater lakes. Whale-watching is a popular activity on the island, and summer is the season you have the best chance of spotting sperm whales. It’s also an optimal destination for diving, especially if you want to see whales up close. The islands’ waters are home to nearly 30 different whale species.

If you prefer to taste wines, head to Pico Island, which has the most wine production, or islands like Terceira and Graciosa. Thanks to the islands’ unique position in the Atlantic and their volcanic soil, Azores wines are sharp, flavorful, and mineral-y.

Don’t leave without visiting some of the Azores’ famous lakes: Sete Cidades, a collection of lakes inside a volcanic crater, and Lagoa do Fogo, prime for hiking.

3. The Lake District, Italy

Monte Isola
Monte Isola, an island in Lake Iseo in Italy. Image Credit: Reinhold Schlager via Pixabay

The Italian Lake District has some of the most picturesque and dramatic fresh waters in the world — clear waters backed by towering mountains, charming villages, and historic palazzi. This destination is easily accessible from hubs like Milan by car or train, but if you avoid the touristy Lake Como, you’ll find that the lesser-known lakes are incredibly beautiful and less busy in summer, like lakes Iseo, Garda, Maggiore, Orta, and Lugano.

While these destinations aren’t particularly cheap, you can find more affordable B&Bs, hotels, or home rentals here than in Lake Como. And though it will be hot, it usually isn’t nearly as bad as Italy’s southern coastal beach towns or islands such as Sicily, which can see extremely high temps in the summer.

There’s plenty to do for all types of travelers around the lakes. The towns that surround them are incredibly quaint, featuring lakeside dining, boutiques, and bicycle rentals. You can boat or ferry around the lakes or hike in the nearby hills. To avoid the tourist hordes, head to Lake Iseo, and make sure to visit Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island.

Hot Tip:

Driving Italy’s weaving roads can feel daunting, so instead of renting a car, consider using the country’s Trenitalia services. Frecciarosa is the train operator’s high-speed line, though most of the trains heading to lake towns are regional services leaving from major cities like Milan.

4. Lapland, Finland

Finland
Finland is especially charming in the summer. Image Credit: LUM3N via Pixabay

An increasingly popular summer destinations as the Mediterranean gets hotter and hotter, northern Finland’s vast outdoor expanse has plenty of space for everyone. Although it’s popular in winter (Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland’s capital, is where Santa Claus lives), it’s also the land of the midnight sun, where you can actually enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight in the early summer. The solstice is a particularly popular time to visit, when you can experience never-ending parties and celebrations. And Christmas in July doesn’t sound all that bad, either.

The midnight sun phenomenon continues through Finnish Lapland’s countryside, where you should head if you want to get off the grid and into nature. Besides hiking and biking, you can also pan for gold, do yoga with reindeer, canoe, kayak, river raft, or experience Finnish saunas (the area has summer highs of around 60 degrees).

Besides the more traditional hotels and rental cottages, this area also has many unusual types of lodging that adventurous travelers can test out. Consider staying in a treehouse, igloo (even in the summer), glass hut, log cabin, wilderness lodge, or other original accommodation.

5. Canary Islands, Spain

Canary Islands
A white sandy beach in Spain’s Canary Islands. Image Credit: Roy Buri fvia Pixabay

These 7 Spanish islands are actually closer to Africa than Spain. Still, don’t expect scorching summer temps, as these islands remain breezy and cooler than most of mainland Spain. Not only are these islands affordable and enjoyable destinations for a vacation (think sun, sand, and budget all-inclusive hotels), but, surprisingly, summer isn’t high season. Because the islands have year-round sun and warmth, winter is actually when most Europeans head over to defrost, meaning you can easily enjoy a crowd-free summer vacation here.

Gran Canaria and Tenerife (you can now fly nonstop on United from Newark (EWR)) are the largest islands, but if you want to surf, head to Fuerteventura, known for its empty sands and beginner-to-advanced-level swells. You’ll find yourself all by your lonesome if you head to the volcano-backed Cofete Beach, part of Jandía Natural Reserve. Most visitors don’t bother driving 30 minutes on a dirt road to arrive at the remote, lengthy shoreline, but the rugged, golden sands are worth it.

Thanks to its varying elevations and microclimates, Tenerife is full of natural wonders, including black sand beaches, vineyards, cloud forests, and Teide, the highest point in Spain. Meanwhile, the pristine island of La Gomera features a magical laurel forest just an hourlong ferry ride from Tenerife.

Hot Tip:

The Canary Islands are popular among European tourists, so you can fly from nearly any major European hub to the larger islands like Tenerife (TFS) and Gran Canaria (LPA), as well as Fuerteventura (FUE) and Lanzarote (ACE), on a variety of full-fare and low-cost carriers. If you prefer to visit the smaller islands, like El Hierro, La Gomera, and La Palma, you may have to take a ferry from one of the larger islands.

6. Lake Annecy, France

Lake Annecy
France’s charming Lake Annecy. Image Credit: Pat via Pixabay

If you want to visit Paris for the Olympics, go, then immediately escape the hot and pricey city for a refreshing lakeside retreat. Many French islands and coastal destinations like St. Tropez and Cannes are crowded, hot, and overpriced in the summer months, but Lake Annecy, even when busy, feels delightfully relaxing and spacious.

Although Vieille Ville, the most popular town along the lake, may feel busy, its colorful architecture, background of towering peaks, and fairytale charm (think enticing flea markets, baroque churches, bistro after bistro with outdoor seating, and the Thiou River) have earned it the nickname “Venice of the Alps.”

The lake itself is ringed by pine-covered woods, rolling hills, and the occasional chateau, as well as several miles of walking trails. Lakeside beaches are the perfect places to relax and cool off with a refreshing swim, followed by a picnic among the verdant lake surroundings. You can also rent bikes and cruise around the lake to take in the full picture.

Note that even though Lake Annecy is in France, if you’re coming from the U.S. without a stop in Paris, the closest airport is Geneva (GVA) in Switzerland.

7. Faroe Islands, Denmark

Lighthouse Mykines
The lighthouse in Mykines on the Faroe Islands. Image Credit: Philipp Waldhauer via Unsplash

Getting to the remote Faroe Islands isn’t as simple as getting to most other European destinations, which is why most visitors head over in summer when the better weather means easier access. Still, although summer is high season, the locals boast that you’ll still encounter more sheep than people (there are more than 70,000 sheep there), and there’s also a large population of puffins.

The islands are north of Scotland, between Norway and Iceland. Although the archipelago is Danish, it’s not part of the EU. Thanks to its far-flung location, the islands’ natural wonders are pristine — imagine sea cliffs like the famous Drangarnir rock formation, waterfalls, and even manmade attractions like grass-roof houses.

Don’t miss Lake Sorvagsvatn, a lake on cliffs that tower above the ocean, and plan to take a day trip to Mykines (arrive via ferry or helicopter) to view its lighthouse and native seabirds, including puffins.

Hot Tip:

While you’d think getting to such a remote destination would be expensive, it’s actually not too bad. You can fly there for a couple hundred euros round-trip from destinations like Copenhagen (CPH) and Reykjavik (KEF) to Vágar (VAE). The Faroe Islands has its own airline, Atlantic Airways, which operates flights from destinations like London Gatwick (LGW), Paris (CDG), Barcelona (BCN), and other destinations. The airline also operates a once-per-week, nonstop seasonal route from New York Stewart (SWF) to Vágar (VAE) in late summer into early fall.

8. Paros and Antiparos, Greece

Antiparos Greece
The whites, blues, and florals of Antiparos, Greece. Image Credit: Dimitris Kiriakakis via Unsplash

Although many visitors to the Greek islands want to start with the ever-popular Santorini, which is more expensive than ever, or Mykonos, where it’s impossible to get a taxi or beach chair in the summer, there are hundreds of other Greek islands out there. If you’re really looking for a crowd-free European vacation, going to one of the other ones is the best idea you may have all summer.

Our top picks for a Greek island summer vacation to beat the crowds and keep prices in check are Paros and Antiparos. Although the main port of Paros, Parikia, may feel busy, you should be able to get a spot on the beach without issue around the rest of the island, even during the summer months. You may want to stay in the charming, whitewashed town of Naoussa as opposed to the more crowded Parikia, though — hotel stays are significantly cheaper there than in Santorini. You can also reach the nearby island Naxos with a 40-minute ferry ride.

To get even further off the beaten path, take the 10-minute boat ride from Pounda port in Paros to Antiparos. Antiparos doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife — it’s a quieter island for relaxation and escaping the crowds. Both islands are relatively windy, ideal for kitesurfing or windsurfing.

9. Slovenia

Slovenia
Summer in Slovenia is green and beautiful. Image Credit: Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson via Unsplash

Summer is Slovenia’s busiest tourist season, but it still won’t feel that crowded unless you head for the packed shores of Lake Bled. It’s the ideal country for a family road trip, so you can stop and see many different types of landscapes and have distinct experiences, even with the kids in tow. The first country to be given an award for being a “green country” by the Green Destinations organization, Slovenia is perfect for sustainable travelers.

Start with a visit to Postojna Cave Park, a network of caves complete with a castle built into the side of a mountain. Particularly well-suited for children is a cave train that they can explore the tunnels on. Next, go to one of Slovenia’s 14 certified natural thermal spas. Many are family-friendly, and it’s a great way to cool off during a hot summer (which isn’t even that hot compared to many other European destinations).

Family-friendly hikes are simple throughout the Julian Alps, thanks to a variety of beginner trails and paths, which are well-marked and easy to find. More advanced cyclists and hikers, as well as adventure enthusiasts, may prefer Triglav National Park — you can also kayak, raft, canyon, and paraglide there.

Finally, only a small portion of Slovenia is on the coast (the country has less than 30 miles of seaside coastline), but it’s still worth a visit, especially Izola. Just expect pebble beaches instead of sand.

10. Beara Peninsula, Ireland

Caha Mountains
The Caha Mountains in Ireland. Image Credit: Colin C Murphy via Unsplash

Stay cool this summer with a trip to Ireland. While you’ve probably heard of the popular Ring of Kerry driving route, are you familiar with the Ring of Beara? This lesser-known road trip route takes you to charming villages, isolated natural wonders, and plenty to do and see.

The route is just under 100 miles, running through ranges like the Caha Mountains and the sandstone Slieve Miskish Mountains, as well as tiny villages, waterfalls, and stunning coastlines featuring offshore islands. Although most will probably want to drive the route, cyclists may want to tackle part of it on a bike, like the Caha Pass.

Popular stops include hikes or walks through the woods and waterfalls of Glengarriff Nature Reserve; dining in Kenmare, a foodie destination with colorful rowhouses; and Garnish Island, which you can reach on a ferry from Glengarriff Pier, home to a colony of adorable seals. Drive through Healy Pass, admiring the rolling hills and sheep, stopping to take photos along the way.

Final Thoughts

A European summer vacation is a popular choice for many U.S. travelers for good reason. The continent is home to iconic tourist attractions, incredible beaches, and millennia of history. But overtourism, high prices, and extreme heat can ruin a vacation, especially during the high season.

Make sure your trip is affordable, refreshing, and crowd-free by choosing one of the destinations on this list for your summer 2024 vacation. Save those blockbuster, popular European spots for the shoulder or low season for better prices, fewer crowds, and cooler weather.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Europe more crowded in July or August?

Europe is crowded in both July and August. However, many U.S. visitors come in July, while European tourists tend to take vacation in August. Either way, both July and August are busy times for visiting many European countries, especially ones like France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy.

Where is it not too hot in July in Europe?

If you’re trying to beat the heat, head to northern countries like Ireland, Norway, Finland, or Iceland. Archipelagos like the Azores and the Canary Islands are cooler than mainland Portugal and Spain in July and August.

How can we avoid crowds in Europe in August?

Avoid crowds in Europe in August by heading to lesser-known destinations. The most popular tourist attractions will always be busy during summer in Europe, but consider heading to quieter islands, nature reserves, national parks, and more off-the-beaten-path spots to escape the tourist hordes.

Which European country has the most American tourists?

Tourists coming from the U.S. frequently visit European countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany. Portugal is another top destination for U.S. travelers, thanks to its affordability.

 

 

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About Lori Zaino

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lanka, Sicily, and Myanmar.

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