Wondering where to head this summer for your perfect break? Our run-down of the best summer destinations in Europe has you covered, whether you’re seeking a chic sojourn in the sun or adventures in the bright outdoors. There’s plenty here if you’re travelling with kids, too, or fancy sampling the continent’s finest food and wine. Read on for inspiration that’ll have you reaching for your passport.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
Beguiling historic centre on a bay circled by gargantuan cliffs. Perched on the edge of a majestic bay, the medieval Old Town of Kotor is the undisputed jewel in Montenegro’s crown. Though no longer Europe’s best-kept secret, Kotor’s sudden elevation to the tour bus league has failed to dim the timeless delights of its maze of cobbled alleyways and secluded piazzas.
Enclosing cafés and churches galore, the town walls are peered down upon by a series of hulking peaks. Down below, a harbour now bustling with sleek yachts marks the end of the Bay of Kotor, made fjord-like by the thousand-metre cliffs that rise almost vertically from the serene waters.
Going to visit Montenegro for the first time? Explore our in-depth first-timer's guide to Montenegro. And for even more information read our guide to the best things to do in Montenegro and have a look at Montenegro itineraries, created by our local experts.
Discover more accommodation options to stay in the Bay of Kotor.
Yet at its best – in the gaps between the urban sprawl, on the islands, is the remarkable beauty of the hills, the impossibly blue water after which the coast is named and in the special light that drew so many artists to paint here. It is without a doubt one of the best things to do in France.
As the summer playground of Europe’s youthful rich, St-Tropez is among the most overhyped spots in the Mediterranean. It remains undeniably glamorous. Its vast yachts and infamous champagne “spray” parties create an air of hedonistic excess in high summer.
Explore the abundance of accommodation options on the French Riviera.
Never considered holidays to the Azores? Think again. It's a chain of nine Atlantic islands — a volcanic archipelago which intersects Eurasian, North American and African plates.
Looking for the best summer destinations in Europe for natural beauty? The Azores is just that. These lush islands hide lakes and waterfalls. Expect bubbling hot springs and stunning flowery meadows. Plus Azores weather is warm year-round. The islands' population is around 250k. The unhurried pace of life makes holidays to the Azores even more appealing.
It's also the place for adventures, you can cycle, canyon or hike inland. Offshore there're opportunities for whale or dolphin watching. And surfing is easy and enjoyable on the Azores' spectacular sandy beaches.
Find more accommodation options to stay in the Azores.
Ibiza is wholly unique: its capital Ibiza Town is loaded with historic interest and is a draw for thousands of clubbers and LGBTQ visitors, while the north of the island has a distinctly bohemian character. Tiny Formentera has even better beaches than its neighbour and makes up in rustic charm what it lacks in cultural interest.
Mallorca, the largest Balearic island, has long since overcome its image as little more than the sun, booze and high-rise hotels. These days it is better known as one of the best summer destinations in Europe for stunning mountain scenery, fantastic hiking and cycling trail.
And finally, to the east, there’s Menorca – more subdued in its clientele, and here, at least, the modern resorts are kept at a safe distance from the two main towns. The capital Maó boasts the deepest harbour in the Med and the charming, pocket-sized port of Ciutadella.
With a mild Mediterranean climate and year-round sunshine, all four islands are particularly lovely in the winter months when they are at their quietest and most picturesque.
With historic sites spanning four millennia, an incredible coastline, and over 200 beautiful islands — it’s little wonder that Greece remains one of the best summer destinations in Europe.
Sand, sea and sun lovers will want to read up on the best Greek islands and the best beaches in Greece. If you fancy seeing cultural sights alongside soaking up the sun, scoot to Santorini. Here you can relax on a range of beautiful Greek beaches after visiting Akrotiri, the Greek Pompeii.
Experiencing a Santorini sunset is by far one of the best things to do in Greece.
Then there’s Athens. Where ancient myth meets modern metropolis, with the iconic Acropolis — voted one of best places on earth — looming large over the city, and family-friendly tavernas serving tasty Greek food you need to try.
Narrowly missing out on the top spot in our reader survey of the most beautiful country in the world, Italy is hard to beat when it comes to the best summer destinations in Europe offering adulterated romance.
From Tuscany’s rolling hills and vineyards to the dazzling Amalfi coast, to romance-rich cities like Rome, Florence and Venice. Italy isn’t short of beautiful places that'll help you realise your dreams of La Dolce Vita.
It’s a country that invites pleasure, with stunning islands like Sicily and Sardinia on which to enjoy the seclusion and bounty of beautiful Italian beaches. Not to mention the country's many eating and drinking experiences.
For foodies, Spain is one of the best summer destinations in Europe. From Seville’s sensational tapas to Jambugo’s jamón, to the seafood of Cádiz, foodies will find plenty to satisfy their appetite. For a taster, read our guide. However, if there’s one area of Spain that best showcases the country’s food and fiestas, it is Andalucía.
The region’s three most significant cities — Granada, Seville and Córdoba — display Spain’s Moorish architecture at its most magnificent, providing awe-inspiring backdrops to al fresco dining and Andalucían fiestas.
Sun and sand-seekers: don't miss the best beaches in Spain.
Top tip: take any chance you get to chow down churros in Madrid, one of the best street foods in the world.
Switzerland sparkles at pretty much every turn, with dozens of ways to enjoy exhilarating outdoor experiences. While adventurers will want to hike the Eiger in the spectacular Jungfrau region, you could also be inspired by scenery from a quaint mountain train.
That said, there’s no better way to experience Switzerland’s mountain passes than on your bike. Running between Italian-speaking Airolo and German-speaking Uri, the epic St. Gotthard Pass is hard to beat. Expect hair-raising hairpin bends, mountain villages, and, uniquely for the Swiss Alps, bone-shaking cobblestones.
Switzerland’s urban hotspots are as sparkling as its lakes and ice-capped mountains. Head to well-heeled Geneva for museums, scenic shopping and Old Town charm. Meanwhile, cosmopolitan Zurich offers café culture and nightlife in sublime surroundings
For more Swiss inspiration, check out our pictorial guidebook. Given that Switzerland has four official languages — German, French, Italian, and Romansch — you might also want to search our range of phrasebooks.
Portugal’s expansive coastline makes it a hotspot for water sports, with the Algarve boasting the country’s most sheltered — and popular — sandy beaches. In fact, this area is home to many of the best beaches in Portugal. Don't like crowds? Discover where you can get off the tourist trail in Portugal.
While the eastern Algarve is blessed with warm coves to swim in, the western coast has magnificent expanses of beach that face the mighty Atlantic Ocean, making for thrilling surfing and wind-surfing experiences – this is Portugal at its most exhilarating.
Chances are, you’ll need something to soak up all that world-class wine, so you’d do well to read up on the best restaurants in Portugal. This is a country that's packed with excellent eating and drinking experiences.
Sweden is a glorious destination for travellers seeking space, serenity and sports around the year. That said, experiencing the midsummer solstice celebration provides a mix of magic and mayhem you’ll never forget.
Celebrated across the weekend closest to the 24th of June, Sweden’s midsummer celebrations spark a mass exodus from towns and cities as everyone heads to the countryside and coasts. Dalarna, the island of Öland, and the Bohuslän coast are among the most popular spots.
Maypoles are erected in gardens and parks as gigantic fertility symbols, while trestle tables buckle under the weight of huge feasts. The party extends long into the light night, with dancing and drinking accompanied by accordions and fiddles.
From where to go, to what to expect, discover more about Sweden’s unforgettable midsummer celebrations. And for inspiration for visiting Sweden at any time of year, read our guide to the best things to do in Sweden.
Midsummer festivities aside, visiting Sweden in summer also means enjoying walks through forests and fragrant meadows, and fun lake-based activities. And Sweden's not short of fascinating cities, either. Stylish Stockholm offers great opportunities for rewarding day trips, while easy-going Gothenburg boasts a glorious Old Town and excellent museums and galleries.
Happily, Slovenia's elegant capital, Ljubljana, is a charming, convenient base from which to visit a host of the country’s attractions. This city has its own hilltop 15th-century castle to explore before you venture further afield.
Lake Bled is an absolute must-visit. A mere 50 minutes from the capital, this mirror-like expanse of water boasts a fairy tale island and cliff-top castle, with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
Perhaps most magical of all is the fact that Lake Bled somehow retains its atmosphere no matter how many visitors rock up for summer water sports, winter ice skating, and year-round enchantment.
Visiting Postojna Caves and Postjama Castle in southwest Slovenia, around 53 kilometres from Ljubljana, is another unmissable day trip. On arrival at the cave system, you’ll board a train that’ll transport you to a sublime subterranean world (Fraggle Rock, eat your heart out), culminating in a show-stopping, cathedral-like chamber.
A few kilometres northwest of Postojna caves, sixteenth-century Predjama Castle is a precariously-sited feat of architectural wonder — it’s built into and around an elevated cave entrance in the centre of a dramatic karst landscape.
Beyond its undeniably beautiful interior, Slovenia’s coastline might be short, but it’s incredibly sweet and varied. Discover the diversity of Slovenia’s coastline, from picturesque Piran to the spa town of Portorož, often described as Slovenia’s answer to the French Riviera.
If you’re interested in nature and ecology, you’ll want to know why there’s a buzz about Slovenia’s bee tourism.
There’s a reason Iceland made it into our run-down of the world’s best adventure holidays. In fact, there is a tonne of experiences to tempt adventurers to visit — from ice and lava-caving to glacier hiking and intercontinental snorkelling, and all against spectacular backdrops of glaciers, fjords and mighty volcanoes. See for yourself in our gallery.
Serious hikers will want to tackle Iceland’s most extreme trail. Alternatively, if you like to mix adventure with wildlife-watching and cultural experiences, check out our customisable trips to Iceland’s enchanting east, or the wild west, where cascading waterfalls and bubbling hot springs await.
Talking of springs, before you go, read up on Iceland’s best hot pools, and the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas. Taking the plunge is among the best things to do in Iceland. For more information, check out our guide for the best things to see in the summer in Iceland.
Alternatively, to take the hassle out of booking your accommodation (and everything else, for that matter), take a look at our Iceland itineraries
With its gorgeous Adriatic coast offering over 200km of brilliantly blue sea and more than 1000 islands to stop off on, Croatia is one of Europe’s top sailing destinations. This is just one of the factors that make it the best summer destination in Europe.
Sailing and island exploration aside, Croatia is also an excellent destination for adventure-seekers and culture vultures, as revealed in our run-down of the best things to do in Croatia.
Been there, done that? For those who like to get off the beaten track, Croatia has plenty of unusual things to do, among them visiting the zany Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia's capital of cool.
Ready to pack that suitcase? Search the Rough Guides Shop to find the perfect guidebook or ebook to enhance your summer in Europe. Counting the pennies? Leaving a bit earlier? Explore our guide to the best places to visit in spring.
Alternatively, to be freed from the stress of planning and booking your break, find out why taking a tailor-made trip makes perfect sense.
We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.
Header image: the Algarve, Portugal © Shutterstock
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her