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6 summer hot spots for cool European travel

Key takeaways

  • Rising temperatures are making destinations like Madrid and Athens a challenge for travelers looking for a summer European getaway.
  • Vacationers looking for a more temperate summer trip may want to consider less-well-known destinations in Northern Europe, such as Estonia and Lithuania.
  • Higher elevation locales in Southern Europe, such as Slovenia's Lake Bled, may also offer some respite from the heat.

When Taylor Schweitzer, 32, traveled to Norway last year, she was excited about the sights and proximity to nature. But there was also another reason she chose the European destination: the weather. “When you go visit the sights, you don’t want to remember how miserably hot it was,” says Schweitzer, an event planner in Chicago.

As crippling summer heat—and even air pollution caused by forest fires—becomes more common across some parts of Southern Europe, some travelers are rethinking their must-visit summer destinations. Some are skipping trips to places such as Madrid, Athens, the south of France, or parts of Italy and swapping them for off-the-radar summer spots further up north. “People are coming with a renewed interest in northerly places,” says Charlie Neville, marketing director at JayWay Travel, a New York-based tour operator focused on European destinations. While many of the places can seem off-the-radar to US-based travelers, they are already popular with Europeans, he adds.

According to, a travel booking platform, there was a 14% increase in US travelers traveling to the Nordic countries in 2023, compared to 2022. And 2023 data from the European Travel Commission shows a 10% dip in the number of Europeans planning to visit the Mediterranean next June through November.

Many destinations further north also offer direct flights or train access with new routes from discount airlines opening to cater to increased interest in the last few years. Whether you’re considering the Baltics, Scandinavia, or mountain towns further south, here are a few hot spots experts recommend for a cooler summer trip to Europe.

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The total escape: West Estonian Archipelago

Estonia, a country tucked away in the Baltics, includes 1,500 rugged islands that are seemingly untouched by time. Explore the 3 largest—Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, and Vormsi—which offer a blend of sightseeing and relaxation. Summer temps reach the high 60s (Fahrenheit) but are still comfortable enough for vacationers who want to spend time both in and out of the water. “Estonia’s islands are out there and off the beaten path,” says Neville, who has seen an increase in interest for 2024.

The national park: Curonian Spit, Lithuania

Fly into Klaipėda, Lithuania, then hop on a ferry, and you’ll be well on your way to the ideal getaway: the Curonian Spit, a 60-mile prehistoric sand dune that separates the lagoon from the Baltic Sea and is featured on the UNESCO world heritage list. With miles of beaches along the curved strip of sand and vivid blue waters, the Spit draws visitors from all over come summertime. “It’s quite dramatic,” says Neville. His company offers a tour to the Spit, with travelers using Klaipėda, a charming port town, as their homebase, he adds.

The lakeside town: Lake Bled, Slovenia

The fairytale glacial lake includes a picturesque tiny island home to a seventeenth-century church. Sitting at the foothills of the Julian Alps, the town benefits from cooler weather and fresh air. In the summer months, when temps reach the 80s, visitors can swim or take boats out on the lake, says Tara Cappel who runs FTLO, a Los Angeles-based travel agency catering to solo travelers that launched a new tour to Slovenia this year. Travelers typically take the 1.5-hour bus from Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana for the ideal mix of city and nature, she adds.

The otherworldly landscape: Norwegian fjords

The dramatic landscape of Norwegian fjords, which are slivers of inlets of the ocean between high cliffs, are seeing growing interest in the warmer months. Travelers who explore the dramatic landscape are often mesmerized by the rugged beauty. “People are realizing the fjords are amazing in the summer with long days of sunlight and incredible nature,” says Justin Huxter, co-founder of Cartology Travel.

But some travelers are surprised by how different the summer temps can feel. Bradley August, 42, who traveled to Norway last summer to avoid the heat in New York, says the chilly water was unexpected. “It was really cold—it almost felt like we needed our winter jackets for the beach,” says August.

The island-hopping adventure: Stockholm Archipelago

Travelers are exploring Stockholm’s cozy fishing villages as an alternative to the Greek islands, says Cappel. The roughly 30,000 islands have about 200 which are inhabited and offer anything from fresh casual seafood spots to fine dining. There are also plenty of quaint coastal towns without the crowds. “Searching for milder weather is opening people up to more ideas of what a summer vacation can be,” she says. For next year, FTLO has had to double the number of summer trips offered in Scandinavia, she adds.

The trendy capital: Tallinn, Estonia

This medieval old town with plenty of nightlife, museums, and innovative restaurants still feels like an unexplored part of Europe. Travelers love to understand both the Nordic and Russian influences of the town’s culture. And the walkable city comes alive during the summer months, with both visitors and residents flocking to Tallinn’s many outdoor cafés and bars. “Everyone seems to start there,” says Neville. Many visitors go on to Parnu, a nearby beach town, he adds.

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