Summer in Europe can be miserably hot, and is often crowded since it seems the entire continent takes their own holidays during those months. Despite that, June through August is a great season to visit the “Old World” if you follow some simple dos and don’ts.
DO plan and book early
Almost everywhere a tourist wants to go will be filling up with other travellers. Make your hotel reservations, buy your flights, and book your train itineraries as early as possible. If you’re worried about having to change plans, some travel insurance can ease some of that pain. While you’re at it, buy advance tickets to hot spots like the London Eye or Eiffel Tower so you can skip the queues when you arrive.
DON’T resign yourself to overspending
Summer is peak season, which does hike up prices for everything from airfare, to lodgings, to meals in some restaurants. But a little research ahead of time – including travel aggregators (like Cheapflights) and local guidebooks can help you stretch your travel budget to make more out of your holiday.
DO practice tactical eating
Europeans typically eat a long lunch and light dinner, often separated by a brief nap during vacations. Following their lead gives you a pair of great advantages. Lunch fare is usually cheaper than dinner throughout the region, and it lets you either sleep through the heat of the afternoon or spend it in the shade of an eatery.
DON’T rule out alternative lodgings
Standard tourist hotels hike their rates during the peak season, and are crowded enough to suffer reductions in service. Hostels and homestays, or room-sharing services like AirBnB offer beds for a fraction of the price. Because the owners of these places are often away on holidays of their own, the rates sometimes actually improve during the summer.
DO hit the museums in the afternoon
(Most) European museums are air-conditioned. Europe is hot during the summer. If you’re not taking siesta or cooling yourself in a shady bar between one and four, the museums are a great place to spend those hours. You were going to visit them anyway, so plan your outdoor activities for mornings and evenings and bridge that gap indoors.
DON’T leave your hotel without a bottle of water
You will get hot and thirsty throughout the day, and the local vendors will overcharge you for bottled water. It’s so bad that wine and beer is often cheaper in the larger cities. Pro tip: wrap your bottle in a towel or similar piece of cloth to keep it cool well into early afternoon.
DO research local festivals and events
It sometimes seems like every European town has a festival, opening or three each summer, accompanied by free events and a cornucopia of cheap local foods. A little Internet mojo can identify all of the free events happening along the route of your visits. Truly enterprising travellers could plan their schedule to follow the festivals throughout their stay.
DON’T skimp on the little things
You will hate yourself for saving a hundred dollars by booking a room without air conditioning, for example, or for buying a 1GB card for your camera instead of springing for a TB. A room with a kitchen is bigger, and can save money by letting you get breakfast form the market instead of a restaurant. Sure, you want to save a little money, but some corners you just shouldn’t cut.
DO consider the off-path destinations
Paris and Rome might be crowded and hot in July, but Scandinavia and Eastern Europe aren’t. They’re also less expensive (well, maybe not Oslo) and offer more locations that you’ll be the only person in your circle of friends to have seen and done. If you’re set on the Big Ticket cities, still plan some time for a trip into the countryside. A day or two in a small village or at a farmstay are more pleasant and can be a memorable adventure of their own. National tourism and restoration bureaus can be an excellent information source for this kind of adventure: they’re often pushing a less-visited region, and can provide discounts and booking assistance.
DON’T get snobby about McDonald’s and Starbucks
Say what you want about the quality of their offerings, these global chains made their billions from consistent customer experience. In this context, that means air conditioning and free toilets. Besides, sometimes you need a taste of home to re-centre after being bombarded by exotic experiences. Yes, you want your romantic dinner on the Seine and your cappuccino on a Piazza, but for a pause that refreshes don’t be embarrassed if you crave a little taste of home.
DO spend the night in day-trip towns
Spots like Toledo, San Marino and Lyon are often booked as day-trip destinations for people staying in the larger nearby cities. By spending a night or two in these less popular destinations, you get to experience a mellower, night-time vibe and discover an area few people take the time to see. Bonus points for shifting the paradigm and staying in the day-trip town, making day trips into the nearby metropolis.
DON’T limit yourself to the promotional “poster children”
Sites with big promotional budgets may rule the web, the TV and most of the magazines, but you can find comparable experiences for many of your goals by simply googling “places just like XX in (country)”. There’s only one Eiffel Tower, but there are plenty of perfect beaches or picturesque farm villages. The ones with the highest promotional budget become the most crowded, while those without are more relaxed and less expensive.
Planning your trip with your goals firmly in mind is the best advice you can follow for travel in any season. For summers in Europe, it’s doubly important to best navigate the heat, crowds and extra costs. Decide what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, then put together the best plan possible. The sweltering crush of Paris in August is no place to try to figure out what to do next.
(Feature image: Marjan Lazarevski)