I know some people who go back to exactly the same European destination each year for a summer holiday. Even if they’re flying all the way from Australia or the US, they like the idea of familiarity.
I can understand that – it’s nice to know what to expect and not have any surprises. But, at the same time, there are so many amazing place to visit in Europe, it’s a shame not to experience more of them.
So that’s why I want to try and offer some advice. I would like to suggest some new places that you may not have visited before, but also try to give you an idea of what to expect and what you can do there.
I really do think these are some of the best European cities to visit – particularly in summer AND particularly in 2019. These are the places that I know are getting more popular or have changed since you last heard about them.
All of these places you can visit independently and are good for either a weekend city break or for a longer holiday.
If you would like to move around a bit more, would like someone to do all the organising, or are on your own, you might like to consider a tour.
As you may know, I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and I’m happy to tell you they’re having a big sale at the moment, which includes up to 15% off European tours. (Although the sale finishes at the end of March.)
Click here to see how much you can save! (There are also savings on other parts of the world.)
But now, let’s get on with it – here are my suggestions for the best European cities to visit in summer in 2019:
1. Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy
It’s hard to go wrong in Italy. Choose anywhere in the country and you’re guaranteed amazing food, interesting history, and beautiful views.
But there is something extra special about the Amalfi Coast – and it’s certainly become one of the trendiest destinations in Europe in recent years.
The small peninsula that stretches out from near Naples is covered in thick forest between its dramatic cliffs and small beaches. You can find places to stay in small villages like Positano or the larger towns like Sorrento.
It’s easy to spend the days on the Amalfi Coast lazing by the water, sipping drinks in the cafes, or hiking through the trees.
Highlight: My favourite thing about the Amalfi Coast is stopping for a refreshing Aperol Spritz after hiking in the beautiful landscape (the Path of the Gods is the most famous hiking trail).
Special tip: The traffic can be a nightmare on the Amalfi Coast so, if you’re planning on doing some day trips, you might want to stay near Sorrento or Salerno so you can use the train.
2. Athens, Greece
Greece is always a popular summer European destination and it’s easy to see why – the hot dry weather makes it perfect for the island beaches.
But there is more to Greece than just Santorini or Mykonos. In fact, I think one of the best spots in Greece is Athens, even though it has traditionally had a bad reputation.
The city has a new lease of life following the economic crisis and there are loads of hip bars and exiting new restaurants that have popped up. It’s also much more affordable than the typical Greek holiday destinations.
And besides the great food and drink, you’ve got millennia of history here. The Acropolis really is one of the most stunning sights you’ll ever see and it’s easy to spend a few days in Athens seeing the other main sights and museums.
Highlight: For something special, you can take part in a volunteer project called ‘This is my Athens‘, where proud locals show tourists around for free.
3. Belfast, Northern Ireland
It wasn’t so long ago that you would be (rightfully) worried about your safety if you were visiting Belfast. But, my, how things have changed! Belfast is now one of the most vibrant cities in the UK, full of fascinating culture and a new food and drink scene.
That’s not to say it’s whitewashed its history – the city still feels a bit gritty and there is plenty of evidence from ‘The Troubles’. But learning more about this by visiting the Peace Wall murals, for instance, is part of what makes a visit to Belfast so interesting.
The redeveloped Cathedral Quarter shows a modern side of the city, though, and there’s plenty to explore, including Titanic Belfast – one of the best museums in Belfast.
And, of course, there are lots of Game of Thrones filming locations that you can visit from here.
Highlight: Although the city itself is great, one of the best things you can do is a day trip to see the Giant’s Causeway a little further up the coast.
Special tip: I love all the modern street art that has been popping up – partly because of festivals that encourage top artists to use the city as their canvas. Take a street art tour or wander around the Cathedral Quarter to see some for yourself.
4. Bruges, Belgium
Although much of Belgium is charming, I think Bruges is clearly the most beautiful of all the country’s cities.
Colourful four-level homes rise up on either side of the canals that cut through the historic centre, while grand Gothic brick structures loom over the central square. Wandering the streets offer stunning scenes around every turn.
You can see all of the historic centre within a day but there are enough other sights, such as the Groeninge Museum, that justify staying for a few nights.
Highlight: To see a different perspective of Bruges, make sure you take a boat tour along the canals – but try to avoid mid-morning when most of the tour groups come.
5. Budapest, Hungary
I’ve never met anyone who’s been to Budapest who didn’t love it. It’s one of those cities that stays with you – beautiful architecture surrounded by vibrant culture.
The streets of Budapest are full of grand old buildings and there’s a reason that it’s nicknamed the ‘Paris of the East’. But it has what I think Paris is missing – a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
You can spend some time exploring the historic sites – particularly massive Buda Castle and the other Baroque buildings on the Buda side of the river. And you can relax in one of the grand baths of Budapest.
Or you can explore the more bohemian neighbourhoods, such as the Jewish Quarter, which are full of quirky bars and street art. For an insight into the modern history, I would also suggest visiting the House of Terror.
Highlight: The cheap beer! It really is a city that encourages you to relax and spend some time with friends over a cold drink.
Special tip: My favourite thing about Budapest is the Danube River so make sure you spend some time walking or cycling along its bank, or take a river cruise to appreciate a different perspective.
6. Graz, Austria
Graz may be Austria’s second-largest city but I feel like it hasn’t got as much attention as other places like Salzburg or Innsbruck. But it has become much more popular in recent years – and it’s easy to see why!
The historic centre of Graz is a World Heritage Site and is full of beautiful buildings. By tram, you can also reach the stunning 17th-century Eggenberg Palace.
But modern neighbourhoods also bring a hipster vibe to the city and world-class museums have excellent contemporary art exhibitions.
But what really makes Graz stand out is the love of life. Culturally, the city has a lot of influence from its southern neighbours so you can join the locals who like to spend their evenings at outdoor tables, eating and drinking with friends.
Highlight: If you can, plan your trip for the annual Long Table event, where you can have a delicious dinner in the main square with hundreds of other guests!
Special tip: Buy the special Joanneum Pass, which gives you access to 17 excellent museums for a very reasonable price.
7. Hamburg, Germany
The joy of Hamburg is in its variety. It is authentically German but, as a port city, also has influences from around the world. As you explore its different neighbourhoods, you’ll find a melting pot of cultures.
While some people might choose to focus on the nightlife on the famous Reeperbahn, others will spend a morning at the world’s largest toy train museum.
You can spend time at the hip cafes of Karolinenviertel, the busy bars of Schulterblatt, or the historic buildings in the Old City. Hamburg is diverse enough that you’ll find plenty to do for a few days.
Highlight: My favourite part of Hamburg in summer is Oevelgönne, where bars open up at a beach on one of the riverbanks.
Special tip: Hamburg is one of those cities where I would highly recommend doing a local tour when you arrive to get a sense of the different neighbourhoods that exist.
8. Kotor, Montenegro
For the past few years, ever since the coastal cities of Croatia got a bit too overcrowded, those in the know have been heading to the coast of Montenegro instead. Now the secret’s getting out, it’s become one of Europe’s summer hotspots!
The jewel in Montenegro’s coast is Kotor, the charming historic town set in a stunning bay surrounded by mountains. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful spots in the Balkans.
Like much of this region, the food is very affordable and the drinks are plentiful, so it makes for a great place to visit in Europe in summer.
Highlight: It’s not an easy climb but the best view of Kotor is from the old fortress at the top of the hill above town.
Special tip: Accommodation in Kotor itself can get very full and expensive in summer so I would suggest booking early – or consider staying at nearby Budva instead.
9. Lisbon, Portugal
There’s no doubt that one of the most popular European destinations at the moment is Lisbon. With amazing food, cute neighbourhoods, and cheap prices, it’s easy to see why!
Lisbon has actually become so trendy that the crowds are starting to get a little bit out of control – but I recommend going sooner rather than later because I think it’ll only get worse.
There’s plenty to explore, from the historic Belem area, to the local neighbourhoods, and even the art gallery in the metro stations. Lisbon is a stylish city but it’s also blessed with a beautiful natural setting.
However, I think the highlight of any trip to Lisbon will be the food and drink. There’s a burgeoning dining scene here and you won’t have trouble finding bars with great cocktails and amazing views.
Highlight: From Lisbon, it’s just a short train ride to Sintra where you can spend a magical day in this romantic fairy tale landscape.
Special tip: A lot of guides recommend catching the famous Tram 28 to see the sights – but I think that’s a bad idea and have written here about a better alternative.
10. Pafos, Cyprus
Cyprus may be the ultimate European destination for those looking to make the most of summer. After all, it has more than 320 days of sunshine every year!
The resort destination of Pafos has long been a popular place for people going to Cyprus who want to sun bake all day – but I think it’s also growing as a cultural centre.
After all, this is the place where the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was said to have been born – either because it’s where people first worshipped her or because it’s where legend says she first washed up on land.
Aside from swimming and drinking, you can spend some time in Pafos exploring the archaeological sites related to Aphrodite and the other incredible historic sites in the region.
And the surrounding area also has some beautiful natural sights, a wine trail, and lots of local produce to taste.
Highlight: The Kato Pafos Archaeological Park is a World Heritage Site and has an amazing collection of ancient mosaics that are sure to impress!
Special tip: Hire a car or a driver and go on a day trip through the Akamas Peninsula and stop for some wine tasting along the way.
11. Prague, Czech Republic
When I mentioned the cheap beer in Budapest earlier, I should have pointed out that you’ll get it even cheaper in Prague. Not that it’s the only reason to go to this gorgeous city.
Prague has certainly become a popular European destination recently and unfortunately you will have to battle the crowds as you explore the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture on both sides of the river.
But it is also a great base to see a bit more of the Czech Republic and I would recommend day trips from Prague to places like Kutna Hora and Cesky Krumlov (unless you’ve got longer to stay overnight).
The Czech Republic is such an underrated country and Prague is a good start but I would suggest seeing even more if you can.
Highlight: The most impressive part of Prague is certainly the complex at the top of the hill with Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral.
Special tip: If you catch the train just out of central Prague, you can visit Karlstejn Castle and go for an incredible hike in the countryside.
12. Rotterdam, Netherlands
Although they’re not that far apart, Rotterdam and Amsterdam are such different cities. While Amsterdam feels historic and touristy, Rotterdam is cool and fun.
A lot of Rotterdam’s atmosphere comes from its multiculturalism. Because it’s a port city, you’ll find influences from around the world – but particularly former Dutch colonies.
But another defining factor are all the new buildings that have been constructed in the past few years in the city centre. Shoddy housing that was erected after the Second World War is being replaced by striking architectural masterpieces.
Special tip: If you can, try to visit during the Rotterdam Unlimited street festival to join in the multicultural carnival fun!
13. Tallinn, Estonia
Even though I love all the places I’ve suggested, one of my absolute favourite cities in Europe is Tallinn. There is so much to see and do and, the more time I spend there, the more layers I discover.
At the heart of Tallinn is the Old Town, with its collection of gorgeous historic buildings contained within the impressive fortified walls. The churches and public buildings here have been so well preserved.
But then there’s also an emerging creative side to the city, where artists and young start-ups are converting neighbourhoods with boutique shops, hip bars, and trendy restaurants.
Amongst all of this you also have a beautiful natural setting and some reminders of the dark Soviet era. It really is a complex place but it’s always friendly and full of discoveries.
Highlight: My favourite tourist sight in the whole city is the new Maritime Museum, which is an incredible interactive centre that even has a submarine that you can go inside.
Special tip: I would suggest spending at least one evening at the Telliskivi Creative City, where you’ll find some very cool bars and restaurants.
14. Zaragoza, Spain
Of all my suggestions, I think the least-known is probably Zaragoza. This Spanish city has so much going for it – but I guess it’s easy for it to be eclipsed by nearby Barcelona, Madrid, or San Sebastian.
There’s a history of art here that is very compelling. You’ll see it in the Aljafería Palace from the 11th century, the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar from the 17th century, and the Expo site from 2008.
Zaragoza is also the home of Goya and now the setting for a famous street art event called Festival Asalto. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll find something artistic from at least one era.
Of course, there are also the usual things here that make Spain such a great destination – the food and the wine, for instance. But you won’t find the crowds you’ll get in some of the more popular spots.
Highlight: The Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady is the most impressive sight in the city. When you visit, make sure you go up the elevator to the viewpoint in the Bell Tower.
Special tip: Zaragoza is on the high-speed AVE train line that connects Madrid and Barcelona, making it very easy to get to.
I hope you’ve been able to find some inspiration from my suggestions for the best European cities to visit. I think they’re all amazing places.
And, before you go, don’t forget that you can save up to 15% on European tours with G Adventures in their March sale.