If you are like many editors here at Fodor’s, you’ll be traveling to Europe this year to take advantage of cheaper airfares and a an exchange rate that is marginally better than last year. Summer travel to Europe is a rite of passage for some and a necessity for others, particularly families who can’t get away at any other time of the year.
When you go, just remember two very important things: 1) Even though European temperatures are getting hotter during the summer, much of Europe remains un-air-conditioned, and that’s simply something you’re going to have to deal with; 2) Europeans also take their vacations in the summer, so prices in some parts of the Continent actually reach their high points, especially destinations along the coasts (whether you are talking about the Baltic, the Mediterranean, or the Aegean).
I’m particularly grateful to my Fodor’s colleagues who edit our European guidebooks for helping me pull this list together, especially Matthew Lombardi, who edits much of our Italy coverage.
5 European Summer Do’s
1. Do your homework. This tip is probably in every list I’ve ever written, but it is always true. You simply don’t want to head out to Europe this summer without knowing something about where you’re going. Be prepared for the local holidays so you’re not surprised when there aren’t train tickets available for 3 days. And know whether your hotel has air-conditioning or not. That’s not something you want to discover by accident. Buy a guidebook (even if it’s not a Fodor’s guide); you really need some professional guidance that a trip to Tripadvisor won’t give you.
2. Buy tickets in advance. This goes for train tickets (especially on weekends and summer holidays), museum tickets, and anything else you can book in advance. The more advance planning you can do, the easier it will be to avoid crushing lines and maximize your valuable vacation time.
3. Save the museums for the heat of the day. If you decide to forego an afternoon siesta, the next best thing you can do is to head indoors to a museum in the heat of the afternoon (assuming you’ve booked your ticket in advance and can skip the long sun-drenched lines). Many museums (particularly art museums) are now air-conditioned, so it’s one way to escape the oppressive heat.
4. Dress appropriately. Older Europeans simply don’t wear shorts in the city, even in the heat of summer, but for young people that’s changing. Still, if you plan to visit churches, you need to dress appropriately, so women will have to cover their shoulders and legs; it’s never appropriate for a man to wear a tank top. The one lesson many people should learn is that you can sometimes stay cooler by staying a little more covered; this will also reduce the chance of sunburn. Bring sunglasses and a hat.
5. Eat the European way. There’s a reason Europeans (especially those in the southern reaches of the Continent) have their heartier meal at lunch. It’s so they can take a nap during the hottest part of the day. Do that, and you’ll be happier (and will also save some money since lunch is typically much cheaper than dinner). Eat lighter at night, and you’ll sleep better when it’s warm out.
5 European Summer Don’ts
1. Don’t necessarily skip August. Although August has always been the traditional month when most Europeans take their own vacations, thus emptying out the great cities to leave behind shuttered restaurants and empty streets, that’s not necessarily the case any longer. True, many people will still be on vacations, but in Italy, for example, the economic downturn is requiring more companies to stay open and workers to stay closer to home. You may see more activities, concerts, and plays this summer. But the cities will still be sweltering and uncomfortable (and many restaurants will still close); since the beaches and mountain retreats may not be as packed as last year, this is a fine time to spend part of your vacation in the more comfortable mountain and seaside retreats.
2. Don’t try to do too much. In the heat of summer, the wise tourist doesn’t try to pack everything into every day. This is a fine time to slow down and appreciate your surroundings, sleep late, and limit the traveling. You don’t want to spend half your vacation time in a train or car getting from Point A to Point B, and that’s especially true when it’s hot and uncomfortable.
3. Don’t pack heavy. Since summer is a much busier travel period throughout Europe, it’s wise to take a smaller suitcase so you can maneuver it more easily through crowded trains and airports. Lighter clothing takes up less room, and you can always do a bit of laundry along the way. Plus, do you really want to be pulling a 50-pound 26-inch suitcase when it’s 90 degrees out?
4. Don’t save by staying in an un-air-conditioned hotel. For Americans, who are probably not used to living even a few days without the a/c, summer is not the time to become a miser. Lay out the bigger bucks for a modern hotel room that has a/c. You’ll sleep so much better at night. Granted, there are some older historic buildings that were built to help residents survive the biting cold of winter and punishing heat of summer, but if you are used to sleeping in 68 degrees year-round, you may still be uncomfortable. In some cities, it’s remarkly difficult to find a hotel with a/c.
5. Don’t overdo the alcohol. Lunch without a glass of cool rosé may be like a day without sunshine on the French Riviera, but if you aren’t used to drinking alcohol in the heat of the day, this is no time to over-indulge. Alcohol is dehydrating, so you have to match your wine or beer intake with an equal dose of water.