Off-the-Radar European Islands Where You Can Stay Cool This Summer
There isn't much we don't love about Europe's southern islands (Sardinia; Sicily), but come summertime, temperatures can be downright oppressive in those heat-struck latitudes. That’s when we point the GPS north for destinations that are as refreshing as they are exotic. From Estonia and Finland to the Dutch Wadden Sea, these off-the-radar islands in northern Europe offer the heat break we need.
It takes a five-hour drive from Hamburg, followed by a short ferry ride from the mainland, to reach this windswept island in the North Sea (unless you're part of Germany’s jet set, who land at Sylt’s small landing strip by private jet), but the journey is worth it. Often referred to as the Hamptons of Germany, the pretty little island of Sylt is a destination all its own, where towering dunes line the beach and the island’s iconic beach cottages—some date back to the 18th century—have traditional thatched roofs. For a view of the water, book a room at A-ROSA Sylt, a wellness hotel with its own spa and outdoor pool. Go ahead and indulge—just be sure to make time for a pilgrimage to Sylt’s famous beach bar, Sansibar.
The beautiful island of Sommarøy, which lies above the Arctic Circle about an hour’s drive from the city of Tromsø, remains a secret getaway among Norway’s outdoorsy natives. During the long days of summer, the midnight sun makes for nearly constant daylight in these parts—all the better for maximizing your time on the island’s sweeping white-sand beaches or heading out for a whale-watching tour. During a stay at the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel, you have your choice between one of their colorful fisherman’s cottages or a standard hotel room fronting the water. Don’t miss the hotel’s seaside bathhouse, where a wood-fired sauna and hot tub with island views await.
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The Wadden Islands are a favorite family beach escape popular with residents of the densely populated Netherlands. When you’re visiting Texel, do as the Dutch do and hire bikes to pedal everywhere—ideally, to an outdoor terrace for a drink in the sun or the refreshingly chilly North Sea, where you can shock yourself with a dip. Self-guided biking tours of the island are the best way to take in Holland’s iconic scenery—we're talking lighthouses, sand bars, and fields scattered with grazing sheep and working windmills. As for where to stay, we love the Boutique Hotel Texel for its modern rooms, Finnish sauna, and cozy restaurant serving seafood plucked from the North Sea.
Gotland lies just 60 miles off the Swedish mainland in the Baltic Sea. However, despite being easily reached by ferry or air from Stockholm, arriving will feel like you've stepped into the past—to a time of simple summer pleasures, where a day spent devouring piled-high platters of crayfish with friends is as good as life gets. The island’s main settlement, Visby, is a medieval-era beauty with well-preserved walls and tons of cute restaurants and boutiques, though Gotland’s truest form of bliss is found its peaceful pine forests and long sandy beaches as well as hideaway places to stay like Hotel Stelor, an 18th-century farmhouse that oozes hygge (or whatever the Swedish equivalent is).
Faroe Islands, Denmark
Instagram darlings have brought much attention to the incredible landscapes of the Faroe Islands, an otherworldly archipelago that belongs to Denmark and lies lost in the North Atlantic, located roughly between Iceland and mainland Norway. After you’ve ticked off the hike to its most famous waterfall, there’s tons more to see, especially the main settlement and capital of Tórshavn—the place to shop for unique, hand-knitted Faroese wool sweaters (the stuff of style religion in these parts). Make time to check out the atmospheric turf roof cottages and gannet colony on the island of Mykines.
Åland Islands, Finland
If you’re looking for an escape from both the mainland European heat and the crowds, you’ve come to the right place. Only 60 of the roughly 6,500 islands in Finland’s Åland archipelago (which lie in the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden) are inhabited. A network of bridges and ferries make island-hopping in Åland a cinch, and cyclists particularly love touring around. In addition to the beaches, there are 14th-century castles, cute villages, and several golf courses to explore.
Saaremaa and Muhu Islands, Estonia
Come summertime, nature-loving Estonians head southwest of Tallinn for some rest and relaxation on the spectacularly serene islands of Saaremaa and Muhu—sister isles that are the largest and third largest in Estonia, respectively. Here, you’ll find national parks full of migratory birds and wild orchids, spa hotels like the Ekesparre Boutique Hotel, tiny villages to explore.
Beautiful beaches aren’t what first comes to mind when you think of Germany—and that’s just part of what makes Rügen, the country's largest island, such a sweet surprise. A three-hour drive trip north from Berlin brings you to this special island of beech forests crisscrossed with walking trails and cycling paths and towering chalk cliffs overlooking the water, where constant breezes from the Baltic Sea make for refreshing sunbathing and sea dips. Bed down with style at the Kurhaus Binz, a 19th-century spa hotel fronting the main beach.
Europe’s wildest nature adventures await on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a remote island group far north of the Arctic Circle that’s home to more polar bears than people. Several adventure cruise lines sail here during the summer months (the best time to enjoy more bearable temperatures). Prefer land-based excursions to view the polar bears, seals, walrus and reindeer that dwell in Svalbard’s austere landscapes and polar pack ice? Head out with Basecamp Explorer, whose tours stay at the foot of a glacier in the sublime Nordenskiöld lodge.
We’d happily stay in fabulous Copenhagen forever, but when Danes want to escape the capital for some peaceful beach time, they head west to the Baltic Sea island of Ærø. Just 22 miles long, the island feels like a back-in-time version of sophisticated Denmark and a favorite for cyclists, whom you'll find traversing the roads lined with tiny beach cottages, farmhouses selling fresh produce, and 12th-century churches. At day's end, rest your feet at Pension Vestergade 44, a pretty little inn decorated with art and antiques that you may never want to leave.
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