10 European Destinations on Our Radar for Summer
From old favorites to emerging destinations, here are the European countries that are topping our travel itineraries this summer.
Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
London has long attracted sophisticates for its unique blend of history and modish culture, but the success of hit series like Poldark, shot in Cornwall, and Downton Abbey, filmed in Hampshire, have put England’s southern countryside on the travel map. In Devon, the lodgings have become particularly conducive to overnight stays. Luxurious Lympstone Manor is a restored 18th-century Georgian farmhouse that overlooks the moors of a bird-filled estuary and is home to one of Britain’s most exciting culinary ventures. Here, renowned chef Michael Caines conjures up inventive seasonal dishes inspired by the landscape (tuna and scallop mille feuille, quail-egg tart) that you won’t soon forget.
We love Berlin, of course. But Hamburg, Germany’s oft-overlooked second city, is having a moment. The Elbe riverside has recently been transformed into an architectural playground thanks to the late Zaha Hadid’s celebrated River Promenade, which is now joined by Herzog & de Meuron’s new Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, a visually arresting concert hall whose sculptural glass roof rises high above an old brick warehouse. This fall, the metro area is getting another eye catcher nearby: Designed by architect Jan Störmer on a leafy plot along Lake Alster, The Fontenay will be the city’s first five-star luxury hotel in nearly two decades.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path approach to one of the globe’s most touristed regions, consider two little-known countries that line the Baltic Sea: Estonia and Latvia. Both lay claim to picturesque medieval towns that have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as sun-kissed beaches, lively restaurant and nightlife scenes, and centuries of history. Riga, the Latvian capital, also has the world’s greatest collection of Art Nouveau buildings, while Estonia enjoys its own superlative: Jägala Falls is considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
There are far too many reasons to visit Italy—the wine, the dolce vita culture, the eternal history, the rocky beaches and hillside towns tumbling down to the sea—but here are two more. The southern region of Calabria is challenging Rome and Tuscany for the title of most delicious food scene, while Turin, religious mecca and former Olympic host city, can now add major art destination to its calling card. Contemporary works are the draw at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna and Castello di Rivoli, but you can view older pieces at the newly renovated Egyptian Museum, home to one of the best collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world.
There’s something for everyone in Spain. From cutting-edge art in the museums of Madrid and Barcelona to the striking architecture of the Catalan modernism movement, design enthusiasts will have trouble whittling down their itineraries. The same is true for food and wine lovers (tapas and molecular gastronomy are just the beginning), sun and sand worshippers (see the Mediterranean coast), and everyone in between. The southern region of Andalusia recently entered the spotlight when the ruins of the Antequera Dolmens, a prehistoric burial site, received UNESCO World Heritage site designations.
Despite years in the spotlight—the country is a frequent shooting location for the HBO series Game of Thrones—Croatia remains an under-the-radar gem for wanderers seeking a quintessential European experience without the hassles of the continent’s more touristed corners. From Zagreb, its capital city, to Dubrovnik, the country's terracotta roofs, cobblestone streets, and church-dotted squares echo those found in villages throughout France and Italy. Add a sparkling lapis-lazuli coast studded with umbrella-accented beach clubs, age-old Roman ruins, and a food and wine scene that rivals that of Tuscany (Istrian truffles are most definitely a thing), and you’ve got all the makings of your next great getaway.
With a devotion to avant-garde design, world-class art, and cutting-edge cuisine, the cities of Scandinavia have been hailed as the new culture capitals by cool kids everywhere. But the region’s natural beauty appeals to lovers of the outdoors, too. Bikers, kayakers, and even surfers trek to remote places like Norway’s Lofoten Islands nearly 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, while hikers spend days tramping about the glaciers, waterfalls, and geothermal springs along Iceland’s scenic Ring Road. The reward for your trip to the land of the midnight sun: a view of the Northern Lights.
The Greek debt crisis signaled an unexpected tourism boom for the troubled country over the last near-decade, but culture-seeking travelers now have even more reason to visit. A slew of new galleries and art-focused educational centers have sprouted throughout Athens—the Renzo Piano–designed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, home of the Greek National Opera, is a highlight—and serve as a contemporary counterpoint to the well-worn ruins of the ancient world. More sun worshipper than architecture buff? Whether you’re into kite boarding or simple serenity, skip the ferry and hop on a flight to the whitewashed Cycladic island of Paros, which recently got a new airport.
Squint just a bit and Budapest begins to look a lot like most of Europe’s favorite cultural destinations. It has the same domed roofs, baroque churches, cobblestone streets, and medieval residences—even the same Roman ruins and neoclassical public spaces. But Hungary’s capital also has a style all its own. Here, denizens celebrate their country’s rich folk culture, which centers on distinctive music, art, and dance traditions, most commonly practiced at the local táncházak, or dance houses. The culinary scene is also hailed as one of Eastern Europe’s most elegant, but it’s the under-the-radar wine scene that has many oenophiles booking flights. If you’re one of them, head to Eger, a charming town known for its hilltop castle, Ottoman minaret, and cellars specializing in full-bodied reds.
Blink and you might miss Cyprus on a map, but the Mediterranean island nation has serious personality. Settled by ancient Greeks nearly 4,000 years ago, the land was subsequently conquered by everyone from the Assyrians to the Persians, making it a rich historical melting pot. This year, the coastal town of Paphos has been named European Capital of Culture on account of its impressive display of archaeological ruins, some dating back to 1,200 B.C. Cyprus also possesses some of the most covetable white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and charming fisherman villages this side of the Mediterranean. You’d be forgiven if you never want to leave.
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