June is a wonderful month. The very start of summer, but not yet packing the heat punch, the parks and countryside are green, and life takes place outside. European cities embrace summer with inviting cafe terraces, restaurant courtyards, and parks open for picnics. Not to mention the coastal towns offering up their enticing beaches, that, on a good day, can already be enjoyed in June.
I have picked some cities that I personally love and that will bring something a little extra to your vacation in this month. Be it the weather, the surroundings, or special events, they all give you an additional reason or two for picking them when visiting Europe in June. Be it art, be it the midnight sun, or the summer solstice celebrations, be it that the summer crowds have not quite arrived yet. There are many reasons to enjoy June in Europe. And especially in the following cities. Bon voyage!
1. Oslo, Norway
Oslo is usually overlooked when it comes to city breaks in Europe. The fjords and the northern delights pull the visitors in Norway; Oslo is at best the nearest international airport to pass through. But Oslo is quite honestly one of my favorite European cities. It has a superb and relatively unusual history (Vikings, anyone?), yet it is modern in architecture and outlook. The city itself is full of culture, museums, art, restaurants, and great places to sit and watch the world go by after a day’s worth of serious sightseeing. And, come summer, every single Norwegian is out and about enjoying the long days and the warmth while they can. Sitting out until midnight and it barely looking like 6 p.m. is great fun. Then there are the little beach or bathing pontoon huts that you will see on a harbor cruise, with people swimming and sunbathing, and generally enjoying life.
Pro Tip: Enjoy al fresco drinks and superbly fresh seafood in the many restaurants along the Aker Brygge Marina.
2. Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein is not only one of the smallest countries in the world, but also one of the few doubly-landlocked countries, meaning it is surrounded by other landlocked countries, in this case, Switzerland and Austria. And, that means, it has some superb countryside, with mountains and green valleys, plus the still young river Rhine. But why is June such a good idea in the little capital of Vaduz? Because the schools’ summer vacation has not begun yet, and you will have the countryside pretty much to yourself. The hiking and cycling are just wonderful in the area, and Vaduz is a perfect base for your excursions.
Pro Tip: Across the river Rhine is an ancient-looking, wooden, covered bridge in the middle of which you can stand with one foot in Liechtenstein and the other in Switzerland. Not something you can do in every country.
3. Aix-En-Provence, France
There are not many more atmospheric regions in the world than Provence in the south of France. The burnt-orange houses, all with picturesque shutters, the café terraces, the markets selling not only fresh produce but those oh-so-French accessories you need in your house, from woven shopping baskets to cutesy dishes, and some St Tropez-inspired floaty dresses and tops. And, in June, especially at the beginning of June, the city has not yet become overrun by the French breaking up for their summer vacays and leaving the cities for Provence. And, you only have less than an hour’s drive through some of the most enchanting, lavender-filled landscapes before you can relax on a Mediterranean coast.
Pro Tip: Aix is Cezanne’s city, and his personal history, his inspiration, and his art are everywhere. You can follow the golden plaques on the pavement or join a Cezanne tour. Or, if you are a budding artist yourself, why not join a painting class?
4. Bristol, UK
Bristol is a young and vibrant city and it is the home of probably the world’s most famous street artist: Banksy. Not resting on its Banksy laurels, however, Bristol has nurtured artists for years and encourages murals to be put on buildings or otherwise unsightly walls, adding to the arty vibe. And, every year in June, the Upfest Festival takes place along North Street, where nearly every house is covered in art. Artists from around the world gather, stalls are set up with art and crafts, street food, and music, and the atmosphere is fantastic.
Pro Tip: Did you know that Bristol has a Michelin-starred Tapas restaurant? Paco Tapas serves superb tapas that do not cost the world, and you can sit out on the terrace overlooking a small marina hemmed by pastel-colored buildings.
5. Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik is the gateway to the rest of the island, and despite the name Iceland, this rugged country is in fact rather beautiful in summer as well. Not only because of the long days, but also because the normally either snow-covered or somewhat bleak countryside is covered in green, and yet the glaciers are still there, so you get the best of both worlds. Instead of the northern lights (a winter phenomenon), you’ll have a chance to see the midnight sun. After a couple of days in Reykjavik, hire a car and set off driving around the island. You do not have to worry about the snow and ice, nor the usual crowds. Iceland in June is just relaxed, a little warmer than usual, and great to explore.
Pro Tip: Iceland is home to the world’s largest puffin colony, and the only time to see these cute birds is between May and August.
6. Basel, Switzerland
Basel is pretty much synonymous with art, as in Art Basel, a now worldwide art fair. Normally taking place in June, the city erupts in a myriad of art events, most notably the art fair, but with other venues making the best of the arty crowd descending on the city. But do not forget about Basel itself: The walks along the Rhine or the wonderful history, and do leave some art enthusiasm for the many superb art galleries and museums. Then there is, of course, the scenic old town with the lovely market right in front of a very red town hall.
Pro Tip: The good people of Basel enjoy river-swimming all year round, a very real thing in the Rhine, which is safe and clean. You can join in this local pursuit, which in June is merely refreshing as compared to downright freezing.
7. Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao can get rather hot in summer, but in June, you have that summery feeling and can sit outside and wear light clothes without the heat being oppressive yet. And, every year on or around June 15, the date in 1300 when the city of Bilbao was founded, Gau Zuria is celebrated as a White Night. Stalls and open-air events pop up throughout the city, and many museums, galleries, cafes, and restaurants stay open all night, creating a magical atmosphere. Just make sure you do not have to check out of your hotel early the next morning, as you’ll want to sleep in.
Pro Tip: If you need a beach break from city sightseeing, take Metro Line 1 to Plentzia, walk through the small town, and head to Sopelana Beach, where you can spend all day swimming in the sea before hopping onto the frequently running metro back into the city. It takes around 40 minutes each way and will cost you a mere euro or two.
8. Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como is a perfect summer getaway with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop and palm-fringed shores and gorgeous resorts around the lakeside. Hire a boat for the day, ogle the superb real estate owned by the rich and famous, such as George Clooney, and enjoy the relative peace and quiet before the crowds arrive in July. In June it is warm enough to take a dip and enjoy sunbathing on a beach, and still cool enough to do a bit of sightseeing. Plus, you have the Festival of San Giovanni taking place every June. A procession of boats sails to Isola Comacina, the only island in this lake, where fireworks are set off illuminating the majestic Alps in the background. Music events complement the occasion.
Pro Tip: Lake Como is a strange shape, not unlike an upside-down Y, and the town of Como is right at the southern end. Take some time to research where you want to stay, especially if you would like views of the island and the fireworks.
9. Skagen, Denmark
Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town and a great place to be for the Midsummer Solstice, or Sankt Hans, as it is called locally. The tradition goes back centuries and is celebrated with lots of food and drink, music, and merriment. On Skagen’s Sønderstrand Beach near Vippefyret, huge bonfires are lit every June 23, often with wooden figures depicting witches burnt. All the traditions date back to pagan times.
In Skagen itself, you can explore shops selling the typically Scandinavian-chic fashion and interior design and walk the endless dunes to discover the art, churches, and museums hidden within them.
Pro Tip: Skagen lies on the Skagerrak, a strait that separates Denmark from Norway and Sweden, and which is best explored by boat. There are lovely day cruises that will give you great views of this quite unexplored region of Europe.