Summer in Europe. Sounds dreamy, right? Just like in July, visiting European cities in the height of summer in August is both magical and riddled with disadvantages. The distinct disadvantages are the European schools’ summer breaks, the at times stifling heat (remember Europe is still way behind when it comes to installing air-conditioning into their cities’ mostly old buildings), and the crowds that fill the cities as well as the beach resorts.
But there is also a lot to love: the sun, the outdoor living and eating, and the fact that there are so many festivals and events taking place in pretty much the only month when the weather is (nearly) guaranteed to be outdoor-suitable.
I have collated an assortment of favorite places, a mix of cities bustling with people coming to enjoy certain events, and others that allow you a bit of a respite from the over-popular metropolises and welcome you with a slower pace, and maybe even some access to refreshing water.
Read on and get planning your summer visit to Europe.
1. Edinburgh, Scotland
In August, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes over the Scottish capital. Comedians from near and far descend onto the ancient city, filling its many streets, small bars, and tiny theaters with visitors. Then there is the Edinburgh International Festival, which celebrates the performing arts, and the Military Tattoo, with military bands showing off their artistic prowess. This takes place in front of the large castle towering over the city, while the Fringe populates the many small lanes leading down from the castle. You’d think that this is all too much to visit, but in fact, the atmosphere is electric, and the city bears it well. The added positive is that Edinburgh is in Scotland, and even in summer, the heat is easily endured. And the coastline of the Firth of Forth is close by for a refreshing sojourn.
Pro Tip: Want more? There is also the annual Edinburgh Book Festival and the Edinburgh Art Festival, all crammed into August. Book your hotel room early!
2. Buñol, Spain
Famous for the world’s biggest food fight, the town of Buñol, not far from the city of Valencia, sees its population quadruple every last Wednesday in August. La Tomatina starts in the main square with breakfast laid on for all. Watch some brave souls climb a soapy pole to try and get the ham dangling from the top. Then, at 11 a.m., a truckload of tomatoes is driven into the square and the fight begins. Nobody is left clean, and eventually, when the last tomato has been thrown, the crowd gets hosed down. For those worrying about food wastage, the mayor assures everybody that the tomatoes provided are not of a quality fit for human consumption.
Pro Tip: However much fun it is to throw tomatoes, it is also worth seeing Bunol outside the Tomatina. There is a 13th-century castle, scenic squares and parks, and mountainous surroundings that are worth a road trip.
3. Sète, France
Sète, in the beautiful Languedoc region, has much going for it. Located not far from Montpellier along the Mediterranean coast on a strip of land balancing between the sea and a biodiverse saltwater lagoon, it is also a very pretty town with colorful houses and bright fishing boats hemming the canals that wind themselves through the town. Add a promenade and perfect beach, and that should be enough reason to visit. But in late August, the town celebrates the Fête de la Saint-Louis, a water jousting festival that features lots of men dressed in white on boats with a jouster on board trying to push other jousters off. It’s just like medieval times, but with boats instead of knights and horses. It is great fun to watch.
Pro Tip: To truly appreciate the unusual setting of Sète, climb the small Mount Saint-Clair to get a good look across the surroundings.
4. Digne-les-Bains, France
The capital of the French department Alpes de Haute-Provence, Digne-les-Bains, offers the best of both worlds of the region: the delights of Provence and the stupendous beauty of the Alps.
Aside from the mountainous surroundings that attract many cyclists, Digne-les-Bains is known as the Capital of Lavender. Among the many beautiful spots to see the lavender fields, Digne goes one step further and celebrates the Corso de Lavande, a lavender festival, in August. The highlight is a nighttime parade of illuminated floats covered in lavender surrounded by locals dressed in traditional costumes.
Pro Tip: As the name Digne-les-Bains suggests, there are thermal baths here, perfect after a long day’s cycling or lavender-sniffing.
5. Stockholm, Sweden
Summer in Sweden is wonderful; it’s not too hot, and everybody appreciates the nearly 24-hours of daylight and sunshine. While many residents leave Stockholm for their summer houses on the islands, there are also plenty of festivals in the city to be enjoyed. Apart from a plethora of music and cultural festivals, one of the most unique events is the Crayfish Festival taking place on August 8. It starts off the short season, and you get fresh crayfish everywhere. If you are game for trying another local specialty celebrated in August, then try Surströmming, or pickled herring. The season for herring starts on the third Thursday in August, and dishes spring up around the country. But beware: this is a very acquired taste.
Pro Tip: When in Stockholm in summer, a trip through the islands is a must. Not only is Stockholm made up of 14 islands that can be explored by hop-on hop-off boat, but the Stockholm archipelago is also close by and the myriad of small islands are a delight to tour around.
6. Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt is rarely on any visitor to Germany’s itinerary but should be, especially in summer. Frankfurt is another one of those cities that does summer well; restaurants and café have tables outside, the embankment of the river Main is lined with boats turned into bars and cafes, and everywhere are green spaces where the locals enjoy the sunshine.
And further along that same embankment, the Museumsufer Fest, or Embankment Festival takes place each year at the end of August. Over one kilometer along each side of the embankment, where museums line the river, the festival puts up stands for live events, music, art, performing arts, food, drink, and plenty of fun. If you are flying through Frankfurt Airport, it is well worth a layover.
Pro Tip: If it is hot and you are tired of walking, try hopping on the Ebbelwei Express, a tram taking you around the city, while serving you the local specialties of apple wine, or cider, and pretzels.
7. Ostend, Belgium
What do you know about Belgium? I bet it includes chocolate, beer, fries, and maybe Magritte. But did you know that there is also a seemingly endless beach in Belgium, following pretty much the entire coastline? The city of Ostend liesalong a 5.6 miles stretch of white sand and a modern promenade filled with restaurants and cafes, with its history evident among the modern residences and apartment blocks. Ostend rose to fame in the 1800s as a fashionable seaside resort with grand hotels, and some of that old-world charm is still there. Apart from the beach, in August there is another worthwhile reason to visit: the W-Festival, a late August music festival featuring artists and music from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
8. Bergen, Norway
And here is one last wonderful European city that is not too hot in summer and offers not only plenty of music and cultural events throughout August but also one event that is perfect for that time of year: a mountain hike. While hiking the mountains is a regular activity for locals and visitors alike, once a year a trek is organized that takes in all seven mountains that half-surround the colorful city of Bergen. So if you are experienced or want something to aim toward, then this is quite the unique mountain hike with spectacular views along the way.
Pro Tip: And to reward yourself for completing the hike, stay in this gorgeous traditional boutique hotel in the center of Bergen.
9. Cefalù, Sicily, Italy
Cefalù on the island of Sicily is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, and it sits amid a breathtaking setting, with azure Mediterranean waters lapping the shores and the hills of Sicily rising behind it. An immense (and ascendable) rock formation, La Rocca, dominates its skyline. It is difficult to imagine a lovelier spot to spend a few lazy beach days in August.
Add to the sheer vacation feeling a festival that is as intriguing as it is fun, and you have a great destination to consider. The first week of August, the festivities of Santissimo Salvatore (“the Most Holy Savior”), take place in the village. A religious festival celebrated with much pomp, there is also a fun element: A race of fishermen, young and old, trying to grab a flag positioned at the end of a long and slippery pole. The winner carries the flag into town, and the party begins with fireworks — and obviously plenty of good Sicilian wine and food.
Pro Tip: While you are there, don’t miss a look at the medieval wash house that was used by the washerwomen of the village to do their laundry. A fascinating building.