Americans are flocking to Europe’s hot spots. Here’s where Europeans are going instead

If this past summer’s influx of American tourists in Europe’s favorite summer hot spots – from the French Riviera to the Greek islands – was a flood of epic proportions, then the continent should expect an all-out tsunami from across the pond for the rest of this summer.

American arrivals in Europe this crazy summer are expected to surpass last summer’s numbers by 55%, according to analysis by travel insurance provider Allianz Partners. And you hardly have to wait in an Instagram-famous gelato line or queue up to pack into the Vatican for a tour to feel the crunch of Europe’s summertime crowds.

Swasbrook said she’s advising clients looking to steer clear of the hordes to consider visiting “parallel countries” and places – destinations in Europe with similar offerings and beauty that aren’t quite as squarely in the crosshairs of the American masses as the big-name spots.

“You want to see the beauty of Tuscany, but it’s booked and very expensive. Well what about Slovenia?” she said. “If you adore Split in Croatia, why not head just west along the coast to see Trogir, instead.”

Jack Ezon, founder of EMBARK Beyond travel agency, said he’s similarly advising clients who want to travel to Europe this summer to think outside the box.

“While our love affair with Mediterranean hot spots in Italy and France continues, we have been encouraging all of our clients to make 2023 the year to discover something new,” he said. “Not only because these top locales are overpriced, but they are overrun with Americans this year, compromising on the international flavor and ambiance you would ordinarily get in the Med.”

Ezon suggested making for the Italian island of Pantelleria and hideaway luxury hotel Sikelia to avoid Sicily’s “White Lotus” crowds and pointed to the Greek island of Paros as having an appeal that Mykonos can’t touch.

“Paros is under the radar for Americans, but buzzes with the ‘cool’ Euro-set, offering truly chic boutiques, trendy lounges, and fabulous restaurants buzzing with locals,” Ezon said in an email.

North Jutland, Denmark

Southern Europe swells with crowds during summer, and it can also get hot to the point of extremely uncomfortable in July and August. Temperatures in Seville and other spots in southern Spain recently exceeded the 110˚ Fahrenheit mark (43.3 Celsius). And if you’ve never considered a beach vacation in Denmark, you might want to reconsider.

Called the “Cold Hawaii,” North Jutland – a region just west of Aalborg along Denmark’s northwest coast – appeals with a dune-fringed coastline where fishing villages and surf culture mingle in quaint coastal towns such as Agger and Hanstholm.

“In the ’90s, surfers from Denmark started to settle in the area and brought with them entrepreneurs, artists and top chefs that turned their backs on big cities and instead embraced the slow-living lifestyle of the traditional west coast fishing villages,” says Mads Østergaard of VisitDenmark. There are even a few restaurants with a Michelin star – Tri and Villa Vest – to try in the area.

New direct seasonal flights from Newark to Aalborg on SAS that launched earlier this year make the region easier than ever to reach from the United States.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Less than two hours by car from Italy’s wildly popular Lake Como, the glitzy Swiss mountain town of St. Moritz, in the Engadin Valley, makes for a quieter summertime lakeside escape.

“We love St. Moritz in the summertime. Badrutt’s Palace is the Du Cap of the mountains,” said Ezon, drawing a comparison between the Swiss mountain town’s luxury grand dame hotel and the legendary Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc along the French Riviera.

“Most of the glitterati are in St. Moritz during the winter time,” Ezon said, but in the summer, you can swap skiing the surrounding Swiss Alps for kayaking, swimming and windsurfing on the town’s gorgeous emerald green lake.

Other activities to enjoy in the area – with mostly Europeans instead of Americans as your co-adventurers – include white water rafting, hiking and mountain biking.

The Camargue, France

International tourists gravitate to the long-famous Côte d’Azur’s yacht-filled waters and name-dropper towns such as St.Tropez, Nice and Cannes. But southern France is much more than the predictable places.

Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, co-founder of organic French wine line Souleil Vin de Bonté, points to the Camargue – a wild region of vast and empty beaches where white horses roam – for a quieter escape to the east of Montpellier. Lodging runs the gamut from a rustic stay at a traditional bull or horse farm called a manade to the five-star, boutique hotel version of the farm stay at Le Mas de Peint.

“The Camargue is not crowded. There are very, very long beaches in this area so you are alone on the beach if you wish, even in the peak summer months,” Fabre-Lanvin says, naming La Plage de l’Espiguette as a favorite. During the summer, a sustainable beach club, L’Oyat Plage, even pops up on the sand, drawing the kitesurfing set.

Alentejo, Portugal

When Arlindo Serrão wants time on the Portuguese coast, removed from the tourist crowds of the cities and more popular beach destinations in the country’s far south, he leaves Lisbon for a special stretch of coast in the Alentejo region.

“People are calling Alentejo ‘Europe’s best-kept secret,’ but I don’t know for how long it can remain like that,” said Serrão, founder of Portugal Dive.

Alentejo offers long stretches of uninterrupted beachfront and incredible wine and seafood without the hordes that descend on better-known beach destinations in the Algarve.

Here, just south of the Tróia Peninsula, the beach extends for nearly 28 miles and the outposts of Comporta and Melides are “the perfect places to stay and rest from everyday life,” Serrão says.

For an unspoiled stay, Sublime Comporta’s rooms, suites and villas are surrounded by pine and cork trees and towering wild dunes.

In addition to its spectacular beaches, the region is known for being Portugal’s largest wine producer as well as for having the most marked hiking trails in the country.

“For me, it’s a place of peace on a raw part of Portugal,” Serrão says.


Leave Croatia’s jam-packed Dubrovnik to the hordes of “Game of Thrones” hangers-on and make for less-trampled spots in neighboring Montenegro instead.

“Montenegro is lesser-known than Croatia but easily accessible and with a stunning coastline, rugged mountains and pristine turquoise waters,” said Dolev Azaria, founder of New York City-based Azaria Travel, in an email.

It takes just two hours to drive from Dubrovnik to Kotor in Montenegro, a beautiful coastal town at the end of a fjord-like formation featuring mountains lined with bays and coves where you can stop off to swim in jewel-toned waters.

The Bay of Kotor, also known as Boka Bay, truly stands out among southern European landscapes, said Ezon.

“It brings to mind both the striking Norwegian fjords and picturesque Lake Como as travelers wind through impeccably preserved ancient towns, medieval fortresses, old stone churches, and quaint fishing villages, all with UNESCO credentials,” he said.

Closer to Dubrovnik, the One&Only Portonovi opened in 2021 along Montenegro’s 180-mile-long stretch of Adriatic Sea with architecture that conjures a historic Venetian palace.

Costa de la Luz, Spain

Spain’s Costa de la Luz rewards intrepid travelers who know to set their sights beyond the Mediterranean.

Spaniards stream out of their stifling hot cities in the summer to kick back on the coast, where everyone (or their abuela) seems to own a humble second casa or apartment.

The Mediterranean beaches around Barcelona in northwest Spain and the sands along the Costa del Sol in the country’s south pack in sunbathers like sardines, but you’ll get more breathing room if you make for the windier Atlantic coast instead, says Manni Coe of Andalusia-based tour company TOMA & COE.

The 121 kilometers (75 miles) of Atlantic-facing southern coastline between Tarifa and the Guadiana River, near the border with Portugal, has “temperatures that are a little cooler, hasn’t been mass developed and is quite a hidden gem,” Coe says.

Highlights include the beautiful fishing village of El Rompido, the great food scene in the town of Cadiz and the wild beaches around Huelva (between Mazagón and Matalascañas). The area is also a magnet for kitesurfing.

Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Italy

Sicily’s laid-back Aeolian archipelago beckons with an uncrowded appeal that the Amalfi Coast or Capri can’t match.

Made of seven main volcanic islands strung like a necklace in the deep turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north coast of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands are hardly lonely during Italy’s sultry summer. But their relative remoteness means they don’t get nearly the American masses of a Positano or Capri.

“The Aeolian Islands are far away from the idea of islands Americans may have,” says Dario Ferrante of Absolute Sicilia, adding that visitors don’t come here for Caribbean-style white sandy beaches but rather active vacations, including hiking the Stromboli volcano with a guide.

Ferrante names the island of Salina as his personal favorite for vacationing, but he says the islands of Filicudi and Alicudi offer the most remote and rustic experience (the latter has no cars – only donkeys to transport your luggage).

He also points to the north side of Mount Etna volcano as one of the most beautiful and undiscovered areas of Sicily. It’s just 40 minutes from the popular beaches of Taormina, which are flooded with “White Lotus” fans this summer.

“It’s perfect for total relaxation, trekking and wellness and a paradise for wine lovers and food addicts,” Ferrante says.

Senja, Norway

Far removed from the crowds and heat of southern Europe, Senja is Norway’s second-largest island (outside of Svalbard) – yet it sees far fewer summer tourists than the more popular Lofoten Islands, roughly five hours by car to the south.

On Senja, mountains plunge vertically into fjords and picturesque fishing villages such as Mefjordvær line the island’s exposed west coast, where charter boats leave on halibut-fishing trips during summer and the daylight lingers long into the evenings and next day under the midnight sun.

At Hamn i Senja, you can rent cabins by the water, enjoy a traditional cod meal or book a sauna session with the obligatory icy fjord plunge.

“You see the Senja wall – this massive, intimidating fortress of mountains – long before you arrive,” says expedition sailor Andreas Heide, the captain of the sailboat Barba, whose crew has free dived with orcas and fin whales and sailed under the Northern Lights in Northern Norway. “There’s always swell rolling in from the North Atlantic. It’s just a wild, raw place.”

Zadar Archipelago, Croatia

The coastline and islands around Zadar in Croatia offer an experience that’s “a world apart” from more crowded points south such as Split, Dubrovnik and the island of Hvar, suggests Alan Mandic of Croatian travel agency Secret Dalmatia.

The car-free Adriatic islands of Silba and Olib in the Zadar Archipelago have fabulous beaches that look almost like the Caribbean, he says. You can even stay in a lighthouse on the western cape of larger Dugi Otok island.

“Those are the places we go to when we want to avoid crowds in general,” Mandic says. “You won’t really see any Americans there.”

Pelion Peninsula, Greece

With such spectacular coastline and mountains to explore, Greeks tend to vacation in their own country during the summer, says Andria Mitsakos, founder of luxury lifestyle brand Anthologist.

And while summer’s international masses might find it hard to look past the iconic postcard white-and-blue backdrops on packed islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, Mitsakos says she often heads to the mountainous Pelion Peninsula on the eastern, Aegean side of mainland Greece for a more under-the-radar stay.

The lush and verdant peninsula, with the Pagasetic Gulf flanking its western shores, is dotted with coastal and mountain villages, with fresh seafood at every turn.

There are beaches all around the peninsula, but if you only hit two, Mylopotamos and Fakistra on the Aegean side are the can’t-miss spots. They’re tucked in natural bays where waters lap the coastal cliffs like turquoise that’s been liquefied in the dazzling sun.

Coastal Albania

Far less slammed by tourists than neighboring Greece to the south or Italy across the Adriatic, the Balkan Peninsula country of Albania is still somewhat of a secret closely guarded among savvy travelers – but one unlikely to stay on the down-low for long.

“Croatians and Europeans in general are discovering the Albania coast,” said Secret Dalmatia’s Mandic. “It’s fabulous, it’s incredibly cheap. The food, the history, the hospitality, nature, the beaches, everything is here.”

Among the beaches to explore along what’s been dubbed the Albanian Riviera are Ksamil, near the Greek border, and Himare and Dhermi farther north, where you can feast on inexpensive platters of prawns, grilled octopus and flopping fresh fish plucked straight from the Ionian Sea while gazing out on its glittering expanse.

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