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Where to Go in Europe During the Peak Travel Season

Forgo visiting popular destinations for these enticing alternative hot spots.

U.S. News & World Report

Where to Go in Europe During the Peak Travel Season

Venture to off-the-beaten track locales for fewer crowds, lower prices and plenty of charm.(Getty Images)

While summer is an ideal time to visit Europe, during the high season you'll have to contend with heavy crowds at top attractions, soaring temperatures and sky-high lodging and transportation prices. Still, with beautiful backdrops, delicious food, iconic attractions, under-the-radar coastal towns and diverse cultural allures, Europe has plenty of places that appeal to the worldly traveler. And if you're willing to skip popular (read: pricey and congested) cities in favor of overlooked gems, you can pull off a cost-effective European escape without feeling the pinch. If you're eager to travel to Europe this summer without swarms of other tourists by your side, consider visiting these underrated places.

If You Want Excellent Culture and Cuisine…

Visit Cognac, France, Not Paris

Home of the legendary distilled spirit, Cognac is a picturesque city in southwest France with an excellent climate, top-notch food and a flourishing culture. Stay in one of the affordable hotels in the town square before venturing the streets to admire grand homes with rich architectural details and illustrious histories. Cognac also boasts the Cognac Chateau, as well as the 12th-century Church of Saint-Leger, the Priory of Saint-Leger and the Convent of the Recollect, which both date back to the 17th century. You can also stop by the headquarters of Remy Martin for an excellent meal as well as a tasting of their famed Louis XIII Cognac, which ages in a French Oak barrel for 100 years. Best of all, the area is easily accessible from Paris thanks to the high-speed TGV rail, and you'll unlikely find hordes of fellow tourists.

If You Pine for an Italian Getaway…

Visit Tuscany, Not Rome or Venice

Often overlooked for popular cities such as Rome and Venice, Tuscany charms visitors with its picturesque cypress trees, top-tier wines and enchanting towns. And since many attractions close from November to March for harvest season, making summer as well as September through October, an ideal time to plan a trip. From Florence, it's easy to reach charming Tuscan towns and converted castles-turned-wineries like Castello di Casole - A Timbers Resort by car. Spend your days leisurely sipping wines, homemade pizza and, of course, the famed Florentine dish Bistecca alla Florentina, an authentic Tuscan-style steak. Castello di Casole also boasts a stunning infinity pool that's perfect for catching spectacular sunsets. From Tuscany, you can also easily explore other worthwhile destinations, such as Siena and Luca.

If You Want a Coastal Escape…

Visit Tallinn, Estonia, Not France's Cote d'Azur

This storied Estonian city boasts unspoiled terrain, storybook castles and lovely cobblestone streets. The area's general topography has remain largely unchanged from the time of its German occupation, through its occupation by Danish, Swiss and Polish rulers, as well as its former occupation by the former USSR. Summer ushers in a short but sweet time to visit before harsh winter conditions make exploring top attractions unpleasant. After you've checked out top city attractions, such as the Town Hall Square and the City Museum, venture to a nearby beach destination like Pärnu, Estonia, where you can check into seaside resorts and stroll along leafy streets when you're not catching some set at the beach. Home to Hedon Spa & Hotel, which boasts an authentic Estonian spa and renowned restaurant, Raimond, Pärnu has the charm of the Cote d’Azur without the crowds.

If You Crave a Laid-Back Cosmopolitan City…

Visit Portugal's Azores, Not Barcelona, Spain

A short flight away from Lisbon, Portugal, the Azores is a largely unspoiled archipelago featuring nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean. While ultra-luxury resorts do not exist, the Azores offers ample opportunity to embrace the great outdoors with clear blue waters and terrain well-suited for hiking, biking and climbing. If you're an adventure junkie, you won't want to miss exploring Sao Miguel Island, which still has volcanic activity. Due to the volcanic activity, divers can explore natural splendors, including steep walls, volcanic arches and caves. Or, if you would rather check out historic artifacts, two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Angra do Herosimo, the oldest city in the Azores on Terceira Island, and the vineyards of Pico Island – can also be found in the Azores.

If You Want to Visit the United Kingdom…

Visit Wales, Not London

London often springs to mind in summer, when verdant parks and gardens display colorful blooms and temperatures (and costs) climb. But rather than exploring London's top sights in the blazing summer heat, consider planning a trip to nearby Wales, where you'll find charming boutique hotels, rugged landscapes, fairytale-like castles and picturesque seaside scenery. Consider retreating to the Pale Hall Hotel, a small boutique with a restaurant that dishes out local Welsh favorites like salt marsh lamb and the famed Welsh black beef. Afterward, burn off any lingering energy with a hike through the scenic Welsh countryside. Wales has the longest continuous coastal path around any country in the world, so make an effort to squeeze in a walk before taking part in watersports or embarking on a high-speed boat to the enchanted isle of Bardsey. And of course, no trip to Wales would be complete without a visit to one of the area's superlative castles, including Criccieth Castle and Penrhyn Castle.

The Best Hotels in Europe by Country

The Best Hotels in Europe by Country

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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