7 fantastic European cities to visit in July
In July, the sun is shining, the rain is (almost) unheard of and festivals are in full swing across the continent. There isn’t a country in Europe that doesn’t have a full calendar of special events in July, and you’ll need to book early if you want to attend celebrations that require tickets. The same goes for accommodation, because in July the summer has reached pretty much all parts of Europe, but so has the summer school holidays, and most places are very crowded.
Traveling through Europe in the summer has its pros and cons: yes it can get very crowded and also quite hot. But if you choose your destinations wisely and combine a bit of urban culture with relaxing on the beach, you’re sure to have a great time. Each town listed below has access to a body of water for that vital refreshing swim to help keep you cool between sightseeing and celebrating local festivals.
Here is a list of some of my favorite European places to enjoy in July.
1. Montpellier, France
Montpellier is one of my favorite cities in the south of France. Narrow alleys lead to hidden courtyards, there are cafes and restaurants on every corner, and the museums are superb. When it comes to shopping, imagine tiny boutiques set under medieval arches, bookstores with ancient wells in their basements, and chic French stores selling everything you never thought you would need for your home. Add legends, a medieval university, and architecture that will remind you of sunny Paris, and you can’t lose. But what makes Montpellier perfect for the summer is the beautiful Mediterranean beach a few tram ride downtown.
Pro tip: Plan to spend at least a long afternoon sitting on Place Jean-Jaurès facing the covered market, aperitif in hand, watching the world go by.
2. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Just inland from the Croatian coast and crowded Dubrovnik, Mostar is small and reminiscent of Turkey with its mosques, Turkish cafe, and bazaar-style shops selling coveted trinkets. The city is best known for its Stari Most, the picturesque 16th-century Ottoman bridge over the Neretva. The rounded bridge, which forms an almost perfect circle with its reflection, is by far the most photographed site in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if not the entire Balkans. The area gets hot in the summer, and that’s probably why the tradition of the bridge jump began in the mid-1600s. Even today, daring residents and visitors jump from the 75-foot-high bridge into the refreshing river. below. And in July, a extreme diving competition takes place – the elegant and practiced diving is pleasing to the eye.
Pro tip: While you’re there, head to the nearby village of Blagaj, with its magnificent monastery on a lake with crystal clear waters. The water is freezing cold, but it’s perfect for a refreshing dip.
3. San Marino, San Marino
San Marino has the advantage of being a bit higher up giving it a bit cooler mountain breeze. It is also close to the Italian beaches of Rimini, in case you need a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean.
Add to that the annual Adriatic Music Festival, with classical concerts held throughout the region, and the Medieval Days Festival, which draws visitors to San Marino in July, and the small state offers this winning mix of culture, history and proximity to the coast.
Pro tip: On July 7, San Marino commemorates its addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. Cultural events, from concerts to exhibitions, take place throughout the republic.
4. Ljubljana, Slovenia
As mundane as it may sound, Ljubljana is a hidden gem. Nestled in the mountains and lush green landscapes of Slovenia, it is the ideal city to visit during the summer. You can sit outside in the summer heat, but it’s not too hot. Plus, it’s not crowded and it’s small enough to explore on foot. Make sure to walk along the river and visit the market and the many cafes that line it.
Also, in July, Ljubljana begins to sing. It accommodates all of the Europe Cantat, an event that takes place every three years and brings together European choirs, at large-scale events such as the Ljubljana Festival.
Pro tip: Less than 35 miles from the capital is the beautiful Lake Bled. Probably the most picturesque lake in Europe, it offers the perfect aquatic escape from the city. You can even get there by public transport.
5. Lucca, Italy
While it’s usually best to avoid Tuscany in the summer due to the crowds and the sweltering heat, there’s a very good reason to visit Lucca in July: the Puccini party. If you are embarking on a road trip in Tuscany in July, then a stop here is a must. The location, setting and music are all out of this world and worth the cons. In addition, concerts take place in the evening, by a lake. Listening to world-class artists on a balmy night in Tuscany can’t be too bad, right?
Accommodation in Lucca for festival time is booked very quickly, but Pisa is a short drive away and makes a perfect alternative base.
Pro tip: Don’t let me put you off visiting Tuscany in July – I’ve done this myself a few times. Just try to avoid city centers during the heat of the day, as no wind hits the narrow alleys. Instead, make your visits at the start and end of the day, and spend lunch in the countryside or on the coast.
6. Pamplona, Spain
Few have not heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The bizarre event features bulls being heckled through narrow streets by people with something to prove. It’s a one-way street for the bulls, as the bullfights start soon after. The running of the bulls is only a tiny part of the San Fermin Festival, However. The festival begins, as all good Spanish holidays do, with fireworks and then continues with large parades, religious processions, live events, music, food and drink. It also offers traditional country sports such as lifting hay bales and chopping wood. With nine fun-filled days, you can easily dodge the poor old bulls.
Pro tip: Pamplona is a beautiful old town located near the Rioja region, so allow some extra time to enjoy the city itself and explore the surrounding countryside. You can also travel the 30 miles to the Atlantic.
7. Zagreb, Croatia
The only reason, it seems, that people stop in Zagreb is to catch a flight. Croatia’s capital is a lot like Ljubljana – sadly overlooked, but so worth a closer look. Zagreb has an old and a new city, lots of cool markets and the world’s shortest funicular. It’s the perfect size for a weekend getaway, maybe before heading down the beautiful Croatian coast.
In July, Zagreb bursts into a folk fantasy, welcoming traditional dancers and musicians in regional attire. The folk festival, which has been held annually since 1966, lasts five days. If you are interested in European traditions handed down for centuries and still proudly preserved, this event is for you.
Pro tip: Treat yourself to a night or two at the Esplanade Hotel, where in the 1920s illustrious guests traveling on the Orient Express spent the night. It is an art deco gem with a fabulous ballroom and a superb restaurant.
Europe is a continent that has yet to adopt air conditioning, so sometimes it is difficult to escape the heat. The best approach is to dress in light clothing, walk slowly, head for the side streets to avoid the worst crowds, and just relax. July is a good time to practice slow travel, soak up the atmosphere but avoid rushing between destinations.