traveling during a heatwave

Tips for traveling during a heatwave in Europe

Summer is starting off with a bang and Europe is experiencing the first of what is sure to be many heatwaves this summer. Cities like Paris, Rome, and Berlin are packed with tourists and they’re reaching peak temperatures upwards of 100 degrees. So what can you do, weary traveler, to avoid getting bogged down by the heat? Some helpful tips for traveling during a heatwave can help you survive your trip and maybe even enjoy it.

But first things first, why should you be concerned?

Especially if you’re coming from a place that’s very hot, you’ll probably think that temperatures in the 90s and above (32 Celsius) are not that big of a deal. And you would be correct in places where there’s air conditioning. In Europe, however, most indoor spaces are not air conditioned. So when the sun has been relentless for days and the days last 17 hours, the inside of trams, stores, restaurants, and even your accommodations can become hotter than it is outside. If you can’t quite conceptualize the danger of heat you can’t escape, here is a statistic for you. In 2003, one of the worst heatwaves in recent history killed an estimated 70,000 people in Europe.

This is why cities brace for heatwaves as if it was a hurricane, handing out water in public squares, mobilizing hospital staff for an influx of heat-related illnesses and putting everyone on notice, especially the young and the elderly. And that’s why if you’re traveling in Europe during a heatwave, you should take some precautions.

Get a place with AC

It’s hard to come by, but at least some accommodations in bigger cities are equipped with air conditioning. Even if that $25 a night Airbnb sounds amazing, you should splurge as much as you can on a place with air conditioning. Big hotel chains are a safer bet, but make sure you check the listing to confirm that. No matter how hot it is outside, knowing that you have a cool little room waiting for you makes all the difference. When it’s time for bed, you’ll be grateful you’re sleeping soundly and not tossing and turning in a sweaty heap.

Find spots where you can take a dip in the water

Even if you’re landlocked, all major cities have at least some places where you can enjoy a hot summer day by swimming through it. Whether it’s a public pool, spa, reservoir, lake, or a beach, seek out the places where locals go to cool off instead of spending the day sightseeing on foot. Some cities have fountains that you can splash around in, just stay out of monuments like the Trevi Fountain, which is definitely not for you to jump into.

traveling during a heatwave

Avoid being out during the hottest part of the day

We’re told the sun is hottest right around lunch time between the hours of 11 and 2 pm. But because the days are so long, this may not be the hottest time of day in a European summer. Temperatures might peak around 4-6 pm instead. This is convenient, because it’s a great window of time to stop between lunch and dinner. Keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly. Though it might seem like a waste to spend 2-3 hours in your hotel room in the middle of the day, remember that summer days in Europe are basically endless. You’ll have plenty of daylight left if you emerge refreshed from your hotel at 7 pm.

Stay hydrated

You can actively fight the heat by drinking a lot of water throughout the day. Carry water bottles with you and drink frequently. If you’re going to drink alcohol, try to keep up with glasses of water. As much as I love day drinking, I would probably take a pass on that if it was 100 degrees out, because that’s a quick road to the worst hangover of your life.

Skip the lines

I can’t imagine a worse way to spend a heatwave than in a 500-person line waiting to get into the Louvre. If you want to visit Europe during the height of summer, you need to plan ahead. Buy your tickets online for everything and get inside as soon as possible. The extra convenience fee is well worth it in instances of extreme heat.

Find shade

It’s amazing how different the temperature feels if you’re in a shady park versus a hot city square. On the hottest days of a heatwave, you may want to skip the sightseeing and have a picnic in a nice park with lots of trees. The best thing about being in Europe is that you have the best cheese and wine in the world, so at least there’s that.

Cover up with a hat and sunblock

Sixteen hours of sun bearing down on your skin is guaranteed to give you the worst farmer’s tan of your life. You don’t have to go to the beach to use sunblock. If you’re visiting Europe in the summer, you should lather some sunblock on your exposed skin 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside. If you have a hat, use that to shield your head and face from the exposure.

Find air conditioned indoor activities

traveling during a heatwave

It’s hard to speak for every attraction in every city, but as a general rule, most museums in Europe are air conditioned. Caveat: when there are a million people crammed inside the halls of a museum, air conditioning isn’t guaranteed to make a difference. But it’s worth a shot. Churches and cathedrals are sometimes a great way to escape the heat. And if all else fails, go underground. Visiting the palace dungeons, the catacombs, the wine cellars, and the subterranean ruins of wherever you are is a good way to find some cooler temperatures.

Stay the hell out of Europe in the summer

I never get tired of saying this. Summer is an absolutely horrendous time to travel. If you’re stuck in Rome during a 100-degree heatwave, that’s your bad and you should make better life choices in the future. Come in October, come in April. Europe is wonderful all year round, particularly when you don’t have pit stains down to your waist.


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