The summer season in Europe is known to be hectic, hot and crowded, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I spoke to several travel experts who recommended these less crowded alternatives to some of the continent’s most popular cities. Here’s where to go in Europe this summer without the big crowds.

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1. In France, you see Strasbourg instead of Paris

Strasbourg, France (Photo: Vincent NICOLAS on Unsplash)

“If you want fresh croissants, picturesque streets and endless French charm, go to Strasbourg,” says travel writer Meena Thiruvengadam. Just two hours by train from Paris, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament. It is also calmer, cleaner and less scary than in Paris.

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“Wander through Little France, an idyllic canalside neighborhood that will make you feel like you’re walking into a postcard,” advises Thiruvengadam. “Buy books in one of the first cities in Europe where they could be printed. Immerse yourself in art, history and geopolitics at two dozen local museums. Take a look at the astrological clock in Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Stroll through lush parks, sample Alsatian gingerbread and sample unforgettable meals for half the price of what you might pay in Paris.”

2. In Portugal, visit Porto instead of Lisbon

Easily accessible from the US with direct flights from New York, Porto is an attractive summer destination in northern Portugal. “Tradition meets modernity easily in Porto,” says Charlie Neville of JayWay Travel, a European boutique tour operator. Porto is famous for its port wine, the historic district of Ribeiro and the iconic Don Luis I Bridge.

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Neville recommends visiting the Foz do Douro area, where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its charming beaches, exceptional restaurants and diverse architecture, the Fosse district is seamlessly connected to other parts of Porto by a tram network. You can explore the Felgueiras lighthouse, relax on the beaches of Praia dos Ingleses or Praia das Pastoras and stroll under the covered walkway along the Atlantic called Pergola da Foz.

You can also experience more of northern Portugal during a visit to Porto, Neville says. “The Douro Valley offers picturesque vineyards and Braga has historic cathedrals in its ancient streets. Known as the birthplace of Portugal, Guimarães is unique in its medieval heritage. The coastal Viana do Castelo and the historic charm of Amarante further demonstrate the diversity of the region.”

3. In Spain, Girona is a better choice than Barcelona

Girona, Spain (photo by Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash)

Barcelona-based travel writer Jamie DiTaranta recommends Girona, which tourists usually treat as a day trip. “There’s so much to see in this medieval city—you can’t just do it all in one day,” says DiTaranta. “The medieval center of Girona seems much more frozen in time than the center of Barcelona, ​​which is why they chose it as the location Game of Thrones— and you can spend hours walking and visiting museums. There are Roman foundations, Arab baths and you can walk on top of the old city walls for the best views.”

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As well as its history and location, Girona has a cool local vibe with great restaurants, including the three-star Michelin Celler Can Roca, which serves stomach-churning Catalan food. If that’s too expensive, you can also try ice cream from the same Rocambolesc family of chefs, advises Ditaranto. Cyclists and beachgoers will also be happy here, as there are cycling routes in the surrounding mountains and an easy bus service to the Costa Brava beaches for a day trip.

4. Skip the Amalfi Coast in Puglia and nearby Matera in Italy

Apulia, the region of Italy that forms the heel of the “boot”, is located on the Adriatic Sea opposite Amalfi and tends to attract Italian tourists, although it is gradually becoming more popular with foreign tourists as well. Coastal towns such as Monopoli and Polignano a Mare, just south of the regional capital Bari, offer beaches and boating, while inland villages are home to trulaolive oil farms and wineries.

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“When I flew into Bari last year, I went straight to Matera, a smaller town about an hour inland in the tiny southern Italian region of Basilicata,” DiTaranta says. “Matera is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Europe. I went there because I was following my family’s roots in a nearby town, but I was extremely impressed by the archaeological and cultural heritage of Matera.”

You can recognize Matera from Passion of Christ and No time to diewhich both used stones, or the valley of ancient cave dwellings as a filming location. Matera was once known as “the shame of Italy” for its poor living conditions, and the government eventually evicted the population. “The stones was abandoned until the 1990s when Matera was recognized by UNESCO and investments were made to transform stones to a pedestrian area filled with hotels and guesthouses built into the ancient walls of the cave,” says Ditaranta. “Through the hollow, you can even visit cave houses that some researchers believe were first used by humans in the Paleolithic era, 12,000 years ago.”

5. Avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik and head to Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia (Photo: Spencer Davis on Unsplash)

Sensational Split is just a three-hour drive from Dubrovnik and a four-hour drive from the capital city of Zagreb on the less touristy Dalmatian coast. Here you’ll find Roman ruins, sparkling blue water, mountain views, and fresh seafood. “On a Viking Adriatic cruise, I stopped in Split after visiting Dubrovnik and fell in love with its laid-back, beachy vibe and timeless architecture,” says travel writer Amanda Ogle. “I liked that it was a little less crowded than Dubrovnik, and at the same time there was a lot to explore.”

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Ogle recommends visiting Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the third century for the Roman emperor Diocletian and is now home to some of the best Roman ruins in Europe. Take a day trip to the Stella Croatica family estate where you can cook, taste and learn about Croatian olive oil, bread, plant-based products and sweets.

6. Choose Geneva over Zurich, Switzerland

Don’t let Geneva’s reputation fool you, says travel writer Erin Levy, who spent many summers in Geneva as a student and later as a budget travel writer. “This French-speaking city, which has a reputation for being boring and expensive, can’t beat the warmer months—especially if you’re on a budget.”

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Levy recommends swimming and hanging out at Bains des Paquis, riding the city’s free bikes, climbing Mount Salew, and taking a tour of CERN, where scientists are trying to recreate the Big Bang. Located close to the French border, Geneva is also a convenient starting point for exploring the wider Lake Geneva region, including attractions such as the UNESCO-listed Laveau Vineyards and a ride on the new GoldenPass Express from Montreux to Interlaken. “It’s one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe,” Levy says.

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