Friday, June 14, 2024

What you need to know about European travel this summer

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This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Record numbers of tourists are expected to visit Europe this summer. In the first three months of 2024, the number of international arrivals has already risen by 7.2% compared to 2019’s pre-pandemic figures, according to the European Travel Commission, with 120 million international tourists visiting the region in that time. Yet while this is welcome news for the tourism industry, some challenges remain for visitors, especially during the summer’s busy peak season, when potential flight delays, high temperatures, new laws and major events could all impact travel. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your European trip this summer goes smoothly.

1. What you need to know about flight disruptions

Increased passenger numbers, staff shortages and strikes meant there were 106.7 million delayed air passengers in Europe during peak summer months last year. More than 700,000 passengers were affected over the August bank holiday in the UK alone following a technical meltdown at air traffic control. This year, EasyJet has had to cancel over 100 flights from Paris due to a no-fly zone during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Ryanair has also cut flights from its summer schedule after the delivery of several of its new Boeing aircraft was delayed. If you’re due to fly, visit the airport’s website for the latest information, and check social media for real-time updates from other travellers. Remember that you may be owed compensation if you face disruption, but rules vary, so take out a travel insurance policy as soon as you book flights.

(What should you do if your flight is delayed or cancelled?)

2. Why you should consider travelling by train

Keep your carbon footprint low, avoid airport hassle and see even more of Europe this summer by taking advantage of a whole host of new and expanded routes across the continent. New services include a high-speed route connecting Barcelona to Madrid and Seville, a sleeper train from Brussels to Prague, a daily train between Vilnius and Riga, a relaunched night train between Paris and Nice and a sleeper train from Rome to the Dolomites. Following the success of Germany’s €49 unlimited monthly travel pass last year, France has also introduced its own nationwide rail pass for the same price. However, this is only valid for those under 27 and excludes high-speed TGV trains and travel in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France.

(6 of the world’s best coastal rail journeys.)

A new high-speed route connecting Barcelona to Madrid and Seville is just one of many new European train routes launched this year.

Photograph by Allard Schager; Alamy

3. What to do you if you’re affected by wildfires

Following unprecedented high temperatures, wildfires swept through some of Europe’s most popular tourist spots last summer, scorching parts of Tenerife, mainland Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. This year, protective measures have already been put in place that aim to prevent a repeat of the disaster, with Greece banning all outdoor fires from April and increasing investment in fire detection and water tankers. To ensure you’re protected if the worst happens, arrange travel insurance at the time of booking, then keep an eye on official travel advisories for up-to-date information. If you’re affected by wildfires or any other natural disasters when you’re away, follow the advice of the emergency services and evacuate when instructed, then contact your tour operator or airline for help getting home.

(What to do if you’re caught in a disaster while travelling.)

4. How big events could disrupt your travel 

From Taylor Swift’s tour across Europe to the UEFA European Championship in Germany, Europe is limbering up for a summer of major cultural and sporting events. The Olympic Games in Paris are expected to attract three million more visitors than usual. This is likely to mean a greater demand for accommodation, higher prices, crowded public transport, unexpected road closures and even increased security checks in response to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks. If your holiday does coincide with an event, try to explore beyond the city itself, visit nearby tourist attractions that could be quieter than normal, or just enjoy the inevitable citywide buzz surrounding the main event.

(How to explore Paris this summer beyond the Olympics.)

5. Why you should think about overcrowding

While many destinations welcome a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism, others are actively trying to deter visitors. In Barcelona, tour groups have been capped at 20 people, while entrance to Athens’ Acropolis is now limited to 20,000 tourists each day. Dubrovnik has already cut the number of souvenir stands by 80%, while thousands attended an anti-tourism protest in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in April. All are concerned that overcrowding leads to skyrocketing prices for locals and causes environmental damage, with increased plastic pollution, erosion of heritage sites and traffic congestion. Consider less-visited destinations instead, swapping Santorini for Folegandros an hour’s ferry ride away, Dubrovnik for Šibenik with its medieval centre and fortress, or Barcelona for the Spanish seaside city of Valencia.

(What’s the problem with overtourism?)

For a summer trip to Croatia, Šibenik and its medieval centre and fortress is a great alternative to busy Dubrovnik.

Photograph by David Milsen; Alamy

6. How to deal with heatwaves

2023 was the hottest year on record globally, with temperatures in Europe above average for 11 months of the year. The Mediterranean was the worst area affected, with temperatures soaring above 40°C across Italy, Spain, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Consider travelling outside the hottest months, between July and September, or visiting destinations further north such as Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Lithuania or Ireland which should escape the most intense heat. If temperatures do climb, wear high-factor SPF, avoid being outside in the middle of the day and wear light-coloured clothes made from breathable materials. Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water, and keep a close eye on vulnerable people, including young children and the elderly.

7. How to avoid being caught out by local laws and taxes

Do your research before travelling to make sure you don’t fall foul of new laws. A €5 tax for day-trippers was introduced in Venice in April, for example, and will be enforced on selected dates until July. It can be paid online in advance, and those staying overnight are exempt but do still need to register. A second tourist tax of €1 to €5 per night is already applicable to overnight stays and should be paid at your hotel. Be aware that some Airbnbs ask that this is paid in cash. Other new rules in parts of Mallorca and Ibiza ban drinking on the street and prevent shops selling alcohol at night, though you will still be able to buy drinks in bars and restaurants.

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