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Remote islands, hidden sunset spots and 170,000 Cold War bunkers: Time Out reveals the best 11 underrated summer travel experiences in Europe for 2024, from Scotland to Crete

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If you’re in the market for hidden gems far from the maddening crowds that’ll give your summer bucket list a bit of sparkle – look no further.

Below we present Time Out’s list of ‘European Underrated Summer Travel Ideas 2024’, based on the thoughts and local insights of Time Out’s global editorial team.

The entries include an ice-cream crawl in Copenhagen, a 2,000-mile cycling trail through the Balkans, a road trip in Scotland ‘that offers the very best of the country’s scenery, wildlife and whisky’ and secret paradise islands. There’s also ‘an Indiana Jones-style adventure’ that unveils Cold War Bunkers.

Grace Beard, Time Out Travel Editor, said: ‘We all like the idea of summertime in Europe – long, lazy days in the Mediterranean sunshine, whiling away an evening people-watching in local bars – but the reality is often much less romantic, with overtourism, soaring prices and scorching temperatures blighting many a Euro Summer fantasy. But it doesn’t have to be that way – as our list of the best things to do this summer shows, a great summer holiday in Europe can take on many forms, from hopping around river beaches to road trips and outdoor art trails.’ 

Scroll down for the full list and cast your vote for the best entry in our poll at the bottom.

Be a shepherd for a week in the Pyrenees 

The Pyrenees mountains have undergone a ‘revival of their local lifestyle’ with local shepherds welcoming guests to spend time with them

Time Out’s Stuart Butler describes the Pyrenees mountains as ‘a gorgeously unspoilt spine of peaks separating France from Spain’.

Better still, the area has recently undergone a ‘revival’ of its local lifestyle, with many Pyrenean shepherds welcoming guests to spend time with them, Stuart says.

‘You can learn about the shepherding life in the French Vallée d’Ossau, Vallée d’Aspe and in the high Pyrenees,’ he reveals.

Sail around Croatia’s lesser-known islands

Visit Croatia's lesser-known islands - including Ist, Olib and Premuda (pictured)

Visit Croatia’s lesser-known islands – including Ist, Olib and Premuda (pictured)

Away from Croatia’s more popular island-hopping destinations of Brac and Hvar is ‘a cluster of little-known islands’ accessible via the Jadrolinija ferry’s newly introduced 401 line, which sails from Zadar.

So says Time Out’s Peterjon Cresswell, who recommends the islands of Ist, Olib, Silba and Premuda in particular.

‘Sailings leave at reasonable times’ and allow you ‘to experience Croatia as it once was’, he adds.

Go on a Copenhagen ice-cream crawl

The ice-cream scene in Denmark's capital is an underrated summer treat

The ice-cream scene in Denmark’s capital is an underrated summer treat

‘Copenhagen’s ice-cream scene, much like summer in this bijou city, is an underrated treat,’ says Time Out’s Laura Hall.

‘When they’re not swimming in the harbour, dining alfresco and building sandcastles on the beaches half an hour away, sweet-toothed Danes will be eating ice cream.

‘In the summer you’ll find soft ice – the Danish term for Mr Whippy ice creams – everywhere. It’s concealed in pastries at Andersen & Maillard bakery, and shows up at Coffee Collective as a “coffee soft ice”, a tall swirl of vanilla ice cream dusted with chocolate powder on top of a dose of espresso.’

Road trip Scotland’s North East 250

Loch Muick, above, is one of the highlights of Scotland¿s North East 250

Loch Muick, above, is one of the highlights of Scotland’s North East 250

Time Out’s Richard Franks describes this 250-mile Aberdeenshire loop as ‘Scotland in miniature’.

Why?

Because ‘it offers the very best of the castles, scenery, wildlife and whisky found elsewhere in the country’.

Highlights include Loch Muick, Braemar Castle, Glenlivet distillery and the beach in Portsoy.

Hunt for Albania’s Cold War bunkers

An estimated 170,000 Cold War bunkers are strewn across Albania, including Tirana's BunkArt, pictured, which is now home to art galleries

An estimated 170,000 Cold War bunkers are strewn across Albania, including Tirana’s BunkArt, pictured, which is now home to art galleries

Albania is home to an estimated 170,000 Cold War bunkers, according to Butler.

‘Visiting as many of them as possible will take you on an Indiana Jones-style adventure to all four corners of the country,’ he says.

‘Created under Albania’s former Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, some of these bunkers – such as Tirana’s BunkArt – are enormous multi-storey, atomic bomb-proof structures that now house impressive art galleries or museums showcasing the horror of the Hoxha period.’

Hike a web of trails in Greece‘s new Sitia Geopark

Sitia Geopark is located in the rarely visited eastern half of Crete

Sitia Geopark is located in the rarely visited eastern half of Crete

The Unesco-classed Sitia Geopark is in the ‘rarely visited eastern half of Crete island’, reveals Time Out’s Heidi Fuller-Love, and can be reached via a 40-minute bus ride from Sitia town.

She continues: ‘It’s home to countless endangered species of flora and fauna – I saw a kettle of griffon vultures swooping low overhead as I clambered out of Zakros’ Gorge of the Dead, so-called because the Minoans once used the beehive of caves pocking the surrounding cliffs as a cemetery.’

Heidi adds that while there she ‘sampled Cretan stuffed snails… and hiked off the calories along the Geopark’s web of thyme-scented trails’.

Tour Berlin‘s sunset spots

In Berlin, sink a sundowner on an afternoon cruise down the River Spree, pictured

In Berlin, sink a sundowner on an afternoon cruise down the River Spree, pictured

Catch the sunset at Klunkerkranich, above, a club on the top-floor of a car park

Catch the sunset at Klunkerkranich, above, a club on the top-floor of a car park

‘Berlin’s not often thought of as a summertime destination, but it’s during the warmer months the city is at its most sociable – and beautiful,’ says Time Out’s Kate Bettes, who recommends spending ‘a long weekend hunting down its sundown lookouts’.

Begin at Klunkerkranich, a club on the top-floor of a car park where you can ‘see the sunset’s orange light turning the Berlin TV Tower pink’, she suggests, adding: ‘In Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, hike past the waterfall in Viktoriapark to reach the highest point in the city, and sit at the feet of the forbidding cast iron Prussian war memorial for the sunset.

‘Picnic in the grassy expanse of Tempelhofer Feld as evening falls. Take an afternoon cruise down the River Spree for some sundowners, or above the water with street buskers at Oberbaumbrucke.’

Spa away on Saaremaa island

Saaremaa is replete with saunas and swimming pools - the perfect place to 'spa away in'

Saaremaa is replete with saunas and swimming pools – the perfect place to ‘spa away in’

Saaremaa island's Kuressaare Castle

Saaremaa island’s Kuressaare Castle 

‘The island of Saaremaa is one of Estonia’s best-kept secrets,’ declares Time Out’s Shafi Musaddique, partly because ‘it’s the perfect retreat to spa away in’.

He explains: ‘There’s no shortage of spa hotels at affordable prices, replete with saunas and swimming pools, with the old town centre of Kuressaare having the highest number of spas per capita in the world.’

The island is also home to the ‘spectacular’ Kaali meteorite crater and the star-shaped Kuressaare Castle.

How to get there? Via propeller plane from Tallinn airport or ‘land and ferry through western Estonia’.

Cycle the Balkans

The new cross-Balkan bike trail, opening this summer, covers eight countries over 2,090 miles

The new cross-Balkan bike trail, opening this summer, covers eight countries over 2,090 miles

Challenge yourself to a cycling adventure on the new cross-Balkan bike trail, opening in July 2024.

The route takes in eight countries and connects all of former Yugoslavia plus Albania over 2,090 miles (3,364km) of mapped-out roads and pathways, explains Time Out’s Peterjon Cresswell.

‘You may set out and tap out anywhere you like, of course, but following the emerald-green river Soca through Slovenia seems as gentle an introduction as any,’ he writes.

‘Venturing into the Goriska Brda wine region allows you to sample the white Rebulas and blue Pinots at bucolic hilltop wineries commanding panoramic views. For an urban experience thrown in, the Tito-built city of Nova Gorica should give you your fill of heroic statuary and fractured history.’

Relax on central Portugal’s inland beaches

In central Portugal are river beaches with sun loungers and beach bars

In central Portugal are river beaches with sun loungers and beach bars 

Those looking to escape crowded beaches are encouraged to head inland to the warm waters and wild nature of central Portugal’s river beaches, also known as a ‘praias fluviais’.

Time Out’s Lucy Bryson says that there are several ‘dotted around this under-the-radar part of Portugal’.

She adds: ‘During the summer season, they’re equipped with lifeguards, sun loungers, and beach bars serving salty local olives washed down with dangerously affordable jugs of wine.’

Follow an outdoor art trail in the south of France

North of Aix-en-Provence is Chateau la Coste, where 'a contemporary art walk weaves around rows of grapevines'. One of the works there is Prune Nourry's Mater Earth (above), 'an enormous pregnant woman emerging from a grassy field'

North of Aix-en-Provence is Chateau la Coste, where ‘a contemporary art walk weaves around rows of grapevines’. One of the works there is Prune Nourry’s Mater Earth (above), ‘an enormous pregnant woman emerging from a grassy field’ 

Avoid the ‘swarm of summer tourists in Provence’ and head to the region’s outdoor art spaces instead, advises Time Out’s Alexis Steinman.

North of Aix-en-Provence is Chateau la Coste, where ‘a contemporary art walk weaves around rows of grapevines’. The writer’s favourite is Prune Nourry’s Mater Earth, ‘an enormous pregnant woman emerging from a grassy field’.

Then there’s the ‘Friche d’Escalette’ in Marseille, where you can ‘amble between hills and remnants of brick walls to see contemporary art like Jean Prouve’s movable pavilions’.

Then take a boat from Hyères to Ile de Porquerolles and visit the rotating exhibits at Villa Carmignac, a museum which is ‘perched above idyllic beaches and breathtaking cliffs’.

For more visit www.timeout.com/europe/travel/underrated-summer-travel-ideas

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