Forget Greece. Travelers Are Heading to Scandinavia and Scotland to Keep Cool This Summer.

We all saw last year’s photographs: southern Europe travelers crouching in exhaustion at the Acropolis and pouring bottles of water over their heads outside the Colosseum. During the 2023 heat wave that rippled across the continent, temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. In some parts, wildfires raged. Not even an icy pistachio gelato could offer respite.

This year, the temperatures are expected to soar again. So if you’re reconsidering the Amalfi coast for a much cooler Danish beach or Scottish lake, you wouldn’t be alone. According to Virtuoso, summer bookings in Italy are down 29 percent. In stark comparison, bookings in Scandinavia are up by 77 percent, compared to bookings made last year. Travel planner Scott Dunn even released a collection of “coolcation” summer itineraries spotlighting Scandinavian destinations such as Finland (they’ve had a 400 percent rise in inquiries).

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The beaches in northern Denmark have historically drawn German tourists, but nights spent by U.S. travelers have risen by 71 percent since 2019.

“It’s a good alternative to southern Europe, where it’s getting so hot,” says Kasper Egelund, CEO of design brand Vipp, which opened a guesthouse near the town of Klitmøller in northern Denmark, dubbed Cold Hawaii.

Checking into this slick guesthouse is a steady stream of U.S. travelers drawn to the wind-swept, sandy beaches, surprisingly good surf spots, and of course, the cooler temperatures, which rarely get above 70 degrees.

The Vipp Cold Hawaii guesthouse opened in Klitmøller in northern Denmark.
The Vipp Cold Hawaii guesthouse opened in Klitmøller in northern Denmark.

“It’s snowballing for sure,” says Egelund.

Further south, an hour outside Copenhagen in Zealand, there’s a stretch of coastline known as the Danish Riviera, with many Copenhagers have summer homes. Recently, the local tourism board has seen an uptick in visitors, some of whom are visiting for the day while others are staying overnight checking into breezy seaside hotels such as Helenekilde.

In Scotland—a country that is often considered an unpredictable summertime destination because of its changeable weather—visitors can’t get enough of the rolling green hills and cooler waters.

“We are seeing more people are wanting to spend time on the coast,” says Aeneas O’Hara, founder and CEO of Away From the Ordinary, a Scotland-based travel agency that creates bespoke trips.

One activity that’s gaining popularity is boating, where the brand charters a boat around the Scottish Isles. Away From the Ordinary, which launched in 2018, has doubled its May bookings since last year. It’s also expanded its client base with guests streaming in from southern California, Florida, and Texas, escaping the heat back home.

A dining room at Gleneagles Hotel and Spa
Scotland’s Gleneagles shows off in the summer, too.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in bookings with clients from hotter states,” says O’Hara, adding that the summer season, which previously tapered out in early September, has extended. “People are now fully booked in the second half of September.”

Hotels, too. Gleneagles Hotel and Spa, a resort set in an historic castle an hour from Edinburgh, has always been a popular summer hot spot for travelers, but it’s now receiving a more diverse group.

“We’ve had many American families with longstanding traditions of summering in Southern Europe now selecting Scotland as their annual destination” says Conor O’Leary, managing director. With an array of activities such as falconry, horseback riding, golf, tennis, and picnics in the country, there is certainly no shortage of outdoorsy things to do. Even if there is the odd rainfall, travelers don’t seem to groan about it like they might have done in the past.

“People are so happy to see the green and rain,” says O’Hara.

If you’re still not quite ready to trade in pasta for fish and chips, Northern Italy has also become the destination du jour. For summer 2024, travel agency SmartFlyer has seen an increase in trips planned to cooler parts of Italy.

Tisvilde in the Danish Riviera
Tisvilde is one coastal hotspot on the Danish Riviera.

“Lake Como, the Dolomites, and Lake Garda are some of the most requested destinations,” says Erina Pindar, COO and managing partner of travel agency SmartFlyer.

In 2023, the brand had a record 47 percent of Italy-specific travel across a collection of global partners, where 34 percent of business was directed to Northern Italy.

At Forestis, a Scandi-style ski-in-ski out property overlooking the South Tyrolean Alps in the Dolomites, they too have seen an influx of U.S. travelers. The property is geared toward winter adventurers, but it’s also an ideal summer destination, with a glimmering swimming pool and lawn dotted with sun beds, as well as outdoor activities such as hiking and biking.

Forestis may be a bustling Scandi-style ski-in-ski out resort. But in the summer it’s still serene.

“We’ve welcomed guests who have had to cancel trips to other southern regions for various reasons, who then turn to the Dolomites as an alternative,” says Teresa Unterthiner, owner of Forestis. While the Dolomites is certainly increasing in interest ahead of the Olympics, Unterthiner also links this newfound enthusiasm to people seeking cooler locations: “We believe it could also be tied to climate-adaptive focused trips.”

The heat waves and dire warming ocean situation have also spurred a trend in polar travel. Icy places that previously seemed unimaginable as summertime destinations are suddenly quenching travelers’ thirsts.

Will Bolsover, CEO and founder of Natural World Safaris, which operates trips in places like Svalbard, has seen a 20 percent increase in polar travel from April through August in the past two to three years. Cruising on a boat past ice caps is definitely the polar opposite to sitting on a beach in Greece. While it’s certainly cooler, it also has the potential to be transformative, and Bolsover argues we should go to the Arctic now while we still can.

“You can go to Italy any time in your life,” says Bolsover. “[The Arctic] is a corner of our planet where wild things roam offering a truly unique and life-changing experience.”

Also, a guarantee that you won’t need bottles of water on-hand to pour over your head.

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