2020 was a hard year, especially for the travel industry and for those with an unquenchable wanderlust. After a year of being cooped up, it’s only natural to dream of all the faraway places you’ll visit once the pandemic is over.
We’re finally starting to see some semblance of getting back to normal, and with more and more vaccines available, 2021 will likely be the year that international travel is possible again!
The European Union has announced that after more than a year of blocking all non-essential travel, they’ll reopen borders for American tourists who can show proof of full vaccination by this summer – although it’s not clear what kind of documentation foreign travelers will need to provide to show proof of the vaccine.
Still, it’s safe to say you can start turning those daydreams into tentative travel plans – and we’ve come up with a list of the best European destinations to visit first after COVID-19. Scroll down to learn more!
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Traveling Tips in 2021
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye. Here are some tips to make booking your trip in 2021 easier:
- Although it might be tempting to book that cheap plane ticket and start deciding which hotel to reserve, look for options with no cancellation and rebooking fees.
- Opt-in for all of the insurance you can get your hands on – just to be safe.
- Most flights will require masks and have other precautions in place, even if you have proof of vaccination. Be sure to check all requirements before booking your tickets.
- Different locations will have different rules and restrictions, even though they are part of the larger EU area. Make sure to check the official guidelines and requirements for entry to your destination before booking anything, and be sure you have all the correct documentation necessary.
- While some of the bustling tourist destinations may be less crowded than they were during pre-COVID times, you still might want to choose a destination that flies under the radar on the travel itineraries of others.
Just because you can travel again doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same as it once was. There are plenty of places in Europe that will afford you a safe experience and piece of mind while you ease back into the world of international travel.
From isolated islands to secluded nature getaways, read on to find the best European destinations to visit in 2021.
Iceland has gotten ahead of the program – and is already allowing tourists with proof of vaccine to enter the country. As long as you’re not coming from a high-risk area, you’ll be allowed to roam the island freely. You’ll be required to take a free COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantine until you have your result, which is usually given within 5-6 hours, but this precaution is only a temporary one and will be reviewed on June 1st.
Renowned for its awe-inspiring landscapes and unmatched natural beauty, Iceland is on the bucket list of many travels. In the last few years, this little island has swelled in popularity and some of the most impressive sites have fallen victim to large crowds. If you want to experience the wild beauty that makes this country so popular, now’s the time to go, before Iceland once again becomes a tourist hotspot.
The best way to see Iceland is by renting a car and driving around the country. The Ring Road will take you around the perimeter of the island and treat you to spectacular views of the coast. You’ll also find plenty of stop-off points where you can see waterfalls, go for a hike, or take a break in a hot spring.
Hang around the incredibly relaxed capital of Reykjavik and marvel at the old architecture, taste some local delicacies, or take a day trip to the world-famous Blue Lagoon.
Slovenia is another outdoor oasis that has made its way onto the list of top places to visit in Europe after COVID-19, and this small country packs a big punch.
Overflowing with an abundance of natural beauty and tranquil open spaces, Slovenia has somehow remained one of the least visited countries in Europe. You could easily spend most of your time here taking in views of snow-capped mountains and turquoise blue rivers – and the best part is, you’ll never have to worry about massive crowds.
Lake Bled is one of Slovenia’s top sites, and is one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. Camping and “glamping” are popular ways to become one with nature in this area, though there are plenty of bed and breakfasts and hotels around the lake.
In the capital city of Ljubljana, you’ll find fascinating architecture, lots of green spaces, and a swath of charming outdoor cafes along the Ljubljanica River.
Since the start of the pandemic, many areas in Portugal have managed to remain in the “green zone”, an indication that makes this country one of the safest in Europe.
The Azores are at the top of our list for European destinations to visit after COVID, as there are no tests or quarantine periods required for travelers who can show proof of vaccination upon arrival. This verdant archipelago is made up of 9 islands, all of which offer stunning scenery, an abundance of outdoor activities, and delectable local dishes.
Another nearly unaffected spot in Portugal is the southern region of the Algarve. This is great news for beach lovers, as this district is home to some of the best stretches of sand in the world. The city of Lagoa is particularly beautiful, thanks to its scenic beaches and small coastal villages. With 8 times fewer severe cases per million inhabitants than some other hard-hit destinations, it’s one of the safest destinations in Europe.
For similar vibes but fewer people, you can explore Melides, a quaint beach town that is one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets. Here you’ll find deserted beaches and miles of vineyards without all the hubbub of some of the more popular areas around the country.
Greece has recently announced that it’ll be re-opening to travelers in mid-June, and this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience one of the most popular tourist destinations before the tourists return.
This is especially true for the ever-crowded island of Santorini. If you beat the crowds, you can experience the magic of this place like the locals – and you can bet there will be some great deals to entice travelers to visit in the near future.
The island of Corfu is one of the spots least affected by COVID-19, and the combination of beautiful beaches, tantalizing seafood, and sustainable tourism is enough to entice anyone to this relaxed destination. There’s a ton of history and beautiful old buildings here as well, in addition to incredible natural landscapes and plenty of wine tasting opportunities.
Ikaria has never been overrun by tourists, so those hoping to secure an uncrowded vacation destination or those simply wanting to experience authentic Greek culture will love this little island.
Foodies should head straight to Crete and sidle up next to the water at one of the famous seaside cafes. The city of Chania is especially noteworthy for those looking for a great dining experience where you’ll be treated to beautiful views across the ancient harbor and charming cobblestone streets.
5. The Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa. Islands have had an easier time warding off mass infections, and the Canary Islands are no exception – making it one of the best places in Europe to visit after COVID-19.
Renowned for their pleasant climate, impressive landscapes, and beautiful beaches, these islands boast plenty of opportunities for exploring nature and wildlife watching.
Tenerife is one of the most popular islands, and once Europe is open for travel you may consider putting this well-known paradise at the top of your list. Enjoy all the beaches and bars that this island is known for, and stay for whale watching, dolphin spotting, and national parks that never get enough attention.
For a more intimate experience, the lesser-known island of El Hierro is a great choice. You’ll have no problem social distancing here, as you may be the only tourist in sight. The best way to explore this unspoiled island is by car, where you’ll drive by lava fields, charming fishing villages, blacks sand beaches, and astonishing cliff faces along the way.
Although France is known for some sweeping metropolises – namely, Paris – there are plenty of quintessential countryside towns and sleepy beach resorts that will allow you to keep your distance while soaking in beautiful views and indulging in French cuisine.
The region of Provence is located on the Mediterranean sea and shares a border with Italy. Known for its fragrant lavender fields, ritzy coastal towns, enticing vineyards, and medieval villages, it’s a wonder that this area isn’t more inundated with tourists. Visit Marseille and Lyon to see some of what Provence has to offer.
You could also switch it up and see some of the historic parts of northern France, specifically the Pas de Calais. Although often overlooked for the glamour of the southern coast, this area is rich with world war history, as it was a battleground for both major wars. Even if you’re not a history buff, you can make your way to the stunning seaside of the opal coast or explore the hills and dales of this rural region.
Croatia is another safe bet when it comes to European countries that were not as hard hit by COVID-19, and this magical place should definitely be on your list of places to visit once things start opening up.
Dubrovnik is one of the most popular cities for tourists, especially Game of Thrones fans, so if you can beat the masses to this enchanting city you’ll be able to enjoy the splendor without the crowds that usually plague the main sites. The massive stone walls of the old town look like they’re straight out of a fairy-tale, and you’ll find plenty of spots to dip your toes in the turquoise blue waters of the Adriatic sea.
Croatia is also known for its collection of islands, many of which are reachable by ferry from Dubrovnik, which takes just a few hours. It may be hard to choose which one to visit because all of the islands boast spectacular views and at least a few beaches. Some of the best islands include Hvar, with its swanky harbor and ritzy downtown area, the more tranquil yet equally as stunning Rab, and the lesser-known Lopud, home to a newly refurbished monastery and Renaissance-era stone houses.
For a quieter experience, head south of Dubrovnik to the hidden gem of Cavtat. This small but stunning coastal village boasts a rich history, diverse culture, and some of the best beaches in the country.
If you want to experience the incredible Adriatic coast without all the crowds, keep heading south from Croatia and visit the hidden gem of Montenegro.
Although growing in popularity with foreigners, this place is still up and coming – so you may want to visit before it becomes a full-fledged tourist hot spot. Along the coast, you’ll find medieval villages, mountainous backdrops, and an overall quiet ambiance that makes this place feel truly magical.
The Bay of Kotor is one of the most stunning areas of this small country, and it’s full of fortified villages and ancient churches perched over the water.
Durmitor National Park is also a beautiful place to spend some time, especially for hikers and backpackers. Exchange the coastal views for forests and lakes and the hot sunny weather for crisp mountain air as you explore this seriously underrated part of the world.