Free Things to Do in Europe This Summer

You may have noticed a pattern with us lately: we’re big on the “discounts and budget travel” blog posts right now. We’ve talked about the best budget-friendly family attractions in Europe this summer, the best ways to take advantage of the current US dollar/euro exchange rate, and our tips for recent graduates and youth travelers looking to take a big trip across Europe.

Bonus: this month on our Google+ page we’ve been posting budget travel tips and ideas for budget destinations in Europe!

Next up: free summer festivities! Europe has no shortage of free festivals, holiday celebrations, sports events, and more during the summertime, and we’re here to give you tips for fitting these events into a train travel itinerary.

Here are a few free things to do in Europe in July and August, plus some free events & budget travel tips you can use all summer long.

Paris_Plages_from_Bridge
By Ken Eckert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

July

Paris Plages
Starts July 20

Paris finally figured out the one thing it doesn’t have: a beach. And then Paris promptly solved that problem: Paris Plages. Every summer since 2002, “Paris Plages” has taken place in July — the banks of the Seine are transformed into a long stretch of beach, including actual sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, and even palm trees! It’s the perfect coastal escape for those who can’t actually make it out of the city to the coast.

Getting to this event: The Plages stretch for about 3.5km along the Seine, but one of the main hubs is right near Hotel de Ville (City Hall), off Lines 1 and 11 of the Paris Metro. If you plan to take the metro often during your stay in Paris, you might want to consider a Paris Visite Card.

Tour de France
Starts July 4

This famous race needs no introduction. The race begins on July 4 in Utrecht and ends July 25 in Paris. You can take a train from Paris to any number of stops along the way, from Rennes to Le Havre, and beyond! Tip: If there’s a stop along the way that you absolutely cannot miss, book your train ticket in advance! It gets very busy and it’s possible for the trains to sell out.

Paris to Rennes by train: About 2.5 hours from Paris Montparnasse station on the TGV

Paris to Le Havre by train: About 2.5 hours from Paris St Lazare station on SNCF Intercites trains

A beautiful spring landscape with flowers, Lake Geneva and view of Montreux, Switzerland.

Montreux & Umbria Jazz Festivals
Mid July

Europe in the summer is basically heaven for lovers of jazz, and two of the biggest jazz festivals are Montreux Jazz Festival from July 2-20 and Umbria Jazz Festival from July 10-19 in the region’s capital city, Perugia. Plus, the Montreux Jazz Festival takes place right on the shore of Lake Geneva, meaning it probably has the best backdrop of any jazz festival in Europe.

Montreux by train: Montreux is easily accessible by train from Lausanne (20 minutes), Geneva (1 hour), Lucerne as part of the scenic GoldenPass train route, and more.

Perugia/Umbria by train: Perugia is easily accessible from many other major Italian cities, including Florence (about 2.5 hours), Rome (2.5 hours) and more.

Finland Wife-Carrying World Championships
July 3-4

So here’s a thing that actually exists: the annual Wife-Carrying Competition in Finland. Each contestant must carry a woman (doesn’t actually need to be his wife) through an obstacle course (including a water obstacle at one point) in order to win. As if this weren’t ridiculous enough – the winner gets the weight of his wife in beer. Just your typical summer in Finland, I guess?

Reach this event by train: This event is held in Sonkajärvi, Finland each year. From Helsinki, you can take a 5 hour train ride to Kuopio, the nearest town. Or maybe you can ask one of the contestants to carry you.

August

View from the crowd of the Palio di Sienna horse race

Tomatina
August 26

This is one of the most well-known events in Europe during the summertime — and probably the most well-known food fight in the whole world. Thousands of people gather in the small town of Bunol near Valencia, Spain, to engage in a tomato-throwing fight that has been a tradition since the mid 1900s.

Valencia by train: Valencia is easily accessible by train from many major Spanish cities (2 hours from Madrid, about 4 hours from Sevilla, etc). Valencia has a few different train stations, so make sure to check your ticket before heading out to catch your train.

Siena Horse Race
August 16 (also July 2)

This race, the Palio de Siena, is one of the world’s oldest recorded competitive events. The racing arena (Piazza del Campo) in the center of Siena is the town’s main attraction even when it isn’t a racing day. The history of the race is very tied to the town’s religious history, and in fact the two racing dates correspond with important religious feast days.

Siena by train: Siena is easily accessible by Trenitalia trains from Florence (1.5 hours), Rome (3-3.5 hours), and more.

Rhine in Flames
August 8

On a few Saturdays between May and September, you can head towards one of the many quaint German towns along the Rhine River to enjoy a magnificent fireworks display. And this isn’t just a fireworks display — it’s also a procession of lighted boats and a festive celebration of lights in each small town along the procession route. Sounds good to us!

Get to Linz by train (not to be confused with the Linz in Austria): Linz is one of the larger towns where you can join the festivities and watch the fireworks. When searching for tickets on our site, make sure to select the “Linz Rhein” option that appears when you begin to type. The one that just says “Linz” is in Austria.

Switzerland. get natural. The paddle steamer 'Unterwalden' near Fluelen on Lake Uri, a side branch of Lake Lucerne. Schweiz. ganz natuerlich. Der Raddampfer 'Unterwalden' bei Flueelen am Urnersee, einem Seitenarm des Vierwaldstaettersees. Suisse. tout naturellement. Le vapeur 'Unterwalden' pres de Flueelen, sur le lac d'Uri, une des branches du lac des Quatre-Cantons. Copyright by Switzerland Tourism         Byline: swiss-image.ch/Heinz Schwab
Photo courtesy of Switzerland Tourism

 

All Summer Long

Museum Free Days

Just in case you need to escape the heat for an afternoon or two! Some of Europe’s most renowned museums have free days and/or hours throughout the month:

  • Louvre: Free on the 1st Sunday of the month
  • Museo Nacional Centro (Madrid): Free on Saturdays after 2:30pm
  • London museums: Many famous London museums are free everyday!
  • Prague Castle: Not exactly a museum, but hey, close enough. While it does cost money to enter the castle and climb to the top, you don’t have to pay to take a stroll through the beautiful castle grounds.
  • Swiss Travel Pass bonus: With your Swiss Travel Pass, you get free entry in over 480 museums in Switzerland. We dare you to try to see all of them.

Lakes

It would be foolish to list free summer activities in Europe without mentioning all of the beautiful lakes you can visit. Particularly notable are the beaches of Croatia (Split is one of the most popular stops for visitors) and Lake Bled or Plitvice Lakes in Slovenia — both absolutely stunning natural landscapes. Just make sure to leave them as clean as you found them!

Getting to Split by train: Split is about 5.5 hours from Zagreb by train, and there are both day trains and overnight trains. You can look for train fares on our website.

Getting to Lake Bled by train: Lesce Bled is the closest train station; it’s about 4km from the center of Bled, the town near the lake.

Getting to Plitvice Lakes by train: The closest rail station to Plitvice Lakes National Park is Vrhovi-Plitvi Jezera; however, you could also take a train to Zagreb, where you would connect to a bus that would take you directly to the entrance of the park.

Praia Do Vau in Algarve, Portugal with huge rocks on the beach.

Beaches

This goes along with lakes. Many beaches in Europe are free to enter and enjoy, and the views are stunning to boot. We wrote a guide about some of our favorite beaches in Europe a bit ago, covering everything from the beaches of Spain to the coast of Bulgaria. To add to that list, we’d also include this lesser-known gem:

The Algarve Coast (Portugal): A great starting off point for this region is the small coastal town of Faro — just about 2 hours by train from Lisbon. Beaches, Moorish ruins, live music and dancing at night, small fishing coves — this beautiful stretch of coastline has something for everyone.

We hope you enjoyed our list of free things to do in Europe this summer. Do you have any other free activities to add?

About the Author

Jackie

Jackie is a freelance writer from Los Angeles currently living in Brooklyn. She worked as a travel consultant at Rail Europe for two years before switching over to Marketing & Community Manager (focusing on social media) in June 2014. In her free time Jackie travels whenever possible & maintains a personal travel blog at www.jackietravels.com.

2 Comments

  1. Sheila Pastore

    Can you help me? I wish to travel from Dubrovnik to Slovenia, Austria, Germany, maybe Poland, in October. Are there train connections? What about other transportation?

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  2. Oscar

    Yes you can travel by yolsreuf in Europe at 17.You need a US passport to get to all of those countries (not a passport of each country)You can stay in total, within Europe for 90 days (you will not need a visa) To go from France for one day to another country, go back to your family in France and then go out the next day will cost you more money and be very tiring. It also depends on where in France your base will be. To give you an example, I am currently in the south of France, close to the Spanish border. It takes me 14 hours to drive from here to the south of Germany.So I would look at a map of Europe, calculate how much time you will be having and then look at where you would like to go. e.g if you would like to go to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, then plan you trip without going back to France. Go from France to switzerland to Italy to German and from there back to France.Just an idea.You would need to look at the train schedules. e.g you could take a day train to Munich, spend some time there, take a night train to Berlin, and come back on a daytrain, to see some more of the countryside.Frequent traveller

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