It’s painfully obvious to me that no region in Europe brings simpler joy than Southern Europe. No matter what your style of travel or preference, the area jutting into the Mediterranean Sea has got something in store that’ll tickle you pink.
Whether your ideal travel mix means sitting down for romantic dinners with a bottle of fine wine, relaxing on a beach to a sunset or scrambling through palaces or ruins that speak of ancient civilizations, you’ll discover it here in spades.
Not sure where to begin? Get started with this quick & easy Southern Europe Travel Guide…
When to visit Southern Europe?
Compared to other regions in Europe, trying to lock down when to go to Southern Europe isn’t as difficult a task. Thanks to its mostly Mediterranean climate, much of the region lacks the chillier months you’d find further north on the continent.
Although it’s a vast generalization, the best time to visit Southern Europe is in the spring (April to May) or autumn (September and October).
The southerly locations means that summers in the region can get blisteringly hot, especially in destinations inland like Madrid & Seville in Spain. Visiting in summer also pins you up against some of the worst crowds you’ll encounter anywhere in Europe.
The spring and fall shoulder seasons still often mild to warm weather with a fraction of the crowds that accumulate into the summer holidays.
Where to go in Southern Europe
When you start sorting through the best places to visit in Southern Europe, you’ll quickly start to realize just how diverse the region really is.
There’s a little of everything to be had in Mediterranean Europe from scoping out historical cities in Spain to chilling on cliffside beaches in Portugal to eating & drinking yourself into coma in Italy or island hopping in Greece. And even with limited time & space for travel, you can add a whole metric ton of new experience with relative ease.
It’s possible that no place in Europe spawns more wanderlust than Italy. For so many travellers, Italy becomes their first love, the place that sets their trip planning trajectories for years to come.
If (more likely when) you choose to visit, what seems like the entire world of European travel possibilities unfolds before you. Italy’s home to some of the world’s finest museums holding its most coveted artwork, and presents the annals of Western civilization more than any other single destination.
Even if the incessant overtourism is a bit of a turn off, don’t forget that for every overcrowded destination like Rome, Florence, and Venice there’s a lesser-known gem where crowds are sparse, food is plenty, wine flows freely, and all the simple pleasures in life run deep.
However you choose to experience Italy—whether tapping away at classic Italian destinations or discovering unsung ones—you’re bound to discover a country that’ll remain with you forever.
Much like its only land neighbour on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal can’t be pinned down in just a couple paragraphs. For its relatively small physical stature compared to other big hitters in the region, Portugal can pack quite a wallop with all that it’s got to offer.
The cities of Lisbon and Porto are perpetual favourites on the typical European tourist course, but it’s outside of these obvious name drops that you’ll find the best of this Southern European country.
With a long history of marauders and invaders spinning through, Portugal was left with a deluge of historical gems in towns like Belém, Évora, and Tomar. Mixed in with jaw-dropping peaks of the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês or the sprawling vineyards of the Douro Valley, this is one country that needs your attention.
I feel like I don’t even need to mention it, but if your European itinerary doesn’t include Spain, you’re truly missing out on something special. This fascinating Southern European country, filling out the bulk of Iberian Peninsula, is one of Europe’s genuine must-sees. To put it as dramatically as possible, life without visiting Spain at least once is a life that wasn’t worth living.
While many first-time Europe itineraries manage to stuff in a quick visit to Barcelona to check of another box, to really and truly fall in love with the country, you’ll need to dive a little deeper.
Plop down in its cultural heartland of Madrid to experience the greatness of Spanish civilization first or head towards its southern shores through the cities and town of Andalusia to discover Spain’s most alluring charms.
Not sure how to start planning your trip to Spain? Here are a few resources from our Spain Travel Guide:
- One Day in Barcelona, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Barcelona, Spain
- Where to Stay in Barcelona, Spain: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Bilbao, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Bilbao, Spain
- Where to Stay in Bilbao, Spain: The Best Hotels for Travellers
- One Day in Granada, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Granada, Spain
- Where to Stay in Granada, Spain: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Madrid, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Madrid, Spain
- Where to Stay in Madrid: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Seville, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Seville, Spain
- Where to Stay in Seville, Spain: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Valencia, Spain: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to See & Do in Valencia, Spain
- Where to Stay in Valencia, Spain: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
Transportation in Southern Europe
By air: Each country in Southern Europe has a major gateway for international flights. The busiest airports in the region include Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD), Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN), Rome–Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO), Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS), and Athens International Airport (ATH).
By train: If you’re already in Europe, trains are a great alternative for entering the region. Popular connections to neighbouring European destinations include Paris to Madrid (9h45m), Paris to Barcelona (6h), Innsbruck to Venice (5h38m), Ljubljana to Trieste (1h35m), Zurich to Milan (3h26m), Geneva to Turin (4h21m).
By train: The most comfortable way to travel around Southern Europe, like much of the continent is by rail. In Spain, the high-speed train service, AVE, is quick & efficient, cutting down travel times between major destinations like Barcelona, Madrid and Seville considerably. Italy is much in the same with high-speed rail connecting major cities like Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples.
By air: For some destinations in Southern Europe, air travel is much more convenient than trains or bus—and in some cases might be the only logical option in cases like Malta, Cyprus, and outlying Spanish islands.