This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Travel in August is all about being canny. It’s a prime time to be in Europe but you need to be nimble to avoid the crowds and escalating prices across the Med and beaches radiating beyond. It’s worth thinking of alternatives if you want more than a packed fly-and-flop beach break or an overheated European city visit where half the venues are closed for the summer.
August is a great time for families to head to far flung destinations when most have more travel time available. The southern hemisphere experiences its winter now, which can mean better value deals and less competition for tours and accommodation. In places like South America, the dry season comes with great wildlife watching opportunities, while in Kenya and Tanzania, August is the time for migration safaris when river crossings, and the most spectacular mass wildlife spectacles take place.
A land of geographical extremes, Ecuador has record biodiversity and wildly contrasting topography. You can travel from high-altitude Andes to deep Amazon, the Pacific coast and beyond in a two-three-week trip, making this a South America-in-microcosm experience you don’t need a sabbatical for.
August is Ecuadorian winter, when you’ll need a light jacket and a woolly hat at higher altitudes. It’s also dry season when the Amazon is less muggy, buggy and boggy, thus great for wildlife watching and clear Andean skies allow exceptional views of towering volcanoes, Spanish-settled cities and colourful market towns. While on the coast, it’s time for spotting whales, or bagging a mini-Galápagos experience on Isla de la Plata that sits within day-tripping reach of the mainland, complete with blue-footed booby birds, manta rays and green turtles. Or head into the cloud forest, the jungle strung between Andes and Amazon lined with hiking trails, a plethora of orchids and the hummingbirds that feed on them.
Responsible travel tip: Ecuador’s network of eco-stays, often owned and operated by Indigenous communities, include places like Mashpi Lodge (cloud forest), Black Sheep Inn (Andes) and Kapawi Eco lodge (Amazon). Explore aboard Wanderbus: Ecuador’s first hop-on-and-off tour bus makes looped routes nationwide from the capital, Quito. Offering the spirit of independent travel with a little handholding, this B-Corp listed company is run and led by native, English-speaking guides.
Once the ski season has wound down, the fun ramps up on Swiss Alpine slopes that transform into hiking and mountain biking trails, lakes that melt into idyllic wild swimming spots and glaciers framed with wildflowers. August is the busiest time outside ski season, but you’re still unlikely to find crowds, and the long summer evenings are replete with fun outdoor events. Swiss National Day is 1 August when towns and cities celebrate with street festivals and parades animated with fireworks and live music. Travel by train to make the most of the Alpine landscape, booking ahead for such stellar scenic routes as the Bernina Express, Europe’s highest rail route; Jungfraubahn, where you can scale the North Face of the Eiger, traverse the Mönch and climb Jungfrau; and the narrow-gauge lines that make up Switzerland’s GoldenPass routes connecting Lucerne with Montreux.
Responsible travel tip: Switzerland is easy to reach by rail from the UK, and the Swiss Alps and lakes have an impressive number of campsites where you can stay off-grid, or almost. Some have pre-erected tents and lidos to cool off in, while Whitepod in Monthey has become the posterchild for luxury eco-glamping accommodation.
(How to plan a family rail adventure around Europe.)
3. The Hebrides, Scotland
The 50-plus islands off Scotland’s west coast offer a great antidote to traffic-stuffed seaside destinations of the UK’s southwest. True, the weather can be unreliable but typically the southern Hebrides fare better than much of the country for dry sunny days, when the region’s plentiful white-sand beaches and azure blue waters could — truly — be mistaken for the Indian Ocean. Do some island hopping between the beautiful islands of Islay, Mull, Harris and Lewis, but book ahead for car hire, and tours of the Hebrides’ landmark whiskey distilleries — or travel after mid-August when Scottish schools have gone back. July-August sees striking machair (wildflowers grassland) carpet coastlines that come alive with outdoor events, live music festivals and local versions of Highland games.
Responsible travel tip: Glasgow, gateway to the Inner Hebrides, is easily accessed by a decently integrated bus, coach and ferry network making for a fun adventure along roads skirting pine forests and spanning island-hopping bridges, and aboard tiny-if-hardy ferries. Responsible Travel offers a car-free island-hopping itinerary.
(5 of the best places to visit in the Hebrides.)
With some 4,350 miles of blond sand coastline and almost limitless daylight hours in summer, Denmark is a prime place for exploration in August. There’s plenty of choice of sunny spots in which to set up camp (literally), but Aarhus makes for a great base to stay. Denmark’s ‘second’ city is a former European Capital of Culture and European Region of Gastronomy. The jewel of Jutland, a clean, green, canal-woven place, rich in Viking history, Aarhus has laidback charm, its medieval cobbled streets lent contemporary buzz with excellent restaurants, smart bars and a thriving street food scene.
Woodland-backed beaches abound beyond the city, while north around the bay you’ll find Mols Bjerge, a coastal national park with hill trails, beech forests and Bronze Age burial mounds overlooked by the ruins of a medieval castle.
Responsible travel tip: Denmark’s extensive and largely flat national cycle network is made up of forested trails, rural paths and quiet roads — a great way to build some easy, low-carbon adventure into your travels. The Danish Cycling Federation’s route planner can point you to the quietest routes, with places to stay as you go.
Avoid the crowds and make for mainland destinations. The pretty little port town of Nafplio never fails to charm, fringed by ancient ruins and lined with venetian villas, while the leafy city of Kastoria does a great stand-in for a beach destination with pine fringed mountains and a fishing boat-populated lake.
There’s a superb choice of flights, too with non-stop routes from across the UK to a temping range of mainland and island destinations, including newly launched TUI routes from Cardiff. So, there should still be a reasonable choice for late bookers and those aiming to avoid airlines beleaguered by cancellations.
Responsible travel tip: Fly direct to one of Greece’s larger islands and make a beeline for the less visited areas. Try eastern Crete, and visit Vai, home to Europe’s only palm forest and the UNESCO-listed Sitia Geopark, a mountainous wilderness lined with hiking and biking trails. If you’re travelling through Athens and relying on onwards transport, ferry instead of fly but book boat tickets in advance.
(The 25 best Greek islands to visit in 2023.)