The best souvenirs from summertime travels are the memories made. Travel is about exploration and seeing sights you’ve never seen before.
You have plenty of options for summer vacation getaways — from a day trip to the beach, kayaking, snorkeling, or whale watching, to bucket list road trips through small towns and summer destinations.
Throughout Europe, you have some of the best summer vacation ideas, especially if you live in American cities like Los Angeles, Boston and the East Coast, Portland, or New York City and want a change of pace for the summer months.
Here are four unique places to cool off on a summertime excursion across Europe.
- Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
- The Cave Homes of Matera, Italy
- The Externstein, Germany
- Hohlhay Cave, Luxembourg
What Is the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the oldest operating salt mines in the world.
Since Neolithic times the upwelling of salt brine is theorized to have drawn in some of the earliest human settlers in the region. In the 1300s, the digging of the mine began.
For 700 continuous years, the Wieliczka Salt Mine produced salt for generations of people. Operations stopped for good as recently as the mid-2000s. Its incomparable longevity has made the Wieliczka Salt Mine a rich cultural landmark and a point of pride in Poland.
Tourists from around the globe travel to this site to see its marvels and cool off in its cavernous quarries below the earth during the summer season.
What Makes the Wieliczka Salt Mine Unique?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a genuine, one-of-a-kind historical landmark. After the mine closed for production, it quickly reopened as a museum. Before it closed, it was one of the original UNESCO World Heritage sites, inducted into this esteemed list in 1978.
Its staggering longevity as a functioning mine is fascinating in itself. But it is the abundance on the inside that is truly remarkable.
Generations upon generations of miners have worked at Wieliczka. Over the centuries, these humble mine workers used the salt deposits that were their livelihoods for self-expression.
The miner’s carved intricate structures into the walls, elevating this wholly unique site to a true marvel. Spectators can see salt thrones, elaborate columns, and full-fledged chapels throughout this vast mine.
The dedication of Wieliczka’s miners to their craft is etched into the very structure of the mine, handed down from father to son for 700 years.
Where Is the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland.
This must-see historical site within the Krakow metropolitan area is less than 15 km from downtown. Visitors can take a 30-minute drive to the mine or public transit options that will take travelers to the mine.
What Are the Cave Homes of Matera?
Matera Italy’s history extends so far back that it escapes record.
The caves of Matera, Italy, have been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Some estimates place the first human settlement in Matera’s natural caves as far back as the 10th century BC.
Since they were first home to human beings, they have been continuously inhabited by people to the present day, making them one of the oldest, unbroken human habitats in the entire world. From the dawn of civilization to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, to the modern day, generations of people have called Matera, Italy home.
Once woefully impoverished, Matera has emerged within the past half century as a bona fide cultural capital for Europe and the world — especially for foodies.
What Makes the Cave Homes of Matera Unique?
Traveler’s eager to see unique, culturally rich places ought to have the Cave Houses of Matera, Italy, high on their list. Matera’s astounding longevity as a continually inhabited human settlement made it an easy induction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site — a site you’ll feel fulfilled checking off your list.
The entire town is a fascinating sight to behold.
The hollowed-out edifices that make the Cave Houses of Materia have been home to hundreds of thousands of families throughout history. A stroll through Matera’s timeless streets transports travelers to a distant past, though not out of reach of high-quality restaurants and modern amenities around every corner.
The architecture in the town is authentic, living artifacts; while these old stone homes appear on the outside plucked from the past, people still live in them today with all the comfort and quality that a modern home offers.
The town’s aged appearance is so convincing that it has been used frequently as a location for films set in ancient times with little to no alteration. Matera’s historic heritage makes it unlike any landmark in Europe; it’s a must-see for travelers eager to see real-life history before their eyes.
Where Are the Cave Homes of Matera?
Matera is a commune tucked away in the “heel” of the Italian peninsula.
The Cave Homes are a 423 km drive from Rome. Naples is a closer metropolitan area, only a 250km drive away. However, plenty of transit options like buses and trains connect travelers to this unique location. With plenty to see along the way, Matera Italy is a must-have destination to visit Italy and Europe’s most ancient features.
What Is the Externsteine?
Hidden away in the vast old-growth trees of the Teutoburg Forest is an unusual rock formation that has held deep, cultural significance for German people over the centuries: the Externsteine.
Translations for the Externsteine vary between “Stones of the Egge '' or “ Star Stones.” What’s certain is that this striking geological phenomenon has transfixed its visitors for centuries with its natural beauty and sightseeing opportunities, making it a summer holiday opportunity on par with Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or Acadia National Park in the US.
What Makes the Externsteine Unique?
The Externsteine warrants a visit as a geological oddity alone. They appear entirely out of place — strikingly unlike the surrounding environment.
This sandstone rock formation stands out quite literally; the rocks of the Extersteine jut out of an otherwise verdant, forested landscape.
The towering presence of these enigmatic stone pillars leaves a vague impression. The Externsteine’s meaning has changed over the centuries as pilgrims from different faiths and backgrounds were drawn to its mesmerizing natural structures.
The stones of the Externsteine have served a tremendous cultural purpose for thousands of years.
It has a rich history as a religious site for the Saxon pagans of old, then for medieval Christians, who etched a stark relief depicting Jesus’ Descent from the Cross into the sandstone. Chambers were carved out of the rock to form grottos for an unknown purpose, adding deeper allure to the Externsteine’s mysterious air.
With plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding Teutoburg Forest to explore, the Externsteine is a fascinating natural wonder; it’s a great end destination for a summertime pilgrimage through the woods.
Where Is the Externsteine?
The Externsteine is in North Rhine-Westphalia, a short journey from the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. Hanover is the largest metropolitan area near the site — just under 100 km away.
If you’re interested in traveling to Germany for a visit to the Externsteine, learn how you make your international travel easier using ETIAS: a new travel authorization system for EU visitors.
What Is Hohllay Cave?
Hohllay Cave in Luxembourg is the perfect resting place after a hike.
Hohllay means “hollowed out”; this cave's low-hanging, cathedral-like ceilings were carved out by medieval miners extracting rocks to use as millstones. After mining officially ceased in the 19th century, the strange formation of the stones in Hohllay Cave made it a cool respite after a long walk through the woods.
What Makes Hohllay Cave Unique?
The millstone extraction transformed what was once a natural cave formation into an intriguing curiosity.
Milestones are circular tools used to mill grain. As the miners made cuts to make for a circular-shaped base, the cave walls took on a bizarre, captivating appearance unlike anything seen in the natural world.
Careful excavation of the cave over the centuries has lent it a wholly unique character; not entirely natural, not quite manufactured.
The path to Hohllay Cave weaves through a serene, forested landscape that hosts numerous shaded grottos and quaint, bubbling waterfalls.
While a walk through this nature reserve is a reward, Hohllay Cave’s signature features and chilled, shaded interior make it perfect for the hotter time of year. Occasionally, the cave is a natural amphitheater for live music and nightlife; in summer vacation spots, it's hard to imagine a place that offers more.
Where Is Hohllay Cave?
Hohllay Cave is a relatively short journey from the city of Luxembourg — just a 26km drive east near the German border. It may not be the Caribbean’s white sand beaches, but this cave is a wonder.
Travel With ETIAS
With Germany so near, having the necessary travel authorization to travel to Europe is just as crucial as the authorization to travel between E.U. and Schengen Area countries.
ETIAS makes traveling to Europe as easy as possible. To learn more about how ETIAS can help international travelers see Europe consult these FAQs.