You know it’s World Cup season when all your friends suddenly become ardent nationalists supporting a country and sport with unprecedented enthusiasm. Just last month the extent of their ancestral pride came in the form of occasionally baking Danish cookies, and now they’ve insisted on painting the Danish flag on their face and giving Braveheart-style speeches in the office.
For you, maybe the case is soccer (or football) or men-running-around-in-circles-on-a-field is not your cup of tea. Maybe you’re put off by the injuries and the drama. Maybe it’s not part of your temperament to have your mood affected by something you couldn’t possibly control. Maybe you refuse to support FIFA, an organization with a history of corruption and collusion. All are legitimate reasons. The point is you’re not interested in watching the games. If you’re traveling around Europe over the next month and are desperate to escape football-fever, here’s our list of the best summertime destinations to get away from the World Cup.
Greece is perhaps one of the most beautiful countries to have not qualified for this year’s World Cup. White sands, turquoise waters, pristine islands covered in Cycladic architecture, and no soccer-related hullabaloo — it’s the perfect combination. In Greece it’s possible to hide in plain sight or hide entirely out of sight; there are great options for both thumping nightlife and quiet reclusive getaways. Head over to Mykonos, the country’s most famous and cosmopolitan island offering everything for entertainment junkies and culture vultures interested in history. Visit Paros, another beautiful island known for its ancient Byzantine footpaths connecting to traditional villages. Ios in the Aegean sea is another great alternative destination for those looking to bypass the well-established hubs of Mykonos and Santorini.
For the non sport-inclined, there are 2 optimal times to visit the Netherlands: during the summer, and during a summer in which the team isn’t involved in the World Cup. In what is otherwise is a pretty nationalistic, paint-your-face-orange kind of country, 2018 should be a bit more mellow. If you haven’t visited before, take to the water and do a canal trip in Amsterdam, or visit the Hortus Botanicus botanical garden. No shame in immersing yourself in popular Dutch activities. Head out to the countryside and visit some historical villages and castles, or move northward to see how the Dutch do islands and beaches. Other attractions include the Royal City of Hague, the progressive-yet-antiquated town of Delft, and the tree-lined, canal-lined city of Leiden.
Italy is perhaps the country on this list with the richest World Cup history and most fanatic football fans. The last time the country didn’t qualify was in 1958, so you may stumble across more sullen people in bars than usual, but it’s still worth visiting. Tuscany and Umbria are excellent destinations to get away from the world cup, boasting weathered old-timey city centers and villas dotting the rolling green hills. Italy is also known for its summertime music festivals including Rock in Roma, Milano Summer Festival, and the Arena Opera Festival, which is held in one of the most beautiful outdoor amphitheaters in the world.
Summertime in Hungary screams grand markets, lakes, river cruises on the Danube, old town centers, and palatial castle ruins — in other words, not soccer. Budapest is frequently regarded as one of the best destinations in Europe for its food, music, shopping, and accessible public transport system that runs 24 hours per day. Take a tour of the Dohány Street synagogue (one of the largest outside of Israel), visit a thermal cave bath in Miskolc-Tapolca, or enjoy the lineup at at Sziget Festival in August.
We know this seems like an odd choice for a place to avoid the World Cup. Why would anyone venture to the heart of the games to avoid the event? Thankfully, the largest country on earth, spanning 11 time zones, offers more than just soccer. Grab your passport, research specifics on Russian visas and migration cards (nobody wants trouble with Russian authorities and law enforcement), and head to any of the beautiful non-host city destinations. One of the best routes for a Russian holiday is the golden ring: a region of small historical towns, gingerbread cottages, and countryside. Head north to Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in the Ural mountains with a vibrant cultural scene, home to over 30 museums, and a common stop for big musical acts. Other spots likely to be free of anything soccer-related include Veliky Novgorod, Vladivostok, and Irkutsk. Naturally, avoid Moscow and you should be able to enjoy a football-free vacation.