The best countries to visit in Europe in 2021

Which European countries are open for vaccinated (and unvaccinated) travelers?

Vaccinated travelers are now a precious asset, despite the fact that vaccines are not a reality in most of the world yet. Only 12 % of the global population has been vaccinated with at least one dose (on the 11th of June), and there is a huge imbalance among countries or continents.  While Asia has vaccinated 7% of its population, South America has done 22%, Europe as a whole has reached 35% and North America (Mexico included) has immunized 39%. Special mentions go to Israel, which has 63% of its entire population vaccinated; the UK has 60%, and the United States has 51%. 

As the vaccination in the European Union (43%) and the US seems to have a good rhythm, tourism authorities have unveiled their plans regarding the European summer season. There is an obvious side note to this: if new COVID outbreaks pop up, restrictions may be put back in place. 

Cinque Terre beach in Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy / Image by Kookay from Pixabay

When does the EU allow non-essential travel?

The European Union relies on the Green Digital Certificate as a sort of “vaccine passport” to stimulate tourists to travel internationally in the region. This should be proof that the traveler is vaccinated, immune (because already had COVID-19), or have a negative test taken 72 hours prior to departure/arrival. The Green Digital Certificate should be rolled out at the pan-European level on July 1st.

The most favorite beach-and-sun destinations, like the Mediterranean countries, have already outlined their plans to attract travelers – vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. This is in line with the position of the European Commission to ease restrictions for the summer campaign. Until mid-May, some countries were closed for non-essential international travel, but that rule has started to be replaced by a more flexible one, allowing the entrance of travelers even though with some conditions.

We made a selection below of the best European countries to travel to in summer, even for unvaccinated travelers. Keep in mind that even if tourists are welcome, Covid protocols are still in place and travelers should be aware that they will have to fill out a Passenger Locator Form provided by the destination, besides following safety vacation rules.

European countries to travel without quarantine

In the European Union, the average rule was to forbid non-essential travel until mid-May or June, but some governments started to act in advance. The Mediterranean countries, mostly Spain, Greece and Italy, rely heavily on tourism and the industry is eager to recover. While Europe (including out of the European Union countries) has vaccinated less than a quarter of its population, tourism authorities have already thought of ways to welcome, safely, visitors from their European neighbors and the United States. Out of the Mediterranean area, Portugal is likely to have a successful summer campaign, as the country has one of the best metrics in controlling the pandemic.

Besides, it is worth noting that citizens from some countries that have a “positive epidemiological assessment” have been allowed to enter the EU even for “non-essential reasons”. The “green light” countries are Australia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Ruanda, Singapore, Thailand and special autonomous regions – Hong Kong and Macau. 

Cyprus, the first to reopen for tourists

Ayia Napa monastery in Cyprus
Ayia Napa church, in Cyprus / Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 

Cyprus reopened for travelers on May 10th, becoming the first European country to start the summer season. The country has the best vaccination rate in the Mediterranean area: 44% of the population were already immunized with at least one dose on June 2nd.

Cyprus publishes a weekly list of countries that are “green”, “amber” and “red”, regarding their pandemic state. A number of countries are not included in the green, amber, and red lists. These are the “grey countries”, which means they have some sort of “special rules”.

Only eight countries are on the green list, but Cyprus already allows the entry of vaccinated travelers, no matter which country they come from. The vaccine must be one of these: Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen, Astrazeneca, Sputnik or Sinopharm.

For unvaccinated travelers, Cyprus applies the “green”, “amber”, “red” and “grey” filter:

  • “Green travelers” must only fill in a form, the “Cyprus Flight Pass”, within 24 hours prior to departure.
  • “Amber travelers”, like the ones from the UK, US, Spain, Germany, or Portugal, must fill the Cyprus Flight Pass form and show a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours prior to arrival.
  • “Red travelers”, like the ones from France, Belgium, or Canada, must have taken a PCR test prior to arrival and then take a second one upon arrival (test taken at the passenger’s expense). If both tests are negative, there is no need to quarantine. If the traveler only takes the test upon arrival, quarantine for 72-hours is compulsory and then a second test must be taken. 
  • “Grey travelers”, like the ones from Brazil, South Africa, or India, must provide a negative PCR test plus remain in quarantine from 7 to 14 days.

Greece reopens for tourism leaving Latin America and Africa behind

Beach in Donousa island in Greence
Donoussa, Greece / Image by Sofia Scott, Trip Trip Now.

Greece was the first European country to push for a more open policy for tourism in summer 2021. The obvious reason is the weight of tourism in the Greek economy: nearly a quarter of the GDP relies on travel and hospitality and employs 16% of the population.

So on May 14th, Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis announced that visitors from the EU & Schengen Area, USA, UK, Israel, and other 18 countries won’t need to quarantine if they have been vaccinated at least 14 days before arrival or show negative COVID-19 test results. Random rapid testing might also be taken upon arrival.

If the traveler recovered from Covid-19 until 9 months before arrival, a “recovery certificate” can replace a PCR test.

Greece is already connected to the EU Digital Covid Certificate gateway and accepts a wide range of vaccines: Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Novavax, Johnson + Johnson/Janssen, Sinovac Biotech, Gamaleya (Sputnik), Cansino Biologics, Sinopharm.

To have all the information about traveling to Greece in summer 2021, go here.

Italy reopens for Europe, UK, and Israel first

Cala Gonone in Sardinia Italy
Cala Gonone, Sardinia, Italy / Image by Alexander Fradellafra from Pixabay 

The Italian government has decided to open for tourism on the 16th May, but not for everyone. Visitors from Europe, UK, and Israel can enter the country and enjoy the Italian beaches and beauties freely (but following health protocols), without the need to quarantine. However, travelers must prove they are vaccinated, have a negative PCR test, or are immune due to having had COVID-19 in the previous 6 months. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore were already welcome even if coming for tourism reasons (but with quarantine for 5 days). Visitors from high-risk countries, like India, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, have entrance forbidden.

Italy is about to get connected to the EU Digital Covid Certificate gateway. Check the roll-out here.

Portugal reopens for British travelers first

Beach in Algarve Portugal
Algarve, Portugal / Image by mqwadrat from Pixabay 

Portugal is one of the most strict countries regarding entry from third countries. Portugal keeps its rules of not allowing non-essential travel from out of the EU, but exceptions apply for Australia, China (including Hong Kong and Macao), Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Travelers from these countries and from the EU can enter Portugal if bringing a negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours prior to departure, without the need to quarantine.

Check the whole information about traveling to Portugal in summer 2021, here.

Spain reopens for vaccinated tourists from almost anywhere

beach in Menorca Balearic Islands Spain
Menorca, Balearic Island, Spain / Image by Sofia Scott, Trip Trip Now

The summer season in Spain officially started on May 24th, when the country opened for international tourism, from the EU and third countries. First, Spain was open only for 10 “green countries” – the UK, Australia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, Israel, Japan, and Thailand.

Since June 7th, Spain welcomes tourists from almost anywhere in the world if they are fully vaccinated or if they show a negative COVID test. The vaccine, however, must have been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, tourism is banned until June 30th if traveler comes from a high-risk country.

Which Covid vaccines are valid to enter Spain?

Spain accepts certificates for vaccines approved by the EMA and WHO. The vaccines currently authorized by the EMA are the ones by BioNTech/Pzifer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen. As for mid-May, the vaccines approved by the WHO, in addition to the EMA’s ones, are Covishield (India), Sinopharm (China), and Sinovac (also known as “Coronavac”). Russian vaccine Sputnik V is in the queue to be approved or authorized by EMA and WHO.

Spain is already connected to the EU Digital Covid Certificate, which allows all travelers – excepted the ones from high-risk countries – to enter through a “fast-track”.

Croatia reopens for EU and third-countries

View from Dubrovnik in Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia / Image by Ivan Ivankovic from Pixabay

One of the nicest Mediterranean countries for travelers that love the sea, Croatia opened for tourism in May. Fully vaccinated travelers, at least 14 days prior to arrival, are allowed to enter the country without the need to quarantine. Also, travelers that were infected with the coronavirus 180 days prior to arrival and have a medical certificate confirming their recovery, can enter and no quarantine is required.

Travelers from “green light” countries don’t even need to show a negative PCR test.

Unvaccinated travelers can still spend summer in Croatia if they show a negative PCR or antigen test upon arrival. The test must be taken within 48 hours prior to departure. An additional requirement is to prove having paid accommodation in Croatia (not only booked). More information from the Croatian government, here.

France reopens in June

Castle in Alsace France
Alsace, France / Image by Wilh from Pixabay 

France has had one of the toughest nationwide curfew: from 7pm to 6am until the end of May. Since the 9th of June, France welcomes fully vaccinated tourists, if they have been jabbed with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen.

For unvaccinated travelers, the main requirement is to hold a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. The test can be a PCR or antigen. The French territories overseas have specific conditions. Check conditions to travel to France in summer 2021 here.

The novelty this year is regarding travelers from the United States. The French government is preparing special measures to welcome vaccinated American tourists. More information from the French government, here.

The UK’s Green List

The British government has already made public their “green”, “amber” and “red” list of destinations, according to their epidemiologic risk. Green destinations exempt Britons from quarantine when returning home (although a test is still required). If going to amber or red destinations, British tourists have to quarantine when returning home at the cost of 1.750£. 

The green list issued every two weeks and for now has 11 countries and islands to where Britons are allowed to go after May 17th. These destinations are Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Faroe Islands, South Georgia Islands, St Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha, and Malvinas. Portugal was moved from green list to amber list on June 8th.

To see the updated list of green, amber, or red countries according to the UK government, click here.

This article is being regularly updated as news changes week after week. Original sources to the news are linked in each country’s section.

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FAQs about European countries to travel in 2021

Can I travel to Europe in 2021?

Travelers are welcome in Europe for the 2021 summer if they are vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at least two weeks before departure or if they prove to be Covid free with a negative test taken within 72 hours prior to departure. However, some travelers from high-risk countries, like India or Brazil, might have difficulty entering Europe, depending on the country. To check the entry situation in each one of the European countries, go to the Re-open EU website. 

Which COVID-19 vaccines are accepted to enter in Europe in 2021?

The vaccines for COVID-19 accepted in the European Union are the ones approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Janssen, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna. However, each country might decide if extending the acceptance to other vaccines, especially if they “have completed the World Health Organization emergency use listening process”, according to a European Commission statement. The government of Cyprus included the Russian vaccine, Sputnik, in their accepted list. Greece has added Sinovac Biotech, Gamaleya (Sputnik), Cansino Biologics, Sinopharm, and Novavax. Spain accepts all the vaccines confirmed by the EMA and WHO as safe, like Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen, Astrazeneca, and Sinovac/Coronavac.

What are the requirements to travel to Europe in summer 2021?

General requirements to enter most of the European countries are being vaccinated, holding a negative test (either PCR/TMA or antigen), or attesting to being immune to the coronavirus with a medical certification. Some countries might include quarantine depending on the traveler’s origin, and some countries might even forbid entry from high-risk zones. Besides, travelers should fill in a “travel health form” to be handed over when landing. Each country has its own form.

What is the EU traffic light system regarding the epidemiological risk of countries?

The European Union has a “coronavirus traffic light system” that divides European countries in green, amber, red and gray zones, according to the state of the pandemic. Nearly all the countries are amber or red as of the 13th of May. The  Covid traffic light  map can be seen here.

How does the EU digital COVID certificate work?

Starting July 1st, all European Union countries will be accepting the digital certificates as proof that the traveler has been vaccinated, has tested negative, or has recovered from COVID in the last 180 days. The traveler will hold a QR code that will be read upon arrival. However, each EU country is responsible for the definition of its own entry requirements and rules, which are not standardized throughout the territory. The digital certificate should facilitate entry in airports, train stations, and ports.