Europe heatwave 2023: Is it safe to travel and how long will it last?

Tourists stop in front of the Colosseum in Rome which is at the top of the red alert list as one of the hottest cities in the country.
Tourists stop in front of the Colosseum in Rome which is at the top of the red alert list as one of the hottest cities in the country. Copyright AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
By Euronews Travel
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Record-breaking high temperatures in southern Europe are expected to continue for at least another week.


Countries across the Mediterranean are in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave as they are hit by the second ‘heat storm’ in a week.

Much of southern Europe including holiday spots like Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece has seen extremely high temperatures that are expected to last for at least another week.

Some parts of southern Italy and Greece are expecting highs over 40C as the weather continues to get hotter.

Forecasters have warned that the European temperature record of 48.8C - recorded close to Siracusa in Sicily in 2021 - could be broken.

So what does this mean for holidaymakers heading to southern Europe this summer?

Is it safe to travel during the Charon heatwave?

One thing’s for sure- if you travel to a country affected by the Charon heatwave, previously called Cerberus, it will be very hot.

In Italy, 23 cities are under red alert heat advisories, meaning all but four of Italy's biggest cities are under red alerts.

A city is on red alert when the heat is so intense it poses a threat to the whole population, not just vulnerable groups such as the sick, the elderly and small children.

Italian authorities are advising people to avoid direct sunlight between 11 am and 6pm.

The UK's Foreign Office has travel warnings in place for Italy, Spain and Greece. They advise travellers to visit the NHS website or foreign health ministry websites for advice on how to stay safe.

If you do decide to travel, tourists are asked to make sure they are applying sunscreen, avoiding being outside during the hottest parts of the day and staying hydrated. People are also being urged not to drink alcohol as it can increase the chance of dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Health issues from the heat have put a strain on the local medical facilities in many regions.

It's also imperative that you have travel insurance in case you need medical treatment.

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
An intense heat wave has reached Italy, bringing temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius in many cities across the country.AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Can I get a refund if I cancel my holiday because of the heatwave?

Some travellers are choosing to cancel their holidays or swapped their bookings for somewhere that isn’t as hot. Especially those with health conditions or other factors that make them vulnerable to the heat.

But flights and package holidays are still going ahead as normal despite the heat. This means that standard cancellation policies apply and you are likely to be charged a fee if you decide not to go on your trip.

For many bookings, this can be up to 90-100 per cent of the cost if you cancel last minute.

Travel companies justify this by saying that tourists frequently travel to countries like Dubai and Egypt where temperatures often reach over 40C.

If you have a medical condition that could be made worse by the heat then your travel insurance may cover you on medical grounds. This isn’t certain, however, and would likely require a doctor’s certificate to submit the claim.


Your best option may be to talk to the company your holiday is booked with and explain the situation.

When will the heatwave in Europe end?

Last week, southern Europe was hit by an anticyclone dubbed Cerberus after the fiery-eyed, three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology. This area of high pressure started in the Sahara before moving across northern Africa and into the Mediterranean.

On Sunday (16 July), an anticyclone named 'Charon', after Greek mythology's ferryman of the dead, began to move across Europe, further intensifying the continent's weather woes.

Forecasters say the period of extremely hot weather is likely to last until around the end of July. But, high temperatures could ease in Western European countries like Spain and Portugal over the next few days.

Will tourist attractions be open during the heatwave?

Some popular attractions have had to shut down due to the heat with reports of tourists collapsing at crowded destinations.


Greek authorities had to temporarily close the Acropolis in Athens on Friday and Saturday during the hottest part of the day. These closures have continued during the last few days as the stones heat up in the sun.

There are reports that Italian authorities are also considering imposing restrictions on access to historical monuments during the hottest part of the day.

In Athens and some other Greek cities, working hours have also been changed for the public sector and many businesses to avoid the heat. The government has ordered the suspension of work between 12 pm and 5 pm in areas where the heat is very high.

Parts of Rome have suffered power outages too as electricity grids are strained by the demand from air conditioners. On Tuesday (18 July), the Italian capital hit 41.8°C, breaking its previous record of 40.5°C set in summer 2007.

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
A tourist drinks water as she and a man sit under an umbrella in front of the five century BC Parthenon temple at the Acropolis hill during a heat wave.AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Sicily’s main airport closed due to a fire

Flights are suspended at Catania airport on the southern Italian island of Sicily after a major fire broke out.  There is no information on whether it was linked to the high temperatures.


On Sunday night (16 July) firefighters were called to put out the blaze and the airport was evacuated. It has now been put out and nobody was injured in the incident.

The airport has announced that flights are suspended until Wednesday 19 July at 2pm.

Heatwave causes wildfires in La Palma, Spain

On the island of La Palma in Spain’s Canaries, a wildfire broke out amid the high temperatures on Saturday (15 July). Thousands of people were evacuated as high winds and dry ground made officials concerned about the spread.

The weather has now shifted and the spread of the fire slowed allowing people to return to their homes but conditions mean an increased chance of blazes occurring across southern Europe.

Croatia too has seen fires rip across the country and officials in Spain have warned that the risk of wildfires has skyrocketed across much of the country.


Authorities in Greece have also said that strong winds combined with hot, dry conditions are increasing the risk of wildfires. Rhodes has been battling a blaze since Tuesday, which on Wednesday led to the evacuation of three villages and a hotel.

If you are travelling somewhere with an increased risk of blazes breaking out, make sure to follow local guidance and regulations to avoid accidentally sparking a fire.

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