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A hellish heat wave has arrived in Europe, just in time for tourists


People sunbathe and cool themselves down in a fountain at Jardins du Trocadéro in Paris as temperatures soar in an "unprecedented" June heatwave. (Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty; Washington Post illustration)

This week’s record-smashing heat in parts of Europe is running smack into the continent’s peak tourist season, adding crowds of visitors to the sweltering mix as cities try to care for their most vulnerable residents.

Parts of France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic have seen temperatures soar into the 90s and even past 100 degrees Fahrenheit — at least 20 to 30 degrees above normal. The extreme heat is expected to last into the weekend in some areas.

France has closed schools and canceled tests. Germany put speed restrictions on some of its famed autobahns out of concerns over the heat’s effect on the road surfaces. Paris has opened its pools for extended hours and created temporary misting stations and designated cooling rooms, according to the city’s website. On its tourism site, the city offers a map of cool spots and lists of parks and waterfront options.

For travelers in countries without widespread air-conditioning — or with so many outdoor attractions the trip is planned around them — the higher-than-normal temperatures mean an added risk of heat exhaustion.

Mark Elliot, a storm specialist and on-camera meteorologist at the Weather Channel, says because places like Paris and Berlin typically have moderate weather this time of year, travelers may not be expecting a scorching June.

“You have to schedule break times, you need to make sure you have much more water available than you think you need,” he says.

Leslie Gannon, director of U.S. clinical operations at travel health medicine company Passport Health, says travelers should stay inside if possible, seeking out locations with air conditioning such as malls or museums. Clothes should be loosefitting and light in color, and strenuous exercise should be avoided altogether or limited to the early morning or late evening.

And tourists should drink plenty — as long as what they’re drinking is water.

“Avoid caffeine and alcohol, because those are things that tend to dehydrate you,” Gannon says. She recognized that guidance might be difficult for travelers who want to make the most out a trip to places known for their wine, beer and coffee. “You might have to alternate the wine and the water."

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness and skin that is flushed, cool and moist. Anyone in that situation should drink four ounces of fluid every 15 minutes, apply cold compresses or spray themselves with water and move to a cooler place. If they feel worse, Gannon says, they should seek medical attention.

Nights will be cooler, of course, but Elliot points out buildings without air conditioning won’t have much of a chance to cool if temperatures haven’t dropped below 80. Unlike residents, who might be able to dash to the hardware store and set up a temporary solution — think a bucket of ice and a fan — travelers are at a disadvantage.

“There’s not much you can do, especially when you don’t live there,” Elliot says. “You’re not going to Home Depot when you’re on vacation.”

Experts recommend taking cold showers and applying cold cloths to the neck, which can help.

Some tour companies are adjusting their routes to spend more time in the shade and less time strolling, or adding more activities in the morning or evening to avoid being in the elements during the hottest part of the day.

Stephanie Taylor-Carrillo, the chief partnerships and communications officer at the walking tour company Sandemans New Europe, says while the weather is at its most extreme, later or earlier tours are being added in locations including Seville, Spain; London, and Berlin. Typically, tourists flock to tours between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., but more are opting to avoid those peak hours this week.

“This is, of course, one of the busiest times of the year for us — tourism high season,” she says.

The company provides tours in 17 European cities, but Taylor-Carrillo was in Madrid on Wednesday, where she described the conditions as “horrific.” The high is expected to reach 105 on Thursday and climb into the weekend.

The company, which published a blog post late Wednesday offering ways to cope with the heat, has been recommending that guides make tours shorter and incorporate more breaks, giving travelers more changes to hydrate.

Kenny Dunn, founder and managing director of food tour company Eating Europe, which operates in 10 cities, says some changes are beyond his control and places are simply shutting down. In Amsterdam, tours are stopping for cold ice cream instead of hot apple pie, and in Rome, what might typically be a brief stop to point out historic public water fountains is now an integral part of the tour.

“Normally we’ll visit one,” Dunn says. “Now we are visiting a bunch and encouraging people not only to drink from them, but to get their heads under them and just really kind of incorporating that into the tour in a much more prominent way.”

This isn’t the first run-in with excessive heat the company has faced. Last year’s heat wave was later in the summer.

“This is our eighth year, and I feel like maybe it’s not every year, but nearly [that] we’ve dealt with heat waves,” Dunn says.

Michelle Rutty, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who researches the impact of weather and climate change on tourism, said in an email that the frequency of such extreme heat could prompt changes to visitation patterns.

“The increasing heat waves across Europe signal an opportunity for increased tourism in the shoulder seasons (spring, fall), which will also bring much relief to the congestion/overcrowding (‘overtourism’) that many urban destinations are facing during the summer season,” she says.

Read more:

How Paris’s biggest migrant shelter and other spots in France are dealing with extreme heat

A local’s guide to Rome

We’re in the age of the overtourist. You can avoid being one of them.

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