Sunset Boulevards: Europe’s Top Evening Views

By Rick Steves
Baltic breezes and warm westerly light bathe the Danish isle of Ærø on most summer evenings. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli)
Sunset as seen from Fira, Santorini, Greece
Offering views out over a flooded volcanic crater, the Greek island of Santorini has some of Europe's most spectacular sunsets. (photo: Rick Steves)

Sunsets decorate my travel memories. They can be a vivid, romantic capper for a beautiful day on the road. I've seen a lot of sunsets in my travels — these spots are some of my most memorable.

Ærø Island, Denmark: Four hours from Copenhagen, time-passed Ærø Island is the perfect place to wind down. At a lazy day's end, stroll out to Urehoved, a spit of land lined with cozy beach houses. As children splash in the mild, shallow bay waters, their parents sit peacefully on the porches of their tiny cabins. While waiting for the sun to set, find a spot in the sand, warm yourself by a beach fire, and appreciate the beauty of this perfectly Danish scene.

Paris: Paris has its share of blockbuster sights and beautiful viewpoints, but at sunset, my favorite spot is on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica atop Montmartre, the former haunt of struggling artists like Renoir, Picasso, and Edith Piaf. You'll be surrounded by backpackers, buskers, and local lovers as Paris spreads out before you, the sky slowly grows dark, and — neighborhood by neighborhood — street lamps pop on in the City of Light.

Granada, Spain: My favorite viewpoint in Granada is the hill-topping San Nicolas terrace in the Albayzín, the old Moorish quarter facing the Alhambra fortress. The golden hour before sunset is just right for a picnic dinner. The setting sun makes the Alhambra glow red, evoking the tumult of this city's violent history. At the nearby bar, with the same million-euro views, order a cheap drink, pop a few euros into the musicians' hats, and enjoy an impromptu concert as good as many you might book long in advance.

Greek Islands: Despite how touristy they are, the Greek islands are a great-to-be-alive place — especially at sunset. Scout for an appealing bar with a view and nurse an ouzo while waiting for the sun to make its curtain call. On Santorini, sit on the lip of the crater high above the glittering Aegean Sea. On Mykonos, join the crowds in the cafés that line the colorful stretch of houses called Little Venice, and watch the sun set to the rhythm of the sloppy, slamming waves. Just as unforgettable is riding a ferry charging across the Greek sea, with dolphins — who seem to come out for the sunset — playfully loping ahead of the ship's bow.

Lake District, England: Just outside the cute town of Keswick, Castlerigg is one of the best and oldest stone circles in Britain. Be here before sunset, find a stony seat, and savor this 5,000-year-old place, with 38 stones mysteriously laid out on a plateau between two tall peaks. The fragrance of wild grass stirred up by grazing sheep comes with a whiff of mystical druids, who once used these stones for their worship, dancing in the long shadows. It's a moment that inspires plumbers to poetry.

Assisi, Italy: In the hometown of St. Francis, leave the tourists behind and hike to Rocca Minore, the ruins of a small castle. Sitting on the rampart, with olive groves at your feet leading to a vast and lush Umbrian vista, imagine the age when each town was its own little state, and enjoy sundown with the same views and birdsong that inspired St. Francis.

Norway's Fjords: Unlike many tourists, who blitz the fjords in a day, I prefer to spend at least one night. One of my favorite home bases is idyllic Solvorn, a sleepy Victorian town with colorfully painted wooden sheds lining its waterfront. At sunset, take your dessert to go and sit at the end of the pier. Listening to the steady call of gulls and the lazy gulping of small boats against little waves, take in this uniquely Norwegian view. The water is glassy and frightfully deep, the black rock cliffs rocket into the sky above, and the sun dips too early behind the peaks.

Of course, Europe doesn't have a monopoly on breathtaking sunset vistas. In Egypt, for example, one of the great experiences is a romantic felucca ride on the Nile at sunset. For $50, you can hire a private boat with a captain and mate for an hour's sail on the Nile. The sinking sun turns palms into silhouettes, the temperature drops, and villages awaken — children frolic, long-legged birds strike a pose, and throughout the valley minarets come to life with their calls to prayer as you glide like a silent voyeur through the reeds.

My favorite sunset is from my deck back home in Edmonds, Washington, looking over Puget Sound just north of Seattle. As the sun goes down, a golden path of sparkles leads across the bay to the snowcapped Olympic Mountains. As the sun sets behind its peak of the day, the ferries — lit from within — ply silently across the water and begin to glow like floating lanterns.

This article is used with the permission of Rick Steves' Europe ( Rick Steves writes European guidebooks, hosts travel shows on public TV and radio, and organizes European tours.