Among them was Paris, which recorded its hottest day ever with 42.6 degrees Celsius – the French capital’s previous record of 40.4C was set in July 1947.
The record books were rewritten on Thursday in Europe, as major cities saw temperatures soar past previous levels.
In Germany, the northwestern town of Lingen recorded the country’s highest temperature ever, at 42.6C, according to the German Weather Service.
Belgium saw temperatures rise above 40C, with a new record of 40.6C, the hottest day since the country started keeping records in 1833.
“A new national record: 40.6 C in Kleine Brogel! Is this for real!” said David Dehenauw, head of forecasting at the country’s Royal Meteorological Institute.
In the Netherlands, Gilze-Rijen airbase recorded 40.4C, a new record high, according to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI).
In the United Kingdom, temperatures soared to 38.1C in Cambridge, breaking the country’s previous record for the hottest July day at 36.7C and making it the second hottest day recorded across the UK. The all-time high temperature was 38.5C reached in 2003, in Faversham, Kent.
Tourists and residents across Europe sought relief from the heat any way they could – in fountains, ponds and in some cities such as Paris, fine mist sprayers were put in place to cool people off. Authorities and charity workers also handed out water and sunscreen to homeless people and opened day centres for them to rest and shower.
The heat brought with it a number of warnings, not least in the Netherlands, where a government health institute issued a warning for high levels of smog in the densely populated cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
“Air quality will be extremely bad,” the Dutch government warned, “due to light winds that cannot blow away pollution”.
The extreme heat caused travel disruption throughout France, where authorities urged passengers to avoid public transport and stay home. A power plant in France was forced to shut down two nuclear reactors, because the water they used for cooling became too hot.
In the UK, commuters faced disruption after Network Rail reported a number of heat-related incidents on the railway, as trains were cancelled or forced to slow down to prevent tracks buckling in the heat. Commuters became stuck at St Pancras Station in London, after overhead wires were damaged, severely disrupting East Midlands and Thameslink services.
The weather may also have contributed to the breakdown of a Eurostar train in Belgium on Wednesday that stranded more than 600 passengers in a sweltering tunnel for two hours.
Heat is also threatening iconic landmarks such as the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Its roof collapsed in a fire in April, but the cathedral’s chief architect Philippe Villeneuve warned that high temperatures could dry out the church’s fragile masonry and lead to more structural failures.
Late on Thursday and in to Friday, thunderstorms moved in across western Europe, bringing a welcome respite from the searing heat, as temperatures dropped dramatically to more usual levels.