Comparisons of climate model hindcasts with independent proxy data are essential for assessing model performance in non-analogue situations. However, standardized palaeoclimate data sets for assessing the spatial pattern of past climatic change across continents are lacking for some of the most dynamic episodes of Earth’s recent past. Here we present a new chironomid-based palaeotemperature dataset designed to assess climate model hindcasts of regional summer temperature change in Europe during the late-glacial and early Holocene. Latitudinal and longitudinal patterns of inferred temperature change are in excellent agreement with simulations by the ECHAM-4 model, implying that atmospheric general circulation models like ECHAM-4 can successfully predict regionally diverging temperature trends in Europe, even when conditions differ significantly from present. However, ECHAM-4 infers larger amplitudes of change and higher temperatures during warm phases than our palaeotemperature estimates, suggesting that this and similar models may overestimate past and potentially also future summer temperature changes in Europe.