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Best Time to Visit Europe – Peak Seasons vs. Off-Season

the best time to visit Europe
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If you’re planning a trip to Europe, strategizing your timeframe is a necessity! You’ll be happy to know that there really is not a bad time to see Europe, only better times based on your budget, goals, and preference for crowds.

Every season has its peaks and caveats. But there are also activities that are best enjoyed in certain seasons (like the tulips blooming in Amsterdam’s springtime, or the Northern Lights best viewed in Iceland’s deep winters). Use this quick and comprehensive guide to learn tips on saving money, distinguishing your priorities, and mapping out the European trip of a lifetime!

Peak Season in Europe

Peak season or “high-season” in European travel is considered to be the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere – June through August. This coincides with summer break for American families, leading to more family trips and a surplus of tourists.

Note that some warmer areas of Europe continue peak season pricing into September.

Pros of Peak Season Travel

Ideal weather – Whether you want to sunbathe at the beach in Positano or watch the bulls run in Spain, summer is like an open door of possibilities. If you don’t want to feel stuck inside due to rain and snow, you may opt for summer by default. It may be humid, balmy, and sweat-inducingly hot, but that’s ideal for beach lounging and outdoor fun.

Family-friendly – While the off-season is a wonderland for adults, summertime allows a sense of freedom for children. There will be more English-speaking tours and increased options for kid activities. Remember to gate-check the stroller, keep the schedule simple for your little tots, and reserve a few hours in the day for naptime or unstructured free time.

More events, festivals, and things to do – See a Shakespearean play at the London Globe Theater, eat Tapas in Barcelona, and swim in the Mediterranean Ocean off the coast of Italy. Overall, summer will keep your group busier with festivals like Tomorrowland, VeszprémFest, Pizzafest, San Fermin, and more. You will have the ability to tour vineyards, sail, hike, take city art and food tours, and live out your fullest plans!

The days are longer – The average day in Paris during the summer is almost 16 hours long. When I lived in the French countryside, I was shocked by the sun still being up at 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. at night. Some areas have 19 hours of daylight with only 5 hours of nighttime. It can be a bit jarring on the circadian rhythm, but it also widens the boundaries of your itinerary, giving you more time to hit your bucket list items.

More direct flights – Ultimately, summer will grant you more of everything – more to do, more to see, and more ways to get there. Demand directly affects flight frequency and rates. You’ll notice it’s easier to find non-stop flights to your destination but it will be at peak expensiveness. In the winter, you’ll find cheaper rates but longer journeys, generally with multiple layovers and stops.

Valencia Mediterranean Sea
Old Street Rome Italy
Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden

Cons of Peak Season Travel

Higher prices – This is the most popular reason to avoid peak season, everything is at its maximum price point. Negotiations are less feasible and rates are firmly skyrocketed for airfare, accommodations, and excursions. You may end up spending half as much money by waiting 4-8 months and flying on a less popular day of the week.

Higher demand = Less availability – Booking in advance is the only way to travel in high season successfully. Keep in mind that reservations will be scarce and it might not be possible to see your most desired highlights.

More crowds – This one is polarizing, but some people can’t stand large hordes of people. You know if you are overstimulated by crowds or chaos. Due to summer vacation, kids will be running rampant and the local adolescents will have more freedom in Europe too. If this is a deterrence for you, opt for off-season or shoulder season. But consider that summer months are simultaneously more high-energy, fun, and lively!

Fierce heat – Especially in the southern countries, temperatures average 37°C (98.6°F) in the summer (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, etc.) If 100-degree weather doesn’t appeal to you, consider an alternative time of year.

No air conditioning – Hilariously, Europeans do not believe in air conditioning. Not that it’s some mythical creature to them, but since it’s unnecessary most of the year and windows can be left open day-to-day, most old buildings will not be equipped with an A/C unit. It’s a cultural rejection of an expensive, noisy, freezing, and modern machine that doesn’t suit their historical vibe. I respect it… but encourage you to bring a hand-held fan and a lot of patience.

Beldizart Deimantines Mozaikos

Tips for Peak Season Travel

Book European tours in advance – Since the masses will be flocking, you’ll need to book all reservations far in advance to ensure your expectations can be accommodated. Airfare and hotels should typically be booked 3-9 months out; dinner reservations and excursions should be booked 2-6 months out. The sooner, the better!

Stay as central to town as possible – To avoid long days of transfers by bus, train, or long walks, stay as close to the city as your budget allows. Often, the hotels and Airbnbs look like incredible savings, but you may end up spending the difference in long transports and sheer physical energy. It may be worth it to you to pay a bit more and not be riding the metro for 2-3 hours a day.

Research your destination specifically – Keep in mind that these can vary greatly from region to region. Summers in Spain can be referred to as ‘the frying pan of Europe’ due to its overwhelming heat, while Northern Europe can be more mild in the off-season because winters aren’t too cold.

Don’t fear the heat! – There’s a clear reason why so many travelers aim to visit during the summer months. It is debatably the most beautiful time of year in Europe and is opportune for beaches, river cruises, and outdoor activities. While the balmy climate may be a bit intimidating, you can take preventative measures like fans and cooling towels to cool down.

Check out Nordic or Colder Countries – If you do fear the heat, check out the Northern countries (Sweden, Germany, Poland, Finland, Denmark, U.K.), because it’s less warm and there are tons of fantastic summer activities and festivals! The average temperature this time of year is around 15.5°C (60°F) – 26.6°C (80°F).

Off-Season in Europe

November, December, January, February, March

Off-season, generally from late Autumn to mid-spring, is an interval ranging from November through March. Unsurprisingly, the off-season is shrinking more and more each year.

Some argue that September and October are off-season, while others consider it shoulder season. But regardless – the crowds are sticking around for longer and visiting more frequently post-pandemic, resulting in a lengthening of peak season and a minimizing of what can be called “off-season.”

Keep in mind that December doesn’t quite reflect these factors because the holiday season is prime time for anniversaries, weddings, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations. With larger crowds and many people on break, this period through January can look more like peak season (in crowds, availability, and pricing).

Pros of Off-Season Travel

Cheaper (for the most part) – Expect to pay less, most of the time. Off-season airfare rates are often hundreds of dollars cheaper. The crowds are sparse, and hotels drop their rates by 20-50%. Food and alcohol costs will stay relatively the same.

Fewer crowds – Fewer people, less traffic, and the ability to get a quick coffee without standing in line for hours! To me, this is probably the biggest perk of off-season European travel. What’s the point of everything being cheaper if you’re being shoved around by tourists, drowning in chaos, and unable to get close to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre (or anything else of importance)?

More availability, less planning ahead – Things aren’t as booked out which means you don’t need to plan ahead as far. In the summer, you typically can’t walk up to popular attractions without a booking, and you may not be able to dine on the weekend nights without a reservation. Conversely, in the off-season, you have a better chance of snagging a ticket or seat to an exclusive spot at a moment’s notice.

Quieter and calmer – The overall ambiance is very different in the off-season. It is a slower pace of life, a bit more reserved and content. If you feel claustrophobic in overcrowded areas or can’t handle the up-close and personal smell of Europeans in the hot summertime (with their general lack of deodorant use), then the off-season is right up your alley!

Vineyards At Saint Emilion City Center France

Cons of Off-Season Travel

The cold weather – Disadvantage #1 is the cold and rainy weather. Daily temps typically range from -15°C to 13°C (5°F to 55°F); This is the primary reason that most people do not visit during the chillier months. They don’t want to see Paris in the rain (although it’s quite romantic) or fight against snow, sleet, and hail the whole time.

Higher likelihood of rain – the wet season is October through March and varies based on the country. Higher regions like the Swiss Alps will see more rain in the summertime, but lower regions at sea level will receive more rain in the autumn and winter. Cities like London may rain for half the days of the month.

The days are shorter – The sun will generally set by 5 or 6 p.m. in the peak of winter and sunset can often determine the closing hours of businesses. With limited daylight, shops and cafes will close earlier, leaving you less time to fit in the same amount of activities. Also, if there’s a full-on snow day, you may be held up in your hotel for many hours.

Fewer activity and restaurant options – Another major drawback is that some businesses and tours will be temporarily closed through the off-season. Most beach towns fold up their umbrellas and chairs; this also goes for rooftop bars and charming open-air spots that simply aren’t worth opening in the winter. Keep in mind that there will be fewer English-speaking tours as well since tourism offices have shorter hours and less demand in the winter.

Less small-town tourism – The larger cities like Paris, London, and Rome will still have a reasonable amount of liveliness in the off-season, but smaller towns like Strasbourg, Kotor, and Albarracin will be virtually empty. If you want to sightsee through the lesser-known destinations (without half the town being shut down!), consider the peak or shoulder seasons.

It’s almost too empty – Some areas and smaller villages can feel like ghost towns! While the locals emerge when it’s warm and dry out, you probably won’t see as many residents wandering around in sub-optimal weather conditions. This can feel like a drag if you’re seeking a high-energy vacation.

Pricing can still be high in some areas – In business-oriented cities like Brussels and Dusseldorf, rates may still reflect the high season.

Historic Centre Of Malaga
Castelo de S. Jorge
Bordeaux Old Town

Tips for Off-Season Travel

Visit a Christmas Market – Immerse yourself in the current season! Find a whimsical Christmas market because the holidays are beloved in this part of the world. In fact, Christmas extends to the 26th of December in Europe, known as ‘Boxing Day,’ and New Year’s Eve is a larger religious feasting holiday, Saint Sylvester’s Day.

Avoid January and February – I find these to be Europe’s coldest and rainiest months, but the lower prices also reflect this. Weigh your priorities.
Pack layers and water-resistant materials – The trick to surviving the below-freezing cold is to use thermal base layers and moisture-proof materials. Top off a look with a waterproof raincoat and moisture-wicking socks, scarves, and gloves.

Check business hours & availability – Regarding the aforementioned ghost town, research every event, restaurant, tour, and stop you want to make – because many of them will be closed for business through the low season. You don’t want to make a day trip on a 2-hour train ride or take a bus all the way into town, only to find that your destination is locked down and empty.

Get an early start each day – Since the days are shorter, getting an early start will be key to making the most of your limited time here. Check the number of daylight hours in your preferred locations.

Consider bigger cities for more to do – Smaller villages may leave a lot to be desired in the colder months. Maybe use this as a chance to see the bigger, more exciting cities like Reykjavík, Brussels, and Milan; They will have more to do and see, not leaving you feeling bored in an abandoned or desolate place.

Become one with the cold – You may also want to book Europe’s hottest ski slopes like the Swiss Alps, which are very busy in the winter and give the energy of peak season. I find these colder areas really shine this time of year, so go to Switzerland for skiing, Budapest for hot springs, and Scandinavia for the Northern Lights!

Le Plattesteen
Glória Funicular

Shoulder Season in Europe

April, May, September, October

Some of you may not have heard of a ‘shoulder season,’ but it’s growing in popularity as more people extend their wanderlusting each year. Shoulder season falls in the spring and autumn areas, bringing about cooler temperatures, thinned-out crowds, and lower prices. There’s a plethora of things to do and even the beach towns aren’t overly freezing.
Some locations will not have rates as low as off-season, because places like the Amalfi Coast in Italy extend their peak pricing through November. And some consider April to be the new June, with prices that resemble summer. Europeans are also traveling through this period as well, so businesses maintain high rates with lower demand, putting this category in a league of its own.

Pros of Shoulder Season Travel

Best of both worlds – Ideal for sightseeing, day trips, hiking, and feeling like you have the country to yourself! It combines the good of high- and low-season.

The locals emerge, a more authentic experience – A charming effect of the tourists dispersing post-summer is that the locals begin to emerge from their recluse. Although this will depend on the weather (with most locals staying indoors in a downpour or snowfall), some refer to this period as the ‘real Europe’ because you will see how things look when the crowds disappear and get a deeper cultural immersion.

More availability – Everything that was booked and price-gauged has now returned to a balanced equilibrium. Demand is lower and supply is higher, which works in your favor as the consumer. Book your dinners, hotels, shows, plays, events, and anything else without scrambling to find availability.

Fewer crowds – The tourist influx has dispersed and you’ll have more flexibility without waiting all day in queues. You won’t have to stand riding the metro most times or be pinned up body-to-body on cramped buses.

More blooms and beers – This is the time of year to see the tulips blooming in The Netherlands, picnic at the windy cliffs of Dover, and drink beer at the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest in Munich! It’s a magical time of rebirth, cycle-turning, rest, and celebration.

Stortorget square

Cons of Shoulder Season Travel

Unpredictable weather – You may get sunny skies… Or you may get a week of overcast and April showers. Shoulder season months are known for their rebellious nature, and you should not have expectations to swim or be outside every day. You’ll need to be willing to go with the flow and expect the unexpected. Days outside will be the perfect climate, but only if the weather allows!

Less activity due to closures and renovations – Similarly to off-season, lots of businesses use this time to shut down and let the staff have a holiday while they renovate. Check everything in advance and don’t get your heart too set on anything to spare any disappointment.

Tips for Shoulder Season Travel

Consider times with peak prices – Certain times of shoulder and off-season will feel a bit pricey, like Easter in Italy or Fashion Week in Paris.

Temperature-sensitive travelers should visit now – If you get easily cold or hot (and don’t want to face a world without air conditioning), shoulder season is your remedy.

Select destinations that are not weather dependent – Try to choose an area that will give you great adventures, come rain or shine.

Search for Tuesday or Wednesday departures – Mid-week is typically the cheapest time to fly, domestically and internationally.

Visit a harvest or flower festival – Make the most of your time in this unique window between extremes. There are so many local activities to choose from!

Pack like it’s winter – I’ve made this mistake before (bringing only sundresses expecting Spring and then it was 10°C (50°F) the whole time!) Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.

The Three Greyhounds
Portobello Road

The Verdict

As someone who’s visited Europe in every season, my personal favorite is the shoulder period. Most seasoned travelers would tell you September, October, and April are the best months to explore Europe.

Here’s a breakdown of each popular bracket to assist you in planning your getaway:

Rates Climate Crowds
January, February, March Low Cold and rainy Low
April, May Moderate Moderate  Moderate
June, July, August High Hot High
September, October Moderate Moderate Moderate
November, December Moderate Cold and rainy Low (high at Christmas and NYE)

Ultimately, shoulder season brings the most idyllic conditions, but you’ll need to ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do I want to travel in Europe?
  • What season do I envision it being?
  • How significantly will the weather impact my plans for this destination? Can I live with that?
  • Is my budget flexible?
  • Is the savings worth it for a limited itinerary?
  • Will the crowds impact my enjoyment even if it’s the best time to visit Europe?
  • Are there any festivals, concerts, or events that I want to center my trip around?

Final Tips for Year-Round Europe Travel

As you can see, there is no wrong time to visit Europe! Only better times and destinations based on your personal preferences and vision.

Some final tips that will support you any time of the year in Europe are:

Get travel insurance – We use Faye Insurance for all of our travel needs since they protect against flight delays, baggage loss, trip cancelations, and more.

Book from reputable excursion hosts – Instead of booking from just anyone, trust a reliable experiences platform like Get Your Guide for all tours and entry tickets. They have discounted tickets to the most popular attractions, along with the ability to book directly with local tour guides for authentic tours.

Check the federal sites for requirements – If you are an American citizen, you can start at the U.S. International Travel website to check specific country regulations, restrictions, and requirements.

Check your passport is valid – It can take 10 weeks to renew your passport and often they have to be more than 6 months from expiring. So if your passport is near its expiration date, get that application process started immediately!

Consider pickpocket prevention – In high-traffic areas with large crowds, you will need a preventative measure for petty theft. Europeans are skillful thieves, trained as gypsies and often using children or decoys to distract enamored tourists. Wear a neck wallet, use luggage locks on your bag, and consider an anti-theft backpack for days exploring town.

Consider the Eurorail Pass – Unlimited and flexible travel between 33 countries. The Eurorail Pass could be of significant value depending on how many train transits you intend on booking.

Bring Natural Jet Lag Relief – I never travel internationally without Jet Lag Supplements. They will regulate your inner clock without caffeine or uppers found in comparable products.

Bring a European power adapter – This universal adapter works in 100+ worldwide countries and is a great investment for future travel.

We hope this guide has been useful for your game-planning. Never forget your sense of adventure and relentless curiosity, Bon Voyage!

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