Some individuals have flexible enough jobs and lifestyles to cherry-pick when to take their vacations, however several others have less alternative. Fortunately, Europe welcomes visitors three hundred and sixty five days a year — and every season offers a unique atmosphere and experience.
In travel-industry jargon, the year is split into 3 seasons: peak season (roughly mid-June through August), shoulder season (April through mid-June and September through October), and off-season (November through March). Each has its pros and cons. irrespective of when you go, if your objective is to “meet the folks,” you will find Europe full of them any time of year.
Summer could be a nice time to travel — apart from the crowds and high temperatures. Sunny weather, long days, and exuberant nightlife turn Europe into a strong magnet. I have never missed a peak season in thirty years. Families with school-age children are usually locked into peak-season travel. Here are some tips to assist you keep your cool:
Arrange your trip with crowd control in mind. Head to the busy places as early or late in peak season as you can. Consider, for example, a six-week European trip beginning June 1, half with a rail pass to see famous sights in Italy and Austria, and half visiting relatives in Scotland. It’d be wise to do the rail pass section 1st, enjoying fewer crowds, then spend time with the family during the second half of your vacation, when Florence and Salzburg are teeming with tourists. Salzburg on June 10 and Salzburg on July 10 are 2 terribly completely different experiences.
Spend the night. Popular day-trip destinations close to big cities and resorts like Toledo (near Madrid), San Marino (near large Italian beach resorts), and San Gimignano (near Florence) take on a more peaceful and pleasant atmosphere at night-time, when the legions of day-trippers revisit the predictable plumbing of their big-city or beach-resort hotels. Tiny cities normally lack hotels large enough for tour groups and are often inaccessible to giant buses. So, at worst, they experience midday crowds. Likewise, popular cruise-ship destinations, like Venice and Dubrovnik, are hellishly packed throughout the day — but more bearable at night-time, when the cruise crowds sail off.
Prepare for intense heat. Europeans swear that it gets hotter each year. Even restaurants in cooler climates (like Munich or Amsterdam) now tend to have ample al fresco seating to take advantage of the ever longer outdoor-dining season. Throughout Europe in July and August, expect high temperatures — even sweltering heat — significantly in the south.
Don’t discount July and August. Though Europe’s tourist crowds will usually be planned on a bell-shaped curve that peaks in July and August, there are exceptions. For example, Paris is comparatively empty in July and August but packed full in June and September for conventions and trade shows. Business-class hotels in Scandinavia are least expensive in the summer, when business travel there’s down.
In much of Europe (especially Italy and France), cities are partially shut down in July and August, when native urbanites take their beach breaks. You will hear that these are terrible times to travel, but it’s really no huge deal. You cannot get a dentist, and many launderettes is also closed, but tourists are basically unaffected by Europe’s mass holidays. Just do not get caught on the wrong road on the first or fifteenth of the month (when vacations usually begin or end, causing large traffic jams), or attempt to compete with all of Europe for a chunk of French Riviera beach in August.
Some places are best experienced in peak season. Travel in the peak season in Scandinavia, Britain, and Ireland, where you want the best weather and longest days possible, where the horrifying crowds of different destinations are rare, and where sights are sleepy or maybe closed in shoulder season. Scandinavia has an extremely brief tourist season — basically from mid-June to late August; I would avoid it outside this window.
“Shoulder season” — generally April through mid-June, and September through October — combines the benefits of both peak- and off-season travel. In shoulder season, you will enjoy decent weather, long-enough daylight, fewer crowds, and a local traveller industry still ready to please and entertain.
Shoulder season varies by destination. Because fall and spring bring cooler temperatures in Mediterranean Europe, shoulder season in much of Italy, southern France, Spain, Croatia, and Greece will really come with near peak-season crowds and costs. As an example, apart from beach resorts, Italy’s peak season is May, June, September, and October — not July and August. As mentioned earlier, Paris is amazingly quiet in July and August.
Spring or fall? If debating the merits of traveling before or after summer, consider your destination. Both weather and crowds are about the same in spring or fall. Mediterranean Europe is usually green in spring, but parched in fall. For hikers, the Alps are better in early fall, because many sensible hiking trails are still coated with snow through the late spring.
On a budget note, keep in mind that round-trip airfares are determined by your departure date. Therefore, if you fly over throughout peak season and return late in the fall (shoulder season), you may still pay peak-season round-trip fares.
Every summer, Europe greets a stampede of sightseers. Before jumping into the peak-season pig pile, take into account a visit during the off-season — usually November through March.
Expect to pay less (most of the time). Off-season airfares are usually many dollars cheaper. With fewer crowds in Europe, you will realize you’ll be able to sleep for less: many fine hotels drop their costs, and budget hotels will have many vacancies. And while some smaller or rural accommodations could also be closed, those still open are usually empty and, therefore, more comfortable. The opposite is true of big-city business centres (especially Berlin, Brussels, and the Scandinavian capitals), which are busiest with company travellers and most expensive off-season.
Enjoy having Europe to yourself. Off-season adventurers loiter undisturbed in Leonardo da Vinci’s home, ponder Rome’s Forum all alone, kick up sand on lonely Adriatic beaches, and chat with laid-back guards by log fires in French châteaux. In wintertime Venice, you can be by yourself atop St. Mark’s bell tower, watching the clouds of your breath roll over the church’s Byzantine domes to a horizon of cut-glass Alps. Below, on St. Mark’s square, pigeons fidget and surprise, “Where are the tourists?”
Off-season adventurers enjoy step-right-up service at outlets and tourist offices, and experience a more European Europe. Though several popular tourist-oriented parks, shows, and tours will be closed, off-season is in-season for high culture: In Vienna, for example, the Boys’ Choir, opera, and Lipizzaner stallions are in all their crowd-pleasing glory.
Be ready for any kind of weather. Because a lot of of Europe is at Canadian latitudes, the winter days are short. It’s dark by 5 p.m. The weather will be miserable — cold, windy, and drizzly — and then turn worse.
Pack for the cold and wet — layers of clothing, waterproof windcheater, gloves, wool hat, long johns, waterproof shoes, and an umbrella. Dress warmly. Cold weather is colder when you are outdoors making an attempt to enjoy yourself all day long, and cheap hotels will be cool and drafty in the off-season. But just as summer can be wet and gray, winter are often crisp and blue, and even into mid-November, hillsides blaze with colourful leaves.
Beware of shorter hours. Create the most out of your limited daylight hours. Some sights close down entirely in the off-season, and most operate on shorter hours, with sunset usually determining the closing time. Winter sightseeing is fine in huge cities, which bustle year-round, but it’s more frustrating in small tourist cities, which can be boringly quiet, with several sights and restaurants closed down. In Dec, most beach resorts shut up as tight as canned hams. While Europe’s wonderful outdoor evening ambience survives all year in the south, wintertime streets are empty in the north when dark. English-language tours, common in the summer, are rarer off-season, when most visitors are natives. Tourist info offices usually stay open year-round, but have shorter hours in winter.