It’s actually time for my favourite travel season! Also known as, low season/shoulder season/off season. Who made that up? They either had no clue what they were talking about, or they wanted to put other people off because they realised what I have, that travelling in autumn and winter in Europe is actually awesome.
I love travelling at any time of year (obviously), but I’m particularly fond of travelling in the colder months for lots of reasons, and maybe I can convince you that you don’t need to sit at home for the next six months until it’s warm to travel again.
I come from a land down under (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and when I moved to Europe I almost by accident I began to travel more in the winter. In New Zealand it’s not uncommon to take a trip overseas in the middle of the year, which also happens to be our winter, to take advantage of the warmer weather elsewhere. And because our summer coincides with Christmas and New Year, it’s more usual to stay in New Zealand and travel locally.
Europe is the opposite. Summer in Europe is HIGH TRAVEL SEASON. With capitals, because seriously, places get packed out. Most of my colleagues at work would save up their leave and go for a lovely (expensive) summer holiday. Now I love summer travel, but being on a two-year working holiday visa meant I had limited time to see Europe and I needed to see it no matter the season, and I needed to travel Europe on a budget so I could see as much as possible.
Luckily, travelling in Europe in winter and the shoulder seasons or off-season travel months from September to April turned out to be fantastic! I’d even go so far as to say that the best time to visit Europe is winter.
So what’s the deal? Why should you try and travel more in autumn and winter in Europe?
Chase the summer
This one is kind of cheating. I just said how much I love travelling in the colder seasons, and now I’m telling you to chase the summer in Europe in the off-season. The thing is, September/October or March/April is one of the best times to travel in Europe. During this time many of the southern parts of Europe still have warm weather, and it’s definitely better than somewhere like the UK. It’s also a cheaper time to travel Europe, since it’s just outside of the high season. I’d rank September as the best month to travel in Europe, but then, it is my birthday!
If you’re not ready to put away your summer dresses, short-shorts, and jandals/flip flops/thongs just yet then head to places like Spain, Portugal, Greece and Croatia. I’m writing this in Spain, it’s October and it’s 30 degrees…
Winter or offseason is also one of the cheapest times to travel in Europe. Flight prices in the summer season in Europe can get a little crazy. So many people are travelling and the airlines know it!
When I moved to Europe I didn’t know where to start with ticking off my enormous, ever-growing bucket list. I started travelling in the offseason in Europe because I realised I could use the Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ option (best invention ever) to find places to travel, and at the cheapest flight prices. Travelling in autumn and winter in Europe is generally always going to be cheaper, and this just made it even better!
I flew to places I had never even considered like Hamburg in Germany, and I went to Iceland in October when it was early enough to see the Northern Lights without the freezing temperatures. You can pick up cheap flights for city break weekends away. It’s the perfect time to explore a city in just a few days. There’s plenty of guides out there on how to see a city in a short amount of time, like 24 hours in Krakow or one day in Copenhagen, so get the cheap flights and get exploring during the best time of year to visit Europe!
A lot of accommodation providers use the seasons to set prices. You can strike some great deals by choosing to travel in Europe in winter when it’s colder. Some of the hostels I stayed in on my travels were half the price of the summer months, and many of the Airbnbs or cheaper hotels were a third or more less expensive. It’s just another reason to plan your next European trip in winter or autumn! (P.S. I book most of my hostels through Booking.com now because of free cancellation and I recently discovered lots of Airbnb type places on there too.)
Maybe they named it offseason because it puts people off? You shouldn’t be put off by travelling in Europe in October and beyond though because you’ll be one of the lucky ones. The ones who don’t have to push your way through the crowds to see the sights! Paris without the crowds? Yes, please.
I visited Ireland in January and my Mum and I were the only people in the whole of Blarney Castle. The line for kissing the Blarney Stone can go all the way from the Castle roof down the winding staircase to the ground floor! Visiting the Lake District in winter meant I was able to enjoy the beautiful views with minimal (or no!) people.
Travelling Europe in the summer brings to mind image of sun sparkling on turquoise waters, and while I absolutely think there are some places best visited in the summer, there are some places to travel in that are much better in the winter!
Then there are places that are just perfect for European winter travel. Travelling to Eastern Europe in winter was one of my favourite travel experiences. Wrapping up in warm coats and scarves and wandering the streets of the old towns of Poland is just one example.
The BEST thing about winter travel in Europe? Christmas Markets! Seriously, the rest of the world is missing a trick in not having these. The mulled wine, the delicious different foods, Christmas decorations, lights and music everywhere. It’s a truly magical experience and something I probably should have listed as the first reason why winter is the best time to travel in Europe.
Christmas Markets are just one of the different attractions you can enjoy when you travel Europe in winter. I already mentioned the Northern lights, and visiting Northern Europe in winter is obviously the best time to see them. Get in quick though because apparently, they are about to enter the low cycle where they’ll be more difficult to see. For TEN years!
Travelling to Europe in the winter also means snow, and therefore skiing. Europe has some fantastic ski resorts, and some of them are really great value for money. Next time you want to try winter sports, think about something like skiing in Bulgaria! If you visit at the end of the season you can also enjoy the snow on the mountains without necessarily having such cold weather. Shoulder seasons are awesome.
Ok I so I know I’ve said that winter is the best time to visit Europe, but there are some reasons why not everything about visiting Europe in the low season is fantastic. You might find that some attractions have more limited hours, or they close in the offseason. If there’s something you HAVE to see then make sure you check it out whether it’s going to be open first, or if there are limited offseason opening hours.
The weather can also still be very warm in the shoulder seasons, but it can also be unsettled. One day it’s a sunny crisp day and the next it’s raining. Not so fun. That’s why you need to pack for winter travel with layers in mind! I also like to adopt the attitude of never letting the rain stop me (bar an actual torrential storm) and always find a way to get out and enjoy it anyway.
While the length of days in the shoulder season in Europe shouldn’t be a problem, in the dead of winter the daylight hours can be very short if you go north! I have distinctly unfond memories of going to work in the dark and going home in the dark in the middle of winter.
When I think of travelling in Europe I not only have memories of sunbaked lands and turquoise waters, but I also think fondly of wrapping up in winter coats and scarves and sitting in some old town square, warming my hands with a mulled wine. If you want a cheap time to travel to Europe and not have to worry about the crowds, then trust me, winter is the best time to go. Don’t let the weather put you off, and get planning your next trip to Europe!
Have I convinced you that the best time to visit Europe is offseason?
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