Is Winter coming?
The time of changing leaves, snuggly clothes, days getting shorter, packing away the travel stuff and bunking down for the winter.
Wait, what? Not that last one. It’s actually time for my favourite travel season in Europe! 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 found myself travelling 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 to see friends and family.
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 money and time to see Europe, and I needed to see as much as possible no matter the season.
Read More – Best Places in Europe to Visit During the Summer
Luckily, travelling in Europe during the months of September to April, known as the shoulder seasons or off-season, 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, definitely better than somewhere like the UK.
It’s also often a cheaper time to travel to sunnier climes as fewer people choose to go abroad since it’s just outside of the high season and school is in session. I’d go as far as to rank September as the best month to explore 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 by September, then head to places like Spain in winter, Portugal (try Lisbon in the off-season!), Greece and Croatia.
Just to prove my Winter sun point, when I wrote this post, I was in Spain in October and was 30 degrees…
Read More About –Spain in Winter
Read More About –Lisbon in the Off-season. or The Algarve in the Winter
Winter or off-season 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 first 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 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 November when it was early enough to see the Northern Lights without the freezing temperatures.
You can pick up cheap flights for longer breaks, but I tended to look for city break weekends away. It’s the perfect time to explore a city in just a few days.
There are 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!
Of course, it’s nice to spend longer in each place, but if you can have a cheap weekend away, why not?
Read More About –Exploring Iceland in November
Read More About –The Best European City Breaks in Winter
Read More About –Spending 24hrs in Krakow
Read More About –City Guide – Spending One Day In Copenhagen
A lot of accommodation providers use the seasons to set prices. You can strike some great deals by choosing to travel to 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 hotels were a third less expensive.
It’s just another reason to plan your next European trip in winter or autumn!
(P.S. I book most of my accommodation through Booking.com now because of the free cancellation policy and the variety of accommodation available, including Airbnb-type places.
Maybe they named it off-season 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.
Read More About – Paris in the Winter
Read More About – Kissing the Blarney Stone
Read More About – The Lake District in Winter
Travelling Europe in the summer brings to mind images of the 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 when it’s colder!
Southern Spain, for example, can easily reach a sweltering 35-40 degrees in the height of summer, and for me, that’s just too hot!
Then there are places that are just perfect for European winter travel, especially around Christmas. Let me tell you, you haven’t experienced Christmas fully until you’ve been to a European Christmas market!
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.
Read More About – Eastern Europe in Winter
Read More About –Gdansk – Winter Travel in Poland
The BEST thing about winter travel in Europe? Christmas Markets! Yes, I mentioned this above, but it also deserves its own point.
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 I love European winter travel so much!
Different things to see and do
Christmas Markets are just one of the different attractions you can enjoy when you travel Europe in winter.
Try to catch a glimpse of the famous Northern lights is top of many people’s bucket lists, and visiting Northern Europe in winter is the best time to see them.
Travelling to Europe in the winter also means snow, and therefore skiing. Europe has some world-famous 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.
Some of the things that aren’t so hot about travelling Europe in winter
Ok, 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 off-season opening hours.
The weather can also still be very warm in the shoulder seasons, but it can also be unsettled. One day it’s sunny and warm, 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 in Scotland.
Read More About –Packing for Winter Travel
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 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 off-season?
Planning your trip to Europe in the off-season? Here are some posts to help!
- Lisbon in Winter: Falling in Love with Portugal in Off-Season
- How to Pack for Winter Travel With Carry On Only Luggage
- Spain in Winter: Why You Should Go + Best Places to Visit
- 10 of the Best Winter City Breaks in Europe
- Edinburgh in Winter: Things to Do + Reasons to Visit
- Iceland in Winter: 25 Things To Know Before You Go
- 11 Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe
- Brussels in Winter: The Best Things to Do + See
- The Best Iceland Winter Tours: Getting Around Iceland in Winter Without a Car
- Visiting The Lake District in Winter
- The Best Things to Do in Munich in Winter
- Gdansk – Winter Travel in Poland
Sonja x If you liked it, pin it!
45 thoughts on “Why Off Season and Shoulder Season is the Best Time to Travel in Europe”
This is a lovely post full of sound wisdom Sonya. I love traveling in Europe in the shoulder seasons. I have not been there during winter in many many years. Maybe it’s time to change that.
Thanks Donna! That’s really lovely to hear. I started travelling in winter out of necessity (summer was too expensive on my salary, and I had limited time in Europe initially!) and then fell in love with being able to see so many great places on a cheaper budget and with less people, plus I discovered that some places just seem to fit with winter travel! I hope you make it back soon 🙂
Great post, with a lot of great information, that I also happen to agree with. I recently moved to Paris from Florida, so getting used to the cold is definitely a priority for me :D, especially since it’s only the beginning of October! It’s quite obvious that the crowds have died down since I’ve first got here, but they’re not totally gone just yet.
Thanks Michael! I’m not sure Paris ever truly goes quiet, but I visited in January and loved not having so many people about! You’l definitely notice a difference in climate from Florida. I think it’s lovely though, especially when you can really see the change in seasons. Best of luck!
GREAT list of tips for traveling in this lovely season! From your mention of snuggly clothes at the outset, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit in this post 🙂 I just love fall. The crisp, cool weather feels like rebirth to me, even if for a lot of people it means spending more time indoors. For me it means going running whenever I want and really enjoying a midday coffee (nice cozy mug and everything – I didn’t even realize how American I am until I got to Europe, haha).
Anyway, I love your conversational writing style and fond descriptions of your travel memories. In particular, you make the Christmas markets sound amazing. Really, I’d say the best time to travel Europe is whenever you can. Just go and make the weather work for you 🙂
Thanks so much for your lovely comment Nicole! And you’re so right about any time being the best time! When I moved to Vancouver Island in Canada in the rainy season I really learnt that lesson, and ever since then I don’t care what the weather’s like, I just make the best of it. I’ve just moved back to Spain so the summer is never-ending for me right now, but looking forward to a slight cool down soon! Bring on snuggly clothes!
I love this post! I’m actually trying to figure out where I should take a solo trip in Europe during January or February! I may have to finally make it over to Eastern Europe, looks like it’s beautiful there during the winter. And I’m all for cheaper flights 🙂
I completely agree with you! Off-peak travel is the absolute best. Some of my best Europe trips have been in the winter months. Fantastic post!
Great post! Those are all good reasons. I agree about fall in Europe…it is fabulous and thanks for all the great ideas. Christmas markets on my list for sure!
I spent a year in the Czech Republic, and let’s be clear that most of that year was Winter and you’re so right, it is a snuggly and new way to travel. German Xmas markets are the best! Plus in Iceland all the budget accommodation is booked up in summer- I ended up staying in a tent- but like you say in Winter a flight and place to stay would be easy.
Haha I know what you mean about most of the year being winter, I had the same in the UK! I think Iceland must be amazing at any time of year, but if I go another time it’ll be winter once again!
I’m in France for a year and I’m SO excited to do some fall/winter exploring in nearby countries! Love this post!
Make the most of the opportunity! There’s so many great places in that area and the markets and everything too. Have fun!
I have yet to travel off season more. Thanks for reminding me of the benefits especially the cost part and less crowd. It’s just that i’m a mountain lover so off season means a bit different – it can be life and death! But cities..yes! You’re absolutely on point. Enjoyed the post. Keep it going.
Mountains for the summer and cities for the winter then? Sounds like a plan to me haha. Thank you!
Great post! The winter doesn’t seem so bad! I come from Canada so I can bet it’s not THAT much colder!
I wouldn’t think it’s much colder than Canada (if at all depending when you’re from!). And that’s what coats and pretty hats and scarves are made for right? 😀
As much as I love summer if I only travelled in summer that would leave out the majority of the year here! 😀
Haha very true! I think any time you can travel, is the perfect time 🙂
I totally agree! I’m in Ohrid, Macedonia now and it’s so quiet and peaceful. It’s hard to imagine how chaotic it is in the summer! Plus the hostels are emptier… = less snoring and alarms! Win!
I’ve heard amazing things about that plus! I’ll had to add it for this time of year 🙂
Lovely post! I’m from the UK and tend to avoid going anywhere between June and August because of school holidays – everywhere is crowded, overpriced and full of screaming kids. Spring and Autumn are much better!
I totally agree Caroline! And prices seem to go through the roof too. When I was living in the UK I loved escaping in April/May and then September/October to make the summer feel much longer.
I love the off season, everywhere in the world, but spring and autumn are the best for European exploration. I do favour Spring over Autumn because the weather seems less unpredictable and there usually all kinds of festivities and exciting things that happen only once a year.
We were those people, going once a year on vacation in summer, but our trip around the world changed that! We agreed to go somewhere every month, rain or shine. People tend to forget that all seasons have their own beauty and everything looks different when covered in snow. I love markets in general, and Christmas markets in particular, ’cause they’re so cosy! Drinking alcohol infused hot chocolate (I hate mulled wine) and looking at cool things you won’t buy. Magical is indeed the right word for them! Great post, Sonja!
It’s so true! I used to be the same until I went on my study abroad in the wet season where I was in Canada, then I realised it doesn’t matter! I’ve had hot pics and apple juice at Christmas markets in the UK too by the way, which was delicious, and I agree alcohol infused hot chocolate is delicious.
Totally in favour of off-season travelling as well!
There’s just so many great benefits!
Love your post! I totally agree with all the good reasons to travel off season in Europe, because every season brings out different things to see and do. Since I am a huge fall fan I love my september/october trips. It’s great to enjoy the last couple of warm days in a colorfull surrounding 🙂
It’s like once September/October hits everyone buckles down until Christmas, but I love to get out and travel then!
Yay! Heading to Europe in a week. So excited for the Christmas markets!!!!Preparing myself for the cold weather but I hate crowds so it suits me great!! Where in nz are you from? Me, Chch. Always so many kiwis and Aussies to meet on the road though.
Exciting! I’m sure you’ll love it! It really is a great time to go. At least they have really cool coats, boots and scarves and stuff here so I kind of like getting all wrapped up to go out. Not like at home! I’m from Feilding, but also lived in Palmerston North and then Wellington for uni. It’s been awhile though! There are a lot of us travelling haha.
Totally agree with everything here! Santorini in September was one of the best weeks I’ve had on my RTW trip for many of these reasons. And anything it hasn’t satisfied, London in October is checking off!
I loved Santorini in September! The weather was still amazing but I think there were a lot less people. Such an amazing place!
The crowds in some places during the summer are insane! I like shoulder season because things are still open, it’s not too cold, and it’s usually still very pretty. I’m not a big fan of major hoards of people, so this is usually when I travel 🙂
Shoulder season is such a great time! You’re right about more things being open then too. I prefer to be able to relax in the summer and have weekends free to do whatever comes up, and plan travel for when there’s less crowds and cooler weather 🙂
Off season travel is my favourite time to travel anywhere (including Asia).. I love it when I’ve got an entire place to myself and it’s always nice to observe how different places cope in the winter/rainy months. Things are definitely so much cheaper and more affordable which is a BIG bonus – and my friends wonder how I always manage to have money to travel hahah.
Me too! It’s always interesting to see how things are in a place where everything you hear about it is in a certain season. I love how much cheaper it can be, and if you go in the shoulder season sometimes it’s just the same anyway!
Cool post. I agree, we love travelling in shoulder season and your little tip about Greece and Spain in Oct is a really good one. Sooooo much cheaper than August and still so pleasant.
A bit devo about the elusive Northern Lights, still yet to catch them!
Thanks! Today is the first coldish day I’ve had in southern Spain, it’s been better than a UK summer here all October! And the price definitely drops :). I’m still chasing a good show of them too! Fingers crossed for us.
I agree with what you’ve said and first of all it is good to see someone raising this point. It is entirely a different experience traveling during off-season. I am from india and I have been to amsterdam on a sole trip in month of november the last year and I’ve been living in sweden for a certain period & experienced most of the winter over there. Most of us over here generally used to go out on mountainous trips to take part in the skiing organized by erasmus student network. Currently i am totally in love with european culture and heritage especially with climate.
I think people avoid travelling in winter and don’t realise how awesome it can be!
Thanks for posting this…. I was planning a trip to Europe… Now I know when to travel…. you convinced me for travelling off season. The best part is… the Christmas Market…!!
I was planning for a trip in this winters. Glad I landed on your blog. Europe will be the best option for these winters. Thank you so much for this useful info and I will definitely visit your suggested places. I am Sharing this with my travel buddies right away. Thanks once again. Keep blogging!!
All very valid reasons. Unfortunately, I have never visited Europe in winters. I should do it now.