One of the most common questions I receive is, “When is the best time to go to Europe?” The answer depends on you, your finances, interests and time. I’ve decided to construct a calendar to help you pick the best time to go to Europe for you. Every month has advantages and disadvantages.
The Best Time to Go to Europe, a Calendar
The 1st of January is a big holiday in Europe, almost as big as Christmas. Everything will be closed, so I’d avoid that day. Airfares are dirt cheap after the first week of January. Temperatures are cold, but its probably cold at your house too, so why not? I suggest keeping to big cities with great (normally crowded) museums. You’ll probably be spending most pf your time indoors, so plan to go places that have great indoors to enjoy. The crowd around the Mona Lisa is a nightmare in July but nonexistent in January.
Where to go: Paris, London, Rome, big cities throughout Europe excluding Scandinavia and eastern Europe, unless you really like the cold.
Bring: Gloves, hats, scarves, down parka.
Bonus: Empty airplanes, cheap hotels, empty museums, only locals around you.
Bummer: Everything outside of big cities will be closed down or extremely quiet. Museum and sight hours will be short. Shorter daylight hours. Cold.
This can be a glorious time to go, especially if you are planning a trip in southern Europe, say Sicily, Spain or Greece. Some places will still be shut down, but the spring arrives earlier here with the lovely Mediterranean climate. I’m just about going crazy in the Seattle gray at this time of year, so an escape to Europe is welcome. Plane tickets are less expensive, but not bargain basement. Hotels, restaurants and sights are slowly opening and everyone in tourism is in a good mood, fresh and ready to start the season.
Where to go: Big cities, medium-sized touristic cities like Venice, Prague, Edinburgh, Mediterranean destinations excluding beach resorts. Sicily, Spain, Greece, Turkey
Bonus: Possibly fantastic weather, no crowds, no reservations required.
Bummer: Possibly horrible weather, most places outside of big cities will be dead, northern Europe is still thawing.
April is the official beginning of tourism season in Europe. This is my official answer of what is the best time to go to Europe. It’s all about balance. Plane fares are still reasonable and the season is just starting, so few crowds and fresh faces on everyone you will meet. Just about everything opens right after Easter, even villages and sights in the north. Easter is a funny thing, though. Sometimes it comes very early or very late, check your calendar before planning. Easter can be crowded in some cities, so you may want to avoid being in Europe on the day. The Monday after Easter is a big holiday as well, with most Europeans taking the day to go with their families on a day trip. Roads and trains can be clogged all around the Easter weekend, tickets and reservations should be made well in advance. On the other hand, the celebrations from Ash Wednesday through Easter Monday can be spectacular, so you may want to plan your visit around a particular procession or festival.
Where to go: Cities, villages, just about anywhere. Beautiful countryside drives! Maybe avoid the far, far north.
Bonus: Spring! Flowers! Great smells! Fresh and happy faces on the hotel owners and tour guides, no big crowds outside of Easter. Easy to get your choice of hotels.
Bummer: Easter crowds in very Catholic countries, many shops and restaurants shut down for Holy Week, no beaches yet. Weather still unpredictable.
Early May is my second place pick for best time to go. Everything is open, crowds still haven’t arrived. There are some holidays mixed into May, so check your destination carefully. Far northern destinations like Scandinavia are just opening and not busy yet. Some beaches in the far south will be open and fine for polar bear types, like those people who wear shorts in Seattle when the temps hit 55. Gardeners will want to come now, most flowers and foliage are at their best from late April through early June.
Where to go: Anywhere
Bonus: More beautiful spring flowers, generally nice weather, not too crowded.
Bummer: This is school trip season for European kids, every museum and cheap hotel will be packed to the gills with Euro kiddos who could care less about what they are seeing. Can be noisy and unruly in museums.
June is the beginning of high season for a good reason. The weather is great just about everywhere in a normal year. Normal is not so normal any more and I’ve had cold, rainy Junes in Italy recently and steamy Junes in London. All bets are off for weather. June will be the month where the tidal wave of crowds approach all across Europe, starting with a mild first week and ending with a tsunami of bodies around the end of June. This is the prime time for family travel, if you’re a child owner or enthusiast, you’ll find June to be perfect. It’s still a little early in the season for full beach life madness, so that’s where I’d suggest going if you like your beach resorts comfortably quiet and not too hot.
Where to go: Anywhere, I suggest the beach.
Bonus: Lots of activities for families. Beach resorts are still affordable.
Bummer: Lots of activities for families. High airfare, crowds.
Now we are in the prime tourism season for foreign visitors in Europe. Expect crowds just about everywhere, every nook and cranny. Museums are swamped, airfares are expensive, temperatures are hot and so are the tempers of the tourists. Beaches are packed and resorts are in full swing, which can be good fun if you don’t mind crowds. The weather will probably be lovely just about everywhere. I’d avoid visits to the warmest parts of Europe, unless you’re going specifically for a beach holiday. That means avoiding travel to Greece, Sicily and Southern Italy, Spain and Portugal. Scotland, anyone?
Where to go: Northern Europe, particularly places that are usually under a blanket of snow.
Bonus: Sunshine! Teachers everywhere.
Bummer: Crowds. Hot, clogged cities. Sweat. No air-con. Fragrant locals. Gold-plated plane tickets. Outrageous hotel prices. Teachers everywhere.
August is a funny, funny month. I’m sure you have been instructed to never venture to Europe in August, and that’s somewhat correct. August is vacation month for Europeans, which means that basically all of the population of northern Europe empties onto the beaches of the southern countries. Prices skyrocket at beach resorts, you’ll be lucky for find enough room for your rear end on any beach. The thing is, if you’re not into the beach and you can take a little heat, European cities are basically empty. It’s glorious. Rome in August, around the nutty Ferragosto holiday, is absolutely delightful and abandoned. You own the place, no lines at sights and cheap hotel rooms. My friends who own hotels in Italian cities have told me that August is considered low season! Same in Paris and London and many other capitals in Europe. Sure, some restaurants and shops are closed and the trains are a little lazier than normal, but otherwise it’s great. Also, if, like me, you believe that a little party never hurt nobody, you may want to suck it up and do the beach scene. It’s hilarious. I took my older son to Taormina in August and I can only liken it to a big, gay Disneyland with a great beach. So fun. Airfare to and from Europe in August is also weirdly affordable. I’m going to call this the hidden best season. It’s not for everyone and it’s not a sure thing, but I’ve had wonderful experiences in August.
Where to go: Anywhere other than the beach.
Bonus: Low airfare, low hotel prices, uncrowded cities.
Bummer: Heat, lazy public services in cities, the desperate desire to go to the beach when you can’t.
Everyone, but everyone, seems to think that the answer to “When is the best time to travel in Europe?” is….September. The heat is gone. The kids are back in school and the crowds have left Europe. The airfare and hotels will be cheaper in “shoulder season”. These are the things I hear. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t know where everyone is getting this from, but it needs to stop now. Listen, please- September is HIIIIIIIIIGH SEASON. Like the highest of high. Like crowds beyond your wildest dreams and prices to match. Please share this information. I get so many people on my tours who feel disappointed because they expected it to be off-season for some reason. September is simply madness in every touristic destination. The museums, if you can even get reservations for entry, are jammed like sardines. Hotels are packed to the brim and airfares are shamefully high. The weather is great, that’s true, but it can still be hot so don’t let that be a factor in your decision.
Where to go: Ummmmm, Costa Rica? Antarctica? Thailand?
Bonus: There isn’t one.
Bummer: It’s HIGH SEASON. H-I-G-H S-E-A-S-O-N. Spread the word!
I like fall. I like sweaters and cozy fires. I like the smokey smell in the air and the changing colors on the leaves. October has the potential to be my favorite month in Europe. I don’t think it’s the best time to go, but it may be one of the most enjoyable. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that October is low season, but it isn’t. October is still high season, especially at the beginning. About mid-way through the month, the weather changes and the crowds wane, hitting that nice “shoulder season” period towards the end of the month. That doesn’t mean it won’t be crowded, it will be in the big cities for sure. The countryside will slow down and the beach resorts will close up. Many beach towns are closing even as early as mid-September. If going to the beach is important, consider May instead. Likewise for northern attractions, October sees some places in snowy areas close up. I have hiked in the snow in the Alps in October, weather can be changeable. I like October for the harvest time, the food specialties and markets are gorgeous. Harvest time can make winery visits a little tricky as they may be too busy to have visitors. Overall, I’d say mid-October is a lovely time to head to Europe.
Where to go: Everywhere
Bonus: Fall sights and smells, local produce, waning crowds.
Bummer: Still high season for the first two weeks, can be very crowded everywhere. Can be unexpectedly cold. Hotel owners, restaurants and tour guides are tired.
Here is another month like March, but possibly better. If you don’t like crowds, don’t like spending much money, and don’t mind the cold, November is for you. The airfares in November can be truly amazing, excepting the time around Thanksgiving. I went to Turkey in November a couple of years ago and it was like I owned the sights. It was really chilly, but that crispness added to the atmosphere. Cities are cool and given back to the locals. Countryside attractions will probably be closing, so it is probably best to go…right now. Southern Europe is a good choice for this time of year, but the north is fine as long as you stick to cities.
Where to go: Southern Europe, cities.
Bonus: Cheap! More money for wine! Nobody around to watch you drink too much wine!
Bummer: No Turkey in Europe, except for the country. Can be bone-chillingly cold. Which will require buying more wine.
The main reason people like to go to Europe in December is for the Christmas celebrations. This may be the best time to go to Europe for you if you’re religious or really Chirstmasy, but otherwise, I’d skip it. December is cold everywhere. Yes, even in Sicily. You’ll need lots of warm clothes and lots of wine. The countryside can be pretty desolate in the winter in every corner of Europe, so you’ll need to stick to cities. Christmas celebrations take place all through the month. It would make sense to schedule your trip around hitting festivals and Christmas markets to get the most out of a visit. I’d recommend sticking to the places that do Christmas really well, like Germany and its famous Christmas markets. Big cities can be super festive, like London, Stockholm, Frankfurt and Rome. Make reservations far in advance for the holidays. Finding a place to eat on Christmas itself can be challenging, you’ll want to plan that one ahead of time.
Where to go: Germany, Italy, big cities.
Bonus: Santa goes to all countries!
Bummer: He’d better bring you a down parka, and thick gloves.
When is the best time to go to Europe? Always! Still undecided about where and when you want to go? I’ll be posting next about who should go when, depending on your priorities.
Let’s get some travel dreaming going!