When’s the Best Time to Go to Europe for Budget Travelers?

Chapter 1: The Best Time to Go to Europe for Budget Travelers

If you have the flexibility to choose the timing of your next trip, you can find big savings and probably have a better trip.

Note: This is Chapter One in our Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Europe.

Let’s start with the Cheapo basics: When are you traveling to Europe? Many travelers don’t have the luxury of choosing their travel dates, as their trips are dictated by academic vacations, holidays or work schedules.

The result, unfortunately, is that most Western travelers heading to Europe have very similar vacation schedules. These periods tend to make up the “high season,” and include travel in late spring, summer, early fall, and major holidays (especially Christmas and Easter).

High season

Late spring – Summer – Early fall

Pros: Best weather. Most convenient.
Cons: Most expensive flights and hotels. Crowds.

It’s obvious, but worth considering: Heading over in late June or July makes a lot of sense for many Americans, especially those traveling with children or during their own academic break. However, they’re all competing with each other for flights, trains, and hotel rooms, which shoots prices for everything sky high.

This isn’t Disney World — it’s Venice in July.

And it’s not just about money, either. High season also means crowds, lines, and potential disappointments. Restaurants can be more difficult to get into. Museums are often packed. Want to head to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Be prepared to wait… in a long line.

I need to add a quick defense of traveling during high season, however. As mentioned above, for many, there simply isn’t any other option. Many travelers simply have to work with the vacation schedules they’ve been given. And anyhow, let’s face it: The weather is probably going to be glorious. So at least you can work on that tan while you’re waiting in line…

However, if you can tweak the timing of your trip a bit, you’re in a position to save on everything from flights to hotels.

Shoulder season

Early spring and Late fall

Pros: Pretty good weather. Fewer crowds. Lower prices.
Cons: Watch out for school vacations.

Paris in early May still belongs to the locals.

The “shoulder season” is the transition period between the pricey high season and the cold and cheap low season. Generally speaking, this period is in the early spring (late March and early April) and late fall (October and early November).

Traveling through much of Europe during the shoulder season tends to be a delight, with far fewer crowds (the kids are in school, after all), and lower prices for airfare and hotel rooms. It’s usually pretty great.

Of course, the weather is famously fickle and increasingly hard to predict, but late March and early April tend to offer the first smells of spring throughout much of Europe (although you should certainly pack an umbrella), and October and early November remain quite pleasant (although chances are you’ll need a hat and gloves at night).

Our only warning for shoulder season is to be aware of school vacations (see note below). You might find yourself swamped in a museum.

Low season


Pros: Cheapest. Fewest crowds. It’s you and the locals.
Cons: The weather. Some attractions may be closed. Special conventions may pack the city.

I love traveling throughout Europe during the late fall, winter and early spring. This is when I usually travel, partly out of necessity, as I need to inspect hotel rooms (which is difficult to do when they’re all occupied). Thus, I’m quite accustomed to hitting the road as temperatures are dropping.

But hey — think of all those fabulous free museums in London you’ll have to yourself!

But even if my travels didn’t require empty hotels, I’d still probably choose to take at least occasional trips during the winter months. It’s a magical time, when major tourist destinations, from Amsterdam to Zurich, belong to their residents. It’s a far different experience from visiting during the high summer months. Restaurants are filled with locals, museums are relatively quiet (save a group of local students on a tour), and sidewalks are bustling with neighbors.

The low season isn’t a great time, of course, for sun-seekers and those averse to cold temperatures. And skiers will find that the winter is anything but “low season” in the Alps. However, most travelers looking to connect with local cultures, spend days wandering in museums, and attend concerts and other prime cultural programming, will love low season travel.

And budget travelers will love the lower costs of airfare, hotel rooms, train tickets, car rentals and many other related travel expenses.

Some notable exceptions

In covering the basics of seasonality in Europe, I’m painting with some broad strokes. There are several notable exceptions to this low/high equation.

A few considerations:

• August in Paris is not “high season”: Right around the first of August, many French workers go on holiday for several weeks, and many families take the opportunity to clear out of their cities and hit the countryside and coast. Residents clear out of Paris, for example, and many (but certainly not all) restaurants and shops close for much of the month. Hotel rates tend to be markedly lower in August, as well, but climb again in September. But warning: Airlines will still charge “high season” prices for August flights. (Read our guide to visiting Paris during August.)

• August in other European cities: Paris isn’t alone. Many European cities see a dramatic dip in tourism (and hotel rates) in August, as travelers opt for sandy beaches over cobblestone streets. Traveling to Venice, Florence and Rome during August will be cheaper than during May, June or September.

• Late October – Early November: Most students throughout the European Union have an academic break the last week of October and first week of November. Many of them hit the road on class trips. If you’re traveling during this period, you will see them… everywhere. This could affect hotel availability, plus museums and other attractions will be more crowded.

• Christmas break: Traveling during the Christmas and New Year holiday can be a mixed bag. Flights will be at their “high season” heights (with the possible exception of flying on Christmas Day itself), although hotel rates can be lower.

• Outdoor sports have their own seasonality. Skiing the Alps? “High season” for winter sports is February (especially mid-to-late February, when the French have their winter breaks). Head to the same mountain towns in May and June for lovely hikes… and lower prices.

Watch out for special events

One warning about low season: Cities throughout Europe fill their empty hotel rooms during the low season by hosting business conventions, expos, major sports matches, and other special events. These can wreak havoc on a budget travelers itinerary.

The Schottenhammel tent at Oktoberfest, Munich.

A while back I headed to Amsterdam in late October (normally the low season), only to book my trip during the city’s annual marathon–which sells out every room in town. (I ended up booking a hotel in nearby Utrecht for a couple of nights and commuting in. More about that here.)

Other events to avoid include Paris’ fashion weeks (early March late September/early October), and Venice’s Biennale and Carnevale (early/mid February).

And then, of course, maybe you’re purposefully planning a trip because of a special event. Such is the annual conundrum created by the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich in late September and early Oktober… er, October. What can I say? It’s going to be expensive. (All is not lost: We do have some tips for saving at Oktoberfest!)

Tip: When planning your trip, if hotel rates look uncommonly high, do a search for “Special events in [city]” to double check that you’re not trying to visit during a peak (and expensive) travel period.

More help

We have more advice on the best time to visit specific cities and countries: Best time to visit Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, New York and Paris.

Keep reading: This is chapter one in our Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Europe. Next up: How to Build a Sensible Itinerary.

(Photo credits: Venice in summer by davidbolton, Paris in May by Faungg, London blizzard by neiljs, and Oktoberfest by nataliemarchant.)

The post When’s the Best Time to Go to Europe for Budget Travelers? appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

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