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When to go to Europe: Pros and Cons of Traveling during Peak and Off-Season

Travelling involves a lot of decision making. Where to travel? How long to travel? When to travel? It’s always crucial to know what to expect, especially for places such as Europe or even 4 season countries where the weather plays a vital role in your travel experience. 

It takes time to plan a trip to Europe especially if you’re not joining a group tour and plan to do everything on your own. That is why it’s important to be prepared on what to expect if you choose to travel either during the peak or non-peak season.

The peak season typically starts in May (Spring) up until the end of Summer (August), while the rest of the year are considered non-peak or shoulder season. Well, if it still hasn’t sunk in, May to August are considered the peak months simply because of the warm weather and longer days giving tourists all the time in the world to walk around and enjoy the endless sites Europe has to offer.

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Tuileries Garden, Paris France

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Peak Season

The Pros

End of spring, summer, and start of autumn are great times to travel to Europe with longer day times and bustling night life. Travelling in Europe during peak season is definitely a must.

Length of Daytime. In the spring/summer of 2014, I traveled to Europe for 35 days going to 13 countries and exploring 20 different cities. I have to admit, I was ecstatic when I found out that the sun would set at around 9pm! Well, in the Philippines, probably the latest time that the sun would set would be around 6:15pm. Imagine just by travelling during the spring/summer months, you’d be able to get 3-4 hours of extra time to go around without rushing and thinking about the sun setting at five in the afternoon!

<p Cheap Ray Ban Sunglasses style=”text-align: justify”>Warmer Weather. As mentioned, the peak months relatively have warmer weather over the rest of the year. My personal preference, though, would be spring weather (around end April to May). Coming from the Philippines, I definitely prefer the cool weather (around 15 degrees) because at least I could still pull off some winter/spring fashion and at 15 degrees; you basically don’t sweat under the sun even if you walk around the whole day.

Lighter Baggage/Less Clothes. Warmer weather means less clothes and lighter baggage! With just probably a sweater or a long sleeve polo, you’d be warm enough for the 15 degree weather! Plus, no need of gloves, thick coats, and leg warmers for sure! A lighter baggage also means if you’re travelling around by train or backpacking, it will significantly be easier (trust me) to carry your baggage from point A to B.

Longer Operating Hours. Some tourist attractions have longer operating hours during the peak season giving you more time and flexibility to plan out your itinerary without the need of rushing from one attraction to another. For instance, museums, such as the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam have longer operating hours during the peak season. So if the sun sets at 9pm, then some museums close at 8 or even 10pm! During the off-season however, some attractions and museums close at sunset around 5 pm. 

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Vatican Museums, Vatican

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The Experience of a city bustling with people. Peak season in Europe is when the streets are crowded and the restaurants are filled with tourists from all over the world. There’s nothing like experiencing the energy and liveliness of a city. Well, this is particularly true for some European cities in the UK, Scandinavia or places which become “ghost” towns during the winter. I suggest prioritizing places, which have a shorter window for its tourism season. Because these towns become very lonely during the winter, unlike popular tourist destinations such as Paris or Rome which get millions of visitors all year round.

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People roaming the City of Florence, Italy

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There’s simply more to do and see. The peak season offers tourists everything they can handle. Tourist attractions and activities are fully operational. Even the resort towns are open and ready to serve you. Unlike in winter, for example, most cruises are not operational. While resorts and restaurants in resort towns usually shut down during the off-peak season leaving tourists with less to do and see. Take for instance, cruises or island hoping excursions to famous sites like Santorini or Capri are cancelled due to bad weather conditions during the winter.

Peak season travel also has some drawbacks. From paying more to waiting for hours in lines. It’s the price you pay for seeing Europe at its best.

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The Cons

Expect to cheap Oakleys sunglasses Pay more. From airfares to hotels and even food, peak season prices are ALWAYS more expensive than when travelling during off-season. Hotel prices usually skyrocket especially during the summer months (July and August) and discounts and promotions become hard to come by.

Prepare for the heat. Summers in Europe are usually unpredictable. They say it gets hotter and hotter each year. Especially when travelling during July and August be prepared to experience high temperatures – particularly in the southern parts of Europe (ie. Spain, Portugal, Italy). Imagine, al fresco dining wouldn’t be as comfortable anymore and it will be harder to keep walking around for long hours given the sweltering heat.

Long Lines EVERYWHERE! This is especially true in the touristy cities in Europe such as Paris, Rome, London, and the like. Although days are much longer, time spent in lines are also longer, especially in popular tourist attractions such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, and other museums. During my trip in 2014, places like Rome and Venice were filled with so many tourists, but other cities such as Krakow, Prague, and Budapest had lesser people. A good tip to avoid the long lines would be to book tickets way in advanced or simply avoid going to these places in the morning, where most tour operators come in. Best is to probably wait till late afternoon or even the night to avoid crazy lines! Even restaurants are usually full making it difficult to find seats as well. Best is to avoid the touristy areas and if possible visit the less popular or those places with a brief tourist season such as Scandinavia, Russia, Eastern Europe and the like. 

Photobombers Everywhere. It’s difficult to get a clean shot especially when everyone around you are trying to get a clean shot as well. Expect to be photo bombed in almost all your photos.

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Venice. May, 2014.

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Rome, Italy. May, 2014.

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Peak season in Rome. May, 2014.

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Off-Season

Travelling during the off-season around September to April is definitely less preferred by most. But for some, it’s the best time to visit Europe. It’s a time where you have your personal space, a time where you can relax, and save!

The Pros

A chance to SAVE. Travelling in Europe during the off-peak season, especially during winter (January to March) offers a lot of chances to save. Imagine booking a 5 star hotel for under 100 euros or booking cheaper roundtrip flights to and from your destination country. With less tourists coming over, most hotels and airlines give discounts. You can even book last minute hotel rooms because it’s rather close to impossible that a hotel is fully booked especially in winter. Some restaurants also give out promotional discounts as well.

Lesser Lines and Manageable Crowds. Lesser tourists means lesser lines and shorter waiting times! I visited the Colosseum in the late afternoon and practically spent 5 minutes in line. Don’t get me wrong, there are still lines especially in the mornings, but they tend to be shorter around 2-3pm. It’s also easier to get a table in restaurants and there’s practically lesser people everywhere. For those that love having their private space in gardens or parks, then you might want to consider visiting sometime during early winter, late fall or early spring. In fact, some not so popular cities or towns become “ghost towns” during the off season.

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No lines to Castel Sant’angelo. December 2015, Rome, Italy.

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Enjoy Europe and take countless photos. For those that want to have Europe all for themselves and take countless pictures with practically no photo bombers, then the off-season is the way to go. I, recently, visited Venice just after Christmas, and finally got a picture of a street with only me in it and no one else. I do not think this is possible during the peak season because every corner and every small street will be filled with people.

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Where did everyone go? Venice, Italy.

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Empty Galleries in Paris during winter, December 2015.

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The Cons

Shorter daylight. During the winter, be prepared to see the sunset even before it hits 5pm. The sun sets very early, especially in the Northern part of Europe. In London or in Amsterdam, the sun actually sets before 4pm. This is frustrating because you’re practically always in race against daylight. That’s why it’s always important to keep track of time and take note of the time the sun sets.

Be Ready for Gloomy, cold weather – most of the time. In Europe, weather is everything. Some places are experienced best with sunny and clear weather, which doesn’t come by often during the winter. Expect and prepare for the worst because trust me it may be foggy, gloomy today, then sunny, clear the next day. In the south such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy, there’s actually a higher chance of a sunny day during the winter month. For instance, Rome is usually still sunny and clear, same with Barcelona and Madrid, which typically still enjoy sunshine even well into the winter months. However, northern cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, and those in Scandinavia usually experience gloomy weather during the winter, making the trip less exciting and rather gloomy. But, if you’re lucky, the sun still comes out once in a while!

Hard to Pack light. Weather can be unpredictable during the off-season so it would be safe to prepare and pack for the worst. You’ll have to bring thick jackets, wind breakers, and even umbrellas for the off-season weather. As much as possible try avoiding backpacking or going to many cities in a short period of time as it will be more difficult to move around with a heavier backpack or luggage.

Ghost Towns and lesser things to do. In Europe, a lot of cities and resort towns, which usually only operate from April to October become deserted from November to March. Literally, you’ll be surprised that they actually really do not open shop. Cruise companies also shut down operations during the winter months, so trips to islands would be close to impossible. Hiking and trails are also closed during off-season. I visited Segovia in December last year and found myself literally walking just by myself along the main street of the town.

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Empty Venice. December 2015.

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The Streets of Rome. December, 2015

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Verona, Italy. December, 2015

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Fall or Spring? In my opinion, travelling during Fall or Spring would be the best time to go to Europe because the weather is relatively cool and days are practically long enough to wander around. That’s in general, however, you’ll have to evaluate for yourself which season is the best time for you depending on the place you’ll visit and the activities you plan to do while on the trip. For example, skiing is best done during the winter or early spring, while the snow hasn’t melted yet. While hiking or walking the trails is best done during the Fall. Also, places with beaches are often full during summer, but are relatively less crowded during Fall. Cruise companies operate both during late spring and early fall, so as to avoid the summer lines, best is to book a trip before or after summer while avoiding local holidays.

Ciao!

<span style="font-family: georgia, Cheap Ray Ban Sunglasses palatino, serif”> All photos taken using Fuji XE-2 | 2014-2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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