Discover the Ultimate Time to Explore Europe
The perfect time to explore Europe is during the shoulder season, which falls between mid-April to mid-June, and in September. This time offers fewer crowds and cheaper prices while still presenting relatively decent weather. Although this is a brief answer to the question of the best time to visit Europe, the truth is there are many "best times to travel to Europe" that rely on where in Europe you plan to visit and what kind of experience you are looking for.
Having traveled extensively across Europe, with visits to 35 countries on the continent, I have put together a comprehensive guide to the best time to visit Europe. The perfect time of year to visit varies depending on your destination, and we'll cover that and more in detail in this article.
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Typically, we recommend visiting Europe during the shoulder season. In most countries, the spring shoulder season runs from mid-April to mid-June. The fall shoulder season, on the other hand, is during September. During these times, you will experience thinner crowds, cheaper prices, and warm enough weather to enjoy your vacation.
To help you plan your trip, we've prepared a table below, detailing which months are better for good prices, weather, and crowds.
PricesWeatherCrowdsJan, Feb, MarchLowCold (cool in Mediterranean)FewApril, MayModerateComfortable (often rainy & not quite beach weather)ModerateJune, July, AugustVery HighWarm to very hotVery high September, OctoberModerateCool (bring a jacket)ModerateNovember, DecemberModerateCold (cool in Mediterranean)FewNote: Cities that host Christmas markets and ski towns experience higher prices and crowds during the winter season.
As you can see, my preference is for shoulder season months before and after summer. Europe is incredible during the summer; the days are longer, and the nights are warmer. Capital cities in Europe come to life, and its beaches become massive parties.
However, Europe is flooded with tourists during the summer, and prices skyrocket more than twice their rates just a few months before that. Many destinations, like overcrowded Santorini, can be hard to enjoy amidst the crowds.
Please note that the above discussion generalizes an entire continent, and there is a ton of variation by destination. Ireland is very different from Greece or Spain, just to name a few.
To determine the optimal time to venture to Europe that suits your needs, there are several inquiries you must pose. It is crucial to note that selecting the perfect time to travel to Europe is a personal matter, as it varies depending on the individual. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question.
It would be great to advise you to travel to Europe during spring, but this recommendation doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. Although springtime in Europe is delightful, it may not be the ideal time for you to visit.
When you consider traveling to Europe, the first step is reflecting on the following questions:
Europe is the second smallest continent, yet it has a vast array of unique climates. December in Finland differs greatly from the Mediterranean climate experienced in Cyprus. Conducting specific research depending on your destination is required when choosing the best time to travel to Europe. While this may represent a challenge, note that there is never a wrong time to explore Europe.
Climate plays a significant role in your European travel experience. The weather was cold and rainy when I visited Prague in October, leading to an unpleasant experience. However, I was thrilled to have visited Madrid, a few days later, where the climate was pleasant, and it allowed me to enjoy the outdoor activities that I enjoy when traveling.
Personally, I prefer Europe during warm, but not scorching weather, as snow and cold make it difficult for me to experience outdoor escapades, which are an essential component of my travels. However, air conditioning is not typical in European accommodations, which can be problematic during the sweltering high-summer heat. Consequently, during spring or autumn, I would recommend visiting the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, or the Balkans, while summertime is ideal for Scandinavia, or the northern regions of Europe.
Keep in mind that like you, millions of tourists visit Europe, and predictably, some locations become overly crowded with tourists congregating during the same timeframes, primarily in the summer. Therefore, if you intend to seize the moment during summer, think twice since it involves fighting the crowds.
Usually, the peak season for traveling around Europe falls between the months of June and August, with July being particularly crowded. While it is a good time to visit many European destinations when considering the weather, the high volume of tourists can lead to an absurdly overcrowded experience. I remember feeling like a sardine while trying to take pictures in Santorini, which left such a bad impression that I wrote a blog post urging people to avoid it altogether.
Moreover, the peak season brings along the cost factor, with hotels and hostels charging nearly double or even triple their low-season prices. If you're planning to backpack through Europe on a budget, consider visiting outside peak periods. In my experience, the shoulder seasons offer the perfect balance between weather and cost. After Labor Day, prices tend to go down, and most of Europe experiences milder weather as summer vacations end stateside and tourists head back home to attend school. September happens to be a great time to visit Europe, as most urban areas still have pleasant weather and are not too overpopulated or costly.
Timing your visit according to a particular festival or cultural event is crucial. You can't go to Oktoberfest in March or attend Christmas markets in June. Additionally, if you're keen on participating in any seasonal outdoor events—such as hiking in Germany—doing it in June would be much more enjoyable than in December. Similarly, skiing in the Alps in July is not very practical.
As far as figuring out a destination's weather patterns, Wikipedia's climate charts offer a great resource. For example, a quick search of "Budapest climate Wikipedia" will pull up a chart that provides information on temperature, precipitation, and sunshine, which can help determine your best time to visit Budapest. However, I haven't found any pages aggregating all these climate charts for various destinations, so running a Google search for potential cities is the easiest way to go about it.
Another useful resource to get a general idea of the climate in a particular area is this site, although it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the Wikipedia charts. Generally, Europe's tourist seasons can be divided into peak, shoulder, and off-peak periods.
If you are planning a trip to Europe, it is important to consider the best time to visit based on the destination. Seasonality will vary greatly depending on the location. However, a general guide to seasonality is as follows: the peak season is from June to August, the shoulder season is from April to May and September to October, and the off-season is from November to March (excluding ski destinations and the Christmas-New Years period).
It is worth noting that some regions such as the Mediterranean vary in seasonality. Greece, for example, can be visited year-round for most activities except for swimming. Portugal is another location that can be visited any season. However, it is important to note that visiting Greece in the winter will result in a different experience.
Additionally, certain European cities may experience fewer crowds during July and August as locals head south for vacation. Special events and festivals, such as King's Day in the Netherlands, can also impact the best time to visit.
For those on a tight budget, there are tips available to help travel Europe cheaply. It is also important to choose the best backpack for European travel.
Frequently asked questions about the best time to visit Europe include the best month to go, which is September due to pleasant weather and low crowds and prices. The cheapest months to travel are November, January, February, and March, with Eastern European countries being more affordable than Western European countries.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Europe depends on the destination and the traveler's preferences. Research the location beforehand to ensure the best experience possible.
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