Europe is a spectacularly varied continent, from the snow-covered northern countries to the warm Mediterranean climate. Europe is a perfect destination at any time of year, but certain times can be better than others, depending on what you are looking for. I asked fellow travel expert Jamie Campbell, creator of the travel blog Gaijin Crew, to share his advice on the best time to go to Europe.
There is no definitive answer to the question, “when is the best time to go to Europe?”. Having visited Europe in each of the four seasons, I can tell you that the best time to visit varies based on your own personal preference and which country you plan on visiting.
Put simply, there isn’t a bad time to visit Europe. It just depends what your own priorities are.
The Best Season to Go to Europe
The travel year in Europe is split into three distinct seasons:
- Peak season
- Shoulder season
You can also think of these as rough weather seasons in Europe.
Visiting Europe in Peak season
Peak season for travelling to Europe is in the summer (little surprise there), lasting from around June to August. The days are long (the sun sets around 9 or 10 pm) and the weather is scorching hot (hopefully), making it extremely popular with vacationing families.
In fact, summer in Europe appeals to just about everybody on the travel spectrum. You’re likely to see backpackers, gap year students and couples as well as families.
Because of this insane popularity, you can expect everywhere to be busy.
Restaurants. Streets. Local attractions. Beaches.
Everywhere is going to be mobbed with travellers of all types, so while you are likely to get the best weather, you’re also going to be sharing it with a ton of other travellers. As prices rise in line with demand, going to Europe in peak season is going to be more expensive than during quieter times.
Visiting Europe in the Shoulder Season
The shoulder season occurs in just before and just after the summer peak season (early April – early June and September – early November) and can be the best time to visit Europe, well, most places at least.
So, is the best time to go to Europe before or after the peak season?
That entirely depends on which country you are visiting.
The weather is milder than in the peak season (also, the further north you go, the colder it will get) and the days are slightly shorter, but the crowds are dramatically smaller, and everything will be cheaper.
It’s no secret that travelling during the peak season is the most expensive time to travel and there is less choice on things like accommodation. So, if you’re more of a budget traveller, avoid the peak season if possible. There’ll be more availability during the shoulder season and prices will have dropped after the summer crowds left.
Visiting Europe in the Off Season
Offseason in Europe is almost always the winter, starting in November and continuing through to late March.
And this just might be the very best time to go to Europe!
Unless you’re booking ski holidays or planning to visit Father Christmas, the crowds from the busier seasons will have all but vanished. You’ll be able to wander the empty streets or explore tourist sights and museums without being bothered by anyone. Oh, and you’ll get to experience European Christmas Markets; the best Christmas Markets in the world!
The offseason is also the best time to visit Europe on a budget! Airlines dramatically decrease flight prices during this period. As do hotels, hostels and Airbnbs. If you don’t like dealing with huge crowds of people and annoying tourists, travelling to Europe in the offseason is your best bet – as long as you know what to pack for winter in Europe!
The days are shorter, the weather is colder and – due to the lack of visitors – lots of towns, Bed and Breakfasts and popular tourist attractions may close down completely, especially in seaside resorts. This makes it very important for you to do your research before booking flights and setting off.
How to Pick the Best Time to Go to Europe
There is no one answer to this question. There isn’t a single best time to go to Europe for absolutely everyone. This depends on a variety of factors, including your own travel style, destination ideas, climate preferences, budget and so on.
Use the following points to help identify what time of year would be the best time to visit Europe for you.
Where Do You Want to Visit in Europe?
There is never a bad time to visit Europe. No matter what time of year it is, there will always be at least one place that is ideal to visit. However, this also means you have to do quite a bit of research into individual countries you want to visit. Travelling to Prague in winter is going to be a very different experience compared to visiting Barcelona during the winter.
How Important is Weather?
If you’re after pure sunshine and beaches, the peak season is the best time to go to Europe in terms of weather, as this is when the days are at their longest and the weather is at its hottest. If you value weather over all else, you won’t mind dealing with the insane crowds if it means coming home with a nice tan.
However, if you’re of the mindset that good weather would be a nice bonus but isn’t necessary to you having an awesome time, consider visiting in the shoulder/off seasons where the temperatures will be cooler, and you may risk the occasional rainy day.
Can You Deal with the Crowds?
Some people are fine with crowds. Others hate the chaos and the non-stop business. Know which one of these you are, or where you fall in between. If you’re a complete extrovert and thrive in the madness of crowds, the peak season will be a breeze for you. If, however, you enjoy some downtime, some relaxing and some time away from the mayhem, choose the off season or shoulder season.
How Cheap Do You Want to Travel?
The off-season is the best time to go to Europe on a budget. Not only are flights and accommodation cheaper, you’ll basically have the entire place to yourself, and will have a far wider range of options when it comes to places to stay, as long as they are open.
While the peak season is the most expensive time of year in Europe, you can always opt for cheaper accommodation like backpacker hostels, cook most of your own meals and walk whenever possible to try and save money here and there.
But, the biggest expense when travelling to Europe from the US in the peak season is going to be flights. In the quieter seasons, flight prices often drop by hundreds of dollars!
Is There Anything Specific You Want to Experience?
If you’re travelling to Europe to attend a certain festival or experience a certain event, it makes sense to plan the rest of your trip around that one thing. You’re not going to be able to go skiing in August, and you can’t visit the Christmas Markets in April. Figure out your priorities and begin to plan your trip to Europe around them.
Deciding on the Best Time to Visit Europe
It is true that when I think of Europe, the first thing that usually pops into my head is the sun and the sand. But then I remember all of the equally awesome experiences I’ve had in the winter, during the offseason.
Don’t be put off by travelling in winter just because it’s colder. Research what countries you’d like to visit, align your destination with your personal travel style and individual priorities (weather, budget, etc.) and then start planning your trip.
I know I can’t tell you, outright when the best time to go to Europe is, but hopefully, this guide can help you reach that conclusion on your own!
What do you think, where would you like to visit in Europe? And what do you think is the best time to go to Europe for you? I’d love to hear your comments below.
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About the Author
Jamie is an avid traveller and has been backpacking since he left high school in 2016. He is the founder of the backpacking and budget travel blog, Gaijin Crew, which aims to teach aspiring backpackers to travel on a budget and turn travel into a lifestyle. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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