Trying to figure out the best time to travel to Europe?
The truth is there are many “best times to travel to Europe,” and finding yours really depends on where in Europe you are going and what you are looking to do while you visit Europe. I’ll break all that and more down in this post.
Why should you listen to me? Well, I’ve traveled to Europe a lot! I’ve been to 31 countries across the continent (many of them multiple times) and I’ve taken trips to Europe at every part of the year. After all that, I’ve learned one thing about planning my Euro Trips: picking the right time to travel in Europe has an enormous effect on how much I enjoy my time there.
So to help others figure out when to take their Euro trips, I’ve put together this quick little guide to choosing when to visit Europe. I hope it’s helpful and I really hope you enjoy your travels!
The truth is that picking the best time to travel in Europe is largely a subjective thing. It’s going to be a bit different for every person, and there just isn’t ONE correct answer. I wish I could just tell you something simple like “springtime in Europe is great” and end this post there. But, while springtime in Europe IS truly great, it’s not necessarily the best time to travel to Europe for everyone.
The first thing you need to do when deciding when to visit Europe is to ask yourself a few questions:
Europe might be one of the smallest continents, but it’s still got a huge diversity of climates. Traveling to Europe in December is going to be a very different experience in frigid Finland than it will be in the Mediterranean climate of Cyprus.
The bad news is this means it can require a little more specific research to find the best time to travel to your particular destination. But the good news is that it means it’s always the best time to travel to Europe (or, at least, somewhere in Europe). So ask yourself this question because first because it might help narrow down your search a bit!
To me, weather matters a lot. I was miserable in Prague in part because the weather was cold and rainy when I visited in October. By contrast, when I visited Madrid a few days later I loved it — undeniably in large part because of the pleasant weather.
I personally prefer to visit Europe when it’s warm but not too hot. Cold and snow make it hard for me to get outside, which is a big part of what I like to do when I travel. But the high-summer heat in Europe can be overbearing and air conditioning just isn’t the norm in a lot of European accommodation (something I once complained about to the New York Times). So all of that means that springtime or autumn are the best times to travel to Europe for me if I’m going to the Iberian peninsula, the Mediterranean, or the Balkans, while the middle of summer works well when I want to visit Scandinavia or the northern part of Europe.
Guess what? You’re not the only one looking to figure out the best time to travel to Europe. Every year millions of tourists descend on the continent, and they all tend to congregate in the same places at the same times — especially during the summer.
Generally speaking, the high season for travel in Europe is from June until late August, with peak crowds around July. And although this is a great time of year to visit a lot of European destinations from a weather perspective, it can also mean the attractions become ridiculously overcrowded. I felt like sardines when I was trying to take photos in Santorini, and the experienced soured me so much that I wrote a post telling people to skip visiting Santorini altogether!
Along with the high season crowds comes higher prices. Hotels and hostels can easily be double or even triple their low season prices during peak periods. So if you are looking to travel to Europe cheaply, you’ll have an easier go of it if you visit outside the peak periods.
Personally, I find that the shoulder seasons tend to offer the best combination of weather and value. Prices in much of Europe drop after Labor Day, when summer vacations end back in the States and many tourists go home to send their kids to school (or to go back to school themselves).
That all means that September is one of the best times to travel to Europe in my mind, as it’s still pleasantly warm on most of the continent but not too overpriced and overcrowded.
You can’t experience Christmas markets in June and you can’t attend Oktoberfest in March (by the way, you can’t attend it in much of October either, as it often – and confusingly – falls primarily in September). So if attending a particular festival or cultural event is important to you, you’ll need to plan around that.
The same reasoning applies if you want to participate in a seasonal outdoor event. Want to go hiking in Germany? I guess you could do it in December, but you’ll have much more fun in June. And skiing the Alps is going to be kind of hard in July.
When trying to figure out what a destination’s weather will be like, I’m a big fan of Wikipedia’s climate charts for cities. For example, a Google search for “Budapest climate Wikipedia” will pull up this awesome chart that lets you quickly and easily get a feel for temperature, precipitation, and sunshine. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a page that aggregates all these charts together in a usable way, so for now, the best thing I can suggest is to simply run the above Google search for your potential destinations to figure out your best time to travel to Europe.
This site can also help give you a more general sense of climate in various areas, though I don’t find it as easy on the eyes as the Wikipedia charts.
Generally speaking, Europe’s tourist seasons are as follows:
Peak season: June-August
Shoulder Season: April-May, September-October
Off Season: November-March (except in ski destinations, and except during Christmas-New Years period)
But the above is really just a very rough guide, and seasonality will vary a lot by destination. For example, I’ve found that a lot of Europe’s big northern cities like Amsterdam and Paris actually tend to empty out a bit in July and August, because locals take their holidays and head south in search of beaches and sun. If you’re a statistics-minded person, you might find this chart helpful as it shows the distribution of tourists for each country by month of the year.
I personally really want to go back to Amsterdam to experience King’s Day in April!
One last thing before you go: if you’re on a tight budget for Europe trip, check out my tips for traveling Europe cheaply. And I’ve also got a guide to how to choose the best backpack for travel in Europe.
And, regardless of your budget (and where you are traveling), I’d love to send you a FREE copy of my e-book, “99 Tips for Traveling the World Like a Pro.” It’s packed with a bunch of tips (well, actually 99 of them…) that will help you to save money on flights and accommodation, find the best places to travel, and more. Just enter your email below to sign up for my periodic travel newsletter and I’ll send it to you straight away!
I hope you enjoy the free e-book and please let me know in the comments if I can be of help as you plan your Europe trip! I hope this helped you find YOUR best time to travel to Europe!
Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, and recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico.