In general, the best time to visit Europe is during the shoulder season. In most European countries the shoulder runs from mid-April to mid-June and again during the month of September. This is the best time to go for cheaper prices and fewer crowds, while still offering relatively decent weather.
Well, that’s the short answer anyway …
The long answer is much more complicated.
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’ve traveled to Europe extensively. I’ve been to 35 countries across the continent (many of them multiple times) and I’ve taken trips backpacking Europe during every season.
I’ll break all that and more down in this detailed post on the best time to visit Europe.
Table of Contents
- What is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
- 5 Questions to Decide When to Go to Europe
- Resources to Help Find Your Best Time to Visit Europe
- FAQs About When to Travel Europe
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What is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
The best time to visit Europe is typically during the shoulder season. Europe’s spring shoulder season runs from mid-April to mid-June in most countries. The fall shoulder season is during September. During these times, crowds are thinner, prices still moderate, and the weather warm enough to enjoy your vacation.
Here is a table breaking down by month when to go to Europe for good prices, weather, and crowds:
|Jan, Feb, March*||Low||Cold (cool in Mediterranean)||Few|
|April, May||Moderate||Comfortable (often rainy & not quite beach weather)||Moderate|
|June, July, August||Very High||Warm to very hot||Very high|
|September, October||Moderate||Cool (bring a jacket)||Moderate|
|November, December*||Moderate||Cold (cool in Mediterranean)||Few|
As you can see, to me the sweet spots are during the shoulder season months before and after summer.
Europe is wonderful during the summer. The days are long and the nights warm. Europe’s capital cities come along, and its beaches become giant parties. You can have a lot of fun in Europe during the summer season.
But the entire world knows that …
And during summer Europe absolutely floods with tourists. Prices soar to more than double what they were just a couple months before, and many destinations (like overcrowded Santorini) become so over touristed that it can be hard to enjoy the experience among all the crowds.
To find the best time to travel to Europe for your situation, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself …
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5 Questions to Decide When to Go to Europe
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:
1. Where in Europe do you want to travel?
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 go to Europe for your specific 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!
2. How important to you is the weather?
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.
3. Can you deal with crowds if it means visiting Europe at the best time?
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, which is a great time to visit Croatia and other summer destinations if you want to fight crowds every step of the way.
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!
4. How much does budget matter to you?
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 backpack Europe on a budget, 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.
5. Do you want to attend any particular festivals or seasonal events?
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.
Resources to Help Find Your Best Time to Visit Europe
Researching Europe? Climate
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. You can then use that info to figure out your best time to explore the best things to do in Budapest.
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.
Europe’s Peak, Shoulder, and Off-Peak Seasons
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)
Note that the above chart will vary for some regions, especially in the Mediterranean. For instance, visiting Greece is possible year round if you’re not looking to swim. You can also visit Portugal any season.
Just realize your trip to Greece will feel a little different in the winter.
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.
Events and Festivals in Europe
You can find lists of some of Europe’s most popular special events and festivals here.
I personally really want to go back to Amsterdam to experience King’s Day in April!
Tips for Travel to Europe
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.
FAQs About When to Travel Europe
What is the best month to go to Europe?
The best month to go to Europe is September. Europe’s weather is still pleasant but the crowds and prices are much lower in September.
What is the cheapest month to travel to Europe?
The cheapest months to travel to Europe are November, January, February and March. The weather is cold so, outside of ski destinations, the winter season tends to have few crowds and discount prices.
What is the cheapest country in Europe to visit?
The cheapest countries in Europe to visit include Kosovo, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, and Albania. In general, Eastern European countries tend to be significantly more affordable than Western European countries.
That’s it for this guide to the best seasons, months, and times to visit Europe. I hope this helped you find YOUR best time to visit Europe!
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