This blog post was updated on January 3, 2020.
It is an easy task to find a seasoned traveler applauding off-season travel to Europe. In the summer months, many parts of Europe can be so crowded that it is hard to enjoy all of the history, culture, cuisine and languages. While I do appreciate Europe in the summer months with all of its life and tourists, the off-season certainly appeals for the lower hotel rates, airfare deals and non-existent lines. However, Europe in the off-season can be tricky if you don’t know what to expect.
Check Schedules and Times Thoroughly: As I planned my trip to Greece for September, I frequently encountered a few problems with off-season travel times. Ferry schedules between the islands quickly dropped off from August to September. If you are going to see Europe in the off-season, you will need to go over schedules and times thoroughly. Many guidebooks and travel articles are written with information for Europe’s high season, not its off-season. Those bus and boat schedules may vary significantly from September through May. That museum you always wanted to visit might have limited hours if you visit in the off-season. Before you start booking hotels to certain islands or scheduling out your days, make certain that you won’t be met with closed signs everywhere you go.
In Large Cities, Book Accommodations in Advance: Despite the fact that most tourists visit Europe in the high season, life still goes on throughout the year, especially in the bigger cities. You might think that you don’t need advanced reservations for hotels and hostels in the off-season. However, in those busier cities, reservations are always a good idea no matter the time of year. From major festivals to conventions, the bigger cities in Europe are always busy with guests no matter the time of year.
Prepare For the Weather: Throughout the fall, winter and spring in Europe, the conditions can be hard to predict. When I traveled through Eastern Europe in February, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how cold it would be. The key to off-season packing for Europe is to pack by layers. There is a reason why many see Europe in the summer. The conditions are more consistent and thus you can pack less. However, in the off-season, you never know what kind of weather you might get. Touring can be difficult if you don’t have the necessary items like an umbrella, boots and a heavy coat.
In Small Towns, Expect Fewer Restaurants To Be Open: Once the high season passes, many restaurants in Europe close down for the off-season. There isn’t much demand to keep open, especially in smaller communities or beach towns. When I visited the town I studied abroad at in Sicily during the winter months, I remember trying to frequent some of my favorite restaurants and gelaterie. Unfortunately, many of these spots were closed for the season. If you are staying a small town in the off season, be sure to come prepared to look for restaurants to eat at that are actually open.
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