They say the best time to visit Europe is May through September, which are the exact months we lived in Spain this year. In the past, we’ve always found ourselves on European vacations in those quiet weeks between Christmas and March, so I was thrilled at the chance to sightsee in gorgeous weather.
It’s hard to beat long days and the sunshine, but we quickly realized the best time to go somewhere also means the busiest. Everywhere we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with a million other tourists, waiting in lines and being charged premium prices.
If you’re not heading to a specifically summertime-only destination, consider bumping your itinerary to the off-season. Along with cheaper prices and smaller crowds, here are a few things that I think make winter the best bet for your European getaway.
Food. And eating.
The cold has never stopped me from eating gelato, but nothing sounds worse than a heavy meal when the heat is visibly rising off the pavement. And isn’t trying incredible food part of the excitement of visiting a new place? When your body is using energy to keep warm, you’ll have plenty of room to try all the pasta, gooey camembert and Ibérico ham you can handle.
Sure, you’ll miss asparagus season in Germany and almost every other kind of fresh produce. You can console yourself with Christmas cookies and other winter treats like black truffles and raclette. Another bonus: thoughts of swimsuit season are still months away. So have a glass of mulled wine, you’re trying to keep warm here!
Opportunities to be a traveler, not a tourist.
It is true that in smaller towns, some restaurants may shutter during the winter months. However, there are just as many cozy cafes, incredible restaurants and boutique hotels that want your business. And because you may be one of few visitors—not another cog in the wheel—it’s likely you’ll get better service and more individual attention.
All of those touristy must-sees will be better as well since wintertime is almost a guarantee that lines are minuscule and tour groups tiny. Off-season trips mean you’ll stand in front of Michelangelo’s David without being jostled and breeze through the doors of practically every museum and church.
It may be cold outside but lucky for you Europe has an incredible indoor culture. All of those churches, art museums, castles and palaces you want to visit are inside, temperature controlled and out of the wind or snow or whatever. And see my point above—you’ll be getting warm and won’t have to battle the masses to get a good view of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
But what about walking and using public transportation, won’t you freeze to death? There will be days that nothing can stop the wind from slicing through your clothes, but good grief, you’re on vacation! Snuggle up to your travel partner or pop into a cafe for a coffee.
Your memories will look better.
If you’re coming from an American suburb—you know, the birth place of the strip mall—then most of the cities on your European destination list are already oozing charm. Add some twinkling Christmas lights and a dusting of snow and you have a total fairytale. Don’t laugh, because you know you love posting gorgeous travel pics on social media!
And it’s not just the background—you’ll look better in those snaps too. That winter weather means your sunburned cheeks will be replaced by the kind of flush that comes from being outdoors in the chill. Even if you’re climbing 400-odd steps up a bell tower, it’s harder get sweaty when it’s cold enough to see your breath.
One last little thing: your black coat and scarf not only look better in your pictures but will also help you blend right in (because we all know Europeans dress a bit more formally than Americans). And hey, you can still wear your football jersey underneath.
Have you traveled somewhere in the off-season and loved it? Add your thoughts in the comments below!