Figure Out The Best Time To Travel To Europe With These Tips From Rick Steves

Rick Steves was only 14 years old when his parents brought him to Europe for the first time. It was a transformational experience, igniting a passion for exploration. As soon as he was old enough to travel on his own, he exchanged the comforts of his home for traversing the world, going as far as his curiosity and limited budget would take him. Though his trips took him to far-flung corners of the globe, it was in Europe that he found a home. He has come to know it so well that he wrote guidebooks about the region, eventually building an empire based on his intricate knowledge. This is all just to say that Steves has become an authority in European travel, so if anyone can tell you the best time to go, it's him.

Steves' number one tip is to head across the pond during the off-season, which is November through March. "Off-season airfares are often hundreds of dollars cheaper. And with fewer crowds in Europe, you'll find you can sleep for less, too," he told USA Today. "Many higher-end hotels drop their prices, and budget hotels have plenty of vacancies." In short, visiting Europe during this time lets you avoid crowds and save more money. 

On the flip side, off-season travel means having to bundle up since the winter weather can be punishing. If you're not into layering up, but you still want to avoid peak season, then you may want to consider what Steves calls the shoulder season.

Shoulder season is the sweet spot

Many tourists seem to be under the impression that summer is the only season that Europe is at its prime; but according to Rick Steves, there are two golden windows every year that allow travelers to enjoy the best of both worlds. He refers to them as the shoulder seasons, which run from April to mid-June, and again in September to October. "[It] offers the best mix of peak-season and off-season pros and cons," he explained to ABC News. "You'll enjoy decent weather, long days, fewer crowds, and a local tourist industry that is still eager to please and entertain."

But before you go ahead and book a multi-city European trip, Steves warns that it still depends on where you want to go. On his website, he wrote that heading to countries in Mediterranean Europe, like Portugal, Spain, and Italy, can still be on the pricier side because the weather is much more bearable, so you still have to do your research to see which cities or towns will get you the best bang for your buck — and the best experience, of course.

Generally speaking, though, you won't be disappointed if you choose to stick to the more popular destinations. "Europe's major cities crackle with energy year-round," Steves said. "In London, you can spend your days at the British Museum and National Gallery ... In Florence, you'll see Renaissance paintings and Michelangelo's David without peak-season crowds."

If you insist on summer travel, be strategic about it

It's no secret that summer months are when tourists flock to Europe in droves, with Hopper noting that the surge in demand in European travel in 2023 has exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 20%. The result? Higher airfare, record-long queues, overcrowding issues, and more. While Rick Steves isn't discouraging anybody from traveling over the summer (in fact, he said that some destinations are the best during this time), he has some tips to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

For one, he says that targeting early or late peak season is ideal, as you can dodge most crowds this way. If you want to explore Paris, he recommends doing it in either July or August, as conventions don't usually occur during these months. The same goes for the countries in Scandinavia since business travel during the summer is rare, allowing you to score a bargain on business hotels.

For the best weather, Steve advises heading to southern Europe (think Malta, Spain, and Portugal) in the early summer. And as the hotter months approach their peak, that's your signal to make your way to Britain, Ireland, and countries around the Alps like Switzerland, Austria, and Germany to beat the heat.