Europe is a large geographic area that encompasses many different countries, experiences various climates ranging from sub-tropical to sub-artic, and has diverse topography that can include fjords, mountains, highlands, lakes, beaches, and the sea. Although each country is very different when it comes to seasonality, there are a few common themes.
The summer—June through September—is generally the most popular time to visit for a number of reasons. It's when Americans typically take their annual vacations, although fewer people take long trips like they did in the past. Also, the weather all over Europe—from Northern Europe down to the Mediterranean and Aegean countries—is quite favorable.
Although winter is the least busy time in general, it's peak time in alpine regions. The spring and fall shoulder seasons can be especially pleasant times to go due to mild weather, days with plenty of sunlight, fewer crowds, and lower airfare and hotel prices. The off-seasons bring cultural events, including concerts, theater, and opera to many cities. Some popular cities have so much going on at any given time they really don't have low seasons.
- high season: mid-June to mid-September
- low season: November to March
- shoulder season: April to mid-June, mid-September to October
Temperatures vary by country, ranging from sub-artic to temperate or even sub-tropical climates. Northern countries and mountainous areas can see heavy snow in the winter, while countries on the southern coast can experience sunny days nearly all year-round. In the very north, daylight diminishes enough during the winter that the northern lights are clearly visible. July through August can be extremely hot in some areas, and January through March can be cold and rainy with shorter days.
In general, summer is the busiest time, while winter (with the exception of ski areas) is the least busy. Christmas markets during December attract crowds, particularly in Eastern Europe. Also, events such as summer music festivals and school break periods like Christmas and Easter can bring a surge of travel akin to high season. It's best to check with each country's tourist information providers for annual events and holidays.
Depending on the season, some destinations shut down altogether, with some restaurants and hotels closing in resort areas and some museums and attractions limiting hours.
When to Save
Europe is typically more expensive during the summer and cheaper during the winter (except in ski areas), with prices usually dropping more dramatically around November. Spring and fall offer price breaks as well, but not as significantly as the winter.
When to Book
Determining when to book can be difficult as most airlines constantly change their prices according to supply and demand. However, for some European countries, particularly in the east, booking six months or more to get a decent fare is recommended. For others, especially popular western countries such as Germany and those in the U.K., it's advised to book two to three months in advance or wait until the last minute. In general, for airfare and hotel, it's always best to book as far in advance as possible to ensure availability, especially for high season travel.
Information provided by the European Travel Commission.