When one mentions Europe, many things come to mind – including amazing beaches, Christmas markets, beautiful architecture, great food, and stunning ski resorts. A lot can (and has) been written about the best times of the year for a trip to Europe, but unfortunately, not so much is said about the worst possible times to embark on a journey to this part of the world. Below we will try to answer this question and explain why we think so.
Let’s say right at the beginning that choosing the best and the worst times to visit Europe will always be somewhat relative. While many of us would hate rubbing shoulders with what feels like a million other tourists on the way to some or other tourist sight, some people might find it exciting to be part of the fun. At least once you know what to expect at certain times of the year, you can make an informed decision.
General remarks on the worst times of the year to travel to Europe
As a general rule, you might want to avoid the winter and summer months altogether. Let us have a look at why these two seasons are often not the best times for a trip to Europe.
Europe is undoubtedly one of the most touristy places on earth, and during the winter and summer months, tourist numbers increase astronomically. Tourist attractions often become extremely crowded, with visitors from across the globe trying their best to enjoy the culture and sights of Europe. This can make it hard for anyone to genuinely enjoy what the continent has to offer because you are competing for elbow room with millions of other travellers.
Extreme heat or cold
During the peak months of the summer, temperatures in certain parts of Europe can become surprisingly high. This, combined with the crowds, can make sightseeing even more uncomfortable. It could even become dangerous because of the risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
During the winter months, many parts of Europe also become very cold. This can make it very unpleasant to explore tourist sights that are out in the open, particularly if you do not have the right equipment and clothing.
The cost of accommodation
The strong demand during the peak tourist seasons can drive the cost of accommodation to record highs. If you are on a budget, you will probably be better off visiting during spring or autumn.
Europe has many festivals that take place in various countries at different times of the year. Very often, these festivals coincide with the peak holiday periods of the summer or winter months. If you would specifically like to attend a particular festival, that is, of course, the time you should go. If you prefer to explore the architectural wonders and natural beauty of the continent at a leisurely pace, however, you might want to avoid the major festivals.
Look out for travel restrictions
Some European countries have travel restrictions during specific times of the year, for example, because of religious holidays. Do your homework for the countries you want to visit so you won’t be caught by surprise.
The times of the year that you should specifically avoid when traveling to Europe
This is the peak of the tourist season in many European or Schengen countries. After reading the next few paragraphs, and depending on your specific preferences, you might rather want to choose another time to travel to Europe.
It is, therefore, when the tourist crowds are at their biggest. This means that everything is likely to be more expensive, including accommodation and restaurants.
August is also the hottest month of the year in most parts of Europe. You might find this hard to believe, but in places like the south of Italy, for example, this time of the year is hotter than the summer months in Brazil.
With the heat and lack of rain, the air can become very dry, causing issues for people who suffer from allergies such as rhinitis.
The queues at tourist sights like the Eifel Tower and the Acropolis can become unbelievably long, and everything becomes more expensive. You could pay as much as 5 Euros for a bottle of water.
Another reason why going to Europe in August might not be the best idea is that public transport can get extremely crowded. The same applies to the roads leading to major cities and tourist destinations. With that, parking also becomes a much bigger issue than would be the case during other times of the year.
The winter months from December to February
The weather in Europe at this time of the year can be downright unpleasant. There will often be snow, and rain is common. This often leads to road closures and traffic congestion. Train stations might also close during severe weather conditions. Unless you will be heading for one of Europe’s ski resorts. therefore, winter is probably not the best time to visit.
Another downside of the winter months is that many businesses reduce their opening hours. The worst part is that every establishment has the right to determine its own business hours, so you can not always be sure when a specific shop or restaurant will be open. This is more of a problem with smaller establishments – major shopping centres normally have fixed opening hours.
Things you should avoid doing when visiting Europe
When people are on holiday, they often leave most of their inhabitations at home because they just want to relax and have fun. There are, however, a few things you should try not to do when visiting Europe. Let’s take a closer look at the worst things you can do while visiting this part of the world.
Attempting to fit in too many activities into one day while you are traveling in Europe
This will quickly make most people exhausted and can take all the fun out of traveling. Try instead to rather make a list of priorities for the day, allowing enough time for each one. Rather allow more time for the top two activities on your list than try to cram everything into a few hours and not enjoy a single one of them.
Attempting to bargain down the prices of souvenirs at major tourist sights
Even experienced travellers make the mistake of attempting to haggle with sellers at major tourist spots such as the Eiffel Tower in the hope of saving some cash on souvenirs. That often backfires badly: In the first place, it’s very unlikely that you will succeed, given that there are a hundred tourists behind you who want to buy the same item, and the vendor knows it. Secondly, he or she might actually feel offended and quote you a higher price on other items you are also interested in.
Eating a lot of junk food
Although eating out is part of the fun when one is on vacation, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Not only is eating Big Macs and drinking carbonated drinks every day not good for your health, but you will also miss out on experiencing a major part of European culture: its food.
Blocking the left side of an elevator or escalator
You might think that this is a minor issue but believe me, to Europeans it’s important. In the majority of European countries, standing on an elevator or escalator’s left side is viewed as very rude because you are blocking other people from quickly passing by. Although this is not an equally important issue everywhere, it’s always better not to offend the locals unnecessarily.
More things you should avoid while visiting Europe
Try not to become a pickpocket’s next victim
With the large crowds of tourists, Europe is often a haven for pickpockets and other kinds of criminals. Make sure that you keep your important belongings such as your wallet, camera, and passport secure and close at all times. That is particularly true when you are taking public transport or exploring in a crowded area. A money belt or similar anti-theft device will help to keep your belongings secure while you are focusing on something else.
Avoid paying money for cheap knockoffs
Street vendors who sell imitation goods can be found all over Europe. If you believe that the Mona Lisa painting you are buying for 10 Euros is a real Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, you are going to have a steep (and expensive) learning curve.
Make sure that you are allowed to take that picture
While you might think that cute little house in Sicily with the locals relaxing on their front porch will be a great picture to take home, they might not agree. Try not to take photos of people without first asking their permission.
When it comes to nuclear power plants, train stations, Civil Aviation installations, and subway stations, rather keep your camera in its bag. The same applies to many places of worship, regardless of whether they are tourist destinations as well.
Many people are, for example, unaware that taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower after dark, when all its 20,000 lights are glowing, is against the law. European laws require photographers to have official authorization to do this. On top of that, these pictures can only be distributed (e.g., uploaded to your Facebook page) if you have proper authorization.
Don’t get lost
Most European cities were planned and built long before modern city planning principles were developed. It’s easy to get lost in their small alleys and narrow streets. To prevent this from happening, make sure you have an offline map on your phone so you will at least be able to find your way back to your hotel!
Do not overpack
Overpacking can spoil even the best-planned holiday. Keep things simple, and don’t pack more than you really need. That way, you won’t end up cursing your stack of suitcases all the way to the bus station.
ETIAS and Schengen visas
Things are about to change, though. From 2024 onward, visitors from all the countries that currently don’t need a Schengen Visa will be required to apply for what is referred to as ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System). The list includes visitors from the U.S. More details regarding this can be found here.