Anyone who’s worked in travel and tourism will know the year is divided into three parts: peak season, shoulder season and off-season travel. In the Northern Hemisphere, peak season starts mid-June and ends in August. This season is generally reserved for families or hardcore travelers who can survive the extreme heat. During these months, the Old Towns and beaches of Europe are packed with herds of riverboat cruise enthusiasts and sweaty families making the most of school holidays.
April to mid-June and early September to mid-October is commonly known as “shoulder season” and is used by early birds and late owls. It’s a clever time of year for a getaway: The weather is mild and the cities less packed, making it easier to find accommodation, book restaurants and to walk more than a few meters without bumping into other travelers.
And then there’s off-season travel — spanning from mid-October to the beginning of April. It’s the time of year where the tourist towns and seaside oases close up shop. But although it’s a little quieter, there’s still a lot to see and do in Europe — but at a lower cost and with fewer people. You just need to know where to look. So if you’re thinking of traveling off-season this year, here are a few ways to make the most of this secret, travel-savvy season.
1. Visit A Capital City
Capital cities are packed full of tourists all year round, but the crowds are a lot more manageable off-season. Without the beating heat and the school trips, you’ll be able to wander the streets of Europe’s capitals alongside the locals rather than the tourists.
Cities like Madrid, Rome, Paris, Berlin and London are full of locals all year round so you won’t feel like you’re visiting a ghost town. And with so many galleries, palaces, cafés and bars to visit, your fun won’t be affected by rainy weather. If you’re a solo traveler, a capital city visit this time of year is also great news for your social life. Not only will hostels be much less expensive, but they’ll still be bustling with people, so you’ll find plenty of buddies to explore with. We’d particularly recommend our partners Hostelling International if you want to take this adventurous route.
2. Get Out In Nature
Take the opportunity while costs and temperatures are low to visit some of Europe’s breathtaking National Parks. Every country in Europe has impressive green spaces and off-season is an excellent time to explore them.
For example, Pollino National Park in Italy is one of the country’s most overlooked natural landscapes — and it also happens to be Italy’s largest. It spans an area of nearly 2,000 square kilometers and hosts beautiful Bosnian Pine treetops and mountainous peaks. An off-season hiking holiday here will do your mental health just as much good as a poolside vacation — and it’s a great opportunity to stay fit, too.
3. Book A Villa With Friends
If you’re shivering just thinking about hiking in late autumn, worry not. Believe it or not, some spots in the Northern Hemisphere have good weather all year round. For example, December temperatures in the Canary Islands average around 21º C (70º F). This makes the islands of Tenerife, Lanzarote or Fuerteventura the perfect places to round up your mates for an annual holiday.
Here you can rent out a villa, hire a car and do a big food run in order to spend a week relaxing poolside and stocking up on Vitamin D. A villa will be a quarter of the price during the off-season and you won’t have any trouble booking restaurant reservations.
4. Plan Your Holiday Around An Event
Some of the very best events happen in the off-season travel period. Here are some of the weirdest, wonderful and unmissable:
December // Festival of Lights in Lyon
This event is to express gratitude towards Mary, the mother of Jesus, and happens around December 8th each year. Many locals will place candles in their windows to create beautiful and otherworldly light displays throughout the streets of the city.
January // The Northern Lights in Iceland
With the north of Iceland mostly in darkness during January, this is the time of year where you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
February // Carnival in Cologne
This is a weird and wonderful celebration of German culture in a seemingly never-ending off-season festival. For a week in February, you can experience a different side to the usually sleepy Cologne, with parades and dance troops filling the streets. On top of that, all closing times for bars and clubs are suspended so the party never ends.
March // The Fallas of Valencia
This event has been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. For a whole week, giant statues and balloons fill the streets of Valencia. There are spectacular dance and fire displays every day at 2 p.m. and, on the final night, the statues are burned during a light show. This celebration comes from an old carpenter’s tradition, where the woodsmen of Valencia would burn the wood from their workspaces during winter to celebrate the coming of spring.
5. Think Outside The Box
If your travel dates are already unconventional, why not extend that logic to your travel destination? The off-season is the perfect time to investigate some hidden gems and to challenge yourself to visit a country you’ve never even heard of.
The Balkans are an overlooked part of Eastern Europe with friendly locals, cozy old towns and fascinating politics. If Europe’s not your jam, the countries of Central Asia are also flying under the global tourism radar. These destinations are great for your purse strings — you can find accommodation for under 10 euros a night — and think of the unique stories you can tell your friends and family when you return!
6. Or Just Head South
It might be off-season in the Northern Hemisphere, but there’s always the Southern one. If you’re in desperate need of some long-term sunshine and all you really want is to have a nice tan, then scrape together some annual leave, hop on a plane and have a big, shameless holiday.