Over the past decade, I have had several opportunities to visit Europe. I traveled at various times throughout the year, and I have found that I prefer to avoid the busy summer months and travel in the off-season, instead.
There are many advantages to off-season travel. Air travel is often cheaper, and hotels are frequently willing to bargain. It is easier to get into the major museums, and popular sights are less crowded. During the off-season, I have found festivals and cultural events that draw few tourists but are very popular with the local residents. Attending these events has given me the opportunity to experience the local culture on a deeper level.
Planning Is Important
If you have a particular destination in mind, check out the sights and activities you are interested in. Tourist facilities in many areas have reduced hours or may even be closed for the season. Some activities are only available on weekends. Museums may close for restoration activities during the winter months. Trains and airlines adjust their schedules based on ridership. With fewer tourists riding, trips to certain areas may be less frequent.
While English-speaking guides and translators are common all over Europe during the summer months, it may be more difficult to find English speakers in some of the smaller towns during the off-season. It is always a good idea to learn a few phrases in the local language or carry a phrasebook so you can converse with locals who do not speak English.
The off-season is also convention season for many European business organizations, and hotel rates skyrocket during the convention dates. Check convention schedules with the local tourist offices and avoid these times if possible.
Pay Attention to Weather Reports
Winter temperatures even in Southern Europe may be cold. Rain is common, and snow falls in the northern latitudes. While a blanket of snow on the streets of Paris may be a beautiful sight, you might not enjoy it much if you forgot to bring shoes that keep your feet warm and dry. Yahoo! Weather is a great resource with current information about climate and temperatures.
Take some warm clothing, but dress in layers. While cold temperatures, rain, and snow can be prevalent, warm spells can still occur, even in Scandinavia.