Shoulder Season vs. High Season in Europe

Rome

The last time I travelled Europe in 2010 it was during Shoulder Season. The wonderful fall months when there is a crispness in the air and more importantly, the tourist crowds throughout Europe start to dissipate. Yes, travelling from the months of September to December meant my suitcase was full of sweaters, and more then one pair of knee-high boots. Fall fashion is my favourite, so that was definitely not a deterrent.

So, what are the differences in travel between these two timelines?

 

Typically, Shoulder Season is either April to mid-June and/or September to mid October. High Season is categorized as mid-June to mid-September, however, after my experience in Italy during May, I would definitely put May in the High Season category. During this time of year, the temperature is rising and long lineups are waiting for you at every attraction you want to see. It is vastly different then my memories of what some of these cities looked like last time I was here, but none are less mesmerizing because of it.

When you decide to travel Europe, and where you decide to travel within Europe essentially comes down to personal preference, but here are the three main differences I have noticed between Shoulder Season and High Season European travel.

The Weather

I’m from Canada where it gets REALLY cold; the day before I left for our travel adventure in was -40C with the wind chill in Toronto, so I am very familiar with cold weather. Travelling Europe in the fall was beautiful, and the temperature was very comfortable. Yes, there were times when I needed a warm sweater, or even a pair of mitts, but at no point did the cooler weather hamper my European experience.

Now, don’t get me wrong; Europe in the summer is also beautiful, and there are things you have access to that you just can’t do during shoulder season. For example, island hopping in Greece. But it’s also important to note that many places in Europe get extremely hot in the summer; heading out underneath the blazing sun to stroll through the Roman Forum might be far less enjoyable.

There are pros and cons to each weather season in Europe, therefore it comes down to personal preference, just make sure you do some “weather research”, and pack accordingly for your intended destination so you are not caught off guard.

 

An airbnb can be a beautiful alternative to hotels.

The Prices

Accommodation throughout Europe skyrockets in the summer so you have to budget accordingly. I’m not sure if I was mentally prepared for the difference in price. You should also take note of your local currency (as I write this, the Canadian Dollar is very weak against the Euro).

When I was traveling during 2010, my main go-to accommodation was hostels with the occasional hotel splurge. Now it’s Airbnb apartments with the occasional hotel splurge, but accommodation across the board is noticeably more expensive during the summer months.

Therefore, if you are looking to do Europe on the cheap, might I suggest avoiding the months of June-August and heading over during Spring or Fall to save yourself a few bucks.

 

Lineups in Italy

The Crowds

There are A LOT more people in Europe during the summer. I was truly shocked to see the population increase in certain cities such as Rome and Venice. When we walked through St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City it was estimated the wait time to get into St. Peter’s Basilica was three hours… to buy a ticket.

My recommendation is: if you are not an individual who enjoys large crowds, overcrowded transit systems, and your personal space being invaded every minute of the day, travelling Europe during shoulder season is definitely for you!

Also, if you are someone who wants to see the landmark sights – museums, historical attractions, and world-renowned cathedrals, the lack of lineups during shoulder season is reason enough to visit during this time of year.

Europe is a fascinating place, and there are hidden gems at every turn where you can definitely avoid masses of tourists and jacked-up prices any time of the year. It just depends on the type of traveller you are, and what you want to see. 

Do you know a European gem that isn’t overrun by tourists during High Season? Care to share?

Comments

  1. June 9, 2015 / 7:24 am

    Hey

    I have been living in Luxembourg for a few years, and I do not see as many tourists as I have seen in Paris or London (any other super big capital). It’s a small country and a rather small city, but it is amazing in summer (actually it looks its best in summer, other than that it’s quite cold). I am actually happy when there’s crowds in the city (national day for example or shopping days) because I feel that it’s usually rather empty.

    • wanderbeforewhat
      June 9, 2015 / 8:03 pm

      Hi Ruxandra! Thanks for the comment – I guess it’s the dichotomy of being a tourist vs. living in a tourist city. In Vancouver, for example, I am always happy to see lots of people coming to enjoy the city, but as a tourist, I really hate the long lineups. I hear wonderful things about Luxembourg, hope to make it there soon!
      ~Sarah

  2. June 9, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    Good points! I always try to travel in the shoulder season as I prefer less crowds and cheaper prices!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *