Imagine... traveling to Europe when the crowds are thin, the weather is pleasant, and the costs are slashed. Don't think it exists? It does. Europe's shoulder seasons -- that beautiful time of year when the temperatures begin their climb upwards or slow descent down, the water is that perfect temperature, windows are flung open and the costs for air and lodging are firmly planted in off-season prices, despite the glorious weather -- are ideal times to plan international travel.
From September through late October (and March to early June) Europe is remarkably free from the typical summer travelers consisting of families, college kids and backpackers, giving visitors the chance to get a true taste of everything it has to offer, without breaking the bank, waiting in excruciatingly long lines, boarding over-crowded trains and the like.
While there are plenty of places to relish Europe shoulder season travel, these are the spots to definitely be considered.
Warm weather and a lack of tourists in March make it an ideal time to visit Porto, Portugal. The colorful town located along the banks of Douro River plays host to various opportunities to not only get outside and enjoy spring, but to also explore the history and culture of Portugal's second largest city and the capital of the northern region of the country. During this time, there are ample opportunities to visit the port houses across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, where visitors can sample the port wine from the region without the crowds.
Spring time and the beauty of fresh blossoms make March and April great times to visit Amsterdam. Rent a bike and explore the quaint streets, or simply pound the pavement and venture beyond the popular tourist spots to really appreciate the serene and old charm the city has to offer. Of course, there are also the museums to check out, which, aside from school children visiting on weekdays, and weekend travelers on the weekend, won't be packed full of people. Be sure to check out the Keukenhof bulb flower park, which hits its peak in April.
Read more about Things to Do in Amsterdam.
For sun worshiping and coastal beauty, Dubrovnik, Croatia is perfect in May, early June and again in mid- and late-September. During the summer, Dubrovnik, located in Croatia's Southern Dalmatia coastline, is filled with people. However, once the summer season ends, the cobblestone, car-free streets within the old city open, and navigation and exploration are once again done with ease.
Visitors can take the time to stroll the ancient streets and climb up the countless sets of stairs to discover new treasures and killer views (like Café Buža carved into the wall and a top cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea). Plan to explore the old wall of the city around sunset for spectacular colors against the Adriatic. And then, there's also the crystal clear sea. Towards late September, the water gets a little ripe as the rains begin to come in, but set against the hot late summer weather, a cold dip is refreshing.
San Sebastian, Spain
In San Sebastian, one of Spain's hottest tourist destinations, the same holds true. Here, beach-goers can enjoy the water without the crowds in May and September, but not freeze on first dip. Unlike the high season when there's a battle for spots on the sand on the Bay of Biscay, these months the hot property isn't in such high demand, making it easier to relax and have that siesta seaside.
To save even more money, skip the beachside hotel and head inland a few blocks to really enjoy discounted rates on rooms. In shoulder season you can also hike up to scenic views and cool breezes around the bay, enjoyed the city's famed tapas bars without the crowds, and even hope to score a seat at one of the area's many Michelin-starred restaurants.
When school starts in September, Iceland's hotel rates are cut nearly in half, the weather hasn't turned arctic (and it really never does), and there is still the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. For those looking for outdoor adventure, think layers, and explore the country using Reykjavík as a home base for adventures beyond the capital. For those interested in participating in local culture, early every September, locals and visitors take part in the réttir or sheep round-up. This Icelandic farming ritual requires people to herd sheep via horseback from the highlands back to their farms.
Find out how to stay warm with Reykjavik's pools.
Temperate springs and autumns make Istanbul one of the most ideal places to visit during shoulder season. In late summer, the water is still warm enough at the Black Sea to take the quick trip via ferry up the Bosphorus to the little villages on the sea. For those who prefer staying on dry land, days can be spent wandering the historic landmarks of the city, including the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. Plus, the outdoor dining options are abundant, including waterfront dining with a bounty of fresh fish to enjoy.
- Diana Edelman for Viator