Deciding what is the best time of year to travel to Europe for your holiday can be one of the hardest parts of the decision-making process, particularly for the first-time traveller. There’s no single ‘best’ time to visit Europe as every traveller’s preferences are different but there are a number of things to consider before you book yourself on that flight.
Best time to visit Europe weather-wise
The kind of weather you'd like to experience is going to be a major consideration of your holiday planning. Are you hoping to experience a white Christmas in Europe or the beautiful snowy scenes of a northern winter or would you prefer to travel when it's warmer and you can enjoy the longer daylight hours?
Your response to this question should help you to decide when the best time to travel to Europe from Australia is for you.
The best season to go to Europe is going to be different for everyone so I’ve listed a few of the pros and cons of travelling in the various seasons below.
Pros and cons of travelling to Europe in winter
If a European winter experience is what you're after, some of the pros of travelling at this time (December/January/February) include missing the Australian summer, experiencing scenery and Christmas food and traditions totally different to what we are used to at home (in Australia) such as the amazing Christmas markets.
Mid-December through to the end of February - and sometimes even into March - is definitely the best time to visit Europe for snow.
Every year it seems that Europe’s Christmas markets become more and more popular with tourists and they are a wonderful reason to visit Europe at this time of year. Many markets open from late November until just after Christmas, with some trading until early January.
Of course you also have to consider the downsides - shorter daylight hours, some attractions (particularly in rural areas) may be closed for the winter, heavy snowfalls can cause transport delays and make driving difficult, and there's the cold weather and bulky clothing that you’ll need to take to contemplate, too.
Tour and cruise companies also tend to have a reduced number of itineraries on offer during the colder months, however train services still run frequently.
Further reading: Tips for travelling to Europe in winter
Pros and cons of travelling to Europe in summer
During the European summer there's a pretty fair chance you'll enjoy some warm weather. Southern countries like Spain, Italy and Greece (and the south of France) tend to have much higher temperatures than central and northern Europe, but there can be some surprises.
I have experienced temperatures well above 35 degrees Celcius on numerous occasions in parts of Europe that we don’t normally associate with having high summer temperatures (Austria and northern France, for example).
I’ve often joked that the summer-loving Europeans should pay me to travel to Europe as I always tend to attract the hot weather! August is usually the hottest month in Europe - I mostly travel in June and July but have experienced some really hot days during those months.
If you are visiting one of the southern regions, temperatures can be stifling hot – so check in advance that your accommodation has air-conditioning.
Another advantage of travelling during the European summer (June/July/August) is the longer daylight hours - with daylight saving it is generally light until at least 9.30pm, and much later in the Scandinavian countries.
Timetables for ferries, lake cruises, cable car rides, etc are also generally expanded over the summer months.
I also find there's an air of vitality in Europe during summer - with window boxes bursting with colour, the freshest produce available at the markets, and Europeans out and about and enjoying the weather.
During the summer months, motorways can also be extremely busy, particularly on weekends, as European holiday-makers head off on their annual break.
What about Autumn (Fall) and Spring?
Autumn and Spring are popular times to travel for those who don't enjoy extreme temperatures. Early Autumn and Late Spring, in particular, can still offer warmish days without being either too hot or too cold so this is considered by many to be the best time to visit southern Europe.
No matter how carefully you plan, though, unseasonal weather can occur. Major flooding in Germany, Hungary and Poland in June 2013 caused havoc and upset lots of holiday plans, not to mention livelihoods.
On the other hand, expected snow falls can fail to eventuate as early in the season as normal - your snowy Christmas might turn out to be more of a 'slushy' one!
The table below shows the (approximate) average monthly temperatures for some of Europe’s major cities.
If the weather isn’t the major factor in determining the best time to travel for you to travel to Europe, there are some other considerations to keep in mind.
If you are heading to Europe to attend a special function like a wedding or are hoping to catch a major event such as the Tour de France or the tulip display at Holland’s Keukenhof Gardens, you are obviously going to have to be in a particular place on a specific date.
Keep in mind that when major events occur (like the Olympic Games or Rugby World Cup, for example), accommodation, flights and other travel services can be stretched to the limit - and prices can increase significantly.
If you do prefer to travel when it's warmer, be wary of travelling during August. This is the month when many Europeans take their summer holidays (a lot of professional offices in Paris actually close for the whole month!) so wherever you go it is likely to be extremely busy.
If you don’t like crowds, August is definitely NOT the best month to visit Europe.
Major sights and attractions can be a nightmare during August with queues of two hours or more just to buy entry tickets not unheard of!! I always recommend pre-purchasing tickets to attractions you know you will definitely visit, but particularly so if visiting in the peak summer months.
The late European spring (April/May) and early autumn (September/October) can make a good alternative. If you're not too fussed about high temperatures and definitely want to avoid the crowds, these are good months to visit to Europe.
Another factor to consider when planning when you are going to visit is price. I've previously written about some of the tips you should know before you book your flight to Europe, and one of these is that travelling just outside of the airline's 'peak' season can save you a few hundred dollars.
By departing Australia in May, for example, you might save yourself some money by missing the June 'peak' fares and still be able to enjoy the warmer early-summer days in Europe.
What other factors do you consider when deciding what is the best time to visit Europe? I'd love to hear your comments below.
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This article was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated