While it’s blisteringly chilly down south, the world’s fair-weathered travellers are all headed up north to revel in the sun-kissed glow of a European summer.
If you’ve been to Europe, you’ll know that with this wave of travellers comes higher price tags and more queues.
How to embark on your whirlwind Euro-trip without a hefty price tag? Wait for the shoulder season to arrive and you’ll save thousands.
When is Europe’s off-peak season?
Off-peak season in Europe is generally from November to March. Most people prefer to visit the region during the summer months when the balmy weather lends itself to a variety of outdoor activities.
“While the weather may be less than ideal during off-peak season, there certainly isn’t a lack of things to do, places to go or experiences to savour,” says Teresa Richardson, MD The Travel Corporation South Africa. “Plus, who from sunny South Africa hasn’t wanted to go on holiday to a snow-covered winter wonderland?”
Teresa highlights her favourite off-peak European holiday destinations, no matter what the weather is doing:
Germany is brimming with festive cheer towards the end of the year, making it one of the most popular destinations for off-peak travel in Europe.
Germany’s Christmas markets are admired and loved by locals and foreigners alike. Not only are they full of lovely mementoes to buy and over-flowing with the contagious Christmas spirit, but they also offer an insider’s perspective into the country’s unique festive traditions.
The little village of Meersburg in Baden Württemberg dates back to medieval times and is reserved for pedestrians only. It makes for the perfect spot for a leisurely, albeit frosty stroll or a quiet meal admiring the view of tranquil Lake Constance.
For the foodies
If there is one taste-bud tantalising treat to try when in Germany over the winter period, it’s Stollen – Germany’s answer to Christmas fruit cake. Be sure to wash it down with a steaming cup of the strongest coffee or Glühwein you can find!
“As part of its off-peak seasonal holiday offering, Trafalgar provides travellers with the chance to explore the best of what the German Christmas markets have to offer,” comments Richardson.
If natural beauty is what you’re after, you may want to consider a visit to Scotland in March. At this time the delicate pink cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and the chill is no longer as sharp, allowing for plenty of time to spend outdoors hiking or cycling.
Wildlife is huge in Scotland, even during the colder months. Head over in winter and you could spot the agile pine marten, nature’s most adorable assassin, or Santa’s very own majestic reindeer.
Early springtime in March is when you may catch sight of the infamous puffin or the gliding red kite – a gorgeous and rare bird of prey.
The Isle of Skye’s glistening fairy pools are a must-see and make for the perfect photo op!
For the foodies
Of course, you have to try the savoury meat pudding (haggis) that is Scotland’s national dish and wash it down with a wee dram of whisky. However, the lesser-known cullen skink, a creamy seafood soup, should also be on the menu!
Croatia is the sure-fire winning destination for those looking for a great party in Europe off-season. The country is known for its epic New Year’s Eve street parties, as well as its food and wine festivals that take place throughout the year. In short, there’s always a reason to celebrate in Croatia.
Aside from December, another great time to visit is during festival season (January – February) when you can be sure that the town’s streets will be awash with colour, culture and enthusiasm no matter where you are.
The pristine Stiniva Bay is a hidden gem that can only be accessed by boat, so you can expect some quiet time to enjoy some of the country’s most beautiful, untouched natural scenery including rocky cliffs and shimmering waters.
For the foodies
Seafood risotto, crni rizot, is particularly tasty. Wondering why it’s pitch black in colour? It’s made primarily of squid.
Spain is most commonly known for its sun-kissed beaches and flavoursome sangria but, believe it or not, it has just as much to offer tourists during the winter months, including skiing, majestic mountain views and access to some of the world’s most notable museums.
Although you can expect super chilly temperatures off-season, you won’t be able to find a more stunning city than Granada. Nestled amongst some of Spain’s highest mountains, this city is home to the Alhambra Palace and the flamenco caves – both top locations for sightseeing.
You’ll also certainly want to pay a visit to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain’s most famous museum of modern and contemporary art.
Take in the incredible collaboration of Moorish and Roman architecture within the tiny town of Carmona, just an hour’s drive from Seville.
For the foodies
We recommend passing on the ever-popular paella and trying pisto instead – the mouth-watering Spanish version of ratatouille. Each town has its own unique way of making it, so you’ll never try the same dish twice!
Off-peak travel doesn’t have to be any less memorable than peak-season travel. With fewer tourists to contest with, magical spring, autumn and winter vistas to admire and budget-friendly prices to enjoy, it’s sure to be a holiday that’s worth every cent.
Wherever you decide to go, let SAA get you there. Book your tickets today!