If you are wondering when is the best time to visit Europe, you’ll be pleased to learn that there isn’t really a bad time to go!
Nonetheless, it’s smart to devise a prioritization system to figure out where to go and when. Separating destinations based on seasons, weather patterns, and your budget can help narrow things down, and knowing what to expect from different regions at different times of year will also help you choose where to go.
To help you get started, we’ve outlined a season-by-season guide to Europe, with climate information, peak season mapping, and general information on what the best activities are in each season.
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A Season by Season Guide to the Best Time to Visit Europe
Climate in Europe
The climate in Europe can vary wildly depending on where you go, from Arctic winter conditions in northern Norway to summertime in southern Spain, affectionately called ‘the frying pan of Europe’.
Western and Eastern Europe generally have fairly temperate climates, though the inclusion of Russia can lead climate averages to skew a bit colder in Eastern Europe, and it also gets quite hot in the summer.
Northern Europe can have very chilly winters for sure, but the summers are some of the best in the world: mild and breezy, optimal for outdoor activities. Conversely, Southern Europe can be a fantastic off-season destination due to its balmy winters but can be overwhelmingly hot in the summertime peak season.
While of course, it would be ideal to visit Europe when the weather is best, it’s not a coincidence that this is usually the most expensive time to visit. A winter visit is a great way to save some money, and in fact, winter in Europe may be comparable (or maybe even warmer!) to winter where you live.
Even winters in Scandinavia aren’t quite so bad if you’re accustomed to some snow and ice back home. This can definitely be a case of rumors overstating the actual conditions, as temperatures often stay above freezing during the day and can feel quite mild if there’s no wind.
Overall, if you’re concerned about being too hot or too cold, shoulder season is often the best time to maximize both budget and weather conditions. Most things are still open, but with fewer crowds and lower costs, and the weather hovers somewhere in the middle of the heat/cold spectrum.
Relatedly, it merits mentioning that weather patterns are not as set in stone as they used to be. Wherever you choose to go, you’re much more likely to experience unanticipated weather due to climate change.
This can mean warm days in the middle of winter, snow in early summer, or random thunderstorms during typically dry seasons… but it can also mean dizzying heatwaves and freak blizzards that can easily take a turn for the dangerous, as climate change has also led weather patterns to become much more intense in recent years.
It’s best to be prepared for a variety of situations, and visitors to Southern Europe, in particular, should be prepared for fierce heat in the peak summer season. Be sure to stay hydrated, and remember that many Airbnbs or local accommodations may not have air conditioning!
While becoming more of a necessity due to high temperatures, air-conditioned homes are still not a particularly common occurrence in Europe. This is definitely something to consider splurging on if you’re visiting in July or August!
Visiting Europe in Summer
- Northern Europe Average Summer Temp: 13°C – 22°C (55°F – 72°F)
- Eastern Europe Average Summer Temp: 22°C – 27°C (55°F – 80°F)
- Southern Europe Average Summer Temp: 24°C – 38°C (75°F – 101°F)
- Western Europe Average Summer Temp: 20°C – 27°C (68°F – 80°F)
Summer tends to be the favorite time for many to visit Europe due to across-the-board warm and sunny temperatures. This includes Europeans themselves who take advantage of regional tourism in July and August, as well as students and families on summer holidays around the world.
There may also be some holidays that you aren’t familiar with during this time, such as celebrations of Corpus Christi in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Keep in mind that most shops and restaurants will be completely closed on those days.
Again, remember that Southern Europe (along with most of Western and Eastern Europe) gets very hot in the summer. This is a plus for those seeking sunshine and beach destinations, especially along the epic coastlines in Italy, Greece, the south of France, and Croatia.
It’s a great time for water sports like surfing or sailing, soaking up that vitamin D, and relaxing by the shore on the Côte d’Azur or ‘on island time’ in Mykonos or Ibiza. Outdoor pools and baths in Reykjavik and Budapest are a great way to spend an afternoon, and the cities come alive as well, with great opportunities for nightlife, outdoor dining, and picnics in local parks, lush and green with summer leaves.
It’s a great time to see lavender fields in full bloom in Provence or the lesser-known (but equally gorgeous) sunflower fields in the Dordogne region in France. Edelweiss are in bloom in Switzerland and Austria in July, but remember that these only usually appear at high altitudes – perfect for hiking enthusiasts.
There is a wide variety of multi-day, European music festivals in the summertime, like Sziget in Budapest, Glastonbury in the UK, or Tomorrowland in Belgium. Also look out for film festivals like Cannes or food and wine festivals, which take place all over the continent.
However, for many, the heat can be a deterrent, and everyone traveling during peak season should be aware of the dangers of heat exhaustion. The UV rays can be intense for those sensitive to the sun, and it’s good to keep in mind that these temperatures are steadily rising – sometimes shattering records 100 years in the making.
It’s not unusual for temperatures to surpass 40°C (104°F) in the southern parts of Greece and Spain, with Athens consistently clocking in as the continent’s hottest city. High temperatures and humidity can make outdoor activities like hiking extra-strenuous, or perhaps just a bit too sweaty to be fully enjoyable.
Relatedly, peak season also means peak crowds! Expect to pay more for accommodation, dining, and activities, and to fight large crowds for everything you want to do, from museums to boat excursions or even just walking around an outdoor attraction like the Roman Forum or the Acropolis. It’s really worth getting up as early as you can before the sun is too high in the sky and to avoid the waves of tourists trying to do the same things you are.
If you’re seeking to avoid the combination of peak crowds and peak heat, consider saving Southern Europe for a shoulder season visit (in fall or spring) and checking out Northern Europe in the summertime instead. The comparatively milder weather equals a hiker’s paradise, and the long hours of daylight make for great nightlife in cool urban locales like Stockholm, Helsinki, or Oslo.
While the mosquitoes can be a bit vicious, the comparatively cooler temperatures make for a much more comfortable stay while still experiencing some of Europe’s best tourism options. Some areas of Scandinavia are actually only reachable in the summer, like parts of the Westfjords in Iceland, though it’s still a good idea to double-check that a given place is accessible before visiting.
Visiting Europe in Autumn
- Northern Europe Average Autumn Temp: -1°C – 15°C (30°F – 60°F)
- Eastern Europe Average Autumn Temp: 1°C – 21°C (33°F – 70°F)
- Southern Europe Average Autumn Temp: 15°C – 28°C (59°F – 82°F)
- Western Europe Average Autumn Temp: 13°C – 20°C (55°F – 68°F)
Autumn is typically known as ‘shoulder season’ in Europe, sandwiching the peak summer season and the winter off-season. This is a great time to visit Europe! In many instances, you’ll find that you get the best of both worlds: prices are often lower, but the weather hasn’t gotten too chilly yet, and while some attractions have limited hours, they are largely still open. You may have to plan a bit in advance to make sure you can do what you want to do, but you’re unlikely to have any issues.
In early autumn, swimming is still possible in warm places like Sicily, Sardegna, and Cyprus. Fans of fall foliage will love visiting the mountainous areas of the continent, like the Alps, Caucasus Mountains, or the Dolomites. Switzerland, Scotland, Slovenia, and Georgia, among other places, are also wonderful destinations to visit during autumn.
If you’re not a fan of the heat, consider visiting hotspots like Paris, Athens, or London during the fall instead of the summer. Crowds will be fewer, and temperatures will be lower. Fall is said by many wine enthusiasts to be the best time to visit wineries, with a variety of harvest festivals occurring in European wine regions in Portugal, France, and Italy.
One con of visiting in autumn is that several places, like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, can already start to get quite rainy and gray during this season. Relatedly, the sun will start to set progressively earlier after October, with sunsets well before 5pm in some places by November.
However, packing layers can definitely mitigate this, especially a thin waterproof layer and comfortable shoes. It is also recommended that you check the forecast to plan indoor activities like museums for rainy days. If you visit before the time changes in October, it will still be light out until past 7 or so in the evening as well.
Visiting Europe in Spring
- Northern Europe Average Spring Temp: 4°C – 10°C (39°F – 50°F)
- Eastern Europe Average Spring Temp: 11°C – 20°C (52°F – 68°F)
- Southern Europe Average Spring Temp: 15°C – 22°C (59°F – 72°F)
- Western Europe Average Spring Temp: 8°C – 20°C (46°F – 68°F)
Spring is also considered ‘shoulder season’ in Europe, preceding the peak summer season. Spring can offer the best bang for your buck in terms of weather and activities, with summer-adjacent temperatures, progressively later sunsets, and longer opening hours.
Flower lovers will adore visiting Europe during bloom season, which, of course, occurs only in the springtime. Places like the world-famous Keukenhof tulip gardens in Lisse, Holland, cherry blossoms in Obidos, Portugal or Bonn, Germany, and wildflower valleys filled with poppies in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany all bloom between March and May.
In April, festivals like the Feria de Sevilla and Zurich’s Sechseläuten take place, and courtyards and patios come alive in May for Fiesta de los Patios in Córdoba, Spain. Some hikers also love seeing the progress of the spring thaw in the mountains of Scandinavia, and while conditions can be a little muddy, spring is a great time for outdoor activities of that nature.
Visiting in the springtime can have similar cons to an autumn visit – it can also be quite rainy, with somewhat unpredictable weather. It’s not at all uncommon to have a snowstorm here or there and blasts of wintry temperatures, or unseasonably warm temperatures as well.
Again, packing layers is essential, especially that thin rain layer and something toasty for the evenings. The later in the spring you visit, the more stabilized temperatures and conditions often are (but not always).
Visiting Europe in Winter
- Northern Europe Average Winter Temp: -15°C – 4°C (5°F – 39°F)
- Eastern Europe Average Winter Temp: -4°C – 4°C (22°F – 39°F)
- Southern Europe Average Winter Temp: 10°C – 18°C (50°F – 65°F)
- Western Europe Average Winter Temp: 2°C – 12°C (35°F – 53°F)
Winter visits are a total gem, and are still somewhat under-the-radar which leads to cheaper airfare, among other things! With way fewer visitors around, you’ll have tourist hotspots all to yourself, which is always a perk when visiting popular European museums like the Louvre, the Prado, or the Vatican. Outdoor places with long wait times, like Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Mezquita de Córdoba, will be virtually empty, and you’re sure to have a much more relaxed visit, along with better photo opportunities.
While not everything will be open, if you’re willing to be a bit flexible and plan ahead, Europe in winter is a fantastic destination. Most notably, keep in mind that many activities and transportation options, such as trains and water ferries, run on reduced schedules during the winter. Just be sure to buy tickets ahead of time and check opening times.
Things are often much cheaper in the wintertime, especially in terms of lodging and dining. Many restaurants in tourist hotspots, such as the lakes region in Italy or the French Riviera, will even have seasonal menus, with way cheaper prices for the same items in the winter.
Also read: A Winter Guide to Visiting Lake Como, Italy.
Winter is a more common time for local tourism, which results in a more laid-back and relaxed vibe, rather than the hustle and bustle of other seasons. While activities like swimming and sunbathing may be a no-go (unless you are particularly intrepid!), numerous winter activities take their place.
The Alpine regions of Switzerland, France, and Italy have some of the best skiing in the world: a major bucket list item for a lot of folks. There are also options for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding available as well, or just relaxing in the quaint and picture-perfect lodges. You can go dog-sledding in Norway, ice fishing in Finland, and of course, the winter is statistically the best time to see the awe-inspiring Northern Lights throughout Northern Europe.
Germany’s towns and villages are aglow with adorable Christmas markets and New Year festivals, and scorching summer destinations in Southern Europe, especially on islands like Ibiza or the Azores, are balmy and lovely this time of year.
Much-reduced daylight is often a concern for those considering a winter visit, but there are ways to maximize this as well. You may have heard horror stories about places in Scandinavia only getting a few hours of daylight per day, but in most cases, these calculations only take hours of “full sunlight” into account. When you add in sunrise and sunset times, you’ll find that it’s not so bad after all – the sun is still out, it’s just not fully overhead yet.
The only other thing to note is that February is often school break time, which leads many Europeans to seek a break from cold and gray winters in places like Tenerife or Mallorca. If you’re planning an island getaway, try to book flights and hotels well in advance.
When to Visit Europe FAQs
When is the high and low season in Europe?
High season in Europe technically runs from June to September, with July and August being the busiest months. Keep in mind that many Europeans take extensive holidays in August, often to the same popular places you may be interested in visiting.
Where is the hottest place in Europe?
The hottest parts of Europe include much of the southern part of the continent, including places like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Montenegro, Sardegna, and Greece. Athens is often ranked the hottest city in Europe, but Rome, Sevilla, and Podgorica are not far behind.
Where is the coldest place in Europe?
The coldest places in Europe are mostly in Scandinavia (Norway, Finland, Iceland) and Russia, with Russia definitely dominating the coldest cities list.
Are there any hot European countries in December?
December is a great time to visit Europe’s island locales, which are pretty reliably warm year-round. Some options include Madeira, the Canary Islands, or the Azores. If you prefer the mainland, the south of Spain and Portugal stay quite warm as well, including Lisbon, Málaga, and Córdoba.
What are the rainiest countries in Europe?
The wettest cities in Europe are Podgorica (Montenegro), Ljubljana (Slovenia), and Tirana (Albania), in terms of total rainfall per year. However, keep in mind that countries like Scotland, Norway, and the Netherlands are known for fairly consistent drizzle in fall, winter, and spring, which may affect your day-to-day more than a downpour from time to time.
When is it safest to visit Europe?
Europe is overall a remarkably safe continent to visit, no matter what time of year you go. However, dangerous weather events such as flooding, avalanches and mudslides can happen, especially in the winter months. Check out this list of the safest cities in Europe if you are worried.
Read more: What are the safest countries in Europe?
What is the cheapest month to travel to Europe?
The cheapest time to travel to Europe is between January and March. Here, the winter holidays are over, but the spring weather hasn’t hit yet, which leads to significantly lower prices. Next-cheapest is between September and November, which is often called ‘shoulder season’.
Top tip: Weekday flights (particularly Tuesdays and Wednesdays) can also often be cheaper.
Ultimately, there is truly no bad time to visit Europe. Traveling in the low season may bring less favorable weather, but still comes with plenty of advantages: fewer crowds, cheaper accommodation, and ticket prices, and a more relaxed, ‘local’ vibe.
While a few activities (like swimming or skiing) can be more seasonal, many bucket list destinations are doable year-round. As you prioritize where you’d like to visit most, it’s never a bad idea to see if it’s doable in the off-season.
If what you’d like to do truly can only be done in peak season, planning ahead is your friend – try to book your flights 2-6 months ahead of time, and track prices on Google Flights or Hopper to get the best deals on airfare.