Pros and cons of off-peak Europe travel

American Airlines has some great off-peak prices for award tickets to Europe. Rather than the usual price of 60,000 miles, during off-peak a roundtrip ticket would only cost 40,000 miles. And you can get that amount of miles simply by getting the AAdvantage credit card’s 50,000 mile bonus. (Learn more about these off-peak prices here.)

So when is “off-peak” for Europe?

According to American Airlines, off-peak for Europe is anytime between October 15 and May 15. Other airlines may have different off-peak dates. But basically off-peak exists during the colder, winter months. (US Airway’s off-peak dates for Europe are extremely narrow- only January 15-February 28.)

For this post, we’re going to consider the more generous off-peak dates and take a look at the pros and cons of traveling Europe during winter.



1.) Christmas Markets

The month of December is an absolutely charming time to be in Europe because of the vast number of cities that set up “Christmas Markets” in their main squares. Imagine the quaint and decorative architecture of days gone by, set aglow with festive lights and market stalls selling baked goods, hot spiced wine and bratwurst.  It’s as if people are fighting back against the gloom of an early sunset.

Each Christmas Market is a little bit different. In Verona, Italy you may find dried meats. In Villach, Austria you’ll find plenty of bratwurst and glühwein; in Brussels, waffles and in Prague, traditional rolled pastries called Trdelnik.






2.) Snow in the Alps

The Alps take on a different feel when covered in snow. Even if snow has not yet made it to the ground below, when the peaks are dusted and white, it feels like the Alps are all the more striking. Not to mention Ski enthusiasts can explore the Alps best when they’re covered in snow.


3.) A (slight) decrease in tourism

“Local tourism” is still pretty big during the Christmas season when Christmas Markets decorate the city. But otherwise you may notice slightly cheaper hotel rates and slightly thinner crowds. Certainly, as mentioned in the first paragraph, you tend to at least see slightly cheaper airfare.



1.) European winters produce gray and sometimes foggy skies

My first trip to Europe was during the summer years ago. But since then, most of my European travel has been during the winter time. This time around I finally decided that it is not just a coincidence that most days are sun-less. In beautiful Bled, Slovenia there was always either fog or clouds creating a thick veil over the steep mountains behind the lake. Rather than the striking photos of peaks reflected in the lake’s waters and towering above the local castle…I have some misty photos that barely even permit a sighting of the island on the lake.


2.) Sometimes tourism is too slow

While reduced levels of tourism can be nice in hot-spots like Prague and Venice, for more off-the-beaten-path destinations like Bled, Slovenia or Bercthesgaden, Germany, you may find that half the town is closed down. This means half the number of choices for hotels and very few options for dining as well. And restaurants that DO stay open likely have sporadic hours.

3.) Extremely short days

Europe is Northerly enough that the hours of daylight are quite minimal during the winter months. In Prague in December for example, the sun sets at 4 pm and it’s pretty much totally dark by 4:30pm. According to Prague has 8 hours and 11 minutes of daylight on this day, December 9th. Compare that to Boston’s 9 hours and 11 minutes.

We made the mistake of sleeping in today and by the time we squared away a bit of online work and lunch, we only had two hours of daylight in which to site-see.



Europe is beautiful. Just walking around ancient little cobble-stoned streets and soaking up the feeling of being somewhere timeless and historical is all I need for my Europe tours. And in that case, I really don’t mind doing this meandering whilst wrapped in coats and scarves. Especially when there’s an ample supply of hot spiced wine or hot cocoa to sip as I walk.


But for lovers of photography, it can be quite frustrating. Unlike anywhere else we’ve been, my husband and I sometimes wait until the sun sets to take our photos. We switch to a lens that works best in low-lighting and take advantage of all the golden lights of evening. We prefer this to giant opaquely gray skies that dull the photo.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | December 18, 2014
Category: Europe, Images from the road

4 Responses to “Pros and cons of off-peak Europe travel”

  1. Roger Says:

    I spent six winters in London in the 1980s and early 90s, and I know what you mean by the short days and gray skies, but that was usually compensated by the bustle and generally cheery atmosphere. Plus, the inclination to spend more time in the wonderful museums was a haven and an opportunity to learn massive amounts of history and culture, which I don’t regret at all. The public transport is even chummier and time passes quickly from point A to B when it’s cold outside.

  2. Andrea Kirkby Says:

    Agreed that the fogginess can make winter Europe tricky to visit. I find that winter is a great time for visiting the cities – there is so much to see at night, too, sights like one of the great Viennese cafes or a traditional London pub lit up warmly from inside, or an unusual sight of the stained glass at Bourges cathedral glowing against the dark of late afternoon.

    Also, we have our ways of adjusting to winter. Winter ales in England, for instance – great thick dark strong ales that you won’t always get the rest of the year – and mulled wine in France and Germany, not just in the Christmas markets. Winter food is worth seeking out – hearty dishes like polenta with mushrooms in creamy sauce, which I had in the north of Italy one New Year.

    So I’d say: yes, there are pros and cons – but you’ll see a rather different Europe in the off-peak season than you would at any other time of year. Embrace that difference and you can have a great time.

  3. Carrie Says:

    Oh yes definitely agree that there are some charming things that really do make off-peak travel worth it. Europe is quie a cozy place to be when it’s cold outside. 🙂

  4. Scott Says:

    I just spent six weeks traveling overland from London to Turkey. The short hours and decrease in transportation options were very noticeable. Weather can be foggy but by sticking to the Mediterranean coast I enjoyed a lot of sunshine and warm temperatures.