Europe in the off-season: why and where to go

christmas markets
Traditional Christmas markets are just one of the reasons to visit Europe in the wintertime. Carsten Koall/Getty Images

If you want to visit Europe, don’t rule out a fall or winter trip. For starters, you could avoid the spring and summer crowds. Less people means less time spent waiting in lines, as well as lower prices.

“Prices tend to be up to 27 per cent less than in the summer months, allowing Canadians to further save and stretch their loonie when travelling in the off-season (generally September through to March and April,” said Cris David, president of Insight Vacations.

“Off-season airfares are often hundreds of dollars cheaper, as well.”

READ MORE: 4 tips to stretch your dollar when travelling abroad

When it comes to weather, snow birds can still soak up some sun in southern Europe along the Mediterranean. Elsewhere, European winter still tends to be milder than a Canadian winter. David compares it to our November temperatures.

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Which European destinations will let you stretch your loonie most?

A general rule of thumb to keep in mind, according to David, is that many large European cities (like Paris, London, Stockholm and Rome) tend to be a bit more expensive. For instance, you’ll likely spend more money in Rome than in Florence (which some might say is much prettier anyway).

READ MORE: WestJet launches new, cheaper routes to London beginning in May

If you’re looking to save even more, David recommends a visit to one of these “lesser known” destinations:

  • Croatia: “With its pristine beaches and charming towns, Croatia has quickly become the ‘go-to’ spot for savvy travellers. Croatia offers good value for money in comparison to other Mediterranean beach destinations. Meals are reasonably priced with meat dishes starting at only 60HRK (converting to only $12 CAD), and because fresh seafood is in abundance, calamari lovers will rejoice as prices are much lower in Croatia for the beloved dish.” Fun fact for Game of Thrones fans: the show’s fictional capital is filmed in Dubrovnik, known for its massive stone walls built in the 16th century.
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Tourists walk in the main shopping street of the medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images
  • Portugal: “Offering laid-back charm with over 900 km of coastline, Portugal has everything travellers would expect from a European vacation at a fraction of the cost of flashier destinations. Imagine visiting an old patisserie in Lisbon that has managed to hold on to the secret recipe of Portugal’s finest pastry for over 100 years, or exploring the fortified city of Obidos,” David said. “For foodies, expect mouthwatering meals without having to break the bank.”
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The Torre de Belém, a World Heritage site, located in the Belem district of Lisbon. The tower built around 1515 to guard the entrance to the Lisbon harbour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Poling
  • Kraków, Poland: “Poland today is probably Europe’s best kept secret. Kraków in particular offers one of the best rewards for savvy Canadians looking to stretch their loonie. With its rich historic city centre, Kraków offers the best of classic Europe without the crowding (and less so during the off season). Those looking to taste the local beer will be pleased to find that they can easily source a pint for under $2 – a rarity in most of Europe.”
Night view of Market square in Krakow, October 2013.
Night view of Market square in Krakow, October 2013. JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images
  • Slovakia: “The country offers a wealth of discovery at every corner, from the landmark four-towered castle overlooking the capital, to the simple wooden churches in the country’s villages. Having only formed as an independent country since 1993 as a result of the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava, one of the European Union’s most rapidly expanding capitals is booming in business. In fact, Bratislava is more than half as cheap as nearby Vienna for travelers.”
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A Spanish tourist rests at the grounds of Bratislava Castle backgrounded the panorama of the old city on March 1, 2010. JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Also worth adding to your itinerary: a trip to Oktoberfest in Germany.

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And if you visit Germany (or anywhere in Europe) during the holidays, make sure to check out some traditional Christmas markets, which actually originated in Europe.

Christmas markets
A composite of Santa Claus figurines and decorations at annual Christmas markets in Munich, Berlin and Erfurt, Germany. Getty Images
christmas markets
Traditional Christmas markets are just one of the reasons to visit Europe in the wintertime. Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Christmas markets
Visitors stroll at the Christmas market on November 28, 2014 in Rostock, Germany. Carsten Koall/Getty Images