If you haven’t realized it yet by reading my blog, I am a pretty huge fan of off-peak travel. In fact, I often prefer it for many reasons (which you can read about below). One of my goals for 2020 is to be an even more conscious traveller… Which includes travelling as often as possible during off-peak times.
And I want to challenge you to make this part of your yearly travel goal too! That’s why, I’ve rounded up some of the best off-peak travel destinations to visit to during every season of the year.
What is Off-Peak Travel?
Off-peak travel largely refers to travels to certain cities or destinations at the times when others are unlikely to visit. For example, opting for Europe’s most popular destinations outside of the summer season; or travelling to popular winter destinations during the warmer months.
Why am I over here advocating for off-peak travel?
While I truly hate crowds. And I mean hate. There is so many other (important) reasons to flock to cities during the off-season.
#1. You get a more local perspective.
Many of my favourite travel experiences have happened during the off-season. This is because the locals are less busy. They have more time to spend with you, more patience, and are able to provide more time to give recommendations or help you arrange your trip. This has led to the most special local bonding moments for me during my travels, and some of my all-time-best travel memories.
#2. It’s good for the environment.
The environmental impact of over-tourism is insurmountable. On a local level, it impacts the infrastructure, damages nature, and create pollution. All these environmental impacts have also compounded to push locals out of their homes, alienating them from their culture. The long-term effects of over-tourism in some of the worlds most popular cities will evidently destroy them (sounds harsh… but it’s the truth). By opting to visit during the over-peak season, the impact can be mitigated with more even traffic flows through the city year round.
#3. It stimulates the local economy year-round.
Seasonal revenue fluctuations for locals are a side effect of seasonal travel. When I recently visited Montenegro last summer, many locals pointed out the burden that the seasonal tourism had on their families. While they were thankful for higher tourism-related revenue during the summer months, during the rest of the year they were often laid off or seasonally unemployed, which put a large amount of stress on them and their families financially.
Can you imagine only getting paid for three or fourth months a year, and having to make it last until the following high season? Additionally, this tourism fluctuation means that many locals will be over-worked, in order to make as much money as possible to last through the off-season (in many countries without labour laws, this could mean working 16+ hours a day, 7 days a week). This is seriously detrimental for their personal health.
Continuous economic stimulation translates into a higher quality of life for locals. Think of it as a way of giving back!
#4. You don’t have to plan far in advance.
Want to take a certain tour? Make a dinner reservation? Or book tickets to a cultural experience? You are much less likely to have to plan way ahead for these things during the off-season (or risk being upset because you weren’t able to book it).
Europe's Best off-Peak Travel Destinations
wINTER: sCANDINAVIAN cAPITALS
Summer in Scandinavia is beautiful, there’s no doubt. But winter in the Scandinavian capitals is still a great time to travel. Home to “hygge” and “fika,” Scandinavian culture is practically synonymous with coffee, fireplaces and coziness. And while many travelers flock to the Scandinavian north to see the northern lights, or head to the slopes to go skiing, the region’s biggest cities are also made more winter fun.
Winter: Eastern Europe
There are so many hidden – and not so hidden – gems scattered across Eastern Europe. And if you’re in the mood for a little winter road trip (or train or bus trip), Eastern Europe is a great spot to do it.
Venture from Poland, through the Czech Republic down to Hungary. The snow-covered rooftops in these fairytale-like spots will surely look magical. Recommended itinerary: Warsaw – Krakow – Prague – Budapest. These are all cities that are busy in the summer, but are just as beautiful in the winter.
Spring: Athens & The Greek Islands
Greece is arguably my favourite country in Europe. The food, the locals, and the diverse landscapes. I would live there if I could. However, popular destinations like Santorini and Mykonos are busy. In fact, there have been conscious efforts made in recent years to combat over-tourism in these popular islands.
Still want to see the famous calderas of Santorini? Head there in the spring. While it is still busy, the crowds are manageable. And while you’re there, you can hop over to some of my other favourite Cycladic islands, like Naxos and Milos (where there is sure to be very few tourists).
And while you’re in Greece, don’t make a very common mistake and skip Athens. It is filled with history, and culture – and some fantastic restaurants. And the spring is a great time to visit! You can walk around all day long without having to worry about the heat.
Speaking of avoiding the heat…
Portugal is very popular – and very warm – in the summer months. Avoid the crowds and the heat by visiting in the springtime. April was the perfect time for us to spend two weeks exploring this incredible country. Temperatures were mild, and we were able to eat at the best restaurants (and there are a lot of them), wander the streets, and explore the sights without worrying about crowds.
Ahhhh, Amsterdam. I love this city.
But, Amsterdam is also one of the biggest victims of over-tourism in Europe. And I can attest to this, because the first time I went to Amsterdam, it was August. It was warm, crowded – but somehow, I still fell in love with it and I was keen on returning.
A few years later, I opted to go back to Amsterdam in November. The leaves were changing colours on the trees, the number of tourists was controlled, and I was able to truly enjoy the crisp fall temperatures while walking the canals without having to worry about getting hit in the head by a selfie stick (or by a tourist on bike who doesn’t understand the rules of the two-wheel road).
The city has began to crack down and have plans in place to counter this problem, such as removing the famous iAmsterdam signs and regulating Airbnb properties. However, you can do your part by heading there during the off-season.
Any-Season-But-The-Summer-Season: This applies it ANY of Europe’s most popular destinations.
I’m talking most of Italy and France, Spain, Croatia… The list really could go on and on, but I think you get the point. If you’re schedule only allows you to travel during the summer, consider an alternative, less-visited destination.
Montenegro is a great alternative to Croatia, with some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen. The Douro Valley in Portugal, home to port wine, is a good Tuscany alternative. And if you’re inclined to head to the Greek Islands during the summer, consider a less-busy island, such as Naxos instead of Santorini and Mykonos.
Some of my other favourite summer destinations where I’ve (for the most part) been able to avoid severe over-tourism: Southern Germany (including Munich, Nuremburg and surrounding Bavarian towns of Bamberg or Rothenberg); Salzburg, Austria; and Belgium (Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, and Bruges).
And, if you can (again, only if you’re able to… I want to stress that this isn’t an article about passing judgement) – avoid August. This is when most Europeans are travelling. And is by far the busiest month of the year.
What do you think are the best off-peak travel destinations?
There are so many amazing destinations across this globe, and I am by no means trying to discourage others from seeing some of the world’s most iconic landmarks. But by considering to travel during the off-peak season, you are making a conscious decision to improve not only your own personal travel experience, but also the experiences of those employed by the tourism industry – all while contributing to the sustainable travel movement.