6 Great Euro Destinations to Visit in the Off Season
Off-season In Europe is a magical travel period. The pros: Incredible flight and hotel deals! Hotspot restaurants available to book! Art galleries and museums without the crowds! Read on for our favorite European destinations to check out during shoulder season.
Closer to the African continent than the European mainland, Madeira is a rich Portuguese archipelago with winter temperatures that hover in the low 60s. With no beaches (save a few dark-sand stretches on the south coast), Madeira’s year-round appeal is its lush landscape and adrenalin-pumping outdoor adventures. Most flights from the USA stop in Lisbon, then make the two-hour hop over to the island’s capital, Funchal. Here, kick off your trip with a walking tour around Old Town to see the famous painted doors, followed by a stop at the farmers market and a hair-raising downhill ride on a traditional wicker toboggans (carros de cesto). Adventure-lovers will find their fix beyond the city in the subtropical Boaventura region: go canyoning, trail running or mountain biking, or opt for a bird watching tour in the UNESCO-listed Laurissilva Forest. Our hotel of choice: Vidamar Resort Hotel where the knowledgeable staff will direct you to the best local restaurants for island specialties like fried fish with banana and the must-try Poncha, a citrus mix of honey, rum and lemon.
Florence is packed with tourists from Easter through early September, but the off-season--from October to March (excluding Christmas and carnival in February)--rewards visitors with uncrowded attractions, great hotel deals, and dreamy winter festivals. Foodies will love the autumnal ingredients served at restaurants across the city, which include truffles, winter squash, acorns and more. We love the newish Sicilian restaurant Ara e Sud on a quiet side street near Santa Croce. For art lovers, this winter season brings marquee exhibits like a retrospective of works by Marina Abramovic at Palazzo Strozzi and the first of many events marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci.
An essential Edinburgh itinerary is interchangeable between the seasons — taking in the ancient sights, exploring the city’s best art institutions, searching for the perfect city pub. But you'll skip the lines and the crowds if you do it in January and February (just pack and umbrella and extra layers). Rain or not, don’t miss the two-hour hike to Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Holyrood Park, or go for a stroll in the manicured Princes Street Gardens, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Caveat: Remember the big exception to crowds in the Scottish capital’s low season is New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay, when the city swells with revelers who party into the wee hours.
The smallest and easternmost of the Balearic Islands, Menorca has always stood apart from its party-loving siblings. Its best beaches don’t unfurl along one coastline, but hide in coves you can reach by paths through the scrub. In winter, make sure you leave enough time to explore the entire island, including its interior. Check into the Hotel Ses Sucreres in Ferreries, a six-room inn done up in contemporary artwork and simple Menorcan furnishings, with a homemade breakfast spread and intimate walled garden. The mid-island location gives you easy access to both coasts. Among the area's highlights: a drive to the island's original capital, Ciutadella to see its imposing Moorish architecture. Ciutadella is also home to a handful of inventive Menorcan restaurants. Book a table at chef Miguel Sanchez’s contemporary Smoix, or go organic and learn about native ingredients at the classic Cas Ferrer de sa Font.
A new direct train service from London to Bordeaux by 2020 is bound to bring crowds to France’s wine capital in the off season, but for now, there’s still a lull from October to March. On sunny days when temperatures reach the mid-50s, you’ll even find diners spilling onto sidewalk cafe tables for an alfresco winter bite. Join them on the terrace or around the open kitchen of the brasserie Comptoir Cuisine for traditional French fare and views of the Grand Theater. On colder days, explore the city’s ever-changing art institutions, including the Musée des Beaux Arts, recently reopened after an extensive renovation, and the modern art institution, Musée de la Création Franche. Stick with the contemporary vibe with a stay at the new Seekoo Hotel on the Quai Bacalan, which puts you within walking distance of the excellent wine museum, La Cité du Vin, or go for the upscale architectural elegance of the new Yndo Hotel near the Golden Triangle.
In summer, Athens is the sweltering stopover en route to dreamy island vacations in Santorini, Rhodes and beyond, but in winter the Greek capital is homebase for exploring ancient sights in relative peace. Prices drop during the cooler months, with mid-December flights from the east coast to Athens starting at $400, and low-season deals on great hotels like the new Perianth Hotel. Along with its contemporary design and hotspot restaurant, Il Baretto, the hotel puts you within walking distance of the Acropolis. The spectacular hilltop citadel is open year-round, so plan on starting early, then head for the nearby Acropolis Museum (open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., until 10 p.m. Fridays), before stopping at the Temple of Zeus and Lycabettus Hill for some of the best views of the city. Refuel at the oldest restaurant in Athens’ ancient neighborhood of Plaka: Psaras Taverna. The exception to the overly touristy spots in this part of town, Psaras dishes up hearty warm appetizers (perikafti, dolmades, and eggplant a dozen ways) and all the Greek specialties you'll want to try before heading home.
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