With the euro-to-dollar exchange rate the strongest it's been in nearly a decade, airfare prices dipping, and crowds thinning out for the season, fall is the best time to visit Europe for both huge savings and the opportunity to take things in at a more luxurious rate.
Best Exchange Rate in Years
Americans looking to visit Europe this fall are sitting pretty right now. It's been nearly a decade since the dollar has been this strong against the euro, and all signs point to continued parity through at least the end of the year.
The most-affordable European cities this year are Bucharest, Romania; Sofia, Bulgaria; Kiev, Ukraine; and Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic-all riding around the $50 mark for daily expenditures at three-star living. But even ultra-popular cities like London, Paris, and Rome are more affordable this year as a result of the dollar's strength against the euro.
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(Photo: Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing)
Less Demand Drives Down Fares
It's basic economics, really: higher demand translates to higher rates and lower demand leads to lower rates. Thus, flights to Europe during the summer high season are very expensive; fall flights, when the demand is lower, are less expensive.
For travel to Europe, the sweet spots for airfare savings are just before and just after summer when you stand to see savings of 50 percent off the peak-season prices. I nabbed two round-trip fares between Boston and Amsterdam this fall for less than $800 total, taxes and fees included. In July, I couldn't have purchased one fare at that price, let alone two.
Savings at Accommodations
Airlines and cruise lines have an advantage over hotels: Rooms can't be relocated to wherever the demand is highest. Rooms either go for significantly reduced rates or they go empty. Lower demand leads to higher risk of vacancies, which leads to a higher opportunity for us to nab cheaper rates.
Room prices are negotiable. Brush up on your courage and haggling skills and you stand to save huge sums, especially during non-peak times. If you've already prepaid for your stay but find the hotel quite vacant when you arrive, negotiate for a room upgrade.
Shops and Restaurants Are Still (Mostly) Open
Unlike the winter low season, when you run a higher risk of finding shops and restaurants shuttered due to little business, shoulder season in Europe is nearly as welcoming to travelers as is the busy summer window, especially in major European cities. The only exceptions to this rule are the countryside and smaller towns with few year-round visitors.
Those who've attempted to climb the Eiffel Tower, tour the Coliseum, or marvel at the Sagrada Familia during peak season can attest to this: The swarms of aggressive tourists at these popular sites can all but ruin the iconic monuments you traveled so far to visit. Sparse crowds translate to shorter lines and less frustration.
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Everyone, including locals, feels less rushed in the off season. Local tour guides will have more time to field your questions; shop keepers will have ample time to recommend their best wares or their favorite local restaurant; wait staff will have time to describe the finer ingredients in a dish. The chef will make the rounds to greet his patrons.
Dining is More Affordable
As the crowds thin out, restaurateurs increase incentives to drive customers through their doors. For the shoulder-season traveler, this translates to an increased number of happy hours, two-for-ones, and other dining specials. Take advantage of these savings by upgrading your palette and trying typically costlier items on the menu.
And that months-long waitlist at the world-class restaurant? Just as exclusive and delicious, yet suddenly with an available table.
Mind Your Specific Destination
If you're the type of traveler who prefers longer days for sightseeing and warmer weather, select your destination wisely. Traditionally, destinations that geographically sit further south are warmer. For example, this October expect average temperatures of 46 degrees Fahrenheit and 8 percent chance of sunny days in Stockholm. By comparison, Spain's Costa del Sol only has nine rain-filled days and radiates 20 degrees warmer during the same window.
Keep in mind, of course, that travelers and locals alike will be clued into this certainty, and you won't have these sunnier destinations all to yourself.
Sure, the weather may not be as sunny as summer, but with the fewer daylight hours also comes foliage season and its bounty of color. As with most things in life, shoulder-season travel is about your perspective: glass half full or empty.
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