Europe's Cheapest Cities for Shoulder Season Travel

For parents and children, the end of August may signal a return to routine, but the warm weather continues well into September.

If for whatever reason you've waited until now to plan a proper vacation, you're in luck. Procrastinators looking to travel from mid August to late September will find a favorable combination of lower fares and smaller crowds.

Here's a look at some of the cheapest European destinations to travel to this shoulder season.

Zurich

Zurich may be known as one of the world's major banking capitals but you don't have to be a slick-haired one-percenter to make the trip.

Nonstop fares to Zurich are reliably inexpensive from Northeastern cities, with fares from JFK currently going for $441 roundtrip on Swiss, Delta, and United, for travel in September. From D.C., connecting fares to Zurich are available for travel over the week of Labor Day for $458 on American, and drop lower still for travel later in the season.

Meals and accomodation may not be as low as elsewhere in Europe, but deals are there. A search on Hotelwatchdog for the first week of September turns up several rooms for well under $200 per night. Considering what you’ll save on airfare, a little splurge on meals and accomodation may seem doable.

Paris

Unless you’re Beyonce and Jay-Z, the odds of you having an unobstructed view of the Louvre’s Mona Lisa are slim to none. A visit in September or October will greatly reduce the number of bodies you'll have to elbow to get a glimpse.

Fares to Paris have dropped by quite a bit in recent years as service from low cost upstarts has increased. Even from the West Coast, sale fares can often dip below $400 roundtrip on WOW Air, connecting via Reykjavik. Nonstop options aren’t much more, with Norwegian, Air Tahiti Nui, and XL Airways regularly offering sales along this route. For late August/early September, Oakland to Paris was recently available for $375 nonstop on Norwegian.

Also from the Bay Area, French carrier French Bee as it stops in San Francisco between Tahiti and Paris.

Reykjavik

Iceland has long been a stopping point for U.S. budget travelers headed to Europe, but over the last 10 years has emerged as a destination in its own right. Just scroll through instagram on any given day and surely someone you know is posting pics from Iceland. The reason? Fares are dirt cheap!

From much of the U.S., a flight to Reykjavik is often cheaper or at least on par with a transcontinental flight. WOW Air’s oneway sale fares often dip below $100, with the return flight priced higher, of course, but not by much. Icelandair also now offers pared down economy light fares to better compete with WOW.

London

Despite the notoriously sky-high Air Passenger Duty, tickets to London airports are still much lower than they were a decade ago. Currently, you'll find the lowest available fares to London are with Primera Air and Norwegian Air. Norwegian flies nonstop to Gatwick from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Orlando and, most recently, Tampa. Primera is a tad more limited, with flights to London Stansted from Boston, Newark, and Washington DC.

As of today, a roundtrip flight from Newark to Stansted is going for $362 nonstop on Primera, for travel in mid September.

Budapest

Budapest's hometown airline Wizz Air might not have U.S. expansion on its to-do list, but there are plenty of other cheap ways to reach the Pearl of the Danube.
LOT Polish Airlines frequently includes Budapest in its sales. If LOT doesn't fly from your home city, try pricing out flights to European airports serviced by Wizz Air and book from there. Norwegian Air also offers connecting service to Budapest.

Fares to Budapest may not be as rock-bottom as other cities on this list, but your dollar will go much farther once there. From Chicago, fares across OneWorld carriers are hovering around $650 for mid September dates.

Elsewhere in Europe

If you have your eyes on a particular city but find fares are just too high, consider flying into nearby city happens to cost the least, and arrange a second inexpensive flight or train trip within Europe. True, you’ll have to spend a little extra time in transit, but sometimes the savings are worth the extra effort. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to explore an additional city you may have overlooked.

A great fare to Europe can pop up at any time, and disappear just as quickly. Sign up for Airfarewatchdog fare alerts to avoid missing out on deals. You can select route specific City-to-City alerts from your home airport to your preferred destination (for example, Atlanta to Vienna), as well as Departure City alerts for all deals currently available from your home airport (both domestic and international), or Arrival City alerts to your chosen destination from all over the US and Canada. And of course, don’t forget to set a hotel alert on Hotelwatchdog for great room rates in your destination.

Above image by Inu via Shutterstock

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