Last Updated on March 6, 2023 by Jim Ferri
By Jim Ferri
It’s well known among people who travel a lot that the best time to travel is in the low season.
The low season is that hemisphere’s “winter” months, approximately November–February in the northern hemisphere and June–August in the southern hemisphere.
Except during holidays, of course, when prices can be as high as in the high season, it’s at this time that prices are usually lowest. Traveling then can save you a lot of money and provide a better travel experience without the crowds.
Remember, however, that there are exceptions. For example, although winter is typically the low season in cities such as Chicago, Boston, and New York (New York in the Winter – 20 Great Things to Do), at that time it’s the high season in Miami. The same is true at ski resorts both in North America and Europe.
On a Low-Season Budget
If you’re on a budget and want to see the major European cities, the low season may be the time to go. Be aware, however, at that time the weather isn’t as good as many people like. The days will also be a bit shorter, and you may not find as many places open as you do during the high season.
On the other hand, those are also the things that keep some tourists away and force hoteliers and others to discount their prices. So if you want to save some hard-earned dough, the low season is the time to find discounts.
You’ll also find discounts during the shoulder season, the time between the low and high seasons. It’s approximately March–April (into early May in some destinations) and September–October (into early-mid November in some places). They are the same months in both the northern and southern hemispheres although the seasons are the opposite.
Finally, keep in mind that prices will normally be more expensive during any festival time than in the “regular” low-season.
Suggestions for Discounted Low-Season Travel
I remember a publication a while back that recommended five low-season getaways that provided real savings for travelers. They included Las Vegas and San Francisco in the U.S.; Paris and Florence in Europe; and Goa on the west coast of India, all good, discounted destinations in the off-season. However, I’d also add Vancouver, British Columbia.
Prices typically drop in Las Vegas during November and December because the weather (rain and cooler temperatures) keeps the crowds at bay. Still, though, remember that in Vegas, you’ll be spending most of your time indoors anyway.
February and March, on the other hand, can be prime times for the budget-minded traveler to focus on San Francisco. There’s always plenty to do in the City by the Bay, both inside and out, so even though the weather will be cool, you’ll generally avoid the winter rains.
Save in Canada
If you don’t mind the rain, Vancouver, BC, during the winter, can offer substantial savings when traveling in the discounted low season.
I But the same is true for Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City, among others. Montreal is famous for its “Underground City,” a vast underground of subways and shops where you’ll be warm even on the coldest winter day. In fact, you can travel all over the city in a temperate climate.
Quebec City, especially Old Quebec, is charming in the winter since it’s a virtual step back in time. Anytime the snow falls in Quebec, the city is beautiful. And in Ottawa, you can join the thousands of others who skate along the city’s frozen Rideau Canal.
There are also many winter festivals all over Canada. They include Igloofest (Montreal), Winterlude (Ottawa), Montreal en Lumière, the Quebec Winter Carnaval, Silver Skate Festival (Alberta), and many more. See a more complete list at Destination Canada.
Focused on Europe or India?
If you’re focused on Europe, be aware that the low season in Paris extends from November through March, when rainy, shorter days keep many travelers away. For you, on the other hand, it can be prime time to visit all those museums you weren’t able to get to during the warm summer months because of the crowds.
It’s the same for Florence when the winter months can be a boon for anyone wanting to get their fix of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello, and other masters in Florence’s almost 200 museums. And, like Paris, there’s nothing like shopping without the crowds during the less-crowded discounted low season.
If you’re interested in traveling to India, you can save some money by traveling to Goa in October. The reason is that the peak season will not begin for another month, and the weather is still quite enjoyable, with the monsoons a thing of the past, or at least the past few months, making it a perfect discounted destination in the low season.
Great European Places in the Low Season
I enjoy traveling to Europe any time of year. For me, each season has its charm.
However, during the past few years, I’ve visited several popular European places in the low season. I also spent time in several of them during the high-season summer months, when they usually are crammed with tourists.
I enjoyed all my visits in both seasons, but I found my winter visits unique and more enjoyable. True, I may have felt that because the summer crowds in the street were now nonexistent. But more importantly, I could also dive deeper into the essence of the place without waiting in line at museums, restaurants, and other places. As a result, I had a lot more time to do what I wanted.
One such place was beautiful Bruges in Belgium (Why Bruges Is Better In the Off-Season). When the temperature drops, Bruges turns from crowded to cozy. Everything feels more authentic, and I feel more like a local. Sometimes even a local from another century, as I view all that glorious ancient architecture.
Another place was beautiful Cesky Krumlov in Czechia. (By the way, Czechia is the new name of the Czech Republic, although I will say I liked the old name much better). One of Europe’s most picturesque cities, my wife and I went to this fairytale town in March.
We chose March since we wanted to avoid (and did) the claustrophobic tour bus crowds that invade the city in the warmer months. It was a great trip (Cesky Krumlov from Prague – A Great Off-Season Day Trip), especially since the city is such an easy day trip from Prague.
Speaking of Prague, I enjoyed my winter trip to this great city more than I did on a later summer trip. There’s so much to see in beautiful Prague, and it’s better enjoyed without the crowds. In addition, the city has an excellent transportation system. You’ll see what I mean in Prague in Winter, a Perfect Time to Visit.
On this same low-season trip, we visited fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. We visited the castle during a two-day stay in the historical (and also fairytale-like) Bavarian town of Fussen. It’s only a 1½-hour drive from Munich (Germany’s Fairytale Fussen in Winter – a Great Experience).
I had been there in the warmer months but found that winter was the time to go. The crowds are gone, of course, so you’re not being pushed through the castle by the six tour groups behind you. But the real magic is seeing the snow around you and on the mountains all about, the icing on this fairytale.
Lest we forget Britain, you’ll find plenty to do in the U.K. capital when the temperature takes a nosedive (Best Things to Do in London in Winter (or Any Time of Year).
I love London. In fact, I love all of the British Isles. But in London during the low season, I just feel I have the city’s fantastic museums all to myself. Well, almost, anyway. In addition, I can also meet “real” Brits since shopkeepers and hotel clerks have more time to chat with me. I may even get a seat on the Tube if I’m lucky.
And let’s not forget another fantastic low-season event: Christmastime in London.
You may also enjoy: Winter Events and Adventures During Low-season in Europe / How to Travel About Scandinavia on a Budget for 2 Weeks / 26 Great European Day Trips by Rail / Bus
Pat Richards says
Jim – thanks for this. We knew a couple several years back who always went to some place in Europe in January. They raved about the short lines, availability of restaurants, hotels etc. and, coming from Syracuse, they were used to winter weather. This article got me inspired to consider it again! Thanks!
Jim Ferri says
I’ve had some really great experiences in the low season all over the world. Then again, I’m an all-season traveler.