(Christmas Market in Jena, Germany wikipedia.org)
Every year around September I start seeing the deals. The kids are back in school, the traveling hordes of Americans slows to a crawl and Europe goes on sale. The cruise ships don’t stick around for long. As soon as it gets a little chilly, they start “repositioning” and heading for warmer waters. Hotels that were turning away tourists in July start selling their rooms with package tours, airlines drop prices and that’s when the fun begins.
When I tell my friends that I’m going to Europe in November, they immediately show this look of concern and ask me “isn’t it cold over there”? I explain that they need to understand that Europe is not exactly the North Pole (unless you’re in Northern Finland; but that’s a whole different story we’ll get into later) and the people who live in Europe every day don’t exactly seem to be dropping dead of hypothermia. The truth is, I love Europe in the fall and it’s one of the best times to go. Prices are low, crowds are low and the people that live there are a little happier to have you there. Just remember to bring a jacket.
I’ve seen airline prices drop by half and even to a 3rd of ordinary summer prices when November rolls around. I paid $1400 to travel from Houston to Frankfurt a few years ago. That was the best deal I could find in the summer. As I look at prices now in November, I’ve seen round trip tickets for less than $600. If you combine these lows Transatlantic tickets with low cost European carriers like Ryan and Pegasus, you can get almost anywhere you want in Europe for less than flying to some Caribbean destinations.
I was sitting in a rooftop restaurant on the picture-perfect island of Santorini a couple of years ago. I walked up the stairs, had a seat and ordered a Greek salad that I still remember to this day. As the waiter poured my wine, he told me how lucky I was that I wasn’t there the month before. I asked what could possibly be the difference between one month and now. He explained that the line to enter the restaurant wrapped around the building, down the street and typical waiting time could be 3 hours. 3 hours? Could one month and a few degrees Celsius make that big of a difference? Yes, he explained. Tourists were like a flock of seagulls. Not the 80s group, I’m sure, but one giant group of individuals that all travel together. When one flies, everyone flies.
Icelandic Air has consistently offered good prices in the fall for European destinations. The cool thing about Icelandic air besides the fact that Iceland is literally cool, is that the airline allows for a free stopover in Reykjavik on any of their European flights. If you’ve decided to fly to Amsterdam, Paris or one of the many European cities they service, you can have a mini-vacation in Iceland. Besides the obvious bragging rights of being someplace that none of your friends have ever been, there is a great opportunity to see the Northern Lights, check out glaciers, hike to beautiful waterfalls and explore an amazing country. You’d think with a name like Iceland that the place gets cold. I won’t lie. Nights are a little chilly. However, the awesome sights and the thrill of checking the Aurora Borealis off your bucket list makes packing an extra sweater worthwhile. You can always warm up in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s amazing collection of geothermal pools.
(Northern lights in Iceland huffingtonpost)
Around the middle of November, many European cities begin the amazing transformation of turning their town squares into Christmas Markets. It’s a great time to be overseas as the locals bring in Christmas trees and lights and set up little mini-cottages selling mulled wine, pretzels, sausages and all kinds of amazing European repasts. Sure, you’ll need a scarf if you’re ice skating in the center of Munich, but there’s nothing that captures the real feeling of Christmas like Germany. Austria and Germany have the best Christmas markets in my opinion, but Verona and even Venice capture the Yuletide spirit as they decorate trees with masks and colorful ribbons. All in all, you can’t go wrong with any Christmas market in Europe. Each is unique and wonderful.
If you’re feeling truly adventurous and don’t mind a lot of cold, you can head up north and spend the night at Sweden’s Ice Hotel. The hotel is built completely out of ice and you sleep on a water bed; A frozen water bed, that is. There’s furs and blankets to keep you warm, the coldest vodka luge you’ll ever drink from and you can opt to arrive by dogsled if you like. You can find more info at www.icehotel.se. Go a little further east and you can visit Santa Claus. His village is located in Rovaniemi, Finland and it’s located right on the Arctic Circle. If you thought Santa Claus wasn’t real, he’ll prove otherwise. You can visit with Santa, stay in his village, go shopping and send postcards to your friends. There’s even a live video feed where you can stand and wave to your non-believer friends. See www.santaclausvillage.info/
(A room at the Ice hotel www.icehotel.se)
Now is the time to take advantage of the fall prices and see the part of Europe that a lot Americans miss. Lower prices, amazing festivals, winter beauty and even a ski trip in the alps can be yours. Just don’t forget your jacket.