Travelling in summer has its ups and downs. The weather may be warm, sure, but the prices are sky-high and navigating through a seemingly endless swarm of tourists is nobody’s idea of a good time.
If only there was a way to visit all the cool places without battling the masses and having to declare bankruptcy at the end…
Wait, there totally is! It’s known as the “off-season” – a magical time when dropping temperatures scare away the crowds and the crazy price tags.
So pack your bags, all you poor, introverted people, because here are eight places that can be even more rewarding in the off-season.
Low season: September–Christmas, January–June
Photo credit: Allen Watkin
Iceland is a country with a lot to offer: breathtaking natural beauty, awesome geysers, and putrid fermented shark called Hákarl.
Summer is the most popular time to visit, for obvious reasons. In autumn and winter, the days are short, strong winds ravage the open plains, and temperatures can drop below freezing; perfect conditions for those who wish to avoid the crowds and spare their wallets!
True, daylight is scarce in winter, but these conditions are ideal for checking out the Northern Lights. Plus, the Icelandic nature looks even more mystical in the snow and rain. You can take it all in by going glacier hiking, ice fishing, dog sledding, or soaking in one of the steaming geysers.
Come autumn, you might get the chance to witness local farmers rounding up sheep and horses on the highlands and take part in the celebrations that follow.
Make the capital, Reykjavík, your base of operations and strike out from there. Be sure to sample some Hákarl as soon as you arrive, because whatever happens afterwards, things literally can’t get worse.
Not convinced? Well, the Game of Thrones scenes that take place behind the Wall were shot in Iceland, and yep, you can visit the filming locations.
Low season: September–May
Photo credit: ilirjan rrumbullaku
Portugal is famous for its warmth and long, golden beaches, but in summer you’ve got to be willing to share these things with tens of thousands of other visitors. Come September, though, most of the sunbathers will pack up and leave, making it the perfect time to strike.
In my mind, the off-season is actually the best time to take in the sights of Lisbon. The masses melt away, meaning you can actually see the gorgeous architecture with your own eyes and not through the screens of thousands of iPads. And while summers can be warm, winters are relatively mild, with temperatures hovering in the 11 °C–16 °C range.
If you’re one of those weird people who’d die if the temperature dropped below 15 °C, you might want to visit Lisbon in spring when the parks and hills are covered in colourful blankets of blossoming flowers.
Low season: November–May, excluding Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Carnivale
Photo credit: GukHwa Jang
The masses of tourists that visit Venice each year have come to symbolise the city as much as the charming canals that criss-cross it.
Hoping to get away from the day-to-day grind for a quick summer fling with your lover? Fat chance, as you’ll be crushed under the weight of millions from all corners of the world.
Besides, the city is so popular that the chance of seeing your spouse with his/her lover while on your own getaway is pretty decent. And you won’t even be able to have a nice, old-fashioned row about it because the streets will be too crowded!
You could consider skipping the family drama entirely and coming when the masses leave. Venice is blissfully empty during autumn and winter, and often blanketed in thick mist, adding a touch of romantic mystery to the narrow canals and winding streets.
The city is prone to flooding this time of year, though, but it shouldn’t put you off; exploring the streets on raised wooden planks is an unforgettable and authentically local experience. And the weather can be a bit chilly, but that might actually be a good thing.
In summer, Venice can be unbearably hot, plus the smell coming off the canals is not a thing you can see on all those drop-dead gorgeous tourist photos. As the summer fades, so does the foul odour.
Anyway, so what if it’s a bit cold and damp? This can all be washed away with a cup of superb local hot chocolate. Put on your best waterproof shoes, get up on the plank highway, and take a stroll to St. Mark’s Square, where waiters from the posh restaurants still go about their business wearing rubber boots with their elegant tuxedos.
Low season: September–Christmas, January–June
Photo credit: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar
Being a tour guide in Tallinn, I can vouch that the city is an awesome place to visit year-round. Am I biased? Sure. Most people arrive here with very limited expectations, though, thinking they’ll find a small, cold country full of grey Soviet buildings and gloomy people who drink way too much.
Is it really like that? Absolutely. But if you manage to penetrate the exterior layers of gloom and angst, you’ll find a city with a rich culture and an interesting history. And the beer here is awesome, so what are we supposed to do – not drink it?
In June, July, and August, a massive army of cruise tourists swarms the city almost every day, but the crowds disappear in September. Even the British stag parties are scared off by the cold.
Autumn is a good time to come and enjoy the relatively empty streets of the medieval Old Town, but if you want to understand why the locals look so depressed all the time, drop by in January and February when temperatures can fall below -20 °C. On the flip side, the local nature is gorgeous that time of year, so take a trip outside the city to enjoy snow-covered forests and the frozen sea.
January is also a good time to come and check out the Christmas market on Town Hall Square. The huge Christmas tree will still be there, and you’ll miss the spike in tourism that comes with the holidays.
And you won’t have to worry about the locals. Buried under all those scarves and hats, you won’t even notice how pissed off they look most of the time.
Low season: September–March
Photo credit: Anton Zelenov
Valletta, the capital of the small Mediterranean island-state of Malta, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, and for good reason. It offers gorgeous natural vistas, a beautiful coastline, and locals fluent in English, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of learning even a bit of Maltese. Cultural ignorance is bliss, I guess.
While Malta is mostly known for its warm climate and sandy beaches, there’s plenty to do in the off-season as well. The winters are actually quite mild, with temperatures rarely dropping below 15 °C. The rain and wind might put some people off, but the rocky coastline looks absolutely stunning as the roaring waves crash into the cliffs.
As there are fewer people moving around, you’ll get way better deals from tour guides and shopkeepers than you would during the summer. Coming off-season, you should also be relatively safe from the global phenomenon know as “The British Stag Party”, which tends to have a strong presence here – or everywhere, really – during the warmer months.
Why are the Brits so keen to get married and spread their stag-dos to all corners of the world? They should learn to be lonely and depressed like other civilised people!
Whether or not you go alone there’s still a lot to see in Valletta, and most of the sights will be much calmer once summer draws to a close. The island has been influenced by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, crusaders, Normans, the Holy Roman Empire and, before the British bachelors, the British Empire.
Should you wish to embark on a trip back through the centuries, Valletta is a great place to do it.
Yellowstone National Park
Low season: September–May
Photo credit: Lorne Sykora
Yellowstone National Park attracts travellers from all over the world with its incredible natural beauty. It’s definitely more approachable during the summertime, but, for those with warm gear and an adventurous spirit, it can be an amazing place to visit when the temperatures drop and the steady stream of tourists reduces to a trickle.
Spring might not be the best time to visit as the melting snow turns the park into the world’s biggest mudslide, but in autumn and winter you can take part in an array of cool outdoor activities, ranging from hiking and horseback riding to skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
And with the crowds gone, you’ll have a much bigger chance of spotting Yellowstone locals: elk, moose, bears, and bison, for instance.
Besides, why would you want to visit the park at the same time as everyone else? It’s even more breathtaking when devoid of thousands of tourists and engulfed in fog, snow, and rain. It’s colder and wetter, sure, but come adequately prepared and you’re in for a unique experience.
Low season: October–April
Photo credit: Pedro Szekely
The Loire Valley, also known as the “Valley of the Kings”, is a 280-kilometre stretch of land in central France famous for its elegant medieval monasteries and renaissance palaces, many of which belonged to French kings back in the days when France still had kings. These days the old palaces are open to visitors yearning for a glimpse into the homes of rulers from a bygone era.
The area encompasses picturesque nature and a number of neat historical cities, such as Angers, Tours, and Orléans, and even has the longest dedicated cycling and hiking path network in France, making it a good destination for those with a more active holiday in mind.
In winter, the temperatures don’t typically drop below freezing, but 3 °C–5 °C is still pretty chilly, so renting a car instead of a bike might be a good idea.
The grand palaces of Loire are hugely popular in the summertime, but as the crowds disappear and mystical fog swallows up the valley, you’ll see the old villas in an atmosphere that most other visitors never will.
What’s more, the Loire Valley is one of the only places I know where it’s acceptable to retrace the steps of a 17-year-old girl, since Joan of Arc fought a bunch of battles there in the 15th century.
“But tacky old houses are boring and I don’t even like girls!” you say. Fine by me. Autumn is also wine season in the Loire, which means that as the main tourist season dies down, the “special grape juice” season revs its engines.
Take a tour of the local wineries and you’ll come to understand why the French are famous for always surrendering. Who in their right mind would want to fight with wine like this waiting at home?
Your parents’ place
Low season: Pretty much always
Photo credit: Stephen Bowler
Well, it seems you’re out of luck. If your wallet has only the faintest memory of what money looks like and your bank account is all zeros and ones, then your options are fairly limited. But, there is another option. A weird and a mysterious place you remember visiting long ago, a place full of people who called themselves “The Loved Ones”. That’s it, now I remember! Home, that’s what it’s called.
Go and fall in love again with your mother’s epic cooking skills. Take artsy photos of your father’s receding hairline. Try not to look embarrassed as your granny speaks of seeing “a dark-skinned young man” at the farmers market and thinking Western Civilisation is about to collapse.
After a weekend of this you’ll surely feel recharged and relish the though of heading back to work.
Plus, there’s free Wi-Fi, the crowds are relatively small, and the prices aren’t through the roof. Unless we add your psychiatry bill to the expenses. Granny’s casual racism can be pretty hard-hitting stuff.
Opening photo credit: mhx