One day last month in Rome, while fighting my way through the crowds in front of the Piazza Venezia, I made a comment to my tour guide about how busy it was.
“You’ve seen nothing,” he said. “Wait until July and August.”
I’m a firm believer in travelling in the off-season, or shoulder season. I’ve been doing it for years: taking advantage of cheaper rates and less trafficked areas to soak up the peacefulness and more “authentic” feeling of a place.
It’s hard to imagine Italy being even busier than my visit in May, but apparently it is. My guide suggested that September is actually the best month to travel. Having spent the last year here in Europe, I’d have to agree.
The weather is better
Fact: I love Europe in the summer months. Everyone’s out celebrating the warm weather. Parks are covered with people. The sunshine stretches to 10 PM; days are endless.
But the heat is STIFLING. I forfeited quite a few activities in Rome because it was just too warm for walking around.
On the other hand, years ago when I visited Greece in February, I was surprised that the Mediterranean could have such cool weather (as a Canadian I guess I assume everywhere else is warmer).
One of the people working at my hostel insisted that September is the best time to take advantage of the weather. It’s not stifling hot, but the sunshine is still wonderful and the Mediterranean waters are still warm from months of heat.
Fewer crowds means more local experiences
There’s a dramatic difference in tourist crowds once the summer fades out to autumn. Line-ups are shorter (I waited for two hours at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence despite showing up at 7 AM– for real), and best of all, you’ll be more open to local experiences.
I get that the “local experiences” thing is kind of a buzzword but I mean, yeah. The chances of running into some friendly Italian locals in September when the hordes of people are disappearing are a great deal higher than in July when you’re competing for space with 3298392 people.
Even in May (on the shoulder season), I found it easier to meet locals. In Capri, I met up with an Italian guy named Andrea who took me to an amazing terrace where we drank wine overlooking the sea. I’m not so sure that’d happen in the height of summer.
It’s cheap as heck
Comparatively, the prices in September in Europe are INSANELY cheaper than travelling throughout the summer months. Everything from hotel rates to flights are hugely reduced. If you’re on a budget, it’s absolutely the best way to do it.
It’s also a lesser-known fact that travel companies like Trafalgar offer up to 40% off their tours compared to summer travel.Travellers can book their trips with 2016 prices for 2017 summer travel on popular Trafalgar guided vacations if they book by September 25th. Plus, if they pay by January 12, they can save an additional 10 per cent. So if you’re the kind of person who loves group travel with knowledgeable guides, this is for you.
It’s actually the best time for foodies (and festival lovers)
Italy’s harvest season starts around September, with an abundance of fresh, seasonal cuisine readily available. Plump olives, sun-ripened tomatoes, big, juicy peaches. I mean, half the fun in Italy is stuffing your face with delicious fresh food.
And Italy’s quiet little hilltop towns and farming communities turn into harvest celebrations. Since it’s also the beginning of the grape harvest, villages in Tuscany let loose with the beginning of their wine production. As if you needed an excuse to imbibe in wine.
Several culinary festivals take place in September as well. In Sicily, there’s a three-day festival named the Sagra dell’Arancino with the sole purpose of honouring a local traditional specialty: arancini, a fried street food snack of risotto filled with meat ragu or mozzarella and ham. It was one of my favourite bites in Italy. A festival devoted to a fried food? Um, yes please.
If you’ve had similar experiences travelling Europe in September, let me know.
This post was written with the aid of Trafalgar. All opinions and experiences are my own, as always.