Why European Insiders Love the Off-Season
Think about what made you fall in love with travel in the first place. The answer is different for everyone—sure—but whatever yours is, odds are you’ll find it in its purest state come Europe's off-season.
If dazzling displays of ancient tradition are your thing, you’ll find them in spades this time of year. If standing face-to-face with Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Gentileschi does it for you, you’ll have their works practically to yourself while your fellow tourists hibernate. And if you're all about chatting it up with locals, you’ll find (almost) no one but.
Point is, the continent is arguably most itself from November to March, when—not for nothing—there’s also great value to be had. Think weeklong guided tours from $699 per person—at least if you're traveling with Escapes by Globus, whose off-season discounts of 40%-80% sweeten the deal for every kind of traveler.
For those who prefer to get off the beaten path
With the heat off and the crowds halved, the fine art of winding your way through Europe’s signature narrow streets and alleys is best enjoyed now. You'll find pockets of free time in any Globus itinerary that let you take advantage of this gift—and truly, even an hour of aimless wandering can turn up untold treasures. If you'd rather put some guard rails on your expedition, get recs from your Globus Tour Director and Local Guides, who might suggest Lisbon's Rua da Bianca de Duarte Belo (the most iconic of the steep, cobbled streets lined with small bars and balconies), or Leadenhall Market in London, a beautiful 19th century covered market—all glass windows, curved beams and cobbled walkways—that you access via narrow pedestrian alleyways. (Film buffs will recognize the location, where markets have taken place since the 14th century, as the entrance to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.)
Not that you need to restrict your treasure hunts to famous walkways, of course. In Paris, for example, you may want to sneak off to Le Pagode—a stunning Japanese-pagoda-turned-movie theater, where the walls in the biggest screen room are hung with silk, the candelabras are held by golden dragons and elephants, and warriors stand ready for battle on the painted ceiling. In Madrid, you may want to take an hour to see why the city is suddenly a craft brew hot spot (ask your Local Host to direct you to the best, tucked-away brew pubs).
The possibilities are endless—and all the more appealing when you're not fighting crowds.
For arts lovers
If you've ever beheld a European museum masterpiece through a deep scrum of fellow visitors—their extended selfie arms forming an elaborate visual obstacle course between your straining retinas and the painting or sculpture in question—you know the whole thing is much more a travel rite of passage than a transcendent art experience. And hey, rites of passage build character. But if you are an art lover in search of transcendence, there's a better way: Go during the off-season, when you'll essentially have the run of the continent's most treasure-packed museums and galleries.
Of course, there are a few where you'll always find a line, no matter what time of year, and that's where your Globus VIP access comes in. Take the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, home of Rembrandt’s legendary "The Night Watch," four Vermeers, and countless other paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. There are two lines: one to buy your ticket—and another to enter the museum. And between the two, the wait can be nuts. Ditto at El Prado, the world’s best collection of Spanish art (think: Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco), not to mention the largest collection of works by Italian masters outside Italy—or the amazing commemorative exhibits for the museum's 200 birthday this year. And while the 18th-century building is beautiful, to be sure, there’s only so long you want to stare at it.
But with Globus VIP access—also available at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Rome’s Colosseum, among other must-sees—you'll simply skip the lines. And thanks to your cozy puffy coat, you won't even feel all those eye daggers to the back.
For those who want every last detail tended to
Though you'd be forgiven for thinking that reduced off-season rates come with a less-than-luxe experience, a Globus Escape skimps on nothing: deluxe transport, Tour Director, Local Guide, fabulous and centrally located hotels—the list goes on. But the company's signature Local Favorites are arguably the most beloved inclusion, and every tour's got at least one.
In Modena, for example, you'll have a tasting of the so-called king of vinegars, the city’s aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (read: balsamic vinegar). One of the most important national culinary legacies—so valuable that aristocrats used to exchange it on important occasions and will the precious boiled grape juice (the key ingredient) to their heirs—balsamic vinegar was even included in women’s dowries at one point.
Meanwhile, if you visit Greece—home to more than 4,000 traditional dances—your Local Favorite experience will leave you a pro at the sirtaki, created by the iconic Mikis Theodorakis for the 1964 movie Zorba the Greek. You’ll also learn to make one of the tastiest symbols of Greek cuisine, tzatziki. (This newfound skill will be the gift that keeps on giving back home, where you'll soon be known as an A-List potluck contributor or party host.)
For festivities fans
Hardcore Londoners prep for Christmas as early as summer, when they start making their traditional puddings to ensure sufficient rum-, sherry-, or brandy-steeping time. But the official beginning of the festive season—at least the shopping portion—is November, when Oxford Street flips the Christmas lights switch and small markets (and ice-skating rinks and fairy-light-bedecked trees) turn up everywhere. The city is particularly jolly—and beautiful—this time of year, when Harrods pairs with designers to bring wild Christmas dreams to life in the legendary department store's over-the-top windows, and the Shard becomes the tallest Christmas-lit building in western Europe (a whole other kind of over-the-top). For its part, Covent Garden always has a Christmas theme—just beware the costumed contestants running around while balancing fruitcakes on spoons in early December, a decades-old tradition known as the Great Christmas Pudding Race.
Of course, Christmas isn't the only off-season revelry op. Since the Middle Ages, Venice has celebrated Carnevale, the 10-day masked party that ends with the beginning of Lent. (Yes, there's been the odd hiatus here and there—most famously, when Mussolini imposed a protracted ban—but the event was back and glitzier than ever by the 1970s.) The city prepares for the event all year long, but the air in the city is particularly charged in the run-up to the February festival, and this is when the best masks—the most traditional (and expensive) made of papier-mâché—are available. In fact, there are reportedly more mask sellers than butchers in Venice (your expert Globus Local Guide can direct you to favorite sources, so your most difficult decision is whether to choose a white volto mask, half-face colombina—or a go-for-the-gusto bauta).
Meanwhile, always-atmospheric Amsterdam is arguably at its most bewitching during the two-month Amsterdam Light Festival, which runs from the end of November to the end of January. The event gathers the best national and international artists to create more than 30 light installations—one recent standout being the miles-long red laser "Thinline" by Beijing-born global phenom Ai Weiwei. The installations are displayed around the city, so you can’t help but stumble upon them wherever you go.
For the solo traveler
With searches for “solo travel” up by nearly 600 percent last year on Pinterest (and by similarly staggering numbers on every other conceivable platform), hitting the road without a significant other, or travel buddy—or your kids—continues to trend. And Globus offers solo travelers not just the comfort and security of group travel—but the possibility of waived single supplements in the off-season. Most European Escape tours have a number of single rooms where the single supplement is waived. (For the uninitiated: Single supplements are surcharges you pay as a solo traveler for rooms that would otherwise accommodate two paying customers.) Globus' supplement-free supply is limited, though, so you should definitely call to check on availability. Single rooms sell out fast!