The Best Time to Visit Europe? Right Now

Nov 21, 2018

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Let’s be honest: It’s hard to pick a bad time to travel to Europe. But for travelers who have been waiting for a sign, consider now the perfect time to jump on that European dream trip.

From flight deals and Christmas markets to off-peak award tickets and a favorable exchange rate, we can think of at least six reasons you should be packing your suitcase and purchasing flights to Europe ASAP.

The US Dollar Is Strong

Last week, the exchange rate fell to $1.12 for every euro — the strongest the US dollar has been against the EU currency in nearly a year and a half. Though exchange rates are volatile and, at last look, the dollar was worth closer to about two cents less in Europe, it’s still a good time to take advantage of a healthy greenback.

Just make sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and always opt for the transaction to be completed in euros to avoid pesky fees and inflated conversion rates while abroad.

It’s Time for Holiday Markets

Could there be a better way to get into the holiday spirit than with a trip to one of Europe’s famous Christmas markets? And with that favorable exchange rate, you can feel good about ordering another glass (or two) of mulled wine.

Though some of Europe’s best-known markets are in Germany and Austria, travelers can find historic markets glittering with holiday lights all over the continent, including Plaisirs d’Hiver in BrusselsChristkindlesmarik in Strasbourg, the Christmas fair at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest and even the surprisingly popular Christmas market in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. 

No matter where you go, expect vendors hawking holiday crafts and treats, ice skating rinks, live music and plenty of general merriment. While each market has different dates, most start at the end of November and run through the end of 2018 — so it’s definitely not too late to book your trip!

Tourists enjoy the Christmas lights at the St Steven Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. This traditional Christmas fair attracts abut 700,000 visitors each year. (budapest christmas market_photo via shutterstock)
The traditional Christmas fair at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary attracts abut 700,000 visitors each year (Photo via Shutterstock).

You Can Find Off-Peak Award Tickets

While the dates surrounding Christmas and Thanksgiving are very busy (and expensive), the rest of November and December tend to be rather quiet, meaning you may be able to score solid award tickets. Search for a low-priced award ticket to get you to Europe, and remember, you can always set alerts on Expert Flyer to notify you of award tickets. Here are some of the cheapest options for using your miles to get to Europe right now:

  • American: One-way saver tickets cost 22,500 AAdvantage miles in economy and 57,500 AAdvantage miles in business.
  • Iberia: Fly one-way in economy starting at 17,000 Avios or in business for 34,000 Avios from the East Coast (distance-based redemptions).
  • United: One-way tickets start at 30,000 miles per way in economy and 60,000 in business.
  • Virgin Atlantic: Fly off-peak before Dec. 12 in economy starting at just 20,000 miles (though business is outrageous at 95,000 miles). Distance also plays a factor in redemption rates.
  • Air France: It’s hard to say how much you’ll spend since there’s no award chart, but we’ve scored business class tickets on the carrier for 57,500 Flying Blue miles each way during low season.

And Seriously Cheap Cash Flights

This week, we found cheap flights to Europe from $206 round-trip by booking in foreign currencies with Norwegian, LEVEL and the German low-cost carrier TUI fly. In December, for example, there are $311 round-trip flights from Miami (MIA) to Brussels (BRU). 

We also found $300 flights from New York City (EWR) to Paris (CDG) with WOW Air, $330 round-trip fares from New York-JFK to Oslo (OSL) and still-affordable $440 round-trip fares between Washington, DC (BWI) and Barcelona (BCN), also with WOW Air.

There Are New Points Hotels to Try

In 2018, a number of hotels debuted across Europe, offering travelers a variety of fresh new places to stay on points.

Some of the more interesting properties are the Moxy Amsterdam Houthavens, which opened in April (from 25,000 Marriott Rewards points), the Barcelona EDITION, in hip El Born (from 60,000 Marriott Rewards points) and the Renaissance Vendome Paris, a 97-room hotel in the 1st arrondissement from 50,000 points per night.

From Radisson, there’s the Blu Bordeaux and the Blu Bruges, both available for just over €100 per night this November and December (though the Bruges property has a better points redemption rate at 44,000 points per night, versus 50,000 in Bordeaux).

Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile has emerged from extensive renovations. It’s available from 15,000 points per night.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile)
The Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile has reopened, featuring a prime view of the Eiffel Tower. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile)

It’s Northern Lights Season

Winter in Europe is largely about two main activities: drinking spiced wine at Christmas markets and viewing the Northern Lights. There’s less urgency when it comes to the latter, as prime aurora borealis viewing season runs from late August to mid-April in spots like Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and even Scotland.

Though you can try your luck and hope to see them just by driving away from light pollution in destinations above the Arctic Circle, there are entire tours designed to help travelers track the shimmering auroras. In Svalbard, for example, you can go on a 24-hour Northern Lights hunt that includes snowshoeing to ice caves and dogsledding. Tours are available from November through January.

And both TPG himself, Brian Kelly, and news editor Emily McNutt have sought out the Northern Lights with Tromsø Safari, also in Norway.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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