Frankly, summer in Europe is always a good idea. From France and Italy to more off-the-beaten-track options, European summers have inspired countless movies, books and sonnets. It’s simply that good – and when the sun is shining, it feels like anything is possible (just like in the movies!)
Sure, Europe is not the friendliest to our South African rands. But don’t think it can’t happen. You can beat the budget blues and make your European summer dream come true. It just takes a little planning, some expert guidance and a touch of creativity.
Top tips to travel to Europe in 2023
Travel in the shoulder season
Nobody likes a holiday where it’s an “excuse me” or an elbow-in-your-side around every corner. So, if a crowd-free visit to Europe is your preferred cup of tea, head to southern Europe during the shoulder and off-peak seasons. Even booking a few weeks out of the June and July peak can be quieter.
“In autumn, winter and spring, Mediterranean destinations are fairly mild, with fewer tourists and queues than during the summer months from June to August,” says Antoinette Turner, General Manager at Flight Centre.
“During the shoulder seasons, the crowds start to disappear but there is still a buzz, and you won’t need to fight for a spot on the main beaches of the Greek Islands or in the capitals of Lisbon, Istanbul, or Madrid. Spring, from May to June, or autumn, September to October, are quieter off-peak seasons to visit.”
Book as early as possible
“Flights generally skyrocket for the European summer season as visitors from all over the world plan their trip, often coinciding with the June and July school holidays in the States for example,” says Turner.
“If you haven’t yet booked for this summer season, South African travellers are advised to book as soon as possible for the best pricing and choice of departure dates and options – from airline seats and class to your first choice of accommodation.”
Considering going for next year? You can book flights as far ahead as a year.
Consider going in a group
You may be surpirised but touring (or guided holidays) are on the rise.
“In destinations such as mainstream or Western Europe, the price of a single hotel room or adding on breakfast can quickly exceed your travel budget,” she says.
With guided holidays, travellers have a very accurate estimation of what their holiday will cost upfront, minimising nasty surprises.
Remember, many tour packages are all-inclusive (with meals, transport, accommodation and activities included in the cost). This upfront amount can make it much simpler to budget and provide reassurance, especially when considering some of the hidden costs of taking a DIY approach to planning your holiday.
When to go where – and for the rest of the year
If you want that traditional summer in Europe holiday, here’s where you should go, and when:
- For summer in the cities and Mediterranean beach breaks, July and August are the hottest and busiest months. As suggested, travel in May, June or September if you want slightly cooler temperatures, fewer crowds and better pricing.
- For snow – Innsbruck, Prague, Copenhagen, Riga, Salzburg, Hamburg, Stockholm, Tallinn and Helsinki are some of Europe’s snowiest cities. European Christmas markets in November and December are spectacular.
- For skiing – Most of Europe’s most popular ski resorts open from December to April.
Where to go? Trendy European summer destinations for 2023
- Portugal – winner of stacks of World Travel Awards for 2022
- Hungary – a rand-friendly alternative
- Italy – a dreamy classic you have to see at least once
- Turkey – a South African bestseller
- Greece – on the up and up! Incredibly trendy right now.
Turkey is particularly popular as a touring/guided holiday destination, according to statistics from the Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG). FCTG has also revealed that the company’s tour booking web page experienced a 143% increase in visits in the last year.
Budget beaters for Europe
Pre-book tickets for popular attractions
Do you know that you can wait up to two hours to go up the Eiffel Tower?
Pre-book popular attractions wherever possible. Plan to do them in the first days of your trip, too, in case unforeseen circumstances crop up and you run out of time.
Don’t forget the documentation
Just like travel insurance (an absolute must, even though you hope never to use it), it is crucial that you have your paperwork organised before you board your flight. Have copies saved on multiple devices, and back up to the Cloud.
Bookmark popular events
Know what’s happening in the destination. If you’re travelling for a specific festival or event such as Germany’s Oktoberfest, London’s Notting Hill parade, Keukenhof in Amsterdam, Venice Carnival and more, book early. If you’re not interested in the festival, you can change your dates to visit when it’s less busy and there are more hotel rooms and flights available.
Public transport all the way
Travel sustainably and offset your carbon footprint wherever possible by opting for public transport and your own two legs. Not only is it a good way to save money (taxis and hiring cars can be exorbitant for South Africans in Europe), but it’s also another way to discover hidden treasures.
Even in Europe, not everything runs like clockwork. Be open-minded, expect the unexpected and be open to new possibilities that may open up. Sometimes veering off-itinerary can lead to some of the best travel memories.
Explore alternative Europe
‘Alternative’ European destinations are on the rise, and often present more affordable options for South Africans. Eastern European countries are popular and Portugal is still a value-for-money destination, even for South Africans, as is Turkey.
Enquire with a travel agent about when you should fly – even a few days out can make a difference if you’re not set on specific dates. Remember, agents also have access to fares you may not be able to see, plus their wealth of knowledge and experience will give you the peace of mind and personalised recommendations all travellers need.
“Wherever you set your sights for your European holiday, by booking early, especially during the shoulder and off-peak seasons, you can always find some great deals, along with the biggest choice of trips and departure dates,” says Turner.