When to Book Your European Cruise
Want to hit the high seas or take a river cruise around Europe? The best time to cruise Europe depends on several factors. Here are some pros and cons to European cruising during the high or low season.
When to go: November, December and March
Pros: Less crowds, better deals, lower airfare
Cons: Cold weather, shorter days
For cruisers looking to dodge the crowds and heat, off-season trips are ideal. While many cruise lines in northern Europe will shut down during the coldest months of the year (January and February), there are some options during the late and early winter. For example, some river lines promote holiday-themed cruises during November and December. These cruises attract shoppers because they include seasonal events and stops at local Christmas Markets. These seasonal markets offer local art, crafts, and food in a street vendor setting. (For more on these holiday-themed cruises, check cruise lines Avalon Waterways and Viking Cruises.)
Travel journalist Wendy Perrin in a blog article titled “How to Make a Low-Season European River Cruise Awesome,” says cruises can cost about $1,000 less per person in March, April, November or December and passengers save even more by not splurging on a balcony (since you won’t spend much time sitting in it). During colder months, cruisers may also find better deals on cruises throughout the Mediterranean. If colder weather doesn’t bother you or you really enjoy the Christmas season, the best time to cruise Europe just may be during the off-season.
When to go: April to October
Pros: Great weather
Cons: Crowded ports, less bargains, high airfare
It’s no surprise that the warmer months are the most popular time to cruise Europe. Sometimes referred to as “shoulder season”, peak season is the regarded by travelers as the best time for European cruises. It is the time of year when cruisers can expect to see some gorgeous landscapes and enjoy nice weather. According to Cruise Critic, European cruisers prefer this time of year especially for trips to the Netherlands and Belgium, when tulips are in bloom. However, it’s worth noting that some rivers can be adversely affected by either harsh rain storms or extreme heat.
Europe Travel Expert Rick Steves says that despite peak months he advises travelers to visit Scandinavia (which has a brief tourist season), Britain, and Ireland to take advantage of longer days and weather. On his website, Steves’ also mentions that many of the key cities in these countries still have low crowds throughout the whole year.
Cruises to the Mediterranean are also available year-round with peak months typically running from May through September. Heat-loving cruisers prefer this time of year, although temperatures can soar over 90 degrees and some ports can be jammed. Greek Islands and Canary Islands also see ships from March through December.
Shoulder season varies by destination. According to Steves’, it can be April through mid-June and parts of September and October.
European Cruises by Location:
- Baltic Sea — Russia, Scandinavia
- Eastern Mediterranean — Greece, Croatia, Italy (sometimes Turkey and Israel)
- Western Mediterranean — Spain, Monaco, Italy
- British Isles, Western Europe — England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland
- Norwegian Fjords
- Canary Islands
It’s up to you to decide when the best time to cruise Europe is, but with these tips you’ll be able to balance finances, crowds, and seasonal perks. No matter if you enjoy the hot weather or are comfortable in cooler weather, there is an option for you.