Europe in winter: You can enjoy an espresso at a sidewalk café in Rome or Barcelona, but you may be bundled up in a jacket and scarf.
With the strong dollar, travel experts are seeing high interest right now in bucket-list trips to destinations such as London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Prague and Barcelona.
Brave the cold, they say, and book in January or February often for $600 to $800 round trip. That's a savings of more than $1,000 in some cases vs. paying peak fares during summer and the Christmas holidays.
"You're able to find deals to Europe sometimes 70 to 80% off," said Katy Nastro, a travel expert for Scott's Cheap Flights, which emails subscribers flight deals.
Despite the lower temperatures, travelers from the Upper Midwest are likely to find a more temperate winter than at home.
Another compromise may be in the choice of destination. If you have your heart set on beach walks and dining in tavernas in the Greek Islands, know that many of its hotels, restaurants and shops close during the colder months.
But most cities and towns are open across the continent. And among the advantages of Europe in winter are shorter lines at museums, more seats in theaters and openings at restaurants. Another plus is that the January and February flight deals tend to be available even last-minute.
"Really everything, including hotels, is going to be a better value at what they call 'off season,' winter or early spring," said Linda Snyder, vice president of travel and retail services for AAA Minneapolis.
Travelers concerned about the environmental impact of their vacations may also prefer the sparser crowds. "Everyone is starting to talk about sustainable travel and being conscious of our footprint," Snyder said. "If you're going at a less busy time that helps with that issue."
Delta Vacations President Kama Winters is seeing travelers who postponed trips to Europe during the pandemic now reserving flight and hotel packages. Bookings in eight of Delta Vacations' top European destinations in 2022 more than doubled compared with 2021. To Athens, bookings of these packages are up 400% vs. a year earlier.
This year's bookings are so far trending to put 2023 on track to surpass 2019 levels, she said. Winters thinks many travelers are taking advantage of more competitive winter fares after being outpriced last summer.
"Europe has really been booming for Delta and Delta Vacations," Winters said. "A lot of customers were unable to travel to Europe for quite some time and demand has surged at unprecedented rates."
AAA travel agents are suggesting off-season European trips as an alternative to customers feeling sticker shock at the price of spring break trips to Mexico, Snyder said.
"I've done Europe many times in March. It can be rainy and cold. You just have to be prepared that it's not going to be sunshine and beautiful weather all the time," she said. "The Europeans are happy to be sitting at a café even if it's raining and chilly. They'll be sitting under an awning with a heater. That's just what they do."