These European cities are chock-a-block for most of the year – but go now and it’s a different (and cheaper) story

  • This round-up includes cheap deals to more than a dozen European cities 
  • Venice is ‘gloriously quiet’ in winter – and there are flights from £109 return
  • READ MORE: The best 100 cities on the planet ranked and it’s London that’s No.1

Some cities in Europe are becoming so overrun with visitors a new word has been invented to capture the phenomenon: ‘overtourism’.

In places such as Barcelona and Venice – among the worst affected – holidaymaker charges have even been introduced to reduce numbers during peak periods, in the form of hotel taxes or fees for cruise passengers. Budget airlines and cruise ships have been blamed for the worst overcrowding. Yet there is a way to avoid the rush: go during the off season between now and Easter, when flights and hotels are cheaper. Here’s our guide.


Here are the best European cities to visit in the off-season. The list includes Florence (pictured) in Italy, which is considerably less congested at this time of year 

A crowd of August tourists taking photos in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria

Florence has introduced fines for eating snacks in four central streets — a move designed to reduce congestion. Queues in winter for the Uffizi Gallery with its Renaissance masterpieces are blissfully short. Admission is lower as well from November 10 to December 20 and January 10 to February 20 (£10.40, not £22.50). It’s quieter at the Duomo, the city’s spectacular cathedral, too.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £108 at the modern, central AC Hotel Firenze (

Cheap flight: From £67 for Stansted-Pisa returns; Pisa is one-hour by bus away (


Temperatures in Andalusia’s capital touch 21C in November and 22C in March. Enjoy the city’s brilliant tapas bars near the enormous Gothic cathedral without the summer crowds. Attractions including the cathedral (where the tomb of Christopher Columbus is to be found), the Moorish palace of the Alcazar, flamenco shows and the neo-Moorish Plaza de Espana are much easier to see.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £59 at the arty little La Casa del Maestro (

Cheap flight: From £60 for Luton-Seville returns (


Go to Barcelona over winter to enjoy Parc Guell (pictured) without having to elbow your way around

Barcelona’s stunning beach is jam-packed in the summer months

Barcelona, with a population of 1.6 million, can attract more than 20 million tourists annually, mainly from June to September. Go over the winter to enjoy the Ramblas (the main street), the Basílica de la Sagrada Família (Antoni Gaudi’s spectacular cathedral) and Parc Guell without having to elbow your way about.

Budget hotel: Doubles at the stylish Motel One from £77 (

Cheap flight: From £64 for Edinburgh-Barcelona returns (


Authorities have approved a trial of a £4.30 fee for day visitors for next summer to keep tourist numbers down. Big cruise ships have already been banned. Venice attracts as many as 13 million tourists and has 49,693 tourist beds compared to just 49,308 for residents. In the winter it’s gloriously quiet by the canals near St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge — and easy to book a gondola, too.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £100 at the charming Hotel San Moise (

Cheap flight: From £109 for Bristol-Venice returns (


Dubrovnik (seen above) is ‘especially beautiful’ in winter. Take advantage of return flights from Gatwick with easyJet from £75 

When cruise ships arrive, it can really become a scrum in the lovely walled city of Dubrovnik. In the winter, when fewer come, it’s especially beautiful — a great time to go for a walk along the old battlements facing out to the choppy sea.

Take the cable car to the mountain overlooking the city without the usual long wait.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £71 at the stylish Scalini Palace hotel (scalini

Cheap flight: From £75 for Gatwick-Dubrovnik returns (


Overcrowding around the famous Spanish Steps has become so dreadful Rome has introduced £217 fines for sitting on them. At the height of summer, long queues for the Colosseum and the Vatican have become the norm, while visitors are warned to watch out for pickpockets in the swarms around the Trevi Fountain. Go in winter to see the Italian capital at its most relaxed.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £115 at the slick, contemporary Ibis Styles Roma Eur (

Cheap flight: From £58 for Stansted-Rome returns (


Time your trip to Amsterdam away from peak periods and the canals, like this one, and museums can be ‘pleasingly peaceful’

Overtourism in the popular ‘party city’ is a huge problem with more than 20 million annual visitors and a population of 800,000: 25 tourists per local. Time your trip away from peak periods though and the canals and museums can be pleasingly peaceful, especially at the usually chock-a-block Rijksmuseum (

Budget hotel: Doubles from £99 at the central, Tourist Inn (

Cheap flight: Starts from £122 for Manchester-Amsterdam returns (


More than eight million holidaymakers visit each year while the population is a mere 119,000 and tourist officials are encouraging visitors to come outside busiest summer months. One winter plus is that Bruges looks lovely after it’s snowed and when canals have frozen.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £113 at the charming, modern Hotel Marcel (

Cheap train: From £102 for London St Pancras-Bruges returns by train (


Enjoy Austria’s capital away from the summer crowds with its sleepy cafes serving Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake) and strong coffees and relaxed little bars offering mulled wine, local beers and schnapps. St Stephen’s Cathedral, Belvedere Palace, Hofburg Palace and the giant Ferris wheel at Prater Park are blissfully quiet.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £98 at the fun, colourful Max Brown hotel (

Cheap flight: From £87 for Stansted-Vienna returns (


Paris is ‘much calmer and more bearable’ in the winter. Above, one of the city’s metro stations

Attractions such as the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre can be rammed in the summer in the French capital — where around 37 million tourists visit each year. Go in the winter when it’s much calmer and more bearable.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £100 at Aiden by Best Western (

Cheap train: From £78 for London St Pancras-Paris returns by train (


See the Guinness Storehouse, the Book Of Kells at Trinity College (a 9th-century copy of the Gospels) and Dublin Castle without the summer crowds. Go during the off season and there’s a much more relaxed atmosphere down Grafton Street or around St Stephen’s Green.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £86 at the comfortable Leonardo Hotel Dublin Parnell Street (

Cheap flight: From £33 for Manchester-Dublin returns (


Nestled on the banks of the River Douro, Porto is a great city to discover. Return flights from Stansted with Ryanair are priced from £55 

Perks of off-peak: Visitors to Porto must try a traditional Portuguese pastel de nata tart (above)

Porto is starting to rival Lisbon in popularity with its quaint old town overlooking the River Douro. During winter it’s wonderfully quiet though, with the walkways across its iconic Dom Luis I Bridge almost empty and few crowds at its port wine houses.

Budget hotel: Doubles at well-run NH Hotel Porto Batalha from £78 (

Cheap flight: From £55 for Stansted-Porto returns (


Visitors to the Acropolis, the ancient Greek site in Athens, were capped at 20,000 a day this year in a scheme likely to be continued. Numbers had been topping 23,000 a day causing unpleasant overcrowding. In winter you can almost have the Acropolis, the Temple Of Olympian Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium to yourself.

Budget hotel: Doubles from £95 at the stylish, fun Moxy Hotel (

Cheap flight: From £60 for Luton-Athens returns (

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