Visiting Places During Peak Season?

One of the things I was most looking forward to with living in hotels full time is being able to travel “with the sun.” I love warm weather and lots of daylight, so looked forward to spending lots of time in Europe in summer, and also time in Australia and New Zealand in (their) summer. In general I try to avoid being places during super-peak periods. For example, I have no interest in going to Sydney over New Years.

That being said, for cities with long tourist seasons, I don’t mind being there when it’s busier. Well, at least I thought so until I got to Amsterdam.

I’ve only been to Amsterdam once before, and absolutely fell in love with it last time. My previous visit was last March, when it was dark, rainy, and freezing, but it was still incredibly charming. Actually, that might just be part of what made it so charming.

Amsterdam
Amsterdam

I figured I’d love it even more this time around, with more daylight and warmer weather. Boy, was I wrong. Well, the weather and daylight are awesome, but the city is so overrun by tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I realize it would be hypocritical of me to say “how dare there be so many tourists” when I’m among them!

Instead I’m saying that I guess I haven’t been to too many places during peak season lately, because I didn’t realize the impact it would have on the charm of the city.

You can hardly find a table at a street cafe. Walking down the sidewalk is like dodging crowds at Disney World, or for that matter, like trying to cross this intersection in Addis Ababa:

When you’re walking down the street you hear more people conversing in English than Dutch. And the prices are ridiculously inflated for summer, as you’d expect. I bought four small bottles of water at a convenience store today, and they were 10 Euros.

It kind of reminded me of my trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, several years back. I was there with my mom in May, which was after the summer season but before ski season. It was absolutely gorgeous, and best of all, we basically had the city to ourselves.

Queenstown
Queenstown

I’m guessing for most places there’s a happy medium. For example, rather than going to Europe in June through August, it probably makes more sense to go in April, May, September, or October.

Or maybe it’s a function of picking different (and less popular) cities. Before Amsterdam I spent a few days in The Hague, and felt like I was the only tourist there. Which may very well have been the case, since it’s not much of a tourist destination.

The-Hague
The Hague

Am I alone in this feeling? When you travel, are you more focused on going when it’s the nicest climate, or when it’s the quietest?

Comments

  1. Absolutely. Just spent time in Italy during end of June/July because I had a wedding in the UK to attend, and I longed for the cold weather and tourist-free atmosphere of January!

  2. Don’t like traveling at peak season. I like hitting places either at the beginning of end of peak, ie the cuff of the madness.

    I like being able to get upgrades…get seats at bars/restaurants…walk around without bumping into 101 tourists…the deals start to come out….the list goes on.

    Even if it’s a little colder, I think the edges of peak are the best times to travel. Ex: I’ll never understand why people go to Paris in July.

  3. stop going to the Albert Heijn 2 go and go to the normal albert heijn 😀 there u find the normal food prices 🙂

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more. My wife and I LOVE traveling during “shoulder” season: we’ve done Ireland in October, Australia/New Zealand in November, and Hawaii in March. Our anniversary also falls at the end of May, so we always try to travel then and have found great weather but fewer crowds everywhere we’ve traveled: Croatia, London, Paris, the Seychelles, Bali, Hong Kong, and Vancouver, to name a few.

  5. Why do people go to Paris (or Amsterdam, or London, or …) in July? Because lots of people have these encumbrances called “children”, which unfortunately are committed to school for 10 months out of the year.

    As Lucky pointed out (a bit obliquely), though, it’s quite possible to find places to go that are less touristed. Maybe not the Hague, but Europe has plenty of beautiful places to visit in the high season that aren’t as overrun as Amsterdam. It just takes some research and creativity to find them.

  6. Too bad I have no choice but to travel during peak season (or not at all) – but I try my best, like to travel during Chinese New Year (as a Hong Konger) instead of the New Years, as most tourists from that period will be based from China or Hong Kong, and to travel in August instead of July (people mostly prefer travelling in the middle of summer while I tend to wait towards the end to avoid the big crowd of people who think so).

  7. Hmm interesting. I have a UK wedding in July and was planning a week in Amsterdam to burn SPG points at Pulitzer. But I hate peak season travel so maybe I should reconsider. I’m in Australia now although with their school holidays it feels like peak season in the winter!

  8. Dang it Ben, you had to go and mention Queenstown, now I need to plan a trip back.

    I think the best way I’ve figured to make sense of peak season travel is: I don’t prefer going to a place during peak season, but peak season won’t keep me from going to a place.

  9. I hate going anywhere during peak travel times. When I studied in Florence, I remember being so overwhelmed when I got there and hated it. Once the tourists went home, I realized that I did in fact LOVE Florence. I much prefer the quieter pace of life in tourist cities so I refuse to travel during peak times now. 🙂

  10. I remember years ago being in Paris in July and hearing English and hardly any French. All of Europe is on holiday somewhere other than Europe! When you were in the Hauge please tell me you visited the Mauritshuis Museum………Also next time in Amsterdam you must go to De Luwte for dinner. Reservations a must. Tot ziens!

  11. A little of both, I guess? I love Amsterdam around Christmastime, with light festivals and Christmas markets. And Florence and Siena felt empty — no waits anywhere! — at Thanksgiving last year. Weather was still totally fine, as long as you duck into a restaurant/bar/museum/cafe every hour or two to warm up.

  12. Yes, I would love to travel the shoulder seasons as well, but as a high school teacher my options (while almost 3 months worth of off days a year) are at those peak times. I like to just mix in smaller places to get a break from tourist craze. For instance this summer I bounced into the CRAZY tourist land of Salzburg, but–after a few days there though I went to Linz Austria which was MUCH LESS touristy–then onto Vienna (crazy), then Bratislava (crazy only from 10-4 when the river boats are in)–alternating the crazy tourists with the less so.

  13. I have the flexibility, so I’m a shoulder season guy. Did Europe in Sept/Oct (although Spain is still quite warm at that time of year) and Korea/Japan in April/May. No complaints, although Amsterdam was a bit on the rainy side and hard to get good pictures. (I did get a few though.)

    I the US though, there are some places where you just have to go suck it up… such as beach towns along the northern stretch of the Atlantic coast. If you define peak season as Memorial Day – Labor Day, the swimmable weather outside of that can be measured in weeks.

  14. Totally agree. Im an expat in Europe, during the summer I stay in my local area and avoid the touristy cities. They’re best in Spring of Fall.

  15. absolutely agree. western europe, in particular, should be avoided during the high summer months — well, at least the major cities. i’ve found rome, barcelona and london to be so much more enjoyable over the christmas holidays, with perfectly tolerable weather and a minimum of tourist crowds.

    as for new zealand, while i’d love to experience the summer months there, i went in winter and everyone was telling me how crowded and expensive things would be had i visited in peak season. i found the country to be super easy to navigate and still totally enjoyable weather-wise.

  16. My wife and I were just in Amsterdam about a week ago (we are traveling through Europe on our honeymoon at the moment). Our first stop was in Amsterdam. The first night we stayed at the Hotel Pulitzer because the house boat that were going to stay at could not accommodate us on that night.

    I did not feel the same way you did about Amsterdam. Maybe it was because I have never been there before, or maybe because my wife is a Rick Steve’s superfan and we followed his advice on restaurants, sights, excursions, etc.

    The house boat we stayed at was about a 8 minutes walk east of the Central Station (Houseboat Anna…which I would definitely recommend btw). It was far enough away from everything (but not too far) that I did not feel we were being overrun by the rest of the tourist crowd there.

    We also spent a half day doing a canoe trip through the canals that run through the farming fields about 20 minutes north of the city. That was an incredible trip (also highly recommend).

    Hotel Pulitzer is right in the middle of Jordaan…which, while residential, is still going to be foot traffic heavy. Maybe next time scrap the points and go for a houseboat. I was definitely hesitant to do that at first, but am confident that my wife made the right call there.

  17. I have traveled during peak, shoulder and low seasons and I would avoid peak season if at all possible. Have been to Europe many times during peak season and it is way too crowded and hot. While I like warm weather in my day to day life, when I travel I actually prefer cooler or moderate weather. When it is hot, it can be difficult to walk around and see all the sites. Obviously some people do not have flexibility with their vacation schedule (such as teachers or people with children) so peak is better than nothing. The only other reason I can think of traveling in peak season would be if you wanted to spend the majority of time at the beach.

    Like a bunch of posters mentioned shoulder season can be a great middle ground-there are a lot of the benefits of peak season such as warm weather but not as many crowds.

    Lately, I’ve really started to enjoy traveling during low season as long as the weather is decent. There are less crowds and lower prices. Also it is easier to find award availability for flights. If you are paying for flights it is easier to find cheap fares plus there is a higher chance of the flight being relatively empty and being able to spread out even in coach.

  18. Agree w/ above but be careful and do your research. Those “shoulder” periods can mean some attractions are shut down and restaurants are shuttered for a break before the next wave of tourists. We naïvely visited Las Vegas during “dark week” which offered great rates but 1/2 the city attractions were on break but still flooded with bargain-hunting tourists.

    Almost bit again with a trip to Whistler in October. Got a deal at the Four Seasons but come to find out many major attractions (like the Peak-to-Peak gondola) take a break as soon as the turkey is digested on Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct 13th this year). Shifted our travel a week earlier and still got the hotel deal.

  19. I love visiting places during their low season. Had I not done so last year, I never would have seen Bruges with the canals frozen over. Low season travel is great for getting to know a place a lot better and actually being able to meet locals if you have any interest in that. Yes, there are drawbacks – such as restaurants & attractions being closed for the season, but as long as you’re not in a place that caters solely to tourists, you should still have plenty to do.

  20. Having lived in Amsterdam (well 10 years ago, but visited friends who still live there more recently), I can confirm the fact that there is a “tourist area” in Amsterdam where most things are overpriced and of very poor quality; be it food, accommodations, souvenirs, etc. I would say the same is true here in San Francisco, or for that matter most major touristy cities. I have had great times in peak season, even in Europe, you just have to navigate around the crowds and away from the city centers.

    Especially when in Amsterdam you really have to get off the beaten path to truly find its charming neighborhoods and excellent restaurants. Away from the Damrak, Centraal Staation, and the Red Light, things are MUCH calmer. And it really only needs to be a few blocks away. As far as 5 euro waters, the Dutch are pretty stingy when it comes to charging for things like water, ketchup, and other a la carte items, but its part of their culture. Albert Heijn is always a quick place to load up on supplies (especially stroopwaffels). Also, when I was therem, the British invasion would happen every weekend in Amsterdam, even in winter, considering the whole of Brittain is 35 euro flight and an hour away. It’s kind of European Las Vegas albeit, with MUCH more culture.

  21. Shoulder season almost anywhere is probably going to be much more pleasant than peak season. Summer and holidays are particularly bad, because they tend to bring out the “amateur” travelers. Springtime in Europe is so lovely that I can’t see any reason to wait until July. I don’t like the fall quite so much because it gets dark so early.

  22. We were in Rome in April and it was pretty crowded already (we managed to hit right between Easter and JP canonization). I can’t imagine what the summer must be like. I get frustrated at the inability to move easily and the hot sweatiness in big summer crowds, so I know I should avoid them if at all possible.

  23. Amsterdam is tough: it’s too loved by tourists. Even in April, I had to wait an hour and a half to get into the Van Gogh museum. I gave up on the Anne Frank house because of the 2 hour wait. It’s ridiculous to have to plan museum visits months in advance: I’m not even sure how many months you need these days to get into the Frank house.

    And I can only imagine the tourist hordes on the streets in summer. Even in spring, it seemed kind of nuts.

    In America, my similar advice would be don’t visit a National Park in early July. Too crowded.

  24. I/we always go on holiday in shoulder or off season. We were in Southern Italy in mid-May and it was not at all crowded. Go to Puglia before it is overrun.

  25. Aaron renting a house boat in Amsterdam sounds awesome. Do you mind giving contact info for houseboat Anna. Thanks so much

  26. I always do my foreign travel in a locale’s shoulder season. In most locales this is March – mid-May, and October (and maybe early November). I do make an exception for the equatorial regions, and then prefer November-February.

  27. Sitting in Florence now and feeling the same way. Fortunately we found a nice apartment on airbnb that isn’t in the tourist center which helps, but the crowds are really painful when traveling with our kids. Like others have noted, kids forced us into traveling during the peak season. We had a better time near Zurich and Munich the previous two weeks, though it was unseasonably cold. Anyway, I guess I can relate. I’m not sure Italy for example is any better in October, as it seems about as crowded as I remember from before.

  28. Off-peak travel is much more enjoyable for me. One downside is that we often run into severe weather (both spring and fall). One way we try to avoid that is using the USA Today precipitation map which shows forecasted precip for about 5 days. Then we try to travel where it isn’t supposed to rain (road trips). That strategy isn’t as useful for trips where we fly, as we usually book air travel in advance. It’s kind of a crap shoot, but we have been fairly lucky on personal travel by air. (I have run into some pretty bad weather on a few business trips though.)

  29. Kids are indeed the single biggest reason we travel during peak season…three times a year. Xmas/NY, spring break, and summer break. There are some choices one can make though…while summer is peak season to Europe, spring and winter peak season to Hawaii and Caribbean, and winter to Southeast Asia, one can travel to destintions during peak travel time that are in itself not subject to peak travel.

    For example…while flights are expensive to Europe in the summer, staying in an Inn in the French countryside is generally not that expensive.

    Even Thailand which is inexpensive if not downright cheap can be extortionate over the holidays. Try to get a nice hotel in the Phuket Area for xmas and ny…$500+ per room ++ often with 5 or 7 day minimum stays. The rest of the year, the same hotels won’t charge even $200…

  30. If you’re complaining about paying for bottled water when perfectly adequate potable water is available then you are the typical tourist who likes to get fleeced.

  31. Great comments from everyone else but I’d like to second iahphx: some places are almost always in a peak season. My local guide in Prague remarked that it’s always busy except that a country of origin may change, e.g. more people from the US/Western Europe in the spring & summer and more people from Eastern Europe in the fall & winter.

    To add to what Aaron said, it also pays to do some research and/or get local knowledge to plan sightseeing. Perhaps, go to more busier locations earlier to beat the crowds or stay in a certain area that’s conveniently located but not directly in a tourism hotspot.

  32. i lived in amsterdam for about 10 years, and have spent quite a bit of time there after. summers are awful due to the amount of tourists.

    same goes for hawaii during the holidays. once and never again!

    shoulder season is definitely better.

  33. I think it depends on the city or location Lucky. For instance In London, every season is peak season and as I live in Berlin, it’s pretty much the same!
    I’m a corporate trainer with a school aged-son so peak season it is however, it is possible to go against the grain so to speak. When I travel to Asia, I like to go right before the monsoon or as near after it, as I can. And it varies from country to country.
    I went to the Polish Baltic Sea at Easter this year and there was practically no-one there. We went to the Scottish Highlands last October and most places and ferries were closed. We had to call each destination just to be on the safe side LOL!

  34. Let`s remember that Lucky only visits touristy places and never strays beyond the 5 star hotels. I am not surprised to hear complaints about tourists in Amsterdam, but if you go one or 2 streets away from the crowds and explore then you might actually experience local culture. Amsterdam is a great city, and I am surprised Lucky mentions Den Hague but no mention of the great things there or the seaside which Dutch flock to. I guess keeping the blog to air travel and not travelling advice in cities is best for Lucky.

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