November in Europe: Off-Season Tips

Weather Is Dicey, But Cheap Flights, Hotels, Might Make It Worth It

See the northern lights in November in Europe
••• See the northern lights in November in Europe. Justin Reznick Photography/Getty Images

If you're thinking about a trip to Europe in November, you are no doubt weighing pros and cons. A major plus: Everything is cheaper, from flights to hotel rooms and possibly train tickets. A significant concern: the weather. Europe is generally colder sooner than the United States, and November could be chilly and wet most of the time in some locations. Fall brings the start of arts seasons across Europe, and if that is one of your prime interests, that is a plus.

Crowds have all but disappeared another plus. Whether November in Europe is a good choice for you largely depends on your reasons for going and how much you are bothered by less than mild weather.

Europe Weather in November

  • Average high temperatures across the continent: 40s-60s Fahrenheit
  • Average low temperatures across the continent: 30s-50s Fahrenheit

What's Happening Across Europe in November

  • Spain: This is jazz festival season, with events happening in Barcelona, Madrid, and Granada. There's also the "Arrastre de los Cacharros," or "dragging of the pots and pans" in Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife.  Compare prices on the best hotel deals in Spain on TripAdvisor.
  • France: Armistice is an important event in France with memorials at the sites of famous World War I battles. Also, the new Beaujolais wine is opened and tasted around the country on the third Thursday of the month. Check rates on the best hotel deals in Paris.

How to See the Northern Lights

The northern lights, more formally known as the aurora borealis, are a natural light phenomenon caused by the effect of the sun's magnetic activity on electron particles. It is one of the most beautiful sights on the planet and only possible close or in the Arctic Circle in the winter months. The best viewing of the northern lights is in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Scotland.

The big enemy to viewing the northern lights is cloud cover, so check that your tour guide will allow you to repeat your trip for free the next day if cloud cover thwarts your chances of seeing them (most tours will do this).

All Saints' Day in Europe

All Saints' Day is celebrated on Nov. 1, and you might want to see a performance of "Don Juan Tenorio" on All Saints' Day in Spain. In Germany it's a little different; the first two days of November are Allerheiligen (Nov.

1) and Allerseelen (Nov. 2). Related to Halloween, these two holy days are devoted to all of the saints (known and unknown) and to all of the “faithful departed,” respectively.

November is also the start of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" season. In Scandinavia you can celebrate the night before St. Martin's Day. Fruit, candy, and nuts are typical Sint-Maarten treats in the Netherlands.

Winter Sun Destinations in Europe

If chilly November is a negative for you but you are limited to traveling to Europe during that month, think about a trip to Southern Europe, where it's still relatively mild. The Greek island of Crete, for example, has daily highs averaging 68 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 56 in November. Southern Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and Greece can all be fine in November. Check the weather averages in Europe in November as part of your planning.

 

Pros and Cons of a November European Trip

  • It's cheaper.  You already know that but how much cheaper? You might get cheaper airfares, and certainly, you'll get cheaper fares than you'll find in the very high season. Hotels might cost less, but smaller (budget) hotels and bed-and-breakfasts might charge extra for you to use the heat. Transportation, food, and entrance tickets will all cost the same as they do in August. Your rental car might cost the same, but you might have to pay extra for snow tires or chains, which is a requirement in some countries. Rail passes will cost the same, but there might be money-saving specials and promotions to certain destinations available at the train station ticket window or online.
  • There will be fewer tourists. True. And there is likely to be fewer services available, especially in less populated destinations. All those college kids they hired as waiters at Chez Louis to speak English to tourists are back to school, so you might have to decide if you like cuisses de grenouille enough to attempt to pronounce the French phrase for frog's legs in front of a native speaker.
  • The (real) cultural activities have begun. Sure, on a steaming August afternoon someone might herd sweating tourists into a historic building in Vienna to listen to a Mozart pop concert given by music students, but as the weather gets cold the venues for professional art performances open up, and that's a real treat in the major cities. Besides, after a performance at the Vienna State Opera Hall you can slide over to a historic cafe for a drink that matters now because you're chilly and the cafe is a warm and inviting place to hang out in winter, and it's worth lingering among the ghosts of literary Vienna for a while.
  • The light. Yes, the slanting light of winter and the brooding skies can make for some fine landscape photography. But, of course, there's less of it in late fall and winter. Europe is further north than you think; days can get very short by November. On Nov. 1, the sun sets in Paris at 5:31 p.m. By the end of the month, it's dark after 4:57 p.m. 
  • You'll have to pack large. Sweaters, jackets, boots and long sleeves take up way more room in your luggage than typical summer clothing, and they take far longer to dry if you're used to washing a few things in the hotel sink.

Cuisine in the Fall in Europe

Summer food is different from winter food. Late fall is starting to get cool enough to get a cook thinking about simmering a stew for hours and hours over a hot stove. So while you might enjoy simply grilled meats and raw garden vegetables on the terrace in the summer, long-cooked stews and root vegetables are what people are eating by the roaring fireplace as winter looms. If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you won't have any problems with fall and winter menus. And if you like truffles, the winter white truffle is best, and they start showing up in November. Most of the truffle fairs and festivals are held then, and that's a good reason for a November vacation all by itself.

Winter Travel Tips and Resources

Late fall and winter is the time to visit large cities. European cities are packed with attractions and have adequate public transportation in case the weather makes walking miserable. Cabs and the metro can get you around a big city. Renting an apartment with its own heat control can keep you warm and make you feel like you are part of things. Trains can relieve you of the dangerous bits of bad-weather driving. Don't just think of trains as a way to move from city to city with your baggage; they can also take you to different places for a day trip.