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Recent "off season :)" trip to Central/Eastern Europe

I've not traveled to Europe for over 12 years, I'm 68 and dislike (who doesn't) crowds of tourists. We flew to Oslo and had a brief layover of 1 day, went for the first time to Berlin for 4 days, Prague for 4 days, Vienna for 3 days and Budapest for 4 final days. I was pretty challenged with the stress of the airports and the train stations but, like most things, hard initially and easy after one or two experiences. It was very humbling to get out of my environment (where we are all experts, yes) and be in a foreign one (where we are all ignorant). At least once. We wasted a lot of time and energy trying to separate the gold from the dross and then figure out how to get there. I did a lot of research beforehand but not enough. I should have at least studied the train stations and how the ticketing and reservation system works.

Also, a great itinerary was spoiled somewhat by it certainly not being off-season in mid-October. Tourism in Prague, particularly, was overwhelming. Lot's of American and European Baby-Boomers and hordes of Asians traveling in groups.

I wonder if anyone has any suggestions as to where and/or when to travel these days where your experience is still somewhat unaffected by heavy, heavy tourism. I'd rather miss the "head-line" locations than be in a crowd or Que. Thank you for any input you readers may have.

Posted by
7050 posts

Go to Romania or Bulgaria off season. Bosnia (except for Mostar as far as crowds go) is another great place to visit. Even Poland is fine off season (everyone flocks to Krakow, although there are many other towns and cities much less crowded). All of these places will be easy on your wallet.

Posted by
6788 posts

Head further east.

I hate crowds, too. I found the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) delightfully free of tourist crowds (with the exception of Tallinn, which is understandably quite popular) -- and that was in mid-summer at the height of what one would expect as "peak tourist season." Prices were less than what you expect in much of overly-popular Europe, too.

Also, avoid any place that gets (or is within a couple hours of) cruise ships. That's getting harder and harder, as cruise ships are now nearly everywhere. That, plus going outside peak tourist season, is the combination you seek.

I think Prague is always swamped with crowds now, always. I attempted to get some crowd-free photos of the popular bridge on Sept 30th. Got up at oh-dark-thirty and made my way to the bridge well before dawn -- it was still dark out. To my shock, there were hundreds of people there on the bridge, rank after rank of photographers in lines setting up their tripods with enormous lenses, countless staged wedding photo shoots being set up with bride & groom and wedding party (all Chinese, I believe) in full regalia. It looked like Times Square on New Years Eve - and this was on a cold autumn morning the last day of September at something like 5:30 am. I think there's just no escaping the crowds there, as in other over-touristed places. It is what it is.

Posted by
2487 posts

Outside their capitals and other tourist hotspots all the countries you mention have lots and lots of most worthwhile and rewarding larger and smaller cities, which have all the amenities you want without the hordes. And within those popular destinations the 90/10 rule applies as well.
In Germany you see only local tourists in places like Wismar and Lübeck on the Baltic coast; the same is in the centre when you go to places like Marburg, Coburg or Fulda. In Poland almost nobody goes beyond Kraków, Warsaw and Gdansk. In Czechia you have the country almost to yourself when you go outside Prague, Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora. Even wonderful Telc and nearby Slavonice seem to be out of favour. In Austria the tourist route seems to be Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Hallstatt. Who goes to Graz or does a Baroque monastery trip which brings you at the nicest places?
Get a good guide book. Select the places which appeal to you and don't figure in popular itineraries.

Posted by
27352 posts

Visit your library and check out a single-country guide book to a place you're interested in. There will be many intriguing places, most of them not heavily visited by foreign tourists. Go to some of those places in addition to (or instead of) the places that rate entire chapters in multi-country guide books. That has worked for me in Italy and France as well as in places like Romania and Bulgaria.

If you go to popular cities (and I'd add Edinburgh, Gdansk, Krakow and L'viv to the problem list, as well as the obvious places like Barcelona), only go to the most popular sights if they truly interest you. Allow yourself time to explore off the well-trodden path.

Do not take trips that allocate only a few days per country, because you'll probably end up feeling you have to spend all of those days in the most important (touristy, crowded) city.

Posted by
4574 posts

Off season is late January, early February. May not be totally devoid of tourists, but certainly less. Of course there is s weather downside and shorter daylight hours, and flight challenges. Or visit secondary or tertiary towns.

Posted by
437 posts

We're currently in south west Ireland and aren't experiencing any crowds at all. Nice days are busier at some of the scenic spots, but we just drove the south part of Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring and there were very few people. Yesterday we had Healy Pass on the Beara Penninsula all to ourselves.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank all of you for your replies.

I feel like a moron since I consider myself a good traveler and NOT a clueless tourist but I did fall into an expensive trap this time because of presuming it was off-season and that Eastern and Central Europe were less traveled than the more typical countries we visit. Wrong. I will not easily make this mistake again and will try to wipe a lot of the experience from my memory. Mea Culpa !

Posted by
2554 posts

Just wanted to tell you that we were in Prague a couple years ago in April. We came after a week in Vienna. Prague was much more crowded than Vienna and full of bus loads of Asian tourists. I too was taken back. I had wanted to go to Prague for 30 years but frankly because of the crowds I was disappointed and will not go back.

I had been in Vienna thirty years earlier and I didn’t think it was that much more crowded now than then. And I will return.

We recently were in London and it wasn’t that crowded except in certain spots. It seemed like Chicago or any other large US city. And we were there in June.

So I think there are differences in how touristed places are, even today.

Posted by
8206 posts

Crowds and weekend revelers from the U.K. are good reasons to avoid Prague.
We just go to Budapest instead. and we feel much more comfortable there.

Posted by
2213 posts

We visited Prague for the first time two years ago and found many ways during our week there to avoid the crowds. For one thing, we stayed in the 7th district (across the river; easily accessible by tram). Then, we spent a great deal of time in the outdoors in various areas. Sure, we spent some time in the touristed areas to see certain sights - but not the majority of our time. We loved Prague and would visit again in a heartbeat.

Posted by
2455 posts

ruggles321, I loved Bulgaria! Beautiful country, very friendly people. Interesting and historical sites, but not “world famous”. Very affordable prices. Very few tourists, even in the “on” season, except for Sunny Beach (resort primarily for Russian visitors), and I would definitely recommend avoiding Sunny Beach. Even if you have no interest in an organized tour, take a look at the itinerary of the RS Best of Bulgaria tour, which is truly a winner.

Posted by
11350 posts

I am so sorry that you had a difficult time with crowds in Europe this month. We found the Scandinavian countries, plus London and Leiden, NL not very crowded at all in August. We traveled around the Netherlands from Leiden to many other small cities and towns by train, and again, did not deal with crowds.
Florence, Italy was grid locked in October and pleasant and uncrowded in late June. A puzzlement for sure. Last October we were in Puglia and Sicily in October and they were not crowded. Delightful.
Get out to smaller, less touristed cities at those times of year. Wasn't Oslo wonderful?
Other than Berlin, I didn't really care for the cities you visited. Prague was mobbed many years ago in May and I have no desire to return. It is a crap shoot but I've offered places and times where we didn't deal with crowds and hope this helps somewhat.

Posted by
3959 posts

Klodzko, in Polish Sudentenland, coincidentally nicknamed "Little Prague" had literally 0% foreign tourists when I went there in Sept 2017, had a 17th century Prussian Star Fortress all to myself to explore! It's also one of the oldest towns in Poland and suffered no damage during WWII.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all for your input. This is a great forum for real-time information. I will not travel again without checking in with the community to verify what we are all seeking, a genuine travel experience. With Baby Boomers traveling, a strong dollar
and rising Chinese middle class it is becoming difficult to have a great travel experience. There's simply too many of us seeking the world's treasures. There is absolutely no place that is not made miserable by too many people.

Posted by
587 posts

Ruggles, on our recent trip we certainly saw crowds, and the section of Prague from the Castle to Old Town Square was practically a parody of over tourism.
However, there were times on our trip when we saw far fewer tourists, such as a beautiful walk north of the Hradcany castle area around Stomovoka Park, or visiting Bambergs Residenz when it seemed that myself, my wife and 10 random German tourists were practically the only tourists in a site ranked number 2 for the whole city, a city hardly off the beaten path by the way. Or beautiful villa districts Bogenhausen in Munich and Zehlendorf in Berlin where again we were the only tourists it seemed in areas full of beautiful parks and historic buildings.
Good formula for us seems to be look for "secondary" cities to visit and in front line top level cities seek out less known sites.

Posted by
6545 posts

As others have mentioned, avoiding crowds is easy, it's just a matter of geography and not timing. My advice would be to read what Rick Steves recommends and then go somewhere else. There are many places worth visiting that does not see many visitors, but non-European tourists seem to focus on a few places. Understandable in some way, but it leads to a lot of overtourism in some places. There are tens of thousands of megalithic monuments in Europe, but you all have to go to Stonehenge. There are several beautiful small towns in Europe, but you all have to go to Hallstadt, Český Krumlov and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. And so on.

So my advice is simply, go somewhere else. There are several good examples in the thread. I especially like the one about avoiding the cruise ships, cruise ship schedules can be found online so you can plan your trip. Also, spend a night in the typical "day trip-towns", after all the day trippers have gone it will be something different. Find other places to visit. The Baltics is also a great example, Tallinn is starting to see a tourist boom, but it is still not as overrun as Prague and Barcelona. Could be a reason to go there before it gets popular. And Riga is also worth a visit. Sweden and Denmark outside Stockholm and Copenhagen does not see a lot of tourists. And that is not because there is nothing to see.

Go to Visby, not as well known as Dubrovnik but apart from a couple of weeks in the summer not so full of people. Or make a stop in Ansbach, not as famuos as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but the risk of being overrun by a tour group is a lot smaller. Want to go to the Netherlands? Avoid Amsterdam and stay in Haarlem, Utrecht or Groningen instead. And there are hundreds if not thousands of other examples.

Posted by
1537 posts

I suggest Wroclaw and Poznan in Poland. Both are nice and not expensive. There are tourists but not hordes. Great restaurant scene too. Lviv in Ukraine is supposed to be very nice and affordable, but I haven't been there.

I was in Vienna this August, it was very crowded. I didn't bother lingering in the central ring area for long.

Posted by
18522 posts

Prague is always a mess. Budapest can be okay in October (I just returned) if you stay out of District V on the weekends. And there is no better weather than October.

But to avoid the crowds altogether, head East. So much that is way under appreciated and misunderstood, so many unexpected cultures to explore.

Posted by
27352 posts

The area around the central square in L'viv was extremely touristy when I was there in early June 2018. Definitely not as packed as the core of Prague, but no one should go there expecting a non-touristy gem; that way lies disappointment. However, it has fewer well-known tourist sites than Prague (and Krakow), so it's easier to escape the throngs.

Wroclaw had a lot more foreign visitors than I was expecting to see during my July 2018 visit; I think it's the dwarves. I'd suggest going there sooner rather than later.

Poznan was more like what I expected Wroclaw to be, in terms of (no) crowds. But I had a good bit of rain in Poznan, which may have kept more folks indoors.

Posted by
1464 posts

The best way to get away from the crowds is to drive. If you would prefer not to; travel with an eager driver or small custom tour; a friend of mine is on a small lead tour "Photography Workshop in Ireland". She went on a similar one in Scotland last year. Her photos are fabulous. We drove all over the UK a couple of times and had the best time visiting the places at the end of the road. Of course we darn Baby Boomers are every where now, as well as our Asian friends. For example I won't go to Artist Point with it's fabulous views on the end of the road on Mt Baker again (no Buses but every Gray Haired persons Day Out), or Downtown Vancouver ( We used Amtrak and elevated rail) ever again, too many tall buildings and there isn't any room on the sidewalks! We're probably just going to tour our home territory in the Pacific Northwest.

Posted by
14580 posts

I don' t accept this notion that a great travel experience cannot be had, even in the summer, which is what I prefer anyway, for a number of reasons given the plus and minus scale.

I have been traveling in Germany for the last 16 days and it's just plain crowded on the trains. The next big planned trip will be in the summer of 2020, earmarked for mid-May at the earliest. Summer is the better trade-off.

It all depends on where you go in Central/Eastern Europe. Two Schlösser in Potsdam deeply connected to Prussian history I visited a couple days ago were totally empty of visitors, except for me and one German family in one of them. Of course, the weather didn't help, overcast and gray.

My recommendations are Czechia, especially east of Prague and Moravia and also Poland, the southwest and the northeast, try Masuria, the lower Vistula area...lovely small towns there

Posted by
18522 posts

Okay, lets start with October is not "off season". There are high, low and shoulder. Its shoulder.

Next, if someone has only one trip a year, to waste it on Europe in February is nuts.

Next, there is a reason people go to the most visited tourist sites. Miss them and you will miss something you might never get a chance to experience again. Or, dont imagine Paris in the spring. Go to Haversack instead.

Next, you can sure improve your enjoyment if you dont stay 30 feet off Old Town Square. Sure, you gotta see it if you are in Prague but that doesnt mean you have to stay in the middle of it. Same with a place like Budapest. If you were in Budapest last week and you thought there were too many tourists then you didnt see the best of Budapest ... or you just spent a weekend. Weekends can be a bit more crowded. How do I know? Well I was there about the same time. Sure, Andrassy ut was a mess when they closed it for the food truck show, musicians, crafts, singing, etc..... It was a bit crowded. You know the most frequent language I heard? Hungarian by 10 to 1. So, yup, crowded, but crowded with Hungarians. I call that a cultural experience. But other than that, typical sort of shoulder season week. Actually old town in Sarajevo was a heck of a lot more crowded. Most frequent language? Arabic.

Posted by
4606 posts

Ugh, sober reading as I have a week in Prague scheduled for March, first visit. Maybe this will be really off season? Fortunately not staying in Old Town or between the river and the castle.

Posted by
14580 posts

@ James....Going to Europe in Feb is extremely unlikely, ie one out of a million chances. If I were ever, ever to do that, that trip would be to northeast Poland in early Feb. Other than that it's back to summer travel.