Okay, shoulder season in Europe isn't exactly a secret, but most travelers ignore the lower-cost period between high season hordes and low season doldrums—to their detriment. Want to see the Acropolis without crowds? Visit the South of France in full bloom? Ski in a t-shirt in the Swiss Alps? We've got your back.

By Jes Ware

Athens without the fanny-packs

Spring in Athens is wonderfully subdued—summer's crowds and brutal heat haven't arrived, so climbing up to the Acropolis doesn't feel like a forced death march. The other good news? Hotel rates are pre-summer-peak, and Emirates has crazy low fares on its new direct flight from Newark to Athens. Check into the King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel, smack in the center of the city. It’s within walking distance to the Agora, the no-cars-allowed streets of Plaka, and the Acropolis—which also serves as a lovely backdrop for breakfast or cocktails at the rooftop restaurant.

Athens, Greece
Photo by King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel
Zurich, Switzerland
Photo by The Widder Hotel

Springtime in Switzerland

Zurich may not be your first thought when day-dreaming about a vacation, but it merits attention—especially in spring. Cobblestone streets lined with budding blooms and open-air markets, a full roster of new gallery shows, the Alps—and spring skiing—less than an hour away. Best place in town to stay? The Widder Hotel, in the center of the historic quarter, mixes medieval wooden beams and Renaissance murals with furniture by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe pieces. It’s unexpected but perfect—just like Zurich in the spring.

Riviera pre-summer swarm

The rich and the famous glam it up in the Côte d'Azur every summer, but if you arrive before them (and their entourages), you dodge the long queues and insane traffic. That said, if you want to rub shoulders with crowned heads and movie stars, you can always time your to coincide with the Grand Prix or the Cannes Film Festival. Those events aside, hotels and flights have off-season prices. Example? The Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, when booked alongside flights, can be up to 45% off—including a slew of Skylark perks.

Monte Carlo, Monaco
Photo by The Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort