Spring in Europe: The Best Countries for 2017
Spending spring in Europe is an excellent idea. Locals are coming out of hibernation as temperatures warm up and days become longer. Life is beginning to take hold in the continent’s parks and gardens. Fewer tourist crowds, moderate weather, sufficient daylight, and shoulder-season prices are all advantages to planning your European rail trip during this season.
Long before the crush of summer mass tourism, the intricacies of local culture come back to life as residents begin to shed their winter layers. Travelers will blend in more seamlessly and feel more like temporary residents in the months of March, April, and May. Here are the best destinations to experience Europe in the spring.
Spring in Europe
While this central European country has some notable towns in the provinces, all rail tracks seem to point to Budapest. This grandiose capital is enjoyable year-round, but spring is especially pleasant. If hip food carts, ruin bars, Ottoman-era thermal baths, Jewish history, and Communist-era monuments pique your interest, then Budapest should be on your list.
Trendsters will want to head to the 7th district with its vintage boutiques, ruin bars, and cool cafes, as well as the up-and-coming 8th district. Enjoy a thermal soak at dusk with a river view at Rudas Baths or a classic outdoor experience at the ornate Széchenyi baths. Budapest had good connections to several nearby capitals. You can get night trains to Bucharest in Romania, and easy, shorter connections to Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna (Austria).
To many travelers, Amsterdam is the Netherlands. Although it’s a small country, there’s so much more to this lowland Kingdom famous for windmills, cheese, and legalized marijuana. You’ll be surprised how many picturesque villages and history-soaked cities you can fit into this corner of Europe, pinned snuggly to the coast by Belgium and Germany. And one could hardly imagine the Netherlands in spring without picturing flowers. Springtime is prime time for many of these blooms.
Keukenhof, aka The Garden of Europe, is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Located in Lisse, the 7 million flower bulbs go on display from March 23 to May 21 in 2017. Keukenhof is well-connected by local bus from Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport, and the central rail stations of Leiden and The Hague. You can even ride a bike from Leiden. Don’t worry, Holland is flat and has lots of cycle lanes.
Spring comes early in Spain thanks to its favorable geographic position. Fierce regionalism gives each part of this country its own flavor. From Catalonia and the Costa Brava to Andalucia, Basque Country, and Galicia, food, culture, and even language will be unique. Spring in Spain is most associated with Semana Santa, or Holy Week festivities during the days leading up to Easter. Those celebrations around Andalucia and in Toledo, Valladolid, and Zamora are some of the most famous.
If you’ve ever thought about walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, spring is a great time to go before masses of pilgrims descend upon on the “Way” in summer. If the Camino and Semana Santa sound too religious, don’t worry, these are steeped in culture and tradition as much as the Christian faith. For something more lighthearted, be on the lookout for feria (fairs). These celebrations most common in Andalucía. Spain links to the rest of Europe via railways from France, and has a system of local, regional and high-speed rail.
After a long dark winter, the Swedes gratefully accept spring. Not that they don’t fully embrace the winter. It’s just, you know, long, dark, and cold. On April 30th you’ll have a chance to experience Valborg Day, the traditional Swedish welcoming of spring. Swedes gather outside with food, music, friends, and a huge bonfire which culminates the festivities.
Besides Stockholm and university city Uppsala, there are other places to get a dose of the Swedish life. Try the second-city Gothenburg and architecture-blessed Malmo, or the quiet coastal town of Varberg in between. Despite its location across the Baltic Sea, Sweden has good rail connections to the rest of Europe thanks to the Öresund Bridge across the strait from Denmark. Stockholm is only about 5 hours from Copenhagen.
Poland has a lot of positive momentum going from the last couple decades. The Poles are resilient people who know how to bounce back from hard times (think World War II and the post-war era). As the first country to shake free of Communism, Poland’s cities have seen much revitalization. They’re fully embracing tourism in a good way.
Unless you’re coming to ski in the Tatras, Poland’s winter might be a little too cold for the average traveler. Enter spring. Hit Krakow before all the summer tourists get there and enjoy even cheaper hotels and apartment rentals in an already good-value country. Visit Wroclaw and Gdansk for more history and architecture and Torun, Cieszyn, and Lublin to get off-the-beaten track.
Slovenia is an often-missed country that is accessible by rail and a place it seems nobody regrets visiting. Friendly Ljubljana is an obvious place to start for first-time visitors, as well as the incredible Lake Bled. The Julian Alps may be too snowy for springtime, but Bled still plays host to visitors. To explore deeper into Slovenia, head to the Ljutomer-Ormož Hills, heart of the country’s wine tradition or to second city Maribor to explore the eastern half of the country.
To Europeans, Slovenia is synonymous with outdoor sports. Spring in Europe is the start of the warm weather sports season. If whitewater rafting, canyoning (canyoneering), and kayaking aren’t your style, then try a leisurely cycle up the gorgeous Logarska Valley. Slovenia connects with Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb and more by rail. There is usually only one direct train per day from these cities, so plan ahead.
When it’s spring in Europe, you’ll notice fewer tourists and better accommodation deals. If you’re traveling by rail, you’ll also notice that booking reservations on high-speed rail and long-distance trains is easier and can more likely be done at the last minute.
Springtime is a great excuse to set off by rail with a Eurail Global Pass. You’ll get a more authentic experience, and save money while you’re at it.
Traveling in another season?
Summer in Europe: where to go to make it unforgettable!
Europe in the fall
Central Europe in winter: our top 4 cities