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WHEN should you go?

Most people travel in the summer, when the weather is the nicest, the overall scenery is arguably the best, the beaches are lively, and the tourist infrastructure is in full swing. On the down side, the traveling hordes can be overwhelming in popular museums like the Louvre or in key cities such as Rome, Amsterdam and Munich.

It is also the season when Europeans take their annual holidays. In August, the entire countries of France and Italy go on vacation; it is pandemonium in places like Brindisi where the ferry boats go from Italy to Greece. Most theaters, symphonies and operas are closed for the season, although there are some summer programs.

If you have flexibility to go whenever you choose, think about spring or fall. The weather can be cool, rainy and completely unpredictable, but there will be fewer tourists and it is easier to get to know the people. Lines are shorter and tempers are longer; trains, cathedrals, and accommodations are less crowded, and it is generally cheaper. Pack with layers.

Winter is an interesting time to visit. Gardens and parks are boarded up for the winter, most things move indoors, and unless you are going on a ski holiday, you won't spend much time outside. In Scandinavia there is sunlight only three or four hours a day. On the other hand, seeing Venice covered in a gentle layer of snow is quite a rare treat, and the Alps are beautiful in winter. An entirely new winter culture emerges, with lots of hot food and drinks.

Winter is also good for visiting family and friends, but you will have to go south beyond Europe to find milder weather. Although some past winters have been extremely temperate, do not count on that being the case during your visit.

If you have little choice as to when you travel, just remember that Rome sits on about the same latitude as New York City; expect most of Europe to have somewhat comparable albeit sometimes milder weather than the northern USA and southern Canada.

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