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With airfare and hotel room rates still in a shoulder season slump, and many cultural events and festivals on the calendar, Europe is perfect for a vacation this April or May. The days get longer, sunnier and warmer, but the tourists are still fewer than during peak summer, so you have a good chance of scoring hotel and dining deals. Plus, you won’t have to battle major crowds.
From bustling capital cities to charming seaside towns, these are the European destinations you should visit this spring.
This small city south of Amsterdam is famous for its Keukenhof Gardens, which are only open for a few months every year during full bloom. And full bloom is pretty incredible (think: 7 million bulbs and 800 different tulip varieties spread across 80 acres). Kids can enjoy the petting zoo, playground and maze while the adults capture colorful shots of the gardens, each with a playful name like Ibiza Garden, Green Machine and Strawberry Fields. But you’d better hurry if you want to view the full bloom, because the gardens are only open through May 19.
Getting There: Fly to Amsterdam on Dutch carrier KLM. Through April 29 there’s a 25% bonus offered when transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue, and you can use these to book award travel on KLM or Air France. Since the program ditched its award charts back in 2018, you’ll have to use this pricing calculator to see how many points you’ll need for an award. Once you’re in Amsterdam, Lisse is an easy day trip away, about 40 minutes by car or an hour on public transport.
Besides sunshine and near-perfect temperatures in Spain’s southernmost region, many cities, towns and even villages go full out on festivals before temperatures soar in the summer. Regardless of your religious views, the Semana Santa, or Holy Week processions — which happen daily in the runup to Easter, from April 15 to 22, 2019 — show the connection Spaniards have with one of the high points of the Christian calendar. If you’d prefer something colorful, visit Córdoba during the Patio Festival (May 6 to 19) during which you can admire artfully-decorated courtyards covered in flowering bougainvilleas, jasmine, orange blossoms and carefully potted petunias. There’s also the Feria de Sevilla (May 4 to 11) featuring parades, food and never-ending flamenco with dancing, guitars, clapping, singing and stomping and the Feria de Caballo in Jerez (May 11 to 18) which showcases purebred horses, livestock competitions and keeps the sherry flowing day and night.
Getting There: You can fly nonstop to Madrid from Boston (BOS), New York-JFK, Miami (MIA) or Chicago (ORD). Don’t forget that both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex points transfer to Iberia, where you may stumble upon a cheap award redemption for flights in economy, premium economy or business class. From there, a RENFE high-speed train, the AVE, from Madrid to Seville (between 2.5 and 3 hours), is the quickest and most comfortable to way to get to the region.
Brighton, United Kingdom
This seaside town may not be the beachy spring break you imagined, but the Brighton Food Festival (May 4 to 6, 2019) offers live music, workshops, classes and visits from top chefs. You can also check out the Brighton Festival, which runs for almost the entire month of May (4 to 26 in 2019) and features music, theater, comedy, dance, debate, art, cinema and more. Although it may be chilly, stroll down the pebble beach and check out waterfront attractions such as the Brighton Palace Pier. The proximity of the city to one of the UK’s newest national parks, South Downs, makes it easy to see blooming flowers, hike, bike or golf nearby.
Getting There: Brighton has an airport (ESH) and you can fly there from the US, first routing through either London or Dublin. Or you can combine your trip with a stop in London, taking the train from London to Brighton in just under an hour. While you can book train tickets in advance online, buying group tickets on the day of travel at the station (either from the machines or desk) will often offer a discounted rate.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s Christmas markets are famous, but the Czech city’s Easter markets have smaller crowds and better weather. The main markets are located in Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square and are open through April 28 in 2019 — perfect for travelers seeking a last-minute spring getaway. Expect to find endless food stalls (think: tasty sausages, flatbreads and pretzels), hefty pours of beer and wine, and lots of Easter knickknacks and souvenirs. Or you may prefer to travel to Prague in May, for the Spring International Music Festival (May 12 to June 4, 2019), which features concerts of varying genres in beautiful, historical buildings.
Getting There: If you can hold off until the end of spring, United will fly daily from Newark (EWR) to Prague (PRG) on the 767-300 between June 6 and October 4. Otherwise, you can fly from Philadelphia (PHL) to Prague with American Airlines’ nonstop seasonal service, which starts on May 4 — though you won’t be able to snag an off-peak rate. Plan to use 30,000 AAdvantage points for a one-way economy award or 57,500 for business.
While many travelers to Italy will choose Rome or Tuscany, you should consider heading south to Matera, Europe’s Culture Capital of 2019. That designation will bring more visitors, but many won’t go until summer, so you should still be able to explore more than 3,000 stone caves built into the town (deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO) with relative ease. Assuming you don’t mind steep stone stairs, that is. The city also has a number of cultural events scheduled to celebrate its 2019 cultural title, including concerts, cooking workshops and museum exhibits — some free! — this spring.
Getting There: You won’t be able to get to Matera nonstop from the US, but once in Europe, the closest airport to fly into is Bari (BRI), which connects to several European hubs on low-cost carrier Ryanair. From there, rent a car and drive a little over an hour to get to Matera.
The best time to see the capital city of Slovenia is when it’s at its most green — spring! As May rolls in, the rains will slowly subside, leaving the parks, trees and countryside bursting with greenery, but still blissfully free of tourists. The Arboretum Volčji Potok has several spring events, including the Month of Tulips and the Spring Horticultural Fair. Biking the city is an excellent way to enjoy the lush trees and flowers, especially in Tivoli Park. Make sure to pop into the Open Kitchen food market every Friday in the Pogačar Square to sample traditional Slovenian cuisine. And the Druga Godba music festival (May 21 to . 25, 2019) boasts a variety of international acts.
Getting There: You can’t fly nonstop from the US to Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (LJU), but you can connect nonstop from several other European cities — on LOT from Warsaw; Swiss from Zurich; or Adria Air, Slovenia’s national carrier, from several cities.
St. Paul’s Bay, Malta
Those craving a summer-style party should head to Malta for the AMP Lost & Found Electronic Music Festival (May 2 to 5, 2019). The DJ Annie Mac-hosted event is all about electronic music — with beach and pool parties. The festival will even host a rave at a “secret castle location,” quite possibly the best way to combine culture, architecture, electronic music and partying (well, except for the rave that Versailles is throwing this summer). Of course, travelers wanting a calmer vacation can still enjoy Malta’s beautiful beaches and charming architecture without the summer crowds. Make sure to stay for the 18th-edition of the Malta International Fireworks Festival, which even includes a pyromusical competition with fireworks choreographed for specific songs.
Getting There: Ryanair has a large presence at the Malta International Airport (MLA), flying from several major European cities. Regular ferry routes also operate from Sicily.
While many European destinations host their Pride parties in the summer, Brussels celebrates its tribute to the LGBTQ community early, from May 3 to 19, 2019. With almost two full weeks of festivities, the whole city participates. There are concerts and tea parties, plus cycling and walking tours showcasing important places in the city’s LGBTQ history. May 9 is also Europe Day, which is especially important in the Belgium capital, the home of many EU offices and institutions, some of which you can tour on this day only. There are also special events aimed at both adults and children to mark the day. Another reason to visit Brussels right now? The Royal Greenhouses at Laeken are open to the public from right now until May 10.
Getting There: You still have until Nov. 15 before United’s award chart disappears, and flying United nonstop from Newark (EWR) is an easy way to get to Brussels (BRU). For now, saver awards start at 30,000 miles in economy or 60,000 in business.
Featured photo of Popeye Village in Malta by Magdalena Smolnicka / Unsplash.
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