PHOTO: A Venice canal seen from a gondola. (Photo via Flickr/Moyan Brenn)
As winter loosens its grip on the Northern Hemisphere, consider a European trip before the masses invade in spring and summer. Flights are cheaper and so are hotels. Lines at major attractions are shorter, and just as in the States, there are warm and sunny spots to explore that you might not have considered otherwise.
The weather for the rest of the season in Milan should be mild and mostly sunny. Precipitation will consist of rain showers. You will need to bundle up a bit at night, but the daytime temperatures should be in the 50's and 60's. That makes it the perfect season for seeing the city after Fashion week at the end of February, but before the summer crowds begin to arrive. If the weather is less than perfect, shop at one of the world's oldest shopping malls—the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. There are more museums than you can count, but start with a visit to the Museo de Duomo and the Duomo itself.
If your objective is to hike to the top of the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, this is the perfect time to go. Crowds are smaller, and the weather is mild. You might even make the hike without breaking a sweat in the comfortable 65-degree temperatures. Contrast that with the eighties and nineties in late spring and summer and winter becomes a no-brainer.
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Closeout winter in Venice with daytime temperatures in the mid-fifties and evening temperatures in the upper forties. Imagine sharing the city with smaller crowds, including rarely more than one cruise ship in port per day. Contrast that with as many as seven ships during peak summer months. Winter can bring higher tides in the lagoon that can cause flooding in Piazza San Marco at certain times of the day, but a quick check of a tide chart helps you determine what time of day is best to visit.
Escape winter's chill in the Canary Islands. Daytime temperatures on Tenerife are averaging near seventy right now, with warm and sunny days a sure bet well into spring. The island is known outdoor fun like hiking and golf, and water activities like scuba diving and dolphin watching.
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What could be better than Paris in the Spring? How about Paris just before Spring? The weather can be a bit wet, but there is no better time to explore the museums than when the crowds are light. Pack an umbrella and a jacket and see the Louvre without the lines. Expect temperatures in the mid-fifties during the day, dipping into the upper thirties at night, giving you the opportunity to show off your winter clothes one last time.
Lisbon in late winter brings smaller crowds, comfortable temperatures, and better hotel rates than any other season. Expect temperatures in the sixties during the day, only dropping into the fifties at night. Explore castles, monasteries, and art museums, or spend lazy afternoons enjoying the abundant sunshine at the shore. And then there is the food. Lisbon is known for seafood, artisan cheeses, and wine.
It seems Dubrovnik is on everyone's radar these days. Beat the crowds and visit while the temperatures are mild-- with daytimes averaging in the upper fifties and only dropping a few degrees at night. What to do this time of year? Pack a jacket and your walking shoes to see why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From hiking the wall that guards the old city to shopping and dining, there is plenty to do.
If the weather cooperates, charter a boat for a short cruise in the Adriatic. If it doesn't, spend time sipping Croatian wines.
Zurich transitions slowly from winter to spring, so expect alternating sun and clouds, with rain a definite possibility. You could even still see snow in the city before spring arrives. The beauty of Zürich this time of year is that you can enjoy the city, but in less than ninety minutes find yourself skiing in the Alps. Public transportation is available to ski resorts like Flumerberg and Sattel-Hochstuckli. In the city, do what the Swiss do in winter—drink beer and eat cheese.