Image: Flowers in Paris
Remy De La Mauviniere  /  AP
Some crocus flowers bloom near the Eiffel tower in Paris.
By Charles Leocha Travel columnist
updated 3/23/2007 5:18:16 PM ET 2007-03-23T21:18:16

Spring is in the air. If you have a yen for traveling, this is one of the best times to go — especially if you are headed to Europe.

In the spring, the fields of France are ablaze with daisies and poppies. Holland is a riot of tulips and crocuses. Italy's hillsides are covered with the pastel blossoms of pears, cherries and oranges. And alpine snows melt to reveal lush green pastures. The weather shifts from blustery to balmy. Housewives fill their window boxes with geraniums and petunias, and in the bustling outdoor markets vendors spread their wares in the sun again.

Spring also brings with it bargains airfare, lodging and rental cars.

Here are five reasons why I visit Europe in spring.

1. Airfares are cheaper and the planes are less crowded. Flying from the United States to Europe is far less expensive during the off-season than in the middle of summer. The average airfare this spring is between $550 and $750 for flights to almost every European capital. Midweek airfares are even more economical, as are tickets booked through consolidators. In the height of the summer, airfares will soar about 100 percent, and the chances of having an empty seat next to you will be almost zero.

2. Hotels discount their rates and usually have plenty of space. Top hotels that command $200 to $300 and more a night during the summer will often have the same luxury rooms for between $100 and $150 in the spring. Small pensions in the mountains and countryside have space for impromptu overnight stays. You can even find rooms with a view of the riverside, mountain peaks, city parks or cathedrals. The exception is Easter Week in certain pilgrimage towns like Rome and Lourdes, when hotel rates can spike 25 percent to 50 percent and more.

3. Rental cars are easier to reserve at bargain prices. Travelers on a journey of discovery across Europe by automobile will find their options much improved in spring. The weekly and long-term rental bargains often seen in advertisements are seldom available in summer, but they are often found in spring.

4. Museums are not as crowded. Anyone who has waited patiently in a kilometer-long line in summer to visit the Vatican Museum in Rome (or the Louvre in Paris, or the Guggenheim in Bilbao) would not want to repeat the experience. But you will seldom wait in spring. Again, the exception is Easter Week, and you will also wait during school holidays. Shorter lines combined with museum passes make visiting as easy as walking in the door, often without any pause other than showing the pass.

Slideshow: A European tour The pleasure of less-crowded museums extends beyond the entrance. Tourists will also be able to enjoy Michelangelo's "Last Judgment," Botticelli's "Primavera," Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," Rembrandt's "Night Watch" and Rodin's "The Thinker" without being jostled by fellow visitors. That said, travelers planning to visit museums that take reservations (such as the Uffizi and Accademia galleries in Florence or the Villa Borghese in Rome) are well advised to make reservations online before arrival to avoid lines that form whatever the season. A half-hour wait in spring may be better than a two-hour wait in summer, but no wait is better still.

5. The Europeans are home. This is perhaps the best reason to visit Europe in the spring. The streets, bars and restaurants are filled with, well, Europeans. The French enjoy their neighborhood bistros. The British pack traditional pubs for lunch. The Dutch linger over strong coffee. The Italians gesture over tiny espressos. The Spanish fill the evening streets for their paseo and tapas.

Concert series are in full swing. Special art collections are on display at museums, in local castles and in sections of palaces usually closed during the summer months. And everywhere, the tables beside you will likely be filled with local people enjoying a regional specialty and wine from a nearby vineyard.

This is the time of year that residents cherish, when they have time and space to enjoy their own cities and towns without a crush of tourists. It is also the time that seasoned travelers want to enjoy the same places.

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