Q – We have read your warnings about travel to southern European countries like Italy and Spain during the summer months. You have pointed out the issues with heat and over-crowding. But what of Northern Europe. We are considering a museum-oriented trip to Amsterdam in August and we were wondering what months to avoid in this portion of Europe? Are the recommendations different? Also, we are thinking about booking our art-focused tours in Amsterdam, and perhaps Paris, through an online company called Context Tours. We were wondering if you recommend them and if they use high-quality guides? Really appreciate this site – we’ve learned so much we had not read elsewhere.
A – Let’s treat this as the two-parter it is. The short answer to part one – Amsterdam has many of the same summer over-crowding issues as its neighbors to the south. You definitely want to avoid July and August. Many of the locals will leave the city during those months because the population grows from just under a million permanent residents to more than 20 million visitors. Like many other cities enduring July/August crowding, Amsterdam is trying to do something about its crowding problems. They are heavily promoting areas outside the city, they have placed restrictions on the number of Airbnb rentals, and they have started limiting the number of shops that serve tourists in the city center. The reality is that Amsterdam is an amazing walking city with more canals than Venice. It is lovely when the tourist mobs have left to return to their studies and the financial support of their parents. You always want to go to Europe when colleges are actually holding classes.
Context Travel is an interesting and quite reliable company. They do walking tours for individuals and small groups led by local scholars and well-educated locals. Their pricing is generally less than one would pay for a certified city guide and driver and they are happy to work with families. They have an office on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Their idea of employing true “scholars and experts” on a subject rather than historically based generalists – which is what most tour guides are – is an approach that we very much endorse.