Visiting a city at the right time of year can make all the difference to the experience, whether that means finding deserted beaches, seeing trees burdened with blossom, or hitting harvest season.
Pre-Easter festival season in Barcelona, Spain
Celebrated in February or March, Barcelona's carnestoltes (carnival festival) involves several days of fancy-dress parades and merrymaking, ending on the Tuesday 47 days before Easter Sunday. The Gran Rua (Grand Parade) starts on or near Plaça d'Espanya and proceeds west along Carrer de la Creu Coberta. All sorts of marvellous floats and carriages participate to welcome the Carnival King. The festivities culminate in the Enterrament de la Sardina (Burial of the Fish), often on the hill of Montjuïc on the following Wednesday, to mark the beginning of Lent. Down in Sitges, a much wilder version of the festival takes place. Party-goers keep the bars and clubs heaving till all hours, for several days running. Each district celebrates in its own way, so don't stay in one place; see what's cooking at www.barcelona.de.
Tokyo during Hanami, Japan
The Japanese delight in the brief hanami (blossom viewing) season from February to April. The fruity sequence goes from plum in February, to peach in March, and then cherry in late March or early April. There are two spots in Tokyo known for blossom adulation: Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park, former barracks turned public parks. Yoyogi is the most famous vantage point and it gets frantically busy. A more serene post is Shinjuku-gyōen, one of the city's largest green spaces (58 hectares). The Meguro River is another great viewing spot, with over 800 trees; you'll see them from Nakameguro Station (and at night they are illuminated).
Champagne outside grape harvest, France
Known in Roman times as Campania (Land of Plains), Champagne is a largely agricultural region celebrated around the world for its sparkling wines. According to French law, only bubbly from the region – grown in designated areas, then aged and bottled according to the strictest standards – can be labelled as champagne. The Route Touristique du Champagne (Champagne Route) weaves its way among neatly tended vines covering the slopes between small villages. All along the route, beautiful panoramas abound and small-scale producteurs (champagne producers) welcome travellers in search of bubbly; but many are closed around the vendange (grape harvest), in September and October. The region is only a two-hour drive south of Paris; a TGV train connects Paris to Reims (the regions capital) in less than 45 minutes.
Rome in summer, Italy
From late June to August it's hot and humid in the Eternal City, sometimes unbearably so. But this is when Rome is most vibrant, with life spilling onto the streets and open-air festivals in abundance; a sultrier city you will not find. Gorgeous dresses, gelati, alfresco dining – ignore the bad smells and concentrate on the good ones. The spires of Christianity's capital create an ochre-and-orange skyline, piercing a usually blue sky (after all, Rome's home to the Pope). Make time to idle in sunny cafes, get lost in narrow cobbled streets and while away hours at local trattorie (eating houses). Voted by locals as one of the city's best restaurants, Ponte Milvio is a must-visit venue, located on Piazzale di Ponte Milvio.
Goa out of peak season, India
It's said that the best time to visit the Indian state of Goa weatherwise is during the cooler months, from November to March. But many Goans feel that the monsoon, between June and the end of September, is when the state is at its best. Parties and celebrations are held to welcome the rain, and the countryside turns lush and green almost overnight. The plus side to visiting at this time is that you'll have the place to yourself at very little cost. If you arrive in October, right at the start of the tourist season, you'll still find the beaches pleasantly empty. During monsoon season you must get inoculated against typhoid and take steps to prevent malaria.
Reykjavík in midnight sunshine, Iceland
'Prepare for the unexpected' is a good rule of thumb: Icelanders joke that if you don't like the weather just wait 10 minutes for it to change. Generally, in summer the climate is cool and the streets are washed in light 22 hours a day. The best months to visit Iceland are May, June and July, the driest and warmest months of the year. Peak season runs from early June to the end of August; outside these months, many galleries, museums and attractions in the city have reduced opening hours. Reykjavík is an expensive city so head west to the Old Town if you want budget accommodation and cheap eateries.
Anchorage in salmon season, USA
Office workers in Anchorage, Alaska, get to go salmon fishing during their lunch hour. In early June the king salmon begin spawning in Ship Creek, but the wildest salmon are found spawning along downtown streets as part of the Wild Salmon on Parade, an annual event in which local artists turn fibreglass fish into anything but fish. The art competition has resulted in an Elvis Presley salmon; a salmon turned into a floatplane; 'Uncle Salmon' painted in patriotic red-white-and-blue stripes; and'‘Fish & Chips', a poker-playing halibut. The 30 or so colourful fish appear on the streets and stick around until September. Fish your own salmon at hotspots like Alexander Creek and Twentymile River.
London in May, England
At the first ray of spring sunshine, London kicks off its drab pinstriped image and jumps into sequins and nonsensical T-shirts. On days when hot-blooded types would shrug and go indoors, the number of Londoners with faces turned to the sun is endearing. City folk pull up a smidgeon of lawn in a tiny park at lunchtime, or sit outside under newly flowering window boxes at the pub. Jubilant music booms from open windows, and the plane trees boast their green. You may even get an accidental smile from one in a million people on the tube. Capture the start-of-summer vibe with a walk on London's highest green space, Hampstead Heath.
Dublin at Christmas, Ireland
December in Dublin is remarkably high spirited. Check out the icy ' Christmas Dip at the Forty Foot', 11am on Christmas Day, at the famous swimming spot in Sandycove immortalised in James Joyce's Ulysses. A group of the very brave swims 20m to the rocks and back before Christmas lunch. Then drink a toast to the soundtrack of the Christmas masterpiece, The Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York'. Blow your dough and your post-Christmas crankiness at the hugely popular Leopardstown Races, from 26 to 30 December. Top it off with Dublin's traditional funfair, Funderland, from 26 December to 9 January. Drink enough Guinness and you might try the Christmas Dip at Ringsend Pier (a couple of kilometres from the city centre), where the howling winds test the hardiest of souls.
New York in June, USA
The song tipped you off : the first full summer month in New York brings a slew of parades, street festivals and outdoor concerts. Summer Stage in Central Park has an amazing line-up of pop, rock and world musicians, plus temperatures above 20°C. There are big-time discounts at top-notch eateries during Restaurant Week. Gay Pride month culminates in a major march down Fifth Avenue on the last Sunday of the month, a five-hour spectacle of drag queens, gay police officers, leathermen, parents and representatives of just about every queer scene under the rainbow.
This article was updated in February 2012.
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