March is arguably the loveliest month of the year: the month when the Northern Hemisphere shrugs off its winter shroud, even if the ski season in some parts of the world is still in full swing. The month when trees are decked in light green, and young leaves and the first flowers pop their heads out in the gardens and parks.
The weather becomes a little warmer and it is difficult to stay indoors when the first rays of sunshine beckon. It is the time to go outside, to explore, to inhale deeply, and to travel.
Many places celebrate the coming of spring this month -- city cafes put chairs out on the terraces, and festivals happen to celebrate the end of winter and the joy of being able to spend time out in the open again. With this in mind, I have selected a few personal favorite places for all the above reasons -- cities that offer something special in March, even if it is just the joy of sipping a coffee outside while watching people strolling past.
Ahhh, Italy in spring. Sipping an espresso or a spritz along the side of a canal in Milan or on the Piazza del Duomo is one of the best ways to while away a few hours. At the end of February or the beginning of March, you can watch the models and fashionistas that come to join the Milan Fashion Week parading past in their finest outfits. The parks burst into flower. While the temperatures can still be quite chilly, with the average temperatures around 50 to 60 degrees, the first rays of sunshine tend to get the Italians out of their houses and into the cafes and piazzas.
March is the month wedged between carnival and Easter and catching only the end of Fashion Week, so you will get the city to yourself without too much of a crowd. However, you will catch San Guiseppe, St Joseph’s Day, on March 19th, which is also celebrated as Father’s Day. The churches hold special services (try and get into the duomo for added awe) and bakeries serve up zeppole, fried donut pastries often filled with cream.
Pro Tip: Should the weather not play ball, pop straight into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, indubitably the world’s most glamorous shopping passage dating back to the mid-1800s.
Leeds, United Kingdom
The northern city of Leeds is a very overlooked city when it comes to visitors to the UK. Yet, it is on the doorstep to the Yorkshire Dales and it has an old city center with covered Victorian shopping passages that rival Paris and are perfect for the odd rainy day. Great shopping, plenty of art, with sculptor Henry Moore having left his stamp on the city, and superb restaurants keep you busy. Everything a city break needs, really. Another bonus of this city is that it is a student city, with four universities, several colleges, and other further education institutions that draw big events, such as The Who and UB40 concerts planned for March 2021. In spring, walking around the lake in Roundhay Park, one of the largest city parks in Europe, allows you to enjoy the spring flowers and ramble through different terrains such as woodland, parkland, and gardens. Just wrap up warm, as average temperatures are around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pro Tip: You can not go to Leeds without visiting the Yorkshire Dales. And with regular bus and train services, leaving the city in the morning, going for a hike and an afternoon tea, then coming back to Leeds in the afternoon, is a distinct possibility.
For a little bit more warmth than can be expected in northern Europe, Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, offers median high temperatures of around 67 degrees in March. Not quite warm enough to jump into the sea or sunbathe on the city’s pristine beaches in a bikini, but warm enough to walk the beaches and sit outside in cafes enjoying the spring sunshine. Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city and an art and architecture hub as well as the home of paella, the delectable rice dish. In March, while most tourists are still back home, there is one big event that draws the crowds: Las Fallas, a 2-week-long festival filled with fireworks, bonfires, and huge wooden figurines being paraded through the city and, in the end, set alight to great cheer.
Pro Tip: While you are there, don’t miss the suburb of Port Saplaya, dubbed Little Venice. Just jump on the 112 bus and spend an afternoon in this picturesque little port.
The port city of Antwerp is often overlooked in favor of Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges when visiting Belgium, but that is a big mistake. The diamond city of Antwerp has a lovely old center, and is easily explored on foot, especially in spring when the weather invites you to meander through the streets. One perfect stretch is to walk from the stunning main train station Antwerp Centraal, all along the pedestrianized shopping drag around the Meir, taking in the Rubens House along the way, to the Grote Markt, the main square surrounded by lovely old buildings. Then, architecture-lovers should head straight onto the port for the amazing juxtaposition of old and new, the Zaha Hadid masterpiece that is the Port Authority Building.
Pro Tip: Mid-March Antwerp celebrates chocolate week, with chocaholics being issued a chocolate pass, detailing walking routes with tastings along the way. Several days of all things chocolate take over the entire city.
London, United Kingdom
London, like Paris, is always a good idea, never mind which month. But in March, this city bursts into bloom, the parks are even more gorgeous than ever, and yet, the city is not too overrun with people. For the best of London blooms, head straight to Greenwich, and go there by riverboat. That way you get a sightseeing tour of all the landmarks, from Westminster and the London Eye, via St Paul’s and the Tower with Tower Bridge along the way. In Greenwich, the lawns are yellow with daffodils, and the cherry blossom should be in full swing by mid-to-late March.
In the city, go and feed the squirrels at St James Park, but make sure you bring unprocessed nuts. The squirrels take them from your hand ever so gently, making for a lovely photo opportunity.
Pro Tip: For more flowers, Kew Gardens holds its annual orchid festival in March, which, together with the already magnificent gardens, are the icing on this floral March-visit-cake.
Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
While March is the start of the better weather, in Europe, it can still be a bit hit and miss. This is when a trip to Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira, makes for a perfect getaway, with its average of 8 hours of daily sunshine in March. Temperatures are not quite hot enough to enjoy lazing around on the beach, but all the better for exploring the hilly old city and its wonderful sights. In March, a visit to the Botanical Gardens is a must, with its vast array of flowers from around the world and its spectacular views across the ocean, and, even better, you can reach the gardens via the cable car to the hilltop of Funchal.
Head back down the hill by toboggan -- something looking like it’s only for daredevils but is quite safe; and reward yourself with a saunter along the Mercado dos Lavradores, the farmers market, with its amazing varieties of tropical fruit and flowers.
Pro Tip: You will have heard of the Madeira fortified wine, so why not sample it in situ? There are some fantastic winery tours or combined food and wine walking tours in Funchal, allowing you to eat, drink, and learn about the island as you go.
Ireland’s capital, Dublin, is a lovely spot for a weekend at any time, but come over St Patrick’s Day, and yes, it will be crowded, but you will get to see the Irish at what they do best: going out for a drink and a singsong and having a really good time, or should I say a craic? On March 17th, you will see green with everything, from buildings to people swathed in the national color. Since 1931, the St Patrick’s Parade is a must-see and is the highlight of what has by now stretched to a 4-day event. Irish dancers, floats, and music groups wind their way through the packed streets, and the Guinness is free-flowing. It will be loud, it will be cramped, there will be lots of drunks, but it is something quite special to be in the midst of.
Pro Tip: Book early, very early, as accommodation gets snapped up months in advance. Pack green clothes, bring headache pills, and go for a full Irish Breakfast the next morning -- for example, the one at O’Neill’s Pub -- for a perfect hangover cure.