While many travelers prefer to wait until the summer to take their holidays, when it comes to Europe, winter is definitely one of the best times to travel. You get less of the crowds in most places, you may find accommodation is cheaper, plus there is always the possibility of snow, and who does not want to see some of the world’s most enchanting destinations covered in a layer of the white stuff? Sure, the weather will be chilly and there are fewer daylight hours, but in many places this just enhances the travel experience.
However, traveling to Europe at this time of year is not without its issues. It requires a lot more planning and preparation, and there are a number of things to remember to ensure your European winter trip is as perfect as you imagine it is going to be. To make sure you have the best time possible, take a look at these top tips for traveling to Europe in winter.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 How to survive Winter Travel in Europe
- 1.1 Take your pick of the best winter destinations
- 1.2 Be prepared for the cold
- 1.3 Consider any extras for your footwear
- 1.4 Take a thermos with you
- 1.5 Book accommodation and transport in advance
- 1.6 Be prepared for travel delays
- 1.7 Plan your days accordingly
- 1.8 Check the opening hours of attractions
- 1.9 Make the most of the daylight hours
- 1.10 Do not hide away
How to survive Winter Travel in Europe
Take your pick of the best winter destinations
Europe is an amazing continent with such a wide variety of destinations and for those organizing a trip here during winter, you will be pleased to know that there are many places which are just made for winter. Whether you are looking to enjoy a city break in a hip, cool city or are wanting to experience picturesque nature, Europe is the continent that will leave you spoiled for choice.
For city lovers, there literally are too many fantastic European cities to mention which are simply fantastic during the winter season. Germany is particularly well-known for the wonderful atmosphere of its cities – which is definitely true – but you would also have an equally great time in many other cities, such as those in Poland, France, Austria, Belgium… the list goes on.
This is the time when European cities are spectacularly lit up with twinkling lights, when there are lots of scrumptious seasonal dishes and drinks to try, and the nightlife is buzzing because lots of people head to the pubs and restaurants to escape the cold. You see their true vibrancy during winter, which makes them so special to visit at this time.
If winter holidays mean lots of fun activities to you, you will not be disappointed. Many destinations in Europe offer skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding, ice skating, tobogganing, and a whole host of others. It is, of course, the season which makes these activities possible, so traveling to Europe in winter makes sense if you want to enjoy them.
Be prepared for the cold
There is no denying it, some parts of Europe get really cold in winter, so if you are from a country which does not get the same kind of weather, you will need to make sure you have the right kind of clothing before you set off. Nothing is going to ruin your trip more than if you spend most of your time shivering and wishing you were inside.
Thankfully, there is plenty of great winter clothing on the market. If you are thinking that dressing up in multiple layers is going to make you look frumpy, think again; clothing companies have evolved so much now that you can be both stylish and warm.
For those traveling to the really far north, such as the Scandinavian countries or Scotland, you may want to consider investing in some high quality thermal underwear. This serves as an excellent first layer as it fits under everything else. Even if you are going somewhere like France or Germany, thermal underwear can be a lifesaver, especially if you are not used to these kinds of temperatures.
You can also get some stylish snow pants, take a look at the ones below:
If you do not have any and do not want to spend the money, or if you just forget to take it – this has happened to me a couple of times – you can also wear thermal or woolly tights underneath jeans or trousers which can be just as good at keeping the cold out.
Another winter essential in Europe is a good winter coat. Get this right and you should be able to wear the same one for a number of years. It should be quite long, at least covering your thighs so you get a bit more warmth to your legs and, if possible, a high neck collar.
If you are planning to ski or do any other activities, there also cute waterproof snowsports coats that come in many different colors.
You should also take the usual winter essentials, such as a scarf, hat which covers your ears, gloves, and boots and/or shoes which are waterproof and have an excellent grip.
The key thing to remember when dressing for European winter weather is layering. It is a well-known fact that layering items of clothing helps to keep warm air in, so you should wear two tops along with your sweater and coat. When you do go inside, it is simply a case of taking off the layers so you do not get too warm.
Consider any extras for your footwear
Even if there is no snow, lots of places in Europe get icy over the winter season, including black ice which can be really dangerous, so you may need to consider something extra for your footwear. I have mentioned boots or shoes with an excellent grip, which are, of course, an absolute must if you are going to be walking around on slippery pavements.
If you do not have shoes with such a good tread or have doubts as to whether they will be up to muster, you can buy some crampons, alternatively known as snow grips. Traditionally, these are used for mountaineering and hiking in snowy conditions, but it is not uncommon to use them in cities too. They are especially useful if you have any mobility issues as they give you that little bit more stability and grip.
Take a thermos with you
It might not seem like the most obvious thing to do, but taking a thermos is a great way of keeping warm while you are out and about in Europe. Of course, you are going to want to try out some of the local cafes, but if you are going to be doing some sightseeing and want to do as much as possible, carrying a warm drink around with you means you do not have to worry about finding somewhere to make a pit stop if you do not want to at that particular moment.
Carrying a thermos with you is also really handy if you are going to be visiting one of the many Christmas markets throughout the season. In some countries, such as the UK and Germany, there is a big push on reusable products, meaning that Christmas market stalls serving hot drinks will no longer serve them in plastic cups.
Instead they use proper mugs and charge a small deposit for them; when you take the mug back, you can then get this deposit back. However, if you take your own thermos, you can just ask the server to fill it up for you and then you can continue strolling the markets without having to worry about taking a mug back.
Book accommodation and transport in advance
While most places in Europe tend to get fewer tourists during winter, it is safe to say that the major cities such as Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen still get a fair few, especially in the run-up to Christmas.
While the festive season is an absolutely delightful time to visit Europe, I highly recommend you book your accommodation in advance if you are going to be traveling during this time. Hotels get booked up really quickly and quite far in advance and while there is probably going to be something still available if you decide to book later, reserving your room early will give you more options.
The same goes for flights, trains and buses. When planning on traveling over the Christmas and New Year period, lots of people take advantage of the cheaper airfares which come up months before, so many seats get booked up early.
Note: Do not be fooled into thinking that traveling by train or bus will give you a greater chance of getting a seat later on; if locals are traveling from where they live to their home town for the holidays, these can get booked up extremely fast as well.
Be prepared for travel delays
No matter how you travel during winter in Europe, you can guarantee you will be delayed at least once during your trip – if not, you are extremely lucky! Even if you are traveling in a country known for amazing train and bus services, bad weather can still affect them, so be ready to be flexible with your plans and just accept that delays will happen.
The same goes for planes, too; I have had a couple of instances when my plane has been delayed due to adverse weather conditions and while it is incredibly annoying, it is just something I had to live with.
Of course, it is not just your main transportation to and from your destination which can be affected by bad weather. Local buses, trams and even the metro are subject to delays and cancellations; anyone who has been to London will tell you that the Tube can grind to a halt at the mere sign of snow. When you are planning your sightseeing or other activities for the day and you are intending on using public transport, remember to factor in public transportation delays.
Plan your days accordingly
Slightly connected to the above point, when you are planning on what you are going to do day-by-day on your trip, it is a good idea not to plan to do too much in one day. If you do and then you end up spending half your day on public transport, then you will feel really disappointed.
The best way of planning your days when on a winter trip is to choose just two or three things you want to do and focus on them rather than trying to cram in lots of stuff.
There are many apps to help you plan your days when you are traveling. Make sure you have downloaded any transportation apps to help you minimize your traveling time; these also have the advantage of keeping you up-to-date on whether there are any delays.
If you are going to be walking rather than taking public transport, apps like Google Maps or Maps.me are vital. It is also a good idea to check the weather every day so you can make any amendments to your itinerary if the weather is going to be really bad.
Check the opening hours of attractions
Visiting the different museums and attractions is one of the best things about traveling to Europe in winter. You will find that the queues are shorter and you will have more time and space to enjoy them at your own pace. When making plans to visit them, you should be aware of the opening hours before you set off.
If you are going to be traveling to the major cities in Europe, this should not matter too much, but there can still be some difference in opening hours in the winter when compared to summer. Many museums and other attractions often close an hour earlier during the colder months, so if you double check this before you head out, you can make sure to time your visit accordingly.
Tip: I usually book all my attractions in advance on GetYourGuide, click here.
Make the most of the daylight hours
As you probably already know, the days are shorter in Europe in winter so if you want to make the most of your day, you should head out when it gets light, which is usually around 8:30 am in many countries. For the most part, many cities on the continent get between six and eight hours of daylight every day. This differs depending where you travel; in northern Scandinavia, you will only get around four to five hours of sunlight per day, which limits what you can do.
Of course, this is all depends on what you like to do when you are traveling. If your main aim is to enjoy the nightlife of the place you are visiting, then you may not be too bothered about getting up early to enjoy the few hours of sun there are.
There are also plenty of activities which can be done at night, including night skiing and snowboarding for those heading off on an active holiday. But if your plan is to enjoy some sightseeing and take lots of beautiful photos, then getting up early to enjoy your destination to its fullest is the best option.
Do not hide away
It can be really tempting to hide in your hotel room when it is cold and dark outside, especially if you are not used to dealing with such weather. However, try to avoid doing this; you will miss out on so many great things and it will be a waste of a holiday.
If you do need to take a break from the elements, find a cozy cafe to enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee to give yourself time to recover before heading back out again.
If you can deal with the colder weather, traveling to Europe in winter can make a really splendid holiday. Now that you have these handy tips, you will be able to relax and enjoy your European winter trip to the max.