Congratulations! If you are here, it means you have chosen the best time to visit Europe. A union of countries so rich in culture and history that each cobbled-street evokes the words of authors like Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Proust. Some may argue that European countries like Italy and Spain are better in Summer as nothing beats an Italian gelato on a hot summer’s day. However, when the temperatures are not sizzling at a sweltering 45°C, travelers get to truly map the streets of Europe in winter.
Whether you head up North (Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, etc.) or South (Spain, Italy, Greece, etc.), each country has something unique to offer. It is up to you to decide if you want to see snow-laden landscapes in Oslo or a pleasant sunny winter while roaming the streets of Seville. If you want to ski along the Alpine mountains, winter is the time to do it. Headout brings you a comprehensive guide for the many reasons to visit Europe in winter!
Why Visit Europe in Winter
1. Winter is Off-Season in Europe
Many countries across Europe see fewer crowds and visitors during the winter months. Europe is easily one of the best winter destinations since the off-season brings cheaper deals and budget-friendly itineraries to allow travelers to make the most of their time. Some countries like Spain are warmer and you will be able to enjoy the winter sun and escape blasts of cold air and sheets of ice. Hotel bookings won’t burn a hole in your pocket before and after the Christmas and New Year festivities, however, if you are so inclined, then, of course, Christmas in Europe is a memorable experience.
2. Winter is a time of celebration in Europe
When it comes to events, festivals, and attractions to see and experience in Europe during winter, there is no dearth of options. From London’s Winter Wonderland to Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Carnivals across countries like Spain and Germany, and ice festivals like Snowbombing in the ski town of Mayrhofen, Austria, you will be spoilt for choice. Visit the largest fire festival in Scotland’s Lerwick, Up Helly Aa, an exhilarating experience for those who love the Vikings!
3. Winter is a time of celebration in Europe
The winter season is perfect for taking a stroll in romantic cities like Cologne, Paris, and Valencia. The weather, especially in the afternoon, allows travelers to make the most of their time while the sun is up. You can rent bicycles to ride by famous landmarks without worrying about sweating buckets.
4. Christmas Markets in Europe in Winter
Who can escape the magic and scintillating beauty of Europe’s famous Christmas markets? From quaint villages in Germany selling gluhwein aka mulled wine and kartoffelpuffer to London’s string fries laden with dollops of cheese, Christmas markets are whimsical events that are not to be missed.
Things to do in Europe in Winter
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Although visiting the most-visited monument in Paris is a given, experiencing the Eiffel Tower in the winter has a magic of its own. Watch the city of love blanketed under pristine snow from your spot in the observation deck. The tower is located on the Champs de Mars and is easily accessible by public transport. Tickets for the tower can be bought online as there are multiple entrances and ticket types including stairs, elevators, and the top floor. Get a Skip the Line pass or Eiffel Tower at night for a complete experience.KNOW MORE
Cologne Carnival, Germany
An annual celebration that commences at 11:11 am on 11th November, Cologne Carnival is locally considered the ‘fifth season’ in Germany. Today, the carnival is a six-day event that signals the advent of Lent, a Christian tradition of fasting before Easter. It is an exciting time for both locals and visitors who can experience the culture, traditions, and history of the country amid a harmoniously-cheerful ambiance.
‘The Crazy Days’ refer to the street-festivals where you will see hordes of locals dressed up in lively finery and eccentric costumes taking to the streets with drinks, food, and friends. In 2020, the carnival takes place from 20th February-26th February and you can get to Cologne easily by flight, train, or bus from anywhere in Germany. It has a well-managed bus and tram system in place to get around.KNOW MORE
Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain
A palace so exclusive that entrance tickets sell out months in advance, Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain is well worth a visit. Built over ancient Roman ruins, it is significant for its architecture and served as a fortress before being a royal residence. The best way to experience the rich history of Alhambra is to opt for a guided tour with a local guide. The palace only permits 6000 visitors a day and tickets should be bought months before your planned visit. You can easily get to the Alhambra on foot via Cuesta del Rey Chico, by bus on route C30 and C32, among others. You are not permitted to take private cars to the palace.KNOW MORE
Tomorrowland Winter, France
Amidst the snow-clad mountains of Alpe d’Huez, visitors from across the world will witness the reverberating sounds of Tomorrowland Winter, France Edition. The event takes place in March 2020 from 14-21, 2000 meters above the ground. The best part, you can listen to music or ski the slopes with a lift and ski pass included in your ticket. Visitors can opt for a one-day or four-day pass as per your needs. The lineup for this year includes the likes of Armin van Buuren, Kolsch, Martin Garrix, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and more.
To get to Alpe d’Huez, you can take a flight or train to Lyon or Grenoble followed by a direct shuttle to your destination. It is convenient for visitors to purchase a package that includes the shuttle to save you excessive trouble with transportation. A party with international DJs spinning their finest tunes in a ski resort up in the French Alps? Yes, please!KNOW MORE
A phenomenon that shares a global and unified love from the masses and is easily on everyone’s bucket list, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are best observed during the winter months when astronomy does its finest work yet. Across Northern Europe in countries like Finland, Iceland and Norway, you can go on a quest to catch the waves of light that overtake the winter night sky with hues that range from green, blue, pink, and purple. Book a Northern Lights tour that is flexible enough that if you miss out the first time, you can rebook the same tickets free of cost.KNOW MORE
Hogmanay, or the last day in Scots, signifies the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Edinburgh, Scotland, a festival that is welcomed with an event called ‘first-footing’, a lovely tradition that involves crossing the threshold of friends and family bearing gifts like salt or whiskey for luck. The country sees local Hogmanay customs as well in different cities and locals sing the traditional song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ when the clock strikes 12. Now, you have fireworks, festivities, mulled wine, chicken soup, and time spent with your loved ones. Explore Edinburgh during December following the Christmas Markets and ring in the New Year Scots style.KNOW MORE
The ancient city of Pompeii, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was buried due to an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Many ruins have been excavated and preserved by archaeologists that speak to the pain of those who must have suffered the lava explosion. A visit to the modern city of Pompei is a must for visitors to Italy. It is recommended that the off-season, i.e. November to March may just be the best time to visit since there are fewer crowds of tourists who visit these ancient grounds that have a mountain of history stored in each nook and cranny.
With Mount Vesuvius’ looming presence in the background, explore the many artifacts unearthed years ago and learn about the city’s history. With a Pompeii Skip the Line pass, you can avoid whatever little crowd there is for direct entry. You can easily get here by bus and the closest stop is Pompeii Porta Marina.KNOW MORE
Toompea Castle, Estonia
If you want to visit a country that remains relatively unexplored and has beautiful weather during the wintertime, Estonia is your best bet. Tallinn is a wonderful city with its medieval fortresses, cobbled streets so strikingly European, and iconic red-shingled rooftops. Toompea Castle, which was once a fortress and now houses the Parliament, is a beautiful monument atop a limestone cliff that is found right beside Alexander Nevsky Church with a proud history paying tribute to Estonia’s gallant monarchs. You can head over for a free walking tour each Monday and alternatively, you need to book tickets in advance if you want to visit the castle in its entirety. When you reach the high tower, Long Herman, you will be greeted by a spectacular view of the city. You can even observe Parliamentary proceedings from the public viewing galleries.KNOW MORE
A ski and snow festival that has been running for 21 years will be held this year from 13-18 April in Mayrhofen ski town, Austria. Snowbombing is a much-awaited winter festival with so much to offer. The raucous parties are held in various venues around the resorts and visitors often leave with memories for a lifetime. The show sees a glorious lineup of international artists, ski events, igloo raves, and forest parties. There are hot springs and spas to escape the winter chill for a while or you can enjoy sledding and snowboarding on the snowy slopes.
If you are traveling with your friends, this would be one heck of an experience with events like Ride & Seek, Water Splash, and Paragliding over the valley. You can take an exclusive Snowbombing transfer to Mayrhofen from any of the major airports like Munich, Salzburg, or InnsbruckKNOW MORE
Hungarian Parliament, Budapest
The majestic Hungarian Parliament is a striking modern-day example of Neo-gothic architecture that was built and designed as such in the 19th-century and completed in 1902. Today, the Parliament stands in Kossuth Square named after Lajos Kossuth whose memorial stands before the Parliament building. It stands along the river Danube in Pest and offers some spectacular instances of architectural brilliance.
A city tour of Budapest is incomplete without a visit to the Parliament to see the Crown Jewels. Budapest is a beautiful city that truly comes alive during winter and you can make the most of your visit with a trip to the largest ice rink in Europe and Christmas markets brimming with spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.KNOW MORE
Getting around Europe in Winter
Traveling around Europe can be daunting for first-timers, especially those who wish to visit more than one country. However, provisions are in place that will help you navigate this super network of nations. A lot of planning depends on the number of days travelers are willing to spend on travel and transport alone. For instance, buses such as FlixBus will take you a day to reach Rome when RyanAir, a budget airline, would get you to the city in two hours. The interplay of cost and time is the best determinant to plan your tour of Europe.
By Bus: There are major bus service providers such as FlixBus and Busabout that provide budget-friendly transportation to countries across Europe. For those who prefer bus travel to trains, FlixBus is your best option as the buses have wifi, provide a scenic route and don’t burn a hole in your pocket.
By Train: Another great way to travel around Europe is by getting your own Eurail Pass, a one-stop ticket that helps you on trains and ferries in different countries. Although it can be slightly steep, it is good for traveling from more than two cities as it will help you save on individual tickets. For instance, if you are planning a trip to Italy and wish to cover Naples, Rome, and Bari, then a Eurail Pass is cost-effective and time-saving. For instance, a 5-day pass for 1 month on any number of trains will cost you around 300 euros.
The TGV Lyria is a fast train that connects Switzerland and France, another time-saving trip. Travelers who want to switch to a more sustainable way of living and avoid the carbon emissions of flight travel, trains are easily the best platform.
By Air: Europe in Winter may be off-season, but a lot of visitors prefer the quiet solitude of a wintery afternoon. So, make sure to book your tickets in advance. Air travel is another great way to save on time and if you book in advance, you can get tickets as cheap as train tickets. However, make note that you may only be able to carry limited luggage as the baggage allowance is strict on flights like RyanAir and EasyJet. For a ticket to Barcelona from Berlin, it can cost you as little as 20 euros.
Where to Stay in Europe in the Winter
When you are traveling to Europe in winter, each destination offers unique temperatures, rainfall, and if you so wish, endless snow. The best way to circumvent medical emergencies is to dress well and dress warmly. Ensure that you are carrying your warmest down jackets, hats, and gloves to protect your ears and fingers. If you are traveling to a country that will have snow, then snow boots are a must if you wish to avoid any back-breaking. Layering is key for winter as the afternoons will get warm and your snow jacket will not help you then.
Winter means fresh berries, sweet and sour, and Europe is the best place for them - Elderberries, gooseberries, mulberries, and so many more. Germany and Belgium, among other countries, serve delicious fries in their Christmas markets loaded with cheese and special sauces. From Swiss rosti to borscht, mulled wine and spiced cider, winter food is plenty, wholesome, and worth a taste.
Insider Tips for your visit to Europe in Winter
- Book your flight tickets and hotels in advance for security reasons and to save on budget deals.
- You have websites like TripAdvisor to check for restaurants and attractions in the cities you are traveling to and it is a good practice to mark them on your saved Google Maps for reference.
- Buy any travel passes that you may need to make your travel easier, such as the Eurail Pass, as they are cost-effective and time-saving.
- Make sure to travel with caution as many popular landmarks around Europe have pickpockets making rounds. Cross-body and belt bags are much safer than backpacks.
- Carry your water bottles to reduce plastic waste and ensure that you avoid single-use plastic.
- A lot of European countries like Italy prefer that you carry cash and it is advisable to have the local currency on hand.
- Hit the thrift stores and flea markets for exceptional deals because vintage stores in France might have vintage Chanel that you won’t get anywhere else.