I wanted to share with you some important things to consider and expect if you are thinking about doing a Eurotrip in winter.
Pros of Travelling Europe in Winter
1. Smaller crowds or no crowd at all
It is generally more popular to travel Europe in spring or summer and there are therefore more people around at all of the attractions and points of interest. On my most recent winter Eurotrip in which I have visited 10 countries and many cities, I only came across crowds in Barcelona (there are always crowds there), Lisbon and Porto. If you can’t stand crowds like me I strongly recommend doing a winter Eurotrip.
2. More likely to meet locals
A lot of Europeans are still studying and working for most of the winter and as a result, they stay put in their cities. So you will actually be likely to meet locals and therefore likely to have a more authentic cultural experience! I also think that local people may be more receptive to actually meet you in the first place on compared to when their city is overwhelmed with tourists.
3. You can be more flexible with your plans and book things at shorter notice with little risk and can sometimes save money with the flexibility
Due to it being a less popular time to travel accommodation, transportation and tours are less likely to be booked out completely at any given time, this, of course, depends on where you are planning to travel to. I normally travel booking things 1-3 days ahead of time during the winter. I like to have the flexibility with my plans as for some reason I tend to have regrets when I plan ahead too much for example: when I made a lovely new friend in a hostel in Annecy – we were both going to the same countries but we both booked ahead and sadly had to separate and that really sucked at the time.
With this flexibility, you can also save money sometimes by choosing flights, buses and trains based on choosing the cheapest date and work your plans around that. This works especially well if you are travelling for more than a month.
4. Lower prices and last minute deals
Accommodation providers tend to decrease their prices during less popular travel times so you can save money by travelling in winter. You can also snap up last minute deals of all kinds of accommodations and tours (even if you want to do a Contiki or Topdeck tour for example) because as mentioned in the last point they are less likely to be completely booked.
5. Europe has some warmer countries, even in winter
If you are terrified at the idea of freezing your butt off for weeks don’t be! You can escape to warmer parts of Europe such a Portugal, Spain, Malta or Greece. This is a great way to get a break from the frostier countries and get some vitamin D from the actual sun.
6. Uniquely winter activities and experiences
You can do a range of snow sports and ice skate in the outdoors, you can even build a snowman, make snow angels and have snowballs fights! Budget Tip: Head to less expensive countries like Poland if you would like to ski or snowboard as it is significantly cheaper than doing in Switzerland, France or Austria for example.
I love that you can indulge in heartier dishes and drink delicious warm beverages like mulled wine in winter and get cosy!
7. Snow is pretty
This is pretty self-explanatory but a dusting of white snow upon a landscape or city really changes everything into a magical, winter wonderland!
7. Unique cultural experiences if you spend the festive season in Europe
If you spend time the festive season in Europe you will get a glimpse into their special traditions like what they eat, drink and how they celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For example, in Germany and Austria, it is a popular tradition to visit Christmas Markets with friends or family, where they sell a variety of festive foods, drinks and sometimes gifts or souvenirs.
I have spent 2 New Years Eves in Europe; in Münster, Germany and Uppsala, Sweden. Spending New Year’s Eve in these countries gave me wonderful, unique, unforgettable experiences! On my last New Years Eve (2017) I went to a friends party and met all her lovely friends, with 2 new friends in tow, we walked to a castle with a bottle of sparkling wine which we opened at midnight and watched the fireworks. It was also snowing – a totally dreamy night.
Cons of Travelling Europe in Winter
1. Some attractions are closed or have shorter visiting hours
This happens a lot throughout winter. In smaller cities, they often close attractions completely over the winter as for them they are not worth the cost of being open. I found this on my recent trip while in smaller cities in Germany and Sweden. In larger cities, they will often shorten their opening hours of attractions like museums and it will sometimes be hard to find accurate opening times if they aren’t updated online. I once spent nearly an hour travelling from my hostel to Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna to find that it had closed early due to special winter times that I was unaware of.
2. Renovations often happen in points of interests and even in accommodation over winter
This is also a quite common thing that happens over winter – less tourists = less people to disappoint with renovations or something. I have experienced this twice on my current trip. In Hannover, their main attraction is the Neues Rathaus/ New Town Hall, unfortunately, during my stay there the most beautiful side of the building was completely covered by scaffolding. These experiences have only been of a minor annoyance to me. I think this particularly upsetting when you have your heart set on a particular attraction but that is life, it doesn’t always go to plan.
I have also found that accommodation providers from hostels to hotels renovate over winter but still remain open, of course, you won’t be aware of this until you are already there. On this particular trip, I have come across this on 3 occasions, very disruptive to one’s sleep and very unpleasant if you are sensitive to noise as I am.
3. Heavier clothes = Less clothing options and heavier luggage.
This is one of my biggest gripes with travelling over the winter. Purely because winter clothes are bigger and heavier you have to carry fewer clothes and as a result, you have less clothing options. I am not sure if you have noticed but I have worn the same blue coat for my entire winter trip and I am still wearing it in Spring. You have to be very strategic and think carefully about what you really need. Watch some Youtube Videos, read some blog posts about winter packing etc. Put on a little ‘fashion show’ for your friends and family before you go and get them to help you to decide. I am still working on being better at packing clothes it is definitely a challenge.
4. Being freezing cold
No matter how you frame it, it isn’t pleasant being freezing cold. With the right clothes for the particular climate – thermal tops and bottoms, layers, a warm coat, thick socks, gloves and a beanie you can get by just fine most of the time. I would recommend doing more indoor activities like visiting museums and cafes when the weather is extremely unbearable. Connecting on to the next point, if you aren’t well equipped for the weather you are likely to increase the chances of getting sick.
5. Getting sick
If you are coming from a faraway land like me, you probably won’t be used to the European germs and will, therefore, be more susceptible to getting sick. I have spent half of a three-month trip struck down twice with influenza and/or a virus which is still lingering.
The best you can do is try to keep yourself as healthy as possible – eat healthily, drink lots of water, get adequate sleep, stay warm etc. I strongly recommend having travel insurance in case you need medical attention because these things happen especially in winter and depending on where you are without insurance you might end up spending a lot of money. For example, when I was in Porto my flu worsened and I ended up with chest pain and I sought medical treatment. This cost me 156 Euros (nearly $250AUD) probably because I required an interpreter, I was however completely covered by my insurance and reimbursed without a hitch. I have written a blog post about things to consider when choosing travel insurance, the link is right here.
6. Weather can complicate plans
Yes, a pro was that snow can be pretty haha but that and other winter weather can also be very disruptive. I had 2 tours cancelled while I was in Iceland due to poor weather conditions, I wrote a blog post about this, you can read that here. Flights and trains can also be cancelled and this can change your plans out totally – this happened quite a bit this winter as there were many extreme snow storms.
So, Do I Recommend Doing a Eurotrip in Winter?
1000 times yes! Yes, there are downfalls of travelling in winter but I am sure on the other side of the coin there are also some downfalls of travelling in summer.
The biggest upsides for me are that travelling in winter is more budget friendly, I can be very flexible with my plans, the unique winter experiences and snow-covered landscapes and cities. I can also avoid crowds for most of my trip. The biggest downfalls for me have been dealing with illness for about half of my trip, cancelled tours in Iceland due to poor weather and the heavy clothes weighing down my luggage.
It all depends on what is important to you personally! I hope this post has given you some food for thought.
Do you have any thoughts or stories to share about your experiences travelling in Europe during winter or summer, even? I’d love to read about them below in the comments section!