This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2016. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
In my home country of Australia, the winter season means retreating inside and complaining loudly about the slight decrease in temperature.
Instead of dealing with a mild change in the weather between seasons, we all tend to sook when it’s not as warm or sunny as we’d like (and let’s face it, it doesn’t even get that cold in Australia).
As a result of this Aussie culture ingrained in me, winter in Europe seemed like it would be a huge novelty. I dreamed of snow perched on the many church spires, cozying up in cafes when the weather was chilly out, and wandering through the quiet streets on my way to the charming Christmas Markets.
Even though I didn’t exactly get a white Christmas, the trip really was like a fairytale. It completely lived up to my expectations and had me addicted to the charm of a European winter.
I’ve now spent two Christmases travelling around Europe, and I think it’s one of the best places to spend the festive season. If you’ve never experienced the holidays in Europe, now is the perfect time to take a trip! Here are 6 travel tips for spending Christmas in Europe.
1. Join in the celebration
It might be tempting to cuddle up under a blanket and chain watch Netflix while you sip on hot cocoa, but staying indoors isn’t the best way to experience the season.
The streets of Europe are decorated brightly throughout December. Buildings are donned with fairy lights and ice skating rinks are set up in public areas. Christmas markets line the main squares where people flock to drink mulled wine and eat gingerbread biscuits iced with cheery holiday messages. Here’s some ideas for things to experience at Europe’s Christmas Markets.
The Europeans believe that winter is something to celebrate, so embrace the cold and spend some time outside enjoying it. Go join in the celebration!
2. Invest in decent winter clothing
The number one mistake I made the first time I visited Europe in winter was wearing unsuitable clothing. As a warm-blooded Australian, it was difficult to comprehend just how freezing some of the countries were going to be.
Sure, I’d purchased a wool coat, scarves, a beanie, and thermals, but all of this just wasn’t enough. I was wearing many layers of clothing to keep warm, but if I had just one decent parka then I wouldn’t have needed them all.
I’ve now invested in a high-quality insulated coat to get me through the New York winter, and boy, is the investment worth it! I wore this the second time that I visited Europe in winter, and it made such a huge difference to how warm I felt.
Check out my guide to buying the best winter gear for some tips on being fully prepared for the cold.
3. Take advantage of cheaper tours
Travelling in off-peak season is the number one way to save money on your trip. Entrance fees are often reduced to encourage more visitors, and hotels aren’t as booked up so cheap rooms are usually easy to find.
Group tours are also discounted over winter. If you’re interested in taking a multi-day tour over Christmas, I’d suggest you check out Grand European Travel – these guys are a member of the Travel Corporation (one of my favourite travel brands) and they have loads of highly rated itineraries to choose from, including some excellent Christmas Market tours in Central Europe.
They’ll also handle your flights booking and organise optional excursions, AND they’ll do everything they can to get you the best deal. This is honestly the least stressful way to book your European Christmas trip.
4. Enjoy the quiet streets
We picked a few different places to spend Christmas in Europe, and while exploring the big cities and small towns, we came across a few other winter travellers (mostly backpackers who had been on the road for 6 months or more). But the hoards of summer tourists were nowhere to be seen.
Christmastime in Europe means the streets will be quiet, you won’t get hassled by as many people trying to sell you stuff, and there’s no need for you to line up for an hour and a half to get into the Louvre or go up the Eiffel Tower.
The downside of this is that due to the lack of tourists, some attractions will be closed. In Wroclaw we found that absolutely nothing was open, and in Hallstatt we could only find one restaurant serving food to visitors. It sucks, but it’s a trade-off for having the place to yourself.
5. Keep active and take breaks from the cold
You know what happens when you stop moving? Your body temperature drops – which is obviously not what you want to happen as you wander around the streets of Europe in the middle of winter.
To ensure your fingers and toes don’t feel as thought they’re getting frostbite, keep active whenever you’re outdoors and plan to retreat inside every hour or so to give your extremities a chance to defrost. Plus, you can use these breaks as an excuse to drink hot tea and eat freshly baked scones like I did in London.
6. Make full use of daylight hours
The number of daylight hours can be short if you are travelling around the northern areas of Europe in winter. When we were in St. Petersburg, Russia, the sun rose at around 10AM and set before 4PM, so we had less than 6 hours of sunlight to take in the major sites each day.
If you want to fit in loads of sightseeing, avoid sleeping in until midday. Get up when the sun rises and make the most of the light. Of course, winter in Europe can be wonderful during the evenings as well, but you don’t want to waste the little sunlight that you have.
PS. Need some inspiration on where to go? Here’s 7 awesome winter holiday destinations in Europe for you to choose from.
*This post is sponsored by Grand European Travel. I’m proud to be an honest and transparent blogger, so every opinion expressed on AGWT is truly what I believe in.