9 Reasons why you should go to Europe in Winter

If you are looking at travelling to Western Europe, you will need a hefty amount of money. It is not known as a cheap location to travel and can kill any budget. It contains some of the most expensive cities, but those cities also tend to be and contain the “Must See” attractions. Paris, London, Venice, and much more.
Well, with us being super budget conscious, but also wanting to see a lot of European cities, we think we have found quite the solution to this expensive dilemma. Travel in the low season… Obviously. It is in the title after all.

The low season is generally classified as October to the beginning of March in Europe. Yes, these are the winter months, but depending on where you go, this can be amazing in its own right. Being from a no snow (unless it’s a blue moon) city ourselves, we decided to brave the weather, and head toward snow!

The snowy fields of Poland

We completed a what we dubbed, a city hop, for a month in January and February through the wintery cities.

Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague, Budapest, Berlin, Paris and Warsaw.
Nope, no London. We flew direct from Bristol.

We encountered sunny winter days in Italy, daily negative temperatures in Prague, Budapest and Warsaw. Snow days in Berlin and Warsaw and daily afternoon rain in Paris. All proved to still be beautiful, no matter what the weather. If anything, I have discovered an absolute love of snow. Watching it slowly float down is mesmerising.

Venice canals all sparkly in the winter sunshine.

For this entire trip (flying to and from Bristol, UK) we spent $2600 (NZ dollar). That’s all flights, trains, public transport, food and activities. Paris proved the most expensive, but that was to be expected. Budapest was our cheapest destination. Prague was our coldest, Warsaw the windiest and snowiest (which made it even colder!) and Paris was our warmest albeit wettest.

 

Reasons why you should go to Europe in Winter

Accommodation is generally cheaper

We experienced accommodation to not only be cheaper in these months (with our place in Rome a third of its Summer price) but also, fewer people vying for the same dates that you want to book your Airbnb. This usually meant that check in/check out was flexible. Very handy when you arrive early and don’t want to wait in -12 (celsius)

Our studio apartment in Warsaw. A little over our usual nightly budget at $40 (NZD) a night.

Some activities are cheaper

Most snow filled countries lower their prices for outdoor activities in winter. Croatia and its Lakes are good for this. Yes, most things will be frozen, but often this is actually more beautiful.

Lots of places also offer free entries at certain times and days through this low season. Research your intended attraction to plan out your visit.

Less crowds

This is rather obvious. Not everyone wants to be out in the cold, except you and a few other brave souls. Dress up warm and get out there!

The queue at mid day for the Vatican. It was 1/4 of this at 10am. But in Summer, it’s unimaginable.

Less queuing

Fewer crowds equal shorter queues. This is fortunate, seeing as it can be too bloody cold to wait in line outside! It took us 10 minutes of queuing to get into the Colosseum in Rome. About 20 minutes through both security checks and ticket purchase to get up the Eiffel Tower. Most other places had zero queues at all.

European central heating

You can almost be guaranteed, inside will be warm. This may be obvious to some, but for most Kiwi’s, cold homes are all too common. With the ingenious invention of central heating (come on NZ, catch up already!) the inside of pretty much everywhere we stayed was balmy. This was great for getting any washing dry too. Ever the practical thought.

Christmas Markets

If you are to travel in December, you will encounter the famous Christmas markets. Pretty much every city has one, so you needn’t plan your trip around them. Even though we were in Warsaw at the beginning of February, they still had their Christmas market area set up. The lights were only just coming down as we left. Some Christmas markets start as early as November, it is easy to search for information regarding them. Our visit to the Edinburgh market in November was a sight to behold. So many twinkly lights!

Warsaw Old Town Square

Winter sunshine

Yes, there is some sunshine, even in Winter. Although the UK doesn’t see much sunshine, the rest of Europe doesn’t necessarily share the same grey fate. The sun sitting lower in the sky casts a muted glow, making photography at any time of the day possible, no need to wait for the golden hour(s).

The winter sun in Prague

Snowy countries operate well in snow, no slowing down for these guys!

Countries that have frequent snowfall have their infrastructure built around it in winter. Roads are cleared, so there are rarely delayed buses, trams or trains. Footpaths are also cleared or covered with grit, so no slipping over onto your arse. Airports and their runways are well maintained, even for an 8 am flight, the ice is cleared.

The icey Danube river, Budapest

SNOW!

If you don’t love snow, something is wrong with you. It is absolutely beautiful. (Unless it hinders your travel plans, then you may hate it that one time, but only then!)
It may be annoying if you had to get to work and had to clear your car, but you don’t. Instead, you can move at your leisure and enjoy the walk through the snowflakes.

Fresh snowfall provided a beautiful walk through a park in Berlin.

 

However, there are always some downsides…..

Unpredictable weather

Sometimes, shit happens. But it can happen anywhere, so don’t let it get you down. It rained every day we were in Paris. But, thankfully it was clear in the morning. So we made sure we did all our site seeing early, to be back for a warm coffee in the afternoon. It snowed every day we were in Warsaw, so we had shorter trips out at a time. Check the weather before leaving the comfort of your place, and be prepared for it.

Two hours after this was taken it was hammering down!

Flight delays

Once again, this can happen at any time. We only experience a few minor delays. This was often due to ice on the runway. But frankly, I’d rather they clear it properly and wait than have a slippery take-off…. or landing!

Harder to pack for carry on luggage

Seeing as we were travelling from our “home base” in Bristol, we packed carry on only. This was great for the budget airlines that charge a small fortune to have a checked in bag. Even though your layers you wear are thicker, you can wear the same thing for days in a row (shut up, it’s not that gross, you don’t sweat when you are in freezing temperatures!). But all that still takes up valuable packing room. The cabin baggage compartment on the planes was 40% puffy jackets, 60% bags.

Along the river in Prague. Still -5 degrees (celcius) at 1pm

Some places closed or limited opening hours

Some places just cannot operate in the cold. We had to miss a few things on the list due to them being closed. Or in most cases, it was simply because we were too bloody cold to be bothered to walk there (we don’t really use public transport much, preferring the free transportation method of our feet).

 

Sometimes it’s just too cold

As above, sometimes it is just to bitingly cold. However, with accommodation being cheaper this time of year, you may be able to afford an extra night in the destination. Allowing more time to experience the place. Unlike in Summer, where you would happily be out from 9 am until 6 pm, the cold limits your willingness to do this (especially if you walk, like us). We often spent a max of 3 hours out at a time (including all walking). Because the accommodation is cheaper, getting a place closer to the action is more affordable, making it easier to do shorter outings with the ability to go back for a break/warm up cup of tea.

 

Hat hair, cold legs and feeling like a fat marshmallow in all your layers

Yes, a major downside. The trick is, don’t remove your hat! Not being able to put your arms at your side comfortably can get old pretty quick too.
I would recommend finding thermal tights that fit under your skinny jeans. Due to me hating tight clothing, I was thermal-less on my legs. Brr did they get cold!

Snowing in Warsaw. I am so bloody cold!!

 

As with travel any time of the year, there are going to be pro’s and con’s. Personally, I struggle in a hot summer. Anything over 25 degrees and I’m swimming in my own sweat (lovely!). But, then again there is a nice blue sky, tan building weather and the ability to soak up those vitamin D inducing rays.
The cold caused numb legs, fingers and nose and unfortunately does nothing good for my chronic pain. Sometimes it’s hard to get the best of both worlds.

 

The cold countries are not the only places to see in the low season. Head south to Spain or Portugal kind of way, and you can get that sunshine without melting. Medium temperatures, no summer crowds, SUNSHINE! and ocean and sand.
Stay tuned for our article about our “warm Europe” trip in the near future.

 

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