7 great reasons to see Europe in winter
When you hear the words ‘winter travel’, you might imagine pricey pistes, all-inclusive Arctic adventures and those sparkly seasonal markets. Think again: European holidays in wintry months offer much more than a few snowy clichés.
Travelling in January and February is superb timing for travel bargains, local flavour and catching a whiff of winter madness. Lonely Planet’s 7 reasons to plan a European winter holiday will help you find the season’s magic, without a ski-pole or reindeer in sight.
1. Off-season bargains
The rush for Christmas and New Year flights is over and there are deals galore as typically ‘summery’ destinations hit their off-peak season. Take advantage of the January slump: some tour operators suspend their deals over the holidays but rev them up again in mid-January. It’s also a great time to scour the usual favourites like TravelZoo, Expedia, Agoda and Wotif. A number of sites, like OffSeason.com scoop up all the off-season travel deals in one place, so snagging a deal is like shooting fish in a barrel.
2. Jump in, the weather's fine
Southern Europe laughs in the face of Jack Frost. Plenty of European destinations are still balmy before spring, like southern Spain, the south of France, Sicily, Cyprus and Crete. Contact the relevant tourist office and ask for the stats if you have weather worries. And if you need your dose of vitamin D, get the info on daylight hours in your destination from EuroMeteo.com. Warm destinations won’t swelter as they do during their summer peak, so you can see the ruins of ancient Greece without risking sunstroke and you won’t have to avoid beaches during the midday sun. Time for another ouzo, then.
3. Don't fear the frost
But there’s no need to chase the sun, as lashings of rain and snow give added charisma to Europe’s classic city destinations. Who could fail to be moved by an icy glaze on the turrets of Europe’s castles? And what could elicit more envy than snapshots of romantic Budapest under a smattering of snow? Wrap up in layers and embrace the cooler weather.
4. Get some elbow room
If your travel photos are usually invaded by hordes of other tourists, spare yourself the time photoshopping them out and travel in winter for a crowd-free view. Big-hitting destinations are open for business, but in winter more of the streets will be yours: that means fewer pairs of sandaled feet pacing La Rambla and less jostling for a view of La Sagrada Família. Over in France, the major sights in Provence favourite, Avignon, are still open for business so you can pose on the famous pont St-Bénézet and gawp at the immense Palais des Papes. But winter travellers might be tempted by some of the more curious events too, like January’s horse festival or the theatrical Fest-Hiver.
5. Live like a local
Without so many tourists flocking into their prettiest piazzas, life returns to normal in many tourist hotspots. And as locals’ guard comes down, all the better to people-watch. Try stomping into a warm Parisian brasserie to see chic locals shake their umbrellas (and wring out their soggy pet poodles). Or maybe you’d prefer to eavesdrop on Londoners as they endlessly discuss weather reports with that quintessentially British air of gloom.
6. Winter madness
Why not unleash your daring side by timing your trip to coincide with one of Europe’s hedonistic winter events? Something about being cooped up indoors unleashes the wild side in Europeans and it’d be rude not to join in the chaos. Scandinavians leap into ice-cold lakes as part of their sauna regime, Sicilians explode in a riot of colour for the Feast of San Sebastiano, and Croatia’s February festivals are a spectacle of giddy mayhem (particularly raucous in Rijeka).