High season travel in Europe often revolves around the summer. After all, children are on school vacation, the weather is more agreeable, and the increased amount of daylight is convenient. But, it also means crowded attractions, increased prices and depending on where you are, extreme heat which can make anything other than lying on a beach, uncomfortable (ahem, Greece & Spain.)
Our ideal time to travel is usually the shoulder seasons - this means May & early June and again in late September & October. The crowds are drastically reduced yet the weather is still nice and the travel costs are often lower than peak. Unfortunately, it's impossible to fit in all our trips in such a limited amount of time, particularly when we like to spread them out over the calendar. While it's attractive to seek out sunshine during the winter months, there is something to be said for embracing winter travel.
First of all, it is a lot cheaper in terms of flights and hotels (unless you're looking to fly over Christmas) and a lot of the times, you'll feel like you have the city to yourself. It feels less touristy and a little more real. You won't be wasting time lining up for attractions and you probably won't be fighting for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa from behind a mound of other tourists.
Last year, Joe and I visited Berlin, Prague and Oslo during the winter and very shortly, we'll be catching a flight to Switzerland. In case you're also planning a snowy or cold destination this year, here are a few tips from a Canadian who knows winter well.
+This seems silly but even I, a seasoned Canadian, often underestimate winter temperatures - DRESS WARMLY. I wear wool tights under my jeans and sport an extra pair of socks, a parka, scarf, mitts, and hat. For those of used to below 0 temperatures, -5 might not sound too bad but spending hours outside in said weather can feel colder than first expected.
+Allow yourself a lot of breaks. Pop into a café for a warm drink or stop in a cozy pub for a beer. Your feet will thank you.
+Not all of Europe (even Northern Europe) has a snowy winter. If you're looking for snow, do your research ahead of time.
+With that being said, winter can also mean rain. Bring an umbrella and keep a list of indoor activities in your location in case the weather really isn't cooperating.
+Take careful note of attraction operating hours. Many will drastically reduce their opening times during the low season or even close altogether.
+The further North you go, the less daylight you'll have. Plan accordingly but don't abandon the streets just because it's dark. The twinkling lights on a calm winter's night can be magical.
+Christmas Markets are a wonderful experience and something quintessentially European. If you're traveling in December, definitely try to add one to your itinerary. Popular stops include Strasbourg in the North of France, Prague, Vienna, Brussels and really, all of Germany.
+Be prepared for travel delays in case of snow storms. Again, those of us who are well acquainted with winter are shocked when major airports (hello London & Paris) close after 2 cm of snow. In fact, sometimes they close with the impending threat of snow before one flurry has even hit the pavement.
+Driving in a foreign country can be nerve-racking. Driving in a foreign country with snowy roads can be terrifying. If you aren't comfortable, don't risk it. Stick to trains.
+Embrace the season - rent a pair of skates, try tobogganing, breath in that fresh, crisp air, sip mulled wine & hot chocolate, buy a soft cashmere sweater and sit by the fireplace.
Where are your favourite winter destinations?