In this, the third part in my series of traveling in Europe in winter, I look at traveling safely and how to get the most out of your trip. Travelling in Europe during winter can definitely be different to traveling during the rest of the year, but that doesn’t mean you need to miss out on any of the fun.
1. Dress warmly, but in layers
You will be outside a lot sightseeing and traveling from place to place. If you aren’t used to snow and ice, don’t underestimate how cold it can be and how cold you will get. Also don’t underestimate how over-heated European interiors such as shops and museums can get. Dress in layers, starting with thermals and work your way outwards. See my previous post on dressing for Europe in the winter (complete with packing list) for more details.
2. Allow extra time for traveling
Regardless of how you are traveling, do allow extra time to get from A to B. Snow and ice can play havoc with travel times and even the highly efficient German and Swiss public transport systems can fall victim.
We were very fortunate traveling from Berlin to Frankfurt on New Years Day to catch our plane home. Bad weather in the north of Germany caused all the trains to be running behind schedule and our train was over an hour late leaving Berlin. Luckily we had allowed extra time and had booked an earlier train, so still arrived in Frankfurt in plenty of time for our flight, and with nerves still intact. By car, roads can be closed or traffic slowed significantly.
3. How should you travel around?
If you aren’t used to driving in the snow or on icy roads seriously consider whether you should hire a car or whether you should travel around by public transport. If you come from somewhere where driving on the left is the norm, think really seriously……do you want to learn to drive on the right hand side of the road in bad weather? Even my car-loving husband, who has driven in Europe before passed on the opportunity to drive on a German autobahn in December.
Plus, if it is snowy the view from the train is so stunning it seems a shame to be concentrating on the road…….
4. Christmas Day and Public Holidays
Work out where you are going to spend Christmas Day and where you are going to eat well in advance (sorry if you’re just reading this and haven’t done anything!) A lot of restaurants will be closed, hotel restaurants may be closed, fully booked or have expensive Christmas meals that day.
If you have the opportunity staying in an apartment and doing your own cooking may be be an option. This is also a good way to try some local delicacies in a leisurely manner.
Also make sure you work out public holidays around Christmas and New Year for your destination – sights may be closed, so take those days into account when planning your itinerary. In addition, many shops and restaurants, even in large cities such as Paris will close for a number of days over Christmas as owners take a few days off.
5. Check up to date opening hours for tourist sights
In winter many tourist sights will operate on reduced hours. Some will be closed on certain days, and others will be closed altogether. Check websites or call ahead to confirm opening days and hours. While reduced opening hours can be a pain, the lack of queues and crowds once you get inside makes visiting even the busiest tourist destinations a joy in winter.
6. Make the most of Christmas and winter offerings
That means Christmas markets obviously, but also Christmas lights, the Christmas windows in large department stores, ice skating and all manner of Christmas/winter offerings. Fireworks on New Years Eve are pretty much everywhere, and make sure you eat your share of the Christmas and winter delicacies on offer.
Traveling in winter is a bit different, but is also incredibly beautiful and enjoyable. Plan ahead, think about what you are doing, and enjoy!
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