Authored by Ashlea Wheeler
Winter in Australia results in most of the country retreating inside and complaining loudly about the decrease in temperature, myself included. Instead of dealing with a mild change in the weather between seasons, we all tend to pout and whinge when it’s not as warm or sunny as we’d like.
As a result of this culture, backpacking through Europe in winter seemed like a great novelty. I’d be heading to a place where the climate would be drastically different during the winter months. I dreamed of a celebrating a white Christmas, wandering through charming winter markets, and escaping the hoards of summer tourists to enjoy the snow covered streets with locals.
It took a few weeks of backpacking before I made a few key discoveries about travelling Europe during winter. There were a number of reasons that it was both better and worse than if I had chose to do the same thing during summer.
Here are 5 things I noticed, and a few things you should consider before you follow in my footsteps.
Winter in Europe is a Celebration
Buildings are decorated with fairy lights and ice skating rinks are set up in public areas. Outdoor Christmas markets line the main squares in many cities, where people flock to drink mulled wine and eat gingerbread biscuits iced with cheery holiday messages.
The Europeans believe that winter is something to celebrate, a time to rug up in a coat and scarf and enjoy the season with your friends and family. You had better be keen on embracing the cold and spending some time outside!
Tourists are Forgotten
We came across a few fellow travellers, mostly those who had been on the road for 6 months or more, but the locals seemed to have missed the memo that there are still tourists in winter.
This can be a good thing. You’re less likely to be hassled by people trying to sell you tacky souvenirs as they’ve mostly retreated to their hometowns, returning when tourists start hoarding in during the summer months. And there’s no need to line up for an hour and a half to get into the Louvre or go up the Eiffel Tower!
But you’ll have to expect that some attractions will be closed. In Wroclaw, the only activity we could do was wander the streets as nothing was open. In Hallstatt, we could only find one restaurant serving food to visitors. Just ONE! And apparently the dwindling tourist numbers require the closure of every cable car in Europe.
Want to see pretty views from a mountain top? Too bad.
Things are cheap
Save few bucks by travelling in off-peak season. You can bet those hostels and hotels have a fair few spare rooms at this time of year, so cheap rooms are abundant, and finding affordable flights to Europe is a cinch. Tour prices and entrance fees are also reduced in an effort to increase visitor numbers.
For an idea of how much we spent during our time in Europe, see Backpacking Europe – How much does it cost?
Some Sites Look Super Fantastic
Settled snow makes some things look incredible. White peaks on the spires of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was a sight to be seen, and the English Garden in Munich was wonderfully serene as we walked through after a blizzard.
Even our day trip to Prypyat and Chernobyl was made extra eerie by the untouched snow surrounding us.
These sights would also be lovely in Summer, but winter just makes them a little more magical.
Some Sites Don’t Look So Great
Parks and nature aren’t at their best during winter. If you want to see colourful flowers and green grass – winter is going to severely disappoint you.
Streets that were normally lined with leafy trees featured only bare branches and water puddles. Gardens that would normally boast marble statues had them covered in wooden boxes as protection from the weather.
It was almost half way through our trip before we actually found a fountain with running water – most of them are switched off during winter.
To Travel Or Not To Travel: Europe in Winter
On my journey I discovered that Europe isn’t better or worse in winter. Some places were made fabulous by the snow and the cold, and others may have been nicer to experience during warmer months.
It’s really about what type of travel experience you want to have – for me it was about the opportunity to try something entirely different.
Like many others, I enjoy travelling to places with sunny beaches and warm weather, but this time I wanted to get far out of my comfort zone to create incredible memories, and that’s exactly what I got when I travelled Europe in winter.
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