At first, the thought of visiting Europe in winter might not sound so enticing: You’ll find chilly temperatures, fewer hours of daylight, and many attractions closed for the season. (You’ll also probably want to buy travel insurance in case you encounter snow- or ice-related airport delays.) But there are some major advantages to visiting Europe in winter that could make up for these drawbacks.
1. Smaller Crowds
The time of year you travel can mean the difference between standing in a two-hour line and having an incredible historical monument nearly to yourself. While many European cities are popular year-round, traveling during the winter will help you avoid the worst of the crowds, which can reach truly epic proportions in July and August.
2. Lower Fares (and Less Crowded Planes)
The lower demand for winter flights to Europe means not only a chance of an undersold plane but also lower fares. According to Co-Founder and Chief Flight Expert Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights: “The difference between dead-of-winter fares and peak-summer fares isn’t a few bucks; it’s the difference between a hamburger and filet mignon. Whereas flights in January or February to Europe regularly drop as low as $250 roundtrip out of major U.S. airports, July and August flights are normally well over $1,000, especially if you didn’t book months in advance. I would expect summer fares to be priced at least 300 percent higher than the best winter fares, depending on routing and how far in advance you book.”
3. Lower Hotel Rates
Flights aside, you’ll also save money on winter hotels in Europe—and likely have more choice. The most popular spots to stay (including both hotels and vacation rentals) tend to sell out early over the summer months, but in the winter you’ll have more options at better prices. Winter is also an ideal time to do a home exchange and save even more on accommodations.
4. Mild Weather
This one varies depending on where you go, of course; if you’re looking for temperate climates, you’ll want to avoid cities such as Oslo (where the average winter temperature is 33 degrees Fahrenheit) or Moscow (a brisk 25 degrees). But you might be surprised by how pleasant it is to take a winter wander through cities like Barcelona, Athens, or Lisbon, where average winter temperatures are in the high 50s. Pack a light jacket and enjoy not having to sweat through your entire European vacation.
Best Places to Visit in Europe in December
Come for the Christmas markets, stay for the mulled wine and schnitzel. Vacations By Rail offers a tour that visits three cities and their Christmas markets, with prices starting at $625.
The United Kingdom
Nothing beats holiday shopping in London or head to the cozy Cotswolds if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of a city.
From attending the opera in Vienna to waking up to a view of the Eastern Alps in Salzburg, Austria is equally as beautiful with a dusting of snow as it is in the summer.
Embrace the outdoors in the Swedish Lapland or explore historic Stockholm with a January trip to Sweden.
You’ll have one of the best chances to see the northern lights in February with a trip to Iceland. Plus, it’s one of the more less expensive times to visit.
Wander the streets of Montmartre or visit Versailles sans crowds with a trip to Paris in the off-season.