Whilst the most popular image of holidaying in Europe remains basking in gorgeous sunlight, sitting on sandy beaches, and enjoying continental cuisine at one of the beautiful outdoor cafes found in Rome or Paris, there are many good reasons to view the continent in the altered light of winter. But before we proceed on discussing what exactly those reasons are, perhaps it is best to examine the best method of getting about.
In many European locations where tourism is a major factor in driving the local economy, public transport such as trains and buses operate on a significantly reduced timetable during the winter months. So for those that want to enjoy a packed itinerary on their travels, a hire car presents the best option for maintaining the flexibility and autonomy to do what you want, when you want.
So without further ado, and with your driving gloves firmly packed, here are the best reasons to take a European winter road trip.
Grabbing an Off-Season Bargain
Unless you are intending to take in the delights of Northern France, it is more than likely that you’ll want to fly to your destination before taking to the road. And, with the exception of the festive holiday season from mid to late December, airfares are generally a lot more reasonable in the winter.
By avoiding the summer peak months of July and August especially, the savvy shopper will be able to get a fantastic deal on not only the flight but the hotel as well. An additional cost-cutting bonus to winter travel is that last-minute bargains are a lot easier to secure, meaning that the impulsive jet-setter is often better catered for. As is the norm with holiday bookings in this day and age, you should keep an open eye turned towards online vendors for the best possible last-minute deals.
Excellent Shopping and the Chance of a Bespoke Bargain
The UK is not the only country in Europe that enjoys a January sale. So if you’re looking to grab yourself something different from what you might find on your local high-street, why not do a spot of shopping while on holiday in Europe. Berlin, Milan, and Paris are, of course, all famed for their shopping.
Unlike almost any other county, the January sales in France are regulated by the government too. This ensures that the sales in France include only authentic out of season goods, and not just sub-standard stock bought in to palm off on the frenzied masses – an accusation that is often leveled at UK retailers.
There’s nothing quite like a Christmas market. They fill the streets with the sights, sounds, and smells of the festive season and are a fantastic place to find a gift that you probably wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. And to top it off, some of the best around can be found in Europe.
The Christmas market originated in Germany and, arguably, patrons of the country remain the best purveyors of the tradition. The Cologne Christmas market annually draws close to 2million visitors a year and is actually six different markets in one. Four of the six markets are camped outside of Cologne’s cathedral, a masterpiece example of gothic architecture that gives the market a unique, otherworldly backdrop.
If you have children in tow than the Prague Christmas market might be the one for you. Included among the attractions are horse-driven carriages and a petting zoo full of animals dressed as characters from the nativity story that will leave the little ones enchanted.
Avoiding the Crowds
Europe enjoyed over 534 million international tourists in the year 2012. The number is huge, and at times it can make the most popular attractions that Europe has to offer to seem overcrowded. It is, however, safe to assume that the majority of these visitors holidayed on the continent during the peak summer months.
Of course, the weather is going to be a degree or two chillier in the major European cities during the winter, but this is going to reduce the crowds significantly. The collective upshot is that you will be able to enjoy major attractions at your own space and frame your holiday snaps without invasion from unwanted faces. Paris’ world-famous museum the Louvre, for example, is still open in the winter, offering you the chance to view revered masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo without the restriction of massive crowds.
Of course, it sounds obvious, but the winter provides a perfect environment for winter sports. And the Alps, spanning a total of eight European countries, provide some of the world’s best skiing. The skiing season in the alps starts to spark into life during November; however, in both this month and December, the resorts that reside at low and medium altitudes are not certain of being guaranteed the levels of snow needed to enjoy the best quality skiing.
High altitude resorts, though, are usually a safe bet every year, and although they are both popular and expensive during Christmas and New Year, the weeks leading up, by contrast, are absent of crowds and easier on the pocket. If you are going to drive to and from resorts in the Alps during winter, you will need to be prepared for both the potential dangers and the different rules that cover driving in Europe. This infographic offers a fantastic reference for the most important things that you’ll need to consider.
Escape the Chill
So far the post has focused on reasons for embracing the chill and the positives that can come of it. Yet the climate of Europe is varied, and as well as presenting the whole wrath of winter-based wonderments, the temperate south of the continent offers plenty of scope for escaping the chill.
The last Monday in January is often touted as being the most depressing day in the whole of the year and, as such, has been bestowed with the wonderfully alliterative moniker Blue Monday. What better way to combat this then expose your skin to some sun and kick-start your body’s production of serotonin – a hormone that helps control the feeling of happiness which increases when you are exposed to sunlight – than enjoying a break in the south of France, Spain or Greece.
If you have been inspired by this article, or alternatively have embarked on a winter tour of Europe yourself, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.