Many Australians are keen to experience a European winter but are unsure whether travelling at this time of year is a good idea. If chilly temperatures, snowstorms and shorter opening hours of many attractions are putting you off visiting Europe over winter, don’t let these things stop you. Having travelled in Europe during winter, I can recommend it as a great time to visit and these tips should help you to be prepared and to get the most out this wonderful experience.
- In many countries it is compulsory to have your vehicle fitted with winter tyres from December to March (inclusive). Check with your rental company that winter tyres are included in the hire price if renting during this period. If not, you may have to pay an additional fee for winter tyres on collection of your vehicle.
- Major roads and autobahns, as well as city streets, are reguarly cleared of snow by snow ploughs but extra care should always be taken when travelling in wet, snowy and icy conditions.
- If you are at all apprehensive about driving in Europe during winter, I recommend you hire an automatic vehicle - not having to change gears is one less thing to have to think about.
Travelling by train
- Europe is well-known for its fantastic rail network but in particularly bad weather conditions services can be disrupted. Make sure you allow for some flexibility in your itinerary in case of delays.
- If your rail journey requires a change of train en-route, allow plenty of time to transfer from one train to the next. Platforms can be snow-covered - and very slippery - so transferring from one platform to another can take longer than usual.
- In most European cities the major tourist attractions remain open over the winter season, albeit often with shortened opening hours. The website of the attraction/s you want to visit will show you opening times for when you plan to visit so you can organise your sightseeing accordingly. Winter is often a really good time to visit some attractions as crowds are often smaller and therefore, queues shorter.
- Once you get into rural Europe, though, many attractions will be closed for the winter months. If you are travelling to a regional area, again, visit the tourist association's website and check out opening hours for places you want to visit. That way, you won't be disappointed if you get there and find out that longed-for visit to the local attraction is not possible.
What to pack
- One of my biggest tips for deciding what to pack when travelling to Europe in winter is to layer, layer, layer. Shops, restaurants and museums are well-heated and as soon as you enter you'll be stripping off clothes. Wear clothes on top that are easy to remove, or if your coat is super-warm, only wear a couple of light layers underneath. You'll be surprised how few clothes you need to wear indoors so once you've removed your coat, gloves, scarf and hat, you'll probably be warm enough inside with just a light jumper or sweatshirt and long pants.
- Thermals are great for for this reason. Don't dismiss thermals as being just for skiing trips - they are fantastic for layering and reduce the amount of other clothes you need to wear. And even though they might remind you of grandma, consider taking a pair of thermal long johns - I swear by mine in winter.
- Hats really do make a difference when you are outdoors - it's amazing how much warmer you feel when your ears are warm - so grab a beanie or woollen hat and wear it outside. Whilst we might associate woolly hats with skiing and football games in Australia, in Europe you'll see the locals wearing them whenever they are outside - to work, going shopping or out to dinner. You definitely won't be the odd one out if you're wearing a warm hat.
- Scarves (the woollen variety) and gloves, are a must. They are easy to carry, quick to put on or take off and great for added warmth. Scarves can also add a bit of that European chic to an outfit - an added bonus!
- Sturdy, waterproof shoes or boots are also an essential item. Rain, snow and ice can make footpaths slippery and wet so put up with the extra bulk of carrying them to the other side of the world and make sure suitable footwear is the first item you pack. And don't forget warm socks. I love Explorer socks that we can buy in Australia and always have a few pairs with me.
- A warm, waterproof coat is another 'must have' item. Again, the bulkiness can make it a nuisance to pack so why not carry it onboard the flight with you (it might come in handy as a blanket if you get cold on the flight!) if your suitcase is already stretching its limits? Or even better, buy a coat that's not too bulky but is wind and waterproof? If you stick to the layering method, you'll still be plenty warm enough.
- Despite the extra bulk of carrying a coat and sturdy shoes, a winter holiday in Europe is well worth the effort. The beautiful wintery scenes are something we're not used to in Australia and they'll leave a lasting impression.
Do you have some tips for travelling Europe during winter? I'd love you to share them in the comments box below.