Europe seems like the perfect place to take a vacation during the summer months. With beautiful beaches, gorgeous villages, and incredible sights to explore, it is no wonder why many focus on the warmer months for their travel plans.
When the winter season set in, Europe begins to transform. Gelato is traded in for a warm seasonal soup. The lines for many of the primary attractions you’ll want to see begin to evaporate until they completely disappear. Even restaurants suddenly have tables available for you.
Of course, you should bring plenty of warm clothes so that you can dress in layers when you decide to experience Europe in the winter. Here are, however, winter travel tips for visiting Europe for you to consider as you prepare for one of the most magical trips of your life.
Table of Contents
- Top Winter Travel Tips for Europe
- Purchase travel insurance
- Get a Eurail Pass
- Check the Weather Forecast
- Pack comfy shoes
- Understand that everything takes longer in the winter
- Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
- Always Back a Hat, Gloves, & a Scarf
- Always Have Some Loose Change or Cash Available
- Bring Along Skin Care Essentials
- Use Travel Backpacks or Bags That Come Across the Shoulders
- Know what is and isn’t open during the off-season
- Take cabs to and from the airport
- Make sure you visit the Christmas markets
- Don’t freak out about snow days and airport delays
- Try something new, even if it means freezing your butt off
- Dress warmly (but not too warmly)
- Plan ahead when traveling to Europe in the winter.
- What to Pack for Europe in Winter
- Traveling around Europe in winter
- Traveling by train in Europe
- Traveling by car in Europe
- Best Places to Visit in Europe in Winter
- 1. Innsbruck, Austria
- 2. Prague, Czech Republic
- 3. Lapland, Finland
- 4. Dresden, Germany
- 5. Reykjavik, Iceland
- Is it worth it to go to Europe in winter?
- What is the weather like in Europe in winter?
- What are the best winter destinations in Europe?
- What are the best things to do in Europe in winter?
Top Winter Travel Tips for Europe
Purchase travel insurance
You need to purchase travel insurance before you book your tickets or step foot out the door, to make sure you’re properly insured for your trip.
Travel insurance will protect you from any mishaps that may occur while you’re abroad, from lost luggage to canceled flights and more. Trust us, it’s worth the peace of mind.
We like using World Nomads for travel insurance since they have the best coverage options for the best possible price. Otherwise, if you’d like to use a search function, use TravelInsurance.com to find the best possible plan that meets your travel needs.
Get a Eurail Pass
If you’re planning on doing a lot of travel within Europe, then we recommend getting a Eurail pass. This will give you access to most (if not all) of the train systems in Europe and can save you a ton of money if used correctly.
Just make sure to do your research before buying a pass, as there are different types of passes for different areas.
Check the Weather Forecast
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s worth mentioning! The weather can change quickly in Europe, especially in the mountains, so make sure you know what to expect before you leave.
If you’re traveling by train, keep in mind that delays are common in the winter. Check the schedule before you leave and build in some extra time just in case.
Pack comfy shoes
The most important thing to remember when you’re traveling in a winter wonderland is to pack comfy shoes. You’ll want to make sure that your feet are covered from head to toe with warm socks and a hat, scarf, coat, and gloves (you can’t forget those).
If all else fails, just throw on some snow boots!
Understand that everything takes longer in the winter
The first thing to understand about traveling in Europe during the winter is that everything will take longer. This is because the weather is colder and wetter, which means you might have to deal with heavier rain, sleet, and snowfall.
If you’re traveling by train or bus expect delays if your route takes you through snowy mountain passes or over slick roads.
When planning your trip it’s important to take into account all these factors so that you can properly plan how long each part of your journey will take – especially if it involves public transport!
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
In any city, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, but this is especially true in Europe during the winter. With shorter days and longer nights, there are more opportunities for criminals to take advantage of tourists who are not paying attention.
Always Back a Hat, Gloves, & a Scarf
Traveling in Europe during the winter is all about maintaining your body heat relative to the cold that is surrounding it. That’s why a hat is a must-have piece of fashion for any cold weather trip throughout the continent.
Adding gloves and a scarf for those blustery days will help to further ward off the cold, while also allowing you to express your unique style every day. On warmer days, the gloves and scarf simply slip into a day bag that you’ve likely brought along anyway.
Always Have Some Loose Change or Cash Available
On a cold, blustery day when the wind is biting at your skin, nothing soothes that feeling of cold better than a nice warm drink. From coffee to hot chocolate or something stronger, if you prefer, there are often vendors outside the sights and attractions that have the perfect drink that can warm you up.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to grab a small cup or bowl of soup! Many vendors require physical money, which is why you should always keep a little extra in a pocket somewhere.
Bring Along Skin Care Essentials
The cold breezes of Europe during the winter are famous for creating chapped lips and dry skin. Leave those conditions untreated for more than a day or two and your pleasant winter European trip will take a turn toward misery.
Don’t forget your sunscreen too! Just because the weather has turned colder doesn’t mean that you won’t get a sunburn on a clear winter day.
Use Travel Backpacks or Bags That Come Across the Shoulders
There are two reasons to use these types of bags instead of a traditional purse or satchel. First, they provide a better level of security as you travel because they are more difficult to grab on a pass.
Secondly, they keep your hands free so you can shove them into your pockets if need be. Free hands are also more suited to carrying a hot cappuccino.
Know what is and isn’t open during the off-season
The off-season is a great time to travel in Europe because you can get around much more easily and cheaply, but it also means that some things may be closed.
The good news is that most museums are open year-round (many even have free admission on Sundays), and they’re often your best option for indoor entertainment during the cold months. Just be sure to check ahead of time so you know what days they’re open and when their hours change.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities and attractions in winter, keep in mind that many parks will close down once temperatures drop below freezing or snow starts falling.
This includes roller coasters as well as ice rinks; so if your trip falls between December and March, consider booking tickets for Easter instead!
Restaurants won’t stop serving just because it’s cold outside; however, many of them will close early by 6 or 7 p.m.—especially those located near touristy areas like Prague’s Old Town Square (where we recommend eating).
One thing all restaurants have going for them: They tend not to close on holidays such as Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve—so make reservations early!
Take cabs to and from the airport
The first thing you need to do is find a taxi. If you’re in a major European city, this should be easy enough—just look for an official taxi stand with an “information” window and flag one down when it’s free. The cabs will already know where they’re going, so they’ll get you there faster than public transport would.
You may have heard that cabs are more expensive than public transportation (and they are), but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks—you don’t have to worry about making connections or leaving yourself enough time for unexpected delays on the train or bus.
Plus, since taxis are private cars with professional drivers who are skilled at navigating busy streets, they can get you from A to B without losing any time—and since there’s no need to transfer between trains or buses, getting from point A (the airport) to point B (your final destination) takes less time overall.
Make sure you visit the Christmas markets
Christmas markets are a must-do activity when visiting Europe in the winter. These festive markets typically pop up in town squares and sell all sorts of Christmas goodies, from ornaments to food.
Wander the stalls, do some people-watching, and enjoy the holiday atmosphere! Just be careful not to drink too much Glühwein (mulled wine) or you may end up taking a nap under the Christmas tree.
There is plenty of great winter destinations in Europe that are filled with holiday cheer and excellent Christmas lights. Germany is the most well-known country that has excellent Christmas markets. However, nearly every city center in Europe has a Christmas market in the winter season.
Don’t freak out about snow days and airport delays
Don’t freak out about snow days and airport delays. Airlines are prepared for the occasional winter storm, and they know how to deal with them. If your plane is delayed or canceled due to weather in Europe, there’s no need to panic—they’ll make sure you get where you’re going as soon as possible.
Airports also have their baggage handlers for these situations; instead of packing your bags on an airplane ramp with other passengers, which can be an intimidating experience if you’ve never done it before, baggage handlers will take care of your luggage until you arrive at the airport terminal again.
You might even find yourself enjoying some unexpected time away from home (who knew airports were so fun?).
The bottom line is that while travel can always be stressful sometimes, there’s no reason why it has to be when traveling in winter conditions.
Try something new, even if it means freezing your butt off
One of the best ways to get a feel for a new place is by trying something you’ve never done before. Whether it’s a food you haven’t tasted, an activity that’s new to you, or even a different way of traveling—go with it.
You’ll have fun, make memories, and maybe even meet some locals who will show you some hidden gems (and they’ll appreciate your willingness to try something new).
Do not miss out on the opportunity to sample authentic dishes while abroad. If there are local specialties in your area, go out and try them! Street food is generally cheaper than sit-down restaurants but just as delicious—you might find some of the tastiest bites of your winter trip here.
You can find things like hiking trails or ski resorts around Europe during the winter months if the weather permits. This can be an amazing way for friends or family members with varying interests to enjoy each other’s company without being bored by what everyone else does all day long (or night).
Dress warmly (but not too warmly)
As the people of Europe know, winter is no reason to stay indoors. It’s a great time to visit because the weather will be cooler than in summer and there are fewer crowds.
But if you’re traveling during December or January, it’s important to dress warmly—not too warmly—and prepare yourself for unpredictable temperatures.
Plan ahead when traveling to Europe in the winter.
Planning ahead is key to a successful trip, and winter is no exception. Not only does it allow you to better prepare for the elements, but it also allows you to have more fun and enjoy your trip more.
So what are some ways that planning ahead can help?
Here are some tips on why planning ahead is so crucial for your next winter trip to Europe.
- You’ll know where you’re going: Planning your route in advance will not only let you check out any must-see sights or activities along the way, but it will also give you a chance to research local restaurants and activities along the way.
- You’ll be able to find great deals on hotels: Many travel sites offer discounted rates for traveling in Europe in winter because fewer tourists are traveling at this time of year—so book early! And don’t forget about Airbnb or VRBO. If there are no hotels available in your destination city (or if they’re too expensive), consider booking a private room through Airbnb so that all of your accommodation needs are taken care of without having to worry about finding somewhere else later on down the road (or worse—getting stuck somewhere).
- You won’t get lost: As someone who has been known for getting lost even when familiar with their surroundings (I blame my poor sense of direction), planning helps me avoid wandering around aimlessly looking for something I might never see again or taking an unnecessary detour through unknown territory just because it looked interesting.
What to Pack for Europe in Winter
Packing light in winter travel may seem oxymoronic – because winter wear is heavy – but it’s possible. Winter travel is surprisingly lovely since everyone is in a good mood, the scenery is gorgeous, and there are festive lights and decorations everywhere.
First, make a packing list of everything you think you’ll need for your trip. Once you have that list, go through and remove anything that isn’t essential – remember, you can always buy things if you need them!
Then, start layering. Pack items that you can wear in multiple combinations, like a cardigan that goes over a dress or a pair of pants that can be worn with a variety of tops.
Finally, make sure you have the right outerwear. A good coat is essential, as are gloves, a hat, and a scarf. Boots are great for snow, but make sure they’re comfortable enough to walk in for long periods.
Traveling around Europe in winter
Most people who don’t want to take an accompanying tour of Europe will travel by car or train. Both means of transport have advantages and disadvantages; below are the main considerations when planning your travel to Europe during the cold months of the year.
Traveling by train in Europe
Rail systems in Europe are highly regarded, but service outages can occur at any time of year during extremely bad weather.
Make it easier to modify your itinerary so you don’t get caught up in the rush hour traffic. When traveling on rails necessitates a train change, allot enough time to complete the transfer. Because platforms may be snowbound and slippery, give yourself extra time to reach your train.
Traveling by car in Europe
Driving in Europe is on the whole similar to driving in North America but there are a few key differences. The biggest factor to consider is that you will be driving on the right side of the road in most European countries. This can take some getting used to, so be extra cautious when you first start driving.
Another difference is that many European cities have what is called “limited traffic zones” or “environmental zones.” These are areas of the city where only cars with special permits are allowed to drive. If you plan on driving into one of these areas, make sure your rental car has the proper permit.
See Related: Best Winter Travel Clothes
Best Places to Visit in Europe in Winter
When planning a winter vacation in Europe, there are a number of destinations to choose from. Below are some of the best places to visit in Europe during the winter months.
1. Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck is a beautiful city located in the Austrian Alps. During the winter, the city is covered in a blanket of snow, making it the perfect place to go for a winter getaway. There are a number of activities to keep you busy in Innsbruck, including skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and paragliding.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Innsbruck, Austria.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a stunning city that comes alive during the winter months. The city is decorated with festive lights and there is a feeling of happiness in the air. There are a number of Christmas markets to explore, as well as a number of excellent restaurants and bars.
It’s a great place for a European winter vacation as you’ll get a chance to experience both the Christmas market as well as the New Year’s Eve celebration which is one of the best in all of Europe.
If this sounds like a great place for you, check out these best things to do in Prague with kids.
3. Lapland, Finland
Lapland is the perfect place to visit if you want to experience a true winter wonderland. This region of Finland is home to Santa Claus Village, as well as several other festive attractions. During the winter months, you can also go dog sledding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
If you’re looking to see the Northern Lights, Lapland is the place to go. The Northern Lights can be seen from late September to early April, and Lapland is one of the best places to view them.
4. Dresden, Germany
Dresden is a beautiful city located in eastern Germany. The city is known for its Baroque architecture and stunning Christmas markets. There are many things to do in Dresden. It is also home to several museums and art galleries, making it the perfect place to visit for a winter city break.
The Dresden Christmas market is one of the best in Europe because it offers a unique experience that can’t be found in other markets. The market is set in the heart of the historic city center and features several beautiful buildings that are lit up during the holiday season.
The Dresden Christmas market is also one of the largest in Europe, with over 200 stalls selling a variety of goods. You’ll find everything from traditional German Christmas decorations to handmade gifts and local delicacies.
5. Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The city is located close to several natural attractions, such as the Blue Lagoon and Thingvellir National Park. Reykjavik is also a great place to see the Northern Lights and enjoy the Aurora Borealis tour.
See Related: Best Travel Gifts for Backpackers
Whether you’re planning a trip to see the Christmas markets or you’re hitting the slopes for some world-class skiing, Europe is a great destination in winter. Keep these winter travel tips in mind to make sure your trip is smooth and enjoyable.
Winter in Europe is truly a magical time of year. It should be experienced at least once! If this is to be your year, then keep these winter travel tips in mind as you finalize your winter travel plans in Europe.
Is it worth it to go to Europe in winter?
Yes, it is worth it to go to Europe in winter. While many of the primary attractions are closed during this time, the cities are quiet and relatively inexpensive. You can also enjoy cozy experiences that aren’t available during the summer months.
What is the weather like in Europe in winter?
In terms of weather, December is the finest time to visit Europe during the Winter Wonderland holidays. December temperatures range between 0 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius depending on the location.
What are the best winter destinations in Europe?
Several great European cities are ideally suited for a winter trip, including Prague, Barcelona, Munich, and Amsterdam.
What are the best things to do in Europe in winter?
There are several great things to do in Europe during the winter months. You can enjoy festive activities such as visiting Christmas markets, going ice skating, taking a scenic sleigh ride, cross-country skiing or visiting the Amsterdam Light Festival. You can also take advantage of the quieter tourist season by visiting some of Europe’s most popular attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum.
Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.
You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.