Have you been dreaming of a European adventure but the prices in the summer put you off and the your only chance for time off is the winter time? Don’t fret. The one good thing about Europe is every season offers a completely different experience and winter is no exception. Think of strolling the streets with no summer crowds, charming Christmas markets, mulled hot wine, and snowy Alps – it’s definitely not bad at all. As a Kenyan or tropical person, travelling at this time of year brings with it its own unique set of challenges which can really make or break your trip depending on how prepared you are. Third time is a charm and after trying it 3 times in France, Germany and The Netherlands I think I have learned a thing or two. The below guide should enable you to enjoy your European Winter travel.
1. Enjoy the solitude In the streets
This is the main appeal in travelling the winter since during the summer months, Europe is bursting to the seams with travelers from around the world wanting to experience the European summer. As the sun fades and the cold air replaces it, the numbers reduce. In the winter, you will have shorter queues at museums and attractions. Most attractions will remain open throughout the year but will change their hours of operation so remember to check for this before you visit.
2. Time your visit over Christmas
There are many reasons to travel over the Christmas period but in Europe this is doubled. The month of December will have most cities sprawled out with Christmas markets where you can stroll in the cold buying souvenirs, keeping warm with hot mulled wine and over towering Christmas trees. Christmas also comes with good food from Stroopwafels (syrup waffle) and olIebollen (oil pastry) in Netherlands; Speculoos (cinnamon biscuits) in Brussels; potato-anchovy casserole in Stockholm or Christmas pudding with a twist in Copenhagen. There’s a wealth of culinary delights on offer during the Christmas period.
3. Pack Wisely
Let’s be honest here, if unprepared with proper winter gear, you could possibly have a miserable time during your winter vacation. For example, what in Kenya we dress in during our “winter” season is what you would need in spring or autumn in Europe. There are 2 ways that you could go wrong with you packing list. The more critical one is under packing and having items that will not protect you from the cold air and strong winter wind and rain. To ensure you will not have frozen fingers and toes during your entire trip, here are key items you really can’t go without:-
• Warm, waterproof boots (Ideally fur lined with a thick sole)
• Thermal layers
• Thick socks
• Insulating jacket
• Outwear jacket
The other mistake could be over packing and carrying way too many warm clothes that cannot be layered. This will lead you looking like a boiled potato the entire time and awkwardly seating in you not so cute tee while indoors.
4. The Indoors are warm
This was the biggest misconception I had on my first winter trip. In Kenya the temperatures inside and outside are in most cases the same and so was expecting to always need my outwear even indoors. Insulation in Europe is seriously good and you’ll always be nice and toasty. Actually, as soon as you step inside, you’ll want to strip off all your layers because it’s so warm. For this reason wear something nice on the inside and layer up so that you can take off or put on the layers as needed. Restaurants, trains, bars will all be quite warm.
5. Remember, the days are shorter
Another thing to take into consideration when planning your winter European trip is the short days. In the middle of winter, the sun rises late and sets early so you can’t quite cram as much into your day as you’d be able to in summer. Of course, the further north you go, the shorter the days are. In Amsterdam for example, the sun can rise as late as 8:41 am and set as early as 3:59 pm in December. You’ve really got to make the most of every hour of the day!
6. Minimize your time outdoors
I normally love exploring Europe on foot which is normally a great experience. However, in the winter time it’s not the best idea to be out in the elements for hours on end. With the cold weather, your energy levels are not as high and it is not advisable to push it- being sick in a hotel room is no one’s idea of a great vacation. If you still want to get around by foot, consider a good mixing of walking with several stops at cafes of bars for some hot chocolate or ghluwein (hot mulled wine). This will keep you warm, reenergize you and enable you to experience different style of bars and cafes. A lot of cities in Europe also have great public transport networks, so make use of them to get around avoiding the chill as much as possible.
7. Find a Winter Wonderland
If it is your first winter in Europe and you are keen to have the “White Christmas” experience, then find the closest alps to you and head to the slopes. The snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes and charming alpine villages combine to create a scene straight out of a snow globe. If you are feeling sporty, rent some skis and explore the slopes like a pro or a wannabee pro. If you are anything like me who would be more inclined to tumble down the slopes, get a good bar with a good view and enjoy it all from a fair distance ha-ha. While I was in the Netherlands the nearest winter wonderland was Winterberg which was a 4 hour drive. We got a nice cozy hotel to stay a nearby village as hotels in winter wonderland tend to be rather expensive.
Nothing brings out the child in you when you experience something totally new for the first time. It may have taken 3 decades for me to have my Snow experience but it would not have been any more perfect.
8. Take Advantage of the Active Opportunities
It is tempting (and wonderful) to want to curl up in front of a log fire wearing a cozy Christmas jumper but to do this day in day out is going to be a huge waste of travel. Look out of the window if locals are getting about with their daily lives then get out and get moving. Grab a pair of skates and try your luck at ice skating in the many skating rinks in the cities or go for a brisk walk in a forest or beach. A key way to stay warm is to keep moving and keep active.
9. Carry More than One Outerwear Jacket
Unless you have no problem with having all your photos from your 2 – 3 weeks’ vacation looking like you only had one outfit, I highly suggest carrying at least two different jackets and several scarves, gloves and accessories to make your outfits look different without packing too much.
All in all if you get a chance to explore Europe in the winter do not let the bad weather stop you.
Love & Light,