Looking to escape to a cosy continent where the festive feels are off the scale, where you can wrap up warm and see some of the world’s most epic sights and where you can be on the slopes one minute and in a trendy city bar the next?
Kelly Jackson, General Manager for Contiki has listed some tips to enjoy a nice winter break in Europe.
“Trust us, winter in Europe has your name written all over it. Unsure? We're pretty sure we can convince you otherwise,” she says with a giggle.
You beat the rush
If a winter in Europe wasn’t already on your bucket list then this is one deal breaker – no tourist madness. Tourists come flooding to Europe during the summer months while winter proves a far calmer time of the year, giving you the opportunity to see the sights at your own leisure without the tourist buzz you’d expect. No queues, no crowding, and no over-inflated tourist prices.
Christmas markets galore
Europe is famous for its endless cosy Christmas markets and if you’re looking for the real deal Germany, Hungary and Austria are where it’s at. There are cute stalls full with just about everything that Christmas stands for – hot chocolate, sleigh bells, gingerbread, festive music and of course a glass or two of warming glühwein. Munich and Berlin are two absolute musts if you fancy being immersed in endless sparkling markets this Christmas.
And it's the home of Santa Claus
That’s right. If you didn’t think Europe was already magical enough during winter then maybe you should take a trip to Rovaniemi, Finland – the ‘official’ residence of everyone’s favourite bearded man. At the top of the Arctic Circle you can stop in at Santa Claus’ snowy grotto and even check out the reindeers, while the Arktikum Museum gives insight into life at these latitudes. The winter season doesn’t get any more festive than this.
The skiing is epic
When it comes to skiing, the options in Europe are endless. Home to the Alps, Pyrenees and Apennine Mountains – St Anton in Austria, Val d’Isere in France, and of course Hopfgraten in Austria, are just a few of the most epic ski resorts scattered around the slopes of Europe. Expect to spend your days catching some rays and fresh mountain air whilst styling it out on the slopes. And the afternoons? Après-ski is calling. Partying it up on the powered mountains, nowhere else knows how to do skiing quite like Europe.
And so are the endless amounts of other winter sports
If skiing or snowboarding don’t take your fancy, never fear. Europe winter has a lot more to give. Snow-shoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice hockey, tobogganing and even paragliding over the glistening mountains are just some of what’s on offer. You’ll be able to find all these adventures amongst the heights of Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Sweden and France.
The Northern lights are magical
Star gazing at its finest; this is an absolute must for every traveller. Scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis, the skies come to life from late November to March and can be seen from Denmark, Scotland, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. If you’re after the best viewing spot, Abisko is going to give you some serious bragging rights. Located just about as far north as you can get in Europe, this Swedish town is known for its incredible views of the Northern Lights.
Yes it may be very cold, and very dark in the winter months (24 hours of darkness a day during January), but if you want to see the skies filled with dancing luminous pink & purple flurries this is your go to. Personally though, we still think there’s just something about seeing the lights under the Icelandic Sky that you just can’t beat…
And if you want a bit of warmth, you can get that too
Sure there are some locations replicating artic temperatures during the winter months, but you can also catch some serious rays if you’re in need of a little vitamin D. Jet off to destinations like Lisbon in Portugal, Seville in Spain, the South of France and even Rome. These cities are often blessed with very pleasant 20 degrees Celsius temperatures allowing you to soak up some sun. Cyprus, Crete, the Canary Islands and Malta are also ideal climates to see the sights and enjoy some Mediterranean food in the sunshine.
The Winter Festivals are off the hook
Summer in Europe is known for its music festivals but they really have nothing on the array of festivals the winter months treat us too. Snowboxx takes over the ski-dancing crowds in Avoriaz. Horizon festival treats us to a compilation of garage, techno and house sounds in Bulgaria. Oktoberfest starts the season off with a whole lot of beer and lederhosen in the merry city of Munich, Germany. And who can beat seeing in New Year on the streets of Edinburgh as part of the Hogmanay celebrations.
A continent full to the brim of culture – the galleries and museums dotted around Europe really are some of the best in the world. The National Portrait Gallery in London, The Louvre art gallery in Paris, The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Vatican museums in Rome are just a few of the musts. With a cool winter climate there’s no excuse not to shelter indoors and geek out at the artistic creations of our fellow humans past and present.
The winter food is truly scrumptious
Whether it's hot chocolate with marshmallows in a cosy café, enjoying a roast in a quintessentially English pub, cheese fondue on the slopes of France or sipping a large glass of red wine next to the fire, there’s nothing quite like the comfort of the wholesome food that a winter in Europe offers.