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Photo: edgaa

Take advantage of off-season in the world’s most visited places.
1. Fewer tourists

When my family took a vacation to Europe, it was in summer. It was summer again three years later when I returned for a Eurail-powered backpacking trip.

I know I’m not alone in equating European travel with the June-August high season. Guaranteed a good chunk of the 460 million international visitors in 2009 landed in summer.

This, to me, is the best reason to break out and choose winter.

2. Cheaper rates

A natural consequence of reason 1, and it applies to everything from the airfare over to hotels and rail tickets on the ground (though probably not around Christmas/New Year).

According to Rick Steves, discounts are largest in small towns and areas highly dependent on tourism (assuming they haven’t shut down completely). Metropolises with healthy commercial centers don’t have to try as hard to attract clientele.

Check out the post 5 travel deals for Fall and Winter travel to Europe for some ideas on how to save.

Photo: LenDog64

3. Markets and festivals

Last year we published a piece on Where to Find the Best Christmas Markets in Europe. These street markets are set up all over the continent during December in a tradition that goes back to the 1400s, and they’re well known among local and regional tourists.

Other annual events held in the cold include Carnival (late February), the Dublin International Film Festival (late February), and the Kiruna Snow Festival (late January).

4. Atmosphere

Snowflakes falling in front of a back-lit Eiffel Tower. Icicles hanging from the eaves of a Bavarian B&B. The muffled crunch of tires on snowed-over roads in central Oslo or Warsaw or Amsterdam.

Being from south Texas, I appreciate the magic a real winter has in it. I’d love to see Europe through that lens.

5. Winter sports

Several of our Top 10 International Ski Mountains to Hit in 2010 were in Europe.

The continent gave names to both alpine and nordic ski disciplines. Snowboarding is less popular than in the States but well established (my brother-in-law is riding Saint Sorlin D’Arves as I write this).

Then there’s snowkiting, snowshoeing, ice fishing, extreme sledding, and ice racing.

Check out Ski Europe for mountain package deals.

6. Indoor attractions

Europe is rich in “indoor culture” (museums, art galleries, palaces, cathedrals). These heated, well-lit spaces are pretty appealing when the sun sets at 3 and temperatures hover around freezing (though hours may be curtailed off-season). Theaters and concert halls tend to put on more performances during winter as well.

Or, if the day is particularly nasty, spend it guilt free in the pub, such as those Matador Nights has profiled in Stockholm, Hamburg, and Reykjavik.

7. The aurora

Darker days mean more opportunities to see the Northern Lights. You’ll need to be in northern Scandinavia to have a fair shot, though Scotland gets hit with relative frequency too.

Check out The Northern Lights: Best Places to See Them in Europe, Canada & Alaska for more info.

8. The temperate south

For destinations like the Canary Islands, Crete, Cyprus, Sicily, and the southern regions of Italy, France, Spain, and Greece, winter can be the best time to visit weather-wise.

For example, Athens sees 50- and 60-degree days Dec-Feb, whereas summer easily pushes over 100. Maybe a little chilly for a swim, but there’s no worry of heatstroke at the Acropolis.

9. Ice hotels

Every winter in northern Scandinavia, a handful of tourist accommodations are built up from the ice. Everything from buildings to beds to shot glasses are carefully carved from the frozen blocks.

The result is something unique, and you can see shots in Igloos, Castles, Sewage Pipes, and Survival Pods: The World’s 9 Weirdest Hotels.

Photo: bjaglin

Matador Goods editor Lola Akinmade shares what she knows about ice hotels in Discovering the Real Scandinavia Off-Season.

10. Winter cuisine

The realities of life during northern-latitude winters have spawned a number of traditional cold-weather dishes throughout Europe.

In Switzerland and parts of France, there’s raclette and fondue, both of which are based around warmed cheese. Germans like to break out the venison when it gets cold, and roasted chestnuts are a vendor staple at Christmas markets.

Mulled wine is a traditional hot drink in many countries and is served in these London bars.

Community Connection

Tell us what reasons YOU’ve found for traveling Europe off-season.

Trip Planning


About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • Kathy

    Let’s go!

  • Lisa

    Thanks So much for this article. My younger sister and I are doing a Eurotrip late Jan. Your article could not have been timed better.


    • Hal Amen

      Thanks for your words, Lisa. Have a blast, and don’t forget to come back and add any winter travel tips you pick up!

  • Ann

    Interesting article. I really love Europe and there’s certainly less tourists in the wintertime unless you’re headed down to the “temperate south”…here’s just a bit of extra info…

    Christmas Market Season begins mid-November to slightly after New Year’s and there’s always plenty of tourists in Europe from that point on until mid January. If you go somewhere like Hamburg, hotels will be cheaper a wee bit before New Year’s. But really, Christmas markets get really old and so does cold glühwein which starts tasting like Robitussin after a while. But it’s all worth going & experiencing — at least once. Kartoffelpuffers + apple sauce can be addicting.

    I love indoor attractions in Europe and it never gets old. But after a few (and a few days) it gets pretty pricey! We usually pay around 10 euros per museum, unless there’s a tourism card available. The Amsterdam card is the best one, so far. I was slightly disappointed with the Copenhagen Card and sorely disappointed with the Barcelona Card.

    Carnival is fantastic. Just be aware that regional trains can be a nightmare during Carnival, so go into it knowing you won’t be too comfortable — but it’s worth the fun.

    The temperate south is really expensive over winter holidays, as most of Europe heads down there. Las Palmas, Mallorca, Ibiza, you name it. Be careful though, there are less ferries around the Greek isles during winter so plan accordingly.

    Wait. Have you seen the price for a night at an ice hotel? If you can afford that, then I think you can afford pretty much anything. I think it’d be cheaper going to Harbin (in China) instead.

    • Hal Amen

      Thanks for fleshing these out, Ann.

  • Sophie

    Great article, Hal. I recommend visiting Svalbard in winter as well. Spotting polar bears and dog-sledding through the long, polar night is magical.

    • Hal Amen

      Sounds perfect, Sophie!

  • Bill Martin

    I am planning to travel Europe from January to March. I think it might be a exciting trip to go into winter. Thanks for your great article. 
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  • Masai Mara Marathon

    Wow!! Beautiful pics! Well, I’m sure the weather in Western Europe is a lot milder than Ottawa, Canada. :-)

  • Maks

    This is the great post! In fact winter travels are very interesting and memorizing. The only one thing I want to add: do not forget about your safety during winter travel. Prepare for your winter travel before travel. Take relevant clothes, footwear, first aid kit. It is very useful to learn to recognize signs of frostbite and to apply simple first aid measures. Be prepared and enjoy your travel!

  • Jbgbrt

    Great story you have here! I have also seen alot here:

  • Hilmar

    Great post! My hint: all around the Lake of Constance is the secrecret tipp for winter travelling: Skiing in the alps, dinner in Konstanz and Party in Zürich, famous museum not only in art and churches: Zeppelin Museum, Dornier Museum, Rolls Royce Museum ande several vintage car spots. 3 countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, in 1h distance, 5 in 2,5 +France and Italy). My highlight: travelling by train in the snowy landscape

  • Belinda_regina

    nice info ,ill go to Europe in Winter 2012 (from Indonesia)

  • villa pollensa

    I am willing to plan my trip to Europe in winter but i am little confused to plan my trip in summer or winter..After reviewing this post i will surely plan my trip in winter now..

  • cidpa

    I would agree with some of listed advantages to travel to Europe in the winter: points 2 (if you want to save money on travel ) and 5 (if you like winter sports).
    Otherwise, there is nothing to do in Europe in the winter.   

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  • Rethymno Port Car Hire

    Each summer Europe opens doors ideal for the hordes of tourists. Basically, all these people are going to face the most expensive travel rates at the peak of the season in Europe. This blog is going to explain some of the reasons for taking a trip to Europe during the winter can also be magic. With a lot of wonderful winter sports available, comfortable atmosphere inside the attractions of indoor and festivals in a big winter there are plenty of reasons to head to Europe as Jack Frost infanticide.

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