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.
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.
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).
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.
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.