Everyone dreams of seeing Europe covered in a blanket of snow, of visiting the famous Christmas markets in each prominent city. For myself, I was more than willing to brave the frigid weather if it meant I could experience a European Christmas atmosphere. For the most part, visiting Europe during Christmas was as magical as I had imagined, however, there were drawbacks. This week I want to discuss some of the issues you will encounter in Europe over the Christmas period.
The first myth I wish to dispel is the one involving crowds. There is no doubt that Europe is overcrowded during the warmer months. It is then said that winter is the better time to visit if you are not fond of crowds. In my experience, I would agree, mostly. However, Europe is still very much a tourist hub during the colder months. After all, there are people just like you, who wish to experience the continent at Christmas. Italy, especially, will remain overcrowded, for the simple fact that Italy can be quite warm in comparison to the rest of Europe. If you are visiting Italy, you can expect to have a great amount of sunny days (which is perfect for exploring).
Next I want to discuss outfits. Anywhere you find an article on winter travel, they recommend layering. This is exactly what you should do for though it will be bitterly cold in the elements, every building you enter will have their heaters up unbearably high. If you have layers, you can simply remove the most bulky ones to enable your body a measure of comfort. Be warned, however, that no matter what you think, wearing those thick coats and layers is not flattering on anyone. I found that I looked like a big, black marshmallow and felt like one.
Winter is actually considered the slow season to most any place you visit (except, of course, snow-related activity). As such, you will need to prepare yourself for the reality of many attractions being closed. Most of the major attractions tend to be open, if only for a portion of the day, however the lesser known ones will likely be closed for refurbishment. I would advise you to research the attractions you want to see and make sure they will be open when you are there. You may be disappointed otherwise.
As to the actual week surrounding Christmas, you can expect an amazing array of Christmas spirit and festivities. Christmas markets will be everywhere and super busy, as both locals and tourists gather to shop. On Christmas eve, however, you will find that the city shuts down mid-afternoon. Why is this? Well, in European culture, Christmas eve is the major family celebration. They all gather for Christmas eve dinner and basically drink and be merry. Christmas day is more of a recuperation day. As such, you will need to plan to spend these days either travelling or relaxing. Your meals may become an issue, too, as I was being quite literal when I said the city shuts down. I couldn’t find anything open in Budapest after 3 p.m.
So there you have it. A few tips to keep in mind when planning a Christmas trip to Europe. Don’t let these put a damper on your excitement, however. Europe is absolutely stunning in winter (even with those awful temperatures!). I find it’s just always best to be prepared for every aspect of your journey. I also want to point out that yes, no one told me about these (not my travel agent, not Topdeck and not my tour leader). I was totally unprepared for what awaited me in Europe. I have endeavoured to ensure others don’t face the same problem. I hope this short post has been helpful!