Europe blog and travel tips

Winter holidays in Europe

January 10, 2011 (Last Updated: May 18, 2020)
by Carolyn
Zurich in winter

For many Australians, the chance to experience a white Christmas is something we dream of.

With childhood memories of snowy Christmas scenes in movies, Christmas cards featuring snowmen and Bing Crosby singing “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”, it’s no wonder that a wintery Christmas is an alluring thought.

But even if you can’t make it to Europe for Christmas, just being there in winter offers a uniquely different experience to that of a summer holiday.

Winter holidays in Europe
Bled, Slovenia. Image © Kavita / Dollar Photo Club

If you’re heading to France, Paris’ magical streets become even more special with the twinkling of fairy lights, giant Christmas trees, decorated shop windows and Christmas markets.

The markets are a great place to finish (or start!) your Christmas shopping with typically French goods in abundance.

And speaking of shopping, the department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are not to be missed. Not only can you shop ‘til you drop, you can also check out the amazing food halls and take in a 360-degree view of Paris from a panoramic terrace.

Winter is a great time to visit Paris’ museums, too, as fewer crowds mean less queuing and more time to stand and gaze at the world’s best art exhibits. And indoors it’s nice and warm.

Galeries Lafayette, Paris
Paris’ Galeries Lafayette is always beautiful decorated for Christmas

While the banks of the Seine become Paris Plage (beach) in summer, in winter time ice skating takes pride of place. A giant rink is erected outside Hotel de Ville (the town hall) where Parisians and visitors alike can test their skill on ice.

If ice skating’s not a big enough adrenalin rush for you, why not head south to the French Alps. World famous ski resorts such as Chamonix and Val d’Isere offer skiers some of the best runs in the world and the après ski activities aren’t bad either!

Some of France’s near neighbours provide lots of winter entertainment, too. Germany’s Christmas markets are famous the world over and draw visitors from far and wide, and whilst opening hours are shorter, snowy backdrops make attractions like Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle just like a scene from a fairytale.

Austria, too, has its share of Christmas markets and the country’s capital, Vienna, goes into festive overdrive in December and January with a host of traditional balls, operas and concerts to enjoy.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria
Neuschwanstein Castle (photo courtesy Bayern Tourismus)

And like France, Austria and Switzerland, too, are home to ski runs to suit every level of skier. Snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes are picture postcard scenes that will have you pinching yourself to believe it is real!

Switzerland‘s cities and villages also have their share of Christmas markets and fun festive activities. Why not enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride, join in the carols with Zurich’s singing Christmas tree or watch Santa Claus fly above you over Lake Geneva?

For a real chocolate-box scene, why not head south to Slovenia and the gorgeous lakeside village of Bled?

Just an hour or so from both the Austrian and Italian borders, Bled is the ideal place to experience a winter wonderland. The lake, which freezes in winter, features its own tiny island, complete with pretty church, and a centuries old castle on its shore.

Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled, Slovenia (photo courtesy Albatross Travel)

A treat for the whole family would be a visit to Lapland, the home of Santa Claus. Imagine the kids’ surprise when they meet the man himself or take a look inside his workshop – that kind of experience doesn’t come along too often.

Another unique experience that the kids (and Mum and Dad) will enjoy is a sleigh ride behind a reindeer. A Christmas in Lapland is something the whole family will cherish forever.

If cruising is your preferred mode of transport, Europe offers an abundance of cruising options. Whilst the choice of cruises is certainly reduced in winter, there is still the opportunity to enjoy a river or Mediterranean cruise at this time of year.

Temperatures will definitely be cooler in the Med in winter, but cruising is still a fantastic, relaxing way to travel.

Another way to take in the winter sights without the hassle is on an escorted tour. A number of companies offer White Christmas tours, designed to showcase the best of Europe in winter to travellers. Many of these tours are slow-paced and often spend three or four nights over Christmas in a unique location such as an Italian castle.

With someone else worrying about the driving, the accommodation bookings, the entrance fees, etc, all that’s left for you to do is sit back and enjoy the ride!

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Snow adds a picturesque touch to the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

So next time you are planning a holiday to Europe, why not consider travelling in winter? Crowds are fewer, prices are generally lower, and your long-held dream of a white Christmas could finally come true.