My husband and I are beginning the early stages of planning a trip to Europe for 2014. The timing of the trip with jobs, children, etc works best in January/February. We are looking to incorporate France (incl. Paris) and Spain. Any experience with travel during the winter months/off-season? This will be my husbands first time to Europe. I have been to Paris, but southern France and Spain will be new. Thank you!
Not to be overly negative - BUT - it can be very cold and damp if not snowing at that time of year. The days will be very short, sunlight weak, as most of Europe is much further north (nearer the Canadian boarder) than Indiana. But if you prepare for that type of weather, focus on indoor activities, have some flexibility, you will be fine as the crowds are much smaller. And if traveling via train, ice storms can really tear up a train schedule.
We love Paris in January! Many of the outdoor cafes have clear vinyl walls & heaters so you can still sit & watch Paris go by. January is sale month - plan your shopping! There are NO lines - ANYWHERE!!!! You can walk right up to the Mona no problem. The city is not over run with tourists so it seems the Parisians are in very good spirits! Scarf, hat & gloves are a must if you plan on doing any walking in the city. A mid calf coat is also advisable - and layers - that way if it does warm up (which it can hit the 50's easily) you are still comfortable. We have been 4 times in January - only once did it snow and that was just a dusting. Don't worry and enjoy your trip!
We were in Paris first week of Feb and weather was fairly pleasant, although we did visit the Eiffel Tower during a sleet/rain/snow squall (all of those in the space of 20 minutes). Locals were awed by a coating of snow the week before, but it was all gone when we got there. Would seem tropical compared to northeren Indiana. This was the coldest winter in Europe for several years. Spain will be even warmer, Maybe North Carolina or northeren California. Also cultural type stuff, music, theater, museum shows, will be in full swing.
Well I guess you are aware the weather will be different then going in spring, summer or fall, ( and Paris actually had more then a dusting of snow about a month ago, in fact they got a fair amount and some cold weather, but from pictures posted on another forum I go on by visitors its amazingly beautiful in the snow anyways). As Christi pointed out there are some good things about going in off season too, no crowds at major sites, and yes, you can still enjoy a few outdoor cafes! Spain , will also be in winter( same with southern France so make no beach plans, lol ) , so as long as you understand and plan on bringing some comfortable warm clothes etc , and have a list of "rainy day" sites then you should be fine. One thing is I know some of the smaller towns along the coast of Spain practically close down for tourists ( a hotel we stayed at on the Costa Brava closes its doors from November to April) but if you are planning on bigger cities then it will be like Paris, smaller to no crowds and most places will of course be open! Enjoy the trip for what it will be, in Paris you can buy hot roasted chestnuts and mulled wine from street carts, and on a clear cold day if you are bundled up, how fun it will be to enjoy those and while walking along the Seine!
Everyone is different, but every time I have gone some place in the winter that's great in warm weather (like Spain) I've regretted it. Where you end up in Spain might be 50F in February but are you going to enjoy it? It's like going to the beach in Texas in February, sure it's warmer than the beach in New Jersey but it's still a cold beach. Go someplace where the cold works for you, not against you.
Agree with the others. If you're prepared to bundle up and focus on indoor activities, it can be a good time to come to Paris. It's also prime time for cultural events (opera, symphony, ballet), if that interests you. I've only been to Paris at that time, so I don't know about Spain or other parts of France.
If you are into theater and music then winter is the time to go to Paris, Rome, Vienna, Budapest, Moscow. But if its your first visit to Paris and expect to have any of the experiences that most people dream of I would suggest you wait. But that's just me. Jerusalem is good in the winter, Istanbul is a little border line but good. Moscow and St Petersburg are great because so much of what they are was carved by the brutal winters. I'm not suggesting not going to Paris, just sharing the way my mind works.
As others have said, bundling up and being prepared for miserable weather can make Paris do-able. It is one time of year that I would highly recommend transit passes versus just getting carnets, as you may want to minimize the time you spend outdoors just walking around the city. But other parts of France - maybe not so good for Jan/Feb. Where exactly were you thinking of going? Keep in mind that during that time of year there may be less than 8 hours of daylight. Trying to do a tour of the Normandy D-Day sites would be torture IMO. (Not to mention a lot of tours don't operate during those months). Big cities will have stuff to do, but more rural areas may not. If you dream of driving around the Champagne area and going tasting at different champagne houses, you're best waiting until you can go in a warmer month. Spain may be warmer. Then again it may not. Traveling at that time of year might require you to be flexible with your plans. If it snows, everything comes to a screeching halt, as they just don't handle it well (since it's so rare). But I've been to Barcelona in February and had weather in the low 50s (but had to have hat, scarf and gloves in the early morning and evening) and loved the lack of crowds.
For us, the winter reduced flight costs & the very reduced crowds make the Iffy weather worthwhile. You will see much more in far less time.
I've really enjoyed city-based trips in Jan/Feb, and I really HATE cold weather. You may well have smaller museums/churches/historic homes to yourself, and you'll find it easier to enjoy the major sites without the crowds... provided that's the type of thing that appeals to you. It's also the season for the performing arts, which is a wonderful plus. Smaller towns/rural areas will likely have a number of tourist activities closed for the season. When I travel in the winter, I just plan to take more taxis than at other seasons, which let's me minimize time outside. And my guess is that you cope with cold better than I do.
I spent 10 days in Paris a few years ago, one week was a RS Paris city tour. I think i was lucky with the weather as there was no snow. Definitely less busy at tourist sights. I had gloves and a large pashmina to wrap around my head, then I bought a beret! I enjoyed the trip thoroughly. I have seen pics of snow in Paris, so you would have to be prepared for that. Dress in layers, I recommend a thin silk under layer, breathable shirt, fleece or smartwool type sweater and goretex raincoat over that. When indoors, a museum or cafe, you can shed layers easily instead of roasting in one or two thick layers. I have not travelled anywhere else in Europe in January. Check the wunderground site, look for trip planner or weather history for the past 10 years of weather. I say go for it. I LOVE Paris.
Here's how we always looked at - we could be in New England in January or Paris in January - Paris was the clear choice! Also southern Spain will be mild - not beach weather but I wore shorts most of our time there in a February.
I love off-season travel. While some locations are a bit disappointing in cold weather, so is really hot over crowded August weather. It's all in how you look at it. As stated, dress in layers and just know that it will be winter. I went to Normandy twice in the winter and loved it. Without a lot of other tourists there it was a lot easier to focus on the reality of the location and what happened there. Also, had quite nice weather when we were there. If going to the south of France I would focus on museums and shopping and find out which villages are having markets. South of Spain... you could hop over to Morocco if you wish. There will be plenty of things to do even if the weather is not hot and sweltering:))