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Recommendations for winter European travel

I'm visiting my son in Belgium in February. I would like to use the time to see other areas of Europe. France, the Normandy area, Loire valley and southern France, is my first choice but I'm wondering if it will be disappointing to travel in the winter and whether I should consider other areas of Europe. I can tolerate cold weather but if many places are closed it would be frustrating.

Posted by
9886 posts

Of course many places in the areas you mentioned will have limited services during February. So it could be disappointing, unless you have realistic expectations.
Many people on this forum travel to Europe, roughly, from March to November, maybe more like March to October.
But probably some have traveled to northern and central Europe in the winter and will be able to give you helpful advice.

You ask about considering other areas of Europe: yes, southern areas of Spain, France, and Italy may be of interest to you.

Posted by
5891 posts

We once toured Austria when skiing in the Alps, and just about froze. Northern France is not very enjoyable in winter. Many from the U.K. head south to the Algarve region of southern Portugal where the winter weather's more reasonable--and keep condos there.
I would head south rather than north in February.

Posted by
12868 posts

The warmest place in Europe at that time of year would probably be southern Spain: Seville, Cordoba, Granada. Lovely places. If you decide to do that and want to see the Alhambra in Granada, you should start working on your ticket immediately. They sell out early. You may need to use an alternative means to get in--asking your hotel whether it has tickets set aside for customer, or joining a tour.

Otherwise, I (hater of cold weather) would hunker down in a major city with a lot of indoor attractions.

Posted by
2062 posts

If you don’t flee to the south with the sun deprived northerners you’ll find a lot to do in cities. I kind of love European cities in the winter. Leaves are off of the trees so you can admire the architecture better, coffee shops are great for people watching, restaurants seem more cozy and less stifling, museums aren’t as crowded and after you deposit your coat at the coat check the indoor temperatures are bearable. Street lamps reflecting on wet cobblestone and bodies of water in the winter shimmer. Winter is also a good time for concerts and opera. If you go by Eurostar from Brussels to London you can enjoy many free museums in the day time and world class theater at night.

Posted by
2708 posts

The warmer areas of the south which predominantly cater for tourists in the summer pretty much close down in the winter except for the major towns and cities.

I'm currently in Mallorca and whilst the weather has been glorious (sunbathing around the pool glorious) a lot of places are closed. This has been fine for us as this was a "get away and relax break". For sightseeing and eating out it's not so great.

The further north you go the less you encounter winter shutdowns, many places are all year affairs so you'll find museums, sights, restaurants open.

It all depends on what you want, warmth and quiet relaxation or more to see and do but doing it in the cold?

Posted by
12269 posts

Lengthy explanation follows. I live in a warm country. Today is a typical winter day, long periods of full sunshine and a high of 66F. It doesn't rain much, and when it does, the rain rarely lasts more than an hour at a time. The lowest nighttime temps have never gone down to freezing in all the decades I've lived here. A really cold day is 50F. Winter is my favorite time of year, because it's great to be outside. Summers are hot and muggy. Several years ago, I went to southern Germany for 10 days of Christmas markets and I had enough cold and snow to last me for another 10 years.

I have taken 3-plus week trips in 6 of the last 10 years to Italy and Spain in February, once in March. The temperatures were similar, sometimes a bit cooler, than here at home, and there was about as much sun (lots) and rain (little) as here. Andalucia is the warmest, driest part of Europe. I found Madrid and and Barcelona to be equally mild, perhaps a tad cooler. Italy is perhaps a little less predictable, but I've had many days where I've enjoyed sitting in the sun with a cold drink or a gelato in Venice and Rome. The only place that I found noticeably "shut down" was the Amalfi Coast, two years ago. It was wonderful! Many of the hotels and B&Bs and tourist shops were shut and some restaurants, so the road was wonderfully uncrowded and I could drive at a leisurely pace and stop often to enjoy the views. Nothing in Sorrento or Salerno (both are good bases) seemed to be closed and, unlike high season, the locals outnumbered the tourists by a lot.

I've been through parts of the French countryside in June and the vineyards and wheat fields were quite scenic. I imagine they'd be rather bleak in mid-winter. I'm headed to the Cote d'Azur in mid-March. It seems that February would be a good time to visit, with low (for the area) prices and few tourists. Before you consider going farther inland or to the west, like Provence, google mistral.

Posted by
274 posts

I live in northern Europe, and instad of trying to escape the winter, you can embrace it. Go to northern Scandinavia, and watch the Auroras, go skiing, ride a dog sled, visit an Ice Hotel and so on.

Posted by
2572 posts

We lived in Augsburg, Germany for four years and winters in N. Europe are great if you like to ski.

For touring, wrap your self in a very warm overcoat with scarf, hat, gloves, etc. and stay out of the wind.

It gets dark at Christmas time about 4:30pm. Beware of ice and or snow storms if driving.

Personally, I would never pay to go touring in Europe in the Winter. If I did, I would go somewhere like Greece. Some people go to Morocco.

I am a southerner and even after living in a colder climate, I just don't want to deal with cold. I suppose if you are from Canada or the northern tier of US states you many be used to cold weather.

If you go, I suggest you take advantage of museums, since you would be inside.

The Algarve is OK, but I never go to Europe to go to the beach. Florida and the Caribbean have better beaches.

Posted by
253 posts

JC - Could you elaborate on 'things being closed in Mallorca'.? I'm headed there in mid March. Do you mean things like beach area restaurants and hotels being closed, or city center things like historic sites, restaurants, shops, etc.?

Posted by
12868 posts

One thing I noticed last night as I read through the Eyewitness Guide to Seville and Andalucía was that many sights have much more limited hours in the summer, closing by early or mid-afternoon. The summer heat down there is miserable, and I guess either the number of visitors is way down or those in authority don't want their employees dying from heat stroke. This is by way of saying that winter is a comparatively good time of year to travel to that area.

Posted by
2708 posts

JC - Could you elaborate on 'things being closed in Mallorca'.? I'm headed there in mid March. Do you mean things like beach area restaurants and hotels being closed, or city center things like historic sites, restaurants, shops, etc.?

You'll find pretty much all beach restaurants will be closed. We visited Alcudia one day last week and popped down to the port which is a thriving place in the summer however we found only two beachfront bars/bistros open. The old town was very quiet, the museums were open and quite a few shops however only a few restaurants were open.

Soller, a fantastic foodie destination was all but desolate with only a handful of bars and restaurants open (none of the good ones!) Many of the decent restaurants there had notices stating that they were opening from February or March.

Puerto Portals is thriving in the winter. It's a glamorous port which has been well managed and attracts many yacht owners who like to base themselves in Mallorca because it offers something all year round and doesn't close down like other ports on the island. There are several high end restaurants there and their Christmas market has been chosen as one of the five best Christmas markets in Europe by the German newspaper Die Welt.

Palma is busy and open all year round and March would be a good time to visit.

I've been to Mallorca in April and everything was open so I suspect that March will be similar or at least starting to emerge from its winter hibernation.

Posted by
3000 posts

Winter is the time to stick to the cities, as lots of people live there, so places don’t close down for the winter. Generally, avoid coastal holiday resorts, as these are more likely to close in January and February.

Daylight hours will still be short, but not as bad as December, so some attractions may have shorter opening hours or close on a Monday.

The Loire, being more rural maybe quieter, but the bigger towns in the south of France will be open and warmer. Normandy is likely to be cold and wet and possibly snowy.