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Winter Travel To Europe

Winter may be the perfect time to travel.


Rethymnon harbor
Stavros Markopoulos/Moment/Getty Images
Why not travel in winter? Hotels and airfares are cheap, sweaty summer crowds are a dim memory, and there's plenty going on:
  • Attend Cultural events: Opera, Theater, and Symphony Winter Seasons.
  • Have Fun in the Snow: skiing, snowboarding
  • See Christmas Markets, Festivals and Carnival
  • Enjoy Winter food - an entirely different animal from summer's simplicity!

Why Travel in Winter?

While it's great fun hanging out under the August sun slurping spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce at an outdoor cafe in Rome, winter travel offers some interesting opportunities you may not have considered. There are the obvious ones, like skiing and snowboarding. But what about the opera and orchestra season? European cultural events in historic halls are going full blast in winter.

Winter offers you a chance to see Europe in a whole different--albeit dimmer--light. The season presents you with a chance to put on your woollies and hike snow covered peaks, or squeeze into a tux and go to an opera gala.

How can I afford all this? Saving Money

If you think you can't afford a winter vacation, take a look at winter airline prices. It could cost you a half to a third of the price of a summer flight to get to Europe in the off-season.

Hotels usually offer discounts in winter as well.

But isn't it Cold Over There?

Some places are indeed quite chilly. But the south of Italy, Spain, Portugal and most of Greece are pretty balmy in winter. Winter is a great time to visit Spain's Andalucia gems, the trio of top cities Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Or perhaps you'd rather take a winter visit to almost deserted Pompeii with a stopover in Naples in order to eat some of the best food in Italy. Check our Europe Climate and Weather Resources for the skinny on temperatures.

The Contrarian View - Winter as, well...Winter!

Why look for sun and balmy weather at all? Winter has charms of its own. Instead of a seat at an outdoor cafe, think of wandering through Venice's wintry fog, peering into the city's steamed-up windows in search of a cozy cafe--or, better yet, think of eating rich, winter foods beside a roaring fire beneath the intricately carved timber-beams of an historic guild hall restaurant in Basel, Switzerland.

In winter, European cuisine changes dramatically. Southern Mediterranean dwellers wouldn't think of eating heavy cream sauces in summer (although they will whip butterfat into just about anything for tourists who demand such culinary blasphemy). But once the leaves fall off the trees, European kitchens burst into winter mode--creamy, long-cooking sauces, preserved duck and goose, root vegetables, and the roasting of wild game all contributing to aromas that will leave you wishing you could stay in Europe forever. In winter you'll come to find all those food "specialties" you've read about in guidebooks but were never able to locate in summer.

Cultural Events also come alive in winter. The opera, theater, and symphony seasons are in full swing. Sure, in summer you can spend good money going to a historic building to see short ditties truncated for the enjoyment of limited-attention-span summer tourists, but the shorter days of winter leave time in the evenings for the real deal. Today you'll find many ticket sales for these events online. Check the "European Tickets on the Web" box on the upper right for more.

(continue to page two for Christmas Markets, Festivals, and Skiing.)

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