winter travel tips europe

Your 5 Top Tips for Winter Travel to Europe

Travel during winter in Europe is totally different. A lot different. Winter and all that sudden changes in weather patterns can be really stressful and may totally alter your itinerary and what you had planned. But it doesn’t mean you give up travelling during winter and just stay home with a hot cup of chocolate.

Here are my tips that I learned from my winter travel to Swedish Lapland to experience the aurora borealis.

Dress in layers

As someone who comes from the tropics and not really used to winter travel, what to pack can be a big challenge and can leave you out in the cold. Literally. So I made Uniqlo my bff when shopping for thermal wear and ordered winter boots from AliExpress. The boots were cheap, delivery arrived on time before my trip and made it thru some 2 feet of fresh snow.

Dressing in layers is the way to keep you warm for sudden drop in temperature and you can easily take off the outer layer when you get warm.

Your packing list may include one of or all of the following.

  • a durable and dependable down jacket with hoodie (invest in this one!)
  • a couple of long sleeves thermal inner wear ($19 at Uniqlo)
  • a couple of bottom thermal inner wear (also from Uniqlo)
  • a couple of long sleeve t-shirts
  • a fleece jacket ($9 at AliExpress)
  • 2 thick wool socks
  • 2 thin wool socks
  • 1 winter ski gloves
  • 1 thick bonnet with lining
  • 1 beanie (cute one for photos)
  • 1 thick scarf, I got the one that can double as a blanket during my flight
  • 1 winter ski pants, the waterproof one ($40 at AliExpress)
  •  Grabber Hand Warmers
  • Columbia Women’s Cold Weather Boots

Read : The True Cost of Chasing Aurora Borealis 

Allow extra buffer for travel time

Airports, train stations can be chaotic during winter travel. Flights and train schedules can be disrupted by snow and erratic weather patterns during winter. This is the same scene for road trips too. It can wreck your schedule and the entire travel itinerary you have prepared.

So when plotting your flights and land travel schedules, allow at least 4 -8 hours of buffer time. Don’t plan everything too tight and allow some flexibility too. Have back up plan too in case you need to stay an extra day in your destination.

winter travel europe

Take note of how early it gets dark

One thing I miscalculated during my itinerary planning for my Northern Lights trip in Kiruna was how early it gets dark. December in Kiruna, Sweden means that it starts to get dark around 1PM in the afternoon and sun rises past 10AM though you don’t actually see the sun but you do know its daytime.

So it pays to check what kind of activities you have planned and timing of the day. My dog sledding trip was cancelled because the tracks were covered with fresh snow from last night’s drizzle.

winter travel europe

Check Christmas day and New Year day schedule

During December 25th and 31st and January 1st, many shops and restaurants are closed. So plan ahead about grocery shopping, Christmas and New Year’s eve dinner menus.

winter travel europe

Schedules of tourist attractions may vary during the winter season so better check first during your itinerary planning. This so true for Christmas markets that opens up and changes their market feel and vibe in preparation for the festive season.

A Merry Christmas to everyone! #tivoligardens #copenhagen #december

A photo posted by carla abanes (@justtravellingsolo) on

Lastly, enjoy the Christmas Perks

In some countries, Christmas season is also the time where shop’s stock inventories are replenished. So that means Christmas sales are everywhere. Also, try to see as much fireworks display near where you are as the New Year’s Eve approaches. Enjoy eggnogs and Christmas bread. I stuffed myself with a lot of Christmas bread at my aunt’s house in Denmark.

So there you go, itinerary planning and the actual travel experience maybe a bit challenging during winter but it doesn’t mean you should miss the fun!

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  1. Reply

    Very good advice, as a traveling Canadian at least I know I am very prepared for those long, cold dark days of winter. Living currently in the UK and laughing at how unprepared the Brits are for a touch of snow.

    1. Reply

      ha ha that is so true. I was in Canada in February and was amazed at how they managed to clear the roads every day even though the snow was incessant. We get a centimetre of snow and everything goes to pot. I have also just returned from Finland and was highly impressed by how courteously they drive on the frozen roads always stopping for pedestrians. Nothing stopped there for the snow either.

  2. Reply

    Swedish Lapland is my most favourite place on earth. It’s just so beautifully bleak, isn’t it? My best tip for the cold is merino wool thermals – honestly, I was too hot most of the time!! Your pictures of Copenhagen are so cute, I love them!

  3. Reply

    Really helpful! Honestly Europe is my top one dream destination and this is just a noteworthy post for me. Thanks for sharing it!;)

  4. Reply

    “Allow extra buffer for travel time” – OH YES! I live in the UK and although we most certainly don’t get the worst of the winter weather in Europe, we always seem to fall apart as soon as the first snowflake falls.
    About 6 years ago I went on a choir trip to Germany a few days before Christmas. A drive that was supposed to take 14-16 hours ended up taking 26-28 thanks to all the weather-related delays. I can only begin to imagine how bad things could get further north!

  5. Reply

    I’m dying to visit the European Christmas markets. Also, for some reason, a lot of bloggers have made the idea of traveling to Iceland, Norway and Finland in the winter really appealing (despite the cold!). Totally agree with you on those thick socks too. They’re my best friend in winter.

    • Misa
    • December 18, 2016
    Reply

    Yep, you said it all well! It’s important to keep all of these in mind – specially the tips about dressing, darkness and shops closing early 🙂

  6. Reply

    Definitely a big one to check schedules around the holidays. We didn’t know about a couple of back to back holidays in early December in Spain that caused everything to be closed almost the entire week. It can make what would usually be a really fun destination seem deserted.

    • Katie
    • December 19, 2016
    Reply

    Oh some great tips! I have always been a home bird at Christmas but think that needs to change!

    • Chrysoula
    • December 19, 2016
    Reply

    Lovely tips. I love traveling during Christmas but as you said that are many things to consider when traveling during those dates

    • Annie
    • December 19, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve always wanted to go to Sweden, but keep waiting until I have the time to go in the spring/summer! I always skip it in winter because of the limited light hours (and the cold!)

  7. Reply

    Thanks for the tips! I have never been in countries that snow, so I don’t know how to even start preparing for that when it happens in the future. I always wanted to see the beautiful Östersund when given a chance. Hopefully, soon.

  8. Reply

    I live in the UK so am used to this! It’s a lovely place to be a Christmas! 🙂

  9. Reply

    Great tips, especially taking note of when it gets dark, because I think that’s one thing which quite often takes tourists by surprise, and can really impact your days on the ground, when you’ve booked activities before you arrive without realizing.

  10. Reply

    Great tips. It’s true about the darkness, it’s so early here! You really have to make the most of daylight but then again, everything is lit up at this time of year so it’s not too bad 🙂 Polly

    • Mri
    • December 20, 2016
    Reply

    You’re so right about needing thick warm socks! My feet get cold really easy, but having a good pair of socks that aren’t too tight to restrict blood flow (even a little bit) makes such a huge difference to how long you can be out and enjoying Europe’s winter season. (:

    • Karla
    • December 20, 2016
    Reply

    For cold weather it just pays to have proper clothing so you can enjoy your trip. Merry Christmas

    • chris
    • December 21, 2016
    Reply

    Poor Preparation Leads to Piss Poor Performance.

    That’s an outdoor industry quote which I think fits well here. No such thing as bad weather, just bad prep!

  11. Reply

    Thanks for sharing these tips. We are planning our holidays to Europe next year around August. I have heard the weather is great during that time. Anything in particular you could suggesT?

    • Pedro
    • December 23, 2016
    Reply

    Very wise tips! Finding out what time it gets dark is so important! On my first trip to Iceland I only had 3 hours of daylight, so I didn’t really see much. 🙁

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