3 European Cities That Are Better In Winter
Mulled wine, short queues, and all of the carbs.
We may have a reputation as tough, croc-wrestling heroes, but in reality Aussies are a soft bunch. Each year, faced with the prospect of a few chilly months we flee our shores in search of warmer climes. FOMO doesn’t hit much harder than that moment in July when your Insta feed clogs up with panoramic shots of the Amalfi Coast #europe #island #summer #legsorhotdogs.
And while I have nothing against sunbaking on Greek Islands or sipping wine by the sweet Sorrento moon, it’s actually in their colder months that some of Europe’s most famous destinations really come to life. From Christmas markets and mulled wine to short queues and cheap accommodation, there are some really good reasons to consider a romantic European vacation this summer. Here are three European cities that are actually better in winter.
London weather gets a bit of a bad wrap. Rain! Peasoupers! Snowstorms! But it’s not actually that bad. The average temperature in December and early January is 7 degrees – which, with a good coat, gloves and a brolly isn’t too hard to tackle. And there is something really quite wonderful about London in the winter, the city and its people far more suited to dark afternoons and grey skies.
Like so much of Europe, one of the things that makes London especially great over the festive season is their Christmas celebrations. Even if you are more Team Grinch than Team Santa, it’s hard not to get swept up in the splendour of the city at this time of the year.
There are decorations, carols, ice-skating, and – for those travellers particularly averse to human traffic jams – room to sit on the Tube. Because many Londoners clear out of town for Christmas the streets are less crowded making everyone just that little bit more cheery. Some of the highlights of December and January include ice-skating at Somerset House, Trafalgar Square’s Christmas Tree and Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park – where one of the city’s most famous spaces is taken over by ice rinks, circus shows, rides and markets.
But if all this festiveness isn’t for you, winter just happens to be one of the best times to hit the streets of London full stop. Rug-up and take a walking tour through the East End or head out for a curry and pint at a local tavern and you’ll find a new appreciation for winter in the UK.
COLD TIP: Spend the afternoon wandering through the tourist-free Tate Modern, and just as the sun starts to dip jump on a Tube East, find a great local pub serving up a roast, and settle in with some mates for a few pints.
Anyone who has seen Midnight In Paris knows that the French capital is the most beautiful in the rain. And boy does the city of lights sparkle when the rain falls in winter, with over 125 squares and streets lit up especially for the festive season. Much like their friends across the channel, many Parisians clear out of town for the New Year, which means in the very first week of January quite a few of the city’s thousands of cafes are closed – but not so many to deter you from going.
If anything, the quieter streets and public spaces mean that visiting Paris is far more pleasant than the summer months when hoards of Europeans descend upon the cobblestone streets. On a blustery winters day, there’s barely a line at the Eiffel Tower and less backpackers to jostle with on the steps of Sacré-Cœur. Not to mention, much cheaper accommodation in the centre of town.
Paris also does Christmas with class, with markets popping up all over the city from Montparnasse to la Defense. The most famous of all, however, are those that sprawl along Avenue des Champs-Elysées where hundreds of glittering Christmas trees line the streets and over 200 hundred wooden chalets sell everything from mulled wine, truffles, cheese and speciality meats to handcrafted toys and other regional products.
Traditionally the markets run from late November to very early January, and are often open late into the evening on the weekends. And if you’ve had your fill of festive cheer then ditch the markets for the famous Paris January sales. Taking place from January 6, they see the city’s biggest department stores slash their prices dramatically. It is one of only two times in any year these shops are allowed to hold such sales, so the bargains are big. As will be your bag when you drag it back home.
COLD TIP: Rug-up, buy a hot hazelnut crepe and mulled wine and walk the streets along the Seine and soak up the beauty of Paris in winter.
Prague in the wintertime is a literal winter wonderland. In fact, it’s quite possible that Saint Nick actually set up shop in the Czech Republic and has just been using the North Pole as cheeky ruse to keep the paparazzi at bay. Not to keep banging on about the Christmas markets, but if there is one place – outside of Germany – that does them better than anywhere, it is Prague.
There is nothing quite as magical as seeing the gothic architecture of the Old Town sprinkled with snow (if you are lucky) towering over the traditional market stalls that litter the main squares in town from early December. For sale there is told-fashioned woodworked toys, jewellery and any number of gifts and trinkets. But most impressive is the vast array of local food – traditional pastries, ginger bread and cured meats – and the best mulled wine in all of Europe.
Speaking of food, the Czech are famous for their carb-heavy food – meat, dumplings and beer – the perfect meal following a day trekking through the snow. No #cleaneats allowed.
And if you want to get away from town/Christmas cheer, you can jump on a train to the famed Sedlec Ossuary or “Bone Church” in Kutna Hora. Built in the 13th century, its walls are lined with the bones of to 40,000 people. The chapel is both spooky and spectacularly beautiful set deep in the snowy outskirts of the small town.
COLD TIP: Hot chocolate in Prague, is like no other. Made of thick melted chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream, it is the stuff of Michelle Bridge’s nightmares. Grab one to go and head out for stroll under moonlight, along the Charles Bridge towards Prague Castle. It’s enough to make even Ebenezer Scrooge tear up.