Last year I spent the Christmas in Europe and I want to share my experience, what I liked and what I didn’t like that much. I also want to comment on some aspects that should be considered to travel this season, so keep reading.
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It’s always interesting to live different experiences and seasons when we travel. Christmas is definitely one of those important celebrations around the world.
To put things into context, the countries I visited on my last trip to Europe were Portugal and Spain. These countries have a more Catholic Christmas, so to speak.
We also spent 5 days and the new year in Paris. I will tell what it was like in another post.
If you want to know the cities I visited check out this post about my One-month Itinerary in Europe 2018.
Pros and cons of traveling to Europe for Christmas
My trip in which I spent Christmas in Europe had a bit of everything; good and bad experiences, joy and disappointments, some of them related to the Christmas season. That’s why I want to list some of the pros and cons of spending Christmas in Europe
Pros or advantages
Let’s start with the positive aspects of traveling to Europe during the Christmas season.
Undoubtedly, the main reason to spend Christmas in Europe is the Christmas atmosphere, different than we can experience in our place of origin.
In the big cities we can enjoy the Christmas lighting in the avenues and squares, and the atmosphere at night. Small towns or cities display the decoration in its charming alleys and shops.
Christmas music is played in the old town of some villages to enhance the season’s vibes
Besides, visiting Europe at Christmas gives you the chance to see different traditions and how other people celebrate.
Something that I particularly love are Christmas markets. They are something typically European, especially in German-speaking and eastern Europe countries.
Markets are usually set in all the main squares where there is also the Christmas decoration.
They have a festive atmosphere and offer Christmas stuff, handmade products and season’s delights.
In Spain and Portugal I did not find the markets so interesting if I must be honest. In Granada I asked if there was any and they couldn’t tell. Countries with a tradition of Christmas markets are Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
You can check out my other post about 10 ideal Christmas destinations in Europe
The Holiday treats are another positive thing to travel to Europe. The mulled wine is a typical winter drink that you can get at the Christmas markets.
Other snacks offered in the markets are chocolates, nougat and a variety of candied nuts.
In supermarkets there are also some foods that can only be found at Christmas time. For example the Panetone, created in Italy, and different type of cookies.
Events and festivals
There are some events and festivals that only happen during the Christmas in Europe. For example concerts, theatre plays or ballet shows.
They also usually organize activities for kiddos, like the Christmas village we visited in Óbidos Portugal.
In many cities they set skating rinks and ice slides for family fun. They organize special Christmas fairs and bazaars too.
Ask about the events and Christmas program in the tourist office during your visit.
Another advantage when traveling during the Christmas season is the winter discounts in the fashion shops.
Typically winter sales start in January, yet in some stores it’s possible to find discounts and Christmas promotions.
It’s worth it to browse around the fashion stores and visit shopping centers to see if we hunt a bargain. Besides, shopping on christmas season is quite an experience.
Cold and snow?
Something I enjoy but it may not be for everyone is the cold weather. Also in some destinations it’s possible to enjoy the snow, and the activities and sports related to it.
The truth is that we didn’t see snow in Spain and Portugal. But if you want to see the snow there are some mountain areas (for example near Madrid) where it’s possible to go on a day trip.
Cons or disadvantages
There are many positive things about spending Christmas in Europe, but there are also situations we must take into consideration
These are some of the disadvantages of traveling to Europe during the holiday season.
Accommodation is much scarcer than in normal conditions. If we don’t book soon we’ll see that the only available accommodations will be the most expensive and least convenient.
Especially when our dates cover Christmas eve, Christmas or New Year. Don’t even think about changing plans at the last moment because it won’t be easy to find accommodation. This will be particularly difficult in the most popular cities.
For example, we wanted to go to Colmar or Strasbourg in France, some popular Christmas destinations. Well, we didn’t get accommodation at all, neither the ugliest nor the most expensive
We had to stay in Paris … well, not in Paris, in a neighbouring region called Montreuil. Fortunately, the attractions in Paris can be reached quickly by subway.
And as you can imagine, the same thing happens with transport as with accommodation. Sometimes it’s not possible to book in advance, especially when we have to take local or regional trips. In those cases it can be difficult to get convenient transportation.
On both occasions that I traveled in Spain, from Zaragoza to Madrid and from Madrid to Granada, the bus was full. Even we got the last 2 seats on the second bus that was going to Madrid, I mean we hardly got transportation.
Also because of this, my plans to make a day trip to the Sierra Nevada from Granada got frustrated. It turns out that we wanted to travel on a holiday (December 8) that I had no idea it was a free day and we couldn’t get an available bus.
The crowds at the attractions
And of course, it’s crowded everywhere on this season, particularly in popular cities and in dates closer to Christmas
So if you want to spend Christmas in Europe you have to be ready to make lines in all places
In fact we visited the Louvre museum in Paris on December 31 (yes I know…) so imagine, it was full!. In these cases you can (and should) book tickets in advance
When we arrived in Madrid a few days before Christmas, it was also very crowded, especially in the center and Gran Vía. But well, it’s all part of the show, in the next post I will tell you about my experience of Christmas in Madrid.
Another disadvantage of spending Christmas in Europe and traveling in winter are the few hours of daylight
It’s possible to do night activities, but some attractions requires natural light to enjoy them.
It’s also a disadvantage for day trips, as the time to enjoy the destination gets shorter.
The opening hours
Besides, the opening hours of shops, museums and attractions are also affected by winter.
Museums usually close one hour earlier than normal and may even open later. Many stores also close their doors earlier. The exception are the large shopping centers that usually close late.
Cold and rain
Cold weather can be a disadvantage for some, especially if we are not used and if we don’t choose the right clothes (it happened to me 😕)
You’ll feel that you want to spend more time inside than outside, worse in colder countries. Spain and Portugal have a pleasant climate and bearable cold, we even had a sunny and warm day in Lisbon
In Paris, approaching January, I was very cold because I didn’t wear a good coat and I already was exhausted. There was one specific day that I just wanted to go back to the apartment and stay under the blankets 😅
Another drawback of spending Christmas in Europe and of the winter season is the rain.
There are some destinations where it rains more than others. For example in Porto, where we spent a week, we had several days of rain or drizzle and it hindered our plans.
Tips for spending Christmas in Europe
Here are some tips if you plan to travel to Europe during the Christmas season:
- Book your accommodation well in advance, especially if your dates are very close to the holidays or if your destination is very popular.
- Book if possible, transportation and tickets to the attractions you plan to visit. If you can’t do it online, buy at the destination as early as possible. And if you still can’t, then… relax 😎
- Find out how the weather will be in the destination you chose and get ready for it. Pack raincoats, gloves, coats, etc.
- Plan your activities taking into account the daylight hours and check in advance the closing time of the places you want to visit.
- Find out about the free days of the season, there may be others different from your place of origin. On holidays everything or almost everything closes in Europe.
- Relax and enjoy the season, if you have problems remember that everything has a solution. Eat lots of chocolates and drink a lot of coffee or mulled wine.
Spending Christmas in Europe is a very enriching and enjoyable experience, despite everything.
It may be stressful for all the reasons mentioned above, but the positive weighs more than the negative
I hope that my experience and my tips will help you when you plan your trip to Europe for Christmas.
If you have any tip or experience that you want to share with us, you can do it in the comments section. And if you liked the post, help me grow by sharing it on your favorite social media sites
Thanks for reading, till the next post. Merry Christmas and Bon Voyage!