I get it. It’s the middle of winter, whatever little summer tan you had is long gone. Surely, I’m going to suggest a trip south of the equator with two pineapple-themed drinks stat! Nope, doctor’s orders are for a trip to Europe. You’ll never get a better chance be alone with the Mona Lisa or party with locals to bring in the New Year, and if know where to look, you can still get plenty of sun.
Cultural Sights, Normally Packed, are Tourist Free
I’ve seen the unquenching French summer heat and nearly unmoving lines of Versailles break even the hardest of travelers. Don’t forget to book your ticket to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence weeks in advance if you’re going in June, or you won’t be going all. Don’t even think of just showing up the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona in July, unless you bring a tent.
In short, the nice summer weather cuts two ways. If it’s the cultural delicacies of Europe you want to enjoy, there is no better time to book a table than during the winter. Monet’s Water Lilies look supernaturally calm in any month of the year. But it’s only in winter that you can walk in without a wait.
In our European trips there have been several times where our isolation at famous locations has struck me dumb. Sitting alone, truly and completely alone in the gardens of Vaux le Vicomte outside of Paris. The finely manicured lawn stretched out in front of us like we were the finance ministers of Louis XIV’s grand empire. This site is so wonderful that Louis XIV jailed its owner and stole his architect to build Versailles. We had it to ourselves—that could only occur in winter.
Or the time we sat atop Siena’s unbuilt medieval cathedral. In the summer they guard the steps that lead to the top of the arch to ensure that it doesn’t get overfilled. You might wait an hour to stand shoulder to shoulder with other onlookers. In the winter, Jane and I sat as rulers of Tuscany, unbothered by other travelers for nearly half an hour in the middle of the day. Or the time Jane and I sat and watched the Spanish sun set over Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace.
European Winter is Mild
Let’s get this out of the way from the get go. Most of northern Europe will not be balmy, but it will be mild. Due to the moderating nature of the jet stream, the winter in most of northern Europe stays in the 40-50° F range.
Sure, it may snow, but it’s much more likely to lightly rain. But if you want to get a taste of summer in the winter, I suggest pushing to the very southern edge of Europe. Southern Spain is filled with marvelous sites, Sicily is mash of cultures and flavors, and Greece is the birthplace of western culture.
Given the proximity of these locales to their northern brethren, nearly any trip can feature a few days in European sun that reaches into the 60s.
The Nightlife Still Wild
There is no celebration quite like New Year’s. In nearly every European country, January 1 is a holiday, and there is no better excuse to throw away last year’s problems than an upcoming day of relaxation.
The French sit in little picnic parties under the Eiffel Tower, the Hungarians shoot fireworks in the twisting lanes of old Budapest, and all across Europe’s small towns, local people ring in the New Year with gusto—like the fine fellows from Amalfi, on Italy’s jeweled coast named after the same town. They shake homemade contraptions and sing nearly the same song on loop for over an hour. It is marvelous, and it captures the fun-loving essence of the people and place perfectly.
For more, check out our post on New Year’s Eve parties.
A pineapple drink can’t hold a candle, or even a tiny umbrella, to the feeling you’ll get when you stumble on your piece of winter magic in Europe. But if you really ask sincerely, I’m sure you can get a pineapple drink from a bar at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
So what are you waiting for? Let me know your reservations in the comments, and let’s get traveling!