We just returned from a fantastic trip to Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Norway over the Christmas/New Year holiday season. We had a wonderful time and there are some definite advantages to traveling at this time of year. Of course, as with anything, there’s a downside, too. Let me share both with you in this blog.
Some Pros of Traveling to Europe during the Holidays
1) Fewer crowds. The first time we went to Europe we were in Paris right after the New Year. I remember visiting the Louvre and seeing the Mona Lisa and literally being the only 2 people in the room. When we visited in the summer time it was hot and crowded and we could barely get in the same room with this famous painting. It’s definitely wonderful to enjoy the freedom of traveling when there are fewer tourists around.
2) Christmas markets are the best!! We got to visit fabulous Christmas markets in Copenhagen and Belgium. They were so much fun! We enjoyed Æbleskiver (pancake balls or spherical pancakes with powdered sugar) and Gløgg- warm, mulled wine with some brandy, rum, or snaps, spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, almonds, and sometimes citrus. I don’t usually like my wine warm…. but when it’s dark and cold outside, I promise you this Gløgg really hit the spot!
3) Christmas lights!!!! Need I say more? They were beautiful and they were everywhere!
4) New holiday traditions from another country are so much fun to experience and enjoy. There is so much to learn from being someplace new and learning about what they find to be most important during the holidays – like going to Christmas Eve church service during the afternoon so that you can spend the evening at home eating roast duck and telling Christmas stories with your family.
Some Cons of Traveling to Europe during the Holidays
1) You may need to make reservations if you are eating out and if it’s on New Year’s Eve there may be a set menu…and it can be quite expensive. If this is not your cup of tea for the evening, you might need to adjust your plans and be flexible. We ended up in a Lebanese restaurant and an awesome beer hall called Le Trappiste on New Year’s Eve. It was a fantastic night, ending with fireworks in the square while the DJ played John Denver’s Country Roads. We had a blast, but for a while we wondered if we were going to be hungry and thirsty that night because a lot of places were fully booked or closed. Always being ready to expand your options can turn disappointment into a fabulous memory.
2) Some sites you want to see and museums you'd like to visit may be closed or have shorter hours over the holidays. Also, the concert season is over and the new season hasn't started yet. It seems that when you travel during the holidays you’ve just missed a great concert, or a play you'd like to see will be coming just a few days after you leave. Symphonies take breaks over the holidays too, so performance options are limited. This is just another reason to return at a later date!
3) Many places in Europe are dark and dreary in December and the weather can be questionable. It got dark around 4:15 in Copenhagen while we were there and it really wasn’t light until 9:00 am! You had about 7 hours of daylight to do what you wanted to do! Also, even when it was light outside, it was often foggy, rainy and cold. So set your expectations accordingly, dress appropriately and enjoy lots of hygge when you come inside. If you want to know more about hygge, check out this article from the New York Times which tells you all about it: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy
4) Your Christmas Eve service may not be in a language you understand. There is real pleasure in sitting in a service in a new language but you have to adjust your senses a bit to appreciate the message without understanding the actual words. I love this so much, but it could be a disappointment for some who want to hear the scriptures and sing the hymns they are familiar with on Christmas. We visited a Church of Denmark service where the minister wore a robe with a white ruff that looked like it was out of a Rembrandt painting. The hymns literally had 12 verses and of course they were in Danish and we didn’t understand the words. But the children were darling and the Christmas message was clear. It was a different, yet wonderful, Christmas Eve service (at 2:00 in the afternoon).
So if you’re willing to roll with these few challenges, the holidays can be a perfect time to travel. I personally think there’s never a bad time to journey to Europe – the point is to make the most of every moment while you’re there, no matter what time of year that happens to be!
If you would like to talk with me about planning your own European vacation ANY time of year, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you make your travel dreams come true!
Please share comments below and tell me about YOUR holiday travel stories!