Why to Visit Europe with Kids in Winter

When most of us daydream about a European vacation, we probably envision soaking up the sunshine while sipping a cappuccino and people-watching at an outdoor café. After all, the busy summer season is when the vast majority of tourists travel to Europe. Families tend to restrict themselves to summer holidays because that is when the kids are out of school. What many parents don’t realize, though, is that late fall, early spring or winter vacations from school can be an even better time to travel to the continent. During visits to both London and Paris in early March, my family discovered the advantages of exploring Europe with kids in winter.

Why to Visit Europe with Kids in Winter

Bundled up for a chilly March day in London

Reduced Costs

Since it’s considered the off-season, costs from airfare to accommodations are reduced during the winter and that makes a vacation in Europe more affordable for a family.

In both London and Paris my family stayed in apart-hotels, which were far less expensive in the winter than they would have been any other time of the year. Travelers are also much more likely to stumble upon a true bargain during the winter than they are during the more popular seasons. For our London apartment we received a stay three nights and get the fourth free deal which meant that two of our 10 nights were free.

Musee Rodin garden in winter

Winter solitude in the gardens of Musee Rodin in Paris

Less Crowding

Fewer visitors mean shorter line-ups and less crowded attractions—making it much easier to travel with children who aren’t always patient with long waits and overcrowding. Capital cities are always going to be busy and many of the most popular attractions still have high volumes of visitors during the winter but the crowds are nothing compared to what they would be in the summer.

We visited The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia in August and it was so crowded that people were queuing to have a glance at a painting. I swore after that experience that in the future I would avoid visiting a popular museum during the summer whenever possible. In contrast, we visited the Louvre in Paris in March and, apart from the area around the Mona Lisa, there were no crowds at all.

Meeting Locals

The European atmosphere in the off-season is more laid-back and friendly than it is during the summer when locals are overwhelmed with crowds. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, people are going to be friendlier when they aren’t rushed off their feet. It’s much more likely that shopkeepers will take time to chat when they aren’t quite so busy trying to serve their clientele and waiters won’t mind if you linger after finishing a meal if there isn’t a line of people out the door waiting for a table.

London Eye in winter

The London Eye on a sunny winter’s day

Weather

If, like us, you are escaping the cold in Canada or the northern U.S., then chances are the weather in Europe will be milder than what you are leaving behind so it can still feel like a break from the bone-chilling cold. These cooler temperatures can also be more favorable for sightseeing than the heat and humidity of the summer when Europe’s cities can become stifling. Even though we had to wear coats, scarves and gloves part of the time, our March sightseeing adventures in London and Paris were far more pleasant than sweltering August days in Rome, Athens, and Istanbul.

You should, however, be prepared for variable weather when traveling to Europe off-season—depending on where you are traveling and at what point in the year—you may experience several seasons over the course of one trip (or even one day).

Winter at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris

Winter at Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens

Winter Schedule

If you are visiting capitals or larger cities, winter and summer train and museum schedules or restaurant hours probably won’t vary much but it’s always a good idea to check for a reduced winter timetable or that an establishment hasn’t closed for a winter holiday when tourist traffic is light.

I would never turn down an opportunity to visit Europe at any time of the year but our school break in early March is fast becoming one of my preferred time for European travel. If you’re planning a big family trip to Europe, don’t be afraid to think beyond the summer months on the calendar—winter or early spring can be a great time for a trip to Europe too!

Have you visited Europe with kids in winter? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Lisa – Years ago, pre-kids the hubs and I went to France during early March. We nabbed air tix for abo $350 each from San Diego! (I’m afraid those cheap air days are over…) Yes, we had to don hats, gloves & coats in Paris but Southern France was much warmer. We had a wonderful time. I concur…take advantage of winter savings & get thee to Europe when you can!

  2. France at any time of the year is better than staying home! I think we did the same trip pre-kids. We were married in March and honeymooned in London, Paris and the south of France. We spent a week in Eze (near Nice) and the weather was glorious!

  3. I’m with you on this. Cities off peak and out of season are not only better value but different places too. They look and feel different in their spring, autumn and winter coats and without the throngs of tourists. And there can be seasonal attractions and festivals too. And all you gotta do is dress for the weather!

  4. I have visited in the winter, and it’s absolutely lovely. Besides the big cities like Paris and London, there are the charming little medieval cities in Europe that turn into storybook lands when dusted with snow. And the Alps and the Pyrenees in the snow . . . breathtaking. I’d go anytime!

  5. Yeah! Just the reinforcement I needed!
    Our “mid winter” school break is in mid-February, and we are taking our kids from Seattle, WA to the UK. We’ll be there for about 2.5 weeks and are truly trading weather (cold, rainy), but it will be the first international trip for our boys and a time we could afford to go.

    We are looking forward to fewer crowds and a cool experience no matter what. The costs (especially lodging) are still SO high though, but I knew we would find that traveling in Western Europe. Surprisingly, we’ve only found one place with an “off season” rate.

  6. Kirstie, you are definitely right that cities look and feel different when everyone is bundled up in their coats – and for some reason I always feel like it’s easier to blend in with locals and not look so much like a tourist then too.

  7. Sonja, I would love to visit some of those charming little medieval cities in the winter and see them dusted with snow! One of my dream trips is to head to Europe pre-Christmas and visit the markets in Austria and Germany!

  8. Tiffany, you are going to love the UK – and you will be able to see so much in 2.5 weeks! We took our girls to London for 10 days in March 2010 when they were 13 and 6 and had a blast! We arrived early in March and there were flowers blooming but then we had a cold snap for a few days – you just never know about the weather so be prepared for anything.

    The UK is expensive so you will have to try and find savings where you can. If you are spending any time in London then I would suggest looking for an apart-hotel or renting an apartment in order to save some on eating out plus have the extra space. The Citadines chain of apart-hotels is a good place to start as they have several locations in London. Many of the museums in London have free admission as well so that helps to keep expenses down.

    Have a great time!!

  9. Would love to return to Europe in winter, and explore the quieter side of local attractions at a less hurried pace then in summer. And skiing in the Swiss Alps is amazing!

  10. Hi Lisa, I have traveled to Ireland several times in January to attend a trade show. You are spot on with the reduced costs and less crowding. The famous pub O’Donoghues which would be stuffed to the gills in summer was easily accessible, and a nice music night out to boot. The weather, compared to my Boston winter, is spring like. The two drawbacks are the short grey days, and, many sites are on limited schedules.
    Cheers,
    Brian.

  11. Great tips! If my kiddos were in year-round school it would be so much easier. I lived in France et Suisse many years ago and am dying to get my kids back there. Have been biding my time until they’re old enough to remember and truly enjoy it…not much longer now!

  12. I was so excited to learn that from you guys, I am planning to visit Germany ,Netherland, Belgium, France and luxembourg with our two kids 3 & 1 years and I was wondering whether they will be able to stand the cold weather or not, but I dont’ have other choice as the elder daughter’s midyear school holiday will end 1st March:(

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