I've written a few articles for my command's newsletter, here's the one about winter travel.
Winter is coming… What does that mean for European travel? Sweater weather! Scarves! Mittens! Snow! Skiing! Christmas Markets!
Here in Sicily we are lucky enough to revel in temperate weather all year, but Europe has a range of climates to explore and enjoy. Northern countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland may not get as much light in the winter, but their populations are some of the happiest in the world because they celebrate these cold months.
Winter is the perfect time to visit these countries to try out some winter sports or see the Northern Lights! There are many tour companies that will take you out to the wild tundra, far away from the lights of the city to see the Aurora Borealis. And don’t worry if bad weather interferes with the lights, many companies offer a refund or insurance that allows you to visit again for free in the next two years, giving a perfect reason to return. They also offer amazing experiences like dog sledding, cross country skiing, or snow shoeing.
Ever noticed that mountain range up north? The Alps offer some of the best skiing in the world and run through Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany with dozens of resorts and ski areas that can accommodate a variety of budgets. You can try anywhere from Chamonix Mont-Blanc, with its 4,810m mountain, to the Matterhorn in Zermatt. There are also some ski destinations which are a little off the beaten path that offer a lower price tag and are better for beginners, like Jahorina, Bosina (site of the 1984 Winter Olympics women’s alpine skiing events); Janské Lázne, Czech Republic about two hours outside of Prague; Poiana Brasov, Romania not far from Bran (Dracula’s) Castle; Zakopane, Poland; Borovets, Bulgaria; Papova Sapka, Macedonia; and Jasná, Slovakia.
And if you are not inclined to sliding down the side of the mountain on two pieces of plastic, then there is always the option to après-ski, which is basically sitting by a fireplace with a nice warm beverage. Christmas markets are also one of the charming facets of European life and can be found all over. According to Travel and Leisure the top markets are in Brussels, Belgium; Copenhagen, Denmark; Dresden, Munich, Nuremberg, and Stuttgart in Germany; London, England; Prague, Czech Republic; Rome, Italy; Salzburg or Vienna, Austria; and Strasbourg, France. These markets offer local crafts and food and usually have some music and entertainment, and while you are there you should try some gluhwein.
One last thing, traveling around the holidays can be wonderful. Getting to see how other cultures celebrate and enjoying cuisines that are not available the rest of the year is an invaluable experience. However, keep in mind that in most cities basically EVERYTHING will be closed on Christmas Day and many attractions will also be closed on New Year’s Day. Plan ahead so you aren’t left wandering the streets starving looking for a mythical open restaurant or missing out on museums that have special holiday hours. However you choose to travel this winter make sure to Stay Safe and Make Good Decisions!