Europe in winter

Visiting Europe in winter is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is incredibly cheap. Hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are all off-peak prices. So if you are contemplating a European  holiday on a budget; winter is the best time for you. Secondly, snow. Enough said. Who doesn’t love a White Christmas?!  For people watchers and atmosphere addicts, a trip to Europe during winter will have you hooked, you will never want to visit during any other season again.

Here are some of the best places in Europe to visit during winter.

Berlin, Germany.

No one does Christmas better than Germany, with historic markets full of gluhwein (mulled wine), German sausages, gingerbread, pretzels, and candied nuts on almost every corner. The most famous being Gendarmenmarkt. A 1 Euro entry fee will offer sit-in restaurants, bars and entertainment. Eating (and for that matter drinking) at the markets is incredibly cheap. You can eat lunch and dinner on the go, leaving lot’s of money for gluhwein (the perfect way to keep warm), hot chocolate, or beer. It’s the best way to take in the cheerful atmosphere and magical winter wonderland that is around you.

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Prague, Czech Republic.

Home to possibly the best Christmas tree you will ever see Prague also has Christmas markets that will give Germany a run for its money. Trdelník is a traditional pastry cooked over hot coals, covered in cinnamon sugar and sometimes Nutella. This will become a staple of your diet in Prague, I promise. Prague is generally a cheap tourist destination in Europe and Christmas time, although certainly very busy, is no exception. Food portions are huge, beer is cheap and the baroque rooftops are beautifully contrasted against grey skies.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Winter in Amsterdam is quiet, there are almost no crowds and this is due partly in fact to the freezing temperatures it reaches. Cold air drifts off the canals and there is no escaping it. The locals are used it, still riding their bikes absolutely everywhere. Rug up and huddle in some tea shops to keep warm. Wandering the streets admiring the beauty of the city and the Dutch architecture is also a great way to keep warm.

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Edinburgh, Scotland.

Edinburgh has this old historic charm about it that undoubtedly makes it an underrated European destination. There are a so many things to do which make exploring this sleepy, snowy town so much more charismatic. Edinburgh has a dark history full of filth and violence, it is truly fascinating and visiting during winter brings that history to life.

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Rome, Italy.

The best time to visit Rome is during winter. Fountains freeze over and there are little to no crowds, which means you can get more out of your day by eliminating wait time in lines. Accommodation costs are at a minimum and you get a greater sense of Roman life as the stresses of summer (crowds, tourists and the heat) all but disappear. Not to mention the dappled light and sun spurs make for some spectacular shots.

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Europe is beautiful. No one can deny that and winter offers a great excuse to head indoors and absorb the culture of a city. Be it museum, galleries or a local craft shop. Sometimes it is so cold outside you find a cosy spot in a warm café or bar and simply watch the snow fall and the world go by.

The good and bad of travelling

Exploring is something I do by nature. Even as a child I couldn’t sit still for long and would often wander from my parents, needing to take in my surroundings. Today, I live a nomadic life. Never settling in one city for long, feeling the ever growing need to fully experience this amazing world and what it has to offer. The more I travel, the more insatiable this desire becomes and one of the things I love most about travelling is experiencing other ways of life. What is completey normal to them can seem utterly weird to us, and vice versa of course. My childish enthusiasm is satisfied everywhere I go and I am in a constant state of awe. This is even more so when you travel out of the city centre into smaller towns, as I did during my visit to Czech Republic.

Major cities attempt to accommodate both the people that live in and visit it, and global chain stores are on almost every corner. If you want a true taste of how the people of a particular country live, their food, their living habits, and everything in between, then travel further than the major cities. You will be surprised at the beauty you will find. One such beauty I discovered was Karlovy Vary, situated in Western Bohemia, Czech Republic. This beautiful town is reminisce of Monacco and other mediterranean towns, with its colourful buildings and surrounding mountains. Karlovy Vary has a lot to offer its visitors, known most famously as Czech’s Spa Town.

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One of the reasons why it takes claim of this title is due to the number of hot springs situated below the town. There are 12 public accessible mineral springs for drinking, containing countless amounts of natural minerals, all varying in temperature. The 13th spring is the Becherovka (Czech Republic’s national drink) distillery. A trip to Karlovy Vary is worth a good couple of days, especially as there are many hiking trails, sporting activities, spa activities and observation towers to capture the perfect shot of the forest covered valley. I was lucky enough to visit during the International Film Festival (July 4) and the town was bustling with enthusiastic movie goers. Plan your trip around this festival and who knows you might even see a very famous and familiar face. In this case it was Mel Gibson.

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Even though I discovered a beautiful town that I instantly fell in love with I would be lying if I said travelling wasn’t a struggle. At times I hate it and miss the creature comforts of home, especially when there is a language barrier. I cannot express the confusion and frustration I have had trying to find a bathroom, trying to figure out how to flush said toilet or even lock the door to the cubicle (if I am lucky enough to have a lock), buy a train ticket in a  non-English speaking country and find Vegetarian food and Soy Milk. These last two are the hardest, especially in countries that have no words you can link to the English language. In this case I thank God that Starbucks exists because no matter where you are in the world they will always have soy milk and staff that speak English. But travel out of the city centre and the Starbucks and English Menus disappear. This will be a struggle if you have dietary requirements. I suggest learning the key words you need in the language. For instance I learn “no meat” and “soy milk”. Besides sometimes it is acceptable to just eat fries, you’re on holidays after all.

http://www.karlovy-vary.cz/en/

http://www.kviff.com/en/news/

Prague

I have a European fiancé, and as much as my studies of the French language would really appreciate if he was French, sadly, he is not, he is Czech. Last year I made a maiden voyage to Europe and included in my travels a visit to Prague, including a day trip to Cesky Krumlov. He did not travel with me and I feel like this is one of the reasons why I did not like Prague as much as every other visitor to the city. I feel very alone and confused in my feelings about this city. On one hand when I visit my photo album from the trip I realise that I captured some spectacular shots of Czech rooftops and monuments, a city which is truly very appealing to the eye.

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One of my favourite places was Prague Castle, beautiful in its Gothic hertitage, stain-glassed windows and stunning views of the city below. I am also fond of the view from a top of the Astronimcal Clock Tower. On the other hand I felt incredibly lonely in this city and found the language barrier harder than anywhere else I had been (Czech is an almost impossible language to learn to non-natives).

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Prior to my visit to Prague I had been in Paris and consumed way too many Baguettes and Croissants for a person of my size so I booked myself in for a Bike Tour of Prague through Viator.com which I cannot recommend enough. I suggest doing this trip very early on as you get shown spectacular views and sites that I never woud have found on my own. The tour guide providing what I am certain was more information and history than required. I have provided a link to the tour through the Viator website. I have also provided a link to website for Cesky Krumlov, providing tours and accommodation, should you feel the need to tick it off your Bucket List.

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Happy Travels!

http://www.viator.com/tours/Prague/Prague-Bike-Tour/d462-2224BIKE

http://www.viator.com/tours/Prague/Cesky-Krumlov-Day-Trip-from-Prague/d462-2190CEDT13

http://www.krumlov.com