So, it’s 28th June 2020.
In terms of travel prospects – both domestic and international – the second quarter of 2020 was a complete write-off, and the situation looks set to continue for another few months at least. The European continent, along with much of the rest of the world, is only just emerging from its Covid-19 slumber. Many countries – the UK very much included – face a long and unclear future ahead, with a great degree of uncertainty surrounding when and where our residents may be able to travel, and what types of restrictions they may face both in-destination, and upon arrival home.
As at today’s date, there is promising talk of the introduction of ‘air bridges’ next week, whereby UK residents may be able to travel to a selection of European destinations, without facing quarantine restrictions upon arrival back in the UK. However, these approved destinations are as of yet officially unconfirmed. Furthermore, simply being able to travel overseas for a holiday does not mean that the holiday in question will be ‘business as usual’. Travellers of all types may still have to face unusual and restrictive circumstances in-destination, such as social distancing, the closure of popular attractions, and possibly the prospect of wearing face coverings in public.
Should I Travel This Year?
Much as our hearts ache over the prospect of not undertaking a summer holiday this year – and our well wishes go to the hundreds of thousands of business owners and employees throughout Europe’s popular summer destinations – here at Travel Blog, we have made the decision to not undertake personal holiday trips until the winter of 2021.
We know that many of our readers may have come to the same decision. However, travellers are then left in a bit of a dilemma – if I wait until autumn/winter to travel, where can I go, and what can I do? Many of our readers will happily jet off to a winter sun destination such as the Canaries, North Africa, the Caribbean or Florida (and we are very jealous!), but our intention is to stay relatively local within mainland Europe, and we have city breaks in Central Europe in mind. If you are thinking the same, then read on for some tips and benefits of European winter destinations.
Note: we are hoping that UK residents will be able to travel to any/all of the following destinations by January 2021, but be sure to check both local and in-destination travel advisories before you book or undertake any travel.
Advantages of winter travel (January to March) to ‘cold’ destinations:
- Travel and accommodation can be much cheaper to obtain, due to lower demand
- Attractions and facilities in-destination are often considerably less crowded – in some cities, it is normal to be one of just a handful of visitors to a restaurant, museum, or other attraction during the cold winter months
- Many Central European cities have a particular charm during the winter. Winter snowfall is not uncommon in the region, and a light dusting of the white stuff can transform city centres into winter wonderlands
Disadvantages of winter travel:
- Local weather conditions in the UK can disrupt or delay flight plans – here at Travel Blog, we’re been held up at the UK end a handful of times due to snowfall and other extreme weather in the UK. Thankfully, even the heaviest of snowfall in-destination in Central Europe rarely interrupts travel itineraries. There’s a lot to be said for the difference in preparedness for winter weather between European countries…
- If you’re looking for booming nightlife or a thriving cultural scene, these may be more toned down during the winter months. This is not to say that you can’t still find excellent nightlife – you just may need to look harder for it. This is good news for those who prefer small cosy pubs where you can get comfortable for a few drinks, in a non-crowded venue
- When we say ‘cold’, in some instances this can mean really bloody cold. The average January temperature in Prague – one of our article picks – is -1 degree Celsius. Yes, minus one.
The Best European Winter Destinations
As with all of our articles, we cannot possibly pack all that this entire region offers into just one web page. Alongside these recommendations are many others not featured, which are themselves splendid winter destinations.
Krakow is splendid year-round, but there are a few main reasons as to why a winter visit may offer more than you think. January sales on already-cheap (by UK standards) clothing and electronics can mean extremely deep discounts can be obtained. The modern Galeria Krakowska and Galeria Kazimierz both sit just outside of the historical old town, and contain a variety of national and international brand-name shops.
Tickets for day trips to the Salt Mine and/or Auschwitz can be particularly good value. As two of Krakow’s main attractions, you can also benefit from fewer crowds. Auschwitz is a must-do, and the sobering witness of the horrors that unfolded here are best appreciated without the bustle of busy summer crowds.
As one of the region’s premier destinations, Prague can be exceptionally crowded in its peak months. Although nothing can take away from the city’s overall charm and beauty, a visit during the summer months may mean you have to endure a sea of selfie sticks whilst trying to cross the Charles Bridge. Instead, enjoy spectacles such as the mesmerising movements of the Astronomical Clock (old Town Square, on the hour, 9am-11pm) pretty much by yourself.
On our visit during January, we had the magnificent Wenceslas Square all to ourselves. In peak season, you’re unlikely to get close to the ‘Good Old King’ without capturing crowds of other tourists into your photos.
One thing to note about Budapest is that it is a large city. Without throngs of tourists, the many – and equally important – districts of this grand city become easier to navigate. The excellent metro system is much less crowded, and can have you zipping between District V (for the River Danube, Parliament Buildings and Budapest’s impressive bridges); District VI (for the imposing and swish Andrássy Avenue); District VII (for the Jewish Quarter and famed Ruin Pubs); and District VIII (Palace Quarter).
However, our favourite district for a special winter-only visit is the Buda side of Buda-Pest. Here, you will have the majestic and oldy-worldy Fisherman’s Bastion almost to yourself, which looks even more impressive after snowfall.
Modest little Bratislava is chronically-overlooked any time of year, as it sits in the shadow of its mighty neighbour Vienna (Austria), which is just 34 miles away. Sleepy at the best of times, Bratislava turns chocolate-box perfect during its colder months – especially after a dusting of snow – and is one place you really will have to yourself.
For an unforgettable experience, trip up to Bratislava Castle for majestic winter-time views of this compact city. As Bratislava is very small, when you’re done exploring, hop on a 50-minute train to Vienna.
In our view, Vienna trips were made with winter in mind. Although this powerhouse of a city is also spectacular during high-season, there’s something in the air and atmosphere that keeps drawing us back, winter after winter.
Viennese coffee culture is world-famous, yet unlike its warmer southern European counterparts, Vienna coffee is best enjoyed within an opulent, steamy coffee house, sheltering from the cold and putting your feet up, before heading back out to explore more of this vast city, steeped in history and culture.
Inspiration for Central European Winter Breaks
We hope that we have given you some fresh new ideas when it comes to picking your next city break, and perhaps even suggested places that may never have crossed your mind.
All cities mentioned in this blog have been visited by us, several times, and come recommended based on our own personal experiences. We’re confident that you will love them and all that they have to offer as much as we do, so why not give them a go?