traveling in winter

The pros and cons of traveling in winter

I’m an outspoken proponent of off-season travel, but there’s off-season travel and there’s OFF-SEASON travel. The middle of winter tends to be pretty dead when it comes to tourism in the Northern Hemisphere because no one wants to be out and about when it’s below zero outside. But traveling in winter is not all bad. It actually has equal parts pros and cons, and it could be the best time to travel under certain circumstances.

Pro: Everything is less crowded

Perhaps the biggest advantage of traveling in winter is that a lot of other people are staying home. This means that it’s nicer to get around the city without crowds of tourists, it’s easier to visit highly popular museums and attractions, and the best restaurants and bars are more likely to have availability even without a reservation.

Of course, there are some instances where winter is not off-season for a specific destination. For example, European cities get slammed with tourists during December because Christmas markets attract people from all over the world.

Con: Some things are closed

Certain attractions, particularly anything outdoors, may be closed during the winter months. This could include botanical gardens, parks, and hiking paths. However, off-the-beaten path destinations that see dramatic drops in tourism during the winter months may also close museums, castles, or other attractions. Even if places of interest aren’t closed altogether, it’s likely that they’ll have reduced hours.

If you’re planning to travel during winter, it’s a good idea to check opening hours for winter to ensure that you’ll be able to do everything you want to do.

Pro: It’s cheaper

After holiday travel dies down, the prices of flights, trains, and hotels plummet because there’s less demand. Not only is it possible to visit popular destinations at a deep discount, it’s possible to do so with very little notice. Last-minute flight deals can save you a ton, even on long-haul flights to other continents.

Con: The weather is terrible for outdoor sightseeing

traveling in winter
Even if it’s miserable, it’s no less beautiful.

If you’re visiting a city where you’d likely spend a lot of time walking outside, like Paris or Rome, the weather will probably dampen your overall experience. It’s more likely to be wet, snowy, and freezing during winter months, so you wouldn’t comfortably be able to spend a lot of time outside. Natural sights like national parks, lakes, or waterfalls may become inaccessible altogether.

See our snowy Rila Lakes adventure for a great example.

The one exception to this rule is anywhere you’d visit to see the Northern Lights. Even though there’s likely to be more cloud cover, there are more hours of nighttime, which increases your chances of seeing the aurora. Early winter and late winter are probably best.

Pro: Indoor sightseeing is more enjoyable

On the other hand, if you want to visit all the art museums in Florence, you’ll have an easier time getting tickets and face less crowds inside than you would during peak summer months. In fact, winter is a great time to visit a city you’ve already been to and check out more of their specialty museums.

Con: The days are shorter

In some parts of the world, the sun sets as early as 3 or 4 pm during winter months. This means you have less hours of daylight for outdoor sights and activities. You’re more likely to feel tired and want to sleep more, particularly if you’re not used to such dramatic changes in daylight throughout the year.

Pro: Potential to enjoy winter sports and Christmas markets

traveling in winter

Though this doesn’t fall into the category of off-season travel, traveling in the winter is the best time of year if you want to have mulled wine at a Christmas market or hit the slopes. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy winter sports, you may be the kind of person who prefers to enjoy a hot chocolate in front of a fire at a posh ski resort than a day at the beach. If that’s the case, winter travel is definitely for you!

Con: Driving can be unsafe

If you’re not used to getting around during winter, you may be in for a rude awakening. Driving in snowy conditions can be scary or downright dangerous. If your winter travel plans include a car, I suggest you do some research and follow local driving guidance. This may require using snow tires or tire chains. You may also want to make sure that the area you want to visit is not facing weather-related road closures.

Whether you love or hate winter travel, there are certainly ways to make the best of it.


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