Rick Steves: Don’t give winter trip to Europe the cold shoulder

The opposite can be true of big-city business centers (especially in Berlin and the Scandinavian capitals), which are busiest with corporate travelers and are most expensive off-season.

Off-season adventurers loiter all alone through Leonardo da Vinci’s last home in France, ponder in Rome’s Forum undisturbed, kick up sand on lonely Adriatic beaches, and chat with laid-back guards by log fires in a Loire chateau.

In wintertime Venice, you can be all alone atop St. Mark’s bell tower, watching the clouds of your breath roll over the Byzantine domes of the church to a horizon of cut-glass Alps.

Below, on St. Mark’s Square, pigeons fidget and wonder, “Where are the tourists?” Off-season adventurers enjoy step-right-up service at shops and tourist offices, and experience a more European Europe.

Pack for the cold and wet – layers of clothing, rainproof parka, gloves, wool hat, long johns, waterproof shoes and an umbrella.

Cold weather is colder when you’re outdoors trying to enjoy yourself all day long, and cheap hotels are not always adequately heated in the off-season.

Beware of shorter hours:

Because much of Europe is at high latitudes, the winter days are short.

Winter sightseeing is fine in big cities, which bustle year-round, but it’s more frustrating in small tourist towns, which can be boringly quiet, with many sights and restaurants closed down.

[…] some of my warmest European memories have been in the chilly off-season.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio.

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