Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence

Post originally Published January 23, 2024 || Last Updated January 23, 2024

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Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Holiday Crowds Linger into New Year

While the holiday season technically ends on New Year's Eve, the festive mood and bustling crowds tend to linger into early January across Europe. If you're planning a getaway after the holidays, be prepared for busy airports, crowded attractions, and packed hotels - especially during the first week of the new year.

Popular tourist destinations like Paris, London, and Rome see some of their highest visitor numbers in early January. Many Europeans take off this week for a little apres-Noel holiday, joining the tail end of the Christmas travelers. The Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Colosseum - all will still have those endless queues and jostling selfie sticks. Museum crowds may thin slightly by mid-month, but the first week will be packed.
Amanda, who traveled to Amsterdam after Christmas a few years back, described the experience: "We expected it to be quieter after the holidays, but it was still really crowded and busy everywhere we went. Lines at the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum were over an hour long. The narrow streets were jammed with tourists. We basically got all the crowds without the festive holiday markets and lights."

While cities may not feel as merry and bright in January, prices unfortunately stay high. Hotels often have premium holiday rates that extend into the new year. Airfares also tend to be higher, with demand still strong but fewer flights available after the holiday rush. January is solidly in peak season for warm getaways too - so expect to pay top dollar for spots like Spain's Canary Islands.

What else is in this post?

  1. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Holiday Crowds Linger into New Year
  2. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Weather Woes - Rain, Snow and Cold Temps
  3. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - High Season Prices Persist Post-Holidays
  4. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Popular Destinations at Peak Capacity
  5. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Fewer Flight Options and Higher Fares
  6. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Pack Winter Gear - Boots, Coats and Hats
  7. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Museums and Attractions on Reduced Hours
  8. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Enjoy Quieter Moments in Lesser-Known Locales
  9. Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Experience Local Traditions and Festivals

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Weather Woes - Rain, Snow and Cold Temps

While visions of Christmas markets and mulled wine may dance in your head, the reality of January weather in Europe is often dreary and damp. From frigid temperatures to drenching rains, Old Man Winter makes his presence known across the continent this time of year. You'll want to pack accordingly if you're heading across the pond in January.
"We visited Paris in January a few years back and basically froze the entire time," recalls Amanda from Dallas. "Temperatures barely hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit most days and dipped into the 20s at night. My jeans and leather jacket weren't nearly warm enough. I should've packed a down coat, scarf, hat, and gloves at a minimum."

If Paris seems chilly, brace yourself for even more frigid temps further north and east. Cities like Berlin, Prague, and Vienna average highs in the 30s. Overnight lows routinely drop below freezing with frosty mornings. "No amount of glühwein could thaw us out wandering around Old Town Prague last January," chuckled Todd from Chicago. "We basically speed-walked between indoor attractions to avoid turning into icicles outside."

While continental interiors shiver, coastal areas also struggle with blustery winds whipping off the North Sea and Atlantic. "We timed our trip to Scotland's Highlands poorly - early January was absolutely miserable weather-wise," lamented Lauren from San Francisco. "Howling gales lashed us with cold rain daily. Instead of scenic hikes, we spent most of the trip drying out fireside at the inn."

Even the Mediterranean coast sees a dip in temperatures, with cities like Barcelona and Rome averaging highs in the 50s. Overcast skies and chilly rains can dampen your Spanish escape. "We expected Barcelona to be pleasant in January, but were surprised by how cold and dreary it felt," remarked Andrea from Los Angeles. "The wind whipping down Las Ramblas cut right through our layers."

While January marks the depths of winter across most of Europe, precipitation patterns vary. Continental interiors tend to be drier, with occasional flurries giving a dusting of snow. Coastal zones and mountainous areas see the most rainfall, along with potentially heavy snow at higher elevations. When packing, having water-resistant outerwear and proper footwear is essential.

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - High Season Prices Persist Post-Holidays

While the twinkling lights may have gone dark and the carolers fallen silent, Europe's high season prices unfortunately linger into January. Despite the holidays being over, airfares, hotels and vacation rentals across the continent remain elevated that first week of the new year.

"We expected Europe to be cheaper after Christmas and New Year's, but unfortunately that was not the case," recalled Amanda from Houston, who visited Rome in early January. "Airfares from the US were just as expensive as during the holidays. And hotels were still charging premium rates, even though the festive decorations were being packed up."

Like Amanda, many travelers assume the new year brings big savings as demand drops off. But in reality, the holiday hangover continues through at least the first week of January. Air carriers know many vacationers have requested time off work this week and schedules remain full. With high demand and limited supply, there is little incentive to lower fares.

Hotels similarly keep holiday rates in place, aiming to maximize revenues from lingering celebrants. "I was shocked to see our 'winter sale' hotel in London had the exact same price for early January as Christmas week when we booked," said Todd from Boston. "Considering the decorations were bare and crowds thinner, it seemed unfair."

While the holiday premium persists through the first week, Scott from Chicago found mid-January did bring some relief. "When we traveled to Amsterdam and Brussels during the second week, airfares were about 15% cheaper and hotels 25% less," he said. "Demand had clearly dropped off by then."

For warm weather escapes, the extended holiday hangover can last even longer. Southern Europe and the Canary Islands remain in peak tourist season, with sun-seekers flocking south through January. Prices may even rise the second week as those looking for sunshine after the holidays join the masses.

"I incorrectly assumed a January getaway to Tenerife would be cheap with perfect weather still, " laughed Lauren from Denver ruefully. "Our apartment was just as expensive as during the holidays. Beaches were packed with pasty Northern Europeans too getting their winter dose of vitamin sea."

From the Eiffel Tower to the canals of Venice, Europe's top sites swarm with tourists even after the holidays. While many travelers hope for smaller crowds in January, popular destinations actually remain at peak capacity that first week of the new year. You'll still find endless queues, packed museums, and cramped cafes.
"We expected Paris to be quieter in January, but were so wrong," laughed Amanda from Dallas ruefully. "The Louvre and Orsay were jammed elbow-to-elbow on the weekend. Lines for the Mona Lisa and Starry Night snaked halfway across the museum." Even lesser-known museums struggled with holiday spillover crowds. "The Rodin Museum had a 30 minute wait just to get in," added Amanda's husband Todd. "And we couldn't even glimpse the Thinker sculpture through the mob of selfie-stick wielding tourists clustered around it."

Over in London, sights like the Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace remained inundated after the holidays. "The Changing of the Guard ceremony was a total madhouse," remarked Lauren from San Francisco. "We could barely see over the rows of people crowded along the palace fence." Lauren's friend Andrea agreed, "Don't even think about having space for a friendly chat over afternoon tea - every table at the Wolseley Restaurant was packed solid."

In sunnier climes, Spain's Costa del Sol remained jammed with sun seekers through early January. "The beach in Marbella was more crowded than in August," exclaimed Scott from Chicago. "Umbrellas and chairs covered every inch of sand, with lines of pasty Northerners waiting to grab a tiny spot." The crowds also overflowed to Malaga's top attractions. "We queued for almost two hours just to access the Alcazaba fort," Scott added. "And good luck elbowing through the selfie-taking masses in Picasso's birthplace museum."

Over in Italy, Rome's Colosseum saw some of its highest annual visitor numbers the first week of January. "Gladiators and Centurions were posing with tourists five people deep trying to get that iconic photo," recalled Amanda from Houston. "Inside wasn't much better - we shuffled shoulder-to-shoulder with slow-moving guided tours through the ancient corridors." Venice's St. Mark's Square also bustled with holiday hangers-on gazing up at the Byzantine basilica. "Forget about an intimate table on the square - every cafe was crammed with damp sightseers drying out over a spritz," laughed Andrea from Los Angeles.

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Fewer Flight Options and Higher Fares

While holiday airfares linger into January, flight availability also drops sharply once peak season schedules wind down. This reduced supply amid still strong demand leads to even higher prices on the few seats remaining.

Amanda from Dallas discovered that out when booking her family's post-holiday trip to Paris: "We were shocked that the nonstop from Dallas to Paris jumped $300 per person that first week of January. There were only half as many flights, all packed solid." With school breaks ending, airlines scale back the extra holiday capacity. But many vacationers still head to Europe that first week of the new year, clamoring for fewer seats.

Todd from Boston saw fares skyrocket to Italy as options dwindled. "When we booked Rome in October, roundtrips were under $500 in January. But by mid-December, the nonstops were sold out and only convoluted itineraries were left - for over $800." Airlines utilize yield management tactics, holding some seats for last-minute travelers willing to pay higher fares. With full planes around the holidays, fewer discounted seats may be released after Christmas.
According to Lauren from San Francisco, "Scoring a deal to Europe in early January takes luck and flexibility." She monitored fares daily to find affordable flights on her preferred dates. "One day, an Air France sale briefly brought Paris flights down to $365 roundtrip. But I hesitated and the sale ended - prices shot back up over $600 the next day." Catching temporary fare drops and sales requires diligence once holiday deals disappear.

Weather woes also reduce options, as storms impact transatlantic flying. "Flight cancellations and disruptions left us stranded overnight in New Jersey on our way to Berlin," said Todd from Chicago. Their rebooked itinerary took 24 hours longer, including an unexpected layover in Reykjavik. With fewer alternate flights in winter, delays cascade. "Luckily we packed extra layers and had scheduled buffer days in Berlin," added Lauren. "But the lost time and added expenses were frustrating."

For sun-seekers headed south, the masses clamoring for limited seats on holiday charters keep fares lofty into January. "I planned our Canary Islands getaway for early January expecting cheap rates with perfect weather still," said Scott from Chicago. "But demand was still high and seats limited - I paid almost double what winter charters cost pre-holidays." Airlines maximize revenues on seasonal leisure routes by constraining seats.

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Pack Winter Gear - Boots, Coats and Hats

While visions of charming Christmas markets or cozy cafés may dance in your head, the reality of European winters means packing the proper outerwear. From frigid temperatures to bone-chilling winds, having the right winter gear - warm coats, waterproof boots, gloves and hats - is essential to enjoying your January travels.

"We made the mistake of underpacking for winter weather on our trip to Copenhagen last January," admitted Lauren, a teacher from Los Angeles. "The weather was far colder than our light jackets could handle." Daytime highs barely climbed above freezing, while bone-piercing winds whipped off the sea. "My fashionable trenchcoat was useless against the elements. My ears stung just walking from shop to café," she said. Lauren wished she had packed a heavy wool peacoat, cashmere scarf, waterproof boots and a down parka to layer.

Todd, an accountant from Boston, agrees. "Don't let images of romantic European cities make you underestimate real winter conditions," he warned. When Todd traveled to Prague last January, overnight lows plunged below zero degrees Fahrenheit. "My leather jacket and Converse sneakers were no match for icy cobblestones and snow flurries," Todd said. Slipping along the Charles Bridge in unsuitable footwear was a lesson learned. Now he packs his warmest parka, wool hat, insulated gloves and waterproof snow boots when visiting historic cities in winter.

Amanda, an architect from Houston, recalls shivering inside musty museums and drafty cathedrals on her January trip to Paris. "I made the rookie mistake of thinking fashion over function in the City of Light," she said. Her stylish wardrobe of dresses, skirts and light jackets looked chic, but offered little comfort as she stood for hours admiring Monets and Rodins. "The damp chill seeped into my bones after each long, unheated queue," Amanda said. Now she travels with thermal leggings and underlayers, a cozy down coat with hood, and her most comfortable, warm sneakers on winter Europe trips. No more fashion victims.
Hotels and indoor spaces can also be quite cold this time of year, warns Andrea, an attorney from Seattle. "We barely cranked up the heat inside our budget hotel in Amsterdam last January, even though it was snowing outside," she said. Packing pajamas, robes and slippers is key for in-room comfort during the frigid nights. Andrea now also travels with a compact travel humidifier during winter to combat painfully dry, heated air on planes and in lodgings across Europe.

Proper gloves, hats, scarves and boots don't just keep you warm and dry outdoors, notes Scott, a software developer from Chicago. They prevent you from cutting trips short when the freezing rain and snow falls. "Having waterproof snow boots allowed us to still wander Prague's neighborhoods for hours despite the flurries," he recalled. "And my warmest wool beanie meant I could admire the views from Charles Bridge without my ears freezing off."

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Museums and Attractions on Reduced Hours

While Europe's top museums and attractions swarm with tourists through early January, many also begin scaling back operating hours once the holidays end. Don't expect extended evening and weekend openings now.

Amanda from Dallas discovered this surprise visiting the Louvre that first week of January. "Even though crowds were packed elbow-to-elbow, the Louvre had already shifted to their off-season schedule," she said. The world-famous museum closed two hours earlier than during the holidays, with weekday hours only 9am to 5pm. "We barely had enough time to race through the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa," Amanda added.

Her husband Todd encountered similar reduced hours touring Prague's cultural attractions in early January. "We were startled when the ticket-taker shooed us out of Prague Castle at 4pm sharp saying it was closing," Todd remarked. The sprawling castle complex had switched to shorter days after the holidays, now shuttering before dusk despite mid-winter darkness.

Over in London, Lauren from San Francisco struggled to squeeze in sightseeing around abbreviated openings. "With museums and churches closing by 5pm, we often had less than four hours available after morning hotel checkouts," she said. Popular attractions like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral all had more limited hours. Lauren wished she had researched schedules in advance.
Andrea, who traveled with Lauren, agreed it required advance planning. "You have to strategically stack your sightseeing cards if you hope to see everything with shorter winter hours," she said. For example, efficient use of time was essential to visit both the British Museum and the adjacent Sir John Soane's Museum, which closed mid-afternoon.

The shortened days also impacted Scott from Chicago when he visited Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia in early January. "What I didn't realize was the basilica stopped doing general admission after 4 pm," he said. With tickets selling out weeks in advance, only pricey guided tours were available for late afternoon. Scott recommended booking tickets online as early as possible with the shorter hours.
Reduced hours aren't limited to museums and monuments. Todd from Boston found restaurant pickings also slimmer after dark in many cities come January. "By 9 pm in Prague, we were hard-pressed to find anywhere good still serving dinner," he remarked. With Tourism down, eateries understandably cut back to remain profitable. Todd learned to dine earlier than when visiting Europe during spring and summer.

Beyond reduced hours, some attractions limit operations or close entirely for annual winter maintenance. "We were disappointed to find Rembrandt's House Museum completely closed when visiting Amsterdam in early January," recalled Lauren from San Francisco. Similar closures are common, so checking schedules is essential to avoid surprises.

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Enjoy Quieter Moments in Lesser-Known Locales

While popular destinations overflow with holiday hangers-on in January, escaping the crowds is as easy as veering off the beaten path. Meander down backstreets, explore outer neighborhoods, or visit lesser-known towns and sites. You’ll be rewarded with a more authentic, peaceful experience away from the masses.

Amanda, who battled hordes at Paris’s top sites, discovered the magic of going local. “Weary of jostling sightseers, we wandered off the tourist track in Montmartre and stumbled upon the loveliest hidden vineyard and cobblestoned squares,” she said. Quiet cafés, quirky shops, and neighborhood parks offered a window into real Parisian life. “It was like our own little secret village, minutes from the mayhem at Sacré-Coeur.”

Forgoing Prague’s crowded Old Town for adventures across the river was a highlight for Todd. “Wandering down to Vyšehrad, we practically had the hilltop fortress and grounds to ourselves,” he said.턢 Had we only stuck to packed landmarks like Charles Bridge, we’d have missed this gem.” From flea markets in gritty Holešovice to tree-lined strolls in hilltop villas, Prague enchants off-script.
Lauren reveled in ditching London’s choked tourist trail after tiring of crammed museums and attractions. “When we stumbled upon Hampstead Heath, it was like finding a bit of countryside in the city,” she said. Meandering quiet lanes past quaint pubs and leafy parks atop the hill revealed London’s livelier side.

Andrea agreed carving your own path pays dividends. “Escaping jam-packed Buckingham Palace, we spent the perfect afternoon in St. James's Park feeding the ducks and admiring the view,” she said. Without following guidebooks religiously, you stumble upon your own adventures.
Scott uncovered Tenerife’s wilder side and deserted black sand beaches far from packed resort towns. “Renting a car let us escape crowded Costa Adeje to explore mountain villages like Masca and remote rocky coves,” he said. Beyond crowded promenades and discos, the island enthralls.

January's lower crowds also offer a prime opportunity to stray beyond perennially congested hotspots like Paris, London, and Rome altogether. Snow-dusted forests lure in the Austrian Alps and Slovenian Julian Alps. Life moves at a slower pace in Italy’s Puglia or Portugal's Douro Valley. Discover Croatia's peaceful Istrian Peninsula and Kotor Bay this month without battling summer's hordes. Wintry Copenhagen dazzles minus its usual masses. Belgium's storybook Bruges remains enchanting less its crush of admirers. For the trip of a lifetime, Norway's Arctic awes in blue silence under flickering Northern Lights.

Buckle Up: Why Traveling to Europe in January May Hit Turbulence - Experience Local Traditions and Festivals

While visitors swarm Europe’s iconic sites in early January, getting off the beaten track lets you discover age-old festivals and traditions minus the hordes. From charming Christmas pageants to fiery carnivals, January offers a bevy of beguiling local celebrations across Europe. You’ll gain a deeper connection to regional culture while avoiding packed capitals.

Rapturous religious ceremonies carry on in remote Spanish mountain villages like Bocairent. Here the vibrant Fiesta de San Antonio Abad kicks off with bonfires, fireworks, and stunt riders guiding horses through narrow stone arches. Locals parade elaborately costumed effigies of saints through town accompanied by colorful floats and blaring brass bands late into the chilly January nights.

Throughout frigid German and Austrian mountain towns, ancient Epiphany caroling carries on each January 6th. Carolers in elaborate dress circle the community, singing hymns requesting donations for charity. Homeowners offer snacks and small gifts to reward the musical well-wishers who bring holiday cheer in darkest winter.
No grim winter dampens France’s carnival spirit, especially along the Mediterranean. From Nice’s glitzy flower parades to rowdy street parties in Biarritz and Annecy, exuberant carnival celebrations sweep France in January. Don costumes, sample sweet treats, and dance alongside whimsical floats at these Riviera blowouts before Lent begins.

Farther south on Italy’s chilly Ligurian coast, Viareggio’s month-long carnival dazzles with monumental papier-mâché statues lampooning modern culture and politics. Italy’s famously flamboyant Carnevale season kicks off in Venice in late January, with costumed revelry citywide. But escaping the lagoon’s madding crowds to small-town Italian carnivals offers a cozier experience.

Ancient pagan traditions heralding the return of longer days permeate Europe’s coldest corners. In the remote Polish mountains, the Festival of the Winter Dormouse on January 10th celebrates folk legends of hibernating animals awakening and forecasting spring’s imminent arrival with bonfires and feasts.

Up in frigid Lapland, the Arctic Circle’s indigenous Sami peoples welcome the sun’s rising with ceremonial reindeer sleigh processions, singing, and snowmobiling at the Kaamos Sun Festival. Nearby snow-covered Finnish villages keep pagan Tviesdaysblót traditions alive with spiced wine, archery contests, and torchlit processions granting wishes for light’s restoration.
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