Monique Rubin lives in the Netherlands and blogs about family and expat life. She has done so many fun things around Europe with her kids it makes my head spin! She has so much to share, I’ve invited Monique to become a regular contributor on Ciao Bambino. Welcome to CB Monique!
Tourists travel to Europe in droves in spring and summer resulting in crowds, queues and cantankerous attitudes. Why not travel to Europe during the winter months instead? There’s still plenty to do and see that is fun for kids of all ages.
Here’s my round up of favorite wintertime activities across Europe.
A reindeer sleigh ride
With mountains of snow from the Alps to the Dolomites, Europe is the perfect place to enjoy winter sports. Ski resorts in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria offer perfectly manicured ski routes for skiers of all levels. For those who don’t ski, there are plenty of other snow-filled activities to keep everyone busy. Enjoy a sleigh ride pulled by horses in Salzburg or Zermatt, reindeer in Finnish or Swedish Lapland or huskies in Norway.
Grab your toboggan and zoom down Europe’s longest sledding run. The 10 mile long run is located near the Swiss town of Grindelwald, but Harry Potter fans be warned, it’s nowhere near Hogwarts.
Snow tubing is just like tobogganing but with no steering or stopping mechanism. While Switzerland has the most snow tubing runs in Europe with close to 30, there are also several in Germany, Austria and Finland.
Lace up your ice skates and take a spin around the outdoor ice rinks in some of Europe’s coolest capitals like the Rathaus (city hall) in Vienna, Somerset House in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz or Museumplein in Amsterdam.
Performing arts are in full bloom during the winter months, presenting the perfect opportunity to attend a ballet, opera or theater performance in one of Europe’s culture capitals. Experience this grand European tradition by seeing a performance by the Paris Opera Ballet or an opera at the Vienna Opera House.
Museums offer the perfect refuge on a cold winter’s day, providing both warmth and education. Natural history and military museums like London’s Royal Artillery Museum, museums dedicated to science like Paris’Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie or specifically aimed toward children like the CORPUS near Amsterdam or museums celebrating the fabulous things in life, like Museu de la Xocolato (Chocolate Museum) in Barcelona are among my family favorites.
The castles in Europe are the stuff that make dreams and fairytales come alive for kids. Visit Neuschwanstein, Germany’s most famous castle (the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland), the Tower of London, home of the Crown Jewels and the Beefeaters who protect them, and the world’s largest castle complex, Prague Castle.
Not all amusement parks in Europe hibernate for the winter. For some, that’s when the fun begins. Hunderfossen Winterpark is in Lillehammer, Norway, home of the 1994 Winter Olympics, so they know a thing or two about winter fun and games. Enjoy winter at The Netherlands’ Efteling Amusement Park with sleigh rides, ice-skating and a snow slide and what could be more heartwarming than the parades and live stage shows at Mickey’s Winter Wonderland at Disneyland Paris?
Carnival in The Netherlands
Carnival is major winter festival celebrated widely throughout Europe. While celebrations in southern European countries like Italy and Spain are renowned, carnival merriment and madness occurs in the northern countries of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands too. Since everybody loves a parade, consider visiting the Karneval in Koeln (Cologne) during carnival for costumes, candy and craziness.
Winter is the time for Europe’s semi-annual sales, and with discounts starting between 25-30% and often reaching as high as 75% by the end of the sale period. It is — in my opinion — one of the best winter activities around. Add visits to legendary European department stores Galleries Lafayette and Printemps in France, Harrod’s in London and Berlin’s KaDeWe to your travel itinerary.
Be sure to indulge in the hearty winter fare of whichever European region you visit. Erwtensoep, the pea soup from the Netherlands made with slices of rookworst (smoked sausage), Fondue, the Swiss/French favorite, Swedish meatballs or if you’re feeling brave, the Scottish delight, haggis. A shot of Scandinavian Schnapps or Russian Vodka will undoubtedly warm your insides as well.
Photos courtesy of Monique Rubin