Travel in northern europe during Christmas?
August 23, 2011 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Travel in northern europe over Christmas: insane, or eminently reasonable with minor hiccups?

It appears that I will be in northern europe between Dec.18 and Jan.1. Although I've been to all of these places previously, it's never been during a major holiday, and I am not familiar with local practices regarding Christmas.

So, I would appreciate any tips folks might have regarding shutdowns, unusual delays/fees, and so on. Should I, for example, begin frantically nailing down hotel reservations? I'm used to "shoulder season" travel, where I don't have to nail things down until I get where I'm going.

Countries I'll be in: England, France, Belgium, Netherlands.

The exact schedule has yet to be determined, which is one reason why I'm asking for tips -- if some place is especially likely to shut down entirely on, say, the 23rd then I might be able to avoid it.
posted by aramaic to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Public transport shuts down totally in the UK on Christmas Day (trains, Tube, buses), along with most shops apart from petrol stations. This came as a bit of a shock to my US visitors the other year. ;) You can get around, but paying a lot for taxis. I think it's a nice time to visit. Be aware that there will be less daylight than in the US (you don't say where you are from) because northern Europe is further north. On the other hand, the climate is generally milder than in the northern parts of North America. Mostly, people can be in a good mood at offices. I would say that getting reservations together early is probably sensible.
posted by plep at 9:19 AM on August 23, 2011

If it decides to snow properly airports can get a bit dicey. Last year Heathrow became a mega-mess.
posted by jannw at 9:19 AM on August 23, 2011

Weather problems hit Eurostar too. You can get disruption to travel in severe conditions.
posted by plep at 9:26 AM on August 23, 2011

I've spent Christmas and New Year's in England and France. Christmas Day and Boxing Day (12/26) in the UK are dead. In France most restaurants are closed but some are open and the good places for Christmas dinner required reservations. Chinese places are almost always open in both places. The other days were mostly business as usual. The weather can be crappy; Paris had lots of snow in 2009. I made my arrangements in October for a December stay and had no problems.
posted by shoesietart at 9:30 AM on August 23, 2011

Public transport in all of these countries can be busy in this period as people head off or back from holidays - so be sure to make reservations. Most train lines give their best discounts to those who book ahead. If you choose to make your reservations at the last minute then you will probably be OK with short and medium distance routes - but may run into problems if you are travelling further.

Of the countries you mention only the UK (I believe) shuts most of its trains and buses down over Christmas or New Year. If you need to be travelling on December 25th, 26th on on January 1st then that would be a good time not to be in the UK. This Christmas Day and New Years day fall on a Sunday meaning that the following Monday will also be holidays with limited travel. If you are travelling to Scotland then things shut down even further and January 2nd is normally a national holiday with little transport - so in this case both the 2nd and 3rd will be affected.

This year the whole system - and particularly airports - are likely to be busy on the 17th/18th the 23rd and on Jan 2nd/3rd/.
posted by rongorongo at 9:33 AM on August 23, 2011

A few years ago, several of my family members went to Italy over that time period (2 weeks, and were there for both Christmas and New Years).

They went without any prior reservations. All they had was their plane tickets back. They found hotels as they traveled, figured out public transportation, etc.

They had a successful trip, and actually got DIRT CHEAP prices on all of the hotels they stayed at, and were able to talk down prices. And the places they stayed at were VERY nice.

You are going to be travelling in the off-season, which means that the normal tourist business is at a complete lull. Take advantage of this.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2011

You'll be mostly fine on christmas day in Amsterdam. There will be less trains/public transport, but still quite decent. Also, you can do everything here on a bike ( yes, we bike in the snow too!). Museums/restaurants supermarkets etc vary a bit, but with some planning ahead you can put together a nice itinerary of things to do at that time.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 12:13 PM on August 23, 2011

I frequently travel in Europe over Christmas. Book hotels and transport early. If you are traveling on the days leading up to the 24/25th December or on New Year's Eve, make sure you RESERVE on trains, not just buy a ticket (many countries distinguish the two, and you don't want to be stuck standing up for 10 hours squished among all the other people who didn't reserve a seat.)

Expect that nothing will be open for food for a few days over Christmas, and on New Year's day. Make restaurant reservations early (you'll have to call around a few places to find things that are open). And stock up on snacks and breakfast-style items if your hotel doesn't do food.

In most of continental Europe, the 24th is Christmas, but it doesn't really start happening until afternoon/evening, and the 25th is more business as usual. That doesn't mean that public services (post office, doctors, banks) will open on the 25th - they could be closed for up to a week. But you might be caught short if you are expecting it to be easier to get a restaurant reservation on the 24th than the 25th.

Enjoy the Christmas markets!
posted by lollusc at 4:49 PM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your remarks!
posted by aramaic at 11:16 AM on August 24, 2011

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