Travelling to Western Europe in winter is a magical experience but it’s one that may require packing for all kinds of climates! Which countries fall under Western Europe? Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect of winter weather in Western Europe. Take a read through and get packing for your winter vacation!
Average winter temperatures: Between -2°C and 5°C – yes it’s pretty cold!
Main tourist cities: Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg
Big attractions: The opera in Vienna, Hohensalzburg Castle, Hofburg Imperial Palace and the ever-popular Schonbrunn Palace.
January is the coldest month, and snow cover lasts from late December to March in the valleys. It lasts a bit longer higher up – from November to May at about 1,800 m. The Alps divide Austria into four regions with distinct local climates. Skiing is best between Christmas and New Year, this is when the Austrians join visitors on the slopes. Snow cover remains great for skiing until March! Snow is a permanent fixture above 2,500 m.
In the west, the alpine region has the harshest climate. The north of the country has a typical continental climate, it rains more here, due to clouds that blow in from Germany. These get ‘stuck’ in the Alps and cause continuous rain for long periods.
In the east, near Vienna, the weather is influenced by the climate of Russia, which is milder than up north. This is why the Austrians can grow vineyards here. To the south of the Alps, the weather is milder still. Here, you have Mediterranean climate influences (although you won’t say so in winter).
Travel Tip: Jackets with removable fleece are very popular among Austrians. This kind of outerwear is useful for any outdoor activity.
Average winter temperatures: Between 0°C and 3°C
Main tourist cities: Bruges, Antwerpen, Brussels
Big attractions: Grand palace where you will find Hôtel de Ville, the Bellvue museum (national history of Belgium) and the Atomium. In Bruges, the main attractions are the 14th-century town hall, the Belfry Tower and Halle, the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour, canals and market squares.
Belgium is not called the ‘Kingdom of Rains’ for nothing. Pack your umbrella and waterproof jacket! Don’t be put off though – the country is the very epitome of European verve and vigour. Brussels and Bruges are wonderful examples of Europe’s spirited, modern cities.
Expect strong winds that melt any snow that falls. Although, between January and February, the temperatures could be raised by marine cyclones.
Travel Tip: Belgium is not the ideal ski destination but there are plenty of indoor activities and attractions – think Christmas markets, moules-frites and delicious chocolate!
Average winter temperatures: Between 3°C and 8°C
Main tourist cities: Paris, Marseilles, Nice, Toulouse
Big attractions: In Paris – The Louvre, Versailles, Disneyland Paris, historic Normandy beaches. In Nice – the French Riviera and in Marseille – the Vieux-Port.
France officially has four climatic zones. The Atlantic and Continental regions, the Alpine and Mediterranean areas. As such, you will find that the fauna and flora differs a lot from one zone to the next. France is not known for snow, but gets a lot of rain!
Did you know? The area around Paris sometimes experiences a strange warm spell in the middle of January. Temperatures of up to 30°C have been recorded!… A beach-day in winter, anyone?
Average winter temperatures: Between -3°C and 4°C
Main tourist cities: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich
Big attractions: Berlin – the Berlin Wall, Reichstag Building and Brandenburg Gate. In Munich – Oktoberfest is what it’s famous for but this Bavarian metropolis is filled with world-class museums, architecture and galleries.
Germany has two main climatic zones – to the north, the maritime climate makes for fertile soil. To the south, the continental climate encourages the growth of lush alpine vegetation and forests – it’s also substantially colder here. Winters are green and windy throughout the country.
Be sure to have your waterproof jacket wrapped around you because German winters are unpredictable and a sudden rush of rain could come at any moment.
Fun Fact! The German locals adore their short snowy season. They celebrate its advent on the first Thursday in February, with the Fastnacht Carnival in Munich and Cologne.
Average winter temperatures: -1°C and 5°C between December and February.
Main tourist cities: Vaduz, Triesenberg
Big attractions: In Liechtenstein, you can expect scenery just as enchanting as its castles. One of the most famous attractions is the Neuschwanstein Castle (the inspiration for the famous Disneyland castle).
The Alpine principality of Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest nation in the world. But don’t be fooled by its small size, it still covers large variations in altitude. You can expect cloudy days with rain or there could be a bit of a white Christmas the day brings light, continuous snow.
The weather can differ substantially from one place to the next. It might be overcast in the valley, while the sun shines in the mountains. At low altitude, the climate is continental, in the mountains it’s Alpine. The capital of Vaduz is located in the Rhine Valley, where the winters are cold. On occasion, Siberian polar air masses lead to glacial weather. This causes temperatures to dip below freezing, even during the day.
If Liechtenstein is on your itinerary be sure to pack warm enough for days with below-freezing temperatures and to have a waterproof jacket for the rain!
Average winter temperatures: Between -2°C and 4°C
Main tourist cities: Luxembourg City is the capital of this grand duchy
Big attractions: Mosel wine region and the Grand Ducal Palace are some of the reasons you’ll stay warm during winter in snowy Luxembourg
Situated between Belgium, France and Germany, the small country of Luxembourg has a largely temperate, continental climate for most parts of the year. But the great altitude makes it colder than on the plains – don’t be fooled by the seemingly warmer temperatures during the other seasons, as winters are cold and often overcast!
Travel Tip: Most of the top tourist sights require some exploring outside, so be sure to wrap up nice and warm.
Average winter temperatures: Between 9°C and 14°C.
Main tourist cities: Monaco is divided into four regions: Monaco-Ville (the old city), the Condamine (port quarter), Monte-Carlo (business and casinos), and Fontvieille (light industry).
Big attractions: French Riviera, Monte-Carlo Casino, Prince’s Palace of Monaco
Monaco is located in what is considered the very heart of Mediterranean Europe. As such, the weather is rather lovely even in winter.
The days are normally sunny, with cooler nights. In fact, Monaco gets up to 300 days of sunshine per year! People still tan on the beach until mid-October, but be sure to pack a jacket for the cooler winter days.
Average winter temperatures: Between 0°C and 6°C.
Main tourist cities: Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague
Big attractions: In Rotterdam – Euromast and Wereld Museum. In Amsterdam, you take a step back in time with Rijksmuseum, van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House. The Binnenhof complex in The Hague is the seat of the Dutch parliament and house the UN’s International Court of Justice.
The weather conditions in the Netherlands are temperate due to its marine climate. Winters are mild, but wet and windy.
Because a large part of the country is located below sea level, it is quite humid throughout the year. However, during the colder months, the winds blowing off the North Sea often cut through the humidity. The weather is notoriously changeable and mostly cloudy.
Travel Tip: Remember to pack waterproof shoes because if it snows, the ground cover doesn’t last long.
Average winter temperatures: Between -2°C and 0°C
Main tourist cities: Zurich, Lucerne and Geneva
Big attractions: Lake Geneva, the iconic peak of Matterhorn, the Top of Europe – Jungfraujoch, Interlaken, Lucerne
Switzerland has three distinct climatic regions. The main Swiss cities are located on a central plateau, which enjoys a moderately continental climate with cold and cloudy winters. In the mountains, the weather is colder due to the high altitude, but it’s also lovely and sunny since the area is located above the cloud bank that often covers the lower-lying areas. You can be guaranteed snow in high-lying areas like Jungfrau!
The Canton of Ticino towards the south has a much milder climate, but it gets quite wet with heavy rains from autumn onwards. If you’re planning to ski, time your trip around late winter or early spring (February – March). The days are longer during this time.
Travel Tip: In December and January, there are very few hours of daylight so be sure to make the most of your day.
There you have it – a basic look at what you can expect of winter in Western Europe. Be sure to take a look at our posts regarding the weather in Southern Europe, Northern Europe and Eastern Europe.