Many of you probably already think about next summer and where to go on your Interrail trip. However, have you ever considered travelling at another time of the year? What about an Interrail trip in the winter? Do you like it when everything is covered in snow and a the cities are quieter than the rest of the year? Or are you longing for a warm place to get away from the dark winter? I travelled all across Europe in winter and will show you some possible destinations and tips and tricks for your trip.
Where to go in the winter
So, where should you go? Travelling in the winter doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to prepare for cold temperatures, snow and ice. You could also head to the Mediterranean if you are longing for some sun and warm temperatures. As a rule of thumb: if you are looking for snow and winterly conditions, head to the north and east. On the other hand, warmer temperatures and sunny weather are waiting for you in the south and west of Europe.
One of my favourite cities is Lisbon. I have visited Portugal’s capital twice in February which is a fantastic time to visit. Temperatures are mild – 15° C or more are common – and the city is not as packed with tourists as it is during summer. There are plenty of fantastic hostels, my personal favourite being the Rossio. Also check out Travellers House, We Love F. Tourists or The Dorm. Explore the rectangular streets of the Baixa or wander around the maze of steep streets and tiny alleyways in the Alfama.
Another top destination for a trip in winter is Rome. Temperatures are usually rather mild too and the city is calmer than compared to the busy summer months. Especially in advent the atmosphere is quite special with everyone preparing for Christmas. Explore the ruins of ancient Rome, visit the impressive St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican or stroll around the streets of trendy Pigneto district. And don’t forget to treat yourself with a delicious pizza after a long day of exploring.
Are you looking for a unique winter wonderland instead? Then you should look at the Bernina pass in Switzerland. Located at more than 2200 metres, snow is in abundance up until April and May. When Lago Bianco freezes it serves as a beautiful setting for ice skating as well as speed flying. And the best thing of all? The trains of Rhätische Bahn take you there every hour: the Bernina Railway from St. Moritz to Tirano is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful railways. To stay overnight I recommend Albergo Ospizio Bernina, located just a few metres away from the railway station.
Why to go in Winter
So, what are the advantages of doing an Interrail trip in the winter? In general, during winter it will be easier to find beds in excellent hostels at good prices, especially in popular destinations such as Paris, Amsterdam or Rome. While there are still enough tourists around, the cities are not as crowded as during the summer season. In less popular destinations you might find even better deals as not many travellers think of going to, say, Palermo or Bucharest in winter. For instance, when I was in Palermo there was only a handful of other guests in the hostel I was staying at and we had the huge old building all for ourselves.
At the same time you don’t have to worry about hostels being fully booked too. This allows for a much more flexible trip where you can spontaneously decide where to go next without worrying if you will find a hostel at your next destination. This also applies to travelling on trains, in particular on night trains. During winter, trains are usually fully booked only around christmas and other holidays. If you avoid travelling at these peak days you shouldn’t have problems to find free seats on both day and night trains. On my travels I never had troubles with a train being fully booked – neither in France, Spain or Italy, in the Balkans nor in Scandinavia or the Baltics. In fact, on night trains I often had a sleeper or couchette compartment all on my own.
What I also like pretty much about travelling outside the peak summer season is to experience the “real” daily life in the cities. During summer, many of the locals try to get away from the tourist masses and leave the city. In winter, the cities are full of locals on their daily routine, going to work, going to school, hanging out at restaurants and cafes.
What to pack
Obviously, you should pack your bag according to where you are travelling to. For instance, if you are heading towards Italy, Spain or Portugal you normally won’t need a winter jacket. There, you will be fine with some trousers or jeans and a sweater plus a thin jacket or coat. However, when you go to Scandinavia, the Balkans or the Alps you should definitely take some proper winter clothes with you. Boots, woollen socks, a warm winter coat as well as functional underwear are mandatory. You’ll enjoy walking through cities when its -10° C much more if your body is warm.
These are some items I take with me on a typical winter trip (in addition to the basic things I have in my bag all the time):
- functional underwear from Loeffler – long underpants and shirt as base layer for cold days.
- “Tramper” boots from Waldviertler – comfortable and durable all-weather hiking and walking boots which I take with my on all trips. Can’t recommend them enough: Comfortable, durable, handmade. Buy here directly from the manufacturer.
- jacket from The North Face – warm, windproof and rainproof and essential for long walks in the cold.
- bees wax lip balm, hand and face lotion for added protection from cold conditions
Tips and Tricks
- Check the climate and weather of your destination beforehand. To get a general impression of the climate at a specific city I like to check Wikipedia. There you will find climate charts to get an overview of the conditions. For the actual weather forecast I usually check BBC Weather which gave me pretty good results in the past. I also recommend to look up local weather websites, as they provide the most accurate forecasts. To do this, search for the city name plus the word “weather” in the local language.
- If it gets really cold, wear several layers of clothes to stay comfortable and warm. Wear long underwear as a base layer, then shirts, sweaters and trousers. On the outside, a functional weatherproof jacket is the best option. If available, also take an insulated vest with you to wear underneath the jacket if it is really cold.
- When exploring a city in the cold, treat yourself with a break in a snug cafe from time to time. Get a coffee or tea and watch the snow falling outside while you warm up.
- Keep your feet, hands and head warm! Warm, woollen socks and gloves are essential. Take also a cap and a scarf with you to be protected from the cold wind.
- All the info you need about travelling with the Interrail ticket can be found on the railcc website.
- If you need help planning your Interrail trip and want to get individual and personal support, ask us! You can contact us here in the blog, on Facebook, on Instagram and of course in the big railcc forum where we will answer all your questions. If you want to support our work, buy your Interrail ticket via our partner link, thank you!