Europe Does Winter Better Than Anybody

And we have the proof.

Unlike Australia, it actually gets cold in Europe during winter. Real cold. Meaning over there, they have no choice but to find fun stuff to do in the colder months. Thanks to Contiki we’re shining a light on the best European Winter has to offer; and it’s not all carols, eggnog and log fires.

Last weekend I had a picnic and wore bare feet on the grass, and the sun was so warm I couldn’t even keep my cardigan on. Yesterday I was walking from my house to the train station in a t-shirt, and I actually worked up a sweat. I’ve even gone for a swim. We’re in the middle of winter. This is ridiculous.

What disturbed me the most is that this year I spent June in Europe. I went to Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Italy. And when I got back, I realised that it’s almost the same temperature here as it is over there. GUYS! IT IS SUMMER OVER THERE RIGHT NOW!

Actual Europeans don’t usually admit to liking the colder months that much; in some parts of the world, surviving the dead of winter is, quite literally, a mental and physical achievement. But for people like us who almost never get to see special snowflakes or walk on water that’s turned into ice or have our dreams about white Christmases come true, experiencing a real winter is kind of a big deal.

And despite what Europeans and travel agents would have you believe about “festival season” being the opposite time of year to winter, there are some pretty magical, crazy, fun, tasty festivities to attend during the months that are literally cooler than being cool.


Where: Bankso, Bulgaria

When: March 8-14, 2014

Europeans invented the mix of skiing and parties that makes a holiday on the slopes particularly inviting. (I’m basing this claim on naught but the fact that apres ski is totally a French word.) But Londoners really know how to colonise a resort for a serious weekend of sounds and snow. Horizon is the latest festival to hit the slopes, audaciously staging its first show in March this year, on the same weekend as the big brother of snow festivals: Austria’s Snowbombing. And by all accounts the little guy was a roaring success.

The festival sets itself apart from others of its type by keeping its number small, and honing in on cutting-edge electronic music, bringing London’s underground clubbing vibes to the mountaintops. This year’s three mountain stages included a secret venue only accessible from the slopes, plus seven bars and one er, strip club, in town.

Horizon Festival 2013 from SHADEmedia on Vimeo.

Oh, and you get six nights accommodation, a five-day festival and ski pass, spa, sauna and jacuzzi access, and breakfast for the same cost as a Splendour In The Grass camping ticket. Facepalm.


Where: The Shetland Islands, UK
When: January 28, 2014

If there is one festival in the world that could re-name itself A Song of Ice and Fire, it would be Up-Helly-Aa. I know what you’re thinking: this is from the region that not only brought us the cutest, hairiest lil’ ponies on earth, but it brought them to us in cardigans.

How could such a benign, quaint corner of the world possibly put on a festival that resembles anything out of Game Of Thrones’ burnt and bloodied pages? Well, The Shetland Islands lie between Scotland and Scandinavia, and back in the day they were home to a bunch of bloodthirsty Vikings. Every January, modern-day Shetland folk look to the future year by honouring their past.

Credit: Millgaet Media.

Credit: Millgaet Media.

Donning their very best Viking helmets, armour, furs and axes, they parade around looking ferocious before taking to a huge replica Viking longboat with flaming torches, burning the entire vessel to the ground.

Credit: Millgaet Media

Credit: Millgaet Media

Then they drink a lot of mead, and find a nice wench to dance the night away with. May traditions never fade.


Where: Bruges, Belgium

When: November 22, 2013 — January 5, 2014

Despite the fact Colin Farrell’s character in In Bruges takes to hating the place with a passion, most people I know who have been to there — including myself — went, in large part, because of the movie. The postcard-perfect medieval city has an otherworldly magic about it any time of year, but if you’re a film junkie hoping to retrace the steps of some of cinema’s finest, funniest criminals, best visit the place at Christmas time when it’s all misty and romantic.

Oh and it also just happens to play host to an entire palace made out of ice, filled with ice sculptures and an ice bar, next door to an ice rink, from November to January every year, too.

How could that not be somebody’s thing?


Where: Camber Sands, UK
When: December 1, 2013

Since All Tomorrow’s Parties first hit the music festival circuit in 2000, its collaborated curation of underground artists — a heady mix of new kids on the scene, and seminal legends – has made the brand a game-changing global force. This year in the UK they’re hosting their last-ever camping festival, a performance in two parts, curated by ATP, Loop and Primavera Sound.


The Television-headlined weekend is sold out, but if you’re smart you’re already seeing them at ATP’s Release The Bats in Melbourne this Halloween. Part two will be headlined by a resurrected Loop and Slint, as well as Mogwai. Afraid of camping in freezing, muddy conditions? Don’t worry: by “camping” they really mean “shacking up in a chalet for the weekend”; The Guardian have dubbed it the “chalet with an en-suite festival“. It will be all sweet, cozy, sozzly, droney goodness.


Where: Various cities

When: February 2014

If you’re anywhere in Europe in February, chances are you’ll stumble across some Carnival shenanigans.

Ostensibly a Catholic-influenced season of drinking, gluttony and silly behaviour before everyone goes on a physical/spiritual diet for Lent, depending on the local flavour it’s often more of a hedonistic pagan exorcism of wintertime cabin fever.

For the booziest parties, head to Bavaria: Cologne, Garmisch-Partenkirken, and Rottweil all have famous festivals, whether they call it Karnival of Fasching.

Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

For the most ornate costumery head to Venice for its all-night masquerades.

Andrea Pattaro/Getty NDREA PATTARO/AFP/Getty Image

Andrea Pattaro/Getty Images

Or for something different, check out Ivrea in Italy, where the townsfolk dress up in Medieval gear and pelt each other with oranges, for some reason.

Orange fight in Turin

Michael Gottschalk/AFP Photo DDP

Whichever your choice, you’ll wake up with a sore head and a few strange memories for the travel diary.


Where: Various locations, especially around Germany

When: November-December, 2013

There aren’t many places in the world that feel more Christmas-spirit-filled than these twinkling outdoor markets, where you can keep an eye out for snowflakes as you wander the gift stalls, listening to carolers and washing roast chestnuts down with mugs of mulled wine.

Vienna; Credit: Manfred Werner

Vienna; Credit: Manfred Werner

Vienna’s 700-year-old market is the oldest, Cologne’s is the biggest with several different conjoining markets, and Valkenburg in the Netherlands holds its market inside a labyrinthine cave.


Valkenburg; Credit: Neuwieser

Most major cities in Europe have a big Christmas market. Some of the best are in Munich, Dresden, Nuremberg, Copenhagen, Prague, Strasbourg, Brussels and London.


Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands

When: December 6, 2013 – January 19, 2014

Amsterdam is a strange and colourful city even without the extra psychedelic illuminations thrown up on buildings, bridges and monuments throughout this winter light festival.

When you’re done taking in the sights, continue the journey north into Scandinavia for a glimpse at some pretty spiffy lighting effects designed by mother nature herself: the Aurora Borealis.

Credit: Schwebbes

Credit: Gunnar Hildonen

Credit: Gunnar Hildonen

Credit: Schwebbes

Jenny Noyes writes from Sydney’s inner west. She enjoys music and feminism and other types of arts and politics, and making opinions about those subjects which may or may not be well-informed. You can read some of her music-related opinions in The Brag, and send her compliments@jennynoise.

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