Winter in Europe sounds so romantic… Snow-covered castles, jolly Christmas markets, evenings by the fireplace – all the ingredients of a Disney classic.
Winter in Europe as you imagine it would be…
The not-so-cold truth is, that Western Europe, the destination most people associate with a European vacation and with the classic images of castles and such, has a mild oceanic climate (see map below). In plain language this means winter weather here is best described as “disgusting”.
Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna – in January, the coldest month, typical weather in these European capitals is just above or just below freezing. Precipitation is mostly rain, occasionally wet snow, and only accidental snow cover to give you the opportunity to make that classic photo.
This week’s snowfall in my neighbourhood – pretty, isn’t it?
This is what it looks like up close…
Snow in Western Europe rarely stays for long. It usually starts to melt immediately as it falls, leaving you wading in ankle-deep muck. As the temperatures drop below freezing during the night, semi-molten snow and fresh rain freeze on the surface, turning the roads into an icy death-trap for pedestrians and motorists.
I wouldn’t dream driving over this skating ring, I barely dare walk here.
Even in the Scandinavian capitals Oslo and Stockholm winter is by no means a guarantee of snow due to their location on the sea shores. I’m not even talking about the Southern regions of Europe – the chances of seeing snow in Rome or Barcelona are close to zero, and you will probably spend most of the winter there being cold and wet nevertheless. In many parts of Europe, winter is indeed full of snow and frostbites. Its just not the parts your are likely to visit as a tourist. Take a look at the map below, showing average January temperatures in Europe.
The darker areas are colder, and parts that are below -5 Celsius are likely to see permanent snow during most of the winter. Mountain areas (like Schwarzwald, shown in the first photo) will probably be snowy regardless of their location. But most of Europe to the West of the line Warsaw-Belgrade will probably be freezing cold but rather grey and very, very moist. For the Americans among you – Seattle is probably your closest weather “parallel” to North-Western Europe. I don’t mean to discourage anyone but if you plan on a snowy trip to Europe, you better be going to Zermatt or Moscow. And check out the handy charts at http://weatherspark.com/, like the ones for temperature and precipitation in Amsterdam shown below. As you can see, November to March will be either cold or freezing, and there’s a high chance of rain at some point of the day. Welcome to Europe and have a nice stay!
Fraction of Time Spent in Various Temperature Bands in Amsterdam.
Probability of Precipitation at Some Point in the Day in Amsterdam.