Australia ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to travel experiences; beautiful coastlines, balmy climate and that famous laid-back attitude that can't be replicated elsewhere. But there's one area our great nation falls short: winter.
Sure, there's nothing like a cosy, wine-filled weekend in the Barossa or an action-packed ski break in Perisher, but when we're talking about blankets of snow and a big dose of festive cheer, no where does it with as much joy or magic as Europe.
Steaming mugs of mulled wine, picturesque Christmas markets that light up old city squares, merriment down every laneway – winter in Europe can melt even the most hardened Scrooge's heart. To paraphrase Jon Snow, real winter is coming, and here are four reasons to feed your wintery wanderlust the Contiki way.
1. Contiki Takes Care Of All Those Annoying Logistics
We've probably all been there; navigating the cobblestones of a city like Paris lugging around an over-stuffed backpack or worse, with a too-heavy-to-lift suitcase rattling behind you. All while trying to find your hotel in the maze of backstreets, only to be repeated every time you reach a new city. Now imagine that scenario with added snow, sleet or blistery cold winds. Doesn't sound like a good time does it?
Not only can Contiki and its awesome team of Trip Managers and Local Guides show you the best sights and plenty of hidden secrets, they take out all the stresses of getting around, language barriers and accommodation nightmares. The hotels are all pre-booked (with the Contiki tick of approval) and transport from A to B is sorted for your entire trip. You can throw away that map and guide book now.
2. Fewer Crowds
First-time visitors to Europe usually want to tick off as many world-famous attractions and landmarks as possible, as do thousands of other visitors. During high season (June-August), crowds surge at sites like the Colosseum, St Mark's Square and of course, the Eiffel Tower. The atmosphere may be electric, but sometimes you just need a quiet moment to soak up the historic splendour.
Contiki continues some of its most coveted trips across winter, and adds extra journeys like the comprehensive 24-day Winter Wanderer, allowing you the opportunity to better explore historic attractions and destinations more intimately, without being distracted by the usual tourist swarm or spending hours in queues. Not to mention, winter and the low season means cheaper entry fares affording you the ability to do more and see more.
3. Seasonal Activities
Out with the boardies and thongs; in with the coats and boots. Europe may be in its prime during summer, but winter in Europe is still hot, so to speak. European cities possess stack of delights that often go unnoticed during the balmy days of summer. Thanks to local guides and the in-depth knowledge of Trip Leaders, Contiki offers a wealth of winter fun that you might not be able to do on your own.
Discover the whimsical wonder of Austrian Tyrol and its charming Bavarian villages, or make like a ski bunny or bro and hit the slopes of the Alps, returning only for an après-ski session in a traditional Gasthof. On the England and Scotland tour, the stunning mountains and sea cliffs of Scotland's Isle of Skye burst to life under a dusting of snow, or revel in the winter cheer of Prague's Old Town against the backdrop of twinkling white lights, a giant Christmas tree and carollers.
4. It's 'Snow' Fun Without Some Free Time
There are few tour companies that know Europe like Contiki, and with so many destinations covered over winter, you'll see all the best bits, no matter the temperature outside. Full of rich cultural traditions, Europe in winter is an unexpected delight.
You won't be locked in to each and every activity. Contiki builds in loads of 'me' time for you to go back to that cosy bar you walked past earlier or take advantage of the Optional Activities throughout the trip, like gondola rides in Venice or a show at the Moulin Rouge. Or, simply use any spare time to run around outside when the snowflakes start to sprinkle. You'll never forget the first time you see that fluffy white stuff! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
Our top picks of Contiki's winter tours
Berlin to Budapest, 11 days
England & Scotland (Great Britain), 9 days
Simply Italy, 12 days
European Discovery, 12 days
Trail to Rome, 16 days
European Encounter, 16 days
European Inspiration, 19 days
European Trail, 23 days
European Vista, 21 days