Tips for getting the most out of a holiday vacation
Stripes Europe February 7, 2024
I have had the privilege of spending the last three Christmases in Europe. For two of those, we got to travel over the time many people in the military community refer to as “holiday block leave,” which is usually the two weeks encompassing Christmas and New Year’s Day. No matter where you are traveling in Europe during this timeframe, you will inevitably find yourself somewhere on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (Dec. 26). This means that many places will be closed on at least one, if not two or all three days and you will have to find ways to occupy yourself. Here are some tips to still enjoy a vacation when it seems like nothing is open.
Plan ahead: Spontaneity can be fun on a trip, but if many places are going to be closed, you might want to ensure that you have some non-perishable snacks or a stocked mini fridge in your hotel room. Does your hotel do room service or have an on-site bar or restaurant that will be open on the holidays? Do you need to book ahead? These are all things to plan for or ask yourself before heading out.
Stay in a bigger city for the best chance of something being open: We had originally planned to be in the Stonehenge area on Christmas Day; however, Christmas Day is the one day out of the entire year that Stonehenge is closed. We then rerouted and planned to stay two days in Oxford, England instead. By staying in a bigger city, we found a coffee shop open all day and a pub, the Kings Arms, open until 5:30 p.m. where we ate a big lunch in case room service for dinner was lacking. In previous years, McDonald’s has come in to save the day on the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.
Know the local holidays: Boxing Day is not typically celebrated in the U.S.; however, it is a big deal in the U.K. and many places remain closed. Boxing Day was created in the Victorian era and is meant as a day of giving to those less fortunate. Not as many places are closed as on Christmas day, but many local mom-and-pop places will probably remain closed. In Germany, I have found myself at a closed grocery store on a random Tuesday because I was unaware of the holiday.
Research: Of course, Stripes Europe is a great resource for finding places to go and things to do, but I also use some other sites and apps to help me find things. On Christmas Eve, I used the Get Your Guide app, to see if anything was open or operating on Christmas day, and to my surprise, someone was actually doing a guided walking tour at Oxford University. I saw places that inspired Harry Potter films, places where Queen Mary I beheaded Protestant heretics, Oxford cathedrals and dining halls, and the exterior of some exclusive libraries. I have now made my personal goal to get inside one of them to see Tolkien’s treasures.
Prepare to walk and sightsee: No matter where you are traveling, you are sure to be able to see some sites. Even if there are no guided tours you can still walk around and see the exterior of beautiful buildings and gardens. I had the pleasure of walking around Hannover, Germany two Christmases ago and there were just a few of us visitors willing to brave the cold to see the gorgeous castle area.
Relaxing is good too: On Christmas Day, after our walking tour and pub lunch, we settled into our hotel room and watched the first two Harry Potter movies. We planned ahead and ensured that our hotel would be offering some form of room service on Christmas day, and we enjoyed some great comfort food while watching the magic of the Wizarding World.
No matter what holiday you are traveling on or near, you can make the most of your time with these tips.