When we travel in the United States, we know what to expect when a holiday rolls around. For example, on the 4th of July, most larger stores and museums are open. It’s wise to call a smaller, local place to check their hours. The majority of restaurants are also open on holidays, although some may close. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, even more places might close.
The practices in Europe are similar, although we are not always aware of the holidays that are celebrated across the pond. When traveling a few years ago, my family and I ran into closures on holidays that are not widely celebrated in the United States. We quickly learned to pay attention when we book our vacations or choose activities.
Thursday or Sunday
The first time we encountered an interruption in our vacation by a European holiday was when we were visiting Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2009. We were staying in a B&B and mentioned to the host that we were planning to go to the Amsterdam markets that day. She told us it would be impossible because it was Sunday and they were closed – except that it was Thursday. We tried to argue with her about the day, but there was a bit of a language barrier. It finally became clear that what she meant was that it was a religious holiday and the stores and markets that were usually closed on Sundays would also be closed on that Thursday.
The holiday in question was Ascension Day, which is celebrated by Christians in America -sometimes by a special evening church service. The holiday is rarely recognized by shops or museums here.
Stores Closed on Pentecost
About 10 days later, when we were in Munich, Germany, we found a similar situation on Whitsunday – also known as Pentecost. Most of the stores in Munich are open on Sundays so we had planned to do some shopping. When we reached the shopping district, though, we saw that almost all the stores were closed, even though they had Sunday hours listed on their windows. We changed our plans and went to visit the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. We found out that the stores would also be closed the next day, Whitmonday, so we had to save our shopping for Tuesday morning.
August is Summer Holiday Month
In many parts of Europe, August is considered the holiday or vacation month. Many smaller establishments close for a week, or two, or the entire month. Since I’ve heard so much about it, I’ve avoided Europe during August. If this is when you must vacation, don’t be alarmed. All of the larger tourist venues will be open and you will find enough shops and restaurants available to suit your needs. If there are small specialty shops (such as yarn shops) where you intend to shop, check with the owner or manager ahead of time so you won’t be disappointed.
List of European Holidays
Here is a list of holidays recognized by the European Union. Each country, however, has their own list of nationally and locally observed holidays. On this list of German holidays, there are more than 60 entries.
|1 January||New Year’s Day|
|13 April (Thursday before Easter)||Maundy Thursday|
|14 April (Friday before Easter)||Good Friday|
|17 April (Monday after Easter)||Easter Monday|
|1 May||Labour Day|
|9 May||Europe Day|
|25 May||Ascension Thursday|
|26 May||Friday following Ascension Day|
|5 June||Whit Monday|
|21 July||Belgian National Day|
|1 November||All Saints’ Day|
|2 November||All Souls Day|
|25 December to 29 December inclusive||End-of-year days, including Christmas|
Plan Ahead to Avoid Disappointment
In order to enjoy every day of your vacation, plan your schedule around European holidays. Visit larger venues or do outside activities on national holidays and save your shopping for other days. Investigate what holidays might fall on the days you are visiting each particular country, so you can adjust your itinerary if need be. Although we missed the markets in Amsterdam in 2009, we still had fun, and we were able to visit the markets on a subsequent trip.