It was supposed to be the great comeback of Europe’s winter travel season, with bright Christmas markets with the aromas of sizzling sausages and mulled wine wafting through the air, skiers gliding down snowy slopes and opera performances welcoming in-person audiences in grand theaters.
But then came a deadly fourth wave of coronavirus cases, triggering a new round of curfews and lockdowns in several European countries (and in Austria, a vaccine mandate for most of the country’s population). These stringent measures have triggered violent protests across the continent, with tens of thousands of demonstrators arguing that the requirements are infringements upon their basic freedoms. Now many Christmas markets are canceled, some winter resorts are closed and performance halls are shuttered. The fast-changing landscape has once again made it difficult to plan travel to Europe. Here’s what we know about the latest restrictions.
Can I still travel to Europe?
It depends on where you plan to travel. While the European Union has published general guidelines for travel into the bloc, each of the 27 member states sets its own entry requirements.
Most European countries allow vaccinated Americans to visit, but some — like Austria — have reintroduced restrictions on nonessential travel. The Times keeps an updated list of countries where Americans can currently visit with details of specific entry rules.
Through guidelines and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department, the United States has advised against travel to some European countries, including Austria, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Norway, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Which countries have reimposed restrictions?
Austria has taken the hardest line so far, becoming on Monday the first Western country to reimpose a full nationwide lockdown, allowing people to leave their homes only to go to work or buy essential items like groceries and medicine.
The shutdown will last at least 10 days and could be extended until Dec. 13, the Austrian government said. During this period, leisure travel to Austria is banned and tourist attractions, including Christmas markets, museums and theaters, are closed. Tourists already in the country who are unable to rearrange their flights home will be permitted to stay in hotels but must comply with lockdown rules.
On Friday, Germany warned that it might take stringent measures if coronavirus cases there continue to surge, indicating that lockdowns could be a possibility, even for those who are vaccinated. Christmas markets have been canceled in Saxony and Bavaria, bars and clubs are closed, and restaurants are operating with reduced hours.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have recorded some of the highest infection rates in Europe, have banned unvaccinated people from restaurants, hotels, bars and hairdressers, even if they have a negative coronavirus test.
The Netherlands returned to a partial lockdown on Nov. 13 for at least three weeks, with restaurants and shops closing early and spectators banned from sporting events. The Dutch government is exploring ways to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor venues, a measure that has spurred riots and protests across the country.
Ireland also reimposed curfews this week, requiring bars and clubs to close at midnight.
Will I need a booster shot?
Most European countries do not require a booster for entry, but some nations have set vaccine “expiration dates” for travelers.
Croatia, Austria and Switzerland all require second vaccine doses or booster shots to have been administered within a year of entering the country. In Austria, the validity period of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 270 days, or around nine months.
Starting Dec. 15, the French government will require all people 65 and older who are seeking to access indoor venues like restaurants, museums and theaters to receive a booster shot six months and five weeks after their second dose.
Will I need a digital health pass?
Some places like Switzerland and Belgium require tourists to apply for local health passes to access indoor venues like restaurants and museums. In Switzerland, all visitors must apply for the pass before arrival, and processing time can take up to seven days. Belgium requires tourists over the age of 16 to apply for a “Covid Safe Ticket” to enter cultural venues and bars and restaurants.
In other destinations like France, local digital passes are optional for international visitors and can be obtained from some local pharmacies.
How will the latest surge affect ski season?
While Austria has shut down ski resorts for the duration of its lockdown, ski season across the rest of Europe is underway.
Last week, ski resorts in France and Italy reopened, with all skiers over the age of 12 required to show proof of vaccination, recovery from a Covid-19 infection or a negative coronavirus test to access ski lifts. (At the onset of the pandemic, many popular ski destinations, like Ischgl in Austria, became virus hot spots as they brought together large groups in confined spaces like ski lifts, chalets and restaurants.)
Switzerland has also opened its slopes for the season and requires visitors to present coronavirus health certificates for resort bars and restaurants.
Can I transit through airports of countries in lockdown?
There are currently no restrictions on travelers transiting through European airports to other countries. During Austria’s lockdown, passengers in transit through the country are not allowed to leave the airport area.
Should I be worried about protests?
Major protests erupted across Europe last weekend over the return of Covid-19 restrictions. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in European cities like Vienna, Amsterdam, Belgium and Rome and clashed with police.
The protests turned particularly violent in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, with large groups throwing rocks and fireworks at officers, prompting the police to respond with gunfire. In Brussels, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.
Sporadic, small-scale protests continued into the week. It’s best to check local news sites for any planned protests before venturing out.