8 European Holidays to Know About When Booking a Cruiseby Donna Heiderstadt | March 29, 2018
Sure, there are worse things in life than cruising into Rome, Barcelona, or Stockholm and finding out that — due to a national holiday — several major attractions are closed. But when you’re on a cruise and have just one day to sight-see, not being able to try that amazing paella in Valencia that your co-worker recommended or see your favorite Picasso painting in Paris could be a major let down. To help you avoid disappointment, here are some of the major European holidays to note when it’s not business as usual.
Liberation Day in Italy (April 25)
While most major tourist sites and museums remain open, many shops and some restaurants close on the day that commemorates the 1945 fall of Mussolini’s regime and Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation. You may also encounter traffic jams and crowds gathered for parades, concerts, and other festivities.
King’s Day in The Netherlands (April 27)
Originally celebrated as Queen’s Day, until Queen Beatrix abdicated to her son King Willem-Alexander in 2013, Koningsdag (King’s Day) is festive nationwide, but the center of the action is Amsterdam, where streets and canals are overrun with Dutch citizens wearing bright orange (in honor of the royal House of Orange-Nassau). Join in — or escape to one of the museums that remain open, including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House.
Labor Day Across Europe (May 1)
The Vatican Museums and Roman Colosseum are closed. So is The Louvre in Paris, The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels. Labor Day — also known as May Day — is a big deal in Europe, so if your cruise will call on ports across the continent that day, your sightseeing options might be more limited than usual. While some museums will be open with reduced hours, many shops and restaurants will be closed.
Victory Day in Russia (May 9)
The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, one of the world’s most important museums, is closed only two days a year: January 1 and May 9, when Russia commemorates the end of World War II in 1945 (other European countries celebrate this public holiday as Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day on May 8). Luckily, most itineraries to this imperial city on the Baltic overnight here, so you should be able to see its vast collections on your other port day — just book your excursion early since it’s likely to sell out.
Constitution Day in Norway (May 17)
Like Independence Day in the United States and Bastille Day in France, Constitution Day in Norway is an excuse for parades with marching bands and lots of red, white, and blue flags. Norwegians start this national holiday, which marks the signing of the country’s constitution in 1814, with a celebratory breakfast among family, friends, and neighbors before everyone hits the streets — so traffic jams in larger cities are likely. Most shops and attractions will be closed.
National Day in Sweden (June 6)
Citizens of Sweden wave their bright blue-and-yellow flag in honor of two things on June 6: Gustav Vasa being crowned king in 1523 and the adoption of a new constitution in 1809. It’s a day of celebration with traditional folkloric music and dance performed and new citizens welcomed during special ceremonies, but most shops, restaurants, and museums remain open (although some with reduced hours).
Bastille Day in France (July 14)
France’s National Day is pretty well known around the world as it commemorates the storming of the Bastille by French revolutionaries on July 14, 1789 and has been portrayed in numerous books, movies, and plays. There’s a celebratory mood throughout the country, from a military parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris to street parties along the Cote d’Azur — and fireworks everywhere. The Louvre as well as many attractions and restaurants remain open, but some smaller shops do not.
Feast of the Assumption in Italy and Spain (August 15)
Depending on which majority Catholic country you visit on the Feast of the Assumption, you’ll find some places are open and others aren’t. In Spain, most museums and other tourist sites don’t close, while some smaller shops and eateries frequented by locals do since Spaniards tend to take vacation at this time. In Italy, where August 15th is celebrated as Ferragosto, even some tourist sites (especially religious ones such as the Vatican Museums) and the shops and restaurants in major cities shut down as Italians take time off to celebrate, often in the countryside or along the coast.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.