Nothing can make you more festive than a winter vacation with snow, wouldn’t you agree?
As much as I crave some winter sun after the fun of Christmas and New Year is over, on the run up to Xmas all I want to do is run away to a winter wonderland where I can hear the crunch of snow underfoot, smell mulled wine and gingerbread coming off the Christmas market stalls and get cosy by a roaring fire while the lights from the Christmas tree twinkle beside me.
Bliss! This week I thought I’d share with you my rundown of some of the best winter wonderlands, whether you’re after some active winter fun like skiing or snowboarding, a lover of festive Christmas markets or just want to experience the raw beauty of nature in winter.
Our favourite winter holiday destinations
1 – Iceland
Iceland’s gotta make it high up anyone’s list of the best winter vacations with snow, whether you’re looking to go for a week or more or just a snowy weekend getaway.
Known as a great place to see the Northern Lights, you can base yourself in its capital, Reykajvik or get out onto the Ring Road and see the best of what the island has to offer – its natural wonders. Head away from the crowds with a trip to the ‘Capital of the North’ Akureyri, full of the friendliest people and surrounded by the most beautiful sights.
Iceland’s otherworldly landscape shouldn’t be missed and our recommendations include Thingvellir National Park, Seljalandfoss waterfall – where our very own Lou got married!
If you’re visiting Iceland in winter it’s important to come prepared, so I recommend you check out Laura’s Iceland packing list, with recommendations on the best clothing and footwear to bring!
2 – The Canadian Rockies
One of my dream travel experiences was spending three weeks travelling across Canada on the Rocky Mountaineer. Starting in Toronto and ending in Vancouver, we travelled by train across snowy tundras and into the mountains, with the highlight being the four days we explored the Jasper and Banff National Parks. We spent our time visiting frozen lakes and waterfalls, dealing with roads blocked by mountain goats and having breakfast interrupted by a herd of deer running through the high street!
Visiting natural wonders like Lake Moraine and the Icefields Parkway, spotting moose, running off a train to make snow angels, slippy sliding along icy streets and stepping off buses into snow that went up past my knees made this place my top winter wonderland experience so far.
3 – Tromsø, North Norway
Tromsø is a highly recommended destination for this by bloggers, including my friends Emily and Emma. They both have taken northern lights adventures from this Norwegian city and Emily’s pictures are AMAZING!
A true winter wonderland destination, amongst other you things you can also go husky sledging, snowshoeing and ice fishing. If I do make it myself in 2019 I’ll report back!
4 – Kakslauttanen, Finland
What better way to enjoy the Northern Lights than from the comfort of a cosy bed in a glass igloo? There are just a few spots in the world where you can do this, mainly in Finland, including Kakslauttanen. Here they even have Northern Lights alarms, which will wake you up if there’s an overhead light show you just can’t miss!
Unfortunately this experience doesn’t come cheap though, and you can expect to pay on average £600 a night!
5 – New York, USA
New York is amazing in winter, I love its Christmas vibe. I dare you to walk through a snowy Central Park or go ice-skating at the Rockefeller Centre or Bryant Park and not feel festive!
The shopping is epic too – it’s a must to check out the window displays at stores like Macy’s and it’d just be wrong not to pick up a little something while you’re there, right?
My friend Shikha wrote a great post called the Fairytale of New York at Christmas time over on her blog Why Waste Annual leave, be sure to check it out!
6 – Transylvania, Romania
Bucharest is a nice destination for a European city break, but for me the best part of my trip there was heading out of the city and into Transylvania.
Not only do the snow-topped Carpathian mountains look oh so beautiful, the region has some gorgeous places to visit including the quaint town of Brasov, the amazingly beautiful Peles Castle and, of course, Bran Castle – also known as the home of Dracula.
Sadly there wasn’t a lot of snow when I visited, but whether you get the white stuff or not you’ll see some amazing sights!
7 – The Dolomites, Italy
Those looking for ski resorts can’t go wrong with a trip to the Dolomites in north Italy. During my visit I based myself in Cortina, where I spent a snowy weekend surrounded by ski mountains!
Neither Justin or I are outdoorsy people, but we quickly discovered you don’t have to enjoy skiing to visit a place like this. We adored simply driving along the winding roads up in the mountains or taking the ski-lifts up to restaurants where we’d stop for lunch or hot chocolate or two before going for a short walk in the untouched snow.
8 – Austria
Another example of how a ski resort offers so much more than just actual skiing comes from my friend Emily. She visited Seefeld, Austria a few years back and although she did try a little skiing, she also went for snowy walks, a sleigh ride, went on a magic train ride and even became a schnapps expert!
9 – Copenhagen, Denmark
A December visit to Copenhagen, when the city is in full-on festive mode, is the perfect time to go as there’s fantastic decorations all over the city.
No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a trip to Tivoli Gardens. The famous city-centre amusement park is a fantastic place to visit all year round, but at Christmas, they crank the festive dial right up with all the lights, decorations, market stalls and fake snow you’ll ever need.
Another Copenhagen festive tradition is a trip to Royal Copenhagen’s flagship store to see their annual Christmas tables. Running since 1963, each year different artists and celebrities are invited to design their own unique Christmas table using Royal Copenhagen’s collection of tablewares and historic collectables.
10 – Europe’s Christmas markets
Rather thanks filling this list with half of Europe’s cities, I thought I’d round them all up in one spot, highlighting the best Christmas markets to explore in Europe. The Ladies What Travel team have been to a few (with many still to visit!) and can recommend Munich, Berlin, Brussels, and Bruges, and Emily even recommends Manchester (who’d have thought?!).
Some of the Christmas markets can be a little overwhelming – I know I’ve felt that way when faced by a wall of people at the Bath Christmas Market! So why not check out Lou’s post of handy hints on how to make the most of your visit?
11 – Bruges, Belgium
To be fair, Bruges has so much more to offer than just its Christmas market – I personally thought the city was the perfect Christmas destination.
Steeped in history and full of great food and drink, when you reach the city centre it’s like you’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale book, especially after dark when the wonderful decorations look even more beautiful hanging on the fronts of the historic buildings.
It never feels overly busy, the canals and quirky side streets are a joy to explore and the piece de resistance? The most amazing hot chocolate I’ve had to date (which is closely followed by Brussels).
Want to know more about what Bruges has to offer? Check out our top ten things to do in Bruges!
12 – The Cotswolds, UK
I can’t promise you snow in the Cotswolds during winter (although its more and more likely these days!) but I can guarantee picturesque villages, cosy village pubs and lots of twinkling lights!
Brush off those cobwebs by getting out in the country air and visiting one of the many beautiful locations that are turned into colourful light displays after dark. Blenheim Palace, Sudeley Castle and Westonbirt Arboretum are just some of the stately homes and country parks that put on amazing winter displays, which you can read about in more detail in our post What to Do in the Cotswolds in Winter.
Westonbirt Arboretum is an amazing place to visit during any season, but from experience I can tell you its Enchanted Christmas is well worth a visit and in January I recommend making an excursion to the National Trust owned Newark Park, which is renowned for its spectacular snowdrop display.