Kirsten team member

10 beautiful places to visit in winter

Winter's arrival is inevitable, bringing not just long dark nights but also exquisite natural beauty. Travelling in these colder months offers opportunities to witness the Northern Lights, and observe mountains and lakes adorned with dramatic snow and ice.

Embrace the winter chill with our guide to the world's best destinations for experiencing the colder weather, including some fantastic cheap ski holiday options for those seeking adventure.

1. Finland 

When it comes to winter destinations, fairy tale Finland wins the award as it's the home to Father Christmas. Lapland is also where you'll find nearly 200,000 reindeer. So expect to take a sled ride when you visit, or alternatively, let the huskies pull you along the snow.

You can get a great view of the Northern Lights from here. This natural phenomenon can appear on up to 200 nights in the far north of the country. Finnish food to try includes Karjalanpiirakka (like a cornish pasty) and Korvapuusti, a cinnamon bun, best washed down with a cup of coffee. 

Fun fact

The snow season in northern Finland begins in November and lasts at least until May.

2. Japan

In the city of Kyoto, winter means seeing all the shrines, temples and ornamental gardens covered with a blanket of snow. Even in the cold you can take a dip in Japan’s famous hot springs. The Ashikaga Flower Park in Kanto, eastern Japan, is also covered with more than 5 million light bulbs, used to light up the gardens.

But if you're going to choose one event, make it the Sapporo Snow Festival in February. It's been running since 1950, and the big draw is the International Snow Sculpture Contest. There are nearly 400 sculptures, some of which are massive, and more than 15 countries compete for the title. 

Fun fact

Japan has over 500 ski resorts, making it a perfect destination for winter sport lovers.

3. Slovenia

You can get every type of winter weather here as Slovenia touches both the Alps (freezing) and the Mediterranean Sea (slightly nippy). You've got the Bohinj Glacier deciding to move during the Ice Age to thank for the creation of picture-perfect Lake Bled. It's a balmy 25 degrees in the summer and often totally covered in ice in the winter.

The 15th century church in the middle of the lake is straight out of a fairy tale, and is well worth a trip over the water. Also make sure you visit Bled Castle's museum, or their wine cellar, and fill up your own wine bottle from their casks.

Fun Fact

Kurentovanje is a festival in which Slovenians celebrate the end of winter.

4. Norway

It's a difficult one to call. What’s more impressive in winter – the fjords or the Northern Lights? A better idea is to try to do both on a trip to northern Norway. The Norwegian fjords are one nature’s greatest wonders. The Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord are probably the most visually stunning.

The northern lights, on the other hand, are even more stunning than you can ever imagine. A photo can’t do them justice. Tromsø is a good place to see this for yourself. The city is relatively easy to get to, and when you're not stargazing, there's reindeer racing and husky sledding to keep you busy.

Fun fact

Norway has won 368 medals at the Winter Olympics, more than any other country.

5. Canada

Canada comes alive in winter. In the mountain town of Banff, you can take the Icefields Parkway and drive through the Canadian Rockies. You'll tick off winter favourites like glaciers, snow-capped mountains and elk. You might even spot a bear or wolf.

Quebec can get a hundred inches of snow in winter, which is handy for the annual Quebec Winter Carnival which has been going since 1894. It features snow sculptures, dog sled races and canoe competitions. Winterlude in the capital, Ottawa, goes on for three weekends in February. Hire some skates and take to the world’s largest naturally frozen rink – it's the size of 90 Olympic ice rinks. 

Fun fact

The coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada was -63°C in Snag, Yukon.

6. New Zealand

Queenstown is at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island, and set on the edge of the vast Lake Wakatipu. Their winter is our summer, so December to February is a great time to escape if you’re searching for some sunshine. The weather is warm and perfect for canyon swinging and white water rafting. Queenstown's not known as the adventure capital for nothing. 

Alternatively, June, July and August is the best time of the year to try skiing and snowboarding. Or heli-skiing if you're up for it – they'll fly you up to the glacier so you can ride through deep snow. It’s also worth taking a cruise through the fjord-like Milford Sound, in the Fiordland National Park. The blue waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains are equally breathtaking in spring, summer or autumn. 

Fun fact

The striking pōhutukawa tree flowers from November to January and has been nicknamed the New Zealand Christmas tree because of its beautiful crimson flowers that are at peak growth in December. 

7. Czech Republic

Celebrations for Vánoce (Christmas) begin in the middle of November in the Czech Republic. In Prague, the Old Town and Wenceslas Square are the places to soak in the festive spirit.

Stay long enough to see the new year in with a fantastic fireworks display on New Year's Eve illuminating the bridges. The Three Kings Procession on 3rd January over the Charles Bridge is also a great spectacle.

Fun fact

A traditional Christmas dinner in the Czech Republic consists of fish soup and potato salad.

8. The Netherlands

A huge swathe of Amsterdam is a UNESCO Heritage Site. You're going to get some snowy snaps of the beautiful canals if you visit in the winter, especially if you visit during December and January, when the Amsterdam Light Festival is on and everything is lit up.

You can also get your skates on and glide along the iconic canals in style if it stays at minus four centigrade for four nights in a row. When that happens, the council stops the boats and keeps the ice intact so you can skate, so check the forecast before you go. A good thing to eat at this time of year is Bitterballen - a deep-fried winter treat for Amsterdammers.

Fun fact

Our favourite thing about this time of year in the Netherlands is the Dutch treats - Kruidnoten, Kerstkransjes and Kerststol.  

9. Spain

It's hard to pick the best place to visit in Spain. You might not think of Spain as a winter getaway, but you’re really spoiled for choice. Believe it or not, you can hit the slopes right by Granada in Sierra Nevada. We also recommend warming up with churros con chocolate in your ski breaks.

You’ll need the energy, after all. If you want a slightly warmer winter, head to Barcelona and use the season as an excuse to bathe in ancient thermal baths. Breathe in, breathe out. You can also use this opportunity to taste some local sweet treats such as turron and polvoron. You won’t be disappointed.

Fun fact

It is Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Each one represents each month of the new year and is supposed to bring good luck.

10. Austria 

Last, but by no means least is Austria. Hallstatt, in particular, is where we like to spend our winters. It’s been described as the prettiest village in the world. Photos of Hallstatt in the eastern Alps of Austria might look too good to be true, but it's even better in real life.

This beautiful place surprisingly has a salt mining heritage. It's surrounded by a natural landscape of real magnificence - and only enhanced by the dusting of snow. Salzburg is another dreamy Austrian escape. If you’re after something Christmassy, go to the Silent Night Museum. This famous carol was written in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, and there's even a museum dedicated to the song.

Fun fact

On St Barbara’s Day (December 4th), many Austrians cut twigs from cherry trees and put them in a vase. If they bloom, it means it’s going to be a good year.

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