For most of us, the winter chill might feel like an excuse to stay home. But for the adventurous among us, we embrace the magic and wonder what winter brings. From sled dog races in Alaska to the bustling Christmas markets in Munich, the cooler months promise a magical wonderland you won’t find any other time of year.
Here are seven winter getaways around the world, where winter comes alive with a host of fun things to see and do.
Alaska is as wild as it is vast—and if you find yourself here, you’ll come face to face with nature’s untamed beauty. The rugged landscapes and frigid temperatures are home to a range of wildlife including bears, moose, mountain goats and bison. Beneath the icy waters live a rich and diverse sea life including orcas and seals.
Alaska’s impressive landscape is just as extraordinary viewed from the sea. If you’re not too keen on getting close to a bear, cruise ships offer a spectacular (and safe) view of the beautiful glaciers and wildlife. Bear and whale watching are a very popular activity for cruises, and it’s a thrill to see them right before your eyes.
Dog sledding is an Alaskan tradition. If you’re lucky enough to come at the right time of year, you can be part of the crowd at the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, cheering on the mushers taking part in the competition as they make their way from Settler’s Bay to Nome.
Lake Louise, Canada
There can’t be talk of winter escapes without a mention of the spectacular Canadian Rockies. Banff National Park and Lake Louise come alive in winter, with the famous month-long Snow Days festival. During the day, activities include ice skating on Lake Louise, admiring the competitive ice carvers and enjoying the skiing events. You can also sit back and relax with a hot beverage, gazing up at the view of the snow-capped peaks reflected on the lake. As the sun goes down, join the live music in town or satisfy your sweet tooth with a warm crepe and a drink or two by the crackling fire. Don’t forget to toast to your magical winter holiday!
The Banff Hot Springs are a favourite for those who prefer to take a slower pace or unwind from all the action. Take the time to enjoy the soothing and rejuvenating properties of the spring’s rich minerals, watching the snow fall on the trees around you.
Yellowstone National Park, USA
Summer sees millions of visitors flood the national park, but winter offers crowd-free, unobstructed views of the surrounding landscapes. In winter, you can really experience the peaceful stillness of the wilderness.
Transport may be limited to snowmobiles and coaches, but if you’re fortunate enough to be part of a tour it likely won’t be a problem for you to get around the main attractions of the park. Take a stroll into Old Faithful Village, home to a number of geysers and thermal springs, to observe the geysers spurting hot steam into the frigid air.
Venture into Lamar Valley and you’ll see the scenery blanketed with snow, creating the perfect backdrop for a photograph or two. It’s also one of the best locations for wolf-spotting, as they’re generally easier to see in winter with the contrast of the pure white snow. You may also spot other wildlife including moose, bison and elk grazing down in the valley.
If you need more colour in your winter, look no further than the Emerald Isle. Ireland’s winter weather is more temperate than other regions, including much of continental Europe. Ireland’s winters rarely dip to freezing. However, the wind and rain can be quite heavy—how else can it stay such a vivid green all year round?
While in Dublin, visit the Guinness Stonehouse to learn more about Ireland’s brewing heritage, explore the Kilmainham Gaol, and marvel at the Christ Church Cathedral. You might also want to explore the Celtic ruins and architecture of the region and learn a thing or two about Ireland’s fascinating Celtic past. When night falls, there’s nothing more welcoming than a raucous Irish pub for a pint of—you guessed it—Guinness!
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Game of Thrones fans will be happy to know that Thingvellir National Park features as the location of Arya Starks’ and Sandor Clegane’s journey, as well as the narrow path leading to the Eyrie. Even if you’re not into GOT, Iceland is a true adventurer’s paradise. The park is situated in an active volcanic area and offers a magnificent backdrop of dramatic cliffs, naturally carved ridges and lush grasslands. There are plenty of trails to hike to enjoy the panoramic views of the landscape.
It’s also a place steeped in history. The now protected national park was once the location for a gathering now considered the world’s first parliament. In 930AD, the people of Iceland gathered to settle differences diplomatically and peacefully. These assemblies occurred every year and helped to shape law through the ages.
Santa’s Village Rovaniemi, Finland
Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus so if you’re feeling especially festive, the Santa Claus Village is a definite must-see when you’re in Finland. There are reindeer rides, ice slides, scooters and snowmobiles for kids. You can also visit Santa’s Post Office where letters from children all over the world end up before Santa reads them, and if you like, you can send your own letter to a loved one from here. It’s fun for kids and grown-ups alike!
Other attractions include Snowman World, a giant igloo structure featuring slides and even a hotel for those who can brave the cold enough to stay the night.
Munich has a great atmosphere during winter and is considered to be one of the most festive cities in Germany. There are a wealth of attractions and landmarks to visit including the Town Halls, the National Theatre, the Munich Residenz and of course, the shoppers’ paradise in Maximilianstrasse.
If you enjoy the galleries and museums be sure to check out the Bavarian National Museum, the Toy Museum (for kids at heart) and the Kunstareal for a glimpse into Germany’s intriguing art history.
Beer lovers will enjoy the beer halls, where you’ll be able to sample a variety of delicious regionally brewed beers. If you happen to be in Munich over Christmas, be sure to visit the Christmas markets in Marienplatz square (known as the Christkindlmarkt). At the markets, you will find delicious food including Lebkuchen (honey cake), Zwetschgenmanderl (made of fruits and nuts), roasted chestnuts, grilled sausages as well as a range of hand crafted goodies, nativity scenes and Christmas tree decorations.
Winter truly is one of the most magical times of the year. If you’re looking to take a break, a winter getaway might be just what you need. Hopefully these incredible destinations inspire you to embrace winter and make the most of it. Where will you be heading in the cold season?