Do you have your heart set on the picture-perfect white winter? Some destinations come to life as the mercury drops. Here are some of our favorites.
Sure, when many of us think about a vacation we think warm. Ideas of postcard-perfect beaches, swaying palm trees, cocktails with little umbrellas come to mind, and for good reason. Many of us live in temperate cities where the seasons are fairly well defined, and come winter we like to escape to climes that are a little more tropical.
However, there are still plenty of travelers that pine for the cold, that dream of white Christmases or making snow angels, or who want to see a destination in its offseason. These chilly capitals of cold are just for you!
The kingdom at the top of the world, Tibet (above) isn’t as harsh as you might assume during the winter months. In fact, there are many reasons why it’s actually now in vogue to travel to the Himalayas from November to February, with travelers arriving to bask in Tibet’s 3,000 hours of annual sunshine and to soak in mesmerizing star-filled skies without having to tackle throngs of tourists.
Winter also welcomes many more pilgrims to the country’s major monasteries, including Jokhang, with Tibetans celebrating Losar, the Tibetan New Year, during the heart of winter. The clear air is crisp but dry, ensuring surprisingly comfortable temperatures, whether you’re hiking the mountain valleys or joining in with the celebrations in Lhasa.
Another destination often overlooked during the winter months, Moscow actually comes to life under a thick blanket of cold, with festivals and events welcoming and then farewelling the chilly months – you just have to ensure you pack for the season.
New Year’s Even in Red Square is a unique experience for the intrepid reveler, but for a more elegant snow-driven soiree, the events of the Russian Winter Festival can’t be missed, with ice sculptures lining the Moskva River and Revolution Square, and locals ice skating at Gorky Park.
If the cold does get to you, head indoors to one of the city’s many world-class cultural institutions, from the Bolshoi Theatre to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art. In February, the city farewells winter during the Maslenitsa festival, with traditional blini pancakes representing the spring sun, traditional fistfights, bear wrestling, and fireworks.
Perfect for families looking to make the most of the snowy landscapes, Oslo is a great wintertime destination for active travelers, with everything from cross-country skiing and sledding to ice skating on offer. The winter season sees fewer tourists visiting the Norwegian capital, ensuring a more authentic, local experience for those willing to brave the cold.
Head to Oslo Winter Park to cruise the slopes of Tryvann and Wyller or wander the snow-dusted pieces of the Vigeland Sculpture Park, before warming up at the city’s Mathallen Food Hall, home to over 30 artisanal stores; or at the world-class Astrup Fearnley Collection, a captivating modern art museum on the cusp of the city’s fjord.
It may come as a surprise, but Nepal is increasingly popular during the winter months, when hikers arrive for shorter trails at lower altitudes, sans the masses. During December, January and February the weather is dry and crisp, ensuring great hiking conditions, and as it’s still regarded as ‘off season’ you’ll have no trouble finding the best accommodation available or the trails unblocked by hikers posing for selfies.
Some of the best winter hikes include the Everest Panorama Trek, a great alternative to the Everest Base Camp itinerary that visits Namche Bazaar, Thame, and Tengboche, where you can explore the famous Dawa Choling Gompa monastery; the Poon Hill Trek, an extremely popular route in the summer months that passes through Ghorepani and Ghandruk and offers stunning up-close-and-personal vistas of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri; and the Kathmandu Valley Trek, a 2-3 day hike from the capital city to Bhaktapur via Nagarkot and Dhulikhel. Alternatively, explore the Chitwan National Pak on Nepal’s flat plains, home to elephants, rhino, and several spectacular trails.
There’s one major reason why you might brave the cold of Iceland, in winter and that’s the Northern Lights. One of the most popular Aurora Borealis viewing destinations, Iceland offers captivating celestials displays during the long dark nights of the winter months, offers a brilliant contrast to the long sun-kissed days of summer.
Long lingering sunrises and sunsets are a great way to frame your schedule; spend days exploring the interior’s towering waterfalls, thermal hot pools, and active volcanic peaks, before delving inside one of the many glaciers, where waters that flow in the summer freeze, forming sensational blue eye cathedrals.
Afterward, as the day ends, return to your accommodation – which should be one of the island’s chic boutique lodges – for world-class cuisine, before donning a Lopapeysa, a traditional Icelandic jumper, and making your way outdoors for uninterrupted star gazing sessions.
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