Winter is a time of hibernation for many. When the season arrives, the less hardy among us retreat to their homes for warm beverages and Netflix binges.
But for the rest of us, the cooler climate brings its own kind of adventure, and it’s prime time to explore places all around the world that shine their brightest when the mercury drops.
Whether you’re looking to flee the snow or fly headfirst into it, this dazzling planet of ours offers a destination for every kind of cold weather traveller. Find yours here, in the D’Marge guide to the best places to visit in winter.
Nestled between the edge of Hallstätter See and the Dachstein mountains, Hallstatt is Austria’s oldest and most photogenic village. Dramatic visuals are in ample supply here, courtesy of the towering peaks, the lake’s glassy waters, and the fairytale architecture of the town. The arresting scenery makes for a beautiful visit at any time of year, but it looks especially lovely under a dusting of powder (and isn’t quite so crowded with tourists).
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
It may be a desert, but there’s nothing warm about it in winter. Most travellers choose summer to explore the vast landscapes and nomadic cultures of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, but more intrepid adventurers brave winter’s below-freezing temperatures to experience a different side of the wild terrain. Come during the Thousand Camel Festival to witness races and polo competitions in which participants compete atop endangered Bactrian camels, as well as performances of traditional Mongolian music and dance.
One of winter’s most jaw-dropping sights is the Aurora Borealis – aka the Northern Lights. The colourful spectacle can be witnessed in a variety of frigid, northerly locales, but Finland is indisputably one of the finest. Head to Lapland, which is shrouded in almost total darkness during winter, and check into the Kakslauttanen Resort to cross the aurora off your bucket list from the comfort of reindeer-drawn sleigh rides and your own personal glass igloo. Pack layers.
Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan
Four words: monkeys in hot springs. Getting to Jigokudani can be a challenge, thanks to the steep cliffs, narrow footpath, and formidably cold forest, but your reward for making the journey is a population of Japanese macaques that love nothing more than bathing in the location’s steaming natural hot springs. If you’re tempted to take a dip yourself, Jigokudani Monkey Park is a short distance from several onsens that accept human bathers.
Queenstown, New Zealand
We’ve sung the praises of Queenstown on multiple previous occasions. The New Zealand city has been dubbed ‘the adventure capital of the world’ and wears the badge with great pride. Visitors can hike, bike, bungee jump, zipline, sky dive, rock climb, hang glide, boat on Lake Wakatipu, speed down luge tracks, go off-roading on quad bikes, and more in Queenstown, but come winter, it’s all about the slopes. Skiiers and snowboarders from around the world flock to Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, and Cardrona for their world-class powder.
Winter is dry season in Costa Rica, which means warm weather galore and no torrential downpours to interrupt your sunbathing. The Central American country has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, offering more than enough soft sand and inviting water for all visitors. Inland you’ll find a chain of volcanoes and rainforest teeming with exotic wildlife like spider monkeys and quetzal birds.
There’s one reason to brave northeastern China’s bitter winters: the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. The renowned ‘Ice City’ draws visitors from home and abroad each year for the event. Sun Island, one of the festival’s two main exhibition areas, contains enormous ice sculptures carved by ice artists. The second area is Ice and Snow World, a city of full-size ice buildings that are illuminated with colourful lights. Winter activities in the festival include skiing, snow mobile driving, swimming in the Songhua River, and a traditional ice-lantern exhibition.
Les Trois Valleés, France
If you’re going to ski, you might as well ski on the world’s finest slopes. France’s Les Trois Valleés – The Three Valleys – is considered by many to be home to those slopes. The region’s acclaimed resorts include Courchevel, Méribel, Les Menuires, St-Martin-de-Belleville, and the legendary Val Thorens. With over 600km of varying pistes and more than 200 lifts, Les Trois Valleés is the largest ski area in the world – and since 1973, you can experience it all with a single ski pass.