Where to go for Winter Wonderlands
By Martha Hales
The world is full of places where the winter brings added sparkle and romance, and often the colder season brings fewer people and lower prices, too. We’ve picked out some of our favourite winter wonderlands to inspire you to pack those thermals and embrace the chill.
An idyllic scene awaits in wintry Russia, one of the most romantic of winter destinations. Under a blanket of glittering snow the beauty of the great Tsarist monuments in the imperial cities is even more pronounced, and during the winter festivities - especially New Year’s Eve - there is a palpable sense of joy and hope all around. Cities and towns come out to party in enthusiastic style, accessorised by some of the finest festive lights in the world.
Some of the more rural parts of Russia are not easily accessible during the long, cold winter months, but it can be a fantastic time to visit the great cities, the Golden Ring, and to ride the Trans-Siberian railway. Lower tourist footfall means better availability of tickets for the major theatres, so for culture fans winter is a good bet. The hearty Russian cuisine and free flowing vodka also suit winter well, but be prepared for seriously cold weather.
Take a look at our partner's Moscow Winter Getaway Itinerary for winter holiday inspiration.
Many of Japan's islands receive significant snowfall in winter - particularly those with mountainous regions - so for fairy tale winter landscapes look no further. There are several regions of Japan that really lend themselves to a winter visit, such as Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps. There are plenty of attractions in Japan that lend themselves especially well to a winter visit, the snowy surroundings making a romantic backdrop.
Spend some time getting to know the playful and inquisitive snow monkeys, who have made their home in a hot spring pool at Yudanaka Onsen, then explore the nearby Jigokudani valley where the subterranean geothermal activity creates steaming hillsides and hot springs. Winter is a really romantic time to take a stroll around the stunning UNESCO listed town of Shirokawa, the historic town of steeply thatched farmhouses known as gassho nestled in the valley. More mainstream winter highlights include the dazzling ice festival in Sapporo and the skiing in Hokkaido and Tohoku.
Experience Winter in Japan with our trusted local experts.
Traditionally a summer (November to March) destination, Patagonia holds a wilder and even more intrepid appeal during the winter - June to August. Tourist numbers really drop off at this time making the huge landscapes emptier, even more rugged and staggeringly beautiful. The electric blue glaciers, serene lakes and open grasslands invite exploration without the crowds, though at this time trails are more challenging and the weather is decidedly chilly.
Reduced human presence means wildlife sightings can be better - look out for condors, guanacos, puma and foxes. Unexpectedly winter also tends to be less windy than summer in Patagonia, and skies are often clear making for brilliant photography opportunities. Beware some of the hiking trails will be closed over the snowy months, but snowsports take their place. Try your hand at snowshoeing, cross country skiing, horse riding and even snowboarding.
Check out our local expert's Highlights of Patagonia itinerary for trip inspiration.
The world’s biggest ice festival takes place in Harbin, northeast China. 2020’s Ice and Snow Festival will run from 25 December (2019) to 25 February. It’s a supersized, city-wide celebration of all things wintry, and the highlight is the amazing display of ice and snow sculptures, best at night when they are lit up in glittering glory. The various exhibitions and events are scattered around town, and bearing in mind the temperature is frequently -25, you will need to use public transport or taxis to travel between them. As well as the mind-blowingly brilliant ice and snow sculptures, there’s a fun fair on the frozen surface of the river, free shows to watch while you thaw out at Ice and Snow World, and lots of fun ice based activities to enjoy. Remember to pack your warmest clothes as its extremely cold throughout the Harbin Ice festival both day and night.
Explore the wonders of winter in China with our local expert's Classic China Tour.
Many visitors choose to visit Georgia in summer, so winter (December to February) offers a great combination of fewer crowds, better availability and lower prices. Cultural events come thick and fast during the winter months too, with a selection of theatre, fine art and music events throughout the season. Tbilisi is not usually blanketed in snow during winter, though it does get cold, but higher altitude regions are always snowy. You may need to be a little flexible with your plans during winter because heavy snowfall can disrupt infrastructure, but if you get there, the mountains are stunning in the wintertime.
Svaneti and Kazbegi are really scenic, and if you are looking for some winter sports Gudauri is a great little ski station a couple of hours from Tbilisi with a respectable 50 kilometres of slopes. Retreat to Tbilisi’s hot mineral bath houses for an invigorating respite from the cold.
If you are keen to explore Georgia check out our local partner's Secrets of Svaneti trip itinerary.
Make it happen
Fancy a trip to find that glittering winter wonderland you’ve always dreamed of? Click on the links above to find out more about the destinations featured. Get in touch with our local experts who will point you in the direction of the most exciting winter activities and plan your bespoke itinerary to make the best of your time away. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.