While most of us think of traveling during summer vacations or even during shoulder season (that just-right time before or after peak season), winter can also be an incredible time to travel. In fact, there are some destinations that are even better in the winter! Whether for a ski trip, enjoying Christmas or other holiday festivities, or just a magical winter wonderland, these 8 destinations are best when visited during colder months.
1. Whistler, Canada
Whistler—just north of Vancouver, British Columbia—is a small town that packs in a LOT to do, especially during the winter months! First of all, it’s home to Whistler Blackcomb, aka one of the largest ski resorts in all of North America. If you like skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing and so on, you’ll find plenty of world-class options in Whistler. If you’re not into winter sports, you’ll find plenty of things to do in the Whistler Village. The Whistler Village at the base of the peaks provides plenty of cozy dining and cafes to fill up (and warm up) in, plus festivals for the holiday season, shopping, spas, and more.
2. Hallstatt, Austria
If you’re looking for a magical, fairy-tale village to explore during winter, look no further than Hallstatt, Austria. This sleepy village is straight out of a storybook and absolutely perfect after a fresh snowfall (of which there is plenty). Enjoy the stunning views, wander up and down the cobblestone streets, feast on delicious Austrian pastries and warm comfort food in every cafe and do some shopping in the Christmas market shops. Since it’s such a small town, 1-2 days is perfect to explore the entire village. It makes a great weekend getaway from Salzburg, Munich or even Vienna.
3. Fairbanks, Alaska
It’s not quite the North Pole, but short of an Arctic Expedition, Fairbanks is one of the best places for a snowy winter wonderland. Aside from the absolutely insane snowy forest views and northern lights to see, there’s plenty of magical winter activities. From dog-sledding tours to snowmobiling, ice skating and ice fishing, festivals and glaciers, ski marathons to scenic train rides and more—what else could you want from a winter getaway? Just make sure you bundle up well before arriving—the average high in January is 0°F!
4. Rothenburg ob de Tauber, Germany
Germany is hands-down one of the best places to visit during the Christmas season. Their festive and enormous Christmas markets are world-renowned. While there are some impressively large Christmas markets all across Germany, Rothenburg ob de Tauber is our favorite place in Germany to visit during Christmas. Stepping into this small village (enclosed inside old castle walls) is like stepping back into time. And while the entire town has Christmas shops open year-round, the winter months really take the festivities to the next level. Visit the long-standing Christmas market in the main square, then explore the entire snowy village for shops and cafes. Don’t forget to try a “Schneeball” (a cookie made of strips of fried dough coated in powdered sugar or chocolate).
Hoping to explore more of Germany’s festive markets? Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and Nuremberg all have magical (and massive) Christmas markets. Some of these have been happening annually for hundreds of years!
5. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
For some off-the-grid winter activities without having to travel too far, Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a great destination! Besides the skiing and snowboarding options, there’s lots more to do for every level of adventurer. Take a snowmobiling tour or go on a winter safari in the nearby Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks. Learn how to cross-country ski or sit back and relax with a dog sledding ride. Or just soak in one of Jackson Hole’s natural hot springs or outdoor spas.
6. Montreal, Canada
If you’re looking for a European-inspired winter getaway without actually having to cross the Atlantic, Montreal is a magical city to spend the winter holidays. The charming Old Montreal streets blanketed in snow will transport you to Europe. At the same time, the local festivals will give you a great taste of Canadian hospitality and culture. From the annual Santa Claus parade to the Montréal en Lumière Festival and the Montreal Chocolate Show, there’s plenty of ways to celebrate and indulge all winter long.
While you might be nervous about visiting a Nordic country during the dead of winter, many areas in Norway aren’t that much colder than the northern states in the US. For example, in Oslo and Bergen, the average temperature in winter is right around 32°F. That’s about the same as Chicago or Boston.
Bergen and the Lofoten Islands are two of the best winter destinations in Norway. Although, of course, there’s no shortage of places to take advantage of Norway’s winter charm. From dog-sledding to chasing Northern Lights to taking advantage of cozy cafes and warm saunas to unwind, there’s plenty to do. The further north you travel, the less daylight you’ll have. That’s good news if you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights! If you head up to the Lofoten Islands, definitely make time for a horseback-riding excursion under the Northern Lights. It’s an incredible experience you can’t really find anywhere else!
8. Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge is one of the most popular places in Colorado for skiing, snowboarding and all kinds of winter activities. Plus, the super festive and colorful Main Street is perfect for shopping for last-minute Christmas gifts or just warming up in a cozy cafe. Not a skier? There’s still plenty to do! Take an art class or workshop through the “BreckCreate” Arts District or gawk at the International Snow Sculpture Championships. You could also go sledding, ice skating or take a food tour or a cooking class. Whatever you choose to do, the snowy mountains and colorful downtown will provide the perfect wintery backdrop.