Top Winter Vacation Ideas for 2017
Winter is coming. It’s true, whether you like the cold weather or not! Winter is a great time of year for travel since you have so many options, including heading to warmer climates (a favourite of mine), exploring Christmas markets, doing winter sports or experiencing the sheer beauty of winter.
Some of my favourite travel bloggers have put forward their top choices for winter destinations this year… where will you choose to go?
Best for… Winter Sports
Lauren suggests Colorado:
With 300 days of sun a year and an average snowfall of 300”, Colorado is synonymous with winter sports. Home to the Rocky Mountains, renowned ski resorts like Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, and dozens more beckon skiers and snowboarders in search of clean lines and fresh power.
Famously the only state to ever turn down the Olympics, resorts are reserved for everyone looking to try beginner groomer runs to the most intense backcountry terrain, bowls, and moguls in the U.S.
If you’d prefer a more offbeat winter adventure, Colorado is also the place to give dogsledding, snowshoeing, or ski biking a try. Hardcore outdoor enthusiasts will cold-weather camp or plan yurt trips, while families enjoy tubing or sleigh rides.
Follow Lauren’s adventures on her Instagram!
Viktor suggests Gudauri in Georgia:
Gudauri is one of the top skiing and snowboarding resorts in Europe and is not too spoiled by tourism. Therefore, I really enjoyed not wasting time in long lines (maximum 5 minutes!) and you getting the most out of my holiday there. The Caucasus Mountains are magical with one of the best free rides in never-ending powders!
Prices of ski resort tickets, accommodation and food are affordable and much cheaper compared to the Alps in France, Italy or Austria. A ski pass for one week in Gudauri only costs around 80 Euro. When it comes to Europe, you won’t find a better deal when it comes to best value for money.
Follow Viktor’s adventures on his Instagram!
Justine suggests Ruka in Finland:
When dreaming of escaping during the winter, my idea of a winter wonderland is somewhere that guarantees cold, snowy weather and that also offers a wide variety of winter sports. If that also sounds like a perfect winter destination to you, I suggest you should check out Ruka in Northern Finland.
First things first, there is a thriving ski resort there with 34 slopes, ranging from beginner green and blue slopes, through to intermediate red slopes, right up to advanced black slopes. One small word of caution though: temperatures in the winter can be as low as -30 degrees Celsius. If it becomes this cold, usually the ski lifts are temporarily closed. But, there are still ways to get around the slopes using the various T-bar lifts scattered around the resort. You might find that some of the more advanced slopes are off limits at this time, however.
When you’ve tired yourself out from skiing, or if you just fancy a break; there are a number of companies offering alternative winter sports for you to try too. These include snowmobiling (lots of fun!) and husky sledding (even more fun!)
If you were to ask me what else I like about Ruka, I would tell you that: the village itself looks like a magical wonderland in the winter, the people are super friendly, the food is delicious and the wooden cabins you’ll likely find yourself staying in come complete with real log fires and private saunas. What’s not to love about all of that?
Follow Justine’s adventures on her Instagram!
Inma suggests Portes du Soleil in the French Alps:
If someone had told me when I was a kid that I’d spend my mid-twenties working in the French Alps, I would not have believed it. But it happened, oh yes it did. My love for the mountains and snowboarding took me to work on and off during five consecutive winters – and a whole summer – in many ski resorts spread across the Alps. I got to know epic resorts like Val Thorens – in the domain of Les 3 Vallees, Saint-François-Longchamp, Risoul-Vars, Pra Loup, Les 2 Alps and many others. But the one where I was the happiest was, indeed, Portes du Soleil.
One of the largest in the world – encompassing thirteen resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, which make a skiable area of 650km and 10 terrain parks – I was often based in Avoriaz while working there.
Although it is not one of the highest as the higher you can go skiing is 2400m, Portes du Soleil usually enjoys lots of powder that attracts every kind of crowds. Fun is not a problem either and Avoriaz has a few nightclubs to party the night away if bad weather is in the forecast for the next day. Last but not least, you are never waiting too long in the queues due to its massive skiable domain.
After Portes du Soleil – my all time favorite ski resort in the world so far – here are a few other ski resorts in Europe you need to experience too. Check them out!
Follow Inma’s adventures on her Instagram!
Best for… Winter Sun
Darren suggests Ubud on Bali:
When most people think about escaping the cold for some winter sun, they dream of sipping cocktails on a golden beach somewhere. There are plenty of destinations in all-year-round sunny Bali that offer that experience, but to encounter something a little different in the forms of Balinese culture, countryside and local villages, consider Ubud.
Ubud is the cultural capital of beautiful Bali and is the perfect Bali base where you can explore the best of what the island has to offer. Local markets, cooking classes, ornate temples, monkey-filled forests, relaxing massages, rice field walks and trips to nearby mountain scenery are all on offer here. Together with an amazing selection of restaurants, bars and coffee shops, Ubud is perfect for a bit of winter sun.
Ubud’s popularity with tourists is spreading into nearby villages and these are best places to stay to escape the crowds, immerse yourself in Bali village life and still be close to Ubud’s action. Our favourite is Penestanan Village, with friendly locals, gorgeous villas for rent and the best restaurants overlooking bright green rice fields. We loved Ubud so much we stayed for two months!
Follow Darren and Shelley’s adventures on their Instagram!
Iris suggests Uruguay:
When the people of the northern hemisphere are trying to keep their extremities warm, the people in Uruguay hit up the beach. December and January are their summer months and they sure know how to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. This tiny country in South America is so breezy because it’s surrounded by water in the form of rivers and the Atlantic ocean. It’s the perfect choice for those who like their heat not too hot.
With only 3.5 million inhabitants – of which most live near the capital Montevideo – it’s not hard to get away from the crowds. The country is very compact, so it’s possible to see many beautiful areas in a very short time. Travel to the stunning Laguna Merín on the border with Brazil for some peaceful birdwatching. Visit the off-grid Cabo Polonio or La Pedrera – my personal favourites – to learn to kitesurf and go hiking. Head west towards Colonia del Sacramento to visit a sweet colonial town. Or if you don’t mind big crowds, visit the (in)famous party city of Punta del Este during its peak season. Work on your jealousy-inducing tan with care, as the ozone layer is thinner in this part of the globe.
Uruguayans are incredibly relaxed and welcoming people. Even more so than their Argentinian neighbours, they love drinking mate and walking around with a thermos flask tucked under their arm. It’s one of the most progressive nations in the world, has a small carbon footprint and has the continent’s fastest internet. If you pay with a foreign credit card at car rentals and restaurants, you pay 22% less than the posted price. Before you know, you find yourself buying real estate to never ever spend a Christmas in the cold again.
Best for… Winter Beauty
Mia suggests Appenzell in Switzerland:
Appenzell is a Canton in northeastern Switzerland famous for its mountain called the Alpstein and of course, cheese. The town of Appenzell, in the heart of the canton, looks like out of a fairy tale, with its traditional colourful wooden facades.
To reach the town you can either travel by train (Appenzeller Bahn) from St. Gallen or you can go by car. Both routes will bring you through the most beautiful winter wonderland in the snowy mountains. This area is also perfect for all sorts of winter sports, and you can even go husky sledding!
The town itself is very tourist-friendly and offers a lot of restaurants, cafes and shops. If you do love cheese, of course, you will have to try the traditional Appenzeller cheese fondue. A perfect place for this is the Cafe Adler where you can enjoy this traditional Swiss dish in a beautiful cellar.
Follow Mia’s adventures on her Instagram!
Cristina suggests Yellowstone:
Standing over the Mammoth Hot Springs on a frosty morning, it’s easy to see why Yellowstone is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the winter. There is no place I’d rather be standing on a minus twenty degree January morning. The silence and solitude, the deep untouched snow, the towering peaks, and the incredible wildlife are what keep us coming back year after year.
Not many visitors make their way into the park this time of year and it sometimes feels like you have the place all to yourself. You can finally enjoy all the Yellowstone attractions without the crowds. The possibilities are endless. Join a snow coach ride to see the famous Old Faithful geyser, snowshoe through a canyon, or strike out on a cross-country ski track through pristine endless wilderness.
The road through Lamar Valley is ploughed year round all the way to Cooke City. Rent a cosy cabin in this tiny high-altitude hamlet and find out what a real snowstorm is like. Drive the park at sunrise and make sure to be back in time for the perfect winter brunch at the Bearclaw Bakery.
But our favourite reason to visit Yellowstone in winter is to watch the wolves. Active all winter long, wolves are easily spotted against the white snow. Other wildlife abounds as well. Bison plough the deep snow with their massive heads to graze upon the grass beneath. Bighorn sheep cavort on the cliffs, and coyotes crisscross the valleys. Golden eagles hunt goldeneye ducks over the steaming Lamar River, and otters sled down the snowy slopes. But it is not until you hear the mournful howl of a pack of wolves in the pink pre-dawn light that you will fully appreciate the spectacular beauty of winter in Yellowstone.
Christina suggests Québec:
As a Canadian, I can fully admit that there are times when my country is just one ridiculous ball of stereotypes. Carnival period in Québec City is one of those times. During the end of January to the beginning of February each year, Québec City is home to one of the largest winter carnivals in the world, with the whole population overdosing on maple syrup and winter joy (I’m only half kidding).
You see, Carnival is where you’ll find Canada at its most Canadian. Highlights include talking snowmen mascots wearing bright red hats, sticky treats made up of boiling maple syrup poured on snow (tire d’érable), spectacular snow sculptures, ice canoe races and even an entire palace made of ice. If you want an unforgettable winter experience, this is it! PS: Don’t forget your bathing suit for the annual snow bath, where reckless Canadians frolic in the snow wearing nothing but their speedos and bikinis. Oh, Canada… #sorrynotsorry
Follow Christina’s adventures on her Instagram!
Susanna suggests Alaska:
Alaska hasn’t quite caught on to the winter craze happening in places like Iceland and Finland, but believe a local when I say that it is simply breathtaking and should be your next winter destination for beauty.
Don’t believe me? Check out all these great spots for a beautiful view:
Alaska is home to a world-class ski resort, located in Girdwood, that has one of the best views from the top of a chairlift, I mean you can see seven, that’s right- seven glaciers, from up there. Brush up on your ice skating skills as you glide across a frozen outdoor lagoon, lined by burn barrels and crystalized trees. Take a road trip along the coast and enjoy waterfalls frozen in time. If you are lucky enough you might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights as they dazzle the dark sky in the Last Frontier.
Exploring Alaska’s winter beauty is not for the faint of heart though. The cold paired with limited transportation options ensures that each and every visitor receives a rugged and true Alaskan experience, but for those hardy enough to come they are rewarded with winter beauty, unmatched.
Follow Susanna’s adventures on her Instagram!
Best for… Christmas Markets
Kirsty suggests Düsseldorf in Germany:
Düsseldorf Christmas market is often overlooked because of bigger and more picturesque markets on offer in places like Cologne or Berlin. However, Düsseldorf is great as it’s such a large transport hub that it’s really easy to get there. We ended up there as a stop off going to the USA so it was almost an accident – we had a great time and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was.
The Christmas markets are held in different areas of the city but the main one is in the old town on Marktplatz. There are many different stalls to wander around. We mostly enjoyed the food stalls – everything from fresh and warm pretzels (Brezeln) to traditional German sausages were on offer. Don’t forget the Glühwein as well – it’s hot, mulled wine – if you want a cute souvenir you can keep the mug that it comes in (you pay a deposit for it). Each market in Germany produces a different one each year. There are also lots of stalls where you can see people producing their wares and working away – if you want a gift that’s really unique and not mass-produced you could find it here.
The atmosphere at the markets is great and really family friendly and I truly think Germany does the markets the best. Lots of places copy them but they aren’t anything like the real thing. What I love about them most is that they really get you in the Christmas spirit and it makes you feel very festive! A perfect winter break.
Follow Kirsty’s adventures on her Instagram!
Margherita suggests Lake Garda in Italy:
The northernmost tip of Lake Garda is truly a year-round destination – in spring and summer, it’s an adventurer’s playground, with activities on offer in the mountains and on the lake. If you’re visiting in winter and don’t know what to do around Lake Garda, I have the perfect answer for you – Christmas markets!
This area was part of Austria until the end of World War 1, so the tradition of Christmas Markets is still very strong, and come December all lakeside villages set up their very own ones. One of the best Christmas markets near Lake Garda is in Arco, a town just off the lakeshore. There are about 40 stalls selling a variety of Christmas wares, including handmade candles, nativity sets and wooden objects, lots of hearty food and Christmas sweets, and naturally vin brule, Italy’s answer to Glühwein!
Another fun Christmas Market destination is Riva del Garda, where young children can visit Santa’s house and attend ‘Elf School’ to learn how to be Santa’s perfect assistants!
Follow Margherita’s adventures on her Instagram!
Ania suggests Stockholm:
Sweden takes the Christmas season very seriously. Throughout Advent, Christmas markets become a permanent fixture in many of the country’s cities. If you’re keen on experiencing Sweden’s oldest and arguably cosiest Christmas Market, make sure to head on over to Stortorget in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town). You won’t be disappointed.
If you’ve happened to already pay a visit to a Christmas Market or two, you may be wondering what distinguishes Stockholm’s Christmas Market from others that pop up in Europe. Well, in contrast to many others, this market is committed to selling handmade and traditional Swedish items, such as hand-carved ornaments, Jultomten (Swedish Santa) figurines, and smoked reindeer meat. A visit to Gamla Stan’s Christmas Market is a cultural experience.
Additionally, you’ll have the chance to witness another Swedish Advent tradition. Around the first of December, glowing Advent stars and twinkling lights start adorning the windows of the nation’s inhabitants. The windows in the in the vibrant buildings surrounding the Old Town Christmas Market are not exempt from this practice. Since December is Sweden’s darkest month, Stockholm only receives around 6 hours of daylight a day (the sun can set before 3 pm). These luminous window decorations are used to combat the darkness and truly create a cosy and festive backdrop for one of Sweden’s most famous Christmas Markets. Last but not least, to complete your Swedish Christmas Market experience, make sure to sample some delicious market glögg, Sweden’s mulled wine, and snack on some gingerbread.
Follow Ania’s adventures on her Instagram!
Archana suggests the Philippines:
Until I lived in the Philippines, I always thought the West was the playground for the grandest Christmas celebrations. But now I have my doubts. Christmas celebrations in the Philippines are the longest — and most lavish — in the world. The southeast Asian island nation pulls no punches in its celebratory zeal with spectacular light displays, shop until you drop bazaars, traditional masses, and family gatherings held from September until January. While many countries concentrate on the commercial side of Christmas, faith and family takes centre stage at a Filipino Christmas. ‘Simbang Gabi’, a traditional series of masses are held over nine nights culminating in Christmas Eve and Christmas lanterns known as ‘parols’ light up buildings and streets. On Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), families come together to host a large festive meal. Local dishes like Lechon and roast turkeys ruin the yearlong diets.
Gifting and helping others is a tradition during Christmas and special Christmas bazaar are held across the country to cater to the huge demand for Christmas shopping. Some of the must-visit Christmas bazaars are St James the Great Christmas Bazaar, Noel Bazaar, the Grand Holiday Bazaar, World Bazaar Festival, the Zonta Alabang Christmas Carnivale Bazaar and The Clark Night Market/Bazaar among many others. If you miss out these special bazaars you can always shop at Greenhills, Greenbelt, Divisoria, Mall of Asia or hordes of other malls spread across the country.
Follow Archana’s adventures on her Instagram!
We hope this selection of some of the best destinations for snowsports, winter sun, winter beauty and Christmas markets has inspired you this winter!
Wrap up warm and let us know in the comments where you would go (or if you have been to any of these places!).
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