The rewards for braving the cold are many. The Northern Hemisphere offers wonderful winter travel, with fewer crowds than in the summer months. A dusting of snow makes anywhere look charming, and it’s the one time of year when you can get away with wearing seriously nasty jumpers.
Here are a few suggestions for a cold-weather getaway.
No one does winter like eastern Europe. Here you’ll find fairytale cityscapes, subzero temperatures and people well versed in getting through the colder months. Budapest does it best – once you’ve braved the bracing banks of the Danube and had your fill of coffee and cake in the city’s legendary cafes there are hot baths all over the city to warm up in. Make like a Magyar and settle in at these city institutions for the day. Don’t forget your (compulsory) swimming hat.
The capital of Francophone Canada, Québec City offers some of most nosehair-freezing temperatures of any big city. But Québec still packs them in during the snowy months. The city’s annual Winter Carnival features snow sculptures, an Ice Palace and tower and a legendary canoe race along the St Lawrence River. Close to Québec City is Canada’s only ice abode, the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel), built each year on the shores of Lac St-Joseph.
Russian winters are among the harshest you’ll find anywhere. A few days on the Trans-Siberian railway will give you all the snowy scenery you can handle – all from a snugly heated carriage with unlimited hot water for warming brews from steaming samovar kettles. If an epic, cross-country odyssey isn’t for you, then try a week visiting St Petersburg and Moscow, with the cosy Red Arrow overnight service, one of Russia’s essential journeys, between them.
Lapland does its clichés rather well. The region, which straddles northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, is home to endless snowy vistas, Father Christmas and all the reindeer you can handle. The original ice hotel is here (in Jukkusjäarvi, Sweden) but as well as husky rides and cross-country skiing the real thrill of being here is meeting the local Sami indigenous people and marvelling at just how well they cope with months of frosty darkness.
Vancouver is fine at any time of the year, but it feels built for winter. Stanley Park is perfect for bracing walks and the West End hides happening coffee shops and brew pubs to while away inclement afternoons.
Monkey hot springs, Japan
Humans aren’t the only ones to get a kick out of Japan’s nationally-revered hot springs. At Jigokudani Yaen Koen (Jigokudani Monkey Park) near Yamaonouchi Townin Nagano, Central Honshu, local Japanese macaque monkeys come down to the hot water for a soak, especially during the winter months. They turn a delightful shade of pink in the process. Baths used by humans are a little further down the valley, so you can get in on the action too. The road to the monkey park is subject to closure during heavy snowfalls.
Lebanon is not the most obvious choice for a skiing destination, but the Mediterranean country is a magnet for winter sports enthusiasts. The ski centres of Faraya Mzaar and Cedars are the best known of six Alpine-style resorts, which get around three months of reliable snow each winter. As an added bonus, on fine days you can ski in the morning, bathe in the Mediterranean in the afternoon and party through the night in up-and-coming Beirut.
Iceland is a superb place to visit in winter. Reykjavik is well used to drinking through the pain of dark days and chilly nights, but regular visitors find it’s not as chilly as they were expecting, with temperatures hovering around freezing. The thermal pools that warm the cockles of locals are essential destinations, and best of all is the chance, once out of the city, of getting a gala performance of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). You need to be lucky with cloud cover, but with good fortune your winter trip here will feature one of nature’s greatest free shows.
Never mind that there are no hills and it never snows – come to Dubai for a white winter! The city state which plonked an enormous – and hugely enjoyable – water park in one of the driest places on earth also saw fit to build an indoor ski slope. With sweaty temperatures outside you can don your thermals and take on five different runs of up to 400m, all on real snow.
This article was published in 2010 and refreshed in November 2012.