During the months of cold, grey winter, it can be easy to fall into hibernation mode, complete with large, baggy sweaters and piles of comfort food. Some people might escape to balmier regions, like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, but that would mean swapping your woolly sweater for a bikini after months of eating Christmas cookies and not shaving your legs.
So why not give winter weather travel a try? It has its benefits, like smaller crowds, winter sports, and the ability to continue wearing cozy clothes and eating hearty comfort food. It all depends on finding locations that take advantage of the cold and the snow.
The Black Forest, Germany
If you celebrate Christmas, Germany is the juggernaut of holiday travel. Home of gingerbread, the Christmas tree, advent calendars, and the figure of St. Nicholas himself, it’s a veritable history lesson in Western Christmas tradition. The Black Forest and surrounding area is one of the richest in such traditions, boasting some of the largest Christmas markets in Europe. But that’s not all Germany offers in the winter months. The Black Forest’s famous wind-swept beech trees look spectacular coated in snow. If you’re lucky, Lake Titisee will freeze enough for skating, and the Forest’s mountains provide both downhill and cross-country skiing.
When I say “Amsterdam” you might think tulips and canal-side bike rides, but the infamous city has a lot to offer in colder weather. Its streets are bursting to the brim with winter markets where you can eat freshly-fried oliebollen and ice skate under twinkling lights. Amsterdam’s vibrant coffeehouse culture is in full swing, providing refuge when you tire of the cold, along with its many pubs and world-class restaurants.
Bruges is one city that is maybe even better in the winter than in warmer months. Though not, perhaps, a town I’d want to spend eternity in, Bruges is a lovely candidate for a short winter getaway. Its main historic centre, lined by buildings lit up like gingerbread houses, is home to a bustling Christmas market where Belgian chocolates and steaming mulled wine are sold. Take a festive walk along the city’s canals and then escape from the chill in a café with a rich hot chocolate and, of course, warm and sweet Belgian waffles.
Located in the Western-most tip of Switzerland and cradled by France, Geneva is an international and historic metropolis. You can travel from Geneva into Switzerland’s core to ski the Alps, or pop over to Eastern France. Lake Geneva provides lovely views for a stroll on a crisp winter’s day, and even weeks of harsh weather wouldn’t be enough to exhaust the arts and culture of Geneva’s museums, theatre, concert halls, and galleries. And there isn’t really anything better after a day in the cold than a big bowl of cheese fondue.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s Gothic cathedral and pastel-painted buildings look eerily beautiful against a grey winter sky, giving the city a bit of a melancholic feel. But that doesn’t stop the local students from partying in the city’s many drinking holes – from cavernous, underground bars to cozy pubs that brew their own beers. Spend the days sitting under thick blankets and heat lamps in sidewalk cafés, then sample the city’s many pints and soak it all up with hearty Czech fare, like dumplings, platters of meat, and fried cheese.
It might get dark mid-afternoon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun during Sweden’s long winter. Because they are pros at weathering the winter, Swedes have a whole lot to offer visitors from winter markets to ice hotels, and reindeer “safaris” to a plethora of outdoor activities: snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding, ice fishing, and of course, skiing. The north of the country boasts spectacular views of the Northern Lights. It’s everything you could ever want out of winter, and might just replace summer as your number one favourite season.
Images via PerpetualPlum, Walter Rodriguez, WilliamsDB, Kevin Gessner, Dario Garavini and Jimmy Harris's Flickrs