Cold Vacations That Will Warm Your Soul

December 2016

Gulmarg, India

For an Indian destination that’s breathtakingly beautiful and also a hub for winter sports, Gulmarg—at the higher reaches of the Kashmir Valley—is undoubtedly heaven on earth. In the winter months it exudes a charm few other places do. Owing to its location, Gulmarg gets some of the heaviest snowfalls in the Himalayas, and has earned the distinction as the best ski resort in the country. So once you've feasted your eyes on all the beauty, immerse yourself in some activity by hitting the slopes. Catering to both beginners and professionals, skiing here can be one of the most powerful experiences (ski season starts mid December and lasts till the beginning of April). If skiing isn’t your thing, try sledging or snowboarding; and if you’re just there for the beauty, a cable-car ride affords you stunning views and a bird’s eye view of the snow-covered mountain slopes.

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Budapest, Hungary

While most tourists avoid making a trip to Budapest during the winter months, a dash of snow only enhances the city’s beauty, making it one of the best winter destinations in Europe. The biggest perk of visiting during the winter months, is the lack of tourists—with the city devoid of visitors, you can have it all to yourself—which will allow you to take in its many offerings at a more leisurely pace. One of the things Budapest is most famous for it’s thermal baths, and what better time to take a dip, than at the peak of the chilly season (imagine soaking in a steaming pool of healing water while watching the snow come down). Those who prefer to pack in a spot of activity can go skating on Városliget (Europe’s largest pond).

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Nagano, Japan

Having first appeared on the global map after hosting the Winter Olympics, Nagano is today hailed as one of the premier ski destinations in the world, and although that might be the city’s claim to fame, there’s lots more to do for those who’re not hitting the slopes. This Japanese city offers a plethora of attractions for tourists—from exploring its historical towns, gazing at the stunning architecture displayed by the snow-covered Buddhist temples and bathing in the therapeutic hot springs on the outskirts of the city, to binging on delicious local cuisine and enjoying some world-class whisky—you’ll have more to do in Nagano than you bargained for.

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While winter might not seem like the best time to visit Ireland—given the fewer daylight hours—it is definitely a good time for those looking to escape the throngs of tourists and keen to explore a side to the city that is usually reserved for the locals. Although some of the city’s more popular tourist attractions might be closed to public, you can explore a plethora of beautiful castles, cathedrals and palaces, binge on delicious local fare, drink copious amounts of freshly brewed beer, and enjoy everything the city has to offer, sans the teeming crowds. There are also several winter festivals that take place during these months, and Christmas festivities transform the city into a wonderland of cosy reds and greens.

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Munich, Germany

With its Christmas markets, glittering lights, mulled wine and roast goose, Munich is an attractive holiday destination all year round, but the city takes on a certain charm during the white months of winter. Whether you’re partaking of the many activities offered at the Tollywood Festival; taking in the city’s countless cultural and historic attractions; or drinking and dining your way through the atmospheric cafes, restaurants and bars dotting the streets; Munich will keep you suitably occupied. In addition, there are some excellent Alpine slopes just an hour outside of the city, so it’s perfect for those who want to couple activity with relaxation.

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Salzburg, Austria

Whether you know it as the city of Mozart, of as the home of the Von Trapp family, Salzburg is best visited during the winter months—even though it’s peak tourist season and rates are sky-high—when it’s at its picturesque best. Whether you’re exploring the Old Town; taking a dip at an outdoor hot water bath at below-zero temperatures; snacking on caramelised almonds while strolling through the Christmas markets; or carolling through the winding streets (Silent Night was performed here for the first time in 1818)—this will be one of the most magical and unforgettable winter vacations of your life.

Tromso, Norway

As far as winter destinations go, Norway is probably the first place that comes to mind. Make your way to Tromso—popularly referred to as the capital of the Arctic—which is breathtakingly beautiful during the winter months. One of Norway's most beautiful cities, this is the best place for spotting the northern lights, aside from which Tromso offers visitors a treasure of activities. If you’re interested in discovering the local culture, there are plenty of excellent museums you can visit—from the Polar Museum (a fascinating window into the history of Arctic expeditions) and the Tromso Museum (famous for its exhibitions done by the local Sami people)—and those who prefer the outdoors will love skiing here.

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Banff, Canada

Many people consider Banff the ultimate winter destination, and with good reason. Few places are as picturesque as this Canadian town—the scenery is absolutely magnificent, with a blanket of snow as far as the eye can see—and there’s a long list of activities to keep you busy. If you’re an adrenalin junkie, you can go skiing or snowboarding (there are three excellent ski resorts to choose from); opt for something less extreme like snowshoeing, ice climbing, dog sledding, hiking, and snow tubing; and if relaxation's the only thing on your agenda, you can visit one of the many therapeutic hot springs, and book a range of relaxing therapies for a vacation that equals rejuvenation.

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Yosemite, California

Winter is the least crowded and possibly the most beautiful time to visit Yosemite. With its cascading waterfalls, snowy meadows, gurgling streams, alpine sunsets, hiking trails and pines draped with frozen icicles—the breathtaking beauty of a Yosemite winter is unparalleled—and the landscape is transformed into a pristine white wonderland. Adventure lovers can enjoy a slew of exciting activities ranging from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, to sledding and hiking. The days are bright and sunny, temperatures drop below zero, the crowds go home, and hotel rates drop drastically—there’s no better time to visit.

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Prague, Czech Republic

Winters in Prague are nothing short of magical. December marks the beginning of the cold season, which lasts all the way up to February. Whether you go in time to relish the festivities of the Christmas season in December, the fireworks in January of the romanticism of Valentine’s Day in February—Prague will charm the socks off you. With its winding cobbled streets, snow-covered shingles, towering spires and quaint gas-lit street lamps, this fairy tale city is relatively free of tourists during the winter months, which adds to its appeal. Embark on a museum trail, or ensconce yourself at one of the cosy cafes and raucous pubs while you watch the snow come down and envelop the city in a blanket of white.

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