Think winter travel is all snow, ice, and freezing temps? Think again! A winter trip can offer everything from sparkly Christmas market magic (we’re looking at you, Germany), to crowd-free visits to iconic landmarks in Italy, France, and beyond. So, forget everything you think about winter travel. Here are eight of the best places to visit in the winter, straight from our community of travelers and expert staffers.
“One of the things I loved about winter travel is that I didn’t break the bank, financially or with vacation time,” said staffer Jim. “I loved traveling around Christmas and New Year’s because you can get a lot of low-cost options, particularly right after the new year. For vacation time, traveling over two different calendar years can help save some vacation days for summer months, and the cluster of paid holidays a lot of people get between December and January help, too!”
Go here in the winter to see the outdoors at their wintry best
If an ethereal escape into nature is up your alley, Iceland is one of the best places to go in the winter. Occasional snowfalls make the landscape even more otherworldly, waterfalls freeze into icicles, and the night sky often lights up with one of nature’s most staggering phenomena: the northern lights. Staffer Whitney said it best after her winter trip to Iceland: “Some people say they hate the winter—I say that is when the magic happens.”
Things to do during a winter visit to Iceland:
- See another side of Iceland’s beaches. “I went to Iceland in January of 2019,” said staffer Whitney. “I am a mountain girl all day, and Iceland took my breath away with its stunning beauty. From the volcanoes to the glaciers, it made me appreciate how precious our planet is, and how grateful I am to live on it. I was blown away by the silky, black sand beaches, which were crisp in the winter. The waves were some of the largest I have ever seen.”
- Watch the dance of the northern lights. “I went to Iceland in January and saw the most beautiful display of northern lights dancing across the sky,” said staffer Bridget. “It really does look like they’re dancing! Our tour guide said it was the best display he’d seen in the last five years—absolutely worth the colder weather.” Staffer Whitney was right there with her. “I came to Iceland to experience the thrill of chasing the northern lights, and truly felt like I was chasing the weather,” she said. “The last night, there they were. I still can’t believe what I saw, and it is a memory I will cherish for a lifetime.”
- Warm up with the best cinnamon rolls ever. “I traveled to Iceland in the winter, and unfortunately missed out on the northern lights due to bad weather,” said staffer Ellie. “But one of my favorite memories from my trip was finding the Brauð & Co bakery in downtown Reykjavik. We followed our noses and walked into the bakery, and got to warm up on a super chilly day with one of their incredible cinnamon rolls!”
Go here in the winter for a dose of cozy culture
There are so many reasons to visit Scandinavia in the winter—the landscapes are truly out of this world, and seeing them dusted with snow makes this one of the top places to visit in the winter. One of our favorite reasons to visit the Nordic countries during the cooler months is to cozy up with the concept of hygge. Hygge is all about the contentment and sense of togetherness that comes from being with friends and family in a warm space. The indulgent treats, drinks, and crackling fires that come along with it are just the cherry on top.
Things to do during a winter trip to Scandinavia:
- Experience Swedish-style hygge with mulled wine, scones, and tea. “Hygge is really a Danish word; we don’t use it in Sweden,” said staffer Pontus, who is from Sweden. “But here is the closest thing: Pre-Christmas, a lot of Swedish families make gingerbread houses and different types of sweets like saffron buns, knäck, ice chocolate, and glögg, which is a kind of mulled wine that we put blanched almonds and raisins in. Generally during winter, scones and tea are a bigger thing when winding down. It’s a great start to a calm Sunday. Hot chocolate, sometimes with marshmallows, is also great.”
- Take in the vibrant local scene in capital cities. “Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden, are both very beautiful cities where you can find a bunch of great restaurants and museums, and see beautiful decorations around Christmas,” said staffer Pontus.
- Ski in northern Sweden or Norway during free time. “Although many Americans probably think of the Alps in Central Europe, going to middle and northern Scandinavia also offers northern lights, and very hygge skiing resorts,” said staffer Pontus. “Visitors stay in small cabins with saunas, rather than apartments in the Alps.”
- Visiting Sweden’s Ice Hotel on a pre- or post-tour stay. “There is quite a unique hotel in northern Sweden, which is completely made out of ice and therefore needs to be re-built every year,” said staffer Pontus.
Go here in the winter to experience the sparkliest Christmas markets
Looking for extra festive trips to take in the winter? Put Germany on your winter travel bucket list! With its half-timbered houses and twinkling Christmas markets around every corner, there is always something charming to see during the off-season. (And, while there are so many things to do at Europe’s Christmas markets, we suggest saving room for a mug of warm Glühwein in Germany. It’s as traditional as it gets!)
Things to do during a winter trip to Germany:
- Pretend you’ve stepped into a Hallmark movie. “I took a trip to Munich, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria, in December with my mom to visit the Christmas markets,” said staffer Amanda. “The magical decorations, delicious smells, and hot Glühwein kept us at the markets for hours! It’s the perfect place for any Christmas fan. All my mom kept saying the whole trip was, ‘This is better than a Hallmark movie!’” See more Christmas destinations that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Hallmark movie →
- Hope for the magic of snow. “I lived in Austria for a year and can attest that visiting Germany and Austria in December is a must,” said staffer Shannon. “Everything is decorated with sparkly lights, and when it snows it’s just magic! It’s so enjoyable to walk around the Christmas markets and do some shopping, and the food and drink are incredible. Plus, in my experience it’s never that cold. Sure, you want to dress warmly, but you’re never freezing like during New England winters.”
- Collect Christmas mugs as souvenirs. “The little mugs you can get at the Christmas markets are by far my favorite souvenir because each market you go to has a different mug, and each year they change,” said staffer Shannon. “They are great for collecting.”
- Buy ornaments in medieval towns. “Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany,” said staffer Sam. “People flock here from all over the world to wander around the old alleyways and buy Christmas ornaments in the Käthe Wohlfahrt department store. By the time we left, my fellow travelers had filled up several bags with presents for their children and grandchildren.”
Go here in the winter to warm up with world-renowned history and culture
Taking a vacation in winter has a lot of perks, especially when you’re visiting a place with as much art, culture, and food as France. Even though a little winter weather won’t interrupt your adventure (just imagine the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the snow!), there are plenty of ways to duck out of the chill.
Things to do during a winter trip to France:
- See winter light stream through the windows of Sainte-Chapelle. This is one of our favorite free time winter activities in Paris, and for good reason. You can step inside during free time to warm up while admiring some of the oldest and most spectacular stained glass in Paris.
- Get VIP access to iconic sites in Paris. “One of the biggest pros about traveling to Paris in December is the lack of long lines,” said staffer Jackie. “We were able to do things like easily grab a few electric scooters to get around the city, and climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe without a wait. We also didn’t have to fight to get the best view of the city while taking some pictures from the Eiffel Tower (or wait in line to get more Champagne, which was a huge plus in my book!).”
- See small towns like Rouen at their best. “I’d say the biggest perk of traveling to France in the winter months is stopping in all of the smaller towns like Rouen,” said staffer Jackie. “They look and feel so much more magical with the Christmas lights!”
- Soak in seasonal celebrations like New Year’s Eve and the Epiphany. “One of the things I love about winter travel are the unique experiences,” said staffer Jim. “I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris and Edinburgh, and both were wonderful. A lot of European countries also have traditions surrounding the Epiphany on January 6, so it was fun to see some of those, too.” (What is the Epiphany, you ask? This Christian holiday marks the day that Jesus was revealed to be the son of God, and believers feast to celebrate the occasion.)
Go here in the winter to soak in all the classics with none of the crowds
Italy may call to mind sun-splashed days on the coast with a Spritz in hand—but don’t count the country’s cooler months out. Italy is one of the best places to visit in the winter because all those historic landmarks will still be there, but all the lines and crowds of eager visitors won’t be. You’ll feel like you have all the icons to yourself.
Things to do during a winter trip to Italy:
- Have the best of Venice all to yourself. “I love winter travel—it’s so quiet!” said staffer Jim. “I visited Venice in early January 2019, and it was magical to see the city like a local, when the New Year’s crowds were gone but the Carnival crowds hadn’t arrived yet!”
- See Rome decked out in all its festive finery. To watch the magic of Christmas come alive, staffer Jules recommended visiting Piazza Venezia in Rome. “They set up a big Christmas tree in the middle of the piazza,” she said. “At night, with the Vittorio Emanuele monument lit up too, it’s such a beautiful sight.”
- Embrace free time (and comfortable temps) in Florence. “In February, the weather in Italy is mild and all I needed was a light winter jacket,” said staffer Emily. “That type of weather made exploring the sites so much more enjoyable. For example, my family and I climbed to the top of the Duomo in Florence. The stairway is narrow, and I couldn’t have imagined trekking up the steps in the middle of summer when the temperature is in the 90s and you’re surrounded by other travelers. Instead, we had the walkway mostly to ourselves and didn’t have to tussle for the best vantage point once we got to the top!”
Go here in the winter for weather that feels unseasonably warm
If you’re looking for winter getaway ideas, heading toward the Mediterranean is always a good idea. Here, Spain keeps on kicking with the warmer weather—the country has one of the mildest climates in Europe!—and it’s a top spot to visit if you want to enjoy the winter season without super cold temps.
Things to do during a winter trip to Spain:
- Enjoy surprisingly warm weather in Madrid. “Who says winter has to be cold?” said staffer Jim. “I’ve lived in the northeast for most of my life, so winter in Madrid felt nearly tropical! I was able to relax on some outdoor patios, explore parks and gardens, and walk through the city without the summer crowds, and without freezing.” Traveler Melissa agreed. “Spain, especially southern Spain, can be great in the winter because the weather is generally mild. They don’t get a lot of snow or rain in southern Spain, so while it’s not exactly summer weather, it’s better than our winter here in Boston!”
- Seek out seasonal festivities—and roasted chestnuts. “I loved Spain during the holidays,” said traveler Jessie. “In Barcelona, there were Christmas markets in the plaza in front of the cathedral. I remember walking home at night and seeing random streets lit up—the city hung what looked like huge ornaments over the streets, as well as signs that read ‘Bones Festes’ (which means happy holidays in Catalan). Vendors sold roasted chestnuts on the corner and the whole street would smell amazing. Plus, it never got too cold! We had a few snow flurries, but that’s it.”
7. Poland & the Baltics
Go here in the winter to step into a fairytale
Picture a historic castle. Now, picture that castle dusted with snow. Now, picture having that snow-covered castle all to yourself! That’s just what you’ll find during the off-season in the Baltics, where the region’s fairy-tale charm shines even brighter during the winter months. The off-season temperatures in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia may warrant a warm coat, sure. But, of all the best places to go in the winter, this region is still right there at the top.
Things to do during a winter trip to the Baltics:
- Enjoy all of Estonia’s charm without the crowds. “A few years ago I found myself in Tallinn, Estonia, in the dead of winter, and it was truly breathtaking,” said staffer Stephanie. “Winter is the off-season there, so it was almost eerily empty. That being said, the lack of crowds enabled so much charm. Walking around a snow-covered castle without another tourist in sight felt like going back in time. Provided you can handle cold temperatures, I would highly recommend visiting at this time of year!”
- Listen to classical music for an even more magical visit. “We attended a Chopin concert in Warsaw, Poland, and it was absolutely marvelous,” said traveler Carole while sharing stories about going guided. “The pianist’s fingers were flying across the keyboard. We also went to a Mozart concert in Vienna, and it made me feel close to my grandma, who was German.”
Go here in the winter for a never-ending summer
Are you hoping to escape the colder winter weather here at home for a sunny destination in, say, the Pacific? If warm weather is more your style and you’re looking for winter getaway ideas, Australia is waiting in the Southern Hemisphere. The seasons are the opposite from those here in the Northern Hemisphere, which means going during our winter will ensure all the beach days you’re dreaming of. Just prepare for some toasty days in places like Uluru (pack your hat and sunscreen!), and then cool down while snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.
Things to do during a winter trip to Australia:
- Be the first in the world to ring in the new year. “I went to Australia to get away from the New England winter,” said staffer Gustavo. “It was so nice to thaw out at Bondi Beach, visit the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, and be the first in the world to ring in the new year as we were there for New Year’s activities!”
- Warm up to new people while you warm up in the nice weather. “I was a little nervous at first because I was unsure how traveling with other people would go, but it was absolutely amazing!” said traveler Courtney after her New Year’s Eve in Australia & New Zealand tour. “I met so many great people and loved everyone in my tour group. The Tour Director, Luke, was so great. He was very knowledgeable and helpful. This trip exceeded my expectations. I would do this trip over a million times.”