While most people tend to travel in the warmer months to soak up the sun, winter weather can be just as exciting – and more affordable, thanks to off-season travel deals. While certain destinations beckon beach lovers and summer hikers, others truly shine after the first snowfall of the year.
Why escape winter when you can jump into it and make it your playground? Whether it’s skiing, snowboarding or just cozying up around a fireplace as the night grows colder, the following places beckon long beyond the end of August.
It’s no secret that Austria, bordering the Alps’ eastern edge, is a top international ski destination. Chalets and slopes aside, this Central European country has plenty of tradition to keep you immersed in both the culture and the winter weather. Spend part of your trip in Western Austria’s city of Innsbruck before heading further east.
The city’s Old Town is even more charming under a blanket of fresh snow, and it’s easy to spend the day strolling its nooks and crannies. Around Christmastime, you’ll run into plenty of local markets selling everything from fresh baked holiday cookies to traditional handicrafts. With historic landmarks, tiny shops and gourmet local dining around every corner, Innsbruck offers plenty of spots to warm up before heading back out.
Whether you’re a winter sports aficionado or not, the peaks surrounding Innsbruck are yours to explore, as long as you dress for the occasion. Closest to the heart of the city, Nordkette is Innsbruck’s best known mountain – and one of its most popular weekend activities. The Hungerburgbahn railway can get you from the middle of Innsbruck to the Nordkette Cable Car station, where you can catch a ride up the mountainside.
Restaurants and hiking trailheads can be found along the cable car’s route, but the views alone are worth it. As the lights of Innsbruck await far below, take in the 360 degree panorama form a true winter peak before hurrying back into the warmth of the cable car.
Over the course of the rest of your stay, be sure to visit the Hofkirche Gothic church, photograph Old Town’s famed Golden Roof and stop by the city’s many outdoor plazas and squares for seasonal Christmas celebrations and performances.
If you’re looking to venture even further north, plan a tour along Norway’s fjord-filled coastline.
While Norway’s famously freezing winters are almost always a guarantee, don’t let the weather stop you from experiencing the season in full swing. Looked forward to all year, Norway’s wintertime is an inherent part of Scandinavian culture.
As in Austria, Oslo’s many Christmas markets are a must-stop. Pick up gifts, seek out hidden gems and admire the artisanship, all while sipping hot chocolate or mulled wine. When everyone on your gift shopping list has been accounted for, bundle up and take a short train ride to Oslo Winter Park, one of the city’s most popular outdoor attractions. With plenty of slopes at varying difficulties, the park doubles as a ski resort, and makes a great day trip even if you’re staying elsewhere in the city.
As fresh snow highlights the colors of the city, spend the rest of your stay in the capital museum hopping, trying local cafes and enjoying the blustery harbor.
If you have the time to extend your visit to Norway, head north to Trondheim, a destination rich in Viking history, local dining, and fjord side views. On your way back down to Oslo, tour the country’s southwestern coast if weather permits. Fishing villages, seaside cliffs and holiday hospitality are sure to make your stay in Europe’s far north unforgettable.
If you have just enough time for a domestic winter getaway anywhere in the country, make Vermont a priority, especially if you’re craving a classic wonderland with a New England twist. Vermont’s Green Mountains, Lake Champlain shoreline and small town Main Streets are, arguably, even more charming in the midst of winter. Aside from top notch ski destinations like Kilington and Stowe, Vermont offers winter hiking, local Christmas shopping, historic sites and rolling landscapes.
If you choose to make the city of Burlington your headquarters, you’ll wake up to foggy peaks of the Adirondacks peeking out over Lake Champlain before grabbing breakfast at one of the city’s beloved local eateries. Day trips to Shelburne, Vergennes and Waterbury Village offer plenty of opportunities to buy local products, admire snow-covered pines and explore country roads if the weather allows for it.
If you’re able to add a second destination to your trip, consider Montpelier, the state’s small but historic capital. Close-knit and filled with small businesses, the city hosts performances, markets and other events that draw you into a home away from home.
New Mexico’s stunning landscape is extraordinary in any season, but winter takes an already otherworldly landscape to another level. With the smell of pinon in the air, begin your trip in Albuquerque and make the short drive north to Santa Fe, which will be your base for a one of a kind Christmas visit to the high desert.
Whether you’re planning to take on winter hikes, visit pristine historic sites or sink into bliss at one of the area’s hot spring destinations, Santa Fe will introduce you to winter in the desert – a phenomenon that may draw you back year after year.
While staying in the city, don’t miss a jaunt to nearby Taos, a creative haven that makes a convenient day trip. The town’s mall shops, regional eats and a busy holiday event schedule complement the bustle of Santa Fe perfectly, and you may even want to consider extending your trip to take in Taos’ vibrance over the course of a few days.
Are you planning on traveling this winter? What are some places you recommend? Have you created your itinerary yet? Are you returning to your regular winter destination or discovering new places?