Words by Aislinn Corbet
Winter in the Northern Hemisphere is a magical time of year. It is a time of Christmas markets, snowy towns, good food in cosy restaurants, and the festive cheer of the holiday season. And when it comes to winter holidays, no places do it better than places where it snows.
Some travellers even say places like Europe and North America are better during the winter months (which are from the end of November to the end of February).
Whether that is true or not, there is no doubt that these are some of the best winter experiences in the world:
Christmas Markets in Germany
One of the best things about winter holidays in Europe is the Christmas markets, and Germany has the best of them.
These hubs of twinkling decorations, steaming glühwein, warm roasted almonds, and Christmas performances, are a beloved part of the holidays in Europe, but especially so in Germany, which is widely considered the birthplace of Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt).
The best Christmas markets in Germany are in Frankfurt, Konstanz, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Nuremberg, and Rothenburg.
Searching for the Northern Lights
There is no thrill like searching for the Aurora Borealis, spectacular dancing lights in the sky that signal a geomagnetic storm between solar winds and the Earth’s atmosphere. It is an elusive phenomena that never fails to awe those who are lucky enough to see them.
The best places to see the Northern Lights are the northern parts of Canada, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland.
Flights: Fly to Edmonton International Airport (YEG) in Canada, Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) in Alaska, Tromsø Airport (TOS) in Norway, or Kulusuk Airport (KUS) in Greenland
Tracking Bears and Wolves in Yellowstone National Park
If you are up for something truly wild, wolf tracking is the safari of Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park is a patch of volcanic wilderness in the United States that is famous for its hydrothermal landscapes and for being one of the best places in the world to spot wolves. Wolves are elusive creatures with mysterious lives, which makes seeing them in the wild truly special.
During a wolf tracking trip you might also encounter moose, bison, red foxes, coyotes, and maybe even mountain lions, which are even more mysterious than wolves.
Lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree
The moment the Rockefeller Christmas Tree’s lights go on is when the festive season officially begins in in New York City. Although the Christmas tree started as a tradition in the Great Depression of the 1930s, it has become a joyful New York experience.
The tree is over 20 metres high and decorated with over 50,000 lights, so seeing it light up the city is sight to behold.
Ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre, beneath the glow of the Christmas tree, and catching a Nutcracker show is also a traditional winter experience in New York City.
Romantic Escape in Switzerland
If you are in the mood for romance and a little winter getaway with your love, Switzerland is all about cosy ski lodges in the mountains, romantic wine dinners, and old fairytale towns.
Whisk yourselves away on a holiday filled with skiing, chocolate factories, thermal spas, Christmas markets, fondue and walnut tarts, and curling up next to each other in a warm mountain lodge. There is no doubt that Switzerland is one of the best countries in the world for romance.
The most romantic spots in the Swiss Alps are Zermatt, St. Moritz, Lucerne, Bern, and Zürich.
Family Vacation in Finland
Finland is the quintessential winter experience.
Santa Claus’ Village is situated in Rovaniemi, a subarctic wilderness area in the northern most part of Finland. It is a one of a kind experience for kids, but don’t be surprised if you also find yourself enchanted by the cheery trill of Santa’s frosty little village.
Beyond Santa Claus, Finland will keep the entire family busy with husky sledding, kick sledding, ice fishing, skiing, and snow mobiling. Be sure to visit a savusauna (smoke sauna) in Helsinki too.
Flights: Catch a flight to Rovaniemi Airport (RVN)
Skiing in Austria
If you are itching to try something new, a skiing holiday is an exciting way to embrace the snowy winter in the north.
Austria has a more laidback ski scene than Switzerland and France and a number of ski resorts with slopes for all levels, which makes it a great introduction country to skiing. Whether you are going on a solo vacation, with friends, or with family, winter getaways are best when you are skiing in Austria.
The best ski resorts in Austria are Niederau for beginners, St. Anton am Arlberg for intermediates, and Kitzbühel for experts. There are also a number of budget friendly ski resorts, such as Söll.
A Train Journey Around the Arctic Circle
For a truly unique winter experience, the Arctic Circle Train is one of the Greatest Rail Journeys in the World and an unforgettable way to see the Scandinavia in all its winter glory.
Embark on a train journey around the Golden Triangle of Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) or go on a back country trip passed fantastic fjords and witness the midnight sun illuminate the night sky while exploring all the Scandinavian towns along the way.
A train journey around the Arctic Circle is arguably the best winter experience there is.
Flights: Many of the best rail journeys begin in the major cities like Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. You will need to catch a flight to Oslo Airport (OSL), Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN), or Copenhagen Airport (CPH) depending on where your journey begins.
A snowy winter holiday is something every South African 🇿🇦 needs to experience at least once in their life. Flights to many countries in the northern hemisphere are also cheaper during winter, which makes a winter holiday an even more alluring option if you are on a budget.