10 Great (Cold) Destinations to Visit in Winter

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Traveling in the winter – and especially traveling in the cold – isn't always everyone's cup of tea. In fact, many long-term travelers perpetually chase summer around the globe so they never have to turn in their flip-flops for winter boots.

But that's not really my style.

I grew up in northeast Ohio on a Christmas tree farm. Snowy winters were a given – and these days I'm actually kind of sad when we don't get a white Christmas.

Paradise Hill Christmas Tree Farm
Winter at home

So, perhaps not surprisingly, traveling to cold places in the winter doesn't really phase me. In fact, I actually kind of love it!

In the past few years, I've traveled to both Ottawa and Manitoba in the depths of winter, gone to Scotland for New Years, and have been to Iceland not once but twice during the winter months.

If you, too, enjoy bundling up in order to explore somewhere new, here are 10 ideas for where to go in winter:

10 Cold-Weather Destinations to Visit in Winter

For atmosphere:

1. Quebec City

Architecture in Quebec City, Canada

There are lots of great Canadian cities worth visiting in the winter (I quite enjoyed Ottawa in January, believe it or not!), but Quebec City has a certain magic about it. With cobbled streets and festive holiday decorations, photos of Quebec in the winter always make me feel all cozy inside.

Plus, the city has a huge winter festival every year (the Carnaval de Quebec) with sleigh rides and an ice hotel.

>> Read more: Fun Facts: Things You Might Not Know About Quebec City

2. Germany

Christmas market in Rudesheim, Germany

I got to visit Germany around Christmastime for the first time in 2015, and the Christmas markets there are just as incredible as you've heard – maybe even more so. If it's a cheery, gluhwein-filled atmosphere you're looking for, you can't go wrong with Germany.

Even if there's no snow, places like Cologne, Nuremberg, Berlin, Heidelberg, or any of the small cities like Rudesheim or Rothenburg ob der Tauber boast great markets – and great German holiday food.

>> Read more: 23 of the Best Christmas Markets to Visit in Germany

3. Sapporo, Japan

Sopporo is known for its skiing (it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972), but is also known for its very unique snow festival that takes place every February. The festival draws millions of visitors each year to see hundreds of snow and ice sculptures.

For wintery landscapes:

1. Norway

Snowy landscape in Northern Norway

Sure, it can be frigid when you head north of the Arctic Circle, but have you SEEN photos of the Lofoten Islands or Tromsø in winter? 

Norway may not get a lot of sunlight during the winter months (especially the further north you go), but your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are pretty good. And Norwegians harbor a special love for the cold, dark winter months, which I think is kind of cool.

>> Read more: A Perfect 10-Day Itinerary for Norway in Winter or 10 Reasons Why Northern Norway in Winter is Awesome

2. Iceland

Vatnajökull ice cave

Like I mentioned earlier, I've been to Iceland in winter now (once in November and once in March). The country doesn't actually get as cold as most people assume since it's an island in the Gulf Stream, meaning there are plenty of cool things to do year-round.

Whether you want to snowmobile, hike on a glacier, visit ice caves, or chase the Northern Lights, you can do it all in Iceland. You can also ride adorable Icelandic horses and soak in natural hot pools year-round.

>> Read more: A 10-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter (Without Renting a Car)

3. US national parks

Visiting parks like Yosemite, Arches, and Yellowstone in winter is high up on my own travel bucket list. Seeing the parks dusted with snow and without tons of tourists is something you can only do in the off-season. Some roads do close due to snow, but I think the views would nevertheless be well worth it.

For winter sports:

1. Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canadians love winter perhaps more than I do, and there's no lack of things to do in the Canadian Rockies when it's cold and snowy.

You can go snow shoeing, dogsledding, snowmobiling, and skiing at world-renowned ski resorts like Whistler. Something else on my bucket list is to go bobsledding on the Olympic bobsledding track in Calgary.

2. Innsbruck

Do the Alps call to you more than anywhere in North America? If so, the small city of Innsbruck in Austria might be a good fit for you. Not only is the skiing great, but it's also a gorgeous alpine town with snowy mountains as a backdrop.

3. Middle America

Skiing in Pennsylvania

Growing up in Ohio, I didn't have a whole lot of chances to hit the slopes – northeast Ohio is notoriously flat, after all. So, when my dad decided that my sister and I should learn how to ski, we headed next door to Pennsylvania. PA is much hillier than Ohio, and we would go skiing there almost every winter – I learned how to get my snow legs at Seven Springs.

And while Pennsylvania isn't exactly the Rockies or the Alps, the state has some nice family-friendly resorts that are within driving distance from plenty of non-skiing destinations in the Midwest.

As in previous years, Ski PA has some great deals for new and young skiers/snowboarders for the 2015-16 season. Fourth- and fifth-grade students can ski for free, for example, and they have a really cool program for first-time skiers/snowboarders. For $49, you can get a beginner lift ticker, equipment rental, and a beginner group lesson.

This is valid for adults, too, and I'm actually considering going for some snowboarding lessons this year since I've always been too chicken to try it in the past. Anyone want to join?

There are, of course, SO many other great places to travel in the winter.

Where else would YOU recommend for the cold-weather lover?



*Note: This post was written by me, but brought to you by Ski PA.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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36 Comments on “10 Great (Cold) Destinations to Visit in Winter

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  1. I totally agree with Cappadocia and Norway, Amanda! I visited both in winter and loved them. (Oh, and I’m freezing my butt off in the Midwest at this very moment). 🙂

      Haha, this is nothing compared to a typical Midwest winter! 😉 In fact, we STILL haven’t had snow here in Ohio!

    We’ve got a similar dearth of snow here in Michigan this winter as well 🙁 However, when there IS snow, I enjoy heading north to head out and visit lighthouses, especially along the coast of Lake Michigan. Definitely a different landscape than during the summer months and you often will have it largely to yourself! Closer to home, I like heading out to the Detroit Zoo for an afternoon when there is snow…a lot of animals are quite active in the winter, and if it’s sunny, polar bear tunnel is a great place to visit and take photos while you watch the polar bears play!

      I keep meaning to head up to Lake Erie in the winter when it’s frozen and the lighthouses are all covered in icicles. Who knows if that will happen at all this winter, though!

      I completely agree with Michigan!! Though I’m probably biased because its my home-state, winter is so beautiful on the shores of Lake Michigan. Especially when those ice-boulders formed the past couple of years. Such a cool phenomenon! Not sure we’ll see much of that this year, though. We’ve only seen snow 1 or 2 days this year.

        You’re starting to convince ME to go to Michigan this winter! 😉

          Come on up! I’d love to show you around.

    We’ve yet to see snow here on the east coast! When it comes, it comes.

    One of my college friends did snow tubing in Montreal and had a blast.

      Snow tubing is always so much fun!

    I’m really looking forward to visiting snowy destinations next year. I’d like to be surrounded by snowy mountains on one trip – like what you would see in Switzerland for example – and I’d like to see the Northern Lights during another trip. Bring on 2016! 🙂

      I definitely have a thing for mountains, so I totally understand wanting to be surrounded by them!

    Yellowstone and Yosemite in winter are both on my bucket list! I’ve spent several Christmas vacations in a tropical destination, but one year we did to go Colorado, to a little town near Aspen and that was fun. The biggest challenge is praying your flights go smoothly with winter weather!

      I’ve actually never spent a winter holiday somewhere warm – though I have traveled to warm places plenty of times in the winter. 🙂 You’re right, though – always good to build in a little buffer time when flying this time of year!

    I am a southern girl and never learned how to downhill ski, but for some reason I’ve always wanted to try snowboarding but have been scared I’ll break a leg or something. In fact, my first time on skis was in January 2013…in the Alps…I know dramatic. This February, I’m hitting the cross country trails in Sweden.

      I feel like cross-country skiing is much safer than downhill. 😉 I’ve been skiing before, but never snowboarding. I’m pretty sure I’ll break myself, too!

    Beautiful, beautiful destinations. I like the cold so would it be greedy of me to say that I would take them all as long as I can get a nice cup of tea at the end of the day and a little bit of hot chocolate spiced with grog lol!

      Haha, not greedy at all! And I’m with you – as long as I can get a hot drink (or a hot shower) and a snuggly blanket at the end of the day, I’ll take any cold destination!

    Chicago! It is beautiful in the snow, but still easy to get around on public transit. I spent all of last winter there–and I hate the cold–and I loved it. Lots of great indoor things to do–museums, theaters–and so many great restaurants to help put on some warming winter weight.

      Ah yes! I love Chicago any time of year! I’m not sure if I’d want to *live* there through a Chicago winter, but visiting certainly isn’t bad!

    I am not so much a winter person but for these stunning sights, I am all set, ready to go and explore right NOW!

      Sometimes the cold is absolutely, 100% worth it!

    I love winter holidays! I find snowy mountain caps one of the prettiest sights in the world:-) I think Austria is a country that could be added to your winter wonderland list, skiing there is really amazing!

      Innsbruck is on this list and is in Austria! 🙂

        How could I have missed that?! Well, excellent, a very complete list;-)

    I have to add Latvia and the other Baltic countries to the list! The capital cities are beautiful with a dusting of snow and crisp blue skies, and the idyllic countryside and Baltic coast are just a short train ride away. Latvia even has dogsledding and bobsledding courses!

      I really need to get to the Baltics soon!

    Iceland definitely appeals to me! Looking into going sometime in May I hope 🙂

      I haven’t ever been in May, but in my opinion any time is a great time to go to Iceland!

    So I dislike the cold a lot. But usually only when it’d cold and not snow. But after seeing some of your posts about Iceland in winter and seeing Germany pop up all over in winter, I think I might need to give winter another shot in some destinations!

      I’m definitely with you – bitter cold but no snow isn’t my favorite, either. But some places really are worth it!

    Winter wonderlands definitely have a place in my heart – I adore sunshine & beaches, but one of my favourite trips had to be taking the train across Canada in the middle of winter. I remember the first night we had snow a bunch of grown adults ran off the train and made snow angels by the side of the station. Hilarious! Jasper & Banff in the snow were amazing, would love to go back and do it all over again!

      It’s always funny to see how fresh snow can turn adults into little kids! (Especially if those adults haven’t seen much snow before.)

    How I wish you included MICHIGAN at your list. Pretty great destination for any kind of winter activities.

      I haven’t been to Michigan in winter, but I have no doubt! I was there last fall, which was fantastic – so colorful!

    I just came back from Canada and I agree, Québec City is the cutest ! Though I was in Ottawa for Christmas and there was no snow and it was like 15°C, not really the magical white Christmas I was looking for.. But Canada wins me over anyway ! 🙂

      I feel ya – we didn’t have a white Christmas here in Ohio, either!

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