The ideal top holiday travel destinations for hiking, winter sun, skiing and even some pretty, quaint Christmas markets.
Although “summer” and “vacation” are often associated terms, savvy travelers know that some destinations are perhaps better on the chilly side of the calendar. In warmer locales, temperature and humidity finally drop to provide ideal conditions for hiking and relaxation. Holiday travel in these unique destinations throws up interesting options.
Alternatively, in cooler regions, skiing and other snow-related activities come alive. Those who prefer the indoors also have many reasons to travel during the winter. Some of the most beautiful sights are shielded from the elements. Many European locales are particularly festive during the late months, when hearty cold weather cuisine becomes available. Traveling off-peak gives travel lovers a glimpse of native life that is often hidden during peak season. Below are 9 unique holiday travel destinations that offer their best during the winter.
Even through the year’s shortest days, Valencia maintains a mild Mediterranean climate to host travellers as they stroll through the famous architecture. The Mercado Central, which opened in 1928, is a spacious and ornate indoor food hall where guests can browse the stalls and explore the region’s renowned produce and seafood.
La Lonja de la Seda, the former silk exchange, is another notable highlight. Built in the 1400s, thin twisting columns support its famous arched ceiling. In Valencia, historical sights sit shoulder-to-shoulder with ultramodern ones. The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, which houses among other things, a museum of science, an aquarium, and an opera house, was designed by Valencia native Santiago Calatrava.
Winter is an especially festive time in Valencia. On January 5, the Three Kings Parade takes over the city, with dancers, torches, and fireworks filling the byways. At this time, the city garlands its streets and buildings with bright lights. This time period signals the opportunity to eat Roscon de Reyes, the traditional round cake that Spaniards make for this celebration. Of course, winter is also the perfect time to sample a steaming paella, the famous saffron-infused rice dish that originated in Valencia.
Prague, Czech Republic
Many will argue that given the chance to experience “The City of a Thousand Spires” just once, it should be in winter. During these chilly months, snow caps the red-tiled roofs of Old Town, and icicles hang from the statues on Charles Bridge.
A winter morning’s fog gives the Gothic architecture an appropriately spooky atmosphere. Then in the evening, the lights come alive, and each building is bathed in a yellow glow, with ancient Prague Castle looming over it all. During the winter, the market stalls in the squares bustle with holiday activity.
Winter is the perfect time to sample hearty Bohemian fare, like goulash with knedliky, which are bread-based dumplings. Make sure to try the rolled Czech pancakes called palacinky, which can be either savory or sweet, somewhat like crepes. The Republic also prides itself on having the best beer in Europe, led by its world-famous Pilsner Urquell.
Quebec City, Canada
The Quebecois don’t keep their heads down and attempt to quickly pass by the frigid months of winter. They embrace and celebrate their winter season with activities, traditions, and festivities. The Carnaval de Quebec takes place from late January to early February and features sledding, skating, ice sculptures: basically, a celebration of all things frozen.
The main fairgrounds of the Carnaval are adjacent to Old City, so travel lovers can easily explore the fortifications and cobblestoned streets of Quebec’s nucleus. A funicular railway has been transporting people from Lower Town to Upper Town of the Old City since 1879. Upon reaching the Upper Town, you must visit the castle-like Chateau Frontenac. This hotel opened in 1893 and has been an icon of the Quebec City skyline ever since.
Winter activities abound in Quebec City, regardless of a Carnaval session. The Toboggan Slide Au 1884 offers three lanes where sledders can zoom toward the base of the Chateau Frontenac at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. The Quebec City area features hundreds of kilometers of marked trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Val d’Isère, France
Val d’Isere is a famous ski resort in the French Alps, about two hours east of Grenoble and only a few kilometers from the Italian border. Val D’Isere and its neighboring French commune Tignes make up the Espace Killy Ski Area, named after three-time Olympic gold medallist Jean-Claude Killy, who grew up in Val D’Isere.
The vast ski area features over 300 km of marked ski trails and over eighty ski lifts. This region hosted the men’s alpine ski races during the 1992 Winter Olympics, centered in nearby Albertville. This year heavy snow began in late August, causing many skiers to anticipate another fine season on the slopes.
One of Val d’Isere’s advantages over other world ski resort options is its excellent food. L’Atelier D’Edmond is a charming restaurant housed in a restored Alpine building. This recipient of two Michelin stars is located at the base of the Telephernique du Fornet ski lift. The region also features many small privately-owned restaurants where you can enjoy a fine rustic skier’s lunch.
Telluride, Colorado, United States
In winter, Telluride is a skier’s dream. Located in a box canyon in the San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains, the town is enfolded by steep summits and cliffs. The adjacent ski area, formally known as Mountain Village, has a reputation for uncrowded slopes, short lift lines, and unspoiled views.
A free gondola takes skiers on the scenic trip from town to the slopes. Mountain Village has 19 lifts and more than 140 ski runs. Although the resort can challenge expert skiers, it also features many beginner and intermediate runs as well.
Although Telluride has become a magnet for money and fame, it has so far managed to retain the Old West feel of its origins as a 19th Century Gold Rush town. The town is basically contained within a six by ten block area. The main drag, West Colorado Avenue, is flanked by simple one and two-story buildings, with no Armani in sight. Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in Telluride in 1889, and one can almost still imagine Butch running out onto West Colorado, guns-ablazing.
Santorini is a member of the Cyclades group of Greek Isles. As the remnant of a volcanic rim, Santorini traces a narrow curve, much like a closing parenthesis in the Aegean blue. On the crescent’s north side, the towns Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostefani, host whitewashed lego-block buildings. On the southern side, White Beach, Red Beach, and Perissa’s Black Sand Beach are the main attractions. Santorini is only about 20 kilometers from tip to tip, and so you can easily traverse Santorini’s many delights.
The cool months of winter are ideal for hiking in Santorini. If you’re up to the challenge of a 10-kilometer walk between Fira and Oia, you will be rewarded with stunning Aegean views. Winter, especially in January and February, is also an excellent time to visit Santorini’s wineries. Wine has been produced on Santorini since the days of Ancient Greece. Santorini wine is said to derive its special qualities from Santorini’s aspa, its mineral-rich volcanic soil.
During winter, vacationers often flock to the Caribbean, seeking sand and sun on balmy island beaches. Like most of the Caribbean, Antigua draws travel lovers mostly from December to April, when the local climate is at its mildest and driest.
Antigua stands out among its neighboring Leeward Islands for its beauty and variety of beaches. Its tourism bureau counts exactly 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Many top hotels and restaurants are on the southern shore at English Harbour, where Admiral Nelson once commanded the Royal Dockyard. The Shirley Heights Lookout offers a comprehensive view of the harbor. It’s also the site for magnificent sunset views, as well as a weekly Saturday night party.
Meals in Antigua often feature seafood just pulled from the ocean. Conch is served in curries, fritters, and ceviches. Seafood Fridays at the Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn in English Harbor offer an opportunity to sample conch, as well as lobster and local fish. You might also seek out a dish favored by the locals: saltfish and fungi. Fungi here does not refer to mushrooms: they are balls of polenta and okra, which are nicely paired with stews of salt-cured fish.
Corbett National Park, India
Corbett National Park is the first and the oldest national park in India. Established in 1936, in the foothills of the Himalayas, the park is divided into five ecotourism zones. In addition to its tiger conservation program “Project Tiger”, the park also maintains programs to protect elephants and crocodiles.
In fact, the park is home to a broad range of species: some 50 mammals, 580 birds, 25 reptiles, and 110 trees. The park covers 520 square kilometers and features a diversity of landscapes, from mountainous, forested, marshy, grassland, and riverine.
Corbett is only fully open from mid-November to mid-June. From July to September, the monsoon season washes out many roads, and the required repairs are not complete until November. Hence, November to February is the ideal time to visit, when temperatures are pleasant and animals are easy to spot. On a sunny January safari, you may well encounter an endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. Holiday travel has never been more thrilling!
Many ambitious travelers seek to spend their winter vacation in novel social and urban planning. Medellin, the “city of eternal spring”, offers a respite from the cold while also providing these novelties. In 2012, Medellin won the “City of the Year Award” in a program organized by the Urban Land Institute. This award recognizes innovative approaches to a range of issues, from land use to social justice.
Then in 2016, Medellin took home the Lee Kuan Yu World City Prize for urban livability, vibrancy, and sustainability. Throughout its history, Medellin has contended with the complicated logistics of being deeply nestled in the Andes. Many poor neighborhoods were relatively isolated on inaccessible mountain slopes. That is until the city developed an extensive cable car system that integrated tram cars with the transit system. Now, you can take in picturesque views of the Aburra Valley while riding with commuting locals.
Medellin has managed to achieve cooperation and trust among its civic stakeholders. These partnerships have yielded many civic advancements, including the city’s famous library parks. These public-space hybrids are situated in outlying neighborhoods that greatly benefit from combined culture, learning, and recreational spaces.
Holiday travel has never been more rewarding with a wide range of stunning destinations to choose from. So where are you headed?