7 Places In The World To Soak Up The Festive Winter Atmosphere
#1: Rovaniemi, Finland
There are three main reasons to visit the capital of Lapland, which is situated right on the Arctic Circle, in December: the surrounding, snow-scrunched Lapland forests and fells; the great odds of seeing the Northern Lights; and Santa Claus Village, inside which you can meet Father Christmas himself – we hear that Santa is fluent in five languages. Between December and March, the village hosts Snowman World, where you can stay in cosy wood-panelled glass cabins complete with a private sauna and hot spa; or an icy igloo hotel.
Go for: Christmas season officially begins on November 18.
#2: Salzburg, Austria
Europe excels at whimsical Christmas markets that sell gingerbread, warm spiced wine and a range of charming handicrafts. The one in Salzburg is further enhanced by glorious baroque architecture, while there are superb ski resorts within half an hour’s transfer. Add to that hundreds of spas, many with their own hot springs, and exhibitions of Nativity scenes, and you have one soul-warming winter experience.
Go for: The Christkindlmarkt (above) runs from November 23 to December 26. Don’t forget to catch the Salzburger Adventsingen, a traditional Nativity play where local children perform while speaking in local dialects.
#3: Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
No snowy destination does ‘all-rounder’ better than this British Columbia giant. As well as over 200 ski runs, it throws in dog-sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides and well, pretty much every winter activity. The excellent hotels include the Four Seasons Resorts and Residences Whistler, which boast steamy outdoor whirlpools for après-ski soaks, and superb steak restaurant Sidecut.
There’s something undeniably Instagrammable about mystical Lake Bled: the silvery water, the arrow-like steeple of Bled Island’s chapel, the red-roofed medieval Bled Castle (above and main photo) and the always-snowcapped alpine peaks towering behind. But it gets even better in winter, when ice skating becomes possible.
Go for: The re-enactment of the Legend of the Sunken Bell on Christmas Day, which sees musicians performing on the lamp-lit lake.
#5: Harbin, China
Spread across the Songhua River, this north-eastern Chinese city hosts the world’s largest snow-focused party. Its annual Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival sees giant ice blocks transformed into incredible sculptures that are vividly illuminated at night. From ice palaces to slides, the sculptures created by skilled ice masons from around the world in a huge competition are sprawled across a winterland that’s more than 750,000 sq m in size. It is all the more enthralling beneath a sky blazing with fireworks at night. The mercury regularly plummets to -20 deg C, so bring along a few jumpers and layer up.
Go for: This winter festival runs from Christmas until February 25, peaking in January.
#6: Saint Petersburg, Russia
The famous onion-dome churches and imperial palaces of Russia’s old capital are even more eye-catching when frosted in powder, while seasonal events and lots of beef stroganoff – fuel up with the hearty dish at Palkin – keep the ‘Venice of the North’ bustling in winter, despite plunging temperatures.
Go for: Celebrated on January 7, Orthodox Christmas promises troika carriage rides and ballet performances of The Nutcracker.
#7: Shirakawa-go, Japan
Niseko has magical tree skiing, while winter at Jigokudani Monkey Park sees macaques bathing in hot springs. But it’s been said that no snowy Japanese destination enchants more than UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go. The historic villages set in a valley are defined by their distinctive Gassho-style (“Gassho” is the pose Japanese people assume when they bring their hands together to pray) houses surrounded by mountains. In the winter, their steeply-pitched thatched roofs are cloaked in snow, creating a fairy tale-like atmosphere.
Go for: Winter light-up events take place at Ogimachi village from January 21 to February 12, 2018.