Insight's Guide to the World's Best Winter Wonderlands

A Christmas market in Stockholm, Sweden, (photo by Ola Ericson)
A Christmas market in Stockholm, Sweden

The festive season is upon us once again and many destinations across the globe are banishing the cold with good cheer and lively celebrations of local tradition to mark the end of the year. The best Christmas markets sell mulled wine, gingerbread cookies and local crafts to lure those fond of wrapping up and strolling through atmospheric towns on December evenings. More active types will be dawn to the challenge of Scandinavian scenery, Alpine landscapes or Canadian wildernesses, or to the multitude of winter sports on offer at the world’s top skiing resorts.

 

Christmas markets in Europe

 

In Europe, there are many destinations to choose from to experience the very best Christmas markets. Medieval town squares are transformed into a yuletide delight filled with twinkling fairy lights and festive music. Germany is famed for its cheerful markets, where you can sip Gluhwein and try tasty Bratwurst in Cologne or the Bavarian capital of Munich whilst browsing for gifts. The French city of Strasbourg in the Alsace region also has a vibrant market scene, influenced by Germanic traditions. In Austria, head for the fabulous cities of Salzburg, Vienna or Innsbruck for traditional Alpine treats in a spectacular landscape. It may not have the mountains, but Belgium’s key cities of Bruges, Brussels and Ghent also host wonderful markets to celebrate the beginning of the festive season. In eastern Europe, the beautiful Unesco World Heritage Sites of Prague in the Czech Republic, Tallinn in Estonia and Krakow in Poland are also great places to get into the festive spirit, each holding fantastic celebrations in their medieval centres.

If you want to see some spectacular winter scenery, northern Europe is beautiful at this time of year – if you like the cold. Reykjavik in Iceland will delight with its colourful rooftops and austere charm. Tromso in Norway is an ideal place to see the Northern Lights and snowy landscapes and reindeer are in store for visitors to Lapland in Sweden

 

Winter in North America

 

Lots of cities in the United States and Canada fully embrace the festive spirit in December. New York is a fantastic place to do your Christmas shopping and marvel at the enormous decorated tree in Rockefeller Center. San Antonio in Texas has a magical display of lights along the river in its Paseo del Rio area. Colonial history buffs will love the celebrations in Williamsburg, Virginia, where the spirit of Christmas past is brought to life with costumed actors and mulled apple cider and gingerbread. Quebec City in Canada is an ideal place to visit for cosy French restaurants, atmospheric chateaux and the great skiing opportunities in the nearby Laurentian Mountains. In Ontario, Canada, you can skate on the frozen Rideau Canal, the largest skating rink in the world.

The wind-swept tundras of Alaska will appeal to the adventurous; here there are lofty mountains, spectacular glaciers and still-active volcanoes, as well as 3 million lakes. For slightly more tamed wilderness, try Whistler Valley in British Columbia or Banff National Park in Canada, for superb skiing and winter sports.

Throughout December, we will be posting fascinating features about these great winter destinations on our blog, so come back soon for more on these snowy wonderlands.


Our winter wonderland recommendations

 

If you want to explore the best European Christmas markets, try Bruges in Belgium...


Medieval Bruges is one of the most romantic destinations in Europe in winter. Icy canals meander around snow-topped gabled almshouses and Gothic churches, all packed into a central district less than 2km (1.25 miles) across.

The centre of activity in Bruges, the Markt (Market Square) has been the hub of commercial life in the city since the tenth century, home to a market since 958. The Christmas Market runs throughout December, closing on the 2 January.

Sample the Chocolate Museum...

Belgium is world renowned for its delicious chocolate and what better time of the year to treat yourself? The Choco-Story Museum tells the story of the cocoa bean, from its use as currency by Aztec and Maya civilizations to chocolate’s status as a hot drink favoured by European royalty. Full of information and artifacts, the visit concludes with demonstrations of chocolate-making and a tasting session.

 

If you want to get out on the slopes, visit Whistler Valley in Canada...


Whistler Valley is only 2 hours’ drive north of Vancouver and is spangled with lakes fed by glaciers. More than 2,862 hectares (6,924 acres) of skiing territory await the visitor. The two mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb, which reach an altitude of more than 1,600m (5,250ft), have the longest skiing season in Canada – it lasts until August. Once at the top, there are 200 or so marked trails to choose from.

Try Whistler Village...

The only way to visit Whistler village is on foot. Here you’ll find cafes, spas, galleries, fashionable boutiques, night clubs, bistros, restaurants and much else besides. Perfect for relaxation after a long day on the slopes.

 

Find out more...

 

You can discover more about Bruges in our Insight Smart Guide Bruges or our Bruges iPad / iPhone app; for more on Canada, take a look at our Insight Guide to Canada