Brrrrr … snow is falling, lakes are crusting over with ice, and you’ve dug your heavy coat out from the back of your closet. Winter is here, and we’re ready to embrace it! You don’t have to strap on skis or head for the tropics to enjoy traveling this winter — we’ve rounded up six fabulous destinations where you can find frosty festivals, snowy scenery, cozy B&Bs, low-season crowds and other pleasures of the season. So pack your bags with your favorite scarf and mittens, and let it snow!
Editor’s Note: Speaking of snow, be sure to prepare yourself for potential storms with our Winter Travel Tips. Allow yourself plenty of time to get home in case you’re snowed in.
Whether it’s “The Golden Flute” or “The Hills Are Alive,” a visit to this musical city will leave you humming a happy tune. Summer may be prime festival season in the birthplace of Mozart, but Salzburg becomes a winter fantasy land at this time of year, with its ancient stone buildings and towering mountain peaks wreathed in snow. Come early in the season and browse Salzburg’s traditional Christmas market (mid-November through December 26), full of handmade crafts and seasonal treats like mulled wine and hot roasted chestnuts.
Outside of the holiday festivities, winter in Salzburg brings smaller crowds around the city’s major sights, which include the towering Fortress Hohensalzburg, the breathtaking Dom (cathedral) and the historic house where Mozart was born. If you’re more into musicals than Mozart, take a “Sound of Music” bus tour to see various locations from the famous Julie Andrews film, including the fountain that was the setting for the song “Do-Re-Mi.” Complete your cozy getaway with a stay at the historic (and reasonably priced) Altstadthotel Weiss Taube — or splurge on digs at the more luxurious Hotel Sacher.
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
If you’re willing to brave a few sub-zero temperatures, you’ll be well rewarded in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Stately St. Paul and ultra-modern Minneapolis, located about 20 minutes apart on opposite sides of the Mississippi River, each celebrate winter with their own seasonal festivities. Colorful parades fill the evenings throughout the holiday season during Minneapolis’ Holidazzle, while the venerable St. Paul Winter Carnival, a tradition since 1886, brings residents of both cities together in late January and early February for ice carving and snow sculpting competitions, public ice skating, parades and more.
Can’t make it for a festival? These friendly, cosmopolitan cities draw visitors with indoor (read: heated) sights like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, and the most visited attraction in the state: the gigantic Mall of America, about 20 minutes south of both cities. (Break out your credit card — there’s no sales tax on clothes!) Best of all? You may not even need to step outside to get around, as both cities have networks of climate-controlled skyways connecting dozens of downtown buildings. For accommodations, try the romantic LeBlanc House Bed and Breakfast in Minneapolis, or the floating Covington Inn — a towboat permanently docked on the Mississippi River overlooking St. Paul.
Charleston, South Carolina
If you’d rather take your winter in milder doses, Charleston‘s temperate climate should do the trick. Even if the mercury rarely falls below freezing, this gracious Southern city embraces winter each year with a seven-week Holiday Festival of Lights in November and December. Drive along a three-mile path amidst millions of twinkling lights in the James Island County Park; then ditch the wheels to visit Santa’s Village, toast marshmallows, check out sand sculptures and gingerbread houses, and ride the carousel at Winter Wonderland.
Even after the holiday festivities are over, winter travelers can enjoy the off-season in the always lovely cobblestone streets of Charleston, with smaller crowds in the city’s museums, estate homes and forts. You can also enjoy reduced rates at dozens of Charleston’s historic inns and B&B’s. Our favorites are the Governor’s House Inn, boasting an elegant crescent staircase and opulent guest rooms, and the friendly King George IV Inn, which offers comfy, reasonably priced rooms with fireplaces.
If you’re seeking a winter wonderland with a European feel, look no further than the French-Canadian city of Montreal. Its yearly Fete des Neiges (Snow Festival) is a three-week celebration of all things fun and frosty, featuring ice sculpting competitions, snow tubing slides, a 1.5-kilometer ice skating path along the St. Lawrence River, dog sledding rides and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
But even if you can’t make it to Montreal during the festival (held from late January to early February), there are plenty of chilly pleasures to be found here — like hiking or cross-country skiing through the crunchy snow in Mount Royal park, or strolling through an Old Town that looks even more magical with its gray stone buildings blanketed in white. When you’re ready to come in from the cold, head for the Underground City, an enormous network of boutiques and other shops connected to the city’s major downtown metro stations and hotels. Spend your nights at the gorgeous Hotel Nelligan, a boutique property in the Old Town, or Le Petit Prince, a downtown B&B with funky-elegant rooms and creative breakfast.
Winter in Denver has obvious appeal to snow bunnies, but even non-skiers will find plenty to keep them busy in the Mile High City. The snow-covered Rocky Mountains provide a magnificent natural backdrop to the city’s urban attractions, including the Denver Art Museum (with its excellent collection of Native American works) and the revitalized lower downtown area known as LoDo — where the shopping and bar-hopping are fabulous all year round.
To enjoy the unforgettable winter scenery, head out of town and take a drive along the Peak to Peak Highway, which runs from Central City to Estes Park and offers stunning views of the Continental Divide along nearly its entire length. Not far outside of Denver is the laid-back college town of Boulder. At night, curl up in front of your fireplace at the cozy Gregory Inn, or go upscale at the stylish Hotel Monaco.
Winter may bring short days in Iceland’s capital, but it also offers a chance for visitors to view the northern lights with one of several tour operators that run viewing trips out of Reykjavik. (Go early in your trip for the best shot at seeing the lights; if you come up empty due to unfavorable weather conditions, many tour operators will let you try again the next night.)
During the day, explore the city’s many art museums and galleries (including the National Gallery of Iceland) and checking out the magnificent Hallgrimskirkja church. Of course, the ultimate place to warm up is a thermal pool or spa, which Reykjavik has in abundance. The most famous, the Blue Lagoon, is located near the airport, making it an ideal first or last stop on your trip to Iceland. Properties we love include the well-located Reykjavik Residence Hotel and the cozy Snorri’s Guesthouse.
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