WINTER IS COMING.
We just arrived in Berlin and it’s very clear that winter is almost upon us. We are freezing, and it’s not even December yet! (It also doesn’t help that we were on a tropical island in the Andaman Seas last week). So, while I crank up the heaters, burrow my feet in a cosy sheepskin rug, and sip on a hot cup of chocolate, I figured why not rather get inspired for the cold and the wonderful travel experiences it can hold?
Narrowing this down to 7 was hard, and rating them was even worse, because each one is layered with so many different types of warming winter memories. I love winter! I love cuddling under the blankets, with books or netflix, curling my fingers around cups and cups of tea and hot chocolate, wearing big old knitted sweaters, and listening to the rain (or watching the snow, if I am lucky enough). So to help me keep the list succinct, I’ve kept it to cold-weather destinations, besides for one crazy exception – there’s always an exception to the rule, right??
So here it is – our definitive list of our favourite winter destinations (so far). Don’t get cold, get inspired!
This might come as a surprise, but Ireland is a great place to visit in the winter. I think Ireland is very underrated – the landscapes are incredible, it’s an easily affordable European destination, the people are SO sweet and friendly and so much fun, and their accents will just warm your heart. Here’s the thing – it’s grey weather most of the time anyways, so you may as well go in winter, bundle up in beanies and gloves, cozy up in merry pubs, sip on hot cider at christmas markets (or anywhere), and enjoy both the peaceful feeling of the holiday season AND way less tourists at popular tourist spots like the Cliffs of Moher. We went on a road trip and visited the cliffs in the first week of January (read more about it here), and there were few tourists besides ourselves. Ireland is cozy, homey, friendly and wonderful – the perfect place to warm your heart over the winter season.
6. TRIGLAV NATIONAL PARK, SLOVENIA
Full, disclosure – we haven’t been to Slovenia in winter.
BUT, we spent a summer weekend visiting Lake Bled and its surrounds and were ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY. This corner of the world is simultaneously quaint and cute and awe-inspiring and mind-blowing. The scenery feels like some fairytale dream that keeps impressing after each corner. We chatted to the kindest, sweetest local man at a market, who presented us with a postcard of Lake Bled in the winter, and insisted we should come back in February, when the lake freezes over and it’s basically like magicville. And honestly, I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.
5. ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Anyone who knows me knows that I am crazy for Istanbul. We spent a couple of months in Turkey a few years ago when I interned at the Museum of Innocence, and I fell head over heels in love with the city. Winter in Istanbul is way cheaper, way less crowded and almost always sunny. If you’re lucky, it may snow, in which case the city becomes extra magical, with the snow-topped domes and minarets of the mosques lining the city skyline, and colourful stained glass Turkish lamps lighting up the windy cobblestoned streets of one of the oldest and most prolific capitals in the world. Pair that with Turkish food – which is basically the most perfect winter food ever – and you’re in for a treat. So many famous historical sites, so many lesser explored nooks, so much to eat and drink, so much to love.
Also, you know Istanbul is a fantastic winter destination when someone who was hospitalised for pneumonia during its winter snowfall (me) dreams about being back in its winter snowfall.
4. TROMSO, NORWAY
Tromsø is way, way North in Norway, above the Arctic circle and is one of those quintessential winter destinations – thick snowy landscapes dotted with wooden cottages, windows lit up with warm yellow; reindeer, bears, and wolves in different corners of the vast white wilderness, and long dark nights lit up by the Northern Lights. For those of us, like me and Joel, who are wholly unaccustomed to real cold hard winter, it’s just magical. To go out and explore the white and blue landscape, and then come back and warm up in the cosiest little hotel ever (Tromsø Bed and Books), before going out again to see the sky light up green with the Aurora Borealis…I mean, what better way to indulge in the freezing cold than this?
Also, if you’re more adventurous, rent a car and get out of town to see the wintery landscape unfold. Just don’t make the same mistakes we did!
3. SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT
Okay, this is a crazy outlier, escape-the-winter exception, but it’s so close to Europe that I couldn’t help myself!
At the tip of the Sinai Peninsula there’s an annual precipitation of less than 4mm, and a cloud could easily be mistaken for a UFO, they’re so scarce, making Sharm el Sheikh one of the best places (if not the best) to escape winter in Europe. Anyone who has listened to Joel when on the topic of sunshine and snorkelling, knows that he looooooves Sharm el Sheikh, and is constantly urging everyone else to go. We only started diving recently, but we did our advanced course here and we are ruined for life, because we have not experienced diving or snorkelling sites anywhere else in the world that even comes close to the underwater landscapes in Sharm.
On top of that, Sharm el Sheikh is DIRT CHEAP – you can book yourself into a 5-star beach-side resort for about $50 a night – which is why it’s a great option for diving (besides the abundance of wildlife and constant 30-40 meter visibility). PLUS, it’s only a couple of hours on the plane and you’re there. ALSO, if you are in Sharm you can head to Mount Sinai at night for a spectacular hike under the stars, ending with a mountain-top sunrise – one of the most singular things we have ever done.
2. INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA
When we think back on Innsbruck we remember christmas lights strung across old town squares, cinnamon sugar on our fingers after munching Austrian pastries, carols played by string quartets from a golden roofed balcony, warming up with cups of hot chocolate underneath the twinkling lights of a gigantic (real) Christmas tree, watching the sun set over the snow-capped Austrian Alps, and refilling our designated mulled wine cups over and over and over again. Being in Innsbruck over Christmas time felt like being trapped in a Christmas snow globe, but in good way (not at all like the Hallmark movie ‘Snowglobe’ with that exact plot line). If you can imagine a winter wonderland Yuletide paradise, than you’ve more or less imagined Innsbruck.
Not only our favourite winter destination, but one of our favourite places in the world ever. Iceland is not like any place you’ve ever been, nor like anything you’ve imagined or expected. It is so spectacularly different – so inspiring and so unimaginably vast despite how small it is.
Iceland is made for winter lovers – pure white snow, cyan-blue glaciers, countless icy waterfalls, boiling hot geysers, lush green moss covering the volcanic black earth. And then you also stand a chance to see the magical northern lights. Oh, and have I mentioned the natural geothermal pools just waiting to be found and dipped in? It’s quiet, peaceful, otherworldly and just so indescribably beautiful.
It is also a place that encourages slow traveling, even when you’re seeing a lot of stuff, because there is very little to do outside of Reykjavik, which means your time to just enjoy where you are is greatly maximised. You just go to the one restaurant that is in the town, eat the fish or the hot dog or the pizza, and spend the rest of the time you would have worried over what to do and where to eat breathing in the beautiful landscape; stopping, staring, wandering, imagining, and maybe soaking in a warm geothermal pool somewhere in the wilderness.