10 winter wonderlands to add to your travel bucket list
When was the last time you careened joyously down a sledding hill or propped your bare feet up in front of a crackling fire at a mountain lodge? Even when it's chilly outside, winter can be a season to embrace rather than escape. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, cold-region winter getaways offer many delights, from the silence of snowfall to the thrill of a luge run. When your neighbors flee to beach resorts, consider heading to one of these 10 winter wonderlands instead to celebrate the least-appreciated season.
Aspen is known for its ski mountains — including Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk, home of the X Games this year — but there are a number of additional activities here for adventure-seekers, including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or riding a "fat bike" on 60 miles of trails. Looking for something a little more low key? Visit the elegant Aspen Art Museum or venture down the road to Glenwood Springs to take a tram ride and cave tour at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Relax in the Yampah Vapor Caves, wrinkle up in one of 17 pools in the Iron Mountain Hot Springs or take a dip in the world's largest mineral springs pool, boasting one million gallons of water.
There are several winter experiences to choose from in Beijing. Travel to China picks up in early February for the Chinese New Year celebration, with citywide temple fairs featuring music, theater, art, crafts, food, flower shows, dragon dances and nightly fireworks. Book before or after peak season to enjoy lower hotel and tour package prices and smaller crowds at popular sights. If you like winter sports, spend your time at any of the several ski areas close by, and be sure to pack layers — it's cold enough outside to turn the city's ponds into ice rinks.
Situated on the Vermont/New York border, Burlington allows easy access to two winter wonderlands. Sports enthusiasts can head east to popular Vermont resorts, including Stowe, Sugarbush, Smuggler's Notch, Mad River Glen and Bolton Valley. If activities like snow golf and ice carving sound more appealing to you, you won't want to miss the Stowe Winter Carnival, starting January 13. Lake Placid is also located nearby, and is a great place to visit. Check out the Olympic Museum or Mirror Lake for sledding, dogsledding, snowshoeing and skating. Wilmington's Whiteface Mountain also offers 87 trails and boasts the biggest vertical drop in the eastern states. Plan to visit during the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival from February 2 to 11 to enjoy a parade, ice palace and knee-deep snow volleyball.
The 1988 Winter Olympics ski slopes, luge and bobsled runs now offer thrills to us non-Olympians, and they're located right in Calgary at WinSport Canada Olympic Park. The Olympic Oval speed skating rink and Fish Creek Park, Canada's largest urban park, are also popular attractions here. After a visit, warm up in an indoor public park with 10,500 trees and shrubs at Devonian Gardens, or catch a Calgary Flames hockey game. For more indoor fun, you can also explore the past at Fort Calgary or visit the Canada Sports Hall of Fame. Upcoming events include the citywide Calgary Winter Festival, Block Heater Folk Music Festival and Calgary Midwinter Bluesfest, all taking place in February.
Central Copenhagen is compact and crisscrossed by light-rail trains, making it easy to get around even on the coldest days. Visit Copenhagen's countless museums, restaurants and the magical Tivoli Gardens all winter long. In February, enjoy citywide events including the Fashion Festival, Winter Jazz Festival and Copenhagen Dining Week. Gastronomic options in Copenhagen are definitely worth exploring, and range from Michelin-star restaurants — 15 to date — to a recently opened Copenhagen Street Food warehouse that features 35 food trucks and stalls serving global street food. If you have time to spare, catch a 90-minute train to the town of Odense, where you'll find a Hans Christian Andersen museum and a "winter zoo."
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax gets tons of snow, and with it comes tons of winter activities. Major events blanket the winter season like a foot of fresh powder. Following the National Skating Championships in January are the Savour Food and Wine Festival and Nova Scotia Icewine Festival that both run into March. All winter long, you can choose among activities like skiing at Ski Martock, skating at the Emera Oval and sleigh rides at Hatfield Farm, or tour the seafaring town of Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It may be the German gateway to the Alps with the Oberammergau, Zugspitze and Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski areas all within a 75-minute drive, but Munich offers much more than skiing in the winter. Visitors can take a horse carriage ride through Englischer Garden, shop at the Viktualienmarkt in the city center and ice skate on the frozen canal in front of Nymphenburg Palace. Indoor indulgences include dozens of museums, Therme Erding, Europe's largest thermal bath, and Schrannenhalle, a quarter-mile-long, iron-and-glass foodie's paradise. In the evenings, attend Circus Krone, the largest circus in Europe, see a show at the Gaertnerplatz Theater, or attend the Strong Beer Festival, which starts on February 23.
Prague, Czech Republic
The " city of a hundred spires" is overrun with tourists each summer, but the crowds, prices and temperatures drop in midwinter. The sights of Prague are always striking, from the massive Prague Castle to the architecturally rich assortment of churches, towers and bridges that surround it. Take a break from high culture to try Czech dumplings and strudels, then plunge into the beer culture with a visit to the Czech Beer Museum or Beer Spa Bernard, where a one-hour beer bath comes with unlimited consumption. Prague Carnevale, starting February 10, and two major film festivals in March are some of the city's best events all year. Finally, enjoy a selection of winter sports at nearby Herlikovice ski resort.
Traverse City, Michigan
With 101 inches of annual snowfall, this Lake Michigan town gives you a world of winter choices. TimberLee Hills' 700-foot hill is a joyride for tubers located right on the edge of Traverse City, and 200 miles of snowmobile trails can be found next door at Boardman Valley Natural Area. Shanty Creek Resorts' three ski areas and 51 runs and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's 73 miles of trails are all only a half-hour drive away. For those interested in wine, most of the nearby wine regions' 40 tasting rooms pour Rieslings and Chardonnays all winter long. A bonus for travelers visiting in February is the array of festivals celebrating wine, microbrews and music, comedy and cross-country skiing.
Winter activities in and around Switzerland's largest city include sledding on Zurich's Uetliberg mountain, skiing at Flumserberg and cross-country skiing at Amden or Lake Whalen, but it's the season's festivals here that are truly exciting. The Swiss know how to celebrate, so try to make it to one of the area's two big winter carnivals in February or March. The Winterthur Carnival, which dates back to the 15th century and draws in 50,000 visitors, concludes with the ceremonial burning of the Böögg, or snowman, a definite must-see. Also drawing thousands of spectators are Zurich's Mercedes-Benz show-jumping tournament in late January and Art on Ice, a dazzling show starring the world's top figure skaters, in early March.
If you go
Many other northern destinations worldwide also celebrate winter with abundant activities and festivals devoted to everything from art and music to cold-weather zoo creatures. At most such destinations, travel costs are lower and the crowds are thinner during the colder months of the year. So when you plan your next getaway, think about packing a few extra layers and changing your destination latitude from southern to northern for an exhilarating change of pace.
Whether you're traveling to a new city or revisiting an old favorite, discover exciting destinations across the country and the world with our winter fare specials. Ready to plan your winter adventure? Visit united.com or use the United app to book your winter wonderland trip.