When winter is upon us, the temptation is to retreat to our homes for cosy nights in. But all around the world, winter is the time when some cities really shine. Here are 20 places that look more beautiful in winter.
1. Chicago, USA
Chicago is best known as the Windy City, although we think it’s even more beautiful during the winter months when it transforms into the Snowy City. Come in January or February to witness Chicago at its coldest; temperatures can drop so low that Lake Michigan partially freezes over – truly a sight to behold.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn’s medieval old town is enchanting throughout the year, but during Estonia’s long winter months it takes on a whole new dimension of wonder. Take a stroll around the fortified Toompea and eventually you’ll end up in Raekoja Plats. Pop into the tiny room beside the Town Hall for a glass of glögi or some homemade soup.
3. Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Imagine a series of sixteen turquoise lakes, cascading into each other in an unforgettable display of water’s power and majesty. Now imagine that same scene, but frozen. Plitvice National Park is one of Croatia’s main tourist attractions, almost deserted in the winter months but all the more beautiful when its waterfalls are frozen in time.
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4. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan
Jigokudani may not be the most dramatic winter landscape in Japan, but it is unmissable in winter when the resident Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, bathe in the steaming hot springs. It’ll take a fair amount of willpower to resist stripping off and joining the monkeys, although the attendants might have something to say about that…
5. Banff National Park, Canada
The star attraction of Banff National Park is undoubtedly Moraine Lake. Located some 15km from Lake Louise, the lake’s crystal-clear waters reflect the snowcapped Valley of the Ten Peaks. We’re not the only ones who love it here – the Canadians put the scene on their $20 banknotes during the 1970s.
6. Hallstatt, Austria
No, you’re not looking at a puzzle. This place really exists. Hallstatt is a tiny lakeside village and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Austria, all the more glorious when nearby Salzburg Mountain is blanketed in snow. It is often voted as one of the prettiest villages in the world, and we wouldn’t disagree.
7. Richmond Park, UK
London’s biggest park is even more beautiful in winter. At 2500 acres, it's three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and with wild deer galloping around it feels like you could be lost in the middle of the English countryside. On the few winter days when snow falls in the capital, Richmond Park is the place to be.
8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
If you’re the kind of person who might travel to deepest Mongolia to check out some wooly camels in the middle of the bitter winter, then read on. During the Thousand Camel Festival, local camel herders take part in polo competitions and races. If you fancy getting involved, everyone is welcome to mount a camel and join the opening parade.
9. Bruges, Belgium
With its cobbled alleyways, frozen canals and gingerbread architecture, Bruges is without a doubt at its most beautiful during the winter months. Come in January or February when the popular Christmas markets have packed away and you will have the town to yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll return home without seeing a castle or two – there are more per square inch here than any other city in the world.
10. Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany
Remember Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland? Well this is the building that inspired it, only you won’t find any adults dressed as furry rodents lurking around here. Located on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Schloss Neuschwanstein is even more beautiful in the winter months when the surrounding forest is dusted in snow.
11. Trakai Castle, Lithuania
The expression “fairytale castle” is overused, but when it comes to Lithuania’s Trakai Castle there are few other ways to describe it. Located seventeen miles west of Vilnius, the castle transforms during the winter months, when the surrounding lake freezes over and the orange turrets are speckled with snow.
12. Atlas Mountains, Morocco
This is Africa, but not as you know it. The majestic Atlas Mountains see total snow cover above 3000m from November to April. Though visitor numbers are higher in the summer months, Mount Toubkal is perhaps at its most stunning during the winter, when intrepid mountaineers don crampons and climb to the 4167m-summit.
13. Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is a great place to visit year-round but during the winter months (May to September) it really comes into its own. Nearby, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak ranges offer some of the finest skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand, and the town is particularly lively in June and July when the Queenstown Winter Festival takes place.
14. Yellowstone National Park, USA
Vast, volcanic Yellowstone has been home to bison since prehistoric times. During the winter months, when higher areas are covered in a thick layer of snow, the bison migrate to lower grounds where it’s easier to feed on the grass. Wildlife lovers will be in their element; the park is also home to bears, elks, wolves and the pronghorn antelope.
15. Lapland, Finland
During the summer months this is the land of 24-hour sun, but during the long winter Lapland is engulfed in almost total darkness. This would be a fairly grim time of the year to visit, were it not for the chance of catching a display of the aurora borealis dancing in the sky. January, February and March tend to be the best times to see the Northern Lights.
16. Prague, Czech Republic
Europe does Christmas markets well, and arguably the most beautiful of them all is in Prague. Here you can roam around the fairy-lit wooden huts and pick up Christmassy gifts and decorations to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to try a klobása (barbecued sausage) washed down with some svařené víno (mulled wine) to complete the full festive experience.
17. Harbin, China
If you’re going to make the journey to Harbin make sure it’s in January, when the city hosts the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world. Participants travel from all corners of the planet to exhibit their spectacular, enormous ice designs. Just don’t forget your gloves – this part of northeastern China has been known to have temperatures dropping below -20°C in the winter.
18. Lake Bled, Slovenia
It doesn’t get much more picturesque than Instagram filter-defying Lake Bled, in the alpine Upper Carniolan region of Slovenia. You can walk around the entire lake in about an hour, although it’ll be hard to resist stopping at every opportunity to photograph Bled Island’s Church of the Assumption, with the epic snowcapped mountains looming behind.
19. New York City, USA
New York City does winter well. The temperature plummets, the sky is electric blue and when it snows, it really snows. While some visitors might spend their time fighting with festive shoppers in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, more romantic sorts should head to Central Park for a skate. This is probably the most impressive setting for an ice rink on the planet, with the Manhattan skyscrapers towering nearby.
© Songquan Deng/Shutterstock
20. Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan
Tajikistan’s seldom-visited Pamir Mountains are beautiful throughout the year, but they are perhaps at their most epic during the winter. During the long cold months this rugged part of the world is deserted, with the exception of the most intrepid explorers. Even the native nomads retreat from the high pastures from September onwards.