We tend to associate overseas winters with bleak, grey skies and runny noses, but there’s a beautiful side to this season, which often gets overlooked. Think Italian mountains covered with snow, pristine frozen lakes, and English cottages that put Norman Rockwell paintings to shame. Winter celebrations brighten up the darkest months of the year all over the world, and some locations are particular picturesque during this time. A castle in Slovenia, a village in Japan and Reindeers in Wyoming are all among our list beautiful places from around the world that look even better under a layer of winter snow.
While we encourage exploring these destinations any time of the year, we won’t judge if you want to walk through some winter wonderlands from the warmth of your armchair. So grab a mug of hot chocolate and forget about summer for a little while.
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.
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.
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…
Blue Pond, Hokkaido, Japan
The Japanese island of Hokkaido is a poster child for natural beauty, with its volcanoes and lakes becoming even more surreal come wintertime. One notable example is the Blue Pond, whose protruding trees and azure waters really know how to work those layers of ice.
The coldest parts of Japan are in its northernmost regions, but nowhere is snow country more beautifully represented than in the thatched cottages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (pictured). These UNESCO-protected villages cover 170 acres in central Japan, and are tucked into the mountains like real-life snow globes.
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.
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 snow capped 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.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Wintertime in Wyoming can’t be missed: Snow has fallen, elk have descended from the mountains, and a sense of tranquility fills the landscape. It’s the perfect time to enjoy views of the Teton Range, whether on skis or from the warmth of a fireplace.
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
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.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is a great place to visit no hyphenated words across lines 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.
There are few places (if any) more stunning than the world’s southernmost continent. Although 99 percent of Antarctica is covered with ice, the landscape still manages to be amazingly diverse—surreal blue glaciers, active volcanoes, the rough waterways of the Drake Passage, and 360-degree views of untouched snow. And those views are made even better when an emperor penguin or humpback whale makes an appearance.
Dolomites, South Tyrol, Italy
The Dolomites are the cozy cousin to the Alps’ glitzy ski towns. The area’s powdery slopes can be accessed via the 86-mile Great Dolomites Road, one of the world’s most beautiful alpine drives—and a perfect day trip from Venice.
Český Krumlov | Czech Republic
Dating back to the 13th Century, Ceský Krumlov is a Czech city in Southern Bohemia. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its castle is one of the largest in the country. Beyond the delights of the city, which include the castle’s baroque theater and a traditional brewery, Ceský Krumlov is only a short distance from the Šumava National Park, which is always a delight in wintertime.
Amsterdam | The Netherlands
In wintertime, banks of snow can line the canals of Amsterdam’s main thoroughfares and add another layer of wonder to an already beautiful city. Winter events abound in the Dutch capital, with ice skating rinks being set up, seasonal lights illuminating the city centre and various cultural shows taking place, from musicals to theatre, to the annual street parade. The 15th Century weigh house, The Waag, is always worth a visit around this time of year.