Top 5 thinktourism Winter Wonderland Destinations

Top 5 thinktourism Winter Wonderland Destinations

What do you picture when you think of winter?

Mountain peaks glistening with pure white? Forests muted by thick layers snow? Mirror-like frozen lakes? Cosy towns resembling elf-like villages?

…Or maybe it’s the cold quickly taking possession of your fingers, cheeks and nose? What do wish for when that happens? A steaming sauna? A relaxing hot spring? Hot cocoa? Mulled wine? Or a simple, yet effective fireplace?

Whichever image comes to mind, we have compiled a list of five destinations worthy of the title of Winter Wonderlands. Although we strongly advise you not to travel during our current pandemic, these places are sure to awaken the Winter Wanderlust within you:

1. Lapland, Finland

Known as the Finnish entrance to the Arctic Circle and home to the Sami indigenous people, Lapland is a dream-like region where darkness reigns supreme in winter-time. December 21st is the shortest day of the year, with only 1-2 hours of sunlight! However, darkness gives way to light: The Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) can be seen across the night sky like dancing ribbons; shining bright green, yellow and red.

They are indeed the most demanded tourist attraction, closely followed by the 63 ski slopes of Ylläs, and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. The latter is in fact, a spectacular arrangement of activities that give a true feeling of Christmas. You can meet face-to-face with Santa, take a reindeer ride, be pulled on a dogsled by well-trained huskies, or visit a SnowHotel decorated with intricate ice sculptures and furniture. To keep yourself warm, don’t miss the traditional Finnish saunas and a hot cup of Glögi – Finland’s version of mulled wine: spiced red wine topped with raisins and almonds.

2. Salzburg, Austria

This is no understatement: Walking through the streets of Salzburg’s historic centre (Altstadt) in any season of the year gives you the feeling that you’re in a special, Christmas-like town constructed by cultured elves. The buildings in Altstadt are Baroque, and the city boasts 27 churches, with Salzburg Cathedral presenting its massive dome seconds away from the birthplace of the legendary musician: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Winter is unique in Salzburg; the streets light up and classical music is heard from every direction. When it comes to activities, there are options for everyone. To sightsee, you can take a stroll through the famous landmarks depicted in the film “The Sound of Music”, visit Mozart’s birth house and Salzburg Fortress, or see the city from above at Richterhöhe lookout. For families, Christmas markets are scattered all around, where you can enjoy local food, drink, musical concerts, storytelling for the children and Krampus parades. For the ones who seek adventure, the ski-slopes of Zell am See are just an hour away by train.

If you need a warm drink, try out the Glühwein or a traditional cherry Schnapps.

3. Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is breathtakingly picturesque in wintertime. It’s a mountainous region sorrounding a crystal clear lake, with the medieval Bled Castle atop one of the mountains, and The Church of Mary the Queen (Our Lady of the Lake) on a lone island at its nucleus. The Alpine character of the region allows many nature-based adventures such as hiking, skiing and ice-skating, making it a perfect place to visit alone, with friends or with family and children.

To those who have a sweet tooth, Lake Bled is not one to disappoint! Try the delicious creamy pastry Kremšnita, traditionally made in Kavarna Café, or the hot chocolate served at Pri Vodnjaku.

4. Shirakawa-go & Gokayama, Japan

Japan is no stranger to winter tourism. The country houses more than 500 ski resorts with spectacular scenery all around, but two neighbouring regions stand out among the rest, considering they are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) are located between Gofu and Toyama Prefectures, bordering the Shogawa River Valley and entirely engulfed by the mountains and forests of the Japanese Alps. Over generations, the roofs of the traditional farmhouses in Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura villages have been designed to withstand large amounts of snow, and some are over 250 years old! Shirakawa-go is more developed and touristic than Gokayama, but they both portray a real winter experience.

While you accommodate yourself inside a Minshuku (民宿), – a family-operated, Japanese-style bed and breakfast –  The Wada House is a must-see: An unspoiled traditional Gassho-zukuri styled building dating back to the Edo Period {1603- 1868}. After spending the day hiking through the snow-covered forests, it’s time for a calming bath at the Shirakawago no Yu (白川郷の湯) hot springs (where you can also spend the night!) and some soba noodles with tofu at Jippensha (拾遍舎).

5. Tallinn, Estonia

As the primate capital of Estonia and former strategic point to the Danish Empire {1219- 1346}, the Swedish Kingdom {1561–1710} and the Russian Empire & Republic {1721–1917}, it is no surprise that Tallinn Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Strolling through the historic centre gives a true feeling of time travel, as you pass by Gothic church towers, medieval castle turrets and rustic underground taverns. Summer is high season for tourism, and the city fills up with cruise passengers and low-cost tourists. Which is why, to avoid crowds, winter is the perfect time to visit. Although that’s one reason as to why it’s a true Winter Wonderland, it’s certainly not the only one.

Tallinn really shows its true colours with the first snowfall of the year: The narrow cobbled streets light up with decorations, and the Christmas market at the Town Hall Square wakes from its slumber. Street vendors will sell black pudding, sour cabbage, gingerbread and mulled wine in front of the oldest Christmas tree in Estonia, dating back to 1441!

There is much to do in the city during winter-time: From visiting a gingerbread museum to having a pint at Beer House or a coffee at Cat Cafe Nurri to watching the city skyline from two vantage points (Patkuli and Kohtuotsa), where you get a front-row seat to St Olav’s Church, St. Mary’s Cathedral and the city walls.

– “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. ” — Albert Camus

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