Whether it’s whizzing across icy landscapes by snowmobile, taking a wild-at-heart birdwatching trip, or culture with a Christmassy twist, there’s a stylish winter break to suit every person... says travel journalist Ianthe Butt
When the last of the autumn leaves have drifted from the trees, mornings arrive frost-sprinkled, and festive cheer is practically tangible in the air, you can safely say that winter has arrived. As well as being a time to say hello to warm jackets and cosy chunky knits, the time when the temperature drops is also when many destinations become even more special. Here are five of our favourites.
For adrenaline kicks: Swedish Lapland
With forests of frosted fir trees, ice-covered lakes and snow-carpeted landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see, views don’t get much more magical than in Jukkasjarvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. The most thrilling way to get to know the wilderness – James Bond style – is via snowmobile (plus, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights might streak across the sky as you drive). As well as getting adventurous outdoors, Jukkasjarvi’s also home to the world’s coolest place to sleep: the Icehotel. Each year, talented sculptors create the intricately decorated walls, chandeliers and beds for this jaw-dropping property using ice hewn from the frozen Torne River. During a break from your pulse-raising activities, you can drift off to sleep in your own frozen art installation for a night (don’t worry – there’s a sleeping bag to keep you snuggly) as well as spending a couple of nights in cosy (and warm) permanent Arctic chalet rooms.
Stays at the Icehotel with Discover the World are from £359 for three nights, B&B, excluding flights.
For playful fairytale feels: Copenhagen, Denmark
While its smart design credentials and forward-thinking food scene mean that the Danish capital is popular year-round, the city’s Tivoli Garden packs extra sparkle at this time of year. As well as whooping your way around its roster of fun fair rides (including a vintage musical carousel, one of the world’s oldest wooden rollercoasters, and a kooky Hans Christian Anderson-themed adventure) the park will sport more than a million twinkling LED lights from 19th November. And if admiring the pergolas, fountains, glowing heart decorations and the striking bulb-studded facade of Moorish-inspired Nimb Hotel doesn’t fill you with festive cheer, the 1000 Christmas trees definitely will (views best enjoyed whilst nibbling on traditional æbleskiver). Base yourself in hip Vesterbro at Coco Hotel, a new boutique eco-property with an atmospheric courtyard, Parisian-feel restaurant and bedrooms with funky throws and colour-pop walls – just a short walk from Tivoli.
For a birdwatching safari: Kent
Spotting flurries of birds against a crimson sunset might conjure up visions of Africa rather than Kent, but just forty miles from London is Elmley Nature Reserve, a stunning 3200-acre marshland wilderness which bursts into a hive of birding activity in winter. It’s the time of year when thousands of wildfowl – like the Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail – waders, owls and winter thrushes migrate here from overseas. On guided dawn tours – led by knowledgeable guide Abbie Burrows – you can wonder at huge flocks of lapwing in the skies, or spot owls hunting in the golden morning light. At dusk, marsh harriers return to their reedbed roosting sites, and peregrine falcons soar across the setting sun. Within the reserve there’s a gorgeous range of accommodation for overnight slumbers – from whimsically-decorated rooms to Shepherd’s Huts and cabins complete with woodburning stoves to curl around after you put down your binoculars for the day.
For arts and architecture: Vienna, Austria
Yes, Vienna’s beautiful Baroque architecture looks gorgeous with an icing-sugary dusting of snow – and better still when its streets are packed with Christmas markets where artisan goods, rum-infused Weichnachtspunch, and roasted chestnuts reign. However, they’re far from the Austrian capital’s only draws; it’s also a great place for a culture fix. Head to St Stephen’s Cathedral for its weekend carol services, when the talented Harmonia Ensemble Vienna perform Christmas songs in marvellous Gothic surrounds (the atmospheric solos will give you all the festive feels) or opt for an organ concert if you’re there on Advent Sundays. For something quirkier, make for the Snow Globe Museum. Here, you can take a guided tour to gen up on the history of the city’s famed ornaments, as well as seeing the workshop where Erwin Perzy first invented them in 1900.
For a reindeer fix: Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
With gleaming fresh powder, crisp, clean, invigorating air, and astonishing panoramas of Scotland’s pretty Cairngorms National Park, close-to-home skiing destinations don’t get much better than Cairngorm Mountain. Home to both a freestyle park and 30km of exciting runs to tackle (from easy green beginners, through to challenging reds and blacks), there are also several ski schools who offer lessons, should you want to level up your skills. For something more low-octane, take a guided drive-and-hill walk combination to meet the utterly adorable Cairngorm reindeer. The 150-strong group is Britain’s only free-ranging herd, and seeing these furry creatures wander through the wild landscape is about as heartwarming as winter experiences go. Stay at Killiehuntly Farmhouse for dreamy Scandi-style decor and a sauna yurt – ideal for warming those cockles after outdoor escapades – in a picturesque 4,000 acre estate, about a 45-minute drive away.
Follow more of Ianthe's travels on her Instagram @ianthita