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11 Best Winter Holidays with Snow

Written by Diana Bocco
Feb 10, 2020

There's something to be said for embracing the depth of winters and heading towards snowy destinations instead of away. In fact, some European cities are even more stunning in winter, as snow covers rooflines and transforms valleys and mountains into a powdery, white fairy tale.

Whether you're looking for snow holidays because you love winter or just for a change of pace, find destinations that will awe you with their many possibilities for outdoor fun in the coldest months of the year with our list of the best winter holidays with snow.

1. See the Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway

Northern lights in Tromsø, Norway

Located over 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, Tromso experiences an erratic snowfall pattern - with some winters seeing subarctic conditions and chilly winds and some seeing milder temperatures. Either way, Tromso will see winter snow - and lots of it.

The northern lights can appear in the area anytime between September and April, but the heart of winter offers the best chances of spotting them. If you're in town, taking the Fjellheisen cable car to the top of the mountain offers the best views, but you'll do better if you head out of the city with a tour, away from light pollution.

For even better chances, visit during the polar night period, a 48-day period between November and January when the sun never rises, and the northern lights could appear at any time of the day.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tromsø

2. Visit Europe's Most Famous Ski Resort in Zermatt, Switzerland

View of Zermatt and the Matterhorn at dawn

For snow galore with a touch of adrenaline, Switzerland's best-known resort is the perfect destination. Zermatt is a small town sitting right on the border with Italy and surrounded by towering mountains. Here, over 200 kilometers of pistes accommodate skiers of all abilities - from the beginners just discovering the lanes to expert skiers ready to tackle top stations at an impressive altitude of 3,883 meters.

Zermatt is a favorite destination in Switzerland for skiers because snowfall is reliable, the views are stunning, and there are plenty of difficult scenic runs that are often deserted. For those who want the ultimate adventure, there are also off-piste opportunities, some of which can also be accessed with a mountain guide. It's also possible to overnight on the mountain using one of the huts reached via a hike up the valley.

Not a skier? Zermatt offers excellent winter walking and snowshoeing. The best trails are high up the mountain, where the snow is deeper - reached via ski lifts - but there are also trails that start in the town of Gornergrat or at Schwarzsee.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zermatt: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Discover the Best Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria

Christmas Market in Vienna

The city that Mozart walked and loved is touched by magic all year, but the breathtaking buildings, palaces, and neo-Gothic architecture make for a particularly stunning backdrop for Christmas lights.

Vienna has a number of great Christmas markets, with the Belvedere Christmas market topping the list - set against the 18th-century Upper Belvedere palace, this Christmas market might be smaller than others in the city, but it makes up for it with its elegance and thousands of little lights reflecting on a lake.

The market outside Schönbrunn Palace is not much larger, but it's perhaps the most elegant in Vienna, selling high-quality items such as handmade glass and pottery. The largest Christmas tree in Vienna is here, and the market is a great destination for gourmet food, including mountain cheeses and home-baked gingerbread.

There's also the Karlsplatz Christmas market for handmade and very unique products, and the market at Michaelerplatz Square, selling traditional holiday crafts and food right by the entrance gate to the Hofburg.

While Vienna winters are cold, there are traditionally only about eight days of rain and snow in December. For bigger chances of a snowy Christmas market season, head to the city of Innsbruck - surrounded by the high peaks of the Karwendel Alps, Innsbruck Christmas markets are often covered in snow.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vienna: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Spend a Cheap Snow Holiday in Québec City, Canada

Toboggan riding in front of the Château Frontenac, Québec City

European-style architecture, cobblestoned alleys, and lots of snow make Quebec a great urban escape in winter. If you arrive in December, you'll also get a taste of their Christmas markets, where adorable wooden stalls sell everything from maple treats to handmade wooden toys.

From November to March, you can get the best view of Château Frontenac as you slide down a giant toboggan. First built in 1884, the toboggan offers a chance to speed down the hill at 70 kilometers per hour. If you visit in December, don't miss the stunning Christmas display at the Château Frontenac courtyard, complete with a giant Christmas tree and a multitude of lights.

The city also has two notable Christmas markets: the Market at the Old Port and the German Christmas Market. The Old Port market is open year-round and offers all kinds of artisan foods and souvenirs, but adds a wide variety of Christmas treats during December.

The German Christmas Market, at the Place de l'Hotel-de-Ville, offers all the yummy Christmas fare you could dream of, including gingerbread and Weihnachtsstollen (traditional Christmas sweet bread).

During a snowy day, climb to the top of the Observatoire de la Capitale for a stunning view over the city and its powdery, white roofline.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Quebec City: Best Areas & Hotels

5. Walk the Snowy Mountains of Bregenzerwald, Austria

Snowshoer in the Bregenzerwald, Austria

The Bregenz Forest is beautiful all year, but it becomes a winter wonderland as the colder months approach. A mix of signposted winter hiking trails, 72 marked snowshoe trails, and a cross-country ski trail network that extends for over 300 kilometers makes this a dreamy destination.

The Hittisau cross-country ski area around the forest is particularly stunning, with 30 kilometers of cross-country and 50 kilometers of classic mountain skiing trails with a maximum elevation of 1,040 meters. Most of the trails are dog-friendly.

For a unique twist on snow adventures, a number of local agencies organize nighttime snowshoeing trips on full moon nights - equipped with headlamps or a soft flashlight, the tours take visitors across deep, powdery snow, where the forested landscape feels magical and alien under the light of the moon.

The city of Bregenz sits on the eastern shores of Lake Constance at the foot of Pfänder mountain. It offers plenty of indoor fun in the form of museums, music festivals, and ornate Baroque buildings.

6. Go Snowmobiling in West Yellowstone, Montana, US

Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park

There are over 6,000 kilometers of groomed snowmobile trails in the state of Montana - and a good percentage of those are located inside Yellowstone National Park. The town of West Yellowstone is the getaway to the park, which stretches over Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

In winter, as thick layers of snow cover the roads and regular road traffic is banned, guided snowmobile tours - mainly leaving from West Yellowstone - are the only way to travel through the park.

Yellowstone receives over 380 centimeters of snow every year, and the mountain trails, powdery meadows, and backcountry roads transform into a winter wonderland. For those who want to get deep into the backcountry or for beginner snowmobilers, the national forest guide service offers organized tours - but it's also possible to just rent a snowmobile and explore on your own.

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Yellowstone NP: Best Areas & Hotels

7. Have a Snowy Easter in Val Thorens, France

Val Thorens ski resort

The highest ski resort in Europe, Val Thorens sees snow through May and is a favorite destination during the Easter Holidays - very few other places in Europe offer snow this late in the year. Easter is a great time to hit the slopes at Val Thorens because the days are longer (so you can ski until later in the day), the lift passes are cheaper, and the weather is sunnier and the skies bluer.

Val Thorens is a great Easter destination even for non-skiers. Winter hiking and snowshoeing trails in the Belleville Valley offer stunning views, and those chasing thrills and excitement can try the resort's zipline, which starts at the top of the Moutiere chairlift and reaches speeds of 75 kilometers per hour on the way down. There are also helicopter tours over the snow-covered French Alps available, or you can test your mental and physical strength with some ice diving.

8. Spend the Holiday Season in Rovaniemi, Finland

Aerial view of Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland

Rovaniemi might not sound familiar, but this tiny village inside the Arctic Circle is considered Santa Claus' official hometown. Santa Claus Village is eight kilometers away from the Rovaniemi city center and accessed by taxi or by boarding the Santa's Express train. Though the charming little village is open year-around and features many Christmas-related attractions (including Santa's post office), Rovaniemi is particularly stunning during winter.

This is a great area to catch the northern lights, have lunch at an ice restaurant, or spend the night at an igloo ice hotel. The Ranua Wildlife Park offers 2.5 kilometers of snowy trails, where you'll encounter wild arctic animals, or you can try a snowmobile or sleigh ride adventure through the snow-covered surroundings.

Perhaps one of the most magical experiences here is the opportunity to join a guided snowshoeing tour across the Arctic Circle, where you'll experience frozen landscapes and the true meaning of "Polar Night," where the sun never rises.

9. Hit the Slopes on Christmas Day in Tignes, France

Tignes ski resort in France

A high-altitude ski resort on the border with Italy, Tignes offers holiday skiing in style. The resort goes all out during the Christmas season, with festivities that last the entire month of December - where Santa makes an appearance; Christmas lights are everywhere; and you'll get a chance to see a Father Christmas parade and a special night torchlight descent, where ESF instructors and students snake down the mountain with beautiful flickering lights.

The village of Tignes Le Lac, which gives the resort its name hosts Christmas markets that sell wooden toys and handmade decorations. You'll also find outdoor ice rinks, high-end cafés and restaurants, and stunning views from the Grande Motte glacier.

Sitting at an altitude of 2,100 meters above sea level, Tignes Le Lac is guaranteed to have snow on Christmas (at least on the ground).

10. Try Ice Climbing in Rjukan, Norway

Ice climber in Rjukan, Norway | subflux / photo modified

If you thought ice climbing is something best left to the experts, you're in for a surprise - Rjukan offers over 150 ice climbing trails that cater to all climbers, including beginners just trying their hand at it for the first time.

Spectacular frozen waterfalls, ice trails that start right in town, and dark canyons covered in shades of green and blue ice make for a stunning landscape. Climbing equipment can be rented in town, and there are many guided tours for those who need a little help mastering the sport.

Many kilometers of cross-country skiing trails, sleigh rides, and floating saunas right on the frozen lake Kvitåvatn offer a different way to enjoy the wintertime.

Aside from their amazing ice climbing, Rjukan is famous for one other thing: the gigantic mirrors placed on the sides of the steep slopes that surround the town. They are there because the town, tightly enclosed by steep mountains, gets no sunlight at all between September and March - the mirrors are strategically set to reflect the sun and bring it down over the Rjukan town square in a stunning spectacle of light.

11. Experience Glacier Hiking in Vatnajokull, Iceland

Hiker in an ice cave in Vatnajokull, Iceland

If you like hiking and winter, spending time hiking a glacier in Iceland is an experience that can't be beaten. It's a chance to walk on ice that's thousands of years old - a world of ever-changing blues and whites over dramatic terrain and rugged ice ridges.

While there are several destinations for glacier hiking in Iceland, Vatnajokull - Europe's largest glacier - makes the top of the list. The unique destination offers massive crevasses, ice formations, and the bluest ice caves.

All glacier hikes are done with a guide and can take as little as five to six hours. While the landscape is dramatic, glacier hikes can be beginner-friendly, depending on the route. All equipment is provided by the guides, including the crampons to help you secure your footing. Glacier walks are available all year-long, though winter will bring plenty of magical snowflakes on top of the icy surface.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Iceland

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North American Winter Fun: If you're spending your snow holidays on this side of the ocean, you're in luck. The US offers plenty of winter fun - from bobsledding at the Olympic Park in Utah to snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and plenty of outdoor fun. Take a look at our article on the Best Winter Vacations in the U.S. for some travel inspiration. Up for some skiing? See what the Canadian slopes have to offer in our piece on the Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Canada.

Discovering Snowy Europe: Europe becomes a snow-covered playground in winter - though, as you can see in our Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Switzerland article, some European countries do get more winter fun. Heading all the way up north? See what Scandinavian countries have to offer in our articles on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Iceland and the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Norway.

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