In some places, the coldest season seems to bring the warmest memories. If you are planning your winter holiday, consider these great cities. The places combine urban entertainment, a Christmassy atmosphere, and even outdoor activities. From the old towns to the big cities, these beautiful winter wonderlands are where you can try them for your next trip.
1. Nagano, Japan
Nagano City (長野) is the capital of Nagano Prefecture. It evolved as a temple town around Zenkoji, one of Japan’s most popular temples. In 1998, the city hosted the Winter Olympic Games, and some former Olympic facilities can still be viewed around town.
In the forested mountains northwest of the city center lies the Togakushi area which attracts with its popular shrines and as the legendary home of the Togakure Ninja School. The Togakushi Ninpo Museum and the Kids Ninja Village provides good entertainment and a glimpse of the area’s ninja past, according to Japan Guide.
The city of Nagano and several surrounding communities hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 1998 Winter Paralympics. Nagano City is an important historical location, an industrial center, as well as a travel destination and a center for accessing surrounding sightseeing, including Japan’s onsen-bathing snow monkeys in Yamanouchi and world-class ski resorts of Hakuba, Shiga Kogen, and Nozawaonsen – throughout the year.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
|Photo: Prague Tourist Board
Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 13th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Located on the Vltava river, Prague is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.7 million. The city has a temperate oceanic climate, with relatively warm summers and chilly winters.
Not surprisingly, visitors from around the world have come in droves, and on a hot summer’s day, it can feel like you’re sharing Charles Bridge with half of humanity. But even the crowds can’t take away from the spectacle of a 14th-century stone bridge, a hilltop castle, and a lovely, lazy river – the Vltava – that inspired one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of 19th-century classical music, Smetana’s Moldau symphony.
Prague’s maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, always beckoning you to explore a little further. Just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square you can stumble across ancient chapels, unexpected gardens, cute cafes, and old-fashioned bars with hardly a tourist in sight. One of the great joys of the city is its potential for exploration – neighborhoods such as Vinohrady and Bubeneč can reward the urban adventurer with countless memorable cameos, from the setting sun glinting off church domes to the strains of Dvořák wafting from an open window, according to Lonely Planet.
3. Bruges, Belgium
|Photo: Fine Art Farm
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country, and the seventh-largest city of the country by population.
If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges (Brugge in Dutch), one of Europe’s best-preserved cities. Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals link photogenic market squares lined with soaring towers, historical churches, and lane after lane of old whitewashed almshouses. The best times to visit are in spring, when daffodils carpet the tranquil courtyard of the historic begijnhof retreat, or outside of Christmas in winter when you’ll have the magnificent, if icy, the town almost all to yourself, according to Lonely Planet.
4. Sedona, Arizona, USA
|Photo: Megan Starr
From hiking and fine dining to art galleries and personal enrichment, Sedona has so much to fill each gorgeous day of your stay. And, really, to see everything Sedona offers requires more than a single day or even a weekend.
Get some of the red earth on your hiking boots on any of the countless trails ranging from leisurely jaunts to long, challenging backpacking treks. Be inspired by the impressive artwork housed in Sedona’s art galleries. Try something new such as walking through a labyrinth, getting your aura photographed, or indulging in a massage that will get every kink out of your body. Take the road less traveled and explore Sedona’s Secret 7—sites and attractions with beauty equal to their frequently visited counterparts.
5. Banff, Alberta, Canada
|Photo: Practical Wanderlust
Banff is a town within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. It is located in Alberta’s Rockies along the Trans-Canada Highway, approximately 126 km (78 mi) west of Calgary and 58 km (36 mi) east of Lake Louise. At 1,400 to 1,630 m (4,590 to 5,350 ft) above sea level, Banff is the community with the second highest elevation in Alberta, after Lake Louise.
The Town of Banff was the first municipality to incorporate within a Canadian national park. The town is a member of the Calgary Regional Partnership.
Banff is a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. Known for its surroundings and hot springs, it is a destination for outdoor sports and extensive features hiking, biking scrambling, and skiing destinations within the area. Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay, and Lake Louise Ski Resort are the three nearby ski resorts located within the national park.
If you’re itching to experience the lifestyle of a Swiss skiing village, but don’t want to fork over the cash for a trans-Atlantic flight, consider Banff. Thanks to its location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies near the southeastern border of Banff National Park – Canada’s first national park – taking trips here will decrease not only your flight time from the US but also your expenses (although only marginally). Banff caters to intrepid explorers who prefer to end the day in a nice hotel rather than roughing it at the campgrounds (though, there are plenty of those, too). Opportunities for adventure abound, so pick your sport: Ski down Mount Norquay, hike to the massive, free-standing limestone pillars known as the Hoodoos, “scramble” up the face of the Stoney Squaw Mountain or bike along Healy Creek.
6. Dublin, Ireland
|Photo: Fine Art America
Dublin is the capital and largest city of Ireland. Located on a bay on the east coast, at the mouth of the River Liffey, it lies within the province of Leinster. It is bordered on the south by the Dublin Mountains, a part of the Wicklow Mountains range. It has an urban area population of 1,173,179, while the population of the Dublin Region (traditional County Dublin) as of 2016 was 1,347,359. The population of the Greater Dublin Area was 1,904,806 per the 2016 census.
There is archaeological debate precisely where and when Dublin originated, with a settlement established by the Gaels during or before the 7th century AD, and a second, Viking, settlement, following. As the small Kingdom of Dublin, the city grew, and it became Ireland’s principal settlement following the Norman invasion. The city expanded rapidly from the 17th century and was briefly the second largest city in the British Empire after the Acts of Union in 1800. Following independence in 1922, Dublin became the capital of the Irish Free State, later renamed Ireland.
Dublin is a contemporary and historical center for Irish education, arts and culture, administration, and industry. As of 2018, the city was listed by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC) as a global city, with a ranking of “Alpha minus”, which places it as one of the top thirty cities in the world.
7. Vienna, Austria
History is at the heart of Vienna both literally and figuratively. The narrow streets of the Innere Stadt (Inner City) snake through antiquated buildings, providing an atmosphere so authentic that you almost expect a Vienna native-like composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or psychologist Sigmund Freud to round a cobblestone corner and greet you with “guten tag .” Extravagant baroque palaces from the Habsburg Monarchy loom over the city, just as Mozart’s classical arias pour from contemporary cafes. If it’s culture you seek, you’ll find it here.
But there’s more to this city than just music and monarchs. Vienna is also a great place to spend some cash, with independent bookstores competing for business alongside haute couture. There are also a surprising number of attractions for young ones, including an amusement park and a top-notch zoo. And although many Viennese retire early in the night, that doesn’t mean you have to; sneak out to one of the bars along the city’s Bermuda Triangle, or drop by one of the wine taverns skirting the Vienna Woods.
8. Transylvania, Romania
Transylvania is a historical region in central Romania. To the east and south its natural border is the Carpathian Mountains, and to the west the Apuseni Mountains. Broader definitions of Transylvania also embrace the western and north-western Romanian regions Crișana and Maramureș, and occasionally Banat.
Transylvania is known for the scenery of its Carpathian landscape and its rich history. It also contains the nation’s fourth largest city, Cluj-Napoca, as well as other cities and towns such as Brașov, Sibiu, Târgu Mureș, Alba Iulia, and Bistrița.
Thanks to Bram Stoker and Hollywood, Transylvania (from the Latin for “beyond the forest”) is famed as the homeland of Dracula, a place where storms lash medieval hamlets, while wolves – or werewolves – howl from the surrounding woods. The fictitious image is accurate up to a point: the scenery is breathtakingly dramatic, especially in the Prahova valley, the Turda and Bicaz gorges and around the high passes; there are spooky Gothic citadels, around Braşov and at Sibiu, Sighişoara and Bran; and there was a Vlad, born in Sighişoara, who earned the grim nickname “The Impaler” and later became known as Dracula, according to Rough Guides.
9. Bergen, Norway
Norway’s second-largest city is located on the west coast, and its charming, small-town feel is enhanced by the seven mighty mountains that act as its natural enclosure; not to mention the breathtaking fjords that are only a short drive away. The city’s waterfront is adorned with houses of every color, and the fishing heritage of the area dominates its modern-day attractions. A few days is highly recommended, leaving you with enough time to discover everything Bergen has to offer, whilst offering you to make the most of what is a gateway to some of the world’s most unspoilt wilderness.
Bergen’s fish market is one of Europe’s finest, with a huge selection of spectacular seafood. All produce on the stalls is fresh, and whilst a bite to eat is notoriously expensive, a wander through the market alongside the beautiful harbor is a great way to spend a morning. The city is also home to a number of fantastic seafood restaurants, offering traditional Norwegian cuisine to open minded tourists, including locally caught whale, incredible salmon, and world class shellfish, according to Norway Travel Guide.