There’s something about a wintry day that just makes everything seem more beautiful. The snowflakes falling gently from the sky, the way the world is transformed into an ice-glazed wonderland- it all seems so perfect. And what could be more perfect than spending a wintry day at one of the world’s most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
From the stunningly colorful buildings in Bergen, Norway to the powerful peaks of the Dolomites, these destinations turn magical during winter. Not only will you get to experience their beauty in all its glory, but you’ll also have them practically to yourself!
Bergen, Norway has all the makings of an idyllic Nordic village in winter. It is one of North Europe’s oldest port cities and is home to one of the world’s most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Bryggen. It was established as a center for trade by the 12th century and the iconic Hanseatic commercial buildings were built in the 14th century. The city is surrounded by seven mountains, and you can take a funicular up to the top of one for sweeping views of the town and surrounding area. In December, the streets are lined with Christmas lights and Bergen is even more atmospheric, with its traditional Norwegian architecture set against a backdrop of snow.
GHT pro tip: Add in a trip to the Nærøyfjorden, another site on the World Heritage List. This fjord is one of the most stunning in the world and was voted the world’s most unspoiled tourist destination by National Geographic.
Shirakawago is a traditional village in Japan famous for its historical Gassho-zukuri style houses known for their angular thatched roofs. In the winter, when the roofs are covered in a thick layer of snow, the buildings resemble white-glazed gingerbread houses. A light-up event is occasionally held at night, adding to the magic of the place and turning it into a scene from inside a snow globe. If you’re looking for a unique and culturally-rich place to visit in Japan, picturesque Shirakawago is worth the extra layer of clothing.
Prague, Czech Republic
There’s no better time to visit Prague than during December when the “city of a hundred spires” is decked out in holiday cheer. Prague is full of history and charm, and its cobblestone streets are something out of a novel when the temperature drops. This European capital comes alive with cultural events and the Christmas markets sell everything from handmade wooden toys to glass ornaments to puppets along with many types of hot foods and drinks.
GHT pro tip: Be sure to catch The Lamplighter of the Charles Bridge. A lamplighter dressed in 19th-century garb manually lights the gas lamps of the bridge. This beautiful Prague tradition occurs daily from 4:00PM – 4:15PM (starting on the Old Town side) December 1-23.
Vienna in winter is the prettiest of all cities. It is known for its imperial architecture and coffee culture, and the old-world charm of the streets. Steep that in twinkling lights and a dusting of snow, and Vienna makes for a perfect winter break.
One of the best things to do in Vienna in December is to visit one of the many Christmas markets. These markets are a Viennese tradition and are full of festive cheer. You can find everything from traditional Austrian foods to handmade gifts and decorations.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City becomes a fairytale Christmas village at the end of November. The lights, decorations, snow, and enchanting European architecture will have you feeling like an extra in a Charles Dickens novel the first time you step out onto the street. Winter Carnival, the colorful celebration that has been going on since 1955, with its ice sculptures and snow sports, is an especially heartwarming and festive event. Expect it to be freezing cold (23–5 º F/-5-15ºC), but there’s hot chocolate and rum-spiced grog at hand for it’s time to warm up.
GHT pro tip: Visit the only ice hotel in North America, Hôtel de Glace, and finish your day with a delicious cocktail served in a glass made of ice.
The Dolomites, Italy
Italy’s Dolomites are a popular destination in winter, with skiers and snowboarders flocking to the area for its excellent slopes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. With towering peaks and pristine valleys, even if you don’t ski, the Dolomites are still well worth a visit. Think snowshoeing, tobogganing, winter hikes, snowmobiles—even dog sledding! There’s so much to do out in the snow that doesn’t involve skis or snowboards.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in Europe, and its amazing architecture and scenery are even more stunning when blanketed in snow. The city has a rich culture and its Christmas markets and outdoor ice skating rinks help to create a perfect winter wonderland. Local spas and thermal baths offer a twist on outdoor bathing. The temps may be freezing outside but the steaming thermal water leaves you feeling healthy and relaxed after your soak in its warm embrace – something that must be experienced by everyone!
Yellowstone National Park, United States
If you’re looking for a serene winter experience, Yellowstone National Park is the perfect destination. One of the best things about Yellowstone in winter is the lack of crowds. With fewer visitors, the park transforms into a pristine wonderland where you can enjoy the quiet solitude of nature. Another advantage of visiting Yellowstone in winter is the opportunity to uniquely experience the park’s geothermal features. The geysers and hot springs are even more spectacular when they’re covered in snow and ice. The air is fresh and crisp and you can see steam rising from the geysers and hot springs.
Venice is a truly unique city, no matter what time of year you visit. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway though, there’s no better place than atmospheric Venice in the winter. The city is quieter than usual, so you’ll have plenty of space to explore this World Heritage site without the crowds. And with hotels like The Gritti Palace and the Baglioni Hotel Luna available at a fraction of their high-season rates, you’ll be pleased with your decision to visit Venice in winter.