Now the world is opening up again, winter 2021 could be the perfect time to plan a trip and escape your everyday routines. Whether you want to leave the cold behind or embrace it in all its snowy glory, a lot of these top winter destinations will still be relatively quiet.
Escape the cold
There is a reason Lisbon is known as the city of light; with an average 220 days of sunshine and temperatures rarely below 60F, this is one of Europe’s top cities for a winter break. Outside of the busy summer season the streets are quieter and often more beautiful as the winter sun catches smoke from roasting chestnuts sold on most corners. Surf conditions are better, the waves are quieter and it is not unusual to be wearing a bikini in November. It’s also a great time to visit nearby Sintra, the fairytale mountain town that often becomes overcrowded in summer. In winter the trees turn pretty autumnal colours, the palaces and castles are quiet and the hills are often shrouded in atmospheric Atlantic mists.
When most people imagine Mexican beaches they probably picture the turquoise Caribbean coast with its all-inclusive resorts and spring break reputation. If you want a more adventurous winter break, try the state of Oaxaca known for its delicious food and rugged coastline that attracts surfers and beach bums alike. With cobblestone streets, brightly coloured taquerias and open-air markets, Oaxaca itself is a city with a well preserved sense of indigenous and colonial history. Warm weather all year round means you can also explore the coast which has none of the mass tourism seen in other parts of Mexico. Some of the best beaches have nothing more than a few shacks selling cold coronas and refreshing ceviches. Ask the locals and don’t tell your friends.
This string of volcanic islands off the north coast of Africa belong to Spain but have a culture all of their own. Dramatic landscapes, subtropical climate and adventure opportunities make this a great European winter option for some sun. The most visited islands are Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, each with unique landscapes formed by ancient magma. Do not leave these islands without trying papas arrugadas, wrinkled potatoes, boiled in their skins in heavily salted water and served with mojo rojo - a capsicum garlic sauce.
An intriguing mix of Indian and old Portuguese culture, Goa is known for its spirituality, seafood, beach parties and colonial architecture. The influence of foreign travelers has been felt here since the hippie days of the 1960s. Today, winter still attracts many people searching for some zen. Yoga, reiki and meditation retreats abound here but if you’d rather just chill on the beach in tropical surroundings, explore colorful temples and crumbling white washed churches or gorge on fresh fish curry, then this is the place for you too.
Embrace the cold
If you really want to witness winter and all its extremes head to this volcanic island; close to the Arctic circle, but an easy flight from most European cities. Whilst Iceland’s name suggests bitterly harsh winters you’ll be surprised to find mild temperatures - thanks to the surrounding Gulf Stream, Iceland rarely gets much colder than London. The landscapes here are always spectacular but in winter they take on an otherworldly appearance - black lava beaches covered in snow, waterfalls frozen at a standstill, blue ice caves and gigantic glaciers. Throw in the aurora borealis and you can see why this is a winter lover's top destination.
Budapest is a city that just suits winter. Temperatures drop to freezing, snow catches on the spires of gothic churches, and locals head to one of nine thermal baths spread throughout the city to warm up. It even has Europe’s largest ice skating rink, perfect for pictures in front of Vajnahundad Castle. Hungarian food is designed for the cold with hearty soups, sausages and mushroom dumplings waiting to be washed down by the local fruit brandy. To keep warm in the evenings head to a ruin bar - cheap makeshift bars set up in weathered pre-war buildings.
Easily accessible from Tokyo and its airports, the area of Nagano is home to more than eighty ski resorts and some of the country’s best ski terrain. After a day playing in powder, you can soak in a hot onsen and refuel with a steaming bowl of buckwheat Soba noodles.
If skiing isn't your thing there are loads of other things to see in this mountainous prefecture. In the northwest you will find Togakushi, made famous by a 12th century warrior who opened a ninja training school in the forest, surrounded by shrines. And the thing that really makes Nagano worth a trip? Monkeys bathing in hot springs. Yep, in Jigokudani's monkey park you can hike to natural hot springs and watch snow covered macaque monkeys squabble over the best spot in the hot tub.
Beautiful Banff is located deep in the Canadian rockies and, unlike other ski towns, it has more to offer than just snowsports. In winter, the local river freezes hard enough for skating or ice hockey, all in the shadow of picture perfect snowy mountains. There is a busy bar and restaurant scene and most hotels have outdoor hot tubs to steam in as you watch the stars.