It’s a battle that’s raged ever since the Golden Age of Flying: where to holiday in winter? Snow bunnies long for white wonderlands. Sun seekers are forever blue-sky dreaming. We know better than to take sides. Instead, allow us to tempt you with a range of wowsome winter getaways that span both climes. So, who’s the ultimate winner? Jack Frost or Mr Golden Sun? That’s entirely for you to decide.
City Break in St Petersburg, Russia
Winters in Russia’s cultural capital are certainly not for the faint-hearted. But for those willing to brave the sub-zero temperatures, this magical, snow-flaked kingdom of the Tsars is set to stun.
Weatherproof Peterburgskys see the winter season as an invitation to head outdoors and keep warm with an abundance of ice-themed activities: ice skating on frozen lakes, ice fishing on the Neva River, skiing at Tsarskoye Selo. There’s simpler pleasures to enjoy with snowman building in the gorgeous Mikhailovsky Garden backdropped by the colourful bauble-domes of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Give your snowman a Russian twist and pop a furry ushanka on his head.
Come February, there’s the Maslenitsa festivities to look forward to. This week-long version of Pancake Day sees the city come alive to colourful rag dolls decorating the streets, folk games, balalaika music, bonfires and, of course, vendors flipping melt-in-the mouth blini (pancakes) into the air. Try you blini filled with everything from caviar and salmon to sour cream and an assortment of sweet jams and fruits.
St Petersburg also boasts a treasure trove of historical and cultural spoils. Wander around imperial palaces and lavish cathedrals. Marvel at magnificent museums housing everything from Egyptian mummies to masterworks by Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo and their ilk. Delight in ballet, opera and classical concerts widely regarded among the finest in the world.
Snowtownia - Talinn and Prague
Dial the snow factor down a notch with a trip to these fairytale towns. Meander down medieval lanes crowned with snow-dusted Gothic church towers and castle turrets in Tallinn, Estonia. Prague is also especially enchanting at this time of year. Head to our 48 Hours in Prague blog for our in-depth city-break guide to the city of a hundred spires.
Beach Break in St Philip, Barbados
Barbados is a pageant of showstopper beaches. And there’s none more dazzling than Crane Beach set in the diamond-shaped St Philip parish on the island’s sparsely populated east coast. With its soft pink sands and gorgeous aqua-blue waters cradled by lush coconut groves, Crane Beach is regularly listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.
The beach has also become a popular body surfing destination due to its moderate waves. Further along the shore is a protected cove better suited to children and weaker swimmers.
After a morning of bathing and bronzing in the cool Atlantic Sea, head out to explore an island fizzing with heady experiences. Savour the intense flavours of Caribbean cuisine. Step back in time with a trip to the 17th-century Sunbury Plantation House choc-a-block with priceless antiques. Enjoy afternoon tea over a game of cricket, the island’s national sport.
While in Barbados, it would be a sin not to imbibe the sweet golden nectar of its legendary rums. Visit St Philip’s famed Foursquare Rum Distillery nestled in eight acres of a former sugar plantation. Here you can explore the important role that sugar and rum have played in the island’s colourful history. Learn first-hand how rum is produced and barrelled. And of course, take as much time as you need to sample the many subtle flavours of this authentic Caribbean spirit.
Beach Please - Brazil & Seychelles
Want more beach blissage in the winter sunshine? The Seychelles are an Edenic archipelago of sandy shores fringed by other-worldly cliffs and swaying palm trees. And for slow-mo days of dozing under the shade of mango trees, head to the dunes of Jericoacoara Beach in vibrant Brazil.
Highland Safari in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Cairngorms National Park experiences some of the heaviest snowfall in all of the British Isles. Snowfields stretch as far as the eye can see. Lochs and waterfalls freeze solid. The entire park transforms into a unique wintry wonderland, especially remarkable for animal lovers. That’s because Cairngorms is home to some 25% of Britain’s most threatened species.
Throughout its smoky mountains, ancient forests and foggy moorlands roam snow leopards, capercaillie, arctic foxes, red deer and pine marten. It’s not uncommon to spot packs of grey wolves frolicking in heaps of snow.
Cairngorms is also an excellent place to come face to face with Scotland’s legendary Highlander—the coo. Highland Coos (also known as heilan coos) are a shaggy haired breed of horned cattle who rank only behind the Loch Ness Monster as the creature visitors to Scotland most hope to catch a glimpse of. Unlike the majority of wildlife here, the coo has a friendly disposition and is known to approach visitors in want of petting and attention. So go ahead and give that bonnie beastie a great big hug.
With nearly 50,000 acres, and trails reaching high into the hills, the easiest way to get to grips with the park’s vastness is on a 4x4 Land Rover. The park itself organises several such 4x4 safaris and tour guides will take time to see what you want from the experience. No two trips are ever quite the same.
Snow Monkeys in Japan
Should a Scottish safari feel too close to home, why not fly to the Far East to spy on red-faced monkeys having a bath? Jigokudani Park near the village of Yamanouchi in Japan is home to a species of snow monkey who loves soaking in onsens (natural hot springs) while fluffy snow settles on its grey-brown fur.
Safari in Maasai Mara, Africa
True, you can head on an African safari at almost any time of year. But there’s some added perks to opting for the winter season. For one, it’s more affordable. Plus, there’s the fact that the continent experiences its slowest season for tourism, practically guaranteeing a more exclusive trip.
Oh, and there’s a hell of a lot less mosquitoes zipping about. Surely a deal breaker for even the most Bear Grylls of adventurers.
With 54 countries crammed into this elephant’s ear of a continent, each just as fascinating as the next, choosing where to safari can prove overwhelming. If you’re a newb, we’d heartily recommend journeying to the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. Plan your Maasai Mara safari early enough in the winter season and you’ll be treated to the greatest wildlife show of earth, as herds of mammals begin migrating in search of fresh pastures across the harsh plains and the strong currents of the mighty Mara river.
As you hurtle across the vast savanna and bumpy geological landscape on your open-sided Jeep, you’ll (hopefully) happen on Africa’s Big 5—the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. You’re also bound to spot a motley critter crew of cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, hyenas and zebras going about their day to day business. And if all that wildlife wonder wasn’t already glorious enough, Africa offers some of the most jaw-dropping sunsets on the entire planet.
Already crossed off the African safari from your bucket list? Then it’s time to go Down Under. Over 80% of Australia’s mammals, reptiles and amphibians are found nowhere else on earth. Get up close and personal with kangaroos, koalas, quokka and wallabies. A word to the wise, keep at arm’s length from the crocs and poisonous snakes.
Fasnacht in Basel, Switzerland
‘Drey scheenschte Dääg’ (three best days) is how the denizens of Basel describe Fasnacht. This sprawling carnival has been celebrated in Switzerland for over seven centuries. It’s cultural, historical and creative significance was further cemented when Fasnacht was added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in 2017.
Festivities kick off on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at 4 am. Thousands of masked Cliques (formations of marching bands) emerge into the darkened, chilly streets brandishing illuminated, hand-painted lanterns, while costumed pfeifer (pipers) and tambouren (drummers) bang out blaring guggenmusik so loud they could raise Lazarus.
This strange dead-of-night parade is known as Morgenstreich and marks the beginning of 72 hours of continuous partying all around Basel.
There are a few unwritten rules. Make sure to purchase a Fasnacht Badge and wear it where it’s easily visible, lest you wish to receive a face full of confetti from a masked Clique member. And it may sound odd, but it’s generally frowned upon for adults to participate. The Cliques take care of the carnival-ing; visitors bask in the merrymaking.
The weather does get pretty cold here, so keep nice and warm by tucking into a range of Fasnacht treats. It’s traditional to eat Mehlsuppe (flour soup) for the first time in the year after Morgenstreich. You’ll also spot many food stalls selling Fasnachtkiechli (disk-shaped sweet crackers dusted with icing sugar) and Faschtewajie (pretzel-shaped pastry with caraway seeds), which will certainly help keep your munchies at bay throughout the day.
Tschäggättä in the Swiss Alps
For a touch of the bizarre, steal away to Lötschental valley in the Swiss Alps for Tschäggättä carnival. Every night between Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday, the Tschäggä—locals dressed up as hideous 10 -foot tall monsters cloaked in animal hides—take to the snowy streets to frighten the bejeezus out of villagers.
Karnival in Valletta, Malta
When future British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli visited Valletta in 1830, he described the Maltese capital as ‘a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen.’ Clearly Disraeli hadn’t seen Valletta during its annual Karnival revelry when it transforms into a topsy-turvy City of Fools in the midst of a glow paint explosion.
The feast was introduced to Malta by Grand Master Piero de Ponte in 1535 and has remained a staple on the island’s religious and cultural calendar ever since. Held during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, Karnival is a jubilant jamboree of masked balls, marching bands, fancy dress, late-night parties and colourful, ticker-tape parades.
And of course, there’s the famous float parades to delight in, presided over by the Carnival King. The time-consuming art of float building is passed down from generation to generation, and local craftsmen take great pride in their work with families and teams forever trying to one-up each other.
These towering, mechanised, neon-tinged papier-mâché constructions are brought-to-life caricatures of celebs, politicians, animals and mythical creatures. They roll through City Gate into Freedom Square loaded with tinnitus-inducing PA systems and elaborately costumed dancers. There’s also a host of competitions to determine the best costume, dance troupes, masks and floats. It’s a lot of fun.
A few carnival candies to look out for include prinjolata, a white domed cake drizzled in chocolate and sprinkled with cherries and glacé fruits, and perlini, pure almonds coated in pastel coloured icing sugar.
Carnival, Rio de Janeiro
Turn the carnival heat all the way up to sizzling with a visit to Rio de Janeiro. Held in February, carnival in Brazil is essentially one-long samba celebration with dance troupes competing for a multi-million dollar prize pot. City streets host vibrant parties called blocos, some welcoming close to a million skimpily-costumed partygoers dancing until the small hours.
Husky Sled Rides, Lapland
Experience the Arctic beauty of the Laplands as you’re driven by a pack of ebullient huskies on a sled ride like no other. Husky sled expeditions have become an increasingly popular activity in this part of the world. Glide past reindeer and moose roaming freely in magical snow covered forests. Some popular Lapland destinations offering husky rides include Kemi, Luosto and Ylläs.
Scuba Diving, Maldives
With its crystal clear waters offering great visibility, the Maldives have steadily become a scuba diving nirvana. Swim with hammerhead sharks at Kuramathi Kandu. Snorkel with graceful Manta rays at Moofushi Point. From dive to dive, explore sunken tropical gardens teeming with rainbow-hued clownfish, oriental sweetlips, parrot fish, bluestripe snappers and more. Between your underwater quests, get lost on a booty of beaches, each one more heavenly than the last.
Ice Fishing, Greenland
As one of the world’s remotest ice fishing destinations, Ammassalik Island truly thrusts you into the ice cold heart of Greenland’s fjord and mountain wilderness. With food being scarce on the island, fishing remains a popular livelihood and the catch is especially excellent. Grab a rod, cut a hole in the ice and cast your line for Greenlandic shark, spotted wolf fish and halibut.
Turtle & Shipwreck Swims, Barbados
Carlisle Bay is a crescent shaped natural harbour on the west coast of Barbados. The turquoise waters are the perfect spot to swim with tranquil hawksbill sea turtles, a truly once in a lifetime experience. More experienced snorkellers and divers can also explore six nearby shipwrecks sunk at varying depths, which are home to schools of technicolour fish, including the distinctive black-striped sergeant major.
Glass Igloos, Finland
Snuggle up in a cosy bed while stars twinkle in the inky night sky and glowing Aurora Borealis dances above you. Glass igloos are the perfect way to immerse yourself in Finland’s majestic Urho Kekkonen National Park, which could have been plucked straight out of the Narnia books. They may seem small, but these modern Eskimo houses are kitted out with essential creature comforts for a truly relaxing break.
Feel like a modern day Tarzan as you whizz through the trees of Thailand. The hillsides of Phuket overflow with thick forest making it an excellent ziplining destination. Many ziplining centres here organise varied adventure packages offering everything from multi-level zipwire platforms and sky bridges to abseil points and stairways spiralling high into the treetops. There’s also wilderness treks to enjoy. See if you can catch a glimpse of the cheeky macaque monkey in its natural habitat.
Polar Expedition, Arctic Islands
Cruise the four Arctic Islands of Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, Greenland and Iceland and marvel at the indigenous wonders this vast canvas of sapphire and ice has to offer. On board your oceanographic vessel you’ll spot mighty whales and swift seabirds. On land are ancient Inuit settlements and varied wildlife including the mighty polar bear, the sabre-fanged walrus and bearded muskoxen. Every spectacular nautical mile is choked with glaciers and jagged icebergs that glitter like diamonds.
Yacht Charter Cruise, Dubai
Immerse yourself in the glitz and glamour of Dubai on board a luxurious Sunseeker yacht charter that will whisk you away to the city of tomorrow’s finest ports of call. As you sip on bubbly champagne, marvel at the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, the white sands of the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, and the shimmering high-rise buildings on the banks of the Dubai Canal. For more yachting in Dubai click here.
Snow Mobiling, Montana
West Yellowstone in Montana, USA has become a snowmobiling mecca thanks to its impeccably groomed trails that never cease to surprise. The Lionhead Mountain Trail is an ideal gateway trail that will help you get to grips with the ins and outs of snowmobiling. Watch out, there’s tree goblins about! Keep an eye out for these snow encrusted trees frozen in all sorts of eyebrow-raising poses.
Water Sports, Florida Keys
Florida Keys is a coastal wonderland that stretches some 120 miles off the southern tip of Florida. This string of five tropical islands has made a splash with aquaphiles looking to spend sun-soaked days fishing, swimming and snorkelling. There’s also a boatload of water sports to enjoy here. Kayak and paddleboard in remote nature sanctuaries as dolphins drift up beside you. Feel the rush of the wind with exhilarating parasailing. Zoom off into the sunset on a high-powered jet ski.
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