Epic Winter Wonderland Experiences That Make Ice and Snow Travel A Dream Waiting to Explored.
Snow literally and aesthetically changes any landscape into the most magical scene. Be it in the city surrounded by skyscrapers to the forest in the wilderness, it never ceases to amaze me just how beautiful nature can be. Here is a collection of epic winter wonderland experiences as told by travellers traversing the globe in the hunt for the perfect day. Ice and snow travel at its best.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU WILL FIND:
- #01 – NUUKSIO NATIONAL PARK, HELSINKI, FINLAND
- #02 – GLACIER WALKING IN SVINAFELLSJÖKULL, ICELAND
- #03 – CANOEING IN LAKE BALATON, HUNGARY
- #04 – BIG WHITE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
- #05 – FLYING OVER FRENCH ALPS AND MONT BLANC
- #06 – CLIMBING FAIRY MEADOWS, PAKISTAN
- #07 – HELICOPTER RIDE AT PACIFIC COASTAL MOUNTAIN RANGE, CANADA
- #08 – GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS, USA
- #09 – STAYING IN A YURT IN KYRGYZSTAN
- #10 – GONDOLA DURING CHRISTMAS, BANFF, CANADA
- #11 – FALLS CREEK, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA
- #12 – ICE SKATING IN PARIS, FRANCE
- #13 – SNOWMOBILING IN SVALBARD, NORWAY
- #14 – ICE CAVES IN JOKULSARLON, ICELAND
- #15 – WINTER FAMILY TRAVEL IN POLAND
- #16 – ICE FISHING IN LAPLAND, FINLAND
- #17 – MOSCOW FAMILY TRAVEL, RUSSIA
- #18 – DIAMOND BEACH, JOKULSARLON LAGOON, ICELAND
- #19 – NORTHERN LIGHTS IN TROMSO, NORWAY
- BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES
#01 – NUUKSIO NATIONAL PARK, HELSINKI, FINLAND
By Amy Chung @ Family Globetrotters
Traversing across ice and snow in a National Park in Northern Europe wasn’t something I thought I could access easily. It was only by chance that in my research for something off the beaten track to do whilst we were in Finland did I stumble across this marvelous opportunity. Nuuksio National Park is located only 45 minutes outside of Helsinki and we decided to commission a private tour guide to take us out for the day.
We had picked a day where the National Park was devoid of trekkers or locals. There is something to be said about walking across frozen Lake Haukkalampi with no one else in sight. Surrounded by the Finnish forest as the snow and ice weighed down upon its native tress and plants, we enjoyed a hike of epic beauty.
We simply couldn’t take in enough of the serenity, exquisite beauty and the wonders of what nature had to offer in the winter. This will remain a highlight of our travels for many years to come as one of the best family snow holidays. I have always said that winter holidays in Europe is just stunning and this proved me right again!
#02 – GLACIER WALKING IN SVINAFELLSJÖKULL, ICELAND
By Alex Waltner @ Swedish Nomad
If you’re visiting Iceland during the winter months, there are several places where you can go glacier walking. Those who are beginners are always recommended to join a guided tour as it can be dangerously to be walking on top of a glacier on your own, without the expertise and prior experience.
One such place is the famous Svinafellsjökull, which has been a famous backdrop in movies and tv-shows like Interstellar and Game of Thrones. The landscape is spectacular and there are daily guided tours where you’re taken safely on top of the glacier and down into ice-crevasses, with possibilities to go down into ice caves as well.
I recommend the tour company called Mountainguides but there are several tour companies, and all of those who are present with offices at Svinafellsjökull visitor’s center are reliable and trustworthy, so make sure to choose any of them.
It’s an incredible adventure and all visitors with good health can join. Safety gear is provided upon arrival. Some of the best months to go are from December to March. Then you will be able to see the piercing ice blue color of the glacier.
Glacier walking is a raw nature experience that you can only get in a limited number of places in the world, and Iceland is one of the most accessible of those since the majority of other glaciers are remotely located.
#03 – CANOEING IN LAKE BALATON, HUNGARY
By Eniko @ Travel Hacker Girl
There is a lot to do in winter at Lake Balaton. The area is very busy with tourists in the summer, but it is quiet during this time, which provides a peaceful environment. Hungary is famous for its beautiful spas with thermal water, but did you know there is also a thermal brook in the country?
One of the most special experiences you can have is canoeing on this thermal Hévíz brook. Thanks to it being thermal water, it doesn’t freeze. Some people even go for a dip in it. You will need a special permit for canoeing here and it is only allowed in the winter months to protect the area. They want to avoid people canoeing here during the birds’ breeding period.
This canoe trip is a nature lover’s dream come true. You can spot water lilies, grey herons, cormorants, egrets and grebes. On cold winter mornings, the steaming brook looks like an image from a fairy tale. There are several companies who organise trips here. They take care of obtaining the permit and also provide a guide and equipment. Complete beginners are also welcome. The distance is 10 km and they will transport you back to your car at the end of the tour.
This is a truly unique experience, which can only be done in the winter months, so don’t miss your chance if you get the opportunity! Yet another reason to go on winter holidays in Europe!
#04 – BIG WHITE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
by Dylan and Monique @ Honeymoon Backpackers
We bundled up in layers of clothing to keep warm in the sub zero temperatures, while shredding the slopes. Fresh powder, waxed snowboard and blue skies, what more could you ask for?
We road tripped on our honeymoon around Canada, snowboarding at the some of the best slopes in the world like Whistler, Lake Louise and Revelstoke. However, nothing beats this day on the slopes. We pretty much had the mountain to ourselves and was able to snowboard from the peak of Big White all the way to our car. This was one of the most epic winter wonderland experiences we’ve ever had and the best snow holiday ever!
#05 – FLYING OVER FRENCH ALPS AND MONT BLANC
By Inma Gregorio @ A World to Travel
Flying in a small plane over the ‘Mar de Glace’ – to an impressive glacier in the French Alps – while the plane was impossibly approaching the snowy peaks with Mont Blanc in the background is one of those experiences that I will never forget.
Of course, I do not recommend it to anyone who is afraid of flying. I admit that I could have enjoyed it much more if I had not been so nervous – for a while this part had a bad time on airplanes – since from time to time the plane suffered intense turbulence that made us fall – at least in my opinion – several meters in the air.
There is no need to be afraid, the pilot told me. At our aviation school, we are specialists in approaching peaks. Judge for yourself, I assure you that there are no better views in the region. In any case, if I had to go back I would choose a windless day.
If you want to add this experience to your list, take a look at my article about the Megeve ski resort and all it offers its visitors in Winter.
#06 – CLIMBING FAIRY MEADOWS, PAKISTAN
By Clemens Sehi @ Travellers Archive
One of the most unforgettable experiences in winter was climbing the Nanga Parbat in Pakistan up to the so-called Fairy Meadows. It is a meadow on the slope of the massive mountain. The way there is quite difficult though, especially in winter. First you have to take jeep that brings you up to the starting point of the hike. The drive takes about an hour and a half and goes along a super dangerous mountain road. Then the hike begins, which can be really tough in winter. Not only is the air getting thinner at these heights, it is also not uncommon for fresh snow and strong wind to occur.
Those who make it to the top will be rewarded with a breathtaking view. In the winter months the Fairy Meadows are covered with a thick layer of ice that looks like an ice wall. The mighty Nanga Parbat rises behind it and covers almost the entire horizon. The 8,126 m mountain is especially famous for the mountaineers who managed to climb it and those who didn’t.
This is exactly why the mountain is also called Killer Mountain. You can also spend the night at the first base camp in simple wooden huts. Caution: It can get very, very cold up there in winter. There is no heating. But the experience of the snow-covered mountain is still worth it. If you want to travel to Pakistan, you should definitely consider a trip to Nanga Parbat.
#07 – HELICOPTER RIDE AT PACIFIC COASTAL MOUNTAIN RANGE, CANADA
By Chris @ Global Shenanigans
When I am flying into a mountain ski town (or anywhere, come to think of it), I will always beg the check-in staff to put me in a window seat. The view coming into these destinations is just beyond words. When I flew from the U.K. to Canada, my face was glued onto the window for about 8 hours.
Despite this fascination with mountain views, it wasn’t until February that I ever seriously considered booking a scenic helicopter tour. Well let me tell you: the game has been changed.
The ride itself is like being on a roller coaster. For many people that might actually be considered a negative, but I really loved it. The rush and excitement of swooping through the valley, climbing up the sides and breaking out over the peaks. To be a heli-pilot you must be extremely skilled so I had no worries there.
I took a scenic tour around the Pacific Coastal Mountain Range from Whistler, B.C., Canada. But this activity is not limited to one location. Almost every single mountain town will have a similar tour. The helicopter experience allows you to find that perfect balance of being high enough up to take it in the phenomenal mountain vista, but still low enough to be dwarfed by the empowering size of the mountains and feeling the proximity of the trees as you rush above or sometimes below them.
A word of advice: as a photographer I had my telephoto lens out trying to rapidly capture every single banger photo imaginable. Looking through a telephoto lens whilst riding in a helicopter can be quite dizzying and disorientating. Still, totally worth it.
#08 – GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS, USA
By Tim & Sarah @ Our 21st Century Odyssey
This photo was taken on a crisp December morning and I love it because it captures the total immersion my husband and I experienced surrounded by frost on the ground below us and on every limb of the desert flora around us.
My husband and I had come to this park on a whim – we hadn’t even heard of it until we picked it at random off of a list of national parks. We had a last-minute opportunity to spend a long weekend somewhere, and we wanted to go somewhere we knew little about. We knew that deserts get cold at night, and especially with it being December, we packed our wool hiking clothes. Even with our expectations about the cool temperatures, though, we were taken aback by what we found in Guadalupe Mountains.
The morning we drove into the park was a foggy one, but as we got closer the sky began to clear, revealing a surprising scene. Every cactus was covered in sparkling white frost left by the dissipating fog. By the time we were on the McKittrick Canyon trail, we were surrounded by a true winter wonderland, made all the more magical by our utter surprise. Never had I imagined such a snowy scene could exist in the desert of the American West- bordering Mexico, no less. To this day it’s one of my most memorable and surprising travel experiences.
#09 – STAYING IN A YURT IN KYRGYZSTAN
By Alex Reynolds @ Lost With Purpose
Ski holidays are nothing new… but have you ever gone on a ski trip where you slept in a traditional nomadic yurt, had horses carry your luggage up the mountain, or didn’t see any other skiers for an entire day?
Welcome to winter in Kyrgyzstan.
The little landlocked Central Asian ‘stan is growing in popularity with adventurous tourists, but only in summer. Their loss, your gain; Kyrgyzstan is an incredible winter destination for back country skiing. There are few other places in the world where you can have a hefty dose of epic powder and nomadic culture all in the same day.
Because Kyrgyzstan is landlocked and far from the sea, it has extremely light and fluffy powder that makes for perfectly pillowy back country lines. Despite its good snow, few people think of Kyrgyzstan for skiing. On the resort slopes you’ll mostly encounter locals, and in the back country areas you’ll brush shoulders with adventurous skiers from neighboring Russia. In the villages and towns that is; it’s highly likely you won’t see anyone except your group and your ski guide when you head up for the day.
What makes back country skiing in Kyrgyzstan truly unique is its apres-ski (… in a sense). Once your legs are done for the day, you can kick back either in a cozy nomadic Kyrgyz yurt or at one of Kyrgyzstan’s many family-run home stays. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a steaming bowl of hot lagman noodle soup after a long day out in the powder.
#10 – GONDOLA DURING CHRISTMAS, BANFF, CANADA
By Mayuri @ To Some Place New
Banff National Park in Canada has been bringing tourists for decades. And visiting the gondola is a must-include attraction in every Banff itinerary. But the beauty of Banff in winter is surreal, and heading to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola will bring back the child in you!
Imagine the snow capped mountains, the Christmas lights and the sheer joy and happiness in the air! Banff Gondola is open during winters, and it takes you to the summit, like every day of the year. In winters, hosts a ton of seasonal (special) activities. Christmas on Mountain Top is a holiday season activity where you can reach the Sulphur Mountain top and meet Santa Claus and get pictures taken. This event runs from mid-November to the end of December.
The price of the experience is included in the Banff Gondola ride. Be sure to wear warm clothes, as it can be pretty windy on the mountain-top. On certain nights, Banff Gondola also organizes a stargazing event, along with Christmas celebrations.
Banff National Park is amazing for a winter vacation in Canada and one of the best winter vacations for families. And to ring the holiday festivities or chase stars on a mountain top (with ease) is just the perfect icing on the (Christmas) cake!
#11 – FALLS CREEK, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA
By Amy Chung @ Family Globetrotters
Many travellers don’t associate alpine skiing with Australia. Known for its beaches and even desert, it certainly isn’t considered to be a popular destination for snow. Unknown to many, Olympic sportsmen and women train in the Southern Hemisphere when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
On our recent trip to Falls Creek, we were caught in an unprecedented thunder snow storm. I didn’t even know what that meant until it unleashed itself upon us and it shut down the mountain. No one was allowed up or down the mountain and everyone returned to their accommodation or cars.
We on the other hand, decided to head to the back of the slopes for a bit of tobogganing with the kids. Oh my…. did we have fun! With snow pounding down on our faces, we sled down the powdered slopes, hand snowball fights and made the best snow angels. It was such a magical few hours of family time as I watched my daughter catch snowflakes on her eyelids. Truly one of the best snow holidays we have ever had.
#12 – ICE SKATING IN PARIS, FRANCE
By Clare Dewey @ Epic Road Rides
Paris is a beautiful city at any time of year, but in Winter it’s particularly gorgeous, full of stunning Christmas lights and immaculately curated shop windows. Paris epitomises winter city breaks and for those who live close by, you’re all incredibly lucky!
However, one of the nicest Christmas traditions in Paris, and one we didn’t really know about beforehand, is ice-skating. Each year, pop up ice rinks appear all over the city and taking to the ice becomes one of the must-do Christmas activities for Parisian families.
If you want a spectacular view while you’re gliding, check out the pop-up rink at the top of Galeries Lafayette (but note the rink is very small and not real ice). You’ll get a brilliant view of the Eiffel Tower. There’s also a larger rink on the top of the Grande Arche at La Defense. That’s a good option if you think you might also like to make use of the sky bar and enjoy a glass or two before or after the ice skating.
Another very popular choice with Parisians, is the world’s largest ice rink inside Le Grand Palais. This is an incredible place to skate, under the huge glass ceiling. Unfortunately, it’s due to be shut from 2020 for renovation for a few years ahead of the Olympics, but undoubtedly it will be back, post face-lift, and continue to be an absolutely incredible place to ice skate and enjoy the winter festivities in Paris.
#13 – SNOWMOBILING IN SVALBARD, NORWAY
By Megan C. Starr @ Megan Starr
If you’re wanting the ultimate winter wonderland experience, try snowmobiling at the top of the world! Svalbard is an archipelago of islands high above the Arctic in Norway. The world’s northernmost settlement is on Svalbard and the largest island, Spitsbergen, is where you’ll find most of the tourist action up there. One thing people don’t realize about Svalbard is that humans are not the number one species on the island… the polar bear reigns king up there. There are more polar bears than people on Svalbard.
Consequently, renting a snowmobile in Svalbard is a challenge without proper permission to carry around a weapon in case of an attack by a polar bear, and a regular tourist is not granted such permission. Fortunately, there are many Svalbard snowmobile tours that exist, allowing travelers to experience the epic landscapes in a unique manner. You can join a snowmobile tour that will take you to the Russian mining settlement of Barentsburg, the second-largest settlement in Svalbard. In addition, you can take snowmobile tours that let you cruise the wilderness with a chance to spot a polar bear and other wildlife. One of the most popular snowmobile tours, however, are the ones that allow you to witness the northern lights in Svalbard.
If you’re searching for an unforgettable winter activity, definitely head to Svalbard during the colder months and join a snowmobile excursion.
#14 – ICE CAVES IN JOKULSARLON, ICELAND
By Claire @ ZigZag On Earth
If you are lucky to be traveling around Iceland in Winter, one of the highlights of your trip will most probably be visiting natural ice caves.
After an off-road drive in a giant 4WD, you will be able to enter a glacier and discover what lies below the surface. Some of the caves are blue because of the compression of the ice. These are the most sought-after caves. I agree that the light, the sparkle and the shapes created by water are magnificent.
But there is another type of ice caves that I find even more fascinating: the black ones. This is where the “land fire and ice” takes all its sense, where volcano ashes have meshed with the water. The overall look is completely different but if you take the time to focus on the details in the ice, you will be surprised. The surface is like a shiny stone with drawings inside.
Plus, the experience is unique, as the caves disappear each year and they are looking for new ones at the beginning of each season.
Most of the ice cave tours in Iceland depart from Jokulsarlon on the South Coast. It is over 5h drive from the capital Reykjavik. Don’t forget to book in advance because seats are limited, and the activity is popular.
#15 – WINTER FAMILY TRAVEL IN POLAND
By Bec Wyld @ Wyld Family Travel
There are so many places people travel to in winter and Poland is our little hidden gem for this time of year. We have spent 2 winters now in this part of the world and it is one of the best winter vacations for families.
It is lively and snow always seems to be in abundance especially as you are gliding through it in a horse-drawn carriage. My birthday is on Christmas Day and because Christmas is celebrated on the 24th in Poland I have been able to celebrate my actual birthday there in style. Our friends have organised the sleigh ride for me both times. We catch the sleigh at our closest town and pile in the back. The horses take us all the way to a snow-covered field where we cook sausages by the open fire, drink ghulwein and play in the falling snow.
Both times just when we think it won’t snow we have been lucky to have it fall on us as we are playing in the field. Watching snowflakes fall on us was amazing, even if our friends thought we were totally mad with all of our excitement!
Being Australian snow is not something we come across often, especially at Christmas time and having this experience with our friends is something we will never forget.
#16 – ICE FISHING IN LAPLAND, FINLAND
By Diana @ Travels in Poland
Lapland is a region in Finland that is in the northernmost part of the country. It is a great destination for families who want to experience cold weather in a beautiful location. The winters in Finland can be heavy with snow, cold and the natural beauty of the Finnish countryside. Finland has an abundance of winter activities that are pure wanderlust. Ice fishing is one of these.
Ice fishing in Finland can be done alone, or it is done with a tour operator which is highly recommended as they know good locations for fishing and are experienced in this area. Finding a reliable tour company in Lapland is very easy as many cities have websites with companies listed on their sites.
Ice fishing can be done with the entire family, including small children and even babies (if they are dressed properly). The best way to prepare is to ensure you have the proper winter clothing, though many tour operators will have additional outerwear on hand (not for babies). The experience of ice fishing across the Finnish landscape is amazing, with trees, snow, and the winter sun always seemingly in a sunset phase as the winters see short days. Sitting out on the ponds and lakes is peaceful as you wait for a fish to catch through the hole.
#17 – MOSCOW FAMILY TRAVEL, RUSSIA
By Helen @ Holiday From Hels
You might think visiting Moscow in February is an unusual family holiday plan, but in reality it is the perfect time to go on a snow holiday to this whipped cream winter wonderland.
The golden onion-dome topped buildings of Kitay Gorod glint in the winter sun and dollops of snow provide the visual icing on the cake. Not only does the sparkling snow add to the magic of the scenery, it creates a snowy theme park right in the middle of the city. By the banks of the frozen Moskva River, is Gorky Park where you can try your hand at snow tubing and ice skating in one of Europe’s largest rinks. The skating route comprises a maze of the park’s frozen pathways, lit by huge neon installations and fringed with café bars. Disco tunes fill the air.
Strolling knee deep in snow around the city is a fun activity in its own right. As Russia is fully geared up for snow, everything is still open in spite of the weather. Explore the world-famous gold-frescoed Metro stations and discover Moscow’s many attractions, from the Russian crown jewels and Lenin’s embalmed body to the spectacular St Basil’s Cathedral. Parade past tombs of former presidents lined up along the Kremlin walls and pop into Moscow Zoo where, you will find the arctic foxes in their element. This is the ultimate winter city break!
#18 – DIAMOND BEACH, JOKULSARLON LAGOON, ICELAND
By Jacquie Hale @ Flash Packing Family
Iceland has earned itself the nickname of the Land of Fire and Ice and during the winter months, ice is exactly what you’ll get.
We hired a car in Iceland and drove to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon ourselves which was a much more manageable way to do it with kids. The day trips departing from Reykjavik last around 15 hours and are hugely expensive. With the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon being one of the top sights in Iceland, it can get very busy so we would recommend getting there before 10 am.
The lagoon itself is stunning with several large icebergs floating past you. You’ll be able to see these all year round but the Diamond Beach right next to it is something you’ll only be able to see in winter. The icebergs from the lagoon break up as they start to float out to sea and leave smaller blocks of ice behind. These wash up on the shore and each one looks like an ice sculpture. The kids can climb on these larger blocks of ice and play hide and seek.
These blocks of ice then break up into even smaller chunks of ice. The effect of the small chunks of ice glittering on the black sand beach on a sunny day is simply stunning. They really do look like diamonds and it’s a truly unique sight.
#19 – NORTHERN LIGHTS IN TROMSO, NORWAY
By Kathryn Bird @ Wandering Bird
If you’re looking for an incredible winter experience, you have to see the Northern Lights.
It’s impossible to describe the feeling of standing outside, the cold freezing your cheeks as you stare in total awe at the colours swirling above your head. The first time we saw them was an accident. We were out of season and they were earlier than expected.
The second time was most definitely planned. Now, the Northern lights are never guaranteed, but there are several locations where the chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Europe are highly likely in winter.
One of these places is Tromso, in Norway. We spent 4 magical days in the area and were lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis for 3 of those 4 nights. Yeah- we didn’t sleep much. It’s possible to fly directly into Tromso from many places across Europe, including London, so it’s a fairly easy place to get to for a weekend or short winter break. There are also plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants for you to enjoy during your stay.
TOP TIP: If you can, book a tour or find a way of getting out of the city, in order to see the spectacle at its finest. Light pollution dulls the colours, although it is definitely still possible to see the lights shimmering above the city without leaving your hotel room. But watching them while standing on a quiet mountainside in the dark, with the snow muffling all sounds and sipping a mug of hot chocolate was quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced.
What epic winter wonderland experiences do you have fond memories of? We would love to hear them and to add to list!
BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES
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