Vacation isn’t just for summer, that’s for sure. Although July and August might win out as the most popular months to leave your cares behind, winter getaways can provide the respite—or excitement—you need from the exhaustion that comes from making merry over the holidays.
Our glorious globe is full of winter wonders and frosty escapes that are delightfully magical. From sleeping on a bed carved from ice, or bathing in bright blue hot waters as you watch the Aurora Borealis, winter-themed vacations can be awe-inspiring. Whether you need a break on a beach or a break from reality, I’ve put together a few of my winter favorites for both your daydreaming and planning pleasure.
Whether it’s for a family vacation or a bachelorette party (you’ve been warned: things can get a bit wild and crazy on this island), Iceland is a breathtakingly beautiful and adventurous destination that is less than six hours from the East Coast.
During winter, Iceland is cloaked in nearly 24 hours of darkness, which makes for easy viewing of the magical Aurora Borealis, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Climb a glacier, visit both frozen and flowing waterfalls, or stay put in Reykjavik for some of the most flavorful and adventurous cuisine in Europe (when you add whale and puffin to a menu, things are bound to get interesting).
Visitors can also ride the famed Icelandic horses—the only horses left in the world with five gaits. Then, take a dip in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon—one of the 25 wonders of the world—and climb the icy, steep slopes of the mountains that are said to have inspired J.R. Tolkein’s fabled Lord of the Rings imagery.
If you’re trying to stick to a budget…just, don’t. Iceland is pricey. With an almost 50 percent tax on alcohol, those looking to save money must commit to teetotaling for the duration of your stay. On the flip side, winter is considered the off-season, so hotels and flights are affordable. And, if you book before 11/22/15 via Splender and through Hotels.com, you’ll receive 7% cash back—I’m particularly fond of this charming ice igloo resort—which will give you enough moolah for a few rounds of Iceland’s infamous liquor of choice: The Black Death.
Seriously. It’s called the Black Death. ‘Nuff said.
Ever sleep on a bed carved of ice? How about snoozed in a room that hovers around -5 degrees Celsius? I’m guessing most likely not. But…you can!
Hop a lovely SAS flight to the delightfully designed city of Stockholm, and spend a few days taking in the gorgeous architecture and numerous museums, including the Vasa (voted one of the world’s best), the Spritmuseum for lovers of Swedish beer and the uniquely Swedish schnapps and, of course, the ABBA museum, which is tricked-out with interactive karaoke and dance exhibits.
Then, head north until you reach Jukkasjärvi, located about 200 kilometers above the Arctic Circle. Here you will find a hotel carved from ice and snow on the banks of one of Europe’s last wild rivers.
Every year, about 50 artists and architects build what is truly an art exhibit from “snice,” a combination of snow and ice from and around the Torne River. In the spring, it all melts away as the river thaws and temperatures rise. Neither the hotel design nor the art exhibits are the same from year to year.
If all of this sounds terribly chilly and more like torture than adventure, think again! ICEHOTEL provides you with a survival course and an insulated sleeping bag meant to keep you toasty and warm. The next morning, you’ll awake to piping-hot lingonberry juice, followed by a sauna designed to invigorate and warm your insides. Then, you can complete your Nordic vacation in the main building where the rooms come complete with those amazingly soft and comfortable Swedish duvets and—even better—heat!
Other activities include lessons on ice sculpting, views of the Aurora Borealis, snowmobiling, ice fishing and cross-country skiing.
Queenstown, New Zealand
It’s not a destination you frequently hear about, but that’s an utter shame given everything this spectacular New Zealand city has to offer. It might be a bit further than you’d normally like to travel, but with great deals and double cash back (until 11/22/15) through Splender on Expedia, Orbitz and Hotwire, you’ll be able to justify the longer flight.
A paradise for those with a zest for life, Queenstown not only boasts great wine, awesome sweater shopping, sheep spotting and stunning views, it also offers the added benefit of presenting SEVERAL opportunities to risk your life! You know, if you’re into that sort of thing when you’re on vacation?
A bustling seaport town, Vancouver is the perfect destination for people looking for a little adventure combined with relaxation. Take a drive north and hit the powdery slopes of the high-end Whistler resort or visit Grouse Mountain just 20 minutes outside the city.
Vancouver boasts an extremely diverse population, with cultural representation from all over the world. Experience the city’s ethnic variety and great cuisine during the Dine Out Vancouver festival hosted throughout the month of January and into February.
Are you sold yet? If so, Expedia is offering deals for travel to Vancouver through November. One word of advice, though: be sure to stock up on plenty of cold weather gear for all your adventuring. Luckily, I’ve got you covered in that area, too, with double cash back offers from retailers like Gander Mountain (starting on December 14), Sears and L.L. Bean (starting November 23).
I promise you’ll look more stylish than this.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
A list of winter getaways wouldn’t be complete without a warm beach destination. Located close to Cancun, Playa del Carmen offers a slower pace of life (read: fewer drunk college students). It’s perfect for families and couples looking for a relaxing, all-inclusive getaway.
Depending on the resort, you’ll find five-star dining, luxurious in-room hot tubs, private pools, and a slew of family or couple activities such as snorkeling, paddle boarding and, of course, spas!
Did I mention water so blue you start to wonder if the Mexican Tourism Department is secretly dyeing it? Playa del Carmen is one of my favorite winter escape destinations. (Note: stay away in the fall. Hurricane season gets rough). Groupon is offering all-inclusive deals to this tropical getaway and 7% cash back (through 11/22/15) to Splender users this holiday season.
So there you have it: five great getaways, for every distance, budget, desire, personality and state of mind! Bon voyage!