There’s no reason to hibernate when new adventures await on every continent. From fat snow biking in the Tetons to rumbling across Aruba by Jeep, our editor’s list of 10 best winter trip destinations—plus a bonus “Reader’s Choice”—includes unexpected ideas for both snowbound and sun-splashed vacations.
For centuries, the indigenous Sami people have traveled with their herds of reindeer across the Sápmi region (commonly referred to as Lapland), which comprises the northernmost regions of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. Here, above the Arctic Circle, snow can last for 200 days, making reindeer sled, snowmobile, and skis the preferred modes of transportation. Experience the frosty thrill of gliding through the snow-covered forest in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at northern Finland’s Jaakkola Reindeer Farm. Located near Luosto in the Finnish province of Lapland, the family-owned farm offers a variety of reindeer safaris and tours led by English-speaking guides. Many tours include opportunities to feed the reindeer, learn about reindeer husbandry, and warm up with coffee and pastries (or cook sausage over an open fire) in a kota, or herder’s hut. November to February, the farm’s four-hour evening sleigh-ride excursion for two (adults only) includes the possibility of an enchanting bonus: the watercolor glow of the northern lights illuminating the sky, ice, and snow.
EMBRACE WINTER AT MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, MONTREAL, CANADA, FEBRUARY 19-MARCH 1
Montreal is at its most magical blanketed in snow. Bundle up, get outside, and celebrate winter at the 16th Montréal en Lumière, the city’s biggest winter arts, music, and food festival. The eclectic lineup includes live music, theater, and dance performances; dazzling pyrotechnics and light shows; and circus acts, children’s activities, and dance parties, plus ice sliding and ice-skating. Mixed in are fine-dining events pairing top Montreal chefs and over 50 city restaurants with culinary masters from the United States and Switzerland, the festival’s featured country for 2015. Save some energy for the final night’s Nuit Blanche à Montréal, a dusk-to-dawn party packed with more than 200 indoor and outdoor activities. Most events are free, and some are held under the stars or, if you’re lucky, the lightly falling snow.
The Czech city of Plzeň, or Pilsen, is one of two 2015 European Capitals of Culture (the other being Mons, Belgium). To kick off the yearlong Plzen 2015 calendar of cultural activities, special exhibits, and visual and performing arts events, the city is hosting a colossal opening ceremony on January 17. Join one of five celebratory processions into the old town’s Republic Square, where you can watch performances by Swiss tightrope walker David Dimitri and other acrobats and see medieval buildings transformed by high-powered projection and cutting-edge audiovisual effects into canvases of light and sound. You’ll also hear the four bells of the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral ring for the first time since World War II, when the original bells were melted down by occupying Nazi forces. The opening ceremony marks the beginning of Pilsen’s circus season (January-November), when world-class circus performances are staged in tents erected throughout the city.
Winter passengers on The Canadian , VIA Rail Canada’s iconic train linking Toronto to the Pacific Coast, are treated to spectacularly dramatic views of the snow-covered Canadian Rockies. To stay and play (on snowshoes, skis, or skates, and by dogsled and sleigh) in the mountains, join Fresh Track Canada’s Rockies Rails Winter Wonderland tour. This small-group trip includes a two-day, one-night train ride; hotel stays in Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff; a Maligne Canyon ice walk and Icefields Parkway scenic drive; and a heli-tour of Banff National Park. “It’s such a thrill to fall asleep by rail and then, in the morning, draw back the curtains and realize you are in the heart of the mountains,” says Katherine Foxcroft, a Fresh Tracks Canada product manager who has taken the trip. “Mountains rise up around you and, even as a native, I was blown away by how thickly the snow hangs on the branches. You really are in the ‘land of a million Christmas trees.’”
WITNESS THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY MIGRATION, MEXICO
Following a nearly 3,000-mile flight path established at least 10,000 years ago, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate south from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada each fall to winter breeding colonies in central Mexico. January through March, butterflies blanket the forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage site, which includes four butterfly sanctuaries: El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, Cerro Pellon, and Piedra Herrada. Conservation concerns, including habitat deforestation, pesticide use, and climate change, threaten the monarch’s survival, making now the time to witness the migration and promote awareness of the reserve. “It’s a moving experience to be surrounded by tens of millions of butterflies and see 10,000 of them at a time bursting off an Oyamel fir tree like fireworks,” says Natural Habitat Adventures conservation travel specialist Court Whelan, who leads treks into the monarch breeding grounds. “The more people who see this, know about this, and care about this, the more financial and regulatory support there will be to ensure the monarch migration continues for millennia to come.”