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Chasing the Snow Queen – Exploring white winter vacations across the world

 There is a legend, that once upon a time, a beautiful fairy, the Snow Queen, lived on the highest and most solitary peaks of the Alps. The mountain folk and shepherds climbed to the summits to admire her. Everyone fell head over heels in love with her 

– Hans Christian Anderson from the Snow Queen

Legend also has it that when the Snow Queen sheds a tear, which is a very, very rare incident, the tears fell to the ground as a silvery star. This was the first Edelweiss, the flower that grows only on the highest peaks of the Alps.

With mystical legends such as these, magical snow-capped peaks, and beauty that would melt even the iciest of all hearts, winter holiday destinations such as the Switzerland and Austria captured the world’s fascination. When Julie Andrews sang a song that celebrated the beauty of the lovely Edelweiss flower ( recall Sound of Music?), the world again watched with awe at the blue skies and the snowy mountains.

Then came the traveller, who decided to break the routine of armchair travel and actually head to these destinations during the winter season.

For a very long time, holidays in India meant summer vacations and long train journeys. One would eagerly anticipate the fun of meeting numerous cousins gathered at a grand mum’s place and a whole lot of fun and food. Feel a wave of nostalgia sweeping over you? Shake yourself out of that and take a cut to the present: Indians are everywhere. All over the world – from Machu Pichu to the Swiss Alps. Cosy family vacations are now the hottest selfie spot trips and winter holidays seem to have become a favourite!

At Pickyourtrail, we love watching the trends in travel and how the bucket lists of our travellers are changing. There is an increasing set of tourists who are now exploring destinations outside India, not just in summer but in winter too! Starting with Dussehra and Christmas vacations, many travellers from India are loving the idea of a white winter vacation. On the same note, here’s the wish list of all of us at Pickyourtrail for the coming year. 

Where are Indian travellers headed to in winter?

In 2016, popular winter destinations for our travellers included Switzerland, France, Japan, Sweden, Iceland, Czech Republic and Austria. Of course, there were a set of people who travelled in winter time but chose warmer locations like Australia or Cambodia.

India's favourite winter spots
Where Indians travelled to in winter. Source: Tourism boards of respective countries

Winter Tourism is seeing a steady growth

Last year, nearly 25% of travellers going on international vacations at Pickyourtrail, chose October to December. This number according to our knowledge base, has gone up by at least 4 times from 2015.

When we looked up India Tourism’s data, we found our growth patterns in winter tourism are mirrored in the larger context too. Across three years, from 2013 to 2015, there has been a steady growth in Indians travelling abroad during the winter months of September to December.

India Outbound tourism in winter
India Outbound tourism Growth trends in Winter travellers

10 most popular winter holiday destinations

As winter approaches, the Snow Queen throws her white cape around some of her favourite parts of the world. Here’s the drill down on where to go and what to do.

1. New York

New York in winter is not just about Christmas. It is about snow and scarves, of mind-boggling store displays and pleasantly jostling crowds, hot chocolate and people-watching. But that aside, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is the world’s most famous one. New Yorkers pride themselves on this Christmas centerpiece that gets even the locals ogling at it alongside the tourists.

Did we mention the midnight ice skating at Central Park’s iconic rink? Talking of Central Park, here’s another reason why should place this on top of your bucket list, especially if you are a movie buff. More than 20 movies including Serendipity, Spiderman 3, Friends with benefits, were shot here. New York is the best bet for the city slickers winter vacation!

To start with, take this Google’s Window wonderland Virtual Tour that showcases New York’s winter magic. 

2. Amsterdam

Gezellig is the word to describe Amsterdam in winter. The word is the Dutch equivalent for all things cozy and warm. There’s something special about Amsterdam in the winter months that gives one the ‘gezellig’ feeling. It’s almost as if the fairies have descended on the city and spread their magical dust around. Amsterdam transforms into a picture postcard with its pretty houses and sloping roofs that wear a white veil of snow. With such beauty around, there is no way that you could go wrong with a photograph in this place!

Amsterdam in Winter
Image credit – flickr.com

The annual Amsterdam light festival happens in the winter months, and every landmark in town gets a new look with lights. Not just fairy lights, but the most enchanting creations that you could ever witness. And now we get to the Christmassy part – Amsterdam has some of the best ever Christmas markets in the world! Read: Mouthwatering food, great shopping and home-made Dutch specialties like Oliebollen.

Need more reason to go the Amsterdam way? Sinterklaas or the Dutch Santa comes to town much earlier than anywhere else. Start planning your December now!

3. Germany

Yes, we did not mention Cologne or Berlin only, but the whole of Germany. There’s so much to see and do in this country during winters, that it would be unfair to just suggest just one city. Germany in winter is like a snow globe, the little toy that represents all things nice and wintery.

Germany in Winter
Image credit – flickr.com

To begin with, there are more than 10 Christmas markets to visit! Then there is Gluhwein – the warm, spice-scented mulled wine that makes the world seem wonderful and a new meaning to life! When you have mulled wine, how can you not have Germany’s famous gingerbread? After all this food, what better than to take a pleasant walk (adequately clad and booted) in the pine forests of Germany. You can’t go wrong with selfies here, the snow-clad trees will make it picture perfect.

You may like to experiment with these quirky cocktails from around the world (recipes included!)

Mulled wine
Image credit – flickr.com

Checkout out the beautiful Cologne’s Cathedral – all decked up for Christmas. The Germans really know how to get it right! While you are at it, go on a binge fest as well – the Cologne waffle is simply to die for, so also is the apple cake. Now for some action – ice skating in a renovated coal mine that is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Puzzled? The Zeche Zollverein is an abandoned coal mine that has been converted into a museum and ice skating rink. That’s plenty of reasons to get Germany on your winter wishlist. 

We’ve even listed down 13 MUST do’s in Germany – don’t miss these! Even better is this itinerary that you can tweak around till you get to where you want to go.

4. Finland

Northern Lights. The Santa Claus Village. Snow Sledding. Finnish Sauna.

That’s just a small summary of the essence of Finland if you are wondering why we would recommend this icy-cold country during winter. While winter is cold in Finland, it is also a time when the magic of the snow queen is at its peak and the Northern Lights spring across the sky in a myriad of colours.

Northern lights in Finland, winter
Image credit – flickr.com

If you are visiting around Christmas, you are in for an added bonus – the Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi. The story is that this is the actual village where Santa hails from and every year people visit his home.

The capital city of Helsinki gets lit up and is vibrant with cultural events, theatre and more. Did you know that Finland has more than 80 museums and galleries that come alive in winter? And of course, where’s the fun without shopping you may ask. The capital has plenty of shopping centres, unique boutiques and market halls that open up ahead of Christmas.

Santa Claus Village, Finland during Christmas
Image credit – flickr.com

Do remember: September to early December is great to go if you want to catch the Northern lights. Book in advance for the Santa village visit, Santa generally has loads of visitors! We even have the perfect Finland itinerary here for you! 

5. Italy

Winter in Italy is something not everyone does. A reason why you should start thinking the Italian way – Veni, Vedi, Amavi. We assure you, it will be love at first sight when you see Italy, just like how our traveller Kashmira Chawak describes in her story. Different parts of the country experience varying degrees of cold – Rome and Naples have the mildest winters in Italy. So when the cold in other cities gets to you, you could just head South.

Winter in Italy, Christmas in Vatican
Image credit – flickr.com

Across Italy, winter means early sunsets and romantic nights. All Italian cities light up their historic monuments at night so you can enjoy the best of the country, with the least crowds. Winters are also a great time for catching the best of Italian culture, set in the most architecturally perfect theatres. Did you know that the Colosseum’s uppermost levels are now open to the public, the bird’s eye view from the world’s most favoured landmark is possible! 

Colosseum Christmas Tree, Italy in winter
Image credit – flickr.com

The Venice Carnival that is held in the latter part of January is also a huge draw for people from across the world. And how can we forget, Christmas in Rome is the most authentic celebration ever, with the Vatican decked up at its glorious best. You know the saying – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, this is when the most famous Italian brands announce their discounts, so go on and bag that Gucci or Prada that you always had an eye on. 

Eyeing Italy for the next vacation, here’s an itinerary to start with. Once you’ve seen the staples, you should check out these un-packaged destinations in Italy. Thank us later!

6. France

Let’s start with Paris. This city is called the City of Light and it strives hard to live up to the name, especially in the winter months. When the mantle of snow covers the city, it stands out by lighting itself in the most brilliant manner ever. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is an iconic Christmas time landmark, with its avenue lit up gracefully and a huge Christmas market alongside. Talking of shopping, here is a shopping list that we’ve made for you. 

Paris in winter, Champs Elysee At Christmas
Image credit – flickr.com

In the month of December however, France’s second largest city, Lyon beats Paris at its own game. Lyon’s Festival of lights has its buildings vying for attention with homes that are lit up with the most spectacular lighting installations.

France is also home to some of the largest ski resorts in the world, that cater to both beginners and the pros. Sip on a Vin Chaud or spiced wine and walk through the oldest Christmas market in France, the Strasbourg market. This will be a vacation to remember!

7. Switzerland

Wondering if we forgot the queen of all winter destinations? How could we miss out the winter wonderland that this country is?! To start with, ensure that you are ready to beat the cold as it can go down to the negatives in December. Switzerland has everything one would want from a white winter – snow, skiing, chocolate, cheese and Christmas markets.

Switzerland
Image credit – flickr.com

Take the Bernina Express that starts at Davos for a scenic journey that gives you the best landscapes of Switzerland. Do snow-laden slopes get snow ski into your mind? Head to St.Moriz or Davos if you want to launch those skis. Switzerland has slopes that are great for beginners as well as the pros. End your skiing adventure with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and some fabulous scenery from the Swiss Alps.

Switzerland train
Image credit – flickr.com

Having come to the country of chocolates, a must do is the visit to one of the world’s best chocolate factories. Watch how your favourite slab of sin is manufactured, and pack some for home too. For a unique experience, go dog sledding with the huskies and take a pic with the adorable St.Bernard dogs. If you are in time for Christmas, do visit the special markets at Interlaken, Lausanne or any of the other 10 places that these winter spectacles pop up at.

Do Remember: Mid October to December is a good time to visit. Switzerland goes into maintenance mode in before that where all their trains and cable cars are given a run through. Here’s an itinerary that we’d recommend that includes the famous chocolate train journey!

8. Japan

The snow queen is particularly kind to Japan, we think. Japan’s winter is an extremely cold one, but one of the whitest and beautiful as winters go. Cities like Tokyo and Osaka have sunny, white winters with moderate snowfall. So if you are of a sunny disposition, then we suggest these two places would be great to head to. The Northern parts of Japan are where the skiing happens and these are marvellous too.

Japan in winter
Image credit – flickr.com

Japan’s snow monkeys are something of a phenomenon. Don’t leave without visiting them at the hot springs of Yudanaka. This quaint town is home to the Onsen or natural hot springs of Japan and also to the Jigokudani monkey park. Warm your chilled bones in the hot springs while the Japanese macaques entertain you with the snowball throwing games. You’ll have a new definition of ‘cute’ before you leave here.

Japan's snow monkeys
Image credit – flickr.com

If you are a wild-life lover, Japan has more in store for you. The country’s unique Red-crowned crane perform their exquisitely choreographed mating dance at Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary.

Winter is also the best time to get the most picturesque views of Mt.Fuji or Fuji-san, as Japanese refer to it fondly. The best place to view would be Lake Kawaguchi, which is a picturesque lake that has a viewing platform.  Before you pack your bags, don’t forget to down a bottle of warm sake. It’s sure to leave a warm, lingering impression of your Japanese vacation. Here’s what you could ideally fit in on a 7 day trip to Japan

9. Austria

We are going to throw another lovely word at you – Gemütlichkeit. That is Austria’s winters for you in one word – cozy as can be. Brings a smile to your face? Visiting this country in winter is sure to make you a happy being! For the records, we are going to show you how Austria is more than just ski country.

Halstatt in winter, Austria
Image credit – Hallstatt Village, flickr.com

Start your Austrian adventure with Hallstatt – the prettiest village in the world. Yes, it’s a village with less than 1000 people living in it. Hallstatt is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Go on next to Innsbruck, the magical city that has the best of history, cuisine and what most people queue up for – the cable car ride that shows the panoramic view of the city. In the mood for an adrenalin rush? Try Tobogganing in the snow and discover the kid inside you!

Salzburg, Austria on a winter afternoon
Image credit – flickr.com

Now for some quaint charm – Salzburg’s busy lanes may see the Christmas crowds, but by no means does it reduce its allure.Gaze at the Christmas decor, and stop by for some Lebkuchen and Gluhwein (spiced cookies and mulled wine). If you find that your feet are tired by this time, don’t give up on Austria yet. Take up a Segway and zoom around exploring to the fullest. End your day on a high note – with a glass of Austrian flavoured Schnapps.

Here’s a tip:  Combine your Austrian adventure with a visit to its European neighbours such as Prague or Budapest – equally great winter destinations. This is what our traveller Sandhya did and she wrote about it too! 

10. United Kingdom

It’s last on our list, but definitely not the least preferred of winter destinations, the United Kingdom makes for a lovely winter vacation. From cozy countryside stays, exploring historic bylanes and pubs or walks in forests to the Christmas markets, the UK has it all.

London city view
Image credit – Flickr.com

The city lover is bound to love the London that he sees in winter – cultural activities and museum shows, ice skating around the magnificent Winchester Cathedral and the best of food that you can imagine. Take a tour of London’s most famous film shooting locations or explore some Dan Brown-ish history in the 13the century, English headquarters of the Knights Templar. 

Glencoe, Scotland
Image credit – flickr.com

Tired of the city? Take a scenic train ride over to Scotland and revel in the pastures of heaven. At the Isle of Islay, enter true blue whiskey country – with eight distilleries to visit, you may get a bit tipsy by the end of the day! Hop over to Glasgow next to imbibe some Scottish culture and great architecture.

Do remember: Plenty of festivals to revel in if you are visiting around December or January

Winter Wishlist: Festivals and events around the world

Winter brings with it festive cheer and a Joie de vivre that resonates across the world. Call it the Yuletide spirit or festival of lights, the world turns into a happening place all of a sudden. There’s plenty to do, see and shop. Wondering where to start? Start planning your winter wishlist based on these events from across the world.

1. Christmas Markets

 November to January

 Across the world

Christmas Market, Estonia
Image credit – flickr.com

Every year, every European country vies with its neighbour to get ahead in the race for the best Christmas markets. Every travel blogger worth his salt brings out a list of his/her top favourite markets. There are even awards for the best Christmas markets! It’s become quite a tradition that the Dresden Striezelmarkt breaks records for the best in its line. Largest Stollen cakes, more than 100 events on its program list and endless food stalls make it a popular choice. So, Germany it is you think? Hold on, go through the whole list of Christmas markets that we’ve pulled together for you.

2. Amsterdam Light Festival

November to January

 Amsterdam city

From November to January, Amsterdam wears a very different look – a dressed up city is what it is. The Amsterdam Light Festival is now a much looked forward to tradition by both locals and visitors. With more than 1800 artists from over 90 countries, the festival’s innovative ideas get the city sparkling and has put it on every traveller’s bucket list.

Know more: https://amsterdamlightfestival.com/

3. Celtic Connections

 January 18 – February 4th

 Across 20 venues in Glasgow, UK

Glasgow’s annual winter music festival is a celebration of different forms of music – Folk, Roots, World Music, Jazz and more. The festival tries to connect Celtic music to cultures from around the world. Every year, artists from everywhere collaborate and bring together more than 300 events of music.

Know more: http://www.celticconnections.com/

4. New York Wine and Chocolate festival

 November 2017 to January 13

 New York

Created by a private organizer, the New York Wine and Chocolate festival is not just one, but a series of events held across the state to celebrate wine and food. The festival started out more than a decade ago with the Taste of Syrcruse that celebrated the finest food of the region. This year, it is held in the last week of November at the New York State Fairgrounds where wineries from all over the state will display their finest wines. The Rochester festival follows in January where again wine and chocolate come together along with the best boutiques in the state.

Know more: https://wineandchocolatefestivals.com/

5. The Venice Carnival

January end – Feb middle

 Venice

Do we even need to talk about the grand spectacle that is the Venice Carnival?! Well, we do. The carnival gives the country a much needed respite from the dreary winters and brings back colours and cheer. The annual festival is held a month before Easter and sees a humongous crowd thanks to its popularity.

There’s plenty for the onlooker here. From the masked pageant that hits the streets to various events that take place in the Arsenale at Venice. Arsenale is the city’s history old shipyard that lends a quaint charm to the carnival. The huge yard is lit up much like a disco and hosts theatre, street plays and music concerts by bands. There is also a kids carnival that is held here. The best costume gets a fantastic prize – a zipline ride across St. Mark’s square.

Pick a weekday if you want to avoid crowds, but if you want an action packed adventure, choose the final weekend of the carnival. Walk the streets, take in the elaborate and dramatic scenes on the roads and of course take pictures. A no-brainer, don’t forget to get home a mask!

6. Fête des Lumières

 7th to 10th December

 Lyon, Paris

The Fête des Lumières has a religious significance to it: the residents of Lyon light candles for the Virgin Mary who stands at Fourviere hill overlooking the city. But over the course of the years, the festival has become a three-night extravaganza where artists light up buildings, parks, landmarks across the city. The light installations create a magical feeling and bring in millions of visitors from all over the world.

What else to do in Lyon you ask? Take a walk through the Renaissance quarters of old Lyon, districts like Saint-Paul and St-Jean that once housed the elitist population of Europe. Cycle around and discover the different sides of the city. If you are a history buff, Lyon has some marvellous heritage that can be seen in the ruins of the Gallo Roman Theatre. When you are finally beat, explore Lyon’s gastronomy – the city has restaurants, food workshops and plenty more for the foodie in you.

7. Sapporo Snow Festival

 February 1st week

 Hokkaido, Japan

Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan
Image credit – flickr.com

The Sapporo Snow Festival is the cherry blossom festival of Japan’s winter. The winter celebrations at this festival start with ice sculptures of a size that are simply astounding. For the whole week, all the open spaces and street corners of the city are filled with giant snow sculptures. There are toboggan rides, games and more for people of all age groups. Sounds fun?

Why travelling in winter is a good idea

Winter is when the world hibernates. Or so you thought. Winter is when countries go out of their way to pull themselves out of the bleak weather. Winter is when the world looks a lot different, a whole new perspective to your travel story. Reasons to head out on a white winter vacation include a good many little to big things. 

We know of these, do you know more? Tell us in the comments section below. 

There’s snow! What more would you want?

Cheaper flights. Yess!

Best budget stays.

Great food. The best of Christmas produce comes out in winter

Most mesmerizing festivals that will get you to explore the best of the country.

For all those who thought that winter was made for warm blankets and books, we think you need to catch up with the times. Winter is the time for vacations! Chase the Snow Queen on her wintery trail and head out on an awe-inspiring winter vacation. Here’s where you stop reading and start planning

 


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