We often refer to winter as a season to be endured, but there's a certain magic to the cooler months. Leaves quiver in the icy breeze, powder-white snow carpets the landscape, and once-familiar towns are transformed into almost unrecognizable winter wonderlands. The chilly conditions might make you want to stay indoors and hibernate, but a few stunning destinations prove that winter is the best season to plan a vacation.
From husky-led snow safaris and cross-country skiing to wandering the intricate interior of a fairy-tale castle covered in snow, these travel locales come alive with a host of activities and events. Believe us, you've never seen the deserts of Sedona, the lakes of Banff National Park, or picturesque peaks surrounding Lake Bled like this before. Pack your scarf and gloves—your next winter vacation beckons. Keep scrolling to start planning a trip to one of these dreamy, snow-covered destinations.
If Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle looks familiar, that’s because it is. The breathtaking structure was the inspiration behind Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. As many as 6000 visitors flock to the attraction in summer, but in winter, it looks even more like a fairy-tale palace—minus the crowds. Located in southwest Bavaria, the turrets of the Romanesque Revival castle peek through snow-covered pine forest. Base yourself in a nearby town like Fussen or Hohenschwangau, and be sure to explore the surrounding area for a postcard-perfect shot of the castle nestled among the rolling Bavarian Alps.
It's about to get much easier to travel to Finland's northernmost region, Lapland. Due to increased demand, Finnair is set to increase capacity to Lapland this winter offering 430,000 seats. What's more, it's just a one-hour flight from the capital, Helsinki. During the winter months, Lapland is almost completely engulfed in darkness. That might sound like the makings of a fairly uneventful vacation if it weren't for the brilliant light display that casts rainbow hues across the dark sky. January, February, and March are the best months to see the aurora borealis, a natural phenomenon that occurs when electrons collide with the Earth's atmosphere. Cozy up in one of Lapland's gorgeous boutique hotels (Northern Lights Ranch's glass-ceiling rooms gets our top pick) after a day of dogsledding and reindeer rides at Levi Husky Park.
Yellowstone National Park
As many as 94% of Yellowstone's three million visitors flood the national park in summer, making fall and winter the perfect time to experience the breathtaking landscape without a selfie stick obstructing your view. Add Lamar Valley to your itinerary—the scenery is blanketed in snow, creating the ideal backdrop to spot a wild wolf or wander the silent wood trails in snowshoes. Venture to the National Elk Refuge in nearby Jackson to spot one of the largest elk herds on earth graze against the majestic white peaks of Grand Teton National Park.
The presidential election has drawn attention to the small but scenic country of Slovenia where first lady Melania Trump was born, catapulting it further into the travel limelight. The jewel of the country is Lake Bled, a picturesque town less than an hour's drive from the capital, Ljubljana. In July and August, the glistening lake teams with wooden rowboats and local children splashing in the shallows, but come winter, it undergoes a mesmerizing transformation. A true winter wonderland, Lake Bled becomes breathtakingly silent and still, punctured only by a medieval castle perched on an island at its center. Snow-sport fanatics should plan a trip to the Julian Alps, a lesser-known but equally beautiful resort region that rivals its Austrian neighbor.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park in Canada often features on lists of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural sites in the world, and it certainly doesn't disappoint in the cooler months. While many cold-climate destinations adopt an attitude that winter should be endured, Banff and Lake Louise come alive when the thermostat dips, with a monthlong Snow Days festival, ice skating, and cross-country skiing events. Be sure to add Moraine Lake to your must-see list—the glass-like water reflects the snowcapped Valley of Ten Peaks, creating a stunning mirror-like effect.
Quebéc's Mont-Tremblant is more than just a ski resort. The quaint town has mastered the après-ski scene, with lively bars, boutiques, and cafés to keep non-skiers busy all day. Spend time perusing the picturesque, colorful town to sample crêpes and poutine before visiting bustling bar Le P'tit Caribou to toast to the holidays. If you're planning a trip for the tail-end of winter, be sure to time it to coincide with Snow Polo Tremblant, a fabulous international polo tournament held in the snow March 2–4.
The common postcard shot of Sedona, Arizona, usually portrays a scorching dust-red landscape but for a few rare days in winter, the iconic mountains are dusted in a thin layer of snow. Even if you miss the awe-inspiring sight, there's still much to do in Sedona during winter. The climate is mild and the skies are usually startling blue with a few scattered clouds, making it the perfect place to wander trails, take a road trip, or marvel at millions of glinting stars in the clear night sky.
This story was originally published on January 8, 2018, and has since been updated.