The Best Winter Break Destinations
Whether planning around a break from school, or downtime from the office, winter is the perfect time (and the perfect excuse) to get out of the house and out into the world. For some, winter means it's time to hit the slopes; for others, it's an impetus to find some sun.
The holiday season is an enormously popular time to travel. In fact, Disney World gets its biggest crowds the six days in between Christmas and New Year's Day. Winter travel can accommodate weekend getaways not too far from home as well as distant, dreamy destinations for the long trip you've been planning for a lifetime.
Culture-heavy cities like London and Buenos Aires offer up the best the indoors can offer, with sublime museums, unforgettable restaurants, and luxurious hotels.
Farther flung locals, whether warm (say, the Galápagos) or cold (say, northern Norway), provide the opportunity to experience landscapes before unseen. Some sights can only be experienced in wintertime, like the magnificent Northern Lights, or Prague's charming Christmas markets, or Siem Reap's cool and dry temperatures, Marrakech's International Film Festival, or Nashville's annual "Christmas at the Ryman" show, or Charleston's Lowcountry Oyster Festival.
No matter what the endpoint, a change of scenery will do you good.
What to See: What else but the Taj Mahal? Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1643 as a mausoleum for his wife, it remains an unparalleled monument to romantic love. Cross this wonder of the world off your bucket list while you relax away from the hustle and bustle of nearby New Delhi. A tour guide is worth it: try booking with the hassle-free folks at Agra Day Tour.
Where to Stay: At the Mughal-inspired Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, the Taj Mahal is just a glance out the window.
What to See: The largest town in northern Norway, Alta is also a historic center of Sami (or Laplander) culture. Sometimes called “the Town of the Northern Lights” (the very first observatory dedicated to the phenomenon was built here), the town is a great jumping off point for dog sledding or snowmobile adventures.
Where to Stay: Though Alta is home to many fine accommodations, there is only one Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. The hotel is newly built every winter out of snow and ice—even the glasses you drink from and the beds you sleep on. With the help of reindeer hides, mattresses, and sleeping bags, it can still make for a very cozy night. Facilities that require some warmth—say the bathroom, or restaurant—are located in a traditionally heated building next door. Sauna is included.
What to Eat: Warm up with hearty Scandinavian meal at Du Verden Matbar.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
What to See: Enjoy the summer weather in Buenos Aires, a city famous for food, wine, and culture. Take a turn through the palatial El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Avenida Sante Fe 1860), a former theater turned bookshop, and pay homage to the city’s rich history of writers. Don’t forget the Museum de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, or MALBA, a must-see.
What to Eat: When in Argentina, eat steak. Steaks by Luis has you covered.
Charleston, South Carolina
What to See: Charleston, 2016's No. 1 city in the world, is rich in history. Walk through it with one of the superb guides from Gullah Tours and explore the city’s most evocative sites, from the home of slave rebellion leader Denmark Vesey to the sweetgrass market, where Charleston’s famous baskets are sold.
Where to Stay: Zero George finds the perfect balance of gourmet luxury and boutique charm. A ring of historic buildings in downtown Charleston, its red brick courtyard is cozy even in the dead of winter. With executive chef Vinson Petrillo running the kitchen (you may have seen him on Chopped), make sure you stay for the grub.
What to Eat: Try Poogan’s Porch for one of the best southern-style meals in Charleston. (Try the she-crab soup.) Plus it’s haunted, though unfortunately not by the dog for whom the restaurant was named and who is buried (complete with tombstone) in its front yard.
What to See: Charles Darwin’s inspiration for his theory of evolution, the Galápagos Islands, nearly 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, are wonders of biodiversity. Home to a staggering number of species that aren’t found anyplace else in the world, it’s both an inimitable and a fragile place to see wildlife.
Where to Stay: Though you can fly to one of the archipelago’s inhabited islands and take day trips by boat to wildlife preserves, it’s best to experience the Galápagos via a cruise ship, all of which are required to include a Park-certified naturalist guide. Boats, and therefore trips, vary. The sailboat Mary Anne recalls Darwin’s sloop, the HMS Beagle. Abercrombie & Kent’s Eclipse ensures cruise both comfortable and luxurious.
London, United Kingdom
What to See: Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel is a delightful twist on the traditional meal. And a literary one too—particularly appropriate considering the Sanderson’s hop-skip proximity from the British Library, where you can find an original copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.
Where to Stay: Step back in time at 45 Park Lane, a gorgeous reimagining of Art Deco London with all the latest amenities. Enjoy the high-tech shades that open the boutique hotel room’s giant windows onto Hyde Park, or pretend you’re a character in a Poirot-themed costume drama.
What to Eat: Browse the best London has to offer at Borough Market, just across the Thames from the Tower of London. Sample samosas from Gujarati Rasoi, or a cheese toastie (a.k.a. grilled cheese) from Kappacasein, tapas from Brindisa, and a cookie from Comptoir Gourmand.
What to See: A city of incredibly beauty, Marrakesh is full of works of artistic and natural wonder: the Jardin Majorelle and Bahia Palace among the finest examples. Take a dip in the one of the city’s many hammams, or public baths. Don’t miss the people watching of Jemma el-Fnaa, the city’s main square; the place earned a UNESCO designation due to its high concentration of storytellers, musicians, and performers.
Where to Stay: The gorgeously appointed Riad Hikaya puts you down in the royal quarter of the medina, also known as the Kasbah.
What to Eat: Amal is both a non-profit and a restaurant dedicated to empowering women. Good food and good work.
What to See: No trip to Music City would be complete without some country, whether you spend a night listening to live music at the Bluebird Café; tour RCA Studio B, where Elvis, Dolly Parton, and Roy Orbison all laid down tracks; or catch a taping of the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, also known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.”
What to Eat: Nashville hot chicken is, well, hot—in both senses of the word. Popping up on menus across the country and deliciously spicy, the original hot chicken is best found at Hattie B’s and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.
Prague, Czech Republic
What to See: Prague’s medieval downtown looks like a fairytale, and even more so until a light, winter’s dusting of snow. Immerse yourself in the old town, with stops at the Astronomical Clock, the Charles Bridge, and, across the river and up the hill, St. Vitus’s Cathedral.
Where to Stay: Set along a narrow cobblestone street, the soft pink facade of the Hotel Residence Agnes welcomes guests into a historic, and lovely, boutique hotel.
What to Eat: The Michelin-starred Alcron first opened its door in 1932 and still looks it, with a gorgeous art deco interior.
Siem Reap Cambodia
What to See: The 12th-century Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, filling an area of over 400 acres. Built originally as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu, over the period of its construction the complex gradually became Buddhist. Its incredible grandeur is a testament to human accomplishment. (UNESCO agrees.)
Where to Stay: The Golden Temple Residence provides a luxurious haven after a long day of tromping around outdoors. Cool down with a cocktail in their swim-up bar.
What to Eat: Genevieve’s offers both local Khmer and international Western dishes, both to great acclaim.
What to See: Just nine miles from Aspen, Snowmass has the same great slopes but a lot less of the hassle. In wintertime, the obvious draw is the snow, whether you are skiing downhill or cross country, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice climbing, or even hot air ballooning.
Where to Stay: Viceroy Snowmass, a LEED Gold-certified resort, is both luxurious and friendly to larger groups (including those with kids or pets). With ski-in, ski-out accommodations, it’s a winter sports dream.
What to Eat: For a quick pick-me-up, there’s nothing better than a hot and hearty bowl of soup, and the Stew Pot (62 Elbert Lane) has you covered. Il Poggio, however, is a restaurant you’ll have to change out of your ski gear for.
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
What to See: Though less frequented than its neighbors, Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Parks, Tarangire has Tanzania’s second highest concertation of wildlife—not to mention striking stands of baobab trees.
Where to Stay: Sanctuary Swala combines luxury accommodations with environmentally-minded practices. Meals and daytime driving tours of the park are included, and all visitors have access to the camp’s beekeeping project, located in the village of Mwika, right on the park’s border. Meet with the beekeepers and explore the village.
What to Eat: While touring the park, East African-style meals are served in specially chosen clearings. Back at the camp, breakfast is served on a dining deck that sits on stilts around a baobab tree.
Taos, New Mexico
What to See: People have been living in Taos for nearly a millennium, and visitors can bear witness to that vibrant tradition with a trip to the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Taos (one of America's favorite mountain towns) is also an artistic and intellectual hub: Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, George O’Keeffe, and Carl Jung all passed through, to name just a few. The Millicent Rogers Museum displays a superb collection of southwestern art, from Native, Hispanic, and Anglo-American artists.
Where to Stay: The funky Taos Inn has welcomed guests since 1936, including stars like Greta Garbo and Robert Redford. Local B&B Casa Gallina offers five artistically-oriented and hen-pecked adobe “casitas,” or cottages. There’s no shortage of fresh eggs here!
What to Eat: Laid back and utterly delicious, La Cueva Café serves up an entirely gluten-free take on Mexican cuisine.
What to See: About 80 miles inland from Shanghai, Wuzhen is one of a handful of historic canal towns given special recognition by China at the end of the Yangtze River’s long route. Often compared to Venice for its abundant waterways, Wuzhen offers visitors similar opportunities to immerse themselves in culture. Experience its traditional shadow plays and Huagu Opera, its wedding and even “ancient bed” museums. And don’t forget to take a boat ride.
Where to Stay: Try the Waterside Resort, Wuzhen’s largest hotel, which combines ancient design touches with modern conveniences.
What to Eat: Take a break at the riverside at the BuBu LianHua Café (Xiushuilang Jie, XiZha Scenic Zone), whose al fresco eating area provides patrons with both food and drink.