Often times, the cold Winter season seems like it can put a damper on our bucket list dreams. In reality, there are so many experiences and opportunities that can exclusively be experienced in the Winter. With the help of Live in 10 Countries, Our Kind of Crazy, Resrutt, Dream Big Travel Far and The Travel Sisters, I’ve created a list of some of the top Winter experiences that you should try in your lifetime.
1. Visit Antarctica
You might not realise it, but Antarctica is something that you can only visit by boat during the northern hemisphere’s winter. Basically, the ice needs to be somewhat melted in the southern hemisphere before a boat can force its way through to the seventh continent. You can fly year round, but trust me, that’s an expensive and highly specialist option. Once you’re there, you’ll definitely know that this incredible destination deserves to be on your list. There are so many incredible outdoor options in Antarctica, such as taking the polar plunge (diving in swimwear into the icy waters), stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, skiing, mountain climbing and so much more. Plus, it’s all just a lot cooler when you’re drifting in an uninhabited wasteland, zooming past seals, penguins and whales. The ultimate for me though was camping on land, and getting the experience of a night on Antarctica’s turf. I say ‘turf’ – it was nothing but snow and it was the coldest I’ve been, even in my polar gear. But at night you feel you’re in another world. Be sure to do it if you can!
2. Experience an Après Ski
Hitting the ski hills is an absolute must for a Winter bucket list. If you aren’t an avid skier, I’d definitely recommend taking a beginner lesson to get comfortable on skis. My favourite part of any ski excursion is relaxing with a hot drink after a day on the slopes. Most ski hills have a chalet with a bar and fireplace for your après ski.
3. Stay in a Glass Igloo
Seeing the Northern Lights was always at the top of our bucket list. But seeing the Northern Lights in a glass igloo cabin was a dream. We went to Saariselka, Finland to check off our bucket list of seeing the Auroras. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. What made it even more so, was where we stayed. We booked an igloo cabin at the Northern Lights Village, and had our own personal igloo with a huge glass window across the whole front of it…perfect views for the Auroras at night. We watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky, from the warm and comfort of our room. It was the perfect place to make another bucket list check. Our trip to Saariselkä, Finland was one of our most favorite bucket list trips. There were so many winter activities we were able to do during the day, and we were able to chase the Northern Lights at night. We definitely recommend everyone staying in an igloo cabin at least one night. It’s a great one to add to the bucket list!
4. Go Dog Sledding
Dog sledding has been used by humans as a method of transportation for over a thousand years. You can find dog sledding excursions in many parts of the world, including Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia. There are some excursions that leave from major cities and have most expenses included. If you’re close to Toronto, Travelling Chicken’s full day dog sledding journey.
5. See the Northern Lights
Looking up Svalbard on the map will surprise you how close this island is to the North Pole. Only some 1000 km away, the island is still accessible with its international airport. With the gulf stream passing by, the climate is not that cold that you might imagine when you see its location on the map. Svalbard is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. In the polar winter (when sun never rises above the horizon) this nature phenomena can be spotted from time to time. If you never have seen it, you should immediately put it on your bucket list! The polar night period ends in late February, so the best period to go to Svalbard if you’re in search of the Northern Light, would be in March. In this period, you’ll have both daylight and the possibility to go on snowmobiling tours and do other activities in the day, and spot Northern Lights in at night-time.
6. Check out a Nordic Spa
Nordic spas have gained popularity worldwide in the past few years. They consist of outdoor circuits including saunas, cold baths, and steam baths. It’s supposed to provide a plethora of health benefits, but I just think it would make a relaxing afternoon. You can enjoy nordic spas year round, but I think it would be spectacular to watch the steam rising off the water. If you live close to Toronto, I’d recommend checking out Scandinave Spa in Blue Mountain.
7. Jigokudani Monkey Park
If you enjoy traveling in the winter then Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan should be on your bucket list. Located in the Nagano prefecture of Japan, the park is home to a group of Japanese macaques known as “snow monkeys”. In the winter these cute monkeys come down from the mountains to soak in hot springs just inches away from visitors. While Jigokudani Monkey Park is open year round, winter is the best time to visit as the snow monkeys are more likely to get in the hot springs to stay warm and the park is more picturesque when it is covered with snow. These adorable monkeys are not afraid of humans so they will happily hang out and just inches away from visitors. You will see them relax in the warm water, groom each other, jump in and out of the hot springs, cuddle to stay warm, and play in the snow.
8. Visit an Ice Sculpture Festival
Ice sculptures festivals are like temporary art exhibits that can only be experienced in the Winter. The most famous festival is The Harbin Ice Festival in China, which offers a wide array of Winter attractions. If a trip to China isn’t in your budget, there are plenty of local ice sculpture festivals in the Winter months.
9. Visit Neuschwanstein Castle
Without a doubt, my favourite winter experience was our trip to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria back in December 2015. You’ve probably come across Neuschwanstein Castle many times before when scrolling through Instagram, or looking for some of the world’s most beautiful spots. Disney famously based their castles on it and it really does look like its out of a fairytale. But by far the best time to visit Neuschwanstein is in the heart of winter, just before Christmas. With any luck, you’ll get some snow, and capture some truly stunning photos. It is also a very romantic spot to visit, and you can enjoy a slow, pleasant horse and carriage ride up to the castle. We chose to stay in the nearby town of Fussen, which is equally as magical, and we managed to secure a small log cabin, complete with log fire and even a sauna! So if you’re looking for the ultimate winter getaway, then I couldn’t recommend anywhere better than this spectacular part of southern Bavaria.
10. Stay in an Ice Hotel
Staying in a hotel made of ice is probably the most extravagant thing on my Winter Bucket list. One of the most famous ice hotels, Hôtel de Glace, is actually located about a 7 hour drive to me in Québec City. The hotel is only open in the Winter months because the entire hotel (and everything in it) is made entirely of ice. These hotels can be quite pricey (about $500 CAD per night); if this isn’t in your budget, they also have an ice bar if you want to stop by for a drink.
What’s on your winter bucket list? Is there anything I should add to mine?