Snow flurries, cold temperatures and dreary days often mean counting the ways to escape the winter doldrums. If you're aching for sun and fun, you don't have to wait until summer to plan your next trip. Some places are even better experienced in the winter months — and we just so happen to have that list at the ready for you.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
The famous blue-green waters of Plitvice Lakes National Park glimmer in the sunshine throughout most of the year, but when temperatures drop, cascading water turns into frozen icicles and trees once green are draped in frosty white. Indeed, it looks like a scene right out of Frozen. The boardwalks and trails that allow visitors to wander during the summer are open in the winter as well, so don those layers and get to hiking.
Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan
Nothing warms the heart on a cold day more than watching the small, sand-colored snow monkeys of Jigokudani huddle around the valley’s hot springs. The park is open year-round, but the monkeys rarely hop into the steamy waters during the warm summer months. If you want to see them (and the waters) at their best, come after the snow falls. Jigokudani is only a few minutes away from the famous resort town of Shibu Onsen. Its nine public baths mean you get your own spa time after you’re done watching the monkeys enjoy theirs.
The City of Lights is never more brightly lit than when the chill of winter descends upon its uniformly designed streets. Bundle up for a stroll down the Champs-Elysées and you’ll find trees, monuments and buildings aglow with holiday displays and popup skating rinks (including one 200 feet in the air on the first level of the Eiffel Tower). Take advantage of the non-existent lines to explore Paris’s finest sights and then head over to a cozy corner bistro to sip a hot chocolate or cafe creme with the locals.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
The castle thought to have inspired Walt Disney’s castle looks more like Elsa’s icy abode perched on glazed mountain tops. The snow dusted turrets and towers overlook the sweeping Hohenschwangau Valley, which looks like a scene out of a romance novel. Hundreds of thousands of tourists crowd the grounds in the summer, but come winter, visitors will find the peace and quiet King Ludwig II so desperately craved when he designed his unique retreat.
Lapland is so far north that for two solid months during the summer, the sun never fully sets. That’s hard to beat as it allows for endless outdoor adventures, but winter’s shorter days offer plenty of charms as well, especially at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. Take part in a husky or reindeer expedition and cross-country ski to your heart’s content before returning to your cozy glass igloo to watch the Northern Lights streak across the night sky.
Gold Coast, Australia
If you want to escape the chill completely, the Northern Hemisphere's winter months are the best time visit the Southern Hemisphere. Shed the layers and hit the beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast. As one of the world’s premier surfing locations, the region offers some of the best, most consistent waves as well as rainforest walks and spectacular waterfalls further inland. Whether you want your vacation to consist of lounging in a bikini, physical activity or living it up at night, the Gold Coast has a little bit of everything.