Winter is coming. And if you’re not one to hunker down for the chilly months—or ever, for that matter—these eight cities that embrace winter should be on your wanderlist. From winter sports and activities to creative ideas that keep people safe while socializing outdoors, winter cities show us how to keep our spirits hygge, even when the temps are low.
While global travel is limited right now, we hope these winter cities will help inspire your future travel plans.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin city of Eau Claire is part of Wintermission, a program created by the non-profit organization 8 80 Cities to “make it easier for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with one another, visit public spaces, and be active in winter.” One way the city has encouraged activity in the winter is Winter After Hours at Pinehurst Park, a family-friendly program promoting winter recreation (including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, and warming up by the fire with free hot chocolate!) every Thursday in January and February. (Note: Dates and specifics for the 2021 season are still TBD. Be sure to check the park’s website for further details.)
Of course, you can also enjoy these winter activities all season long at many of the city’s other public parks, including Boyd Park, Demmler Park, or Lowes Creek County Park.
There are many outdoor events to take part in, as well. In December, locals and visitors to Eau Claire can take part in Wintertime in the City, which kicks off the holiday season with horse-drawn wagon rides, plaza and tree lights, s’mores stations, musical performances, and more. In January 2021, the city will host the 135th Annual Silver Mine Invitational, featuring the top ski jumpers from around the world.
As a self-dubbed Winter City, Edmonton has lots of advice for those looking to be active, social, and creative in the cold months of the year. For instance, their social toolkit offers advice for how to socialize outdoors in the winter in public spaces like parks, in your neighborhood, and even in your own backyard. Tips include how to create a warm and cozy space, planning for heat sources (fire pits, cushions, and blankets), and serving hot food and drinks for inner warmth, too. They’ve even created checklists so you won’t forget any of the necessities, and included “Winter Warmers” recipes to help you plan your outing.
While you might know the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for its stunning fall colors, the city of Marquette is also a popular winter wonderland. Each winter, the city hosts the UP200, a 230-mile dog sled race starting and finishing in Downtown Marquette. While the race is unfortunately canceled this year, there are still plenty of reasons to visit this winter city, including downhill skiing at Marquette Mountain, cross-country skiing at Noquemanon Trail Network, as well as snowmobiling, ice fishing, and more.
The Finnish method for embracing winter can be summed up in one word: sauna. Embedded in the national culture, sauna promotes well-being and relaxation, as well as a way to socialize in winter. Most homes have their own private sauna (there are an estimated two million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million people), but there are public saunas, as well. Löyly is a popular choice for its unique design, or Allas Sea Pool, located right on Helsinki’s South Harbor.
Finns embrace winter by staying active, too. In winters with snow, more than 200 kilometers of cross-country skiing tracks can be found in and around Helsinki. For instance, a quick city bus ride delivers you to Paloheinä, a cross-country skiing park with four varying trail distances to choose from.
Not much of a Nordic skier? Locals are also known to cycle, ice skate, and even swim outdoors in the winter! After all, that’s the requisite second step of sauna—did I neglect to mention that?
Quebec City, Canada
When you think of winter in Quebec, you may conjure images of cozying up near a roaring fire. And of course, you can but that’s not how locals embrace winter. Instead, grab your heaviest winter coat and snow boots and opt outside. From mid-December to mid-March, you can toboggan at Au 1884, a century-old slide located right in the city center. Or, head to the Plains of Abraham, a popular place to cross-country ski, skate, or snowshoe. You can also go dog-sledding on nearby Île d’Orléans—a small island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River just 15 minutes from Old Quebec.
Ready to brave the elements overnight? Plan a stay at Quebec’s famed ice hotel, Hôtel de Glace, one of the few ice hotels in the world—and the only one in North America. The hotel, rebuilt every winter with a new theme, operates from January to March each year; this year it will open for guests on January 2, 2021.
Tip: Remember to forward any bookings or reservations to TripIt so all of your travel plans are in one place. If any of your reservations require showing a PDF doc or QR code, upload those documents to your itinerary for instant access on-the-go.
Of course, the highlight of winter in Quebec is the annual Carnaval de Québec (or, Quebec Winter Carnival) which will take place February 5 to 14, 2021. In years past, the carnival has featured an ice palace, parades, and Bonhomme—the official mascot of the carnival.
Buffalo, New York
With an average annual snowfall of 94.7 inches, Buffalo is not shy about its winter city status. Also a member of the Wintermission program, the city aims to attract people to its downtown and public spaces by creating inclusive and engaging activities to promote socializing and community in winter.
One example of the city’s creativity is Canalside, a formerly deserted stretch of the Erie Canal waterfront that’s now a major destination, even in winter. When temperatures dip, residents and visitors alike can go ice skating and curling on the frozen canal, try ice-biking (a sport invented in Buffalo), and enjoy a nightly light show.
Park City, Utah
While many people head to Park City for its ski resorts, there are plenty of other winter activities to partake in if skiing isn’t your sport. Yogis can check out Park City Yoga Adventures for stand up paddleboard yoga in a geothermal crater. More a fan of fishing? Go fly fishing in snowy riverways with Park City Fly Fishing Guides. Or, at Utah Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Winter Games, you can race down a bobsled track.
Need a little less adrenaline but still loads of fun? You can take a sleigh ride with The Viking Yurt or go dog-sledding to experience the area’s stunning views.
Residents of the land of fire and ice know a thing or two about embracing winter. It’s not uncommon to see a baby stroller parked outside a café or shop with a snoozing baby inside. Locals say plenty of fresh air supports a child’s immune system, not to mention that babies sleep longer and more soundly outside.
Similar to their Nordic neighbors, Icelanders stay active in the winter months. They also enjoy a dip in geothermal waters. At Nauthólsvík, Reykjavík’s geothermal beach, sea bathers can soak in the public hot tub and then, after a short walk across the sand, dunk themselves into the water of the nearby lagoon. The hot tub is heated by geothermal water from the Perlan (a nearby geothermal water storage facility), while the lagoon is full of freezing-yet-refreshing seawater. So, just when you’ve had enough of one, you can scoot back to the other extreme.
City dwellers also benefit from geothermal heat when traversing Reykjavík on foot. The city has invested in an underground heating system for its sidewalks and streets, saving the roads from destructive snow-plowing, while also saving countless pedestrians from falling on slippery surfaces.
As for events, the city hosts an annual Winter Lights Festival each February to celebrate winter as well as the lengthening daylight hours—a welcome sight after months of darkness. (Note: A date is yet to be set for 2021, so check back for more details.)