Winter is time to hibernate—for some animals. For intrepid humans, it’s time to travel. Cheaper airfare and thinner crowds reward those braving the wind chill to visit frosty destinations. Need inspiration? These seven cities not only look fabulous in snow, but also have chill activities, indoors and out.
1. MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA:
The Twin Cities take center stage for the to 52nd Super Bowl
. The Minnesota Vikings aren't in the big game, but you can still catch the NBA's Timberwolves and NHL's Wild in action. Minneapolis also hosts the pond hockey championships on frozen Lake Nokomis, a spectacle ESPN.com called one of the 101 things sports fans must experience.
Since 1886, neighboring Saint Paul has hosted the largest and oldest Winter Carnival in the nation. A 70-foot Ice Palace anchors an ice sculpture garden with ice bars for hot and cold refreshment. Instagram paradise!
Don't miss Nicollet, a pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining district downtown. Second-story skyways bridge buildings for easy, warm access. Need more retail therapy? The Super Bowl of shopping is the Mall of America, home to an aquarium, indoor theme park, and more than 50 restaurants and 520 stores.
Image courtesy of gomn.com
2. SAPPORO, JAPAN: Teams are gearing up for the Winter Olympics in South Korea this year, hosting honors Sapporo had back in '72. One hey-that-looks-fun sport you don't often get to try in your hometown is luge. Not so in Sapporo, where on an Olympic practice course you'll see how it feels to sled face-first at 55 mph, no experience necessary. World class ski slopes, such as Niseko, are within a two hour's drive.
Or play it cool at Yuki Matsuri, a February snow festival with larger than life snow and ice sculptures illuminated at night. Warm up in Ramen Alley in the red light district where tiny restaurants serve piping hot soup into the wee hours. Pro tip: Seafood ramen is the specialty. Noodles pair well with hops, and the Sapporo Beer Museum is inside an historic red brick building with a beer hall. Kanpai! (Cheers!)
Image courtesy of Wee-Lit Lim
3. TORONTO, CANADA:
Kick things off with an excursion to Ontario Place, a lake shore island that's home to illuminated art exhibits, a synthetic ice rink, IMAX theater, and weekend bonfires. More illumination awaits at the Toronto Light Festival in The Distillery Historic District, where Victorian industrial buildings are adorned with light installations by Canadian and international artists.
Canada takes its national winter sport seriously and so should you. Watch the NHL's Maple Leafs skate inside Air Canada Centre, or hang outside in the square to watch a free live broadcast. Canada's only NBA team hoops it up here, and this year the Raptors are vying for top spot in the East.
Get in the sports zone yourself with a ski day trip to Blue Mountain
. Finally, time your trip right to savor Winterlicious
, two weeks of culinary events and prix fixe menus.
Image courtesy of Hector Vasquez
4. SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO:
The nation's oldest and highest capital city is especially picturesque in winter. Snow coats adobe walls and strings of red chile pods, as the scent of piñon wood sweetens the air.
This is Georgia O'Keeffe country, and a museum dedicated to her oeuvre comprises 140 oil paintings. The New Mexico Museum of Art celebrates the state's diverse artists, including O'Keeffe, inside a 100-year-old Acoma Pueblo Indian-style building. For contemporary art, browse more than 100 galleries and studios along Canyon Road.
Hearty and heart-warming Southwestern cuisine features red and green chile sauces. Order "Christmas" to get 'em both. Then sit fireside in the lobby of La Fonda on the Plaza, an historic luxury hotel.
Outdoor activity is conveniently close. Ski Santa Fe
's 83 trails are just 16 miles away. Hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe in the surrounding mountains and national forests. Temps are low and elevation is high, but the Land of Enchantment doesn't disappoint in winter.
Image courtesy of Philippe Halsmann
5. BERLIN, GERMANY: Deutschland's cultural capital is full of museums, street art, bookstores, and never-ending nightlife. The famous Christmas markets start in early November with Winter World at Potsdamer Platz. Enjoy the après-ski atmosphere of ice skating, toboggan runs, shopping, and plenty of mulled wine.
With cold weather comes even cooler festivals. Berlin Fashion Week and International Green Week—a food tasting and agricultural expo—hold court in January. The film festival Berlinale screens in February, along with the Transmediale festival that explores "new connections between art, culture, and technology." Disengage from the crowds at Tiergarten, an urban park rarely visited in the snow or fog, for an eerie yet romantic stroll in the winter woods.
6. BERGEN, NORWAY: Norway's former capital is an under-the-radar destination with a UNESCO-designated harbor district. Bryggen, the restored wharf, has colorful shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, and fish markets. Nearby, explore the medieval fortress and castle Bergenhus.
Get out and about on the Floibanen funicular that whisks visitors from the city center to the top of Mount Floyen at 1,050 feet above sea level. No need to buy a return ticket. Sled down along the packed-snow pedestrian path!
Visit the highest of Bergen's mountains on the Ulriken643 cable car, which ascends 643 meters (2,110 feet) above sea level. Can't decide which mountain to climb? Cable car it up Ulriken, ski across to Floyen, then funicular or sled down to town for a beer at Bryggen.
Image courtesy of Ski Safari
7. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH: SLC is the gateway to the "Greatest Snow on Earth," a superlative emblazoned on the state's license plate. The snow-covered Wasatch Mountain Range rising above the city sets the scene for Utah's fabled outdoor recreation.
Nine ski resorts are within an hour's drive, leaving you spoiled for choice. Park City Mountain is America's largest powder playground, with almost 350 trails and 7,300 skiable acres. The Sundance Film Festival draws celebs and cinema buffs to Park City at the end of every January.
Back downtown, stroll historic Temple Square, which is particularly festive before Christmas, with lights, nativities, and concerts, including the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. A few blocks away, root for the hometown Utah Jazz, a small-market NBA franchise with arguably the league's loudest fans.
Image courtesy of visitsaltlake.com