Winter offers some of the most exciting travel experiences of the year. You just need to know where to go and when
Winter 2017-2018: Where to Go When
For a far-flung winter beach break, try the volcanic archipelago of Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa. Settle down at one beach resort, or if you have a taste for variety, try island hopping to get a real taste for this African country. If you opt for the latter, be sure not to miss Santo Antao. Covered in canyons, gorges and valleys, it is the second-largest island in the archipelago. The north-east of the island is busiest and the best spot for hikers. For something more relaxing, Sal has an impressive coast, as well as shops and restaurants. Check out the salt mines responsible for the island’s once booming salt trade (hence the name Sal) and take a guided tour to Terra Boa to see the famous mirage of an ocean in the middle of a desert. Or for sun, sand and relaxation, head to Boa Vista, which has more than 55 kilometres of golden sand.
Etihad flies to Cape Verde from Abu Dhabi, with two stops in Europe and use of its codeshare partners, from Dh6,400 return, including taxes
New York, United States
December in New York brings shopping, festive decorations and the best Broadway shows of the year. Wrap up warm and tour the incredible shop displays on Fifth Avenue, as the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton look to dazzle onlookers, before heading to Third Avenue to enjoy the famous Bloomingdale’s window scenes. Go ice skating in Central Park, see the 23-metre, 10-tonne Rockefeller Norway Spruce Christmas Tree light up, and soak in New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker – or for something more lighthearted, try the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Book into Lotte New York Palace, which is one of the most elegant hotels in the area, with a touch of the 1900s. Guests can enjoy glamorous fittings, including gold filigree fixtures, as well as classical music playing in your room. The rooms have amazing views of the skyline and, if you are lucky, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. Stay for New Year’s Eve to join the rabble in Times Square or go more low-key by watching the fireworks in Prospect Park.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to New York from Dh4,230 return, including taxes
Atacama Desert, Chile
Kick off the New Year early with a week-long itinerary in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is one of the driest places on Earth. Participants will join Oscar Muñoz for a visit to the abandoned town of La Noria, where he discovered the controversial “Ata” skeleton in 2003, which some believed were the remains of an alien. The trip also includes a visit to the Atacama Giant, the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world, as well as taking an astronomy tour to observe the planets through powerful telescopes. Launching on December 8, the tour, which can be personalised, costs from £2,890 (Dh13,907) per person with World Expeditions. Flying into Iquique and out of Calama, it is not the easiest journey, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Fly from Dubai to Iquique and return from Calama to Dubai from Dh8,108 return, including taxes, with stops in Paris and Santiago, with Air France and LATAM
From December 21 until February 28, the Harbin Ice Festival takes over the northeastern Chinese city during the bitterly cold winter and gigantic ice sculptures crop up on the streets. Covering more than 750,000 square metres and featuring up to 180,000 cubic meters of ice, there is nothing in the world quite like it. It is lit at night by bright, colourful neon, and visitors can also enjoy the firework displays and fairground rides. As temperatures sink to minus 13°C, you will need to wrap up warm as you explore the snow and ice creations, including replicas of snow fairies, dragons and towering igloos. One of the tallest ice carvings last year was the 48-metre-high Crystal Castle, which stood at almost the same height as Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. Once you have had enough of snow, head to Harbin’s old town to admire the Russian architecture, which remains from the migration following the Russian Revolution.
Emirates flies from Dubai to Harbin, via Beijing, from Dh3,330 return, including taxes
There are few better places in the world to go shopping in the January sales than London. Pop into the famous Harrods, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason, as well as London’s Bond Street, to make the most of the luxury items on offer. But there is more to London in January than just shopping, with the Thames-side Southbank Centre transforming into a Nordic-inspired wonderland for the art centre’s annual festival Wintertime. Go ice-skating in Somerset House’s grand 18th-century courtyard, or if you arrive by January 1, check out the New Year’s Day Parade, with more than 8,500 performers from 20 countries ringing in the New Year in style. Harry Potter fans can get a peek at the behind-the-scenes world of the movies with a wintry twist as the Warner Bros Studios Tour presents Hogwarts in the Snow. The middle of the month sees more than 40 British and international artists adding dazzling displays of light to the city’s buildings and streets as part of the Lumiere installations. Additionally, catch the Science Museum’s well-received exhibition on the achievements of India before it closes at the end of March.
Emirates, Etihad and British Airways fly direct from the UAE to London from Dh3,000 return, including taxes
Galle, Sri Lanka
The Fairway Galle Literary Festival takes place between January 24 and 28. The festival offers more than 100 different events, including a cultural show put on by the Performers of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, cookery classes, interviews with literary figures and writing workshops. Galle Fort, built in 1588 by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a pleasure to explore. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat at The Dining Room at Amangalla; built in 1684, the high-ceilinged room boasts period furniture and antique silverware. Book ahead of time to get a slot during the popular high-tea service. Arrive and leave in style by riding the luxury Rajadhani Express from Columbo to Galle and back again.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to Colombo from Dh1,240 return, including taxes
Pyeongchang, South Korea
The Winter Olympics are taking place in Pyeongchang, in the northern part of South Korea. During a period of 17 days, the international sporting event will hold 102 sporting fixtures in 15 different disciplines. Four new disciplines in existing sports will be introduced in this year’s event, including big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass-start speed skating, and mixed team Alpine skiing. About two hours away, the capital city Seoul awaits. Getting around this huge metropolis can feel like a sport in itself, but the rewards are worth the energy, with incredible food and the latest in technology and fashion on every corner. Not for those with a fear of heights, the view from the 236-metre high N Seoul Tower, the second-highest point in the city, is worthwhile. Visitors can also take a step back into the rich history of South Korea and visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, the first royal palace built during the Joseon dynasty, and complete a walking tour along Naksan Fortress Wall.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to Seoul from Dh3,790 return, including taxes
Venice Carnival, Italy
Running from January 27 until February 11, this elegant, dramatic event is the highlight of the Venetian calendar, first celebrated more than 700 years ago. The City of Water comes to life with a series of elaborate masked balls. The celebration comes with performances, dining, ornate costumes and grand balls.
Make the most of the beautiful waters that surround Venice by getting a ticket for the Venice Carnival Party Cruise, which sees revellers enjoy the Mardi Gras on a Venetian galleon. While sailing around the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello, guests can enjoy a buffet, music and beautiful views of Venice.
For those looking to splash out, Il Ballo del Doge Grand Carnival Ball is an exclusive event, with tickets costing from €800 (Dh3,410) per person, but offers guests the chance to spend an evening living “together the dream of a lifetime and a lifetime of dream”. Period costume is essential, and with the theme being rebirth and celebration, it is the perfect excuse to reimagine yourself for one highly memorable evening.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to Venice from Dh2,850 return, including taxes
Walk Japan, which offers off-the-beaten-track tours of Japan, has announced the launch of the Tohoku Hot Spring Snow Tour for February. It is a fully guided snowshoe tour for small groups through the rural Tohoku region in the depths of winter. Discover and explore the region famed for its beautiful rugged landscapes, copious amounts of snow, mythical animals made of snow called “juhyou” monsters and relax in the onsen hot springs, from 480,000 yen (Dh15,525) per person, including taxes.
Hirosaki, one of the culturally richest cities on the island, is home to the hirayama-style Hirosaki Castle, built in 1611 and surrounded by several thousand cherry trees. Soak up the history while enjoying the annual snow-lantern festival held between February 9 and 12. About 200 snow lanterns, along with numerous kamakura (small igloos) and snow sculptures, are dotted around, while concerts and performances take place during the day.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to Tokyo from Dh3,480 return, including taxes.
Mathura and Vrindavan, India
Though a playful occasion, the origins of the Holi festival of colours commemorates the victory of good over evil and marks the end of winter and the coming of spring. The concept stems from a tale in Hindu mythology, which states that a young Lord Krishna was mourning his dark-blue skin, so to cheer him up, his mother suggests he colour the face of his playmate, the fair-skinned Radha, to match his own.
Kicking off this year on March 2, the event is celebrated all over India – with Mathura and Vrindavan considered the two largest sites. The two locations, in Uttar Pradesh, about three hours from New Delhi, have religious links: Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, while Vrindavan was where he grew up.
If you are arriving before the festival starts, go to Vrindavan for a week of celebrations in Banke Bihari Temple. In Mathura, you will be treated to a colourful Holi procession that starts from Vishram Ghat and finishes near Holi Gate. A word of warning: people celebrating will rub colours into your face, mouth and ears. Female visitors should be cautious travelling alone.
Emirates and Etihad fly direct from the UAE to New Delhi from Dh890 return, including taxes
This beautiful town at the foot of Mont Blanc is a romantic place to sample the last of the winter snow. On March 11, in nearby resort Les Houches, a huge celebration called Intervall’ee is held. Expect incredible skiing performances, local traditions and lots of laughter thanks to the friendly but competitive feel of the event. From the centre of Chamonix, visitors can take a cable car to the unmissable heights of Aiguilles de Chamonix. At 3,777 metres, the Aiguille du Midi and its furnished terraces offer a 360-degree view of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. If that isn’t high enough, take the elevator to reach the summit terrace at 3,842 metres.
Etihad and Emirates fly direct from the UAE to Geneva from Dh2,800 return, including taxes
March is an ideal time to see the Northern Lights – the hours of darkness are still long, most of the winter snow has fallen, meaning skies are clearer, and temperatures are beginning to rise. Tromsø is in the heart of the aurora zone in the Norwegian Arctic, so a visit here should increase your chances of spotting nature’s finest lights display. The city itself has a plethora of museums and galleries to explore, as well as a picturesque harbour. For those wanting to make the most of the snowy surroundings, sign up for sledding with huskies or reindeers, snowmobile safaris and whale-watching trips. And a trip to Norway isn’t complete without visiting the world famous fjords – head south to nearby Malangen or go further afield to Sognefjord, Norway’s longest, deepest fjord.
Emirates and Norwegian Air Shuttle fly from Dubai to Tromsø, via Oslo, from Dh2,350 return, including taxes