As the cold weather sets in, we often find ourselves dreaming of festive winter wonderlands and sunny tropical getaways in equal measure. Whether you're ready to embrace the bitter cold or prepping to flee the frigid temps, we've rounded up 30 of the most beautiful places to escape this winter — including options that are warm and sunny as well as those that are enchantingly snow-bound.
Escape to Whitefish, Montana, just a stone's throw away from Glacier National Park's pristine lakes and glacier-carved valleys. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the quaint ski town is bustling with winter activity — from skiing and shopping to enjoying the scenic, snow-covered mountain views. There's even a weird and popular annual winter carnival with a focus on skijoring (ski racers are pulled by horses) in February.
MONTEVERDE, COSTA RICA
LAKE TAHOE, CALIFORNIA
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Brazil's summer (December to March) is the best time to visit Rio de Janeiro for the perfect blend of rainforest, city, beach, and parties. Spend your days dancing the cold away in 80-degree weather under illuminated palm trees with music and fireworks at Reveillón on Copacabana Beach — one of the biggest and best New Year's Eve parties in the world — or at one of the world's largest festivals, Carnival, at the end of February.
As the closest major tourist spot to the North Pole, Reykjavik, Iceland, puts on a beautiful Christmas display in December. There's an Oslo Christmas tree, 13 official Santas ready for their photo ops, a public skating rink in Ingolfstorg Square, and the Christmas Village at Hafnarfjordur with horse-drawn carriage rides and quaint village houses selling Icelandic goods. After all that shopping, head out into the bitter cold to immerse yourself in the piping hot water of Iceland's famous geothermal baths.
Up your odds of witnessing the Northern Lights by visiting the northernmost inhabited place in the world. The mining town of Svalbard, Norway — a mere 650 miles away from the North Pole — is a prime destination for catching the mesmerizing natural lights display (as well as untouched glaciers and polar bears) during the winter season. Because of its location within the Arctic Circle, it's the only inhabited spot to experience the lights during the day due to its complete darkness during the winter months until mid-February.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
LAKE BLED, SLOVENIA
CORON, PALAWAN, PHILIPPINES
PROVIDENCIALES, TURKS AND CAICOS
PERITO MORENO GLACIER, ARGENTINA
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO
When it's cold and windy outside, look no further than the dazzling, palm tree-lined beaches of Playa Del Carmen for a vacation destination. Since it's located midway between Tulum and Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, travelers who tire of the local beaches, shops, restaurants, and nightspots can also experience tours of ancient Mayan ruins and jungle trails nearby.
ST. MORITZ, SWITZERLAND
There are many reasons to visit sunny Miami, Florida in the winter. Among them: a booming hotel and design scene, internationally renowned cuisine, idyllic beaches for lounging, and the famous and colorful Art Deco District. In December, the city hosts its annual four-day art show, Art Basel Miami Beach, which attracts both fashionistas and the arterati. In February, Miami will also host the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
QUEBEC CITY, CANADA
CENTRAL REGION, SINGAPORE
Hawaii is hot all year round, but winter is the best and most popular season to visit the islands for warm ocean breezes. Head to the rural island of Kauai to escape the seasonal tourist surge. The "Garden Island" — with its dense rainforests, cascading waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and hard-to-reach beaches — only has two highways, and visitors are encouraged to travel on foot. While the Na Pali Coast's scenic 11-mile Kalalau Trail, stretching from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Beach, is still closed following flood damage earlier this year, you can still see the stunning coast by boat, helicopter or nearby hikes. Outdoor adventurers can also explore other stunning spots like Waimea Canyon — known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" — Wailua Falls, and Na 'Aina Kai botanical garden.
Abisko in the Swedish Lapland is widely regarded as another one of the best places for viewing the Northern Lights. With big skies, shimmering lakes, miles of protected wilderness with plenty of Nordic wildlife (lots of reindeer), and frequent aurora borealis appearances, it's prime hiking, dog sledding, and telemark skiing country. Abisko is at the northern end of Kungsleden (the King's Trail), an epic walking trail snaking through wild terrain to another tiny Swedish village, Hemavan.
Dublin is cold in the winter, but the Irish city is also packed with culture and lots of cozy pubs, and it's been dubbed one of the friendliest cities in Europe (twice). Experience some of that Irish charm in the country's festive capital — from marveling at the beauty of St Patrick's Cathedral to a quick stroll over Ha'penny Bridge to reading a book at Trinity College Library to drinking a pint of the good stuff, Guinness, at The Temple Bar.
ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Soak up vitamin D on a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. By traveling in the winter, you'll avoid the threat of hurricane season and still enjoy comfortable sunbathing and swimming temperatures. To save money, consider a budget-friendly Caribbean cruise. Consider visiting St. Thomas in December, when the island hosts its annual St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, in which contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.