Winter Travel Wishlist by Frances M Thompson

We love wishlists, you love wishlists, but does winter travel love wishlists?

Does the cold, snow and windy weather lend itself to being explored, enjoyed and embraced?

YES, is my confident answer, which is based on many previous winters bringing me some of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. While Kathi outlined her winter travel bucket list earlier this year and we’ve given you five reasons to travel in Europe this winter, now it’s your turn. Here’s YOUR winter wishlist for travel this year.

As the nights get longer, the mercury dips lower and the cold climbs into your bones, take courage, brave Travelettes, for here is a selection of amazing travel adventures which will make winter travel your favourite kind of travel.

1. Lapland

Yllas - Frances M Thompson

Okay, let’s get the most obvious winter travel adventure out of the way, but a visit to Lapland is a once in a life time experience.

While many go to hunt down the Northern Lights or to snowmobile/snow-shoe/cross country ski through a winter wonderland, I went to Lapland for… snowboarding! While there aren’t exactly “mountains” to be found in Finnish Lapland, my two weeks of January snowboarding in two ski resorts – Levi and Ylläs – was truly spectacular thanks to the sun’s low position in the sky meaning for much of the few hours it popped out to say hello, it stayed at sunrise and sunset height, thus making for spectacular sights as we snowboarded through virtually empty slopes.

Snowboarding in Yllas - Frances M Thompson

Snowboarding in Levi in winter - Frances M Thompson

Throw in some reindeer burgers and daily saunas and you’re talking one of my favourite ski holidays ever. Even the ice-dipping thing I did with ten other naked women I’d never met before… yeah, I loved that.

2. Living with the husky-dogs

Husky Dogs by Emma Sleight

Notice that I said “living” and not “sledging” because this travel experience I did last December is very different from sitting in a sled as a gang of husky dogs pull you around a snowy track. For nearly five days I lived on a husky dog ranch in Northern Norway and shadowed the husky dog “musher” whose job it is to train and care for the dogs and prepare them for the races they are trained to participate in. Your job is to follow his orders, muck in when he asks and play with the dogs as much as you can when allowed to do so. And you also get to be their driver for many long kilometres of training runs.

Frankie with Husky Dogs - Frances M Thompson

I maintain that this travel experience was life-changing for me. I was pushed to my physical and emotional limits due to the living in the wilderness conditions, the lack of any decent sunlight (it never got brighter than a dusky grey) and being humbled by a group of dogs whose sole purpose in life is to please their owners. (You can read more about my “personal dog-mushing journey” on this trip here.)

I loved it, and would recommend it to anyone who loves adventure travel and animals. (You can find out more from the tour organisers Magnetic North Travel, who I believe are still the only company to offer this kind of experience.)

3. Go snowboarding or skiing…

Skiing in Yllas - Frances M Thompson

Snowboarding has made me the winter travel enthusiast that I am.

If it wasn’t for developing a love of snowboarding over ten years ago then I am pretty sure I would have adopted the hibernating habits of a bear and gone to sleep from November til April each year. But snowboarding has made me see that the cold isn’t a barrier to travel, it’s a new gateway.

If you’re a snowsports junkie like me, I’m sure you’ll feel the same. If you’re not, then I urge you to give it a go. Grab some mates, book a week off work, pick your resort and find out what all the fuss is about.

skiing in alta badia_Frances M Thompson

I’ll be writing more about snowboarding and skiing soon but to wax your board (or skis) for now, here’s a few places I love going snowboarding:

LeviYlläs in Finnish Lapland

Hafjell in Norway

Italian Dolomites

Mayrhofen in Austria (where they have two amazing festivals in the snow; Snowbombing and Altitude Comedy Festival)

4. Experience the most amazing country in the world in its element…. Iceland.

Yeah, I said it. Iceland is the most amazing country in the world. But now I’m going to back this statement up. For the last decade, I don’t think any country has experienced as much hype as Iceland. So when I went last year I was apprehensive about how – or even if – the country would live up to my expectations.

iceland flag_Frances M Thompson

It did. And then some.

Like many of the Nordic nations, Iceland is a country of extremes in winter. There’s the snow on the ground and the short, dark days, but then there’s the unstoppable geothermal heat – which powers the whole country – and the warmth of the Blue Lagoon’s waters. Not to mention those toasty woollen Icelandic jumpers and the way I’ve never been in an Icelandic house that was cold. And though I didn’t see them myself, I have also heard it’s the best place for seeing the Northern Lights.

blue lagoon, iceland_Frances M Thompson

5. Helsinki in winter

…is a beautiful, beautiful place.

Helsinki Cathedral by Frances M Thompson

Arriving on 4th January, I knew it was going to be cold but I didn’t expect so much snow on the ground (SO MUCH SNOW!!), nor did I expect the warm welcome I would receive from the people of Helsinki who helped me get around and see everything I wanted. With the temperature hovering around -4 to -6, yes, it was cold, but once wearing layers and wrapped up in a long winter coat, I actually found it the perfect temperarture for long walks around Helsinki.

Highlights of my trip included:

– Walking around Katajanokka admiring the Art Nouveau architecture.

– Stumbling upon the beautiful interior of the National Library and then enjoying the cheapest coffee and cake of my trip in the student cafe in the basement.

national library finland_x960

– Admiring both the city’s cathedrals.

– Discovering the vintage bargains on offer at Uff charity shops.

– Having some quiet time inside Kampi Chapel, a wooden “bowl” that offers a non-denominational quiet and calm retreat from the busy business and shopping district that surrounds it.

6. A stay at a Snow Hotel

Ice-Hotel-Kemi by Fances M Thompson

Back in Finnish Lapland, we spent a day at the Snow Castle in Kemi, which is a temporary winter structure crafted entirely out of snow and ice. Every year it is built completely from scratch and in a different design. The year we went the theme was “fantasia” and so we got to hang out with the likes of Beauty & the Beast, Tinkerbell and even the Angry Birds in ice sculpture form. We had a tour of the vast, mind-boggling space and enjoyed a delicious dinner served on an ice table as we sat on reindeer-skin covered ice stools.

Frankie in the Snow Castle Kemi - Frances M Thompson

Notice that I said “spent a day” and not “spent a night”. I ended up chickening out of the sleepover, but I’ve since heard that those who have spent the night there survived… and enjoyed the experience!

7. Come to Amsterdam

I live in Amsterdam so I know what the city is like in winter.

It’s cold…

And full of things to do.

Winter is when I indulge my guilty pleasure – museums. With more museums per capita than any other city, this is a secret habit that keeps me busy in December, January and February. My recommendations are the Rijksmuseum (which will keep you warm and busy ALL day), the Stedelijk and for a dry day, Royal Artis Zoo. Oh and don’t forget my favourite museum of all, the Museum of Bags and Purses.

roy lichtenstein at the stedelijk museum - Frances M Thompson

I’m happy to report that despite the weather Amsterdammers keep cycling in winter months and this is definitely one way to keep yourself warm. It’s also considerably quieter to travel here in winter with the flood of fair-weather tourists keeping away. It’s also really pretty here in winter:

Amsterdam in Winter by Frances M Thompson

ice skating museumplein by Frances M Thompson

Cycling in Amsterdam in Winter - Frances M Thompson

8. London in winter

The other city I love to visit in winter is London.

london house numbers street_Frances M Thompson

Maybe it’s because I lived there for so long or maybe it’s because I associate it with coming home for Christmas but I adore visiting London in winter. It feels cosy, it feels festive and it feels like home. Even though it hasn’t been for a long, long time.

My favourite things to do in London during the winter months include:

– Wrapping up warm and heading down to Southbank to see what’s going on and to buy second hand books and the book market under Waterloo Bridge.

christmas in london - by Frances M Thompson

– Going to see a show in the West End.

– Finding a good British pub and spending all of my Sunday afternoon there, filled with a Sunday roast and entertained by board games.

– Going for a walk around the Serpentine.

sitting on bench serpentine by Frances M Thompson

– Raiding as many charity shops as I possibly can for vintage coats and scarves. I still have the 1970s fake fur number I bought for £12 in Shepherd’s Bush five years ago. Best buy ever.

Oh and if you’re heading to LDN this winter, here’s a playlist of songs about London and here’s a book you may like to read.

9. Sunshine in winter

Who says you can’t have sunshine in winter. Not me.

Last year, after three weeks in Nordic Europe in January, we were craving sunshine, but didn’t want to travel too far. Our search for a little sunshine in winter resulted in… Morocco.

view of atlas mountains with snow on top morocco - Frances M Thompson

There followed a five week stay in a surprisingly luxurious villa on the outskirts of Marrakech and though the nights were cold (around 3-5 degrees) the days were filled with sunshine and sometimes temperatures crawled above 20 degrees.

luxury in marrakech by Frances M Thompson

If you’re not fussed about the heat but just need some Vitamin D in winter months, Morocco is well worth your consideration. It’s also worth noting that prices for amazing villas like the one we stayed in are generally much lower during winter months.

10. Summer in winter…

So yes, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere but the world wouldn’t be so cruel as to make it winter EVERYWHERE!?!? In fact, as we dig out our scarves and gloves, the Southern Hemisphere is heating up to a hot summer.

by the pool in koh samui - signs of a good holiday - Frances M Thompson

Over the years I’ve successfully escaped the cold for a few weeks (or longer) in the following places (and you can click on the links to find all of the Travelettes’ posts from these places):

Thailand (which will always be top of my list and this year we escaped it all to Koh Samui where I didn’t do much more than sit by the pool and photograph the local flowers)

Australia

New Zealand (though be warned, summers in NZ aren’t as warm as they are in Oz)

Singapore

Malaysia

…and this year, thanks to a friend’s wedding I’m heading to Cape Town!

How about you? Where are you already travelling to this winter?

And which of these picks for Your Winter Travel Wishlist are you most keen to try?

frankie-in-ljubljana

This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.

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