Which winter destination is right for you?
In destinations such as Barbados, Iceland and Canada, winter doesn't have to mean keeping inside away from the cold, says Jessica Vincent. Whether you’re looking for lazy days on Caribbean beaches or a once-in-a-lifetime road trip to the Arctic Circle, there’s a winter destination out there for everyone
Take off to
If you like: pink-sand beaches, rum cocktails and all-night parties...
Barbados – the easternmost island in the Caribbean – is best known for its beaches, and for good reason: palm-fringed sands here range from brilliant white to candy-cotton pink, while warm, shallow bays rarely disappoint with their shades of turquoise and teal. Most visitors opt for a drop-and-flop break in one of the island’s all-inclusive luxury hotels or private villas along the west coast, where on-tap rum cocktails, seafood buffets and oceanfront suites await. But a network of interior hiking trails, fantastic surf on the wilder east coast, and a party-loving, Unesco-listed capital mean there’s adventure and culture on the menu, too. While you’re here, don’t miss Barbados’ fiery national dish, cou-cou (okra mixed with cornmeal) and fried flying fish served with a scotch bonnet sauce.
Take off to
If you like: backcountry hiking, helicopter rides and grizzly spotting...
With 48 national parks, thousands of peaks and glaciers and the longest coastline in the world, spanning the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans, when it comes to outdoor adventure, few destinations do it better than Canada. The world’s second largest country offers everything from backcountry skiing and hiking to white-water rafting, paragliding and rock climbing. In British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province and the home of 1,000 protected areas, you can watch grizzlies feasting on migrating salmon along the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, or take a helicopter over azure lakes and granite rock formations in Squamish. Meanwhile, on the remote Yukon-Alaska border, you’ll learn about Canada’s unique Nisga’a, Haida and Tahltan people on hiking and kayaking tours led by indigenous guides.
Take off to Los
If you like: Bright city lights and Californian sunsets
Visit: Los Angeles
Home to Hollywood, Los Angeles is what urban dreams are made of: all-night cocktail bars, Michelin-starred restaurants, concert halls and underground theatres, pop-up art galleries and award-winning museums. You name it, and California’s star-studded, sun-drenched city probably has it. But despite its hedonistic reputation, glitz and glamour aren’t all LA has going for it. Surrounded by mountains and miles of powdery sands and perfect surf, Angelinos spend their weekends hiking the trails of Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon, riding waves in Malibu, or playing volleyball on Venice beach. LA’s famed sunsets are events in themselves, where top spots like the Griffith Observatory and Santa Monica Beach Pier see crowds gather to watch the sky and the Pacific Ocean turn a hundred shades of orange, pink and purple.
Take off to
If you like: cycle-friendly cities, farm-to-table dining and riverside craft breweries...
Visit: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Voted one of Europe’s greenest cities, Ljubljana is where days are best spent kayaking along the emerald green Ljubljanica river, pedalling the forested cycle paths of the 1813 Tivoli Park, or hiking Šmarna Gora for views of the Julian Alps and the Ljubljana Basin. One of the most pedestrian and cycle-friendly cities in the world, Slovenia’s bite-sized capital, from its open-air flea markets to its riverside craft breweries and wine bars, can be explored entirely on foot or two wheels. You’ll want to make time for the city’s farm-to-table restaurants, too, some included in the Michelin Guide for the first time in 2020. You’re never far from creative Slovenian dishes such as cold cucumber soup and beef cheek doughnuts. If you’re out late, don’t miss queuing up for the city’s favourite after-hours pastry known as burek.
Take off to
If you like: budget-friendly skiing with a touch of culture...
Visit: Bansko, Bulgaria
For a cheaper alternative to the Alps, head to Bansko, Bulgaria’s outdoor adventure capital at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. While the warmer months are reserved for hiking, biking and rock climbing, during the winter these Unesco-protected peaks are transformed into 30 miles of blue, red and black slopes scattered with boot-stomping après bars and wooden huts serving paprika-spiced bean soup and garlic parlenka (flatbread). In the evening, relax in the nearby thermal pools or stroll the old town’s cobbled streets lined with mehanas, 18th-century Bulgarian taverns serving wild boar stews and home-distilled rakia. Two hours north of Sofia, the quickest way to get to Bansko is by car, but the most scenic – and most adventurous – route is on the narrow-gauge railway.
Take off to
If you like: Off-the-beaten-track road trips
Visit: The Arctic Coast Way, Iceland
Iceland, famed for its 1,340km circular Ring Road that takes in ancient glaciers and moss-covered lava fields, is often lauded as one of the world’s top road trip destinations. But for those wanting to escape the crowds and discover the country’s most remote corners in a 4x4, the Arctic Coast Way (Norðurstrandarleið) is the way to do it. Opened in 2019, the 900km coastal route from Hvammstangi in the west to Bakkafjörður in the east winds you through Northern Iceland’s most spectacular landscapes, from the black sand beaches and snow-capped mountains of the Troll Peninsula to puffin-filled islands straddling the Arctic circle. If you’re passing the 16th-century village of Hofsós, don’t miss a dip in Sundlaugin á Hofsósi, a geothermal infinity pool with views over an Arctic fjord.