South African’s dreaming of a white Christmas should add these winter experiences to their bucket lists. This season turns the worlds’ soaring mountains and summer destinations into giant natural playgrounds for outdoor lovers.
Whether hurtling down a mountain on a snowboard, sharing romantic moments while the Northern Lights dance above you, or having a cuppa with the real Santa Claus is your thing – We have something on this list to satisfy just about every winter taste bud.
1. Northern Lights spotting at Sommarøy Islands – Norway
The small island of Sommarøy, a one hour drive from Tromsø, is Northern Norway’s best-kept secret. It is the most northern tip of Europe and the perfect place to spot the Northern Lights away from all the crowds.
This quaint but busy fishing village has only 300 hospitable inhabitants, each baring warm and welcoming expressions.
The white sandy beaches and warm, shallow crystal clear bays make it a favourite summer destination, but winter brings about its own unique charm. As early night falls, the northern lights colourfully dance about, illuminating the many islands just off the coastline. Viewing natures spectacular light show creating bands of various shades of green and pink will take your breath away. It’s surreal to think that a whole different world exists out there for this night owl.
There are barely any cars making their way across the architecturally beautiful cantilever bridges that connect the many islands making it a tranquil relaxing escape. It is not only the Northern Lights that make an appearance here. Humpback whales and Orcas can be seen gracing the icy bays in mid-November to late January.
Best time to visit
November to March
Book your cheap flights to Tromso. It is advisable to rent a car as the Sommarøy Islands are an hour away from the main city centre. An International driving permit is required and can be obtained through any of the AA centres.
2. Ski Whiteface Mountain – United States of America
While there are so many excellent skiing destinations in the world, Whiteface Mountain in America offers something a little more daring and worth adding to your bucket list.
It is New York State’s fifth highest mountain and often referred to as the Winter Sports capital of the world. Here you can attempt your bucket list alpine activities amidst rugged wilderness, spectacular views and wonderfully varied terrain.
Snowboard and ski enthusiasts can enjoy the uncrowned slopes of the greatest vertical drop in the East with 87 trails that span across three of the Adirondack peaks. 20 percent of these slopes are rated for the beginner, 43 percent intermediate and 37 percent expert. Interestingly, some of the intermediate trails in the eastern mountains would have been rated as expert.
For the daring – Ski the double-black-diamond natural terrain, at an elevation above the height of three Empire State Buildings. On a clear day, experience views of the mountains of Vermont, the skyscrapers of Montreal and the white mountains of New Hampshire from the summit. There is no lodging or commercial development at the base of the mountain ensuring a tranquil visit.
Close by you will find Lake Placid – a vibrant postcard-perfect village famed for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980.
For the non-skiers, a range of other fantastic winter activities are on offer: snowshoeing, bobsledding, ice climbing and ice skating on the gorgeous mirror lake.
Best time to visit
November – April
South African’s would need to apply for a B-2 visitors visa to enter into the United States. This visa is valid from 1 to 10 years and will allow you to visit for up to 6 months. Visit our step by step guide with all the information needed in order to apply.
Book your cheap flights to New York. Once you arrive, you will have the option to rent a car, travel via train or via bus.
By car: Lake Placid is a 5-hour drive from New York City. Take the New York State Thruway (I-87) north to Exit 24 (Albany). Take I-87 north (Adirondack Northway) to Exit 30. Pick up Route 9 north and follow it for two miles to Route 73. Continue on Route 73 for 28 Miles to Lake Placid. An International driving permit is required and can be obtained through any of the AA’s centres.
By train: Amtrak has routes between New York City and Montreal.
By bus: Adirondack Trailways has a bus service between New York and Lake Placid.
3. Chasing waterfalls – Iceland
Countries that are 80 percent uninhabited usually don’t make it onto most travellers bucket lists. But, it so happens that these are the ones that boast the world’s most jaw-dropping landscapes and unique scenery unlike anywhere else in the world.
There is something so special about Iceland that grabs your soul and refuses to let go, the allure of the land of the Vikings is just so strong. A country with a unique personality, that flaunts dramatic landscapes, snow-capped glaciers, two UNESCO world heritage sites, Europe’s first parliament and largest glacier, and geysers shooting 125-degree Celsius water 70 meters above the ground.
The frequent rain and snow make Iceland a sanctuary for the world’s most breathtaking waterfalls. There are over 10 000 waterfalls here, they are as varied and beautiful as they are many. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall and is 100 meters. Gullfoss is the country’s most famous one, while Skogafoss is the largest one. This is a country that will keep you busy exploring the outdoors indefinitely.
Best time to visit
November – January
South Africans are required to apply for a Schengen visa to visit Iceland. Visa applications can be done online through VFS Global. Allow over 15 working days for the visa application.
Book your cheap flights to Keflavík, Akureyri or Egilsstaðir.
4. Christmas at the Santa Claus Village – Finland
Embrace the magic of Christmas by heading to the Arctic Circle to spend time with Santa Claus in his family-friendly resort.
For the last 30 years, The Santa Clause village in Rovaniemi in the Finnish Lapland draws more than 500 000 visitors each year. A month before Christmas the world turns an eye to Rovaniemi as Santa Clause declares the Christmas season open. Nothing makes the planet’s most iconic figure happier.
Have a Christmas wishlist? Why not give it to Santa Clause directly or post it at the Santa’s main post office operated by his elves. He receives millions of letters each year from over 198 countries. I am sure your loved ones would enjoy receiving a letter with the arctic circle postmark stamp from here.
Ever wanted to cross over the arctic circle line? This is the place to experience it and to prove your accomplishment – you even get a signed certificate.
Looking for another reason to visit? Husky, reindeer and snowmobile rides under the Northern Lights are a real speciality here. Or spend a few nights in the holiday village or in a real igloo.
Best time to visit
November – February
South Africans are required to apply for a Schengen visa which, once received, it will not only allow you to travel to Finland but to many other European destinations as well. The Finland Visa Application Centre in South Africa accepts applications for short stay visas only. Allow over 15 working days for the visa application.
5. Romantic Escapes in Andorra
Rewrite the book of love in Europe’s smallest country. Sandwiched between France and Spain, Andorra excels at just about anything that involves snow. Nestled in the Pyrenees mountains, it’s a country that is known for its 5-star hotels, ski resorts and tax haven status.
The Sport Hermitage in Soldeu is a favourite with romantic mountain view rooms combining luxury and comfort. The hotel spa is a haven for serenity in which to enjoy a remineralising, hydrating or energising treatment. Guests here can enjoy a private helicopter transfer to a nearby ski station, or take a private guided snowmobile tour. There are two dining restaurants and guests can enjoy a drink in a glass bar.
Vallnord offers some great snow-filled activities. Amongst Andorra’s glacial landscapes, steep valleys and open pastures, one can find 300 km of endless ski slopes for nearly every level. Skiing is not the only activity you can do here – thrilling buggy trail rides are a must.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Madriu-Perafita-Claror covers 10% of the whole country and is a well worth attraction to visit.
It’s two high streets is a shopper paradise seeing people flock here each year for tax-free shopping. There are over 2000 stores packed into a country that you can drive through in an hour.
Best time to visit
November – March
South Africans do not require a visa for Andorra. However, since you can only access the country via Spain or France you will be required to apply for a Schengen visa.
Visa applications can be done through BLS International. Allow over 15 working days for the visa application.
Like all great places in the world, travelling to Andorra requires a bit of effort. Book your cheap flights to either Barcelona (Spain) or Toulouse, Carcassonne and Perpignan (France). Travel by a rented car for 3 hours before reaching Andorra’s city centre. An International driving permit is required and can be obtained through any of the AA’s centres.
What are some of your favourite winter destinations? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
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