Chase the northern lights, go rambling in the shadow of Bavaria’s fairytale castles, or book a winter city break
1 Walk in Bavaria
Get into the winter spirit on a walking holiday in Bavaria. Amble though wintery forests on snowy paths by day and spend evenings in Füssen, a small town in the shadow of Neuschwanstein, one of several fairytale castles you’ll see on this trip. And there’s plenty of time for warming Bavarian meals and a beer or two along the way.
Details Seven nights’ half board, including guiding, costs from £1,035pp in January and February, with flights from Heathrow or Manchester (01707 331133, ramblersholidays.co.uk)
2 Snowshoeing in the French Alps
You can tuck into guilt-free meals of fondue and red wine when you’ve been snowshoeing all day. On this eight-day holiday based in the village of Samoëns in Haute-Savoie, guests will reach the top of several summits, including Pointe Ratti, Le Parteset and Tête de la Sallaz, with great views of Mont Blanc. If it all sounds a bit daunting, the organisers say it’s suitable for enthusiastic novices too.
Details The eight-day holiday costs from £1,245pp, half board, including guiding and snowshoe rental, but not flights or transfers (01768 773966, keadventure.com). FlyBe (flybe.com) serves Geneva from Southampton and Exeter from £90 return
3 Family Finland
The Arctic Treehouse Hotel near Rovaniemi opens this month with snug treetop cabins that have large picture windows. Some are interconnecting, for families, with hideaway children’s “nests”. Snowmobiling and a visit to a reindeer farm are part of the package.
Details A three-night half-board stay, including flights from Heathrow, transfers and activities, costs from £1,629pp (020 7666 1244, regent-holidays.co.uk)
4 Bison, boar and beaver in Poland
Track bison, elk and wolves in the snowy Biebrza Marshes and Bialowieza Forest on a new tour with the Travelling Naturalist. With a bit of luck you might also see otter, beaver, red deer and lynx. The area is also one of the largest sites for wintering bats in eastern Europe.
Details Four nights’ full board in February costs from £995pp with flights from Heathrow, transfers and guiding (01305 267994, naturalist.co.uk)
5 Ice climbing and sledging in the Pyrenees
If you want to be active in the snow, but aren’t into skiing, head to the Pyrenees. You will be mostly mingling with French tourists and overall costs are lower than in Alpine resorts. Use Bagnères-de-Luchon as a base for activities such as snowshoeing, ice climbing and sledging. The town also has Europe’s only natural “vaporarium”, a series of underground galleries where natural steam is released from deep below the rocks at up to 40C.
Details Seven nights’ B&B costs from £950pp, including some activities and spa entry, but not flights (01202 798443, undiscoveredpyrenees.com). FlyBe flies from Birmingham to Toulouse from £50 return
6 Horses and hiking in Transylvania
The Prince of Wales enjoys an annual summer jaunt to Transylvania but, for the adventurous, this corner of Romania makes an extremely interesting winter break too. This year expat James de Candole and his wife opened a guesthouse in the Saxon village of Copsa Mare, where visitors can get stuck into the local way of life that really hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. Explore on horseback or hike in the snow, go boar hunting, attend the Orthodox or Lutheran church services, and slow down to observe village life with daily processions of sheep and cows, which stay in the village overnight before heading out to pasture.
Details Three nights’ full board is from £750pp, including transfers and some activities, but not flights (00 40 768 994 224). Austrian Airlines (austrian.com) flies from Heathrow to Sibiu (via Vienna) from £275pp
7 Snow kiting in Iceland
As far as ultimate weekend bragging rights go, snow kiting in Iceland certainly beats another Saturday night watching Strictly. On this four-day adventure with Black Tomato, guests learn the sport — snowboarding pulled along by a large kite — in the interior of the country, which is rarely visited in summer, let alone winter. Based in a remote wilderness lodge, you also get the chance to learn survival techniques, go ice fishing and snowmobile under the northern lights.
Details Four days’ all-inclusive costs from £3,500 with flights from Heathrow (020 7426 9888, blacktomato.com)
8 Track wolves in Sweden
On a six-day expedition with experienced trackers near Skinnskatteberg you will follow wolves — as well as moose, owls, mountain hares and red squirrels — while exploring and photographing the frozen lakes and snowy forests that are their home. There’s also a seminar on wolves led by a researcher from the Scandinavian Wolf project to round off all you’ve learnt.
Details Six days’ full board with guiding, snowshoe hire and transfers from Stockholm, but not flights, costs from £1,660pp (01273 823700, responsibletravel.com). Norwegian Airlines (norwegian.com) flies from Gatwick to Stockholm from £66 return
9 Journey on an icebreaker in Finland
There’s a lot to pack in on this new four-day trip to Finland from Best Served Scandinavia, including a day on an icebreaker as well as the chance to swim off its bow in a dry suit, go snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, husky mushing and spend a night in a “snow castle”, wrapped up snugly with a sheepskin blanket and a thermal sleeping bag.
Details Four days costs from £1,670pp, including flights from Heathrow, a mix of half board and B&B, and activities (020 7838 5956, best-served.co.uk)
10 Lapland adventure
You don’t have to be a keen skier to spend time in the resort of Levi, 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. There are snowshoeing outings, husky mushing and reindeer sleighs to ride. But don’t spend too much time out in the cold (and dark). The Scandi-chic Levi Spirit Villas, each sleeping ten, are the perfect place to hunker down beside a roaring fire when it’s snowing outside. Each villa has a sauna and hot tub.
Details Three nights’ self catering is from £2,930 for ten people (00 358 40 060 5694, levispirit.fi). Finnair (finnair.com) serves Kittilä, via Helsinki
Northern lights trips
11 Whale and aurora watching in Norway
A trip to the Norwegian island of Andoya this winter gives you a chance to combine sightings of the northern lights and pods of orcas in the company of the zoologist, photographer and broadcaster Mark Carwardine. A change in the migratory pattern of herring in recent years means orcas have been drawn farther north in winter, increasing your chance of seeing them here. On the sea, you’ll participate in four-hour whale-watching trips, and on land set off on aurora-hunting excursions.
Details The four-night trip leaves on January 19 or 23 and costs from £1,640pp, including flights from Heathrow, full board and activities (01737 214291, discover-the-world.co.uk)
12 Treehouse den in Sweden
The architecturally innovative Treehotel in the forests of Swedish Lapland has been featured in just about every glossy mag going. This winter it is adding its seventh room, and it’s specifically designed for northern lights viewing. Located 10m above ground, with two double bedrooms, it features a terrace made of double-roped netting so you can lie back and gaze at the night sky. Borrow thick sleeping bags and mattresses if you want to doze outside.
Details The new cabin at the Treehotel (treehotel.se) is available for stays from January 20 and costs from £1,095 a night, B&B, for six. SAS (flysas.com) flies to Lulea from Heathrow and Manchester (change at Stockholm) from £152
13 Chill out in northern Norway
With zero light pollution in the isolated far north of Norway, your chances of seeing the lights on this short break in a cosy guest house are good. Even if you don’t, the starkly beautiful winter landscape far north of the Arctic Circle is compensation. Activities include husky sledding and snowmobiling, and you can add on a few days in Oslo if you want to ease yourself back into the world.
Details Three nights’ half board in Sollia costs from £975pp, including flights from Heathrow to Kirkenes (via Oslo) and transfers. Activities cost extra (01653 617000, inntravel.co.uk)
14 The equinox in Iceland
There are no guarantees when it comes to spotting the northern lights, but Iceland’s chief astronomer advises travelling at the time of the autumn or spring equinoxes to increase your chances — so plan now for March. A good base is the Hotel Ranga in the south of the country, well away from light pollution and with several outdoor hot tubs from which to see the lights. Staff will wake you if the lights appear in the night. There is also a small observatory with powerful telescopes for stargazing, and the spectacular Seljalandsfoss waterfall is a 20-minute drive away.
Details A three-night B&B self-drive break with flights from Heathrow costs from £990pp with Taber Holidays (01274 875199, taberhols.co.uk)
15 Russia by luxury train
What a way to spend new year — speeding through the snowy Russian taiga on a luxury train, eyes piercing the carriage windows to try to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains is running a 12-day Arctic Explorer trip leaving on December 29 that encompasses Russia and Norway, with visits to St Petersburg, Murmansk and Moscow, as well as remote towns on both sides of the border.
Details The 12-day trip costs from £7,995pp, full board, with guiding and excursions, but not flights (0161 928 9410, goldeneagleluxurytrains.com). British Airways (ba.com) flies from Heathrow to St Petersburg and out of Moscow from £406
Winter city breaks
16 Adventure in Stockholm
A pre-Christmas break to Stockholm is a lot of fun, even if it’s dark by 3pm. Or perhaps that’s half the attraction, with the city lit up, locals ice skating, Christmas markets ladling out hot glogg and luminous displays in department store windows, such as the 101-year-old NK on Hamngatan. In the lanes of the old town there’s a living Advent calendar, with locals singing or reciting poetry from an upper window in a different house each day (masterolofsgarden.se). Dine at the Michelin-starred Ekstedt (ekstedt.nu), where food is cooked over a fire pit.
DetailsStay at the Miss Clara Hotel (missclarahotel.com), which has B&B doubles from £245 a night, with a minimum two-night stay. Norwegian (Norwegian.com) flies from Gatwick from £66 return and has flights from Edinburgh. Additional information on visitstockholm.com
17 To Russia with love
Wrap up warm and winter is a great time to visit Russia, with snow adding a rather magical and photographic dimension — not forgetting that 2017 is the centenary of the Russian revolution. It’s worth travelling to St Petersburg for the Hermitage Museum alone (avoid the ticket queue by booking online at hermitagemuseum.org), but there are also imperial palaces, churches, ballet, opera and, arguably, better food and nightlife than in the capital. One downside is that getting a Russian tourist visa is rather laborious these days.
Details Regent Holidays (020 7666 1244, regent-holidays.co.uk) has three nights’ B&B from £450 using BA from Heathrow
18 Waltz off to winter in Austria
Vienna is perfectly geared up for a winter break with its Christmas markets and choral concerts, not to mention dozens of cosy cafés where you can happily tuck into yet another hot chocolate and apple strudel. A visit at this time of year also means you beat the high-season queues at the numerous museums and galleries, and perhaps get a chance to walk in the snow around the Schonbrunn Palace. If you fancy a cheap night at the State Opera, standing tickets costing about €4 are sold 80 minutes before a performance at the box office in Operngasse.
DetailsKirker (020 7593 2283, kirkerholidays.com) has a three-night B&B break at the Konig von Ungarn hotel from £749pp, including flights from Gatwick, private transfers and entry to some museums
19 New year in Reykjavik
Icelanders are fireworks mad, and on New Year’s Eve almost every household puts on a display (outdoing the neighbours is vital). Head to the Hallgrímskirkja church for the best views. Artisan Travel has a four-night festive break in Reykjavik, which includes a gala with dinner, dancing and fireworks at the futuristic Harpa Concert Hall, as well as the chance to shake off any hangover by bathing in hot springs, whale watching and horse riding.
Details Four nights’ B&B, including the New Year’s Eve gala, is from £1,095pp with flights from Gatwick (01670 785085, artisantravel.co.uk)
20 Winter in Wroclaw
Wroclaw — pronounced Vrots-waff — may just be the nicest winter break destination you’ve never heard of. If you’ve enjoyed a few days in Krakow before, but are looking for somewhere new in eastern Europe, try the capital of Lower Silesia instead, with enough churches, museums, restaurants and cosy pubs to keep you occupied for a long weekend. An increasing number of flights go there (Ryanair flies there from eight UK cities, including Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle), it’s pretty easy on the wallet and, if you go before December 22, you can take in its annual Christmas fair in the market square (jarmarkbozonarodzeniowy.com).
Details Hotel websites such as trivago.co.uk have a good range of doubles for about £45 a night, including the Ibis Wroclaw Centrum. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Stansted from £33 return. Download a free guide at inyourpocket.com and plan at visitwroclaw.eu