The 13 Most Beautiful Snow-Covered Towns Around the World
These winter wonderlands will have you singing "Let It Snow!" all season long.
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The magic of snow
Some may see snow as a burden: You have to shovel it, driving is often impossible, ice is slippery, and not to mention it’s freezing out! But others see its beauty: the glistening crystals, the warm glow of holiday lights reflecting off it, the way it looks like a marshmallow on rooftops. And snow is made even more magical when paired with fairy-tale villages, charming cottages, and Hallmark movie-ready downtowns. Check out the most gorgeous of those snowy locales, which are also some of the best winter travel destinations this year.
The hills are alive with the hushed sounds of footsteps on the snowy lanes of this glittering lakeside village, about an hour southeast of Salzburg. Like something out of the movie Frozen, this UNESCO World Heritage site features historic alpine architecture, plus charming shops and eateries at its Marketplatz, where the town Christmas tree is set up. Head up, up, up the town’s staircases and paths toward the mountains for great views. Snowfall amounts in December vary; by January or February, a blanket of the white stuff is more likely. Enjoy the cozy ambiance of a lakeside room at Seehotel Gruener Baum. These are more of the Unesco World Heritage sites everyone needs to visit.
This is one of those mountain towns that look like a storybook paradise in winter. In addition to fabulous skiing at the area’s Stowe Mountain Resort, this northern Vermont downtown is picture-perfect when covered with a fresh layer of powder. Even though it’s a popular winter destination, Stowe retains its small-town charm, with its old-fashioned Main Street complete with specialty shops, restaurants, white-steepled church—even a covered bridge. Snow season starts in December, but the best skiing conditions are in February. Ski lodges abound, but visitors can also stay in town at a bed and breakfast like the Brass Lantern Inn.
Full of Scandinavian charm, this seaport is surrounded by mountains and fjords, and features colorful houses along the old wharf, or Bryggen, that are striking against the white snow. Explore the narrow—and nearly hidden—passages between the historic buildings for jewelers, artists’ studios, and shops. Ride the funicular to the top of Mount Floyen in under ten minutes for an awesome view; a tour of the fjords is a must as well. Sunsets can be gorgeous, too—even if they happen at 3 p.m. in winter. Snowfall isn’t guaranteed but is most likely to start in December. Stay in the heart of Bryggen at Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful spots in Canada, Banff town in Alberta is lovely in itself. In the shadow of Cascade Mountain, its wide main avenue is perfect for strolling as snowflakes fall—dart inside one of the shops, galleries, or restaurants to warm up. To fully appreciate the area’s beauty, visit Banff National Park to see stunning ice-blue lakes, frozen waterfalls, and “ice walks” along snow-covered steel walkways. The area’s skiing is also top-notch, with ski (and snow) season starting at the end of November: It’s one of the ski resorts you need to visit this year. Then, snuggle up under the covers in your room at Mount Royal Hotel, located in the heart of town.
One of the most picturesque spots in all of Europe, the town of Bled, located on Lake Bled, owes much of its beauty to the bell tower of the Church of the Assumption of Mary on tiny Bled Island. Visit the church to ring the bell, and legend has it your wish will be granted. Then, visit the imposing Bled Castle, the oldest in the country, dating back to 1011. The castle also features an upscale restaurant. Other area winter activities include skiing and sledding; visit in January for the best chance of snowfall. Stay in a historic area down the street from the castle at Old Parish House. Bled is also one of the 13 small European towns you never thought to visit.
A far cry from the lush beauty of southern Italy, Canazei is unexpected: Nestled in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, the architecture of this ski village looks more like its Swiss or Austrian neighbors. Not surprisingly, the main winter activities are skiing and snowboarding, with four areas near town. Non-skiers can still get a glimpse of the majestic mountains with a ride up the cable car to the Sass Pordoi rock summit. The Hotel Alla Rosa in the village makes a warm and comfy home base to come back to. These are the 13 underrated European cities everyone should visit at least once.
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, Japan
These UNESCO World Heritage sites are made up of several villages of traditional farmhouses in the Gassho, or “praying hands,” style. Because of the massive snowfalls that begin to accumulate in this mountainous central region of the country in December, the thatched houses were built with steeply pitched roofs so snow wouldn’t pile up on them but instead slide off. The effect was that the villages became enchanting places that look straight out of a fairy tale. Today, some of the houses offer cultural exhibits; visitors staying overnight at a guest house get to experience the magic of the houses lit up at nighttime. Or, stay nearby at Auberge Hidanomori in Takayama.
With the same name as the wizard in Fantastic Beasts, Grindelwald is simply magical, with snowfall beginning in December or possibly even sooner. This Swiss Alps village is an idyllic spot to explore the country’s Jungfrau region, with skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and winter hiking opportunities aplenty. You can even try a wintertime zip line, the First Flyer. Try out a Velogemme—a kind of bike with skis the locals use to get around. The brave can ride the gondola up to the First Cliff Walk, a terrifying metal walkway suspended from the side of the mountain. Stay at the Hotel Belvedere Grindelwald and be pampered by the indoor pool, hot tub, and sauna.
This well-preserved medieval city may not see much daylight during winter, but the lights of the Old Town against the snow create plenty of warmth. Stroll the historic district and visit the walled fortifications; then stop into a cafe for hot glogg. Visit in December to experience its spectacular holiday market—it’s truly one of the best cities in the world to experience Christmas. Snow begins in late November in Estonia, which lies just across the sea from Finland. Stay right in the Old Town at Hotel Cru.
You’re not seeing things: This is a real-life city made entirely of ice, complete with ice castles, ice temples, ice staircases, and ice sculptures. It’s the world’s largest ice festival, created with ice blocks from the frozen Songhua River, held in Harbin in the northeastern-most area of China. At night, the creations are lit up with a rainbow of colors; the festivities also include winter sports, winter fishing, and an art fair for ice lanterns (candles placed inside carved ice). Although not a “town” in the traditional sense, it’s a can’t-miss sight for snow lovers. The festival starts at the end of December and runs until the beginning of February. Stay at the Shangri-La Hotel for views over the city of ice. Here’s what it’s really like to sleep in an ice hotel.
Travelers can discover so many snowy German villages that seem to be out of a fairy tale that it’s hard to pick just one. But the Bavarian town of Coburg, filled with historic architecture, looks particularly lovely dressed in white, with snow starting in December. Wander through the cobbled Old Town and the market square, warm up with some traditional Bavarian fare, then venture up to the Veste, the fortified medieval castle. Coburg has more than its share of castles: Visitors can also visit Ehrenburg Palace, Callenburg Castle, and Rosenau Palace just outside town, where Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, was born. Stay in the center of the town at Hotel Goldener Anker. Daydream about these top bucket list hotel experiences in the world.
You don’t even need to ski to appreciate the charm of this quintessential ski village nestled in the Rocky Mountains: It’s one of America’s 12 prettiest winter towns. The streets may seem warm beneath your feet—and that’s because they are actually heated. Browse the many boutiques, take in the aprés ski scene, and listen to the creek babbling beyond the town. You can even visit the highest botanical garden in the United States, the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, open year-round and amazing covered in snow. And of course, the area offers endless opportunities for outdoor winter fun: Snow may begin as early as November. Stay right in the village at the boutique hotel Austria Haus.
It’s hard to believe the enchanting town of Colmar in France’s Alsace region can get any prettier, but just add snow and it looks like something out of a Disney movie. With cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and winding canals, it’s the perfect place to walk hand-in-hand with a loved one as snowflakes fall. If you need something more to do, stop into medieval churches, specialty shops, or a wine bar, as Colmar is the capital of the region’s wine-making. Snow, though, is iffy in December; January may present a better chance. Stay right on the canal near the covered market at the splurge-worthy Hotel Colombier Suites. Read on to find out the best winter destination in every state.