1. San Francisco and Lake Tahoe
While summer is the Californian city’s most popular tourist season, winter is also a great time to visit San Fran. With significantly fewer visitors, you will have its best tourist sites almost all to yourself.
Alcatraz Prison Island, which used to house a maximum security prison whose famous convicts included Al Capone, in San Francisco Bay, makes for a fascinating visit, with its exhibits detailing The Rock’s crime history, architecture and wildlife.
A ride on the city’s vintage tram is a must-do, too. Get off at Fisherman’s Wharf for Dungeness crab at one of its many restaurants (fishing season runs throughout the winter). This is also a great time to spot sea lions at Pier 39 – they’re most active during winter – and don’t forget to go whale watching. Cruises depart from Pier 39, go past Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific. Keep your eyes peeled for humpback and gray whales.
Head out of San Francisco on Route 101, over the Golden Gate bridge, and you should be at Lake Tahoe within four hours. Seven ski resorts surround this vast turquoise lake. Killebrew Canyon, Heavenly, which straddles the California-Nevada border, has the best lake views, plus long, tree-lined runs that are ideal for beginners and intermediates.
Kirkwood, about 305m higher than any other Tahoe ski resort, is renowned for its challenging double black diamond bowls along the Wall, the iconic ridgeline Kirkwood is known for.
2. Zurich and Engelberg
The Swiss city is at its most picturesque in winter, when it is blanketed in a fine dust of snow. Take a free walking tour through Zurich’s Old Town’s hidden alleyways and picturesque squares. Highlights include Fraumünster Church with its intricate stained glass windows. It was built on a former abbey.
Winter is also a good time to experience Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s most exclusive shopping avenue. Shops sell everything from truffles to Swiss-made watches and faux fur coats – ideal for managing the chilly temperatures. Afterwards, go for a spin on the Dolder open-air ice rink, one of the largest and most beautiful of its kind in Europe at 6,000m2.
Just 90 minutes’ drive away is Engelberg, a village resort town that claims to be heaven on snow and is a magnet for intermediate and expert skiers. It is home to the Laub, one of the best of five off-piste runs in the Alps, with 1,000m of steep and deep terrain.
3. Christchurch and Mount Hutt
Surrounded by some of the world’s most majestic landscapes, visitors flock to Christchurch for its great outdoors. But the city has some worthy museums for more inclement winter days, too. The Canterbury Museum, opened in 1867, showcases a diverse range of natural and human history pieces, from Maori artefacts to the world’s largest Antarctic-themed collection.
During the winter months, you can also catch an action-packed Ice Hockey League game at the Alpine Ice Sports Centre – or have a slide on the ice yourself.
Just under two hours’ drive from Christchurch is Mount Hutt, voted New Zealand’s Best Ski Resort (2015 to 2017) at the World Ski Awards. With a top altitude of 2,086m and 365ha of skiable terrain, Hutt has pistes for all ski and snowboard ability levels, and is said to be fantastic for families. It has a vast number of off-piste lines for advanced skiers, too. On a clear day, catch sweeping views across the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean.
4. Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen
The Bavarian capital may be best known for its annual Oktoberfest, but Munich in winter, when the red roofs of the buildings are white with snow, is particularly beautiful.
For the best view on a clear day, scale the spiral staircase to the top of the St. Peter’s Church tower from which you can see as far as the Alps. Alternatively, stroll through the Englischer Garten, a large public park with its rolling landscapes that are perfect for sledding. The pièce de résistance, of course, is the Nymphenburg Palace canal that turns into Munich’s longest curling track and draws ice skaters from all over.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen Ski Resort in the German Alps, less than two hours’ drive away, is a prominent destination for skiing and snowboarding. There are some 40km of slopes, 3km of ski routes and 17 lifts. The centrepiece is the 2,100m Zugspitze, Bavaria’s highest and most snow-sure mountain, with its mix of red and blue runs. For free skiers, who enjoy spending more time in the air than on the ground, the resort is also home to Germany’s first superpipe.
5. Milan and Courmayeur
Winter is one of the best times to visit Italy’s fashion capital. Shops in Milan mark down their winter clothes and accessories to make room for the next season’s goods.
Winter is also one of the best seasons for theatre-goers. Many of Milan’s fine arts theatres take a break during summer and reopen during the winter with regular ballet, orchestral and opera performances throughout the city. Many are held at La Scala Opera House with its tiers of boxes adorned in red velvet. It is just five minutes’ walk from the historical Duomo di Milano, which is wonderfully crowd-free this time of year.
Courmayeur, just over two hours’ drive away, is an Alpine resort in northwest Italy, at the foot of Mont Blanc. Here, there are slopes for every level of skier and all have amazing views of the towering Mont Blanc. Cable cars, gondolas, chair lifts and poma lifts offer efficient connections to every part of the mountain. Its well-groomed pistes are great for aspiring intermediates. For experts who prefer to ski beyond the piste poles, there is an impressive 100km of off-piste terrain, too.
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