Expert ideas for experiencing winter in the Northern Hemisphere
With more than 30 years of travel under her belt, Travel With Kidz Specialist Kirsty Whittaker certainly knows a thing or two about unforgettable travel experiences.
Combining passion with knowledge and expertise, Kirsty is a pro when it comes to planning her clients’ trips, which she does with genuine enthusiasm. Kirsty has travelled extensively throughout Europe and is currently looking forward to spending her fourth white Christmas there later this year.
Winter in the Northern Hemisphere can make for a truly remarkable and one-of-a-kind family holiday. From the pristine powdery ski fields of Japan and Korea, to the jingling bells and twinkling lights of a magical white Christmas in Europe, there’s something truly magical about a real winter holiday and plenty of ways to experience it.
Two of the best benefits of leaving the Aussie sun behind in favour of a Northern Hemisphere winter is that it’s a cheaper time to travel and there’s going to be less tourists, meaning less crowds to compete with and more time to enjoy the sights.
“Airfares are in their low season until early December and from mid-January onwards, hotels are also at a lower demand when not at Christmas time, and there’s generally less crowds around that time too so you’ll have the freedom to explore a little more as opposed to standing in massive queues all day,” Travel With Kidz Specialist Kirsty Whittaker says.
However, being a massive European Christmas lover, Kirsty highly recommends planning early and experiencing a ‘real’ Christmas.
“Christmas and New Years in Europe is an amazing time which will give your family memories to last a lifetime, from the traditional Christmas lights and decorated window displays, to the roaring fires and hot mulled drinks.”
Kirsty recommends seeing the Germanic countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria and experiencing their festivities.
“Nuremburg and Dresden in Germany have Christmas markets especially for children, called Kinder Weihnachtsmarkt where you’ll find nostalgic two-tiered merry-go-rounds, mini Ferris wheels, gingerbread houses and even a steam railway. Your kids can even take part in activities such as the Christmas Bakery, where they can make and bake delicious shapes out of honey cake dough.”
Nordic countries also offer their own special charm and cater well to families.
“Countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway are well equipped for winter with family friendly ski resorts, the opportunity to see real moose and reindeer, and sleep in magical ice hotels, rugged up in fur blankets on ice beds,” Kirsty says.
“However, if you want to experience something truly memorable and out of the ordinary, then you can’t beat flying into Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland and staying at the official hometown of Santa himself – Santa Claus Village!”
Other unique winter experiences the whole family can enjoy include open-air ice skating in almost every major city in Europe, swimming in the thermal pools of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, hiking through glaciers, and witnessing the spectacular Northern Lights.
“The Polar Night can be experienced between mid-November and the end of January, where the night lasts for more than 24 hours – without daylight and in the eerie blue twilight, there are often more opportunities to see the incredible Northern Lights,” Kirsty says.
There is also no shortage of adventures for active, snow-loving families, with world class skiing and snowboarding resorts, such as in the Alps.
“You can ski at resorts which hosted previous Winter Olympics or try a lesser known area such as the Tatra Peaks in Slovakia, one of Europe’s most mountainous countries. It has some great winter sports and thermal hot pools to dip in afterwards and is a well-kept secret!”
Over in Canada, Kirsty recommends trying dog-sledding, snow-shoeing or ice fishing when taking a family ski holiday.
“Places such as Whistler and Banff offer so much variety, making them a great holiday choice for families, and there are also some wonderful winter festivals during January and February.”
Besides Europe and America, Kirsty says Japan and South Korea also have plenty to offer as fabulous winter destinations, offering the opportunity to combine a new culture with a variety of snow-based activities.
“Taste new food, learn a new language, hike through the mountains to see the snow monkeys near Nagano, see the winter illuminations at Nabana no Sato in Japan, or the Hwacheon Sancheoneo (a species of trout) Ice Festival in Korea where giant, glowing fish adorn the streets with a snow castle, a snow park and a winter culture village offering various activities,” Kirsty says.
When it comes to accommodation for snow bunny families, Kirsty lists Furano in Japan and Vals Thorens as her top picks.
“Furano has one of the largest English speaking ski schools, a variety of dining options, and the ever-popular Family Snowland which boasts snow rafting, snowmobiling, snow banana boat, snow shoeing, air bounce and even hot air ballooning. If you do stay there, don’t miss the Snow Night Fantasy – an illuminated village of snow and ice set within an enchanted forest…the whole family with love it!”
“One of the largest resorts in Europe, Vals Thorens really has it all for families with more than 600 kilometres of slopes, ski lessons, entertainment, shopping, endless dining options, and plenty of non-ski activities and thrills for all ages,” Kirsty says.
So what are Kirsty’s top tips for nailing the ultimate Northern Hemisphere winter holiday?
Remember that daylight hours are much shorter so plan your activities around this.
Stock up on winter clothes during the Australian winter, including good quality thermals.
Invest in a child’s size umbrella and buy some snow boots as soon as you arrive to keep little ones dry.
Do your research in advance for your local supermarket and places to eat close to your accommodation. Winter opening hours will be reduced in smaller cities, which can affect their facilities.
Carry portable hand warmer packs and heat packs, which can be put in pockets or socks to keep small people nice and toasty, lasting for hours in wintery weather!