The Places We Wish We Could Be This Winter

Artwork by Ellie Hutchings

IcelandWords by Kat Mallett

Winter is now officially in full swing, with infinite grey skies and chilly mornings. Although holidaying is less common during these colder months, it is as good a time as any to visit a new place. A winter vacation offers a totally different experience, with new and exciting opportunities, such as skiing and Christmas markets. Despite the uncertainty of global travel right now, we can start to plan (or at least dream) of where we’d like to be this wintertime. 

Iceland is always a good idea, but a visit in the colder months is quite simply a must. A mere 3-hour flight from Cardiff, the capital city of Reykjavík is both quaint and beautiful. Being the countries largest city, and housing about 2/3 of the population, there is a lot of history and charisma to be admired. It is a good idea to do a walking-tour of the city to get to grips with its history, and to see some of the major sites, such as Parliament building and Lake Tjörnin. 

It’s not just the capital that has a lot to offer, as the natural Icelandic landscape has so much to boast as well. The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa was founded in 1992 and has since been named as one of National Geographics “25 Wonders of the World”. The lagoon is positioned in an 800-year-old lava field in the Reykjanes Peninsula and is just a 50-minute journey from Reykjavík. The geothermal seawater is enriched with silica, algae and minerals, and thus has exceptional healing and revitalising properties. The waters unmistakable blue colour is a result of the way the silica reflects the sunlight and provides an unmissable photo opportunity for the ‘gram!

As well as the Blue Lagoon, Iceland is home to the Northern Lights. The best time of year to attempt to see this natural phenomena is between September and April, so Iceland is practically perfect for a winter retreat! The enchanting green aurora is caused by electrically charged particles from the sun crashing into the Earth’s magnetic field, and this makes for a truly breath-taking display. Witnessing the lights can sometimes be hit or miss, as you need a combination of total darkness, cloud-free skies and a little bit of luck, but it is definitely worth the struggle!

There is no doubt that Iceland is a country full of bounteous wonders. It is therefore the perfect place for a winter wanderer, who is looking for an abundance of opulent mountains, caves and rich history to explore.

BerlinWords by Maggie Gannon

Given the current circumstances, the future of international travel remains uncertain. However, when the restrictions do begin to ease, or if you are just thinking about future travel prospects for the upcoming winters, Berlin is certainly a city that will offer you plenty to do.

The weather in late autumn/early winter can be quite grey and cold, so wrapping up warm is recommended! Also, it is handy to stay near a metro station, preferably in the area of Mitte, to ensure you are close to attractions and won’t be trekking home on a cold, dark night. That being said, waking up early and walking around is a great way to explore some of Berlin’s best sights. Some of its major attractions are beginning to gradually reopen, with the likes of Museum Island and the Olympic stadium, so walking is a good way to explore the city.

A great place to start is the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, where much longer stretches of art can found in comparison to those at Checkpoint Charlie and Potsdamer Platz. Some of these images are very striking, and as a result, many people will spend hours walking along this gallery. 

Photo Credit: Maggie Gannon

As you gradually move towards the city, alongside the main postcard places such as the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building, shopping at the main department store Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) which boasts 8 floors, as well as a winter garden on its top floor, is a must see. Although this department store is definitely on the pricier side and is comparable to that of Harrods in London, it certainly boasts a Christmas feel and will put you in the spirit of the festivities. Berlin is a city that comes alive at Christmas, with the traditional and well-known German Christmas markets covering the city. Be sure to know whether you are looking for arts and crafts, or more food-based stalls, as markets can vary depending on what they are catering for. On top of this, the Berlin botanical garden opens its winter scene from the 20th November this year, where ice skating and long walks along fairy light paths can be enjoyed.

After a long day of sightseeing there are plenty of German delicacies to be enjoyed whether this be at a cosy winter market, or perhaps at the 360-degree view panoramic restaurant situated at the top of the iconic Berlin TV tower (The Fernsehturm). Some of the most common and popular foods include schnitzel, apfelstrudel, currywurst, berliner doughnuts and Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes). Whether it’s good food, culture, history or festivities you are looking for, Berlin is a great place to start.

AmsterdamWords by Alice Clifford

While Amsterdam doesn’t really need to be promoted, as its reputation alone is enough for you to pack your bags and fly to the Dutch capital, I can’t help but think of Amsterdam when I dream about  the best winter breaks. The thought of taking strolls through the bustling city streets, cycling around the beautiful parks and spending hours in cosy cafes is enough for me to buy a ticket.

Like most European cities, Amsterdam knows how to create a festive atmosphere, so if you are a sucker for Christmas markets you will not be disappointed. There are so many to see throughout the city, from the traditional Ice Village that can be found at Amsterdam’s Museumplein, to the Funky Xmas market, which is a labyrinth of small kiosks selling the work of local artists. Each stall offers handmade jewellery and accessories, along with an array of different arts and crafts. However, if you are looking for a more winter wonderland kind of event then you should head to the extravaganza that is Amsterdam Winter Paradise. Here you will find both indoor and outdoor skating, a huge Ferris wheel, and plenty of alpine bars and restaurants to keep you entertained for hours.

As well as playing Christmas market bingo there are also so many other things to see and do in Amsterdam, however cold the weather. Parks such as Vondelpark, Westerpark and Amstelpark are perfect spots for winter walks and cycle rides. Or if you fancy finding a cosy corner somewhere, Pancakes Amsterdam is a perfect spot to spend a few hours, plus as the name may give away, they do incredible pancakes.

Finally, while we are on the theme of winter, it would be crazy not to recommend going to Amsterdam’s famous ice bar. Here you are literally surrounded by ice, with ice walls, ice chairs, ice glasses, and as the name states, an ice bar, which creates the feeling of an igloo. There is also an array of drinks to choose from, the best of all being the variety of flavoured shots, for example, a nutmeg vodka that tastes exactly like Nutella! However, if the thought of shots takes you back to doing one too many tequila shots in the SU, beers and soft drinks are also available!

So, as the sky starts to darken, and the frost starts to creep upon the grass, don’t let it get you down, instead, take that as a sign to pack a thick coat and gloves and whisk yourself away, preferably to a place where you don’t have to quarantine for 2 weeks after!