Can’t afford a steamy tropical vacation this winter? No worries. Bundle up embrace the cold with these super cozy (and family-friendly) winter festivals found around the world. Some of the best winter vacation spots are hiding right in plain sight: explore majestic ice sculptures in China, watch twinkling lights in the Netherlands, compete in winter games in New York, and so much more. Here are our 11 favorite winter festivals for travelers who love the cold:
When: The official opening ceremony is on January 5th, 2024, but the ice and snow sculptures are open to public viewing from December 17th, 2023.
The Harbin Ice Festival is, by far, one of the coolest things to do in China. Over 120,000 cubic meters of ice and 111,000 cubic meters of snow are used to create this winter wonderland, hand-crafted by famous ice sculptors from around the country. It’s not just replicas of famous buildings though; you’ll find snow slides, sledding, skating, and over two thousand snowmen. And it’s all lit up with beautiful lights so the fun lasts well into the night. If you’re feeling brave, you can try snow swimming. Don’t miss the opening ceremony with fireworks and music.
When: February 3, 2023 to February 11, 2023
Once a year, Portland lights up in a gorgeous Winter Light Festival inspired by light festivals all over Europe, such as the famous Festival of Lights in Lyon, France. Designed to banish away the wintery darkness, installations appear all over the city and the levels of creativity are seriously impressive. Portland takes the ‘turning on the Christmas lights’ tradition to a whole new level with tunnels of light to walk through, acrobatic light displays, and fire performers. This is one of the most instagrammable festivals and full of surprises. You’ll find hot chocolate and street food to keep the chills at bay and there are more than a few choir performances to catch that make for a wholesome, family-friendly outing.
When: February 3, 2023 – February 12, 2023
There’s some serious history behind this exciting winter festival in Quebec City. The tradition dates back to 1894, and was created to brighten up those harsh Canadian winters. Set in Old Quebec, the Quebec Winter Carnival feels like you’ve stumbled into a European winter wonderland, if not for all the totally unique traditions that make the festival distinctly Canadian. Do you know how to tie your arrow sash? It was a belt tied in a special way used to keep out the cold, but is now a fixture of the festival. Don’t forget to dress up in red and grab your trumpet! The parades are amazing, as you might expect from the world’s biggest winter carnival. Travel down the Grande Allée from avenue des Érables to place George-V in an extravaganza of music, floats, and color. Make sure you catch the races, daily events, and see the ice sculptures to catch all of the wintery fun.
When: February 3, 2023 to February 12, 2023
One of the oldest winter festivals in the US, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has celebrated the winter season since 1897 with a host of events that center around the epic 3000-block Ice Palace. The Winter Carnival Royalty is crowned, winter games commence, and you can try some Nordic skiing, arctic frisbee, and ice skating if you are in any way competent on the ice. The highlight of the event, however, is saved right until the end when the ‘storming of the palace’ happens: a huge fireworks display is set off around the palace illuminating the ice for an unforgettable, magical finale.
When: February 18, 2023
Slovenia is a country that loves festivals, and their winter carnival, which welcomes in the spring, is a larger-than-life mix of pagan and Christian traditions that have to be experienced. The Ljubljana Dragon Carnival is held in the central square in Maribor and is a wash of color, fun, and so many masks. You’ll see most of the city getting into the spirit of things by dressing up in costumes of bears, fairies, witches, and devils in an attempt to scare off the winter months and welcome in the warmer weather. You may be wondering where the dragon comes into all of this, and you won’t miss him since the big, green beast leads the parade and the creatures behind him. You can also head to other parts of Slovenia to catch some of the other masked winter festivals that happen around the same time.
When: February 2, 2023 – February 26, 2023
If you’re after a winter festival of a different colour, throw yourself into Vinterjazz, where they celebrate the cold months with over 600 jazz concerts all over Denmark. You can get into the winter spirit at some of Denmark’s largest music venues, or even snuggle up in a cozy Copenhagen cafe to absorb all the hygge atmosphere. With both national and international musicians performing and both paid and free performances, there’s never a dull moment during a Denmark winter season…
When: February 16, 2023 to February 23, 2023
Millions of people come from all over the world to gather in the city and enjoy the festivities that date back to the Middle Ages. Being Germany, the beer and glühwein are excellent and free flowing, making this one of the booziest winter festivals on this list. The Cologne Winter Carnival‘s crazy events include ‘Fat Thursday’, involving women cutting off men’s ties and rewarding them with a kiss, and ‘Rose Monday’, which polishes off a weekend of drinking and fun with a day of marching bands, outrageous floats, and street parties. The festivities last around a week and, while things are still open, you’ll actually find people dressed up and in the holiday spirit all week long, even while working!
When: November 30, 2023 to January 21, 2024
This is easily one of the most exciting events in Amsterdam over the winter, and one of the easiest to catch because it lasts a couple of months in an attempt to banish those winter blues. Comprised of hundreds of art installations made of light, the Amsterdam Light Festival is home to exhibits both on land and on water. The water exhibits are drawn out over the picturesque Herengracht canal and make for a stunning winter stroll with mulled wine– you can even see them on the water by taking a canal tour! The land exhibits get particularly innovative with interactive light installations that respond to touch and sound. Winter has never been this fun.
When: February 3, 2024 to February 13, 2024
Venice is special at the best of times, but during Carnival Festival, it’s like stepping into another world of elegance, color, and fun. The festival lasts two weeks and signals the end of winter. While it’s a fun-packed fortnight, there are a few events within the two weeks that you don’t want to miss. First, the Water Parade, where brightly decorated boats sail down Rio di Cannaregio in a stunning display, and then the party really starts when the food stalls and music get going. Next, you’ll want to catch the Festa delle Marie, which is on the second Sunday and features the costumed procession that the carnival is most famous for. This is where you’ll see those incredible outfits and masks as they travel from Garibaldi to Piazza San Marco. Finally, the Flight of the Angel, also on the second Sunday, sees a rope angel fly up to the doge, an impressive acrobatic display that rounds off the fun.
When: February 4, 2024 – February 11, 2024
Every February, Sapporo hosts Japan’s most popular winter festival, the Sapporo Snow Festival, attracting two million visitors each year. Similar to the Harbin festival, the ice sculptures are the main event here with towering, illuminated castles and statues as tall as 15 meters to admire. Have a go on the snow slides and get lost in the snow maze for some chilly activities. What makes the Sapporo festival particularly cozy, however, are the amazing food and drink stalls lining the three festival sites: Odori Site, Susukino Site, and the TsuDome Site, plus the live music that adds to the fun and festive atmosphere. If you’re seeking a super cozy way to snow this winter season, this the Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the best things to do in Japan.
When: Dates TBA
Like most Korean festivals, there isn’t a dull moment to be had at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. Hwacheon is a village in the northernmost part of South Korea. Ready to try fishing with your bare hands in the freezing cold water? If not, you can watch the more experienced brave the cold. It’s seriously impressive. You’ll even start seeing people jumping into the ice pool, possibly a soju induced decision. Any fish you catch, with your hands or otherwise, can be taken and freshly cooked for you on-site, which is a big part of the festival. If fishing isn’t your thing, there’s also huge ice-skating rinks, zip-lining, sledding and delicious Korean street food to enjoy, or you can just sit back and watch the ice hockey and ice soccer games. The town of Hwacheon is also beautifully decorated with winter lanterns and lights and is perfect for a walk after all the fun.