For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere winter family vacations are marked by cold and if we’re lucky, snow. Every classic Christmas movie portrays winter months as the perfect time to sip hot cocoa, take romantic sleigh rides, and go ice skating under the stars.
I’ve compiled a list of the best winter vacation ideas to live out those picturesque movie scenes in real life.
- Top Destinations for Winter Vacations
- Unique Winter Vacation Activities
- Accommodation and Amenities
- Planning Tips for a Winter Vacation
- Winter Vacation Packing List
Top Destinations for Winter Family Vacations
1. Banff, Canada
Banff, winter family vacations haven nestled in the Canadian Rockies. Here, the powdery snow invites you to indulge in skiing and snowboarding. The town itself, has the most charming streets, and offers a great spot for the whole family to explore. It’s the perfect place to relax beneath the majestic Rocky Mountains.
During the New Year festivities, Banff transforms into a winter wonderland with its lively celebrations. Additionally, many resorts here feature luxurious amenities like fitness centers, enhancing your stay.
2. Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is a tourist haven on the border of California and Nevada. This destination is ideal for being within road trip distance of numerous major metropolitan areas. Families can enjoy the breathtaking lake views and cozy up in cabins with easy access to the great outdoors.
Lake Tahoe’s resorts often boast a heated outdoor pool, providing a unique view amidst the snowy landscape. The ideal time to visit is mid-January when daytime temperatures are perfect for outdoor fun.
3. Lapland, Finland
Lapland is where winter fantasies come to life. It is a winter wonderland that brings every family’s snowy Santa dreams to reality. Imagine the thrill as you chase the ethereal Northern Lights across the Arctic sky. It is truly mesmerizing spectacle. The Santa Claus Village offers a magical experience, especially for the little ones, filled with festive joy and enchanting moments.
This destination invites you to explore its unique landscape via dog sledding tours and unforgettable reindeer encounters. This destination is not just about the sights, it’s about creating heartwarming memories on your winter family vacation, surrounded by the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
4. St Moritz, Switzerland
A blend of elegance and winter thrills is experience in St Moritz. This specific place in Switzerland, epitomizes the perfect blend of elegance and classic winter thrills. Renowned for its luxurious ambiance and rich winter sports heritage, St Moritz stands out as a premier destination for families looking for an upscale winter getaway.
Here, you can indulge in world-class skiing and bobsledding, or take a more relaxed approach by unwinding in one of the many high-end resorts, each offering breathtaking views of the snow-covered landscape. St Moritz is not just about sports, it’s about experiencing a refined winter wonderland where elegance and outdoor adventures coexist, making it a great destination for a memorable family vacation.
5. Nagano, Japan
Nagano is Japan’s winter sports capital. Nestled amidst the Japanese Alps, Nagano stands as a beacon for those seeking a winter family vacation that perfectly blends culture with adventure. As the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, it boasts world-class ski resorts catering to all skill levels, from beginners to experts, ensuring that every family member has an enjoyable time on the slopes.
Beyond skiing, immerse in the rich culture of the region, from witnessing the famous snow monkeys in their natural hot spring habitat to exploring ancient temples shrouded in snow. Nagano is a journey into the heart of Japan’s winter beauty, making it an ideal and unforgettable destination for a winter family getaway.
6. Quebec City, Canada
Experience a European vibe in North America by visiting Quebec City. The old-world charm makes it a great destination to visit and winter is one of the best times to take kids. Enjoy dog sledding tours, ice castles, and the twinkling lights during the holiday season.
Quebec City is magical during the New Year celebrations, with its streets overflowing with people and vendors. The city also offers direct flights from major cities all over the United States, making it an accessible winter family break spot.
7. Whistler, Canada
Whistler, in British Columbia, is renowned for its ski resorts and vibrant village life. Families can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and a range of winter activities, making it a top pick for a winter family break. The town also offers great dining options and shopping for a complete holiday experience. Many accommodations in Whistler provide fitness centers for those ready to kick off New Year’s resolutions early. Visiting in early December can be the best way to enjoy the area before the peak crowds arrive.
8. Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado, offers a classic winter getaway for families. Known for its top-notch ski slopes and upscale amenities, it’s a great place for those seeking a sophisticated winter break. Enjoy the blend of outdoor activities and community events in this picturesque mountain town.
Aspen is home to some of the best winter vacations, with its high-end resorts offering amenities like spa treatments and fitness centers. The ideal time to visit Aspen is during January, when the town is less crowded, yet the snow is abundant.
9. Park City, Utah
Park City is a winter wonderland with family-friendly ski resorts and charming downtown streets. This destination is perfect for families looking for a mix of skiing and local culture, with plenty of options for dining and entertainment.
Resorts here often feature luxurious amenities such as spas and hot tubs, enhancing your winter vacation day and night. Park City is also a great place to visit during the New Year, with its festive atmosphere and lively celebrations.
10. New York City, New York
New York City has been my favorite place to visit during winter. From ice skating in Rockefeller Center, to the holiday lights of Bryant Park, and carriage rides through Central Park, it’s an ideal spot for a winter family break. The city offers a perfect blend of urban excitement and festive charm.
The winter months in NYC is also a great time to explore indoor attractions like museums and theaters. Plus, with direct flights from all over the world, it’s one of the best places for an easily accessible winter getaway.
11. Kiruna, Sweden
Discover the enchanting Arctic charm of Kiruna, Sweden, a true winter wonderland. In this perfect destination, families can immerse themselves in a world of ice and snow. The world-renowned Ice Hotel provides a once-in-a-lifetime lodging experience, with its rooms sculpted entirely out of ice.
Beyond the hotel, explore the pristine Arctic wilderness on a thrilling snowshoe adventure or a memorable dog-sledding journey. The highlight for many is the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, painting the night sky in vibrant colors, a magical spectacle that captivates all ages. Kiruna is an Arctic adventure that your family will treasure forever.
Unique Activities for Winter Family Vacations
1. Ice Skating Adventures
Ice skating is a quintessential winter activity. Think of gliding across the ice with your family in iconic locations like New York City’s Rockefeller Center while thousands of eyes watch you from above. It’s an ideal way to enjoy the colder months and create lasting memories.
2. Snow Tubing Thrills
Snow tubing offers exhilarating fun for all ages. Destinations like Lake Tahoe and Aspen feature family-friendly tubing hills, where laughter and excitement fill the air. It’s a perfect activity for a winter family getaway.
3. Cross-Country Skiing Excursions
For families who love exploring, cross-country skiing provides an adventurous way to traverse the snowy landscapes. It’s a great way to immerse in nature and enjoy the winter scenery.
4. Horseback Riding in Snow
Think of horseback riding through a winter wonderland. This unique activity, available in destinations like Lapland, allows families to experience the beauty of winter in a novel and engaging way.
5. Sleigh Rides
Sleigh rides are a magical winter experience. In places like Banff, Quebec City and Aspen, families can cuddle under blankets while gliding through snowy landscapes. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the season’s charm.
6. Winter Sports Thrills
Winter sports, from skiing to snowboarding, are must-do activities. Resorts in Whistler and Banff provide families with world-class winter sports opportunities, perfect for an active and fun-filled vacation.
7. Dog Sledding Tours
Dog sledding is an unforgettable experience, offering a unique way to explore snowy terrains. Destinations like Banff, Lake Tahoe and Kiruna offer dog sledding tours, turning a winter family vacation into an Arctic adventure.
8. Indoor Pool and Water Parks Enjoyment
Even in the coldest months, indoor pools and water parks offer a tropical escape. Destinations like Whistler provide indoor aquatic fun, ensuring that your winter family vacation has a splash of summer warmth.
9. Hot Tub Relaxation and Fireside Gatherings
After a day full of activities, there’s nothing like relaxing in a hot tub with stunning views of snow-capped mountains in St Moritz, or gathering around a cozy fire in Nagano. These moments of relaxation are essential for a perfect winter family vacation.
10. Creative Workshops
Fun for the little ones, creative workshops, like cookie decorating and crafts, add an educational and fun element to your winter getaway.
Accommodation and Amenities for Winter Family Vacations
1. Ski-Out Access Resorts
For families who love skiing, resorts with ski-out access are a dream come true. Destinations like Whistler and Aspen offer this luxury, allowing you to step out and hit the slopes immediately. It’s convenience at its finest, making your winter getaway seamless and fun.
2. Indoor Pools
Hotels with indoor pools provide a perfect balance of fun and relaxation for families. These pools offer a warm escape from the cold and a great spot for kids to play and adults to unwind.
3. Cozy Vacation Rentals
Discover the comfort of vacation rentals in places like Lake Tahoe and Banff. Equipped with amenities like hot tubs and fireplaces, they offer a cozy, intimate setting for families to relax together after a day of winter activities.
4. Water Parks
Resorts with water parks add an extra layer of excitement to your winter family vacation. Some destinations boast incredible indoor water parks, perfect for a day of aquatic fun regardless of the weather.
5. Spacious and Convenient Options
When traveling with the whole family, space and convenience are key. Accommodations in Nagano and Lapland offer family suites and apartments, complete with kitchenettes and multiple bedrooms, ensuring a comfortable and hassle-free stay.
6. Lodges with Fireplaces and Hot Tubs
After a day in the snow, there’s nothing like returning to a cozy lodge. Picture a family evening in a warm, inviting room with a crackling fireplace in St. Moritz, or unwinding in a hot tub under the stars. These amenities create a homely winter experience.
7. Fitness Centers
For families who like to stay active, hotels with a fitness center are an ideal choice. Whether it’s a quick workout or a yoga session, these facilities, available in destinations like New York to keep you energized during your vacation.
8. Dining Options
A winter family vacation is incomplete without exploring local cuisine. Resorts in culinary hotspots like Quebec City and Aspen offer diverse dining options, from casual eateries to fine dining, catering to every palate.
9. Exclusive Resorts with Unique Features
In destinations like St Moritz and Kiruna, luxury resorts offer a posh experience. From rooms with breathtaking views to concierge services that arrange unique local activities, these resorts cater to every detail of your winter family vacation.
Winter Family Vacations Planning Tips
1. Choosing the Best Time to Travel
Hit the sweet spot of winter travel. Timing your trip is crucial for memorable winter family vacations. Consider visiting places like Aspen or Whistler during off-peak times to avoid crowds. Visiting New York City during the holiday season or early in the new year is the perfect time for family getaways.
This period offers a mix of festive charm and quieter moments. The ideal time often balances good snow conditions with fewer tourists, ensuring a more intimate and enjoyable experience for the family.
2. Budget-Friendly Winter Vacation
Enjoy a luxury winter vacation for less. Your winter family vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Look for bundled deals in destinations like Banff and Lake Tahoe, where accommodation and activity packages can offer significant savings. Early bookings and mid-week stays often come with lower rates, making your dream vacation more affordable.
3. Family-Friendly Accommodations
Choose accommodations with family-friendly amenities. Look for hotels with indoor water parks with easy access to ski slopes. Ensure they have options like family suites or vacation rentals with enough space for the whole family.
4. Winter Activities and Attractions
Research and plan for winter activities that suit your family’s interests. Whether it’s skiing in Whistler or snow tubing in Banff, having a clear idea of what each destination offers helps in planning a fulfilling vacation.
5. Dining on Local Cuisine
Plan to explore local dining options. Cities like New York and Quebec City are known for their diverse culinary scenes. From street food to fine dining, experiencing local flavors is an integral part of any vacation.
6. Creating a Flexible Itinerary
A successful winter family vacation balances planned activities with spontaneity. Allow room in your itinerary for unexpected adventures or simply relaxing at your resort. This flexibility can lead to some of the best vacation memories.
7. Capturing Memories
Remember to capture your winter family vacation moments. Whether it’s the stunning scenery of the Rockies or the excitement of Santa in Lapland, these photos and videos will be cherished for years to come.
8. Transportation Tips
Smooth sailing to your winter destination. Ease of travel can significantly enhance your vacation experience. Opt for destinations with direct flights like New York City or those with easy access from major airports, reducing travel fatigue. Researching and planning your transportation in advance, whether it’s renting a car in Quebec City or arranging shuttle services in Nagano, can make your journey hassle-free.
9. Activities for All Ages
Fun for every family member. When planning activities, consider the interests and abilities of each family member. Destinations like Kiruna offer a range of activities from adventurous snow sports to gentler cultural experiences, ensuring that everyone from the youngest to the oldest has a memorable time.
10. Safety First
Safe and sound adventures. Safety is paramount, especially in winter conditions. Choose destinations like St Moritz or Whistler known for their well-maintained facilities and professional services. Always check weather conditions and be prepared with emergency contacts and first aid kits.
Packing Essentials for Winter Trips
1. Warm Clothing
Essential for all winter destinations. Include thermal layers, sweaters, and warm socks to stay cozy in cold climates like Banff or Whistler.
2. Waterproof Gear
A must for snow activities. Pack waterproof jackets, snow pants, and gloves to keep dry while skiing in Aspen or snow tubing in Park City.
3. Comfortable Footwear
Crucial for both walking and winter sports. Include waterproof boots for snowy adventures and comfortable shoes for exploring cities like New York or Quebec.
Often overlooked but essential. The sun’s rays can be strong in snowy areas, so protect your skin, especially in high-altitude destinations like Lake Tahoe.
5. Hats, Scarves, and Ear Muffs
Keep your head and neck warm. These are especially important in windy destinations.
6. Quality Sunglasses
Protect your eyes from the glare of the snow, vital for ski resorts like Whistler.
7. Moisturizer and Lip Balm
Combat dry winter air. A must-have for maintaining skin health, particularly in cold, dry places like Aspen.
8. Insulated Water Bottle
Stay hydrated in the cold. Keeps water from freezing in chilly environments.
9. External Phone Battery
Keep your devices charged for safety and capturing memories, especially during long days outdoors.
10. First Aid Kit
Always be prepared for minor injuries, especially when participating in outdoor winter activities.
For energy boosts during activities. Easy-to-carry options are great for days spent exploring or on the ski slopes.
12. Backpack or Daypack
To carry your essentials during your outings, particularly useful for families exploring large theme parks or national parks.
13. Thermal Flask
For keeping hot beverages warm, a comforting addition for chilly days.
14. Camera or Smartphone with a Good Camera
To capture those precious vacation moments, especially in picturesque locations.
For hotels with indoor pools or hot tubs, an often overlooked item in winter packing.
Explore how to pack for a vacation with a minimalist approach here.
Making the Most of Your Winter Vacation
Embracing Local Culture and Festivities
Immerse your family in the local culture. Winter destinations offer unique cultural experiences and live music events. Explore the historic streets of Quebec City or enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine in Nagano, embracing local customs and traditions is a great way to enrich your family’s experience and create lasting memories.
Finding Something for Everyone
Choose destinations with a variety of activities. Ensure each family member has their highlight. In destinations like Park City or Whistler, balance outdoor activities like skiing with indoor entertainment such as visiting museums or relaxing in indoor pools. This variety keeps everyone engaged and happy throughout the trip.
Capturing Unforgettable Moments
Don’t forget to capture the joy and laughter. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially on a family vacation. Capture the beauty of Banff’s landscapes or the magical Northern Lights in Kiruna. Collect keepsakes like local handicrafts or Christmas ornaments to keep the memories of your winter family vacations alive long after you return home.
Taking Time to Unwind
Cherish the down time. While it’s tempting to pack your schedule, remember to relax. Cozy evenings by the fire in a lodge in Aspen or stargazing from a hot tub in Lake Tahoe can be just as fulfilling as a day on the slopes. These moments allow the family to connect and recharge.
Trying New Experiences
Dare to explore. Encourage your family to try new activities. Whether it’s dog sledding in Lapland or snowshoeing in St Moritz, stepping out of your comfort zone together can be incredibly rewarding and adds an exciting element to your winter vacation.
Adapt and enjoy. Weather can be unpredictable, and plans might need to change. Embrace the unexpected – if snow conditions change in Aspen, consider indoor activities or exploring nearby attractions. Flexibility can lead to unexpected adventures and joy.
Cherish Every Moment of Your Winter Family Vacations
Each destination on this list offers its unique charm, from the snowy mountains to festive streets and the serene beauty of crystal clear lakes. Planning the perfect winter getaway is about finding the right mix of adventure, relaxation, and family bonding.
So, pack your bags, embrace the winter months, and set off on a journey that will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime.