The world's 10 best countries to visit in winter

Paradise is not always a sandy beach. Not to me, anyway. Not to every traveller. The official vision of holiday perfection might involve swaying palm trees and a burning hot sun, but travel doesn't always have to be that way.

There are some of us who like the cold. Some of us who enjoy a blizzard. Some of us who glory in the mercury dropping and the sky closing in.

As the Canadians say, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes". Cold-climate destinations have so much to offer those who turn up in the right gear.

These places might not be paradise in the way we have been taught to think about it, but once you have been there and strapped on skis or crampons, once you have ridden toboggans or snowmobiles, once you have sipped gluhwein or dipped fondue, you will never look back.

Canada

tra3-online-cold Emerald lake Chalet, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Photo: Shutterstock

There is so much to do in Canada in winter – it is almost a shame that it overshadows the warm-weather activities. Once the temperatures drop in the land of maple leaves you can ski or snowboard some of the world's best mountains in British Columbia and Alberta, you can go ice-climbing in canyons such as Johnston in Alberta, you can drive the Icefields Parkway, you can go tobogganing on an outdoor slide in Quebec City, you can go dog-sledding, snow-shoeing, ice-skating, ice-fishing, or just stand outside and watch the Northern Lights.

Japan

A Japanese snow monkey relaxes in a hot spring in the Jigokudani valley in northern Nagano Prefecture in Japan Friday, Feb 10, 2012. The macaques descend from the forests to the warm waters of the hot springs in the mornings, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Photo: AP

Every season in Japan has something to offer: cherry blossoms in spring, festivals in summer, colourful leaves in autumn, and of course, skiing and snowboarding in winter. The famous "Japow" has been drawing Australians to the slopes of Hakuba and Niseko for years. But there is more to appreciate in Japan in colder months. Check out the snow monkeys in Jigokudani. Visit an "rotenburo", or open-air onsen, and watch snow fall as you soak in a hot spring. Go to a winter festival. Eat winter foods like nabe and oden. And enjoy the season for what it is.

Norway

Northern Lights above waters edge
BREAKOUT SatSep15norway - Norway Cruise - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

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Norway in winter is all about getting into the cold outdoors. It is about seeing northern outposts like Alta and Tromso covered in snow. It is about sleeping under a clear dome and watching the Northern Lights colour the sky. It is about going dog-sledding or snow-shoeing through quiet wilderness, spending time with reindeer herders, going cross-country skiing, or even learning the sport of biathlon.

United States

tra3-online-cold NEW YORK, USA - JANUARY 2: skate on January 2, 2008 in New York: tourists and skaters in the famous Rockefeller Center during the Christmas holidays.

Ice skaters at Rockefeller Centre in New York. Photo: Shutterstock

The US knows how to do winter right. It is not just the standard wilderness activities, the skiing in the Rockies, the snowmobile trips in Alaska, the snow-shoeing anywhere the white stuff falls. It is also about winter culture and events: seeing houses lit up with Christmas lights; ice-skating on open-air rinks; walking through snow-covered parks; seeing giant Christmas trees and holiday window displays. There is nowhere else in the world quite like it.

Switzerland

ADELBODEN - Ein Fondue Caquelon. Copyright by Adelboden Tourismus By-line: swiss-image.ch/Anja Zurbruegg Fondue MAY12WITZERLAND

A Swiss winter tradition: Fondue. Photo: swiss-image.ch/Anja Zurbruegg

Most people will be drawn to Switzerland in winter for the snow sports, and that is understandable. But it is only once you are there that you discover the other side to winter culture in this spectacularly beautiful country: the traditional fondue, made with local "alp cheese", served in old guesthouses; the shots of kirsch, the cherry brandy, to ward against the cold; the tobogganing on traditional wooden sleighs; the ancient Christmas and New Year's traditions. You'd stay for that.

Antarctica

Touring 'The iceberg graveyard'

Photo: Craig Platt

This might just be the ultimate cold-climate destination, the continent on the bottom of the world, virtually uninhabited, silent and brooding and incredibly beautiful. The entire experience of visiting Antarctica is memorable, from the boat trip through the savage Drake Passage, to the first sight of land, to the penguin encounters, the research base visits, the glacier walks, the whale watching, and so much more.

New Zealand

SunSep24cover - Neighbourhood Watch - Sheriden Rhodes Coronet Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand Please credit: Coronet Peak

Photo: Coronet Peak

Australians have long understood the greatness of Kiwiland in the colder months (all 10 of them). Skiing and snowboarding is a highlight, obviously – there is a reason the likes of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables are filled with Australian accents. But winter in New Zealand is also bungee jumping and jet-boating, it is winery visits and whale-watching trips, rugby matches and spectacular road trips.

Austria

SunDec10cover Around the World in Special Days ; text by Brian Johnston *** EDITORIAL USE ONLY *** credit: Shutterstock SALBURG, AUSTRIA - 11TH DECEMBER 2015: Decorations and buildings at Salzburg Christmas Market in the Domplatz area at night. People can be seen.

Christmas in Salzburg . Photo: Shutterstock

This is another classic European winter destination. You could travel here for the scenery alone, for the fairytale villages, the soaring, rugged mountains, the snowy forests and frozen lakes. However, there is also culture to enjoy, in the form of Christmas markets and other associated traditions, winter food like sweetly delicious Kaiserschmarrn, plus what is probably the greatest apres-ski culture in the world in resort towns like St Anton.

Chile/Argentina

tra3-online-cold Trekking the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina

Hiking on the Perito Moreno glacier  in Patagonia. Photo: Shutterstock

I have grouped these two together because they share their greatest winter attraction: Patagonia. This might be low season for the huge wilderness area in the countries' south, but winter does have its charms, with the skies often clear, the countryside blanketed in snow and ice, and the chance of spotting wildlife high. Both Chile and Argentina also offer skiing in winter – in resorts such as Portillo in the former and Bariloche in the latter.

Iceland

tra3-online-cold The famous waterfall Gullfoss not far from Reykjavik in Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall. Photo: Shutterstock

It makes sense that you would visit somewhere called Iceland in the colder months to get the full experience. And though the days are short and the nights are bone-shatteringly chilly, there really is a lot to do in Iceland in winter. You can view the Northern Lights, for starters. You can also visit natural attractions like Gullfoss waterfall, and the island's various hot springs and geysers, as well as go horse riding, whale watching, and even snorkelling (in a dry-suit) in the volcanic fissures of Silfra if you're really keen.

Where is your favourite cold-climate destination? What's the secret to enjoying a place when the weather is chilly?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Twelve winter resorts that will take your breath away

See also: Twenty-three great bucket-list winter adventures

Podcast: The best cold climate destinations

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