Winter is around the corner. For most people, the winter holiday is definitely a busy time to travel, with Christmas and New Year in this period. Not to mention that most winter activities are quite expensive. From skiing to snowboarding, it's almost hard to find affordable destinations you can visit during the winter.
If you're like me, you know too well that coming from a tropical country, going on a winter holiday to enjoy the colder weather and occasionally snow is considered a luxury thing that not all of us can experience.
So in this post, I'll write about some simple tips to prepare for your first winter holiday. And on top of that, I've collaborated with some fellow bloggers and travelers to compile some recommended destinations for your first winter vacations. Those that are affordable, with plenty of things to do to enjoy the colder weather… With or without snow!
21 Affordable Destinations to Visit for Your First Winter Vacation
Winter activities are not exactly the cheapest holiday option there is if you can help it. However, there are many destinations where you can go for your winter holiday without breaking the bank. Whether you want to go there to experience the real winter wonderland with the snow or just go somewhere colder to experience the chilly weather, you can adjust to your preference.
Here are some alternative destinations you can pick for your first winter vacation. The places where you can enjoy the colder weather that are affordable with plenty of activities to do during the winter!
1. Stockholm, Sweden
One place that is also a perfect destination to spend your first winter vacation is Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden.
The city is known to receive a decent amount of snow and averages temperatures of 2°C. On top of that, there is an assortment of things to do around the city to fill your schedule.
For example, a crowd-favorite attraction is the Vasa Museum, where you can get an up-close view of the infamous Vasa Ship as well as see thousands of recovered artifacts.
Alternatively, if you want to explore the city a bit, consider walking around Gamla Stan, or the city's Old Town.
Here, you can check out the Royal Palace, the Royal Cathedral, and see some of the city's oldest, yet most colorful buildings. Furthermore, the area puts up lots of festive lights and decorations during the holiday season!
All in all, Stockholm is a great choice if you're looking to experience a winter wonderland without having to endure unbearably cold temperatures.
2. Bayern, Germany
In the south of Germany, you will find the state of Bavaria, with Munich as its capital. The beautiful landscape of Bavaria consists of mountains, forests, lakes, and old churches.
On the German side of the Alps, you will find many ski areas that are ideal for novice winter sports enthusiasts and families. Winter sports in Bavaria are also often slightly cheaper than in many ski areas that are located deeper in the Alps.
An additional advantage is that it is a bit quieter in these areas. You will not find huge ski areas in Bavaria, although a site such as Garmisch Classic enjoys international fame and you can also quickly reach the Zugspitz Arena from here.
Besides skiing you can do plenty of other activities in Bayern, such as hiking around lakes, visiting castle Neuschwanstein or wandering at one of the most beautiful villages in German: Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the best place to visit because from here you can go skiing at the Zugspitze area and do some great hikes all year round such as the hike at Eibsee. In short, a great place for both culture and nature lovers.
3. Paris, France
Paris is a wonderfully romantic city at any time of the year, but it's extra special in the wintertime because it's the slow season for tourists and you'll have a chance to experience the city like a local.
As a bonus, the prices for accommodations in Paris decrease significantly in the offseason, making this city more budget-friendly than it would be if you visited in July or August.
If you're in Paris around Christmas, don't skip wandering through an intricately decorated department store or window shopping in Le Marais.
There are so many wonderful things to do in Paris in the wintertime, from sipping a cup of rich hot chocolate from Angelina's to enjoying a tasty crepe from Au Petit Grec.
For the best prices on accommodations and restaurants, target neighborhoods that are a few kilometers from the center (but near a metro stop). When eating out in Paris, search for restaurants in Le Marais or near the Sorbonne for great deals, and avoid anywhere within a few blocks of major tourist attractions.
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you are searching for the perfect affordable winter destination for your first winter, then you need to visit Amsterdam!
One of Europe's most beautiful cities, Amsterdam is a place full of amazing things to do and see.
It is typically not the most budget-friendly holiday destination, but in the winter months, you can find accommodation and overall prices much lower! This makes it the perfect time to visit.
If you are lucky, you will get to see Amsterdam covered in some snow, and if you are extremely lucky, the canals will freeze over and you can skate on them! This is a very rare occurrence, and if you are in Amsterdam during it, then you are lucky!
However, if you aren't in Amsterdam during its coldest days, you can also go skating at the skating rink at Rijksmuseum, which is just as beautiful.
While visiting Amsterdam in winter, be sure to visit some museums, warm up in one of the many charming cafes, and explore the magical city in all its beauty.
5. Brno, Czechia
The moment you say Czech Republic (officially known as Czechia nowadays), you probably think of Prague straight away. Although Prague is a phenomenal city, with a fantastic Christmas market, thanks to its popularity, it's not the cheapest place in Czechia.
Instead, head to Brno in South Moravia. It's an easy journey from Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava with direct trains taking a couple of hours. The city of Brno is Czechia's second biggest city, and because it's less visited, it's also much more affordable.
You could spend at least a day in Brno, exploring the old historical center. There are also loads of underground attractions to get out of the cold, some of the popular ones are St James's Ossuary (the second largest Ossuary after the Catacombs in Paris) and also the Labyrinth Under the Vegetable Market. The Vegetable market is where it all happens, and during the Christmas months, you'll find a traditional market here.
A short drive from Brno is the region of Lipno, which is famed for its winter sports if you want to hit the slopes. Another place in the region to visit is the stunning fairytale-looking UNESCO-listed town of Cesky Krumlov. If you want to stay closer to the city, then a 40-minute tram ride, you'll find Brno Lake, which freezes during winter and is used for ice skating.
The weather in Czechia during the winter is cold, with temperatures resting around 0-2 degrees during January and February. Snow is likely, be sure to wrap up warm.
6. The Dolomites, Italy
The Italian Dolomites are a dramatic mountain range located in northeastern Italy, and perfect for a first Winter Wonderland vacation.
And the Best Part about Winter in the Dolomites is that you don't have to break the bank to get the fairytale snow. In fact, you could easily rock a $100 budget, including lodging, car rental, and food for a day. That's because winter is off-season for the Dolomites, and so prices are the lowest they will ever be all year.
That said, there are plenty of things to do, including snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, enjoying the mix of German and Italian food in the local towns, or just sitting near a fire admiring the snow and mountains outside.
The best place to get lodging for the winter would be either in Val di Funes town or Cortina d'Ampezzo so you can explore the little towns and eat your heart out! Who said you can't have the Dolce Vita for the holiday?!
7. Warsaw, Poland
With its affordable prices and warm vibes, Warsaw is one of the best destinations to spend your winter vacation in Europe.
Accommodation prices start from 30€ per night and flights can be really cheap if you choose a low-cost company, like Ryanair. As far as food is concerned, you can't go wrong with the traditional milk bars where you can taste authentic Polish food for only 4-5€ for a three-course meal.
If it's your first time on a winter vacation, Warsaw is the best city to enjoy spectacular snow views while enjoying amazing indoor activities and escaping the cold at the same time.
One of the best things to do on a snowy day in Warsaw is to learn everything about vodka at the Polish Vodka Museum. There's no better way to keep warm than a vodka tasting after all.
If you've spent the day playing in the snow, don't miss the chance to drink a cup or three of Wedel, the most delicious hot chocolate afterward. Last but not least, another fun winter activity in Warsaw is to join a tour of the city in a nostalgic Nysa van.
8. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is one of the most popular travel destinations in Eastern Europe, and for good reason. Besides being one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, the city is exceptionally beautiful. It offers many unique activities to keep any traveler entertained for days.
Winter is a great time to visit Budapest as the city is even prettier as a frozen winter wonderland, and the off-season means fewer people and even lower prices.
Stay in the area around the famous ruin bar Szimpla Kert, if you wish to enjoy the nightlife. This area is also full of many great restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Budapest is full of history and beautiful monuments. The best is to visit The Shoes on The Danube Bank, the impressive Parlament of Hungary, and the Gresham Palace. For history lovers, visiting The History Museum and the House of Terror Museum is a must.
After you've walked around and explored the city, visit some of the magnificent historic cafes in the city, to heat up over a warm beverage in stunning surroundings.
Lastly, Budapest is world famous for its thermal baths, and you find several places throughout the city that provide a relaxing day in the natural warm basins.
9. Malaga, Spain
Malaga is a perfect destination for a first winter holiday because of its unique climate. Whilst the town offers mild temperatures, sometimes even sunbathing weather, the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains have the most southern ski slopes in Europe, covered in snow all winter long.
For someone who has never seen snow before, this is a perfect combination of snow and sunshine.
Malaga in winter is a very affordable city, with some of its best hotels offering overnight stays for 50-60 euros. There are plenty of tapas bars in town where you can enjoy great cheap Spanish food. As you cross into Granada county, where Sierra Nevada ski resort is located, you will receive free tapas with every drink you order.
The Sierra Nevada ski resort has three ski schools, which are very useful to any visitor who wants to try winter sports but has never seen snow before. There are 120 runs of different difficulties, and newbies are welcome on the beginner slopes.
For travelers who just want to enjoy the snowy scenery, the ski lift is a great option to take in the white landscape. Usually, there is snow here from October until May.
10. Granada, Spain
One of the best places to go for your first winter vacation is the historic city of Granada in southern Spain. Besides being one of the most beautiful cities in Andalucia, not so far from Malaga, the city is also situated right in the foothills of Sierra Nevada National Park.
If you decide to go there and do not want to spend on expensive ski instructors, you can grab a plastic bag and slide down the free slopes and build snowmen on the edge of the slopes.
Granada city itself has a lot to offer and you can easily spend a week walking around charming cobblestoned streets with white-painted houses decorated with colorful pot plants.
Discover the historical Alhambra fortress, castle, and gardens which are absolutely astounding in the winter, especially the views from Mirador de San Nicolas where you get a classical backdrop of snowcapped mountains.
11. Tallinn, Estonia
Being the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn is a wonderful winter holiday location for first-timers. Estonia was one of the three former Soviet nations, and for that it has a rich history and charming architecture in its compact and easy-to-navigate Old Town.
Plan your walking tour in Tallinn Old Town, and start the exploration at the Town Hall Square. This center area is filled with cathedrals, old buildings, shops, and statues that tell a story of the city's dramatic past.
Visitors will see a few churches along their way, including St. Olaf's church, St. Mary's Cathedral, and Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. It is imperative to take a stroll along the Walls of Tallinn and reach the top of Toompea Hill. This is the viewpoint in Tallinn that offers a panoramic view of the Old Town and the Baltic Sea.
During the winter and festive seasons, Tallinn has several winter markets and the Town Hall Square, as well as many places for a great taste of local cuisine and wine.
The city enjoys one of the best value-for-money living standards in Europe, so don't miss the chance to have a fine-dining experience to enjoy a holiday feast at a price lower than many other major European cities.
12. Cappadocia, Turkiye
Cappadocia is a desert region in Turkey (officially known as Turkiye now) that is iconic for its sunrise hot air balloon tours. But many people don't know that it's actually a fantastic place to visit in the winter.
Because of its high altitude, it's known to snow during winter months, creating a magical site of unique rock formations and desert valleys that glisten in a sheet of white.
While hot air balloon flights are rare in the winter due to the icy landing sites, there is another activity that visitors can do here that you might not expect from a desert – skiing.
In 2011, Cappadocia opened its one and only ski resort on Mount Erciyes, a dormant volcano that reaches 3,916 m above sea level. The resort has 33 pistes that offer 150km of slopes. The ski slopes cater to beginner and intermediate-level skiers, so it's a great place to go if it's your first time trying out snow sports.
After a long day on the slopes, warm up your aching limbs in a Turkish Hammam (Turkish Bath) before heading out for iconic Testi Kebabs and some local wine. What better way to spend your winter vacation?
13. Uttarakhand, India
In Northern India, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is a winter wonderland in snow and frost. The Bhabar and Terai regions of Uttarakhand get covered in white in the hardcore wintry months of November to February.
Dehradun, the Winter Capital of Uttarakhand, is surely a common destination in this Himalayan State, but for the snow-picked mountains, freezing wind, and drizzling snowfall you have to travel to the interior of Uttarakhand.
A Himalayan destination always has the provision of mountain treks. During winter, if snowy mountain trekking is something that gives you an adrenaline boost, Chopta-Tungnath-Chandrashila Trek is the perfect one-day trek for beginners.
Apart from that, so many hiking trails run all over Uttarakhand. Kedarkantha Trek, Nag Tibba Trek, Panchachuli Base Camp Trek – from east to west, north to south, the snow-covered Himalayas make way for trekkers.
Even if you are not a trekker and want to relish winter vacation with your family, some snowbound places in Uttarakhand will take your breath away. One such place is Auli, where you can engage in cable car riding, skiing, and snow camping. Also, Munsyari, Mussoorie, Lansdowne, Kausani, and Chamoli are some of Uttarakhand's best winter treasures.
Macao or Macau, is an autonomous city and region of the People's Republic of China. While you can't expect snow in Macao, the weather in this small state is super chill, and there are many things you can do around Macao in the winter.
If you're not used to the typical winter weather, Macao is a good place to get used to it since winter in Macao is typically only around 10 to 15°, making it a perfect spot that is cold enough if you come from a tropical country.
In this small region just 40 minutes by ship from Hong Kong, you can still wear your favorite winter coat while you don't have to worry about layering your outfit much.
Known as “Asian Las Vegas”, there are plenty of options to give the casino a shot, although be careful since it can be quite addictive and there's a possibility that you lose more money than you earn it.
The good news is that Macao is pedestrian-friendly, so you can easily stroll around the city to see some historical spots like the Ruins of St. Paul or Senado Square.
15. Davis, WV (USA)
Located just a few hours from major cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, Davis, WV is the perfect winter vacation destination.
There are tons of things to do in Davis no matter what season you visit, but as the highest incorporated town in West Virginia, snow sports and winter activities take center stage.
There are two ski resorts near town – Timberline Mountain and Canaan Valley Ski Resort. Both are very reasonably priced and lift tickets are $90 or under per day even on Holiday dates.
If you're looking for something a little cheaper, try tubing, snowshoeing, or ice skating at Canaan Resort. White Grass Ski Touring Center also offers some of the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the southeast.
Another popular place in the area is Blackwater Falls State Park. Hike out to the iconic Blackwater Falls – no need for snowshoes. Take in a gorgeous sunset from Pendleton Point or admire the views from behind the Lodge.
The state park is also home to the longest sled run on the East Coast so bring out your inner kid again and go sledding!
Make sure to check out the restaurants and shops along the main drag in downtown Davis – Stumptown Ales is a favorite local hangout. You'll find that the restaurants are very reasonably priced here too.
16. Cleveland, OH (USA)
An affordable destination for your first winter vacation in the US is Cleveland, OH. Located on the shores of Lake Erie in northeast Ohio, there is plenty of snow to go around.
If experiencing that white stuff for the first time is on your list of things to do, typically you won't be disappointed. There are plenty of ways to get out and enjoy it, too. Head south to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where entry is free and there are endless opportunities for winter recreation.
The park has plenty of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Downhill skiing and snowboarding options in the area, including Boston Mills and Brandywine Resorts.
The hills are smaller in comparison to many big resorts, so these are great places to learn. If skiing or snowboarding is too intimidating, you can still enjoy the resorts on the snow tubing hill.
There is a fee for snow tubing, so if you'd rather enjoy a free activity, check out the Kendall Hills sledding hill. Bring your own sled or toboggan and enjoy the hill as much as you'd like.
17. Minnesota, USA
For someone looking for an affordable winter destination with plenty of snow and great cold weather experiences, consider booking a trip to Minnesota.
Winter in Minnesota is magical and is different than many other places around the country.
From pine trees dusted in snow to every outdoor winter activity you can imagine, the Land of 10,000 Lakes has it all.
Although the weather is cold, it's the perfect place to see snow and experience an “Up North” winter.
All around the state, you can find activities to participate in that are inexpensive, such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The equipment for both of these activities can be rented at many stores or at several state parks.
Downhill skiing is another popular activity that is more expensive, but is still great fun, especially with the endless powder that Minnesota seems to receive.
Action seekers will love flying across a frozen lake on a snowmobile rental, or just relaxing on the lake for a day of ice fishing. During the holiday season, there are Christmas festivals all over the state, many of which are free or cheap.
Overall, Minnesota is the perfect place to experience winter for the first time.
18. Stanley, ID (USA)
Stanley, Idaho, gateway to the rugged Sawtooth Mountains, is an excellent spot for your first winter vacation. Thanks to its high elevation (sitting at over 6,200 feet above sea level), Stanley offers chilly winters, usually with fresh powder that's perfect for outdoor adventures.
For example, try your hand at snowshoeing around Redfish Lake or Stanley Lake, taking in the beautiful surrounding pine tree forests and above, the jagged Sawtooths.
If you're looking for something a bit more heart-pounding. Stanley is beloved by backcountry skiers, thanks to the Sawtooths' thousands of couloirs and its unique offerings of backcountry yurts and huts.
After all of that exercise, soak those aching bones in any of the amazing hot springs in Stanley, like Boat Box Springs, where you can relax in an old mining cauldron filled with naturally steamy water along the Salmon River.
At the end of the day, there's a handful of charming log cabin bars and restaurants, where you can grab a beer next to a cozy fireplace and plan tomorrow's adventures in the Sawtooths.
19. Salt Lake City, UT (USA)
Salt Lake City is the perfect, budget-friendly winter destination for skiers. Home to a major hub airport, affordable direct flights are available from many US cities.
Four ski resorts are all located within 45 minutes of the city. Alta and Snowbird are both located in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Brighton and Solitude are located in Big Cottonwood Canyon. They are also all accessible via public transportation. The UTA Ski bus operates 3 different routes throughout the ski season to both Little Cottonwood Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon. The cost per ride is $4.50.
For beginner skiers, Brighton resort is the perfect place to learn how to ski on a budget. Group lessons for adults start at $80 for 2 hours. Adult learner lift tickets start at $53 per day. Gear rentals start at $50 per day, but if you are renting for multiple days there's usually a discount. In winter 2022, a 2-day ski rental including skis, boots, and poles cost $60.
Because all four of the Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts are accessible via public transportation, you can save a lot on accommodations by choosing a hotel in the Salt Lake City area instead of an on-site hotel at the ski resort. The ski bus departs from the Sandy-Midvale area, which has many budget-friendly hotel options.
20. Helen, GA (USA)
Helen, Georgia in the United States is the perfect destination for your first winter vacation. It's easy to get to, extremely affordable, there's a wide variety of things to do and the town itself is extra unique.
The town sits in northern Georgia, about an hour and a half north of Atlanta, home to the country's most heavily trafficked airport. This means there will be many great flight options into the city and will usually mean low prices for tickets as well. From there, rent a car and drive north.
Helen is a Bavarian-themed village. The entire town is designed to look straight out of a fairy tale. This makes it a super fun and unique place to visit year-round, but once the whole place is decked from head to toe in lights and holiday decorations, it's that much more magical.
In town, you can stroll the village streets, shop, and enjoy one of the many holiday events held in the town park. But be sure to take a ride on the Georgia Mountain Coaster that sits on the edge of the mountain right in town.
Venture out of town to hike Mount Yonah, a 4.5 mile hike with beautiful views, or Dukes Creek Trail, a shorter hike with some beautiful waterfalls at the end. And while you're outside of town, stop at Tantrum Brewery, just 30 minutes outside of town, or Yonah Mountain Vineyards if you prefer wine!
21. Montreal, Canada
As the second biggest city in Canada and an important cultural center, Montreal is teeming with fun festivals, intriguing history, and delicious foods. Though the winter is quite cold in this city, it can actually make for a memorable first-time winter destination if you know the right things to do.
One of the things it's known for is its myriad of free winter walking trails. Mont Royal is a small mountain offering a breathtaking view of the city from up top, and the perfect place to try skiing and snowshoeing for the first time.
There are also the large Parc Jean Drapeau and Mont Tremblant National Park, famous for its ski resort. What better way to explore the snowy landscape than outdoors, right?
Drop by the Notre-Dame Basilica to witness old gothic architecture, which looks even more striking against the city's wintery backdrop.
Don't miss the impressive AURA light show, a winter-only extravaganza that will highlight the beauty of the Basilica—truly an unmissable experience.
While 4 days should be enough time to enjoy winter in Montreal, staying a bit longer might even save you money as it lets you book rooms on a weekly basis, which is often cheaper than the nightly rate.
3 Basic Tips for Your First Winter Vacation
Now that you know where to go for your first winter vacation, it's time to prepare what you need to pack for your holiday.
When you're spoiled with enough sunlight all year round, you probably don't know what to prepare for your first winter holiday. How cold is the cold? How many layers should we prepare to avoid overpacking in our checked-in luggage? Do I have to use different skincare during the season?
If it's your first time preparing for a winter holiday, say no more… Here are some tips to prepare for your first winter vacation!
1. Invest in a good winter coat, and layer!
Winter outfit isn't cheap, but you can never go wrong with a good winter coat!
If anything, it's probably best if you can find the winter coat on the higher end, if it's made from high-quality material and thick enough to protect you from the cold. When I went on my first winter vacation in Serbia, I bought a winter coat from a thrift store just to save the money so I could splurge it on my holiday instead. And it worked for me!
I also bought a couple of thermal leggings to keep me warm, along with some wool sweaters to mix and match. Layering is the key if you want to survive on your first holiday.
Depending on how long your holiday is, but if you have easy access to a washer (and dryer!), a couple of thermal leggings, sweaters, and a good winter coat should do the work. If you're planning to go to a place where there's a possibility of snow, investing in a good pair of water-resistant shoes could also go along the way!
2. Prepare your skin for the cold.
You'll probably need extra moisturizer during the winter, as your skin tends to get dry in the colder season. In my case, I normally have oily skin and my winter skin was probably the best that I've ever had!
In my case, I brought my own skincare from home, and I didn't change any of my skincare sequence except that I put on lip balm more than I've ever done in my entire life. LOL.
Don't forget to pack gloves to cover your fingers too! Gloves are the kind of thing that I never even thought of wearing in my home country Indonesia, but the same thing is also the thing that I never forgot packing during my winter holiday because no one told me that the weather could literally sting your skin when it's too cold!
3. Bring your own medicine and vitamins.
There is a reason why you should be prepared with medicine and vitamins during the winter. Especially if you go to a place with a lack of sunlight during the winter, you'd probably need more vitamins than you normally would in order to boost your immune system.
The last thing you want to do is get sick when you travel, so make sure to pack some meds and vitamins to stay fit!
So, those are some ideas for an inexpensive winter holiday for those of you who are looking for ideas to spend your first vacation during winter this year. So, where did you go for your first winter vacation? Share in the comment below, and cheerio! 🙂
Marya The BeauTraveler
I am the founder and main editor at The BeauTraveler. I spent 4 years working in the aviation industry but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, I started working remotely in 2017, and while I stay at home most of the time, I also regularly spend 2-3 months living a semi-digital nomad life elsewhere every year.