Tag Archives: winter

rainbow umbrellas hover over a street of shops and restaurants in Istanbul turkey

Winter Is Europe’s Secret Season

Savvy travelers love Europe in winter and not just because they can avoid the sticker shock and tourist crowds of peak season. It’s easier in winter to feel connected to local life, as it’s easier to meet the local people and see how they really live. More time may be spent indoors, but museums feel like your own private galleries, and it’s easier to get into the most in-demand restaurants for fabulous meals. Insider experiences, charming scenery, and great food are all accessible and available, as the travelers below discovered, if you just know the right trip designers who can help you make the most of this cozy time of year. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


NORWAY: “We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland.”

Traveler Julie Silbermann feeding reindeer in Norway.

Julie Silbermann spent a day with Sami people and got to help feed their reindeer.

“WOW! What a trip we had to Finnmark in northern Norway! We can’t thank Wendy enough for connecting us with Jan and Miriam for our trip March 7-15. They crafted an exciting trip of one adventure after another. We flew to Alta, which is 400 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and stayed at the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge. It is remote and incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a room overlooking the river and mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows. We went dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. We even caught Arctic char, which our guide, Kalle, expertly cooked for us inside our warming tent for lunch! We were very lucky to see the Northern Lights on three out of four nights, and Helle knew just where to bring us to see the spectacular light show.

One of our most special expeditions was spending the day with the Sami people, helping them herd and feed their reindeer! We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland. Just an amazing experience. Big thanks to Trygve Nygard, Kalle, Helle, and Emilie for their special care on our expeditions. Everything was taken care of for us—there wasn’t a detail left to chance.” —Julie Silbermann

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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PORTUGAL: “In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes…”

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola im Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna. WOW! What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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PARIS: “A fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“This was a trip for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food and the Louvre.

Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage and delivered us to our driver. This alone was worth using Wendy Perrin! I bet we saved 2 hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide—private 1/2-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.

We would definitely use Jennifer again in the future.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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FINLAND: “An exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day…”

The cozy and warm Glass House Suite at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finland.

Between outdoor adventures, Michael Ruma warmed up by the fire in his Glass House Suite. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and, with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh, who created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

We hopped an easy flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our Glass House suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! Intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up and hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the Arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky.

Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. On our last day in Helsinki, we splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do. Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.” —Michael Ruma

Read more reviews of Finland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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SICILY: “Getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip.”

Sicily coastline Italy

The view of Sicily’s coastline and region, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

“We are just back from an AMAZING, perfectly planned and executed trip to Sicily. Marcello is the gold standard of travel planners. He created a perfectly curated, balanced itinerary and checked in daily to make sure all was going smoothly. We could not have covered as much as we did (in nine days) without having private drivers, who were excellent. We covered a lot of ground in Sicily with a full schedule each day, but somehow it never felt rushed.

While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castelbuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa dell’Acqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortigia to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb.

Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a vulcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nave Winery for a tour, wine tasting, and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found every day during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.” —Barbara Gross

Read more reviews of Sicily trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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PARIS: “…a market tour and curated cooking class in the beautiful home of a French chef near the Eiffel Tower…”

Caves Legrande is one of the oldest wine shops in Paris

Caves Legrande wine shop in Paris. Photo: Caves Legrande

Jennifer planned a delightful trip for us to Paris over New Year’s, with a good mix of culture and relaxation. Highlights included a day trip to Reims, complete with an intimate lunch with champagne pairings at a family-owned champagne house; a market tour and curated cooking class in the beautiful home of a French chef near the Eiffel Tower; and a private wine-and-cheese tasting at a historic wine shop with a young sommelier highlighting new and emerging winemakers from lesser-known regions in France.

Jennifer checked in with us regularly during our trip, seamlessly managing a few last-minute, unforeseen itinerary changes. Cannot recommend her highly enough—and am looking forward to all the fun she has in store for my return trip to the Champagne region with my friends later this year! —Katie Hausfeld

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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ROME: “Our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj…”

charming cobblestone street with ivy in Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

Cobblestone street in Trastevere, Rome, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Nancy and I were lucky to have spent the first week of 2022 in Rome on a trip planned by Jennifer and her team.  Jennifer arranged for us to stay at the Hotel Eden while we were in Rome. The staff at the hotel were so nice to us and looked out for us during our stay.

Jennifer also arranged some great experiences during our time in Rome. By far, our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj with Alessia, our favorite guide during this trip. Alessia was able to navigate both galleries so that we saw the most we could during our limited time. and her knowledge of the art in each location was outstanding. Two other experiences which were highlights during our trip were a day trip to Naples/Pompeii with our guide Liberata and driver Salvatore, as well as a lovely food tour in the Trastevere neighborhood with Luca, where we got to sample some Roman delicacies.

We always felt looked after by Jennifer and her team. They would check in daily to see if we needed anything and they would lay out the itinerary for the next day. We feel so fortunate that we have found Jennifer and know that everything will be spectacular on a tour which she has arranged.” —Kevin Haney

Read more reviews of Rome trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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HUNGARY & POLAND: “On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest…”

HUngarian Parliament building lit up at night, viewed from the Danube River Hungary

Parliament building, Hungary. Photo: Leonhard_Niederwimmer/Pixabay

“The absolute best thing we asked Gwen to add for us was VIP arrival and departure service at the airports. When we landed in Warsaw, we were whisked off to a private lounge, and the staff took our passports and handled all the details for us as we relaxed in the lounge. No lines, no frustrations with procedures, no stress. It was worth every penny. In fact, we loved it so much, we asked Gwen to add the VIP departure service to our flight leaving Budapest at the end of the trip. Once again, we hung out in a private lounge as everybody took care of our paperwork. We were escorted through private security and then to a private transfer right to the door of the plane where we were the first to board. Fantastic!

Other highlights of our trip to Poland and Hungary included:

  • In Krakow, our private tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz, and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
  • In Egar, a fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant, with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses—the best meal of the trip!
  • On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call should anything change or become difficult.” —Sarah Wade

Read more reviews of Hungary and Poland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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ITALY: “We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour…”

Serralunga d'Alba castle, medieval village in Piedmont, north Italy

Serralunga d’Alba castle, a medieval village in Piedmont, North Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were so very fortunate to be able to experience an impromptu trip to Milan and the Piedmont region in early January 2022—and we could never have done it without Jennifer. The trip was glorious. We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour. Our guides in Torino and Milan were excellent, and we relished the opportunity to take in The Last Supper and other masterpieces with no crowds. Like NONE. In Piedmont, the weather was mild and we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors.  We made some wonderful memories and cannot say enough about how this trip abroad gave us a much needed change to start 2022.” —Gina Melton

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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FRANCE: “We didn’t just tour this small museum; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it…”

Leafy town square with fountain in a picturesque village in Provence, France

Saignon, Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our two-week trip to France in December focused on Provence and the Riviera. Philip created a wonderful itinerary focused on memorable experiences and lesser-known sights. The hotels he chose were excellent; we especially liked Mas de Pierre in the hills northwest of Nice. Our rooms in all hotels were both comfortable and spacious—a combination less often found in France. Philip suggested a glassblowing class in Antibes, and my husband and I made three glass pieces each (two vases, one bowl, two perfume bottles with fancy stoppers, and my favorite, my jellyfish in a glass globe).

The Riviera has lots of museums, but Philip sent us to one of his favorites, the remarkable Museum of Classical Art in the hilltop village of Mougins. We didn’t just tour this small museum that intersperses antiquities with Old Masters and modern art; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it. What an enlightening experience.

Philip also arranged black truffle hunting outside Salon de Provence, which was interesting and surprisingly educational. (They use dogs now, not pigs, because dogs can be trained with food to back away from a truffle it finds. Pigs don’t, which is why many truffle hunters are missing fingertips.)  We had a delightful seven-hour private cooking class in Aix-en-Provence with a former chef who emailed us all the recipes for the dishes we’d made.

We went horseback riding in La Camargue, the wetlands area south of Arles between the two branches of the Rhône River. La Camargue is famed for its white horses, bulls raised for French bullfighting (the bullfighters have to snatch a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, not kill it), and pink flamingos. We had fun riding horses through this region on the ranch of a former bullfighter and seeing the bulls and horses he and his elegant wife raise.

A don’t-miss experience was Hotel Mirande’s Table d’Haute dinner in Avignon. We dined in the hotel’s tiny cellar kitchen on a nearly all-French evening (except the chef and sommelier, who spoke English), which tested my vocabulary but engaged us with locals and Belgian tourists.” —Jan Heininger

Read more reviews of France trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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TURKEY: “Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey”

garden restaurant at Four Seasons Sultanahmet Istanbul Turkey overlooking mosque

The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Photo: Four Seasons

Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. ” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Turkey trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Wendy and sons at the Pont des Arts in Paris

European Vacations for Winter School Breaks

Hey everyone, Doug Baker here, Wendy’s youngest son. Mom used to take us to Europe during our winter school breaks (such as Paris, above) when I was growing up. Now, I’m a college sophomore, and when my friends talk about where we should go for March break, I tell them Europe—and not just to avoid the summer rush.

Europe feels more authentic to me in winter. It’s easier to be part of the local scene. The weather might be colder and the days shorter, but there are so many fun activities, opportunities, and foods that are totally different from what you will find in summer.

A lot of people ice skating on an ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Doug Baker

In winter, I’ve ice-skated on rinks from little town squares in Brussels and Bratislava to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (above). It’s a great way to meet local people! In winter, I’ve tried hot chocolate as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar everywhere from Demel in Vienna to the ski slopes of Spain, and street food such as piping-hot kürtőskalács in Budapest, schupfnudeln in Germany, and this in Salzburg:

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria.

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria. Photo: Tim Baker

In winter, you must spend more time indoors, but museums and castles are more fun when you have them to yourself. I was able to do a scavenger hunt with my brother inside the Centre Pompidou in Paris that took us through every floor of the museum, and in Bratislava there was nobody in the ancient church, so I was able to play one of the world’s oldest pipe organs.

Most of all, people are much nicer to you in winter because the tourist crowds aren’t there to annoy them. It is much easier to have conversations and build connections with the local people. One more thing I tell my college friends when they suggest the stereotypical spring-break spots (and maybe I shouldn’t share this with their parents): The drinking age is 18 in Europe!

You’ll find more—and more serious—reasons to experience Europe in winter in the traveler reviews below. First up: A 19- and 16-year-old get educated in Eastern Europe about the Holocaust and Ukraine.

START A WINTER TRIP

Eastern Europe: “Making pierogi with Marta in her home…she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war…”

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague's Strahov Monastery.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury

Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO EASTERN EUROPE

Italy: “On our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild!”

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome.

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome. Photo: Shutterstock

“There were six of us: me, my husband, our three children (15, 13, 10), and my mom. It was a lovely time to be in Rome because, while still busy, it was not anything like what we would have experienced in the summer months. The weather was perfectly moderate for walking around, between 55° and 60° most days. Jennifer listened so closely to what our interests were and how we wanted to divide up the trip between time in and outside of Rome. She developed the perfect itinerary, even paying attention to timing of morning excursions so as not to start too early after a late night.

While we enjoyed all of our excursions, the ones we enjoyed most were not the main tourist attractions. Collectively, we all loved the cooking classes: one a pizza and gelato class, and the other a pasta and tiramisu class. Perfect for all six of us! Our other favorite excursions were Pompeii, Villa Adriana on the way to Tivoli, and our day spent in the Jewish neighborhood and former Jewish ghetto. I was extremely pleased that Jennifer’s team only works with Jewish guides in the Jewish neighborhood. I think that is a very important detail. Having all private tours made it easy to adapt tour and timing to all of our needs, which is particularly helpful with three kids/teens.

Timing worked out that on our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild! My husband and oldest son are HUGE sports fans. Even though the rest of us are not as much, it was still really terrific to be part of an event that is so important to European culture.” —Aimee Kleiman

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway & Copenhagen: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation Giacometti, we had an amazing time.

Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.

We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne Goldberg

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Austria & Czech Republic: “The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave…”

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above.

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above. Photo: Julius Silver

Gwen planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Both hotels—the Sans Souci in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague—were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

Our private guided walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable. The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable: We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.

The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague—Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov Monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure—we could have spent hours there.

Gwen suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague. It was a wonderful vacation—the days spent in each location were just right.” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Austria and Czechia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA AND CZECHIA

Portugal: “Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip…”

A winter sunny day with clear blue skies at Riberira beach in Ericeira, Portugal.

A winter day with clear blue skies at Praia de Ribeira, Ericeira. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Sofia created an itinerary that was perfect for our family. And, they gave us a trip that we will always remember! Some highlights…

The hotels were AMAZING!! We typically stay at the same hotel chain when we travel and were so grateful for their suggestion of boutique hotels. Not only did they provide our family plenty of space, but they each felt warm and welcoming every time we walked into the room. My daughters LOVED the set-up and decor of The Lumiares hotel in Lisbon, stating they never wanted to leave. The Rebello’s views of Porto were breathtaking (unless the fog rolled in) and the access to an incredible running path along the water made it the perfect place for us to stay. Our final hotel stay at the Immerso was exactly what we needed after a very busy trip. Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip; we only wish we had a few days to explore the area. : )

The guides they found for us were exceptional!! The tours provided us with interesting historical and present-day content. They were all engaging and ready to shape the tours to match our family. Tiago, in particular, was amazing!! The tour of Sintra could have been a disaster due to the weather, and he made it one of the most fun with his depth of knowledge and witty humor! For a family who loves to travel, Goncalo could not have put together a more perfect trip for us.” —Shannon Jones

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Spain: “Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable…”

Placa Reial on a winter evening, not too crowded with people, Barcelona, Spain.

Placa Reial on a winter evening in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Luis and Silvia did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.

Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable. We were able to see all of the popular sites without lines or overcrowding. Our favorite parts, however, were more off-the-beaten-path excursions. Silvia arranged for Alex, our tour guide through the Catalan neighborhoods, to cook paella and drink vermouth with him and his mother Lourdes in a flat with a rooftop deck. This was a highlight of the trip.

In addition to sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the culture, we were interested in recommendations for restaurants, nightlife, and vintage stores. Silvia provided detailed recommendations for each and arranged nightly restaurant reservations. Our favorite meal, a 17-course tasting at the Michelin-star Loco in Lisbon, was a very special night!” —Lisa Powers

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

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illuminated Christmas market in the Old town of Colmar, Alsace France

What to Know About Europe’s Christmas Markets in 2022

After closures due to Covid the past two holiday seasons, most of Europe’s Christmas markets are finally expected to fully open again this year. These festive traditions are one of the best reasons to go to Europe in winter: You can see cities and villages illuminated for the holidays and fill your evenings with charming street scenes: stalls where artisans sell handmade local crafts, open-air choral concerts, ice skating and rides for kids, and a huge variety of piping hot street food, from local delicacies to hearty winter comfort fare and endless mulled wine.

Another advantage of Europe in the late fall or winter is lower airfares and hotel rates than you’ll find in the spring, summer, and early fall.  While the weekends of Christmas and New Year’s can be crowded (especially with locals), November, Thanksgiving break, early December, and early January deliver low-season value.

Some of the most iconic Christmas markets are in Austria (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, St. Wolfgang), Germany (Munich, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Berlin), and France (Strasbourg, Colmar, Reims), as well as Budapest, Prague, and Krakow.

Here’s how to make the most of them this holiday season.

Go early or go late—because market dates are extended.

Many European Christmas markets are running longer this year than they have in the past.  This means you can plan your trip to avoid the worst of the crowds and air-travel hassle, while still getting an undiminished dose of all that holiday cheer and charm.

“Some of these Christmas markets that once had a firm closure on December 24th are now lingering longer—some into January,” says Gwen Kozlowski, a WOW List travel specialist for Austria, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Salzburg’s main market is planned for November 17 through January 1.  The Christmas market in St. Wolfgang opens early too, on November 18.  Those lasting through early January include Vienna’s Christmas market at Schonbrunn Palace (open through January 4), Innsbruck’s and Prague’s (open through January 6), Berlin’s Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz (open through January 8), and the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market in Paris (open through January 8).

Mix the bigger city markets with lesser-known ones in small villages.

Every country has its big-hit Christmas markets in major cities, but the holiday spirit can be especially charming in areas you might not have considered during the winter. In France, the biggest and most famous Christmas market is in Strasbourg, but you could combine that with Metz or with smaller markets in Provence or Champagne, suggests Jennifer Virgilio, a WOW List specialist for France.

Or you could make Colmar your base and visit smaller markets from there, such as Turckheim and Kayserberg, advises Philip Haslett, another WOW List specialist for France.

Combine more than one region for different experiences and flavors.

Nothing is really that far apart in Europe, and the train network makes for easy, quick travel. So take advantage of that proximity by combining a couple of regions into a mini-Christmas-market crawl, with stops along the way to enjoy Europe’s other delights.

“I like to do a Christmas market road trip and start in Paris, then to Reims which is easily reached—and a bit of Champagne is never a bad idea!” says Philip. “From there you can take a high-speed train to Strasbourg, which takes about 1h20; and after Strasbourg on to Colmar, 30 minutes by train or an hour by car, but with some lovely stops on the way for wine tasting and a visit to the iconic Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle.”

Last year Philip planned a Christmas-week road trip for WendyPerrin.com reader Margaret Harvey, who reported back to us:

“We started off in Geneva, Switzerland, where we kicked off our trip with a Christmas market that was across the street from our hotel. Our next stop was Gstaad, which felt like a winter wonderland. After that we drove to Chamonix, where we stayed in what was my husband’s dream spot at the top of Mount Blanc. It was truly something, we had to take the most charming red train to get to our hotel. The stars there were unlike we had ever seen. After Chamonix we drove to Fossano, Italy, where we visited a castle and stayed in a suite that felt as if we were in an old Italian romance novel. Next, we went to Monte Carlo, where our hotel key gave us access to the Monte Carlo Country Club. My husband is an avid tennis fan and this was really special for us. We stayed on the top floor and had the most incredible view of the city and water. Following Monte Carlo we went to St Paul de Vence, where we relaxed in a spa hotel with a Mediterranean influence. Next was Aix in Provence, where we stayed at a dreamy chateau. After that we went to Avignon, where we stayed across from the Pope’s Palace. We ended our trip in Paris on New Year’s Eve.”

Reader Richard Goldin enjoyed his late-December road trip too, planned by Jennifer Virgilio. He reported:

“Jennifer arranged for a rental car, all hotels and recommended events and restaurants as we drove from Paris to Strasbourg, Colmar, Dijon, Burgundy and back to Paris. Each hotel chosen was extremely well located. There wasn’t a hotel that we would not go back to. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the Christmas markets, especially in a small town called Kayserberg, near Colmar.”

Book through a local fixer who can monitor the situation on the ground and rearrange your plans if necessary.

There’s always the possibility that a market could close or that any of many other speedbumps that have affected travelers over the past couple of years could crop up and impact your trip. “Plenty of markets have said that they’re opening and have already listed dates and times,” says Gwen. “But it’s important to be flexible and ready to make changes if/when something happens.” Last year, when Christmas markets in Vienna, Munich, and Salzburg closed at the last minute because of Covid, Gwen rescued reader Sarah Wade’s trip, sending her to Budapest, Warsaw, and Krakow instead. Sarah’s report:

“Our original plan had us going to Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna for 9 nights in early December 2021.  As we approached the time to depart we began to get notices from Gwen that one by one each city was cancelling the Christmas markets, and eventually Austria closed down entirely. Gwen’s team was on top of it each step of the way. They offered us alternatives, and we settled on an itinerary of Warsaw, Krakow, and Budapest.

Our three city choices were great. Some highlights:
*the gingerbread cookie baking class in Warsaw was wonderful.
*In Krakow our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide was incredible and we were so fortunate to have him explain the history of this terrible place to us. We found out that our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
*A private ornament-making session with a renowned hand-painted ornament business. They were even so sweet as to bake us an apple cake and our guide along with the owner sang us traditional Polish Christmas carols as we decorated our ornaments and the snow fell outside. Quite the experience!
*A fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant in Egar with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses – the best meal of the trip!
*A private boat on the Danube to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen’s team being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. Even though this was not the trip we had originally planned, we ended up with a trip that we all enjoyed. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call, should anything change or become difficult.”

If you’re thinking about a Christmas markets river cruise, watch the water levels in the Danube and the Rhine.

This year’s Christmas market cruises are nearly full, despite the extensive drought last summer that caused so many challenges, says Tom Baker, a WOW List river-cruise specialist. Low river levels forced a number of ships to change their itineraries, dock far from the planned port city, or move passengers to different vessels or to busses for making the journey on land.  While operations on the Danube have picked up in recent weeks, Tom reports, “the Rhine is still in bad shape, with vendors switching out guests to sister ships to make the navigational points.” The forecast for late fall and winter is not clear yet, so watch water levels or consider waiting until 2024.  Tom’s personal favorite holiday itineraries: “The Danube when it operates as Vienna, Salzburg, Passau, Regensburg, and Nuremburg—they have marvelous Christmas markets as well as vast cultural enchantment. Budapest markets are not as exciting, but the city is incredible and not to be missed. I also love the Alsatian Christmas Markets on the Rhine in Germany and France!”

Beautiful beach landscape with overwater bungalows Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Why You Should Travel Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the smartest times of the year to travel.  From the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend until approximately the Thursday before Christmas week, tourists are scarce, hotel rates are low, free upgrades abound, and in much of the world the favorable prices coincide with either lovely post-rainy-season weather or festive-winter-wonderland holiday charm. True, you may miss holiday parties back home, but you’ll also get away from all that holiday traffic and lines at the mall. Personally, I’d rather do my holiday shopping in Europe’s Christmas markets or in the cellars of Argentina’s wine country.

One year my own between-the-holidays trip was a cruise from Barcelona to Rome to put Viking Cruises’ new Viking Star to the test. I’ve sailed in the Mediterranean in December before, and it has its pros and cons: It can be chilly on deck or on your balcony, and the sun sets at about 4 p.m., so there are fewer hours for sightseeing than in summertime. But onshore you get pleasant sightseeing temps in the 50s and 60s—especially along the French Riviera and on islands like Malta and Sicily—and it’s a relief not to have to battle the peak-season tourist crush.

While the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the optimal time for a Mediterranean cruise, it is an optimal time for the following seven places. If you’re headed to any and want to book your trip so as to get the maximum experience for your money, you may ask our advice here.

Hawaii

Four Seasons Maui balcony

Four Seasons Maui. Photo: Four Seasons

With the exception of Thanksgiving, all of November through December 18th or so is uncrowded, with hotels offering deals of the pay-for-three-nights-get-four and pay-for-five-nights-get-seven variety. Look for values on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island in particular.

The Caribbean

Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Ocean views at the Hermitage Bay Resort in Antigua. Photo: Hermitage Bay Resort

Hurricane season is over, the weather is sunny and clear, and upgrades abound at blissfully empty five-star resorts in the Caribbean islands.

Mexico

three orange beach chairs and a green umbrella facing the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

‘Tis the season for fourth-night-free and fifth-night-free deals in Mexico up until December 18th or so.

Europe’s Christmas Markets

A Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Photo: AmaWaterways

One year, my between-the-holidays trip was a European river cruise focused on the magical Christmas markets of Central Europe. I’ve traveled in Austria and Germany in practically every month of the year, and the holidays is my favorite time, thanks to the homespun festive decorations everywhere, the mouthwatering holiday foods, and the concerts and other celebratory activities in towns large and small, not to mention the stomach-warming glühwein and the ease of meeting and chatting with locals at the outdoor markets. It’s not very cold; if there’s any snow, it only adds to the atmosphere. Darkness falls at 4:30, but it’s not a disadvantage because the towns are gorgeously lit up at night and there’s plenty to see and do after dark. Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Europe’s Christmas markets.

New Zealand

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand on a cloudy day. With hills and trees.

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

I chose early December for my honeymoon in New Zealand. We had perfect late-spring weather and blossoms from the tip of the North Island to the toe of the South (remember, summer starts circa December 21 in the southern hemisphere), and conditions were great for the crazy adventure activities we did, from jetboating in Queenstown to blackwater rafting in Waitomo.

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

Early December brings lovely weather, optimal conditions for snorkeling and diving, and extraordinary values at the over-the-top private island resorts you find only in the Maldives.

Argentina/Chile/Patagonia

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

Late spring is one of the most beautiful moments in Argentina’s wine country, and it’s when you’ll find the best wildlife spotting in Patagonia.

 

What other destinations are at their best between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Share your own recommendations with us!

 

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