10 unusual locations in Europe to spend the festive season

1. Sleeping in a haunted castle in Scotland

Castle in Scotland

Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without its castles and ghosts. Thankfully, loads of haunted castles in the country are now hotels (and pretty luxury ones). It’s a perfect match if you’re a ghost fan. Want a few examples? Here we go. Airth Castle, now a hotel and spa, is a castle from the 14th century, and not far from Edinburgh. Two kids and their nurse are said to haunt it since they perished centuries ago in a massive fire. Want more?

 

Around Inverness, spend a night or two at Dornoch Castle. Built in the 16th century, it was exorcized in the 20th century, but a ghost still haunts it, according to some. Want to visit the St Andrews area? Have you heard about Fernie Castle? This 16th-century castle in the town of Fife is rumored to have an unusual resident. If you see a Green Lady, let us know.

 

2. Experiencing the aurora borealis in Iceland

Aurora borealis in Iceland

Winter is the perfect time to experience the aurora borealis in Iceland – simply because nights are longer. This natural phenomenon can be seen from the end of the afternoon. The same way you check the weather, you can check the aurora borealis on the Icelandic Meteorological Office website to increase your chance to witness it. Several places are famous: Jökulsarlon lagoon, Akureyri, and Snæfellsnes.

 

If you’re staying in Reykjavik, there’s less chance for you to see the aurora borealis because of the lights of the capital. However, drive a few miles away, to Alftanes, and your eyes will shine bright - as well as the camera you’ll be sure to bring with you.

 

3. Sleeping in an ice hotel in Sweden

Ice hotel in Sweden

Have you ever thought about sleeping in an igloo? Well, it’s kind of possible in the Swedish Lapland. Each year in Jukkasjärvi, a hotel fully made in ice is built. Open from December to April, you will find everything you need, even a bar (built in ice) and a chapel (in ice too)!

 

Yes, you can get married there!On top of saying “I do”, you can also learn ice fishing, ice sculpture, and watch some aurora borealis too.

 

By the way, do you want to know why the hotel is closed for part of the year? Simply because they let it melt during spring to build it again every winter !

 

4. Meeting up with whales in Norway

Watching whales in Norway

Whales are in the Vesteralen archipelago all year long. During summer, you should see more sperm whales, and during winter, orcas and humpback whales. The landscapes will also blow your mind, thanks to their diversity. At the same time, you can have a walk on the beach, cross some fields, and discover their mountains and fjords. You can also visit charming fishing towns.

 

What about the temperatures? Despite the fact Vesteralen is north of the Arctic Pole, you shouldn’t encounter temperatures below minus 1C in January and February – and these are the coldest months. However, it can be very windy at the end of the fall and during winter.

 

5. Skiing in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania

Skiing in the Carpathian mountains in Romania

The Carpathian Mountains and Count Dracula probably don’t immediately come to mind when you think of escapes, but it would be a mistake to miss it. Go and visit Romania to discover Bran Castle – that same one Bram Stoker was inspired by to write his iconic book – after a stop by Bucharest.

 

Then? Grab your skis and have some fun in the Carpathian Mountains. With 209 kilometers of ski area, you’ll come back with another idea of this amazing country.

 

6. Discovering the Fairy Pools of the Isle of Skye in Scotland

In need of some fairy tales? Why not visit the Isle of Skye, the most important of the Hebrides archipelago in Scotland? Hikers and Mother Nature lovers will be in heaven there. Winter is not that cold, thanks to the mild continental climate. One of the most famous walks is the one to the Fairy Pools. You will follow a small stream and it will lead you to some waterfalls where the water color will blow your mind. It looks like magic!

 

The Isle of Skye offers a lot of other fairy treasures, like The Old Man of Storr. This is a big rock on top of a chain of mountains and it looks like… an old man!

 

If you’d rather visit a fishing town, go to Portree. The colorful houses will brighten your day. Dunvegan Castle is also not to be missed for the Highlands and MacLeod fans. You can access the Isle of Skye via the ferry, the bus, or by car.

 

7. Dog sledding in Lapland

Dog sledding in Lapland

If you love wildlife, go for a great escape in Lapland and try out dog sledding for an unforgettable experience. Before jumping on your sled, you’ll be able to visit the farm and talk to the “musher” about their dogs and how they live and are treated. What is a musher, you ask? The one taking care of the dogs.

 

Obviously, you cannot be scared by the cold as temperatures can go down to minus 20 or minus 30C. But the landscapes undoubtedly make up for it.

 

8. Celebrating NYE under the sun in Madeira, Portugal

Fireworks new years eve in Madeira Portugal

Do you want nothing but sea and sun during winter? Madeira is the perfect spot, especially for New Year’s Eve. The firework display is that famous it is in the Guinness World Records. On top of the final countdown, you can enjoy a lot of things in Madeira.

 

Music lovers would be delighted to walk in the streets of Funchal and on Avenida Arriaga. You can enjoy gigs in the gardens of the Sao Lourenco Palace. Orquestra Classica da Madeira usually plays for the New Year.

 

Celebrations start on the 30th December. And if you really want nothing but rest, the temperature will help as it’s between 19 and 22C from November to February and you can enjoy a swim or more in the sea.

 

9. Celebrating NYE twice in Kiev, Ukraine

After being on lockdown for some months, celebrating New Year’s Eve twice is more than a dream. Well, it can come true if you go to Kiev in Ukraine. Indeed, they celebrate it twice for one good reason: you will be able to celebrate the Georgian calendar, on the 31st December, but also the Orthodox calendar, on the 14th January.

 

What to see in Kiev? So much! Architecture and history are at every corner of the city. From St Sophia Cathedral to the Mamayeva Sloboda open-air museum detailing the Cossack history, to the Chernobyl museum, Maidan square – the heart of the Orange Revolution – and the Mezhyhirya Residence Museum, the private residence of Viktor Yushchenko, the former leader, you will learn a lot.

 

10. (Re)Discovering French history in Val de Loire

Chambord Castle in France Loire valley

In need of some French history? Come and visit the Loire Valley Castles. From Sully to Chambord, Chaumont, and Chenonceau, let’s time travel with an unforgettable walk.

 

The Châteaux de la Loire official website has a list of 22 castles you can visit. On top of that, the Loire Valley, between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes, is a UNESCO world heritage site.