5 places across Europe to experience the winter solstice
The winter solstice, which usually falls on December 21, is the longest night of the year. Sunset quickly follows sunrise – the sky shifting from pink to inky black in just a matter of hours – across sleepy landscapes of snow-capped mountains, illuminated cities and whispering forests.
It’s no wonder that the event has been considered a special occasion for centuries: so where, exactly, should you celebrate it when travel is back on the cards? We’ve rounded up five brilliant places across Europe from which to experience the winter solstice – bear these in mind when making your 2021 travel plans.
Want to explore the road less travelled? How about stepping into another world entirely?
Alright, so Poland isn’t technically “another world” – but it certainly can feel like one, particularly in winter. Its national parks look more like scenes from a fairytale, with delicate ice patterns decorating every surface and rows of green fir trees peppering the horizon. There’s also plenty of winter-loving wildlife to see, including majestic Elk and European Bisons.
A trip to Poland is unlikely to strain your pursestrings either. This perk can’t be understated during December, when you’ve already invested in tons of gifts, food and family events as the Christmas holiday approaches. Fortunately, food and travel within Poland is usually inexpensive – especially if you choose a rural spot from which to experience the winter solstice. Magical and practical.
Between its wild countryside and unique cultural jewels, it’s hard to beat an Irish holiday – particularly when you visit during the winter solstice. Ireland takes the occasion very seriously. In fact, an ancient tomb by the name of “Síd in Broga cairn” was built in Newgrange, specifically, to align with the sun as it rises on the day!
People from across Europe flock to the tomb between 18 and 23 of December to watch the sun pass through during its ascent to the sky: illuminating the passages within in a soft, golden glow. Many consider this a deeply spiritual experience – but to get inside the tomb itself isn’t easy. The only way to get tickets is to have your name drawn from a special lottery… but if you’re one of the chosen few, there’s nothing quite like this exciting event. Why not try your chances for 2021?
The Norweigans often refer to the winter season as “mørketid” – the “time of darkness” – as they’re only offered a few hours of sunlight each day. But these dark conditions can actually lead to some pretty spectacular experiences, particularly if you’re planning a visit during the winter solstice.
Down south, experience the delights of Bergen – where you can take a boat trip across glacial fjords and admire mist-covered mountains and crystal blue waters. You’ll also love the views from the “Seven Mountains” throughout December. A striking mountain range 643 metres above city level, it provides an amazing vantage point from which to enjoy the snow-capped, fairy lit Bergen cityscape.
Of course, there are the Northern lights to consider, too. Venture as far north as you can to view this spectacular natural phenomenon, which lights up the sky in hues of green, yellow, purple and more. We can’t think of a more romantic way to pass a holiday.
Austria feels purpose-built for the colder seasons. Not only are its dramatic mountains at their most beautiful when brushed with snow, its capital city – Vienna – is especially charming at this time of year. Resplendent with lights, crammed with cobbled streets and bursting at the seams with stunning architecture, the city comes alive in December, and is the perfect place for more cosmopolitan travellers to enjoy the winter solstice.
You won’t be bored, either. Vienna is famous for its Christmas activities. From a range of musical, cultural and theatrical events in the Museumsquartier to skating opportunities at Vienna Ice World, and dozens of cosy cafes from which to sip mulled wine and munch on traditional stollen, it’s sure to become a favourite festive location.
Zipping down the alps on a pair of skis, with azure skies above and blankets of snow below. If that sounds like your perfect holiday, you’ll definitely want to spend the winter solstice in Switzerland. Surrounded by the world-famous alps and stuffed with winter sporting opportunities – including skiing, tobogganing and ice skating – it’s the perfect location for active holiday goers.
That being said, there are other ways you can enjoy the country’s unique sights, too! Consider a train trip on the Glacier Express – an eight-hour journey through Switzerland’s most stunning countryside. It charts the course between St Moritz and Zermatt (crossing nearly 300 bridges on its way), and for this reason, is known as the “window to the alps”. It’s an incredible journey that will give you a true taste of the Swiss countryside, without having to interact with it directly (if you’re not the sporty type).
Of course, you’ll want to spend some time in Switzerland’s quaint skiing towns, too. St. Moritz is a real treat for the senses during the winter solstice thanks to its cosy old-world atmosphere. If walking its streets with a hot chocolate in-hand doesn’t get you feeling all the joys of the season, we don’t know what will!
Take a peek inside the Glacier Express’ cabins.
Plan ahead: where to stay for the winter solstice in 2021
Whet your appetite for a winter solstice escape? Take a look at these enchanting hotels across Europe and bookmark where you’d like to stay next December.
Firstly, those who want to preserve the fairytale vibes of Poland’s national parks should make haste to Sierakow Manor. This charming four-star hotel is based in the middle of a beautiful park all its own. Beyond that, its rooms are fit for royalty, and it’s only a short trip away from some of the best winter sights in the country, including Krakow and Myślenice’s ski station.
If Ireland is of more appeal, Eccles Hotel should feature on your accommodation list. Overlooking Bantry Bay and Garinish Island, this gorgeous spa hotel is the epitome of tranquility… and who doesn’t want to experience a little zen before heading into the hustle of the Christmas holidays?
Heading East, to Norway, you’ll find even more reasons to celebrate the winter solstice at Bergen’s Hotel Park. A family-run hotel, this charming location is famous for its “hygge” ambience. Enjoy the proprietor’s many rare antiques as you nestle next to cosy open fireplaces, passing the darkest day in the most comforting way.
Hotel Stefanie is one of Vienna’s true pearls, and a must-visit for those who love history. The oldest hotel in Vienna, this elegant establishment is especially enchanting in December, dusted with snow and decorated with festive touches throughout.
Finally, Hotel Waldhaus Sils (in Switzerland) is sure to take the breath away of both skiers and more sedentary travellers alike. The five-star forest lodge is ideally situated to make the most of the alps – as well as St. Moritz – and includes a spa, excellent restaurant and variety of rooms and suites. A strong contender for your 2021 travel calendar.
How are you celebrating the winter solstice this year? Share your plans with us on Instagram.