News Winter wonderland escapes: 5 magical cities of snow

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Winter wonderland escapes: 5 magical cities of snow

We know a winter escape isn’t about getting your followers double tapping your holiday pics. But if your getaway happens to be dusted with a magical coating of snow, we can’t blame you for snapping every angle. That’s why we’ve picked five destinations that are guaranteed to look amazing under a blanket of snow and, using the Skyscanner hotel search, we’ve found the most Insta-friendly hotels in each place too. Camera phone at the ready…

1. St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg in the snow
Photo credit: Pixabay

Been looking for an excuse to wear one of those Russian fur hats? Look no further. St Petersburg has such a mysterious allure that you’ll feel like you’re starring in your own slice of film noir, so why not dress the part and be prepared for the chilly temperatures too. With stunning Baroque architecture, golden palaces and picturesque canals, you’ll need to do a pre-emptive photo cull to make enough space for the endless snaps you’ll want to take here. Get the panorama setting rocking at the Winter Palace with its icy mint and white façade overlooking the River Neva. Sitting on the north side of the vast Palace Square, the red granite Alexander Column marking the centre, the palace forms part of a complex of grand buildings that house the Hermitage Museum, which contains more than 2.7 million exhibits. Another must-see is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Contrary to its grisly name, the church’s exterior is a cheery riot of colour with ornate domes in green, blue and gold, while inside there’s equally eye-popping mosaic work. For a natural spectacle, visit Alexander Garden, from where you can snap St Isaac’s Cathedral without tourists photobombing your shot. And for a totally different perspective, book a canal cruise along some of the 300km of waterways that criss-cross the city.

Ed’s hotel pick: The Belmond Grand Hotel Europe is one of the city’s oldest establishments, but it’s kept its looks. The opulent interiors, Art Nouveau stylings and stained glass windows will get your followers thinking you’re staying somewhere far more expensive. Doubles cost from £125.

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2. Bern, Switzerland

Bern in the snow
Photo credit: Pixabay

Dubbed the most Instagrammed city in winter, Bern is a far more relaxed affair than most capitals – think less hustle and bustle and towering skyscrapers and more laid-back meandering and medieval townscapes. Atop a ski resort, you can rely on a generous dusting of the white stuff to add to Bern’s winter wonderland vibe at this time of year and there’s plenty of scope for a snow-capped selfie in this compact city. Think neo-renaissance buildings, twinkling Christmas markets and pretty antique arcades, all surrounded by the winding Aarne River whose crystal-clear waters look inviting enough for a dip (almost). And that’s not all – the entire Old City (Altstadt) of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get snap happy among its perfectly preserved architecture and 16th-century fountains, and don’t miss the famous Clock Tower and Bern Minster cathedral, which both reward your huffing and puffing with panoramic views if you’re up for a climb.

Ed’s hotel pick: Stay at the cool, contemporary Am Pavillon B&B for a great-value stay with extra style points. Its setting on a smart terrace and the minimal designer interiors are Insta-gold. Doubles from £110.

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3. Salzburg, Austria

View of Salzburg from the distance in the snow
Photo credit: Pixabay

It’s easy to see why this Alpine gem was used as the setting for the Sound of Music. The city is bursting with so many beauty spots, that the impulse to don lederhosen and run around singing into the sky with gay abandon is strong (maybe skip the lederhosen in winter, though). Perhaps it’s something to do with the colours: pastel, sugar-candy hues (including Insta-fave millennial pink) make the elegant Baroque buildings even more appealing – especially when seen against the snowy backdrop of the white-tipped Alps. Compact Salzburg is easily explored on foot, so kick things off at the peaceful Mirabell Gardens and Palace, which feature in the film. Then cross the River Salzach to visit Mozart’s birthplace on Getreidegasse, the old city’s main thoroughfare, where the composer lived from 1756 to 1773. There’s a museum inside but it’s the sunshine yellow front your followers are interested in. The street has plenty more photo ops, with its traditional wrought iron signs hanging above a row of tightly packed, quaint shops. Then take the lift up Mönchsberg Mountain for a bird’s eye view of the historic district, Salzburg’s hilltop fortress and the river snaking towards the mountains. Or explore the catacombs of St Peter’s Cemetery, which offer wonderful views of the bright green domes of the surrounding churches.

Ed’s hotel pick: The four-star Romantik Hotel Gmachl sits in the charming rural village of Elixhausen, just a 15-minute shuttle bus from town. Sweeping views of the Alps and a swish spa give it Insta-appeal. Doubles cost from £170.

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4. Sapporo, Japan

Tiger ice sculpture
Photo credit: Pixabay

Sure, Japan is a stunner in springtime when the ‘gram is awash with pink cherry blossoms, but visit in winter and you’ll capture a different side to the island nation, with its mountainous snowscapes, steaming hot springs and colourful festivals. Head to the northern island of Hokkaido in February for the famous Snow Festival held in the capital Sapporo. Warm up with hot sake and street eats in between snapping selfies with the incredible snow and ice sculptures at Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. If you’ve gone all the way to Japan, venturing beyond the city limits is a must. A 45-minute train ride from Sapporo is the port city of Otaru, which puts on its dreamy Snow Light Path Festival in February when the streets are aglow with thousands of snow lanterns. Get a pic along the historic canal, with its Victorian style street lamps and brick warehouses, where little snow statues holding candles line the path. A winter jaunt to Japan isn’t complete without a dip in one of the famous hot springs. Less than an hour’s drive south of Sapporo are the Jozankei springs in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The salt content of the clear waters creates a Ready Brek effect, warming you from the inside. Feeling toasty? Then you’ll be ready to explore the photogenic surroundings, with views of the valley, rivers and mountains ripe for a #nature.    

Ed’s hotel pick: A high-rise hotel might not be top of your usual holiday wish list but the 32-storey Hotel Emisia Sapporo offers fantastic views of the whole city from its higher floors, which will look even more impressive during the festival’s illuminations. Doubles cost from £57.

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5. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague in the snow
Photo credit: Pixabay

It might not be the wild card of the list, but a winter break to this tourist favourite is like mince pies at Christmas. Yes, it’s been done before but that’s because it’s brilliant! The quirky Czech capital is #blessed with more than its fair share of fairy tale attractions. The quintessential Prague experience is a stroll across Charles Bridge, a 14th century stone landmark lined with Baroque statues on parapets that sandwich hordes of visitors (though fewer in winter) and street hawkers. Make sure you admire the bridge itself from its gothic Bridge Tower, which sits on the Old Town end. Then capture another perspective by strolling along the east bank, just south of the bridge, from where you might see the hilltop castle reflected in the waters of the Vltava River. Stroll to the bustling Old Town Square and checkout the gleaming white façade of St Nicholas Church. On the other side of the square, climb the Old Town Hall Tower to snap views of the jumble of pitched red roofs below, then explore the cobbled lanes where you’ll stumble upon ancient chapels, hidden courtyards and traditional tourist-free bars. Back on the north side of the river, admire the city skyline from the various vantage points along the small path, called Na Opyši, up to Prague Castle. Or get your walking boots on and walk up to the top of Petřín Garden for a snapshot of the whole city from the Lookout Tower that rises above the trees.

Ed’s hotel pick: You can’t beat Prague’s Golden Well Hotel for romance. This 19-room gem is surrounded by rose gardens and has wonderful views of the city from its top floor restaurant. The suites and rooms are pure class, too. Doubles cost from £155.

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 On the lookout for your next snowy escape?

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All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of publication on 11 December 2018. Hotel prices are for bookings in January 2019, based on two sharing.