The holiday season will soon sneak up on us, with crisp air and swirling snowflakes heralding its arrival. That means now is the perfect time to explore the magic of winter festivals around the world, from enchanting winter wonderlands to lively winter music festivals.
Explore the colossal ice sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan or immerse in the festive charm of Christmas at Kew Gardens in London. Unearth unique traditions when you follow a torch-lit procession at Scotland’s Up Helly Aa, and get swept up in the dramatic costumes and masks of Carnival in Venice.
These captivating winter festivals bring a kaleidoscope of joy and warm hearts to the coolest season. Here’s a round-up of the best family-friendly winter celebrations across the globe for your next multi-generational trip abroad.
Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan
Each February this famous festival in Hokkaido features enormous snow sculptures, ice slides, and various snow-related activities suitable for families. Since 1950 this annual event has warmed the hearts of many with phenomenal snow structures. The kids will love the interactive play park set in Odori Park, where you’ll find mammoth snow slides, can try snow-rafting, and snack at the many food stalls before viewing the art of ice sculptors.
GET INSPIRED BY: Splendors of Japan
Quebec Winter Carnival, Canada
The largest winter carnival in the world, this lively festival falls each February and has been around since 1894. In the historic Canadian city you’ll find fun snow activities such as dog-sled racing, tubing, snow slides, parades, horse-drawn sleighs, ice canoe races and open-air skating. You can stay at an ice hotel, or warm up with hot tubs.
GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Eastern Canada
Up Helly Aa, Scotland
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the subarctic archipelago of Scotland’s Shetland Islands, this unique January festival is the perfect (but chilly!) excuse. Up Helly Aa in Lerwick is a winter celebration of Viking heritage with a 1,000-strong torch-lit procession and the burning of a Viking longship. This longstanding tradition dates back to 1889.
Carnival of Venice, Italy
The Venice Carnival is a time when the ordinary dissolves, giving way to the extraordinary. Elaborate masks conceal the faces of revelers, hiding identities and transcending time. The streets and piazzas of Venice transform into a surreal theater when costumed characters in elegant gowns and regal suits from centuries past return. February is a magical time to pass through and feel the rhythm of Venetian history pulsate through the canals and cobbled streets.
JOIN A FAMILY TOUR: Gladiators, Gondolas and Gold
The kids will love the Netherlands, where Christmas comes early. Every year on December 5th there’s a festival that includes the arrivals of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and his helpers, distributing gifts to children. Expect street festivals and festivities across the Netherlands, and happy children everywhere.
Christmas at Kew Gardens, England
During December, the Royal Botanic Gardens in London are adorned with enchanting light displays and fun festivities, creating a magical experience for families. Enter this glittering winter wonderland and explore after-dark events and projections with immersive installations and spectacular displays, including the famous Christmas Cathedral with its thousands of sparkling fairy lights.
JOIN A FAMILY TOUR: Castles and Kilts
Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, China
The world’s largest ice and snow festival offers a winter carnival like no other. From late December until early March, the Harbin Ice Festival showcases stunning ice and snow sculptures, as well as ice lantern shows and winter sports. There’s winter swimming, skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, ice bars, and more than 2,000 snowmen. This special winter wonderland is crafted with more than 120,000 cubic meters of ice and 111,000 cubic meters of snow.
EXPLORE MORE: Classic China
Christmas Markets in Europe
Of course, we couldn’t write about winter festivals without mentioning Europe’s many Christmas markets. Many European cities, such as Vienna, Prague, Zurich and Cologne, host enchanting Christmas markets during December. Here you can stroll between the stalls drinking hot chocolate, shopping for Christmas gifts, and meeting Santa.
GET INSPIRED BY: Christmas Markets of Austria, Germany and Switzerland
Ljubljana Dragon Carnival, Slovenia
Mixing pagan and Christian traditions, Slovenia’s winter carnival – the Ljubljana Dragon Carnival – takes place in the charming capital with bursts of color and family fun. Inspired by the city’s dragon symbol, the streets fill with fantastical costumes and vibrant floats. Families and visitors gather to witness the imaginative parade, as mythical creatures and imaginative characters come to life. Many spectators dress up as bears, witches, fairies and devils to scare off the winter months.
GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Croatia and Slovenia
Amsterdam Light Festival, Netherlands
As the sun sets, Amsterdam’s iconic canals light up with an array of illuminated artworks, sculptures, and installations. Families and art enthusiasts alike gather to cruise along the water, immersing themselves in the magical interplay of light and creativity that transforms the city into a radiant winter wonderland. This spectacle where art and light converge falls from late November to late January each year.
GET INSPIRED BY: Amsterdam Explorer
Those are the best family-friendly winter festivals that fall between December and February each year. Are you planning to travel for any winter events this year?