For a vacation filled with snow, ice and picturesque landscapes, these winter festivals will do the trick!
Up for a unique skiing experience? Every winter, the Zao Mountain Range in Japan’s Yamagata prefecture gets overrun with snow monsters—instead of bright, colourful lights, you’ll be bowled over by pure white snow!
Heavy snowfall coats the trees with layers of snow and ice, transforming them into surreal ivory beings in unique shapes, hence the term “snow monsters”. To witness the spectacular sight for yourself, the Zao Ropeway Juhyo Kogen Station in the middle of the Juhyogen Course will lead you to the peak of the Zao Onsen Ski Resort.
Once you’ve had your fill, ski down a variety of slopes catered for all skill levels, but earmark the Utopia Slope for the best view of the scenic mountains after checking out the snow monsters. Prefer hiking? You can also trek down in snowshoes.
During peak winter festival, the snowy hills are illuminated in the evenings, making for a breathtaking glowing landscape. Fireworks also pierce the night sky, further enhancing the snow monsters. Plus, you can also hire a snow vehicle for the Snow Monster Illumination & Winter Night Cruising tour (Adults, JPY ¥2,600; children, JPY ¥1,300) to see the beings up close!
For the full resort experience, sink into the relaxing Zao Onsen Open-Air Bath (open daily, 6am–7pm. Adults, JPY ¥470; children, JPY ¥260) after your exhilarating ski session; the outdoor hot spring will rejuvenate you plenty.
Be a part of this festival that’s over 450 years old, where kamakura (snow domes) mushroom all over the city of Yokote, Akita prefecture. You’re welcome to join locals inside their kamakura, munching on mochi rice cakes and sipping warm, sweet amazake sake.
The festival grounds stretch from Yokote Station to Yokote Castle; take an evening stroll through town for a pleasant view of the many kamakura glowing softly in the night. For a hands-on experience, you can also help build a kamakura at Komyoji Park! Sessions usually begin from 11am or 2pm, so you have plenty of time to build your own snow dome. Stick around for the lighting session at 5pm to see your finished kamakura illuminated.
There aren’t only life-sized snow domes to huddle in; see the sea of hundreds of tiny kamakura the size of lanterns along the Yokote River, as well as quaint snow sculptures of icons such as Totoro. It’s all very pretty, all very kawaii.
Plus point: there’s no fee to enter Yokote town itself, although certain attractions are ticketed. To make the most of your experience, learn about the town’s history and culture at the Kamakura Museum (home to a permanent display of kamakura kept frozen year-round), and the Yokote Park Observatory to get the best views of the town. Each place only charges JPY ¥100 per person, making this one of the most budget-friendly winter festivals around.
See this garden come to life with a rainbow of lights in Seoul’s sprawling Garden of Morning Calm. Thousands of illuminated lights blanket the snow-dusted themed gardens; think Garden of Eden, Bonsai Garden, Moonlight Garden and more. Visiting with your significant other? The tranquil garden evokes some pretty romantic vibes, like soft instrumental music playing in the background, as well as numerous golden and crimson string lights that you’ve definitely seen in your favourite Korean drama.
After walking through a long archway of gradient violet and rose butterflies, warm your tummy with a meal at the on-site Korean restaurant, or get coffee from the café. Make sure to stop at the gift shop for a bottle of the garden’s relaxing peppermint spray.
Relax in Taiwan’s very own thermal waters, and sample local fine food at the state’s annual Hot Spring & Fine-Cuisine Carnival. Taiwan has 17 thermal spring areas dotted all over the island, and each year one is chosen to officially kick off festivities nationwide.
Here’s a quick guide to your hot spring spree: head to Xinbeitou and Wulai hot springs up north (dubbed “beauty baths” for their rejuvenating benefits) for an invigorating soak and to feast on Atayal cuisine (the food of Wulai’s indigenous people); or trek down to the hot springs of Taichung for clear springs and local Hakka freshwater trout and plums. Head south to slink off to Tainan’s Guanziling for a muddy hot spring experience, or bask in the stunning scenery surrounding the Sichongxi Hot spring.
This hugely popular winter festival has everything you need for a fun winter’s day! Embracing the cold here is an exciting affair, so jump in and join as many activities as you can.
If you aren’t squeamish about handling live fish in icy water, roll up your sleeves and try to catch the festival’s namesake sancheoneo mountain trout barehanded; it’s a lot harder than it looks, so you’ll definitely earn your badge of honour should you succeed! For a different kind of challenge, try ice fishing and catch the first-grade trout through a small circular hole in the frozen-solid river. Once done, have your trout grilled on-site and savour the taste of your own catch.
There’s more: go for a thrilling sled ride or zipline over frozen waters if you’re feeling adventurous. You can also go figure skating, bobsleighing, and play ice soccer among many, many more activities—like we said, the festival has everything you need for a snowy good time!
If you need a break, Hwacheon town will be filled with large ice sculptures at the ice plaza, as well as traditional Korean folk games and yes, plenty of local street eats like fried fish, fish cakes, tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) and savoury fritters.
One of China’s coldest cities in winter, Harbin, is home to the hugely popular Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. With gigantic ice sculptures measuring 250 feet, magnificent ice palaces that glitter in the night, plus winding mazes, fun ice cycling and plenty more, it’s no wonder millions throng the city for the month-long festivities, even in freezing cold weather!
Make sure to visit the theme parks at the festival: the dreamlike Ice and Snow World is illuminated with a blaze of colourful ice and snow sculptures; Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo pays homage to local folk cultures from all over the world with artistically crafted snow creations; imaginative lanterns light the night sky at Harbin Ice Lantern Show; and Songhua River Ice and Snow Happy Valley lets you get physical with rock climbing, dog sledding and even snow football (plus, the chance to watch winter swimmers swim in the Songhua River in just their swim trunks!).