So you hate the cold but an exotic beach getaway is just not in the cards this winter. We feel you (and your hands are freezing, by the way!) and because we’re city people, we’ll guide the way to the Best Winter Cities. We ran the numbers and came up with this list of cities that rank low in weather—It rains! It snows! It’s freezing cold!—but more than make up for it with amazing dining scenes, excellent shopping, spectacular museums, quirky little neighborhoods, and killer nightlife. So go ahead, leave the sunscreen at home and get ready to warm up with hearty dishes, potent cocktails, and more than a few surprises along the way.
Your smartphone might be telling you it’s below zero outside but it feels like spring to you. You’re in the New Wing of the iconic Somerset House, in a 19th century drawing room painted in a robin’s-egg shade of blue and featuring a glass-roofed atrium dotted with black olive trees. The scene at Spring, chef Skye Gyngell’s new restaurant set in the historic arts and culture center in London’s West End, warms your soul with its happy hubbub and clatter of knives and forks. and dishes that are ridiculously good. Try the guinea fowl with buttered leeks, chanterelles and crème fraîche. “Yes, it is one of the prettiest (and fanciest) dining rooms in London but chef Skye Gyngell’s food is firmly connected to the earth,” says chef Alice Waters. But you can’t spend your entire visit dreaming of (and dining at) Spring. So you make your way to the Barbican to check out the work of late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Just outside is Banksy’s “unofficial collaboration” with the artist—a mural of two cops patting down the figure from Basquiat’s Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump. The exhibition, Room for Real, is on view at the Barbican until January 28. The mural? Better see it before the city cleans it up. Stop at Artesian at the Langham Hotel, which is considered by many to be the best bar in the world. Behind the bar of this mirrored drinking den, Alex Kratena relaunches the menu every year with playful concoctions. Over on the East End, arguably the trendiest corner of the city, is Old Spitalfields Market, a historic marketplace featuring an antique fair, wellness talks, restaurants and shops. Some of East London’s best chefs and restaurants have eateries and stalls here. Try Rök for brined and cured British meats, Flank for nose-to-tail comfort food prepared on an open fire, and Happy Endings for Instagram-worthy desserts. On the first and third Friday of the month, the Vinyl Market sells new and collectable vintage records.
A thriving food scene, neon-lit nightlife, chic little cafes and plenty of attractions make a visit to Japan’s fifth-largest city worth your while. Yes, it’s bitter cold outside, yet in February when the famous Snow Festival takes place, the population nearly doubles. People from all over Japan and beyond visit Hokkaidō’s biggest and most famous city in winter to take in the spectacular snow and ice sculptures, some of which measure more than 82 feet wide and 50 feet high. Mother nature sure puts on a show in Sapporo during winter. Take, for example, the Aoi-Ike in Biei, a pond that turns a technicolor blue from the aluminum in the water from nearby hot springs. Hearty souls who think nothing of subzero weather visit the pond in the evening when it is illuminated to create a fairytale dreamscape. Another popular spot for nature lovers is Shirohige Falls, which freeze entirely and are lit up in beautiful colors. To warm up, descend into an artsy tunnel called the Sapporo Odori 500m Underground Walkway Gallery, a stretch filled with interesting art pieces displayed between Odori and Bus Center-Mae metro stations. Space 1-15 looks like a normal apartment building from the outside, but inside are themed shops stocking accessories, books, confections, coffee, records, and who knows what else. Gather up your courage and ring the doorbell to find out. For beer fans, a trip to Hokkaidō means tasting the popular Japanese beer from the source. At the Sapporo Beer Museum you’ll learn about the history of Japan’s first brewery, but most importantly you’ll get to taste Sapporo Classic, a beer in the brewery’s lineup sold only in this prefecture. The city is also known for a culinary invention that everyone should try: soup curry. Locals will tell you that Nishitondendori Soupcurry Honpo is the place to try it. Or book a Geisha Party. Yeah, that’s a thing. This tour takes place in a private home where two geishas entertain with dance and song while guests enjoy a home-cooked meal paired with local beer and sake. The evening ends with a tea ceremony.
Irasshai mase! That means welcome in Japanese, and you’ll hear it a lot if you spend any time in a city with the world’s most-starred restaurants. “Sushi, French, Italian, tempura, izayaka—the rich variety of our selection is a testament to the gastronomic strength of Tokyo,” says Michael Ellis, International Director in charge of Michelin guides. “Even ramen restaurants have stars.” The 2018 Michelin Guide to Tokyo awarded stars to 234 eating establishments, and while your stay might not be long enough to visit all of them, we certainly wouldn’t fault you for trying. If you only eat at one Michelin restaurant, make it Den, one of five new two-star restaurants added to the guide, where owner and chef Zaiyu Hasegawa create playful and modern kaiseki, a traditional cuisine that involves a series of small, intricate dishes. If noodles are your thing, head over to Tsuta, the first Michelin-starred ramen joint in the world. In a city full of striking architecture, the six-story diamond-shape glass-paned building and store designed by Herzog and de Meuron for Prada is worth a visit to fashionable but touristy Aoyama district. If you spend any time on social media, you’ve probably come across a photo of Yayoi Kusama’s eye-popping polka dots and trance-inducing mirrored rooms in your Instagram feed. The Japanese artist’s much-anticipated eponymous museum, which recently opened its doors in the Shinjuku neighborhood, offers timed tickets for a 90-minute slot—plenty of time to hit the gift shop, the exhibits, and take one or two (okay, maybe 30) selfies in one of her immersive installations. Don’t leave Tokyo without visiting an onsen, a communal hot-water baths. Set within Tokyo Dome City, Spa LaQua is a hot spring complex where the water is said to help heal colds, muscle stiffness and neuralgia.
You know what they say, Paris is always a good idea. Even in winter when the temperature hovers just above freezing. If it weren’t so darn cold, you’d probably take a stroll with your cheri/e through Jardin des Tuileries or the narrow cobblestone streets of the old Marais quarter. Instead, you’re gonna keep warm while you eat, drink and take in some art. Start at Fondation Louis Vuitton, where the first exhibition in France to present MoMA’s collection, including masterworks by Cézanne, Klimt, René Magritte, and Picasso will fill the entirety of the Frank Gehry-designed building. Israeli food and the country’s chefs are having a moment—and not just in their homeland. One of the most-talked about restaurants to open in Paris last year is Balagan by the founders of the Experimental Group in collaboration with Israeli chefs Assaf Granit and Uri Navon. Located mere steps from Jardin des Tuileries and Colette, the restaurant features interiors by designer Dorothée Meilichzon who fuses Anglo-Saxon and a retro chic vibe to great effect, and juxtaposes copper pots and pans over a smooth marble bar. Dishes like asparagus and mushroom polenta, seafood shakshuka and tahini ice cream will transport you to the warmer climates of Tel Aviv, if only for a few hours. Want something super touristy but tons of fun? Reserve a table at Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in the world and a dazzling and spectacular universe where a troupe of 60 artists turn up the heat. Or for something entirely different, make your way to the colorful Pigalle neighborhood to dance the night away at Glass, a bar-cum-nightclub frequented by locals who drink specialty beers and cocktails on tap, snack on hot dogs (yes, hot dogs) and housemade pickles, and move to the beat of DJ music till the wee hours of the morning. Trust us, you’ll break a sweat even on the coldest Parisian night.
5. NEW YORK
No other city does winter quite like the Big Apple. The temperature plummets and skies turn an electric blue the likes of which must certainly serve as inspiration to the Pantone folks. At night the skyline twinkles like a jewel box, and Central Park, blanketed in white, is seriously romantic. But baby it’s cold outside and you’re looking to stay warm. So what do you do in the city that never sleeps? Anything you want, as long as it’s indoors. You duck inside the American Museum of Natural History and walk around the Butterfly Conservatory, where some 500 tropical butterflies of every color fly freely amidst the lush tropical green plants and the temperature is permanently kept at a balmy 80 degrees. You go to Rockefeller Center, not to freeze your butt off on the ice rink, of course, but to watch braver souls do so as you sip a cocktail or hot chocolate at Rock Center Cafe, which offers a perfect vantage spot of the rink. You go to Brooklyn because of course you do, and you ride one of the 48 exquisitely carved horses of Jane’s Carousel, which is installed inside a spectacular pavilion (read: it’s warm in there) designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel. You visit Midtown Manhattan’s Theater District, home to dozens of historic venues and nab last-minute tickets to a bold new musical, a long-running hit or a fascinating drama. For dinner, you score a table at hot new restaurant Nur, where iconic Israeli chef Meir Adoni’s menu of Palestinian tartare, chickpea fried octopus and lamb kebabs will surely make you feel like you’re dining at a hot restaurant on the Med.
Get a feel for the five runners-up in our selection of top cities for a winter break.