Sure, warm-weather getaways are nice, and there’s no denying the appeal of blazing sun, sand, ocean waves, maybe a pool, a sailboat, and tropical drinks. But there’s also a certain fairy-tale magic and epic coziness when the temps dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Travelers who crave cold-weather climes have many options around the world — destinations with enchanting snow and ice festivals, all matter of winter sports, and record-breaking temperature drops. Here are seven of the coldest cities in the world.
7. Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana (formerly known as Nur-Sultan) holds a special distinction as one of the coldest capital cities in the world. The average January temperature in the capital of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is a chilly 3 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time, many residents get around by iceskating on the Ishim River, which stays frozen for around five months of the year. Astana is far from a barren icy expanse, however. It’s a modern city filled with futuristic architecture, dazzling mosques, and an abundance of shopping and entertainment complexes to discover — as long as you don’t mind braving the cold. A great time to visit Astana is during the Christmas season, when you’ll find bazaars teeming with festive gifts and food.
6. Winnipeg, Canada
The capital city of Canada’s Manitoba province, Winnipeg mostly owes its numbingly cold weather to the wind. The city is located on a vast prairie, where there aren’t many natural barriers to protect it from the winds that sweep down from the Arctic in winter. As a result, the average January temperature is just barely above zero (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit), but when you consider wind chill, it’ll often feel as cold as -40 degrees. One of the most popular things to do in Winnipeg’s great outdoors is to head to Oak Hammock Marsh, strap on some snowshoes, and enjoy the crisp winter air as you search for animal tracks.
5. Irkutsk, Russia
Irkutsk is one of the biggest industrial cities of Russia’s Siberia region, and its residents routinely brave January weather when the temperature stays below zero most of the month (-2 degrees Fahrenheit, on average). Irkutsk’s population of just over half a million people seems to thrive in the frosty weather of Siberia near Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest lake in the world. In the winter, this massive lake turns into the world’s biggest skating rink. A ride through forest trails on sleds pulled by Siberian huskies is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.
4. Harbin, China
Despite the bone-chilling temps, Harbin definitely doesn’t close up shop for the winter. In this city of more than 9 million residents in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, the temperature works to locals’ advantage, creating a perfect “Ice City.” Even January temps hovering at -3 degrees Fahrenheit can’t keep people away from Harbin’s annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which runs from late December to mid-February each year. In addition to the incredible ice and snow sculptures, visitors can experience a huge variety of winter activities like ice skating and ice golf.
3. Fairbanks, Alaska
You won’t find many better places to witness the gorgeous northern lights than the nippy Alaskan city of Fairbanks, located just north of Denali National Park and Preserve. But if you plan to visit Fairbanks in January, expect average temperatures to be in the neighborhood of –7 degrees Fahrenheit. For those hearty cold-weather fans, there are many things to do in the vast wilds of Alaska. In addition to the great light show in the sky, you can go dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and even frolic with reindeer.
2. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Mongolia’s capital city is home to more than 1 million brave souls who experience January temperatures that average a bone-chilling -12 degrees Fahrenheit. Ulaanbaatar sits at 4,400 feet above sea level at the foot of Bogd Khan Mountain, which is home to one of the world’s oldest national parks. But if you are brave enough to visit Ulaanbaatar in January, you’re in luck: Winter tourism is a growing business in Mongolia, and you’ll be rewarded with unique local festivals complete with singing, dancing, and wrestling. The traditional New Year’s celebration of Tsagaan Sar is a highlight, and features old-style winter horse racing.
1. Yakutsk, Russia
Adventure travelers who want to check off one of the coldest cities in the world from their bucket list will need to head north to visit Yakutsk, Russia. This Siberian city of more than 250,000 people features remarkable natural beauty and lies just 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The people from this remote region often have a wonderful spirit of adventure and are perfect hosts for winter travelers who come to brave the January weather that averages -42 degrees Fahrenheit. A big draw in Yakutsk is the Mammoth Museum, where you can see the world’s most diverse collection of exhibits from the last ice age, including a perfectly preserved head of a woolly mammoth.