Where to travel solo this winter

Jade Hammond

Who says you have to stay indoors when the temperatures drops? We couldn't think of a better time to get out in the bracing air and explore by yourself

Here are five of our favourite places to explore this winter

 

1. Athens, Greece

Athens in winter

Pop-up supper clubs, a raucous underground jazz scene and vanguard international art are bubbling away under the sunbaked surface of Athens and its humble status as gateway to the Greek isles. Come November the crowds lift and temperatures loiter around the mid-20s, so a cursory trip to the Parthenon and Acropolis become a pleasant rather than anxiety-inducing experience. A full afternoon is also essential for exploring the Museum of Cycladic Art and its rotational exhibitions—most recently it hosted Picasso and Antiquity in conversation. 

Not far from The Artist Hotel in the graffitied streets of the Pysrri district is an inconspicuous hole in the wall from which descends a tiny staircase into the basement restaurant, Diporto. This is where to find plates thick with fava and caramelised onions, grilled mackerel seasoned with the lightest of hands, bowlfuls of crunch in the form of generous Greek salads, and endless bread for dippage. Lunch here demands an afternoon of minimal movement, preferably stretched out over white sangria at nearby Kalimeres. Later on, queuing for Lebanese lechmatzouns at Feyrouz or kebabs at Kostas is worthwhile for a deliciously quick bite en route to the Exarcheia district’s jazz clubs. Beatniks Road Bar serves formidable margaritas and showcases live bands. 

 

2. Huaraz, Peru

laguna 69 peru

To some, Peru conjures images of gap yah students finding themselves on a group tour of Machu Picchu in psychedelic print baggy trousers. There’s obviously so much more to this vast country than its UNESCO World Heritage site, and Huaraz is one such example. Any hike through the surrounding Huascaran National Park, of which the Cordillera Blanca mountain range is a part, will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a Lord of the Rings film set turned MacBook screensaver. Ragged peaks pierce the clouds, abandoned rowing boats float eerie on crystalline glacial lakes, and mile on mile of lavender-washed trail lies near-undisturbed – thanks, no doubt, to the eight-hour bus journey from Lima that is required to reach the region. 

April and November are considered ‘shoulder season’, which means running the risk of slightly fewer clear days but remaining joyous in the knowledge you’ll be sharing the trails with fewer people. A couple of days spent acclimatising to life at a base altitude of 3,000m are non-negotiable to avoid breathing through the eye of a needle, and staff at the solo traveller-friendly hostels will advise on easygoing introductory hikes. Acclimatisation complete, gather a group and camp at the base of the hypnotic Laguna 69 (probably the region’s most-photographed corner) for an experience entirely undisturbed by steady streams of daytrippers. A trip to Lac Paron at the foot of Mount Artesonraju—apparently the inspiration behind Paramount Pictures’ logo—or a mildly adventurous rope climb up to Lac Churup are also not to be missed. 

 

3. Edinburgh, UK 

Edinburgh in winter

Yes, it’s probably going to be bitingly cold and yes, you’ll probably have to wear three or more layers, but that’s part of the whimsy of winter in Scotland’s historic, hilly capital. Edinburgh brings forth a specific kind of magic at this time of year: its castle strikes a stubborn silhouette against moody grey skies, and the windows of its robust collection of coffee shop windows steam up in a pleasing, romantic fashion. People watch on to York Place from the artisanal sanctuary of Fortitude Coffee, a few minutes’ walk from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Old-world decadence is distilled into four dining experiences at The Dome Restaurant and Bar, a Georgian masterpiece of a building replete with Corinthian columns, lashings of marble and an outlandishly designed… dome ceiling. For simple dishes with Scottish twists there’s neighbourhood bistro The Little Chartroom, and The Sheep Heid Inn has been around long enough to have served Mary, Queen of Scots. Solo travellers after solitude will find it in the eight bedrooms at the 18th century Rock House, each embodying that aspirational mix of period detail (iron bedsteads, William Morris wallpaper) and unmistakable modernity (contemporary colour pairings, brushed copper lampshades).

 

4. Oslo and Senja Island, Norway 

Darkness descends on Norway in November, making it the optimum time to bask under the green veils of the Northern Lights. In Oslo, Christmas festivities start ramping up and the two hours of daylight and plummeting temperatures seem snug rather than oppressive. Rooms at the Saga Hotel Oslo Central perfectly fit the mood—cosy without cliche, pared back without being minimalist—and the 18th century building is a few minutes from the Royal Palace. For dinner, natural wines and Nordic cuisine come together at Sentralen, and HIMKOK Storgata Destilleri produces its own gin, vodka, aquavit, and rhubarb wine.

There are huge indoor slopes at The Holmenkollen for lovers of snow-based activities, but a two-and-a-half hour flight north to Senja is the place to properly converge with nature. Norway’s Lofoten islands have been described countless times as one of the most beautiful places on earth, and Senja grows increasingly so once November’s polar nights draw in. Activity-packed expeditions run twice weekly, and include a Northern Lights safari, dog sledding, a mini fjord cruise, and all food and accommodation.

 

5. Valletta, Malta

Flights from the UK to Malta’s capital are reasonable at around £30 return, making it one of the most doable destinations for a last-minute November trip. This tiny city has shrugged off its package holiday image and reinvented itself as a year-round city break with artsy cafes, boutique hotels and newly opened galleries—Muża opened last year and houses the former National Gallery collection, and Spazju Kreattiv cultural centre hosts diverse exhibitions. 

Days here are spent wandering the 0.8 square kilometres of windy honeystone streets, stopping to see the baroque St. John’s Cathedral, and taking in views across the water at Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens. Local white wine, fresh fish, and deliciously whipped fig ice cream form the basis of the traditional Mediterranean cuisine served up in Valletta’s restaurants: Palazzo Preca and Malata are favourites, and old-school bar Legligin is a quaint post-dinner drink spot.


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