Think about European winter festivities and the picture that usually comes to mind is excessive drinking and partying, which puts many Muslim travellers off. But winter in Europe is much more than that. There are amazing hidden experiences awaiting those who know where to look, and we do! So check out and enjoy our seven amazing Muslim-friendly winter experiences across the continent.
- SKATE ON A FAIRY-TALE CASTLE’S FROZEN LAKE IN HUNGARY
Budapest’s Vajdahunyad Castle is everything you expect out of a classic fairy-tale European castle. Looking at its Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance features, you half expect Cinderella to stick her head out of the window. It also has a stunning lake that freezes over every winter to become Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink and offers the most magical outdoor skating experience you are ever likely to have.
- DRINK MULLED WINE AT A WINTER MARKET IN GERMANY
Festive markets are a big highlight of winter in Europe; nothing beats wrapping yourself up in a scarf, hat and gloves to wander through these magical pop-ups in cities like Berlin, Stuttgart and Munich. Breath in the sweet smell of spiced baked treats, gingerbread and seasonal cheese, and if you pick the right one, there’s even non-alcoholic mulled wine to enjoy beneath the twinkling lights and festive decor.
- STAY AT AN ICE CASTLE IN ROMANIA
Don’t forget your garlic; this is Dracula country! High up in Romania’s Fagaras mountains next to Lake Balea is the Baleac Lac Hotel of Ice, the ultimate winter accommodation. Sleep on ice beds, dine on ice tables and sleep in ice rooms carved by locals every year. When you’ve had enough, pop down to either the town of Sighisoara or Bran Castle to see if you can catch a glimpse of Dracula. This is Transylvania, after all.
- GO SKIING ON THE CHEAP IN SLOVAKIA
For most people, skiing means an expensive winter getaway. Not anymore: since stunning Slovakia entered the game, those in the know have been enjoying high-quality swishing on snow-covered slopes in the Tatra Mountains at a fraction of the cost of Alpine resorts, and you should too. The best of these emerging and much friendlier Slovakian ski resorts are to be found around Jasna.
- RACE HUSKIES IN FINLAND
This ultimate winter thrill can be had in the Kuusamo region of Finland at the Border Inns, where dog-sled safaris will take you through an Arctic wilderness of frozen lakes and snow-covered forests straight out of a winter fairy tale. Look out for reindeer, elks and snow grouse with these majestic dogs, which can cover up to 65 kilometres a day. Exhilarating and awe-inspiring, you’ll even get the chance to drive one yourself.
- BUILD YOUR OWN IGLOO IN SOUTHERN FRANCE
Set in and around the French southern Alps, companies like Undiscovered Mountains have put together thrilling alternatives to skiing called “winter multi-activity” holidays. This is a series of uber-cool experiences that include snow-scooting, zip wiring, paragliding, skijoring, ice-climbing and building your very own igloo. Just be prepared for graft when building an igloo, though: this isn’t like hashing together a snowman; this is real craft.
- SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
Iceland has long been hailed as the ultimate European country to go if you want to see nature’s magical winter light festival: the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. You can head out on an overnight search in a private four-by-four, join a guided tour and share the magic with others, or take up our favourite spot, just 40 miles out of the capital, Reykjavik, on the coast near Akranes lighthouse, where those glorious luminous illusions will dance above the sea in the most dramatic setting of all.
(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)