Winter holidays for families

The wonders of winter

The quintessential holiday snap the world over is of a palm-tree fringed beach. With the exception of a few ski or snowboarding shots, more wintry looking destinations don’t get much of a look in. It’s a shame, really, as winter is full of wonder and beauty: frosty mornings, crisp sunny days, deciduous trees bereft of leaves. Yes it’s cold, but isn’t that nice? It’s a blessed relief from the heat that occupies so much of our desert continent the rest of the year.

I love winter, and all that it brings. Roaring open fires. Brisk walks followed by steaming cups of tea. Beanies and gloves. Slow braised stews. Hot chocolates, cakes and puddings. Cocooning indoors with a good book or playing board games with the kids.


In travel terms, winter is a good time to go away. Many destinations are less crowded than in the warmer months, accommodation and airfares are usually much cheaper and easier to find. This is especially the case with travelling to Europe or the USA. Once you’re out of the peak Christmas and New Year’s holiday period, prices drop and availability rises. We had one of our most wonderful family trips to Venice in January last year, renting an apartment and living the local life. The city, which gets overrun by tourists in summer, was atmospheric and uncrowded, and while you’d never call Venice cheap, our accommodation cost half as much as it would have done had we travelled in July.

Venice in winter. Uncrowded and so beautiful.

Venice in winter. Uncrowded and so beautiful.

Some Australian destinations, including Broome, the Kimberley, Far North Queensland, Cape York, Darwin, Kakadu and Lichfield National Parks, Arnhem Land and much of the northern part of Australia, can only be visited comfortably in the Dry season (ie winter). In the Wet, roads become impassable and many places close down.

Our tip at Travel Without Tears? Look for ways to embrace winter rather than cursing it. Dress for the weather. Kids get grizzly when they get cold, so keep them warm with beanies, gloves and scarves. Downy puffer jackets are lightweight but warm, and pack down to virtually nothing.

Don’t forget that many places are much more atmospheric in winter than summer, with festivals that make the most of early dark nights. Here are some of our favourite winter travel ideas.


  • In Sydney, the Vivid festival is lighting up Sydney until June 18, bringing visitors to the city in a traditionally quiet period. Most of it is free and it’s all wondrous.
  • Whale watching – all the way up the east coast including just outside the Sydney Harbour heads. This can be a half day trip out of Sydney harbour. But you can see dozens of them from the lighthouse at Byron Bay for free.
  • Southern Highlands. New food and wine trail “clusters” have been established so you can move through different areas of the Highlands stopping at farmers’ markets and farm-gate stalls, with trail maps to guide you. Kids will love it – and there’s a bit of wine for mum and dad too.
  • Blue Mountains is at its best in winter. The famous YuleFest celebrations and packages bring all things Christmas in July.


  • Tassie is the coldest part of the country, so its not surprising that they wear a lot of wool. And if you don’t have the necessary kit, head to The Maker in Salamanca Place where beanies and scarves are a bit of an art form.
  • In Hobart you can visit Salamanca market for food and craft stalls on Saturday mornings.
  • If you want to challenge hike up Mt Wellington – where even in summer it can be freezing and in winter is described as “polar” – or simply take a drive.
  • Hobart’s Festival of Voices is a reason to visit. Dubbed as Australia’s premier festival of the voice, it includes performances by acclaimed international singers and a variety of workshops but the event to participate is the City of Hobart Bonfire and Big Sing in Salamanca Place.
  • Dark MOFO is another festival. More than 20 venues in and around Hobart, including the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) will host local and international artists. (It’s worth noting that not all the content is suitable for kids and indeed much of MONA is a challenge if you’re visiting with kids.)
  • Huon Valley midwinter festival celebrates the traditional apple harvest in the region. It’s like an old English folk festival, complete with bonfires and morris dancers.


  • Head to the Goldfields. Ballarat is embracing its chilly winter with Winterlude, in its second edition this year. They set up an ice rink and toboggan slide in the main street, and Sovereign Hill has Christmas decorations, carollers and fake snow.
  • Melbourne’s Winter in Fed Square celebrates all things wintry, and includes an ice rink on the River Terrace. Part of it is The Light in Winter Melbourne’s answer to Vivid in Sydney.
  • Catch a game of AFL at the MCG. A pie at the footy is one of Melbourne’s quintessential winter experiences.

Winter fun. Just add beanie.

Northern Territory

  • The desert of the Red Centre is freezing cold overnight but days are usually warm and clear.
  • Until early 2017 there’s a fantastic temporary light installation at Uluru called Field of Light. You don’t really need extra reasons to visit Uluru but this is one of them.
  • It’s better to visit in winter than in summer when the heat is overwhelming.

Canberra and the ACT

  • Our national capital is freezing at this time of year but it’s usually crisp with bright blue skies, so as long as you have warm clothing you’ll be fine.
  • In the countryside around Canberra, you can visit wineries and restaurants participating in the annual Fireside festival which is all about enjoying food by the warmth of a fire.

Western Australia

  • Much of WA is really only visitable in winter, particularly in the north. Statewide however, winter and early spring is a magical time to see the wildflowers for which the state is famous.