Celebrated across the globe, the winter solstice occurs when half of the Earth is tilted the furthest away from the sun. That moment marks the beginning of longer daylight hours, bringing with it the optimism that spring is on the horizon. But it is also a moment to appreciate the longest night of the year.
As the sun rises and sets on December 22nd, pay a visit to the northern hemisphere’s most wonderful winter solstice settings, and make the most of the occasion by taking a relaxing break in one of our favorite hotels.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Like many ancient sacred sites, the Unesco World Heritage temples of Angkor Wat are thought to have been built with celestial events in mind. The architect planned the construction according to a solar alignment between the temple and a nearby mountaintop shrine, making the winter solstice there especially spectacular. For the best experience, head to Pre Rup temple to see the sunset on Angkor Wat and enjoy the magnificent light reflected on the surrounding rice fields.
Check in to the palatial hotel Amansara in nearby Siem Reap, for a taste of 1960s New Khmer architecture and tranquil manicured gardens. Following their home away from home ethos, the welcoming Amansara team will escort you from the airport to your suite in one of their vintage Mercedes limousines, making your winter solstice break relaxing and stress-free. For equally luxurious facilities combined with leafy landscaped gardens, stay at the La Résidence d’Angkor, located only 10 minutes away from the lively markets of Siem Reap.
Winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year. But one part of the northern hemisphere has fewer hours of daylight than almost anywhere else: Iceland has just over four daylight hours, making it one of the most surreal places to experience this celestial event. Especially because the longer hours of darkness make the possibility of seeing the northern lights even greater.
During your pre-Christmas trip to Iceland, sleep in the unique Reykjavik Domes for a chance to see the aurora borealis from your own bed. The hotel guarantees a truly worry-free winter break by offering to organize activities for its guests, including buggy safari and glacier hiking. For those who want to enjoy a more rural and light-pollution-free experience, head to another one of our favorite luxury hotels to see the northern lights. The Hotel Rangá, for example, is perfectly located in the southern part of Iceland for guests to enjoy adventures such as horseriding across black sand beaches and helicopter tours.
Mnajdra Temples, Malta
The Unesco World Heritage Mnajdra temples on the southern coast of Malta date back thousands of years, and are thought to have been built as an astronomical observatory. On the day of the winter solstice, the south temple aligns perfectly with the sunrise and creates a beautiful golden light, which only gets more extraordinary as it shines on the ancient megaliths. The temples are also believed to have been a famous place of gatherings and celebration of the new seasons throughout history, which adds even more magic to the experience.
During your time on the island, stay within the medieval walls of Mdina at the Relais & Chateaux property The Xara Palace to enjoy the Silent City and its rich history. Wake up inside a majestic palazzo – and the only hotel inside the fortified city – while admiring the unique view of the Maltese countryside. For those staying in the capital Valletta, sleep in the beloved national treasure The Phoenicia to enjoy the Mediterranean feel from fresh and modern interiors.
Chichen Itza, Mexico
People travel from far and wide to experience the winter solstice at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Riviera Maya district. The iconic El Castillo pyramid creates an optical illusion with the setting sun, in which the light falling on the northern staircase resembles a snake’s body meeting the stone snake’s head at the bottom of the steps – the pyramid is dedicated to the serpent god Kukulkan.
Use one of the Yucatán luxury hotels as your base, such as the renowned Grand Velas Riviera Maya which will perfectly fit a winter solstice escape with its “beyond all-inclusive” offers. From its award-winning spa offering relaxing rituals to gourmet cuisine and sophisticated cocktails at a beachfront bistro, there really is something for everyone at the Grand Velas.
Stonehenge, United Kingdom
One of the most iconic sites for winter solstice is the Prehistoric ring of standing stones, Stonehenge. The Neolithic farmers who constructed the site aligned it perfectly with the movements of the sun, making it a real hotspot for solstitial times. People from across the world arrive there for sunrise to see the rays of early morning light perfectly align with the stones and enjoy the extraordinary monument until an equally magnificent sunset.
Stay nearby at the historic hotel, spa, and estate Lucknam Park, a luxurious home away from home in the form of a 5-star country house hotel. For those who need to unwind before Christmas, there are chic individual cottages on offer for a relaxing retreat. Plus, the more adventurous guests can visit the hotel’s equestrian center for a horseback ride across the beautiful Cotswold countryside.