As the Norwegians say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.“
Winter in the Nordic region is magical! The sky dances, the snow glitters and hangs heavy on the pine branches and the locals embrace the season. The beauty is enthralling, and for every minute outdoors, the rewards are multiplied. Some once-in-a-lifetime activities are only possible during the winter, and as long as you’re dressed warmly*, it isn’t difficult to enjoy it.
*Many lodges and activity companies supply high quality warm clothing including jackets, snowmobile suits, boots, hats and mittens, so you don’t have to buy a parka for your trip, and you can pack a little lighter!
While winter takes over each entire country, many winter activities take place at or above the Arctic Circle. And, above the Arctic Circle, the chances of witnessing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are much more likely (although never guaranteed!).
Santa has it figured out. For 364 days a year, he lives in Rovaniemi, Finland, and you KNOW winter is his favorite season. His official workshop, situated right on the Arctic Circle, is open daily for visits, when Santa is available to hear wishes from children (since his elves are busy making the toys!). Certainly a thrill for children of all ages!
© Visit Rovaniemi
Northern Finland is truly a winter wonderland. Where else can you take an authentic Finnish sauna, then go jump in a hole in the ice of a lake? Of course you don’t have to, but you CAN!
© Visit Karelia
You can also ride in a sled pulled by exuberant huskies, or even drive the sled yourself! Or go cross country skiing or snowshoeing, then return to your cozy accommodation for a hearty meal and settle down by the fire. From rustic cabins and cozy lodges, to snow hotels and glass igloos, there’s a variety of accommodations from which to choose, even some where you can watch the northern lights while cuddled in bed! Of course, since this is technically Santa’s “backyard”, there are plenty of reindeer around.
© Santa Claus Foundation
The town of Kemi on the Gulf of Bothnia in northwest Finland is home to the icebreaker Sampo. Having retired from a long ice breaking career with the Finnish government, it is now open to visitors for onboard tours and cruises. Just imagine the thrill of breaking through sea ice in this strong, magnificent vessel! Before returning to port, all the passengers have the opportunity to don a survival suit and float in the frozen sea! The experience is complete with a Sampo Cruise Certificate presented by the ship’s crew.
There’s a saying that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. You can believe it seeing how many people are out cross-country skiing throughout the day—and evenings on the lit trails in some communities.
In fact, Morgedal, a small village in the county of Telemark, Norway, is the birthplace of skiing for sport. Skis had been used for centuries as transportation, however a man named Sondre Norheim took skiing in a different direction, and it became an enjoyable pastime. In fact, the word slalom originated here: “Sla” meaning sloping, uneven terrain, and “lom” meaning tracks in the snow.
© Fredrik Myhre/visitnorway.com
Appropriately, Lillehammer, Norway, hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics, and the ski event locations are still open for everyone to enjoy. It’s possible to ski the slalom slopes of Hafjell or Kvitfjell, with views of the mountains and the stunning Gudbrandsdal valley below. The area around Lillehammer is renowned for its pristine cross-country ski trails through deep pine forests and open plateaus, open to beginners as well as those Norwegians who were born with skis on their feet.
So now that we know the Norwegians mean business when it comes to skiing, what are some other options for outdoor winter activities?
Off Norway’s northernmost coast, near the town of Kirkenes, is the realm of the King Crab. This huge creature isn’t native to these waters, but were introduced by Russia during the 1970s and are now plentiful. King Crab fishing is done year round, but during the winter, the experience is a bit more exciting. You’re supplied with excellent outerwear and boots to keep warm, then you venture out on the ice to assist the fisherman with getting the traps through a hole in the ice. Time for a picture with your catch! The only thing that can top that off is enjoying it prepared at a local restaurant — a delicious meal fit for a King or Queen!
© Terje Rakke-Nordic-Life/www.nordnorge.com
Accommodations can be an adventure as well. After a delicious dinner featuring local specialties, and a nightcap at the icebar, climb in your thermal sleeping bag for an unforgettable night at the Snowhotel Kirkenes. The snow rooms feature original carved artwork and ice sculptures, and with special tips on how to stay warm, you’ll have a wonderful night’s sleep.
The next day, outdoor activities are on the agenda! Take a guided snowshoe walk through the quiet, snowy landscape, or dash through it on a dogsled. Hop on a snowmobile and head out to the frozen fjord for some ice fishing. Connect with nature through mind, body, and soul with Snow Yoga — right in the snow! Of course, hunting the northern lights is available each evening, weather permitting, by snowmobile, or with warm transportation. Your next night’s accommodation can be in a cozy cabin!
© Bård Løken / www.nordnorge.com
A fun activity might be to try the Norwegian kicksled, or Spark. A Spark is a special standing sled that has been used in Norway since 1885, and has regained popularity in recent years. It’s an efficient way to navigate the snowy streets and sidewalks, but also a fun activity. Accommodations may have them to use, or it’s possible to rent a Spark at some tourist offices.
© Yngve Olsen Sæbbe – www.nordnorge.com
The Swedes are just as passionate about winter as the Finns and Norwegians and take every opportunity to get out and enjoy it.
Just outside of Stockholm, the archipelago of thousands of islands transforms into a winter wonderland. It’s tranquil, peaceful, and without many people, so you may have an island all to yourself! The landscape of snow and ice allows for ice skating, ice fishing, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing, with opportunities to see wildlife. There are options for cozy accommodations in the area, or take a day trip from Stockholm, since ferry service continues during the winter. The best of both worlds!
Channel your inner child and sleep in a treehouse! In northern Sweden, it’s possible. Located in a tall pine forest, the beautifully designed, deluxe accommodations are built in trees, (likely) a much better standard than your own childhood treehouse! Outstanding activities include horseback riding though snowy, pine forests, snowshoeing or snowmobiling or taking a sleigh ride through the snow and stopping for a picnic “fika” (coffee break). Of course, we can’t forget dog sledding, or the northern lights and the possibilities to witness them!
© Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se
The world-famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, was the first ever hotel made of ice back in 1989, and is still as intriguing as ever. This stunning work of art is recreated each year from blocks of ice from a nearby river, and welcomes guests until the spring when it is left to melt. Artists from all over the world travel there to contribute their visions with ice sculptures, snow carvings on the walls, and other unique decor. While sleeping in a room made of snow may sound a bit chilly, you’ll sleep on a thick mattress covered by a reindeer hide in a thermal sleeping bag, so in the morning, you’ll feel invigorated and ready for a sauna, hot shower and sumptuous breakfast.
© www.icehotel.com/Nicolas Triboulot and Cédric Alizard/Asaf Kliger/Icehotel/imagebank.sweden.se
Besides sleeping in the Icehotel, spend a few more days (with accommodations in warm cabins or a lodge!) to enjoy the activities available! From dog sledding and ice fishing, to trying ice sculpting or hunting for northern lights by snowmobile, you’ll never feel the same about winter again!
These are just a few of the many options for enjoying winter in the Nordics. Our Personal Travel Specialists will design your own customized trip of a lifetime, so you can embrace the winter season, too! Below, you’ll find a few winter itineraries we think you’ll love, so grab your parka and get ready for a winter wonderland adventure.