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At first thought, planning a vacation to an Arctic location during some of the coldest months of the year may not seem like, well, a vacation. But there are some special sights that can only be experienced in a cold climate during the winter—and they’re all worth adding to your bucket list.
Before you let a temperature defer you from buying a plane ticket, hear me out: a single trip to Iceland in March—a month that may not seem frigid, but sends some of the most unpredictable weather to the Arctic—sparked a destination-specific admiration that has sent me back year after year. I just returned from a mid-January trip to the Swedish Lapland, historically the coldest time to visit, and it easily ranked among my best vacations. (Note that I love beach weather as much as the next person).
For the next handful of paragraphs, I’m going to make it my personal goal to convince you to consider a trip to the snowy tundra in sub-zero temperatures. And if you’re already a believer, take solace in the fact that I, too, have been called crazy by friends who have seen photos of my frozen eyelashes, fresh out of a cozy, fire-lit cabin.
Ahead, five things reasons to book a winter vacation to the Arctic.
Frozen ice is just as stunning as open water
Sure, letting your eyes span over a never-ending canvas of waves is the definition of a dream. But what about destinations that only experience those views for a few months out of the year, despite a coastal location? There’s something special, and undoubtedly secretive, about visiting an oceanside city during the dead of winter. In the Arctic Circle, specifically in my experiences in the Swedish Lapland during January, you can snowmobile across a massive ocean bay to visit archipelagos too remote to boat to during the summer.
These vast frozen tundras become a seasonal home to local wildlife—a rare ecosystem you can directly place yourself in if you brave the Arctic temperatures. You haven’t felt cold until you’ve sped across a frozen lake in negative 30-degree temperatures on a snowmobile, and there’s something truly beautiful about spending time in some of the Earth’s more harsh environments. If anything, it’ll make you more understanding about an unexpected snowstorm at home.
The tours are truly one-of-a-kind
From hovercraft tours to dogsledding, there are some things you can only do from the comfort of a frozen environment. Getting outside despite the cold weather is a true experiment in seeing the Earth from a new angle: the light looks different, noise sounds different, and air tastes a bit different. Don’t let a fear of being outside in freezing temperatures keep you from connecting with a team of sled-driving dogs or mingling with reindeer. (Fun fact: You can even take a dogsled to and from the airport from the ICEHOTEL—where else can you do that?) People have been doing these things for years—you just need the right clothing.
About clothing: You can actually pack less and still be fully prepared for the cold!
Packing for a vacation where you can expect it temperatures to regularly measure in below zero can be beyond overwhelming. How many sweaters is too many? How many times can you wear the same base layers? The good news: If you’re going to be tagging along on a tour for any of your outdoor adventures, more often than not the tour company will provide adequate clothing. While snowmobiling in the Swedish Lapland, I was offered a warmer-than-warm boilersuit, gloves to wear over my own gloves, extra socks, boots, a balaclava, and a helmet. Packing all of those things would have been a total drag, but luckily it’s assumed that travelers don’t have access to these things.
To make sure you’re covered—and to cut down on your packing anxiety—contact your tour company beforehand. And just make sure to bring a pair of warm boots, socks, gloves, hat, scarf, and coat for your own solo exploring.
Two words: sauna culture
While so many Arctic destinations push travelers to experience the great frozen outdoors, there’s another side to the Scandinavian lifestyle that’s a little warmer: sauna culture. Like with hot springs in Iceland, saunas are community gathering places for many destinations in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Most hotels also have a sauna onsite, to help warm your bones after a day of outdoor exploring.
It will be the coziest vacation ever
You haven’t truly relaxed until you’ve spent an entire vacation where you haven’t been in a room without a fireplace. There’s a special kind of relaxation that can only be had by candlelight—enjoying a meal with old or new friends, running over the day’s events with a glass of wine in hand, even sitting quietly and watching the snow fall. There isn’t anything that can’t be made cozier with candles and the Scandinavian lifestyle proves just that.