Scandinavia is synonymous with winter, a season of magical nature and wild adventure, enjoyed against a backdrop of snow-dusted landscapes and far-flung Arctic towns. Below, you'll discover the best of the season from country to country, with everything from ice hotel stays to cosy log cabins and, of course, those iconic Northern Lights.
If there’s one country in the whole of Scandinavia that really knows how to make the most of the cold winter months, it is Norway. With snow on the ground from November through to April, the season here is a long one, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to entertain the adventurous holidaymaker here. A journey up the west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes for example, offers the chance to take in the dramatic landscapes of the Lofoten Islands, see the Northern Lights in Tromso, or learn about the traditions of Sami culture in Alta. There are two ice hotels to choose from – the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel and the Kirkenes Snowhotel, while those seeking adventure can enjoy the exhilarating winter activities and amazing wildlife in remote Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, just 620 miles south of the North Pole.
Swedish Lapland is Europe’s last great wilderness; a region of breathtaking beauty where you’ll find snow-laden forests, icy mountain peaks and endless open tundra home to herds of grazing reindeer. The untamed beauty of this place is something to behold and winter is the ideal time of year to visit, with a host of activities and some of Scandinavia’s most imaginative accommodation options to choose from. Spend a night in the world’s first and largest ICEHOTEL; sleep among the trees at the wonderful Treehotel; search for the Northern Lights at an Aurora Safari Camp; or take a hovercraft tour across the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. Away from the adventures of the Arctic Circle, the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg are a joy to explore, especially around Christmas time when the festive markets are in full swing and the smell of mulled wine and ginger bread hangs in the air.
Finland, often overlooked in favour of better-known destinations such as Norway and Sweden, offers an abundance of winter experiences and a unique charm that sets it apart from its more illustrious neighbours. Here you’ll find peaceful, unspoilt forests, gleaming lakes and untamed wilderness, tailor-made for exploring by dogsled, snowmobile, reindeer or even snowshoes. Finnish Lapland, set high in the Arctic Circle also boasts some wonderful accommodation options, including Wilderness Hotel Inari, replete with its very own collection of glass igloos and the Arctic SnowHotel, which combines nights under glass with a superb ice hotel experience.
Located just three hours from London, Iceland is the quintessential winter wonderland, a country rich in geological wonders where you’ll find active volcanoes, snow-dusted lava fields, iceberg-filled lagoons, spurting geysers, spectacular waterfalls and the chance to see the Northern Lights dancing above some of Europe’s most dramatic landscapes. Escorted tours and tailor-made holiday options are both plentiful, allowing you to see the best of this amazing country at you own pace. And when the adventures are over, head to the capital Reykjavik to sample some of many bars in the company of friendly locals and take a relaxing dip in the steaming, mineral-rich waters of the famous Blue Lagoon.
In percentage terms, there are very few places on earth that rival Greenland when it comes to viewing the Northern Lights. A near perfect position within the aurora zone coupled with regular clear skies make this remote island in the north Atlantic something of a holy grail for aurora hunters. Head to the town of Ilulissat on Greenland’s west coast to combine Northern Lights excursions with the chance to explore the Northern Hemisphere’s most productive glacier, which churns a mind-boggling 20 billion tons of icebergs into the sea each year.
Fear not, we haven’t gone crazy. We’re well aware that Canada isn’t normally associated with Scandinavia and its Nordic brethren. Yet as we looked closer at the world’s second largest country, we began to realise that our friends across the Atlantic have quite a lot in common with our friends to the north. Canada, for example, has its very own ice hotel, the superb Hotel de Glace, just ten minutes from the charming streets of downtown Québec City. Canada also offers the chance to enjoy exciting adventures such as snowmobiling, husky safaris, snowshoeing and wildlife watching, while the resorts of Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Whistler offer some of the world’s best skiing. If you head north to the towns of Whitehorse and Yellowknife, you’re in with more than a decent chance of seeing the Northern Lights, while a visit to the remote outpost of Churchill in the frozen wilderness of Manitoba, allows you to come face to face with polar bears in the wild on an unforgettable Tundra Buggy tour, and all this just a few, short hours from the UK.