The sun may barely awaken from its winter hibernation around these parts, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of things to do. And with few crowds to contend with, you'll have a long list of experiences to choose from, none of which come with long lines. If you're looking for the most epic winter adventures Europe holds, look no further than these experiences in Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland.
Searching for the Northern Lights
Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland are widely regarded as two of the best places on the entire planet for viewing the Northern Lights. And all that stuff you've heard about the auroras being weaker in the coming years? Not true up here. Further down south in Oslo, sure — but not in the Arctic Circle.
However, this is one activity that varies greatly depending on your preferences. In Northern Norway, you can go hunting for auroras out of cities like Tromsø, Alta, Bodø, Kirkenes, and Svolvær. You can go on late-night cruises and taste Arctic cuisine, staying close to the hustle and bustle, to world-class culture, and to nightlife. You could also trade this for a more serene experience, and that's especially abundant in Finnish Lapland — stay in the middle of nowhere, watching the sky from inside a glass igloo, in a villa on the edge of the Bay of Bothnia, or in a treehouse hotel. It all depends on the kind of experience you're looking for.
Dog Sledding through the Arctic Circle
It's not enough to be in the Arctic, you've got to explore it. And exploring via dog sled team might just be the best way to do it. That being said, you have tons of options: You can scamper the snowy hills for an hour to get a taste, or you can embark on a week-long trek into the wilderness with your pack of huskies in tow. Some operators allow you to take the reins — you'll become the primary caregiver to the dogs, too — or you can sit back bundled up in a blanket and be escorted through the powder. Daytime trips come with great views into the mountains; nighttime trips might find you mushing underneath the auroras. It's up to you!
Just about anywhere in Northern Norway and Lapland will offer dog sledding, but the toughest treks tend to be in Finnmark and Svalbard. If you do opt for an overnight trek, you'll likely stay in a mountain lodge — and possibly even get visited by reindeer.
Skiing and Snow-shoeing
There is possibly no activity that's more ubiquitous in these parts than skiing and snow-shoeing — in certain areas, these are valid methods of transportation. And while you could definitely go to a resort (Northern Norway has seven), we recommend going a little more off-the-beaten-path with a ski expedition.
A day trek into the wilderness is best for beginners, but if you're willing to get a little personal with the outdoors, consider one of the longer expeditions, like those out of Kilpisjärvi. Several days away from electricity and running water means nothing but you, your gear, your instructor, and the cabins you trek to (Finnish cabins tend to be basic; Norwegian cabins are a little more comfy). It's the best kind of detox there is.
For the record, you don't have to be a skilled skier or snow-shoer; your instructor will modify the course to suit your ability. You do, however, have to be in good physical shape, well-prepared, and ready for adventure.
The end of winter, the beginning of April or so, is a curious time around these parts. In the lower areas, like around Tromsø, the meadows slowly turn into their wild colors; up in the mountains (like around Kilpisjärvi), winter is still raging strong. You'll find yourself wearing a T-shirt one moment and bundling up the next.
For many, this might be the best of both worlds. Hit the beaches (Kvalvika and Haukland on the Lofoten Islands are especially beautiful), trek along the coast (like along the Queen's Route in Vesterålen), or bundle up and head to the hills (Kilpisjärvi is a good starting point) — this time of year, ski touring and Nordic skiing are especially popular, as the days are getting much, much longer.
Experiencing the Tromsø Ice Domes
Maybe you've heard about the ice hotels that dot these parts, but the Tromsø Ice Domes are a whole 'nother level. There is a hotel here, of course, but there's also ice bars, an ice cinema, and an ice restaurant. Every room is kept at a snuggly -5 ˚C, so be sure to bundle up!
Guided tours of the domes leave from downtown Tromsø (outside the Scandic Ishavshotel) every day, and then you'll be whisked off on a 75-minute ride through the Tamok Valley (towards the Finnish border and the Lyngsfjord Alps) to your icy destination. If you can't stay the night, at least try the locally produced bacalao — a specialty produced at the ice restaurant.