Lifestyle

From Arctic baths to glacier hikes: Here's how to make the most of winter in Scandinavia

By Mosha Lundström Halbert

Photo: Copperhill Mountain Lodge

Few places are as synonymous with 'winter wonderland' as Scandinavia. Here's your country-by-country guide to getting the best out of the region's most spectacular season.

In recent years, the Danish concept of hygge, a term referring to the cultivation of all things cozy and comforting in one's environs, has become a part of the global lexicon. But equally important to Scandinavians is a parallel opposite principle — the rush that comes from embracing the elements, no matter how harsh. After all, winter is the defining characteristic of the Nordic world. It’s more than just a season, it’s a spirit of resilience, built upon a rich culture of hallowed traditions best enjoyed cold.

Leave it to the outdoorsy Norwegians to have an apt term for this, friluftsliv, which refers to an open-air lifestyle. With that notion in mind, here are the most exceptional, thrilling, and immersive ways to experience winter, Scandi-style. Be sure to dress the part — woolen underwear included.

Sweden

Few activities say 'Scandinavian winter' quite like a dip at Arctic Bath in Lapland, an eco-minded floating wellness retreat complete with a hydrotherapy spa. A hot and cold circuit of saunas and icy plunge pools gets the endorphins flowing and kickstarts the immune system in Sweden's northern reaches.

Beyond the baths, the Jokkmokk area offers ample opportunities to learn about the indigenous Sámi culture and meet the local reindeer. Here, you can gather around the fire in a lávvu (tent house) and listen to stories and traditional joik songs, and discover Sámi handicrafts at the beloved Jokkmokk Winter Market, which has welcomed shoppers since 1605, and learn how to folk dance while you’re at it.

Also in northern Sweden, you can tour the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gammelstad and hop on a dog sledding tour. Or to go at a slower pace, stroll the Luleå ice track, a 10km frozen promenade. If you're planning to take to some alt terrain, be sure to slip on some snow shoes for a walking tour in this winter wonderland.

arctic bath scandinavia winter

The Arctic Bath in Swedish Lapland is a unique destination. Photo: Daniel Holmgren

For pampering with panoramic mountain views, the Copperhill Lodge has thermal swim spots overlooking the Åreskutan range. Speaking of alpine, the Niehku Mountain Villa is perched in amongst 60 skiable peaks and is a daredevil's delight, with top notch heliskiing available. The area borders Norway and is almost 400km above the Arctic Circle, making it one of the most northerly heliski lodges in the world.

Further south and back on the ground, in Bohuslän you can practice your figure-eights on Vänern (Sweden’s largest lake) and Vättern, considered two of the best skating spots in all of Scandinavia. And no visit to the region is complete without experiencing the landmark Ice Hotel.

And of course, the south of Sweden still embraces northern sauna culture. In Gothenburg, you can detoxify at Frihamnen, a striking public sweatlodge crafted out of recycled shipping containers.

A heli drop-off is all part of the experience at Niehku Mountain Villa. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson.

Faroe Islands

The Faroe capital of Tórshavn is a haven for classic holiday lovers. The Christmas Village keeps the city centre aglow at night, providing the perfect preamble to taking a spin around the ice rink at Vaglið outside the town hall, which is open throughout the month of December.

Also popular with visitors is a hillside stroll on Rossagøtan, which offers views overlooking the city. You can then warm up over throwback cocktails in the lower level of critically acclaimed restaurant Tarv.

Unforgettable hikes and incredible views await in the Faroe Islands.

If the weather allows, hire an expert guide to hike to Lake Sørvágsvatn for the surreal views from Trælanípa cliff, where the mountaintop Sørvágsvatn lake is perched above the ocean.

For a more leisurely but no less epic excursion, board a luxury coach to day-tour the remote village of Gjógv and feel the power of the Fossá waterfall and gorge up close.

Greenland

As with the Faroe Islands, there are some spectacular hikes to be had in Greenland. You can go glacier hiking on ice caps and - if you're brave enough - venture deep down into Kangerlussuaq’s meltwater canyons. The winding crystal blue ice walls are a bucket list sight to behold.

In Ilulissat, intermediate hikers can clip on snowshoes, grab a guide, and take the yellow route that follows the edge of the local fjord, with scenic icebergs stranded on a sandbank, plus views of Sermermiut Valley and the stunning Disco Bay.

For a less rigorous excursion, visit the Nuuk Snow Festival (from 5th-8th March, 2022) to admire the impressive sculptures.

And for revellers, Greenland is the only place on earth that celebrates the New Year twice. First, at midnight in Denmark and then again at midnight local time.

Norway

For cross country ski lovers, Lillehammer is a must-visit destination. With over 2,300 kilometres of impeccably groomed cross-country ski trails, there is terrain for all skill levels. No wonder the top Winter Olympic athletes all flock here.

Lillehammer

Lillehammer is one of the region's most famous cross-country ski destinations. Photo: @visitlillehammer

For something a little less active but no less memorable, discover an eerily beautiful dining experience at Under, a subterranean restaurant that’s partially sunken into the icy waters of Lindesnes municipality. Enjoy a meal five metres below the surface, with seabed views of the North Atlantic marine ecosystem.

Another option for the adventurous is Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost city, which is located on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Here you can explore remote territory via a dogsled expedition into the wilderness of Bolterdalen, gliding through the polar night as you witness the snow covered landscape reflect the moon and - if you're lucky - dazzling Aurora Borealis light shows.

Stop in at the Camp Barentz cabin for a warming shot of akevitt (the distilled spirit of choice in these parts) and an evening meal over an open fire. Don't skip the Bidos, a traditional Sami soup of reindeer and root vegetables.

To see more of Svalbard, snowshoe or telemark to the summit of mount Trollsteinen, 850 metres above sea level, and cross the Lars glacier to visit the region's extraordinary blue ice caves.

Finland

For Finland’s 5.4 million people, there are reportedly 3.3 million saunas. One of the most beloved public spots is Helsinki’s Löyly, which opens up to the Baltic sea and offers sweeping views of the city centre. There are three different wood-burning saunas here: a continuously heated one, one that's heated in the morning before opening and stays warm all day, and a traditional smoke sauna. Diehards will jump in the sea even in winter via a hole cut in the ice.

Helsinki’s Löyly sauna is beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Experience Scandi winter while keeping cosy at The Snow Castle Resort. Photo: Kemi Tourism Ltd.

Looking like something out of Frozen, the Snow Castle Resort (which opens again in January 2022) is dotted with magical ice sculptures that give the whole place a fairytale feel. Stay in one of the Seaside Glass Villas and you might be able to gaze at the Northern Lights from your bed. And be sure to try the slide and the restaurant built entirely from ice here.

Iceland

Swimming is a year round way of life in Iceland. For a relaxing soak, visit Reykjavik’s new Sky Lagoon for their seven-step bathing ritual based on ancient Viking traditions. For a more bracing experience, try the city’s Nauthólsvík geothermal beach, where you can test your endurance with a circuit of freezing sea swims and steamy saltwater hot tub dips.

If you're more of a stargazers, venture out of town to the Jarðböðinn Nature Baths in Mývatn, where you’re more likely than not to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of the hotsprings.

You can stand in the mouth of an ice cave in Langjökull, Iceland. Photo: Getty.

If all that sounds a bit sedate, thrillseekers can slip on an orange utility suit and head out for a guided snowmobile ride on the Langjökull Glacier. The glacier is Iceland’s second largest and the adventure is one you won't forget in a hurry.

Denmark

Danes love their winter bathing. Head to Fisketorvet, Islands Brygge, or Sluseholmen, where both new and seasoned cold water swimmers will dive into frozen canals. If even just reading that gives you chills, you can hop into a seawater and firewood hot tub at Copenhot, which overlooks Copenhagen’s harbour.

For some of Scandinavia’s best surfing, go to the Jutland Peninsula. The key spots are Agger, Vorupør, Klitmøller, Hvide Sande, Stenbjerg, Bøgsted Rende, Lyngby, Bunker and Hanstholm. Before the 4pm sunset, slip on your warmest wetsuit and hit the coldwater waves: the average water temperature in Denmark in winter is 4°C (39°F).

Photo: CopenHot

For something a little more festive, but still icy, head to Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg Gardens outdoor skating rink.


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