Looking at the single digits on my thermometer here at home, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many cold weather trips I have enjoyed over the years. There’s something special about visiting frozen destinations during their coldest months; I think it’s how they’re best enjoyed. While multiple layers and hot cocoa are both requirements, the rewards for visiting these chilly spots around the world far outweigh any annoyances in preparing for the adventure. There are many more cold destinations I would love to see in person, but of the ones I have visited these special spots are definitely worth the wintertime trip.
I love visiting northern parts of the world, especially during the winter months. Yes, it’s freezing and dark but I think there’s a certain unique beauty to these remote parts of the world, best experienced in their most extreme season. That’s one reason why I found myself in extreme northern Norway in the small town of Alta, located in the middle of nowhere. Known as the Northern Lights Capital of the World, Alta Norway has a long tradition of welcoming those in search of this odd phenomenon, but it wasn’t until my last night that I saw them in their full glory. I was alone on a frozen river and suddenly found myself surrounded by the giant streaks of light. I had no idea that the Northern Lights could be like that, they seemed to surround me, dancing across the skies and hiding behind the mountains. I stayed there for as long as my frozen hands could stand the elements, not wanting to leave for fear of missing part of the show. Everyone talks about the Northern Lights and we’ve all seen photos of them, but it doesn’t at all prepare you for the actual experience. Magical is a horrible word to use in travel posts, but it’s more than appropriate in this one instance.
For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi, deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams, but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish obsession with both sauna and nature.
Although tourists aren’t allowed to visit the 7th continent during its extreme winter, the Austral summer still provides more than enough frozen moments for any adventure traveler. Hard to reach and hard to travel around, it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had. We forget about the small inlets and villages forgotten to time. It was an important moment as it put into context what I do now for a living and how it isn’t just part of my life – it IS my life. This quest to seek new answers and discover new things will never end, just as that horizon in Antarctica seemed to have no boundaries.
Thanks to the helpful jet stream, Iceland doesn’t get as extreme as some as its neighbors, but there are still plenty of special wintry moments to be enjoyed. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, there’s a lot to love about Reykjavik, but its wintertime weather is not one of them. There’s actually a bit of a misconception about Iceland. Given its name, most first time visitors expect Iceland to be freezing, and while it’s definitely chilly in the winter it’s not as extreme as one would think. Meteorological phenomena ensure that this island nation never gets too hot or too cold, which is perfect for tourists. There’s plenty to do year round and especially in the winter months, from enjoying the thermal pools found around the country to more adventurous pursuits like diving, snowmobiling, glacier hiking and ice cave exploration. Don’t make the mistake that so many other tourists make though and skip Reykjavik. It’s a great city and a fun place to walk around and explore, window shopping and stopping off for a snack or two. One caveat about the weather, while the base temperature may be in the 30s, intense wind is very common in the winter making it feel much colder and sometimes creating mini-blizzards, as I discovered one chilly February morning.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador
Although I haven’t visited in the winter, from my summertime explorations on the island I can tell that this is one frozen destination not to be missed. Fogo Island is a place that needs to be experienced in order to be believed. I journeyed there in order to stay at one of the top rated hotels in the world, the Fogo Island Inn. But in the course of my weekend stay, I ended up falling head over heels for the entire community. Locals there care about the people who visit, and by the end of the stay I felt more like a member of the community than a stranger. That’s the beauty of the island and what makes it so incredibly special. Visitors should absolutely stay at the Inn, but also spend plenty of time exploring this quirky island from taking a boat out on the water to enjoying the many hiking trails found nearly everywhere.