Arctic Europe, a region that traverses northern Norway, Finland, and Sweden, is an epic destination for adventure travelers all year round. Whether you like to play in the snow during the winter months, or explore a vast wilderness under the midnight sun during the summer, there is plenty to see and do in this part of the world. When visiting, you'll find breathtaking landscapes, incredibly friendly people, and some of the best outdoor excursions on the planet. Here are the must-do adventures that you shouldn't miss when venturing above the Arctic Circle.
Witness the Northern Lights
Arctic Europe is one of the best places on the planet to witness the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. the Northern Lights. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to go during the winter to see this amazing natural phenomenon. In fact, the lights can be spotted at just about any time of the year, with the exception of mid-June to mid-August when the midnight sun is in full effect.
The Auroras are visible all across the entire region and Northern Lights tours are common pretty much everywhere. But one of the best places to see them on a regular basis is in Tromsø, Norway where Tromsø Safari organizes expeditions into the wild on most nights. The company uses weather forecasts and aurora reports to determine which of its numerous wilderness camps will offer the best viewing experience on any given night, making it far more likely that guests will be successful in their quest to see this celestial light show.
Take a Cruise on an Icebreaker
In the frigid climate of the Arctic, icebreaking ships are often used to travel across the frozen sea during throughout the long winter. Typically, those boats are off limits to civilians, but in the town of Kemi, Finland, the Icebreaker Sampo caters to visitors looking for an extremely unique adventure.
First commissioned into service with the Finnish government back in 1961, the Sampo has been taking travelers out onto the frozen Gulf of Bothnia since 1988. The four-hour cruise travels through the thick pack ice, allowing passengers to witness the wide-open expanse of the Arctic in all of its glory. Inside the ship, lunch, snacks, and refreshments are available in the Sampo's comfortably warm restaurant and lounge, while outside, the chill in the air and the cracking of the thick ice are a reminder of the harsh, yet strikingly beautiful landscape that dominates much of the region.
Whale Watch on an Inflatable Boat
Arctic Europe is an amazing destination for spotting whales in the wild, particularly starting from about mid-April and lasting through September. The region is home to migrating humpbacks, orcas, minke, fin, and even blue whales, which remain one of the rarest creatures on the planet. Options for taking a whale safari abound across the region, with many port cities offering tours. During the summer, travelers can even take advantage of the midnight sun to go whale watching at just about any time of the day or night.
Many of the excursions take place aboard a rigid inflatable boat called a Zodiac that allows visitors to get very close to the giant mammals. It's not uncommon for the creatures to surface within just a few yards of the boat, making this a whale-watching experience unlike any other.
Hit the Trail on a Mountain Bike
With its wide-open expanses and scenic vistas, Arctic Europe has plenty of great trails for mountain bikers to explore. There are cycling hotspots located across the entire region, but one of the best is found in Skibotn near Lyngenfjord in Norway, a place that is a virtual paradise for any mountain biker.
During the warmer months, travelers can start their ride at sea level and climb well above 3,000 feet, where they'll find exceptional views of the surrounding countryside. With hundreds of miles of trails to explore, and plenty of daylight, the summer is a perfect time to ride, especially with a husky as your guide. But winter is no less exhilarating with fat biking growing in popularity, too. With their big, bulky tires fat bikes float over the snow and ice with ease.
Snowmobile Across a Frozen Sea
A snowmobile is a fun way to explore the Arctic, giving travelers the opportunity to ride through lush forests, over open meadows, and even on frozen seas. These vehicles are perfect for the wintery landscapes found in Arctic Europe, providing reliable access to places that might otherwise be inaccessible during the long winter months.
Brändön Lodge near Luleå, Sweden is the perfect place to take such a ride. The company offers guided tours that take travelers out onto the nearby frozen sea. The tour has travelers weaving their way through the Luleå Archipelago and its dozens of tiny islands aboard a trusty snowmobile built for those conditions. Along the way, the knowledgeable guides will provide insights into life in this northerly region and give visitors a chance to try ice fishing while they're at it too.
Hike or Snowshoe a Scenic Trail
Arctic Europe is blessed with thousands of miles of hiking trail for visitors to wander, most of which have incredibly scenery to discover too. During the midnight sun, those trails can be explored at all hours of the day or night, revealing scenic vistas around nearly every corner.
Whether you enjoy hiking in the mountains in Norway or trekking the hills of Finland, there is a great walk to be found just about anywhere. And during the winter months, travelers can don a pair of snowshoes and continue exploring on foot during that season too. Just be sure to bundle up before heading out. Arctic Europe can be a bit chilly during those months.
Swim in the Arctic Sea
During the summer months, the Arctic waters warm up just enough to offer a refreshing dip in the sea. But in the winter, those same waters can be quite cold. The truly adventurous can warm up in a sauna first, then cool off with a polar plunge, which is a popular activity amongst the locals.
The cold water can be quite a shock to the system, but the heat of the sauna will soon remove the chill. So much so, that after warming back up, you might just be ready to take the plunge a second time.
Many lodges and towns throughout the region offer these cold water plunges. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely a brag-worthy bucket list experience.
Dog sled Through a Winter Wonderland
Dog sledding is another popular form of transportation in the Arctic, and visitors will find plenty of opportunities to experience a husky safari. You'll be paired up with a team of dogs who are eager to join you on your snowy adventure and pull the sled through breathtaking landscapes.
In Finland, the town of Harriniva is known for dog sledding, while in Norway, the Villmarkssenter outside of Tromsø also offers some spectacular options for adventurous travelers. Both destinations provide an authentic mushing experience, allowing visitors to drive the sled, interact with the dogs, and experience travel through remote landscapes during the winter.
Go for a Reindeer Sled Ride
One of the more traditional modes of transportation in Lapland is traveling in a sled pulled by a reindeer. This makes for a surprisingly simple and tranquil way to explore the countryside, as you silently glide along a snow-covered trail.
Reindeer sled rides are common throughout all of Arctic Europe, and this is an experience that isn't found in many other parts of the world. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity while you're in the region, as it is deeply ingrained in the culture and history of the indigenous Sami people who have called this part of Europe home for hundreds of years.
Experience Ice Fishing in Lapland
Ice fishing has been a part of the culture of Lapland (aka Arctic Europe) for centuries and it remains so to this day. During the winter, travelers to northern Sweden, Finland, and Norway can experience this tradition for themselves, joining a guides excursion out onto the frozen Arctic sea to reel in the catch of the day.
The ice fishing season can last as long as six or seven months in the Arctic, which means there is ample opportunity to spend some time out on a frozen river, lake, or sea. Some of the more common fish found in the region include arctic char, grayling, whitefish, and pike, which can not only grow to surprisingly large sizes, but put up a good fight too.
If you want to try ice fishing yourself, you'll find plenty of opportunities to do so. For instance Grayling Land leads trips all winter long in Finland's Kilpisjärvi wilderness area, while Artisan Travel can do the same in various destinations too.