16 Outdoor Winter Activities to Enjoy in the Nordic Countries

There is something about stepping outside in the Nordic winter wilderness. Beautiful silent landscape, only the sound from your squeaking steps, walking through the sparkling white snow. The cold wind in your face while enjoying one of the many fun outdoor activities.

If you are planning on visiting Iceland, Norway, Sweden, or Finland in the winter, get ready for breathtaking landscapes and unique experiences. Here are some of the winter activities (in no particular order) you should consider trying, exploring the Nordic winter wonderland.

Husky Ride

The cute, friendly, husky dogs are waiting to take you on a once in a lifetime experience, dog sledding. Enjoy a ride through the wilderness, pulled by usually six to eight huskies. Enjoy day trips or longer trips over a few days, with your furred four-footed friends.

The Northern Lights is an experience in itself, but imagine enjoying it snuggled under a blanket, pulled by the husky dogs, now that will create long-lasting memories.

Finland, northern Sweden, Norway, and Iceland offer many fun husky ride tours. Some places even offer it as airport transfer.

 

Snowmobiling

snowmobileIf speed is your thing, snowmobiling should definitely be on your to-do list. Dress warm and enjoy a ride in the snow-covered outdoors. You enjoy exploring the landscape from the snowmobile, by yourself or with a partner.

The snowmobile ride can be enjoyed during daylight or in the evening. You can even enjoy a guided snowmobile tour on a glacier, or hunt for the northern lights under a dark sky.

Iceland, Norway, northern Sweden, and Finland all have snowmobile adventures to enjoy. Where there is usually a lot of snow, there will be snowmobile tours.

 

Reindeer Safari

Your Sami host will make sure that you get an enjoyable reindeer safari ride through quiet, snow-covered nature. They are eager to share their knowledge about their Sami culture and farm. If you are lucky, you might even get to feed the reindeers.

A reindeer safari tour is one of the more authentic way to connect to Nordic culture, and surely a memorable one. A sled ride, behind one of these beautiful animals, all warm and cozy under your blanket, is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Reindeer safari rides can be enjoyed in the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian Lapland area. Tours are usually a couple of hours long, and can be enjoyed during the day.

 

Northern Lights Hunt

northern lights scandinaviaSeeing the dancing green-blue light on the dark sky, is truly a unique experience. I’ve been lucky a few times to see the Northern Lights. Looking up at Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland, with the Northern Lights dressing up the black sky, was a memorable moment. Also, skiing up north in Bjorkliden Sweden, with daylight just showing up a few hours a day made for perfect Northern lights conditions. We got lucky again.

Hunting for the Northern Lights, you need to have the weather gods on your side, it is always weather permitting. It is a fun activity, you dress warm, get out in the dark evening, and hunt for the magic light. You can do Northern Lights hunts in Iceland, and the Lapland area including northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Hunt the lights by car, super jeep, husky ride, reindeer safari, or even a cruise.

–> 29 Northern Lights Tours in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland

 

Glacier Hiking

The sound of walking on the bluish ice, hiking a glacier, is a unique experience. Seeing it from a distance is beautiful, but getting up close, hiking a glacier is an adventure.

Ice picks, crampons, and ropes assist you in your walk through landscapes that are like nothing else. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a glacier hike, they have different levels of tours, from beginners to more advanced hikes.

Norway has about 20 glaciers, with 11 of them being in fjord Norway. Jostedal Glacier is the largest one, in fact, the largest glacier in continental Europe.

In Iceland, Vatnajökull glacier is the largest one. It’s about 1 km thick at its thickest point. Vatnajökull is also the largest glacier, to the mass in Europe.
Most of the glaciers have organized tours that you can enjoy.

 

Explore an Ice Cave

Walking around surrounded by blackish, bluish ice in an ice cave or ice tunnel is a unique experience that can be enjoyed in Iceland. You can explore both Langjokull and Vatnajokull from the inside, this is nature at its best.

With a Katla ice cave tour, you discover an ice cave beneath the volcano. There is a reason why “fire and ice” are often mentioned when we talk about Iceland. This will be an adventure to remember.

 

Ice Driving

Up to 125 MPH, on ice, in a Ferrari, Porsche or Maserati – if you love cars and speed, ice-driving is for you. There are a few places that offer this unique experience in Scandinavia. Enjoy ice driving in Åre, Sälen, or Arjeplog, Sweden. In Rovaniemi or Kemi Finland, you can also experience this unique, fun adventure.

Make sure to check what cars are available at the destination of your choice. Both Sweden and Finland have a rich history of rally, and they will not disappoint when it comes to ice driving.

 

Downhill Skiing / Snowboarding

One of my personal favorites, to spend time outdoors with my family, is skiing. For us, that is quality family time. Get up early to enjoy the newly groomed slopes, being active skiing all day. The adults enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine at the after-ski, the kids usually settles for a hot cocoa, and the whole family is out cold by 9 o’clock.

The skiing resorts in Norway and northern Sweden, are great for family vacations. If you are a hardcore skier looking for extreme skiing and endless miles of powder, you are better off going to the Alps.

Skiing in Scandinavia is good, but it’s the overall experience that makes it special. The breathtaking landscape, ski school for the kids, great cottages or lodges right by the slope to stay in, and amazing Nordic cuisine.

If you want to go skiing, I would suggest Åre, Sälen with Tandådalen and Lindvallen, in Sweden. In Norway, Hemsedal, Trysil, and Geilo offers great skiing experiences.

 

Cross Country Skiing

When you watch the winter Olympics and cross country skiing, there will be Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish cross country skiers battling for the medals.

Cross country has a rich history in Scandinavia and the world’s oldest competition, Vasaloppet (the Vasa race) is held in Sweden. This is an annual long-distance race, with a 90 km course, held yearly. The cross country skiing race, with one of the highest number of competitors, starts in Sälen and ends in Mora, Sweden.

Cross country skiing can be done all around the Nordic countries, and most of the ski resorts have great tracks.

 

Whale Watching

When you go whale watching off the coast of northern Norway, around Lofoten and Tromso, you will hopefully see Orcas and Humpback whales. With tours arranged in November, December and half of January, you can take in the cold sea air while searching for the gentle giants. Take a small group tour where your knowledgeable guide, talk you through the wildlife in the area.

Another place to look for whales is in Iceland. The peak season for whale watching in Iceland is in June, July, and August, with tours from Husavik, Hauganes, and other places. Reykjavik offers whale watching tours all year round. The toothed whales, along with white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises stay around Iceland all year round, and can be viewed on the winter tours if lucky.

 

Snowshoeing

To enjoy a quiet walk in the wilderness surrounded by a breathtaking winter landscape is rejuvenating. Get around in the deep snow, using snowshoes to help you “float” through your walk.

Nature walks like this are organized around the Nordic countries, but are very common in the Lapland area. Great places to explore with snowshoes are Tromso and Kirkenes in Norway, along with Kiruna in Sweden and Rovaniemi in Finland.

 

Ice Fishing

Sitting in the winter cold, the sun (hopefully 🙂 ) shines through the treetops, while you enjoy the quietness on a frozen lake. Right in front of you, you have a small hole drilled in the thick ice, and you see how the fish starts to bite. Ice fishing can be a relaxing, calming experience.

With many lakes around the Nordic countries, you are never too far from ice fishing in the winter. An alternative is to go out with a boat, on the ocean and fish for bigger fish and even crab.

 

Finish Sauna

It’s cold outside, the ground is covered in snow. You are sitting inside in a steaming hot sauna by a Finnish lake. There is a hole carved out in the ice-covered lake for you to take a dip in the cold water. Would you jump in? For some, this is truly refreshing.

After getting out of the cold water, you go back into the hot 100 degree Celsius sauna to warm up.
Winter Sauna bathing is a cultural thing in Finland, and there are around two million saunas in Finland. If you get invited to an event like this, definitely take the opportunity to try it. There are also public Saunas around Finland that you can try.

 

Visit a Christmas Market

If you happen to be visiting the Nordic countries around Christmas, make sure to visit one of the many Christmas markets. You can buy crafts, gifts, souvenirs, local delicacies, and warm drinks. Try a glass of hot glogg, a special drink only served around Christmas.

The markets can be found in the capitals, small towns, and everywhere in between. Places like Tivoli in Copenhagen, Old town in Stockholm, and Rovaniemi Finland will host Christmas markets.

 

RIB Boat Tour on the Norwegian Fjord

Discover the fjord area, with snow-covered mountains surrounding you, from a fast RIB boat. It gives you an amazing view, and the opportunity to get close to the Norwegian wildlife. An adventure tour, for all ages, that can be done from Flåm, Balestrand and Bergen, for example.

This is an activity that can be enjoyed all year round, but it sure is spectacular in the winter.

 

Visit the Santa Clause Village in Rovaniemi Finland

Now, if Santa is from Finland might be debatable, but you can visit the Santa Clause Village in Rovaniemi Finland. This is a fun event for the whole family, where you can meet Santa himself, visit Santas post office, and feed the reindeers. Cross the Arctic circle and enjoy the magical surroundings lit up in the winter darkness.

From exciting, thrilling, fast adventures to enjoying the winter landscape in silence, there are many things to see, do, and experience outdoors, when visiting the Nordic countries. What activities will you put on your bucket list – ice fishing, skiing, whale watching, or maybe a visit with Santa? Feel free to share your thoughts, we would love to hear from you,

 

 

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Written by 

Born and raised in Sweden, now living in the US, Veronica has a passion for Scandinavian travel. As a former product design specialist with a Scandinavian tour operator, she has extensive knowledge of tour planning and the Scandinavian countries.

4 thoughts on “16 Outdoor Winter Activities to Enjoy in the Nordic Countries

  1. Love this 🙂 A winter holiday in Scandinavia is so high on my bucket list! Does Norway have Christmas Markets as well? I know the ones in Sweden and Denmark are supposed to be good but haven’t heard much about Norway! Thanks!!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for the feedback. Scandinavia is beautiful in the winter!
      Yes, Norway have Christmas markets as well. Places like Oslo, Bergen, Roros and Trondheim put on a yearly Christmas market. Here are some more information about some of the options from Visit Norway.

  2. Wow, I love the sound of all these great winter activities. I’ve been to Scandinavia in late November but have never done any real winter time activities like these. I would especially like to visit the Christmas markets. How early do they usually start? November? Or not until some time in December?

    1. Yes, these activities are so fun! The Christmas markets are amazing nothing that puts you in the right holiday mood as visiting one of them. Some of the Christmas markets starts in November, some not until December. If you visit a bigger city like Copenhagen and do the Christmas market at Tivoli, they start mid November and go until early January. Here are some more info on that specific market, Tivoli Christmas Market. Make sure to try one of the hot drinks like Glogg 🙂 yummy and it warms you up in the cold.

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