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Why You Should Travel to the Arctic Circle in the Middle of Winter

Traveling to the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter sounds a little crazy, right? I mean, we’re talking about a place where snow piles up higher than houses, streets are lined with ice, and it’s considered “warm” when the temperature peaks above zero degrees.

But for this Florida girl, a change of pace (and weather) was exactly what I needed when I decided to take a winter vacation. So despite a few raised eyebrows from family and friends, I ditched the 80-degree weather of my hometown to travel to Tromsø, Norway.

And after four exhilarating days there, I can honestly say I’d recommend it as a vacation destination to anyone—especially in the winter! Still have your doubts? I’ve heard them all—and here's why I think you should head north anyway.

Objection #1: “But it’s Freezing!”

Arctic Circle

OK, you’re right—it didn’t get the name “Arctic Circle” for its warm weather. But, if you live in a typically warm climate year-round, it’s a welcome change—at least for a few days. And if you come prepared, you’ll be able to enjoy the outdoors and indoors alike.

Of course, in order to withstand the weather successfully, you’ll need the appropriate cold-weather garments. Despite my initial objections—“I’ll look like an abominable snowwoman!”—I traded my mid-weight jacket for a weatherproof Columbia coat, and my casual riding boots for a pair of insulated, waterproof ones. And, of course, I packed thermal underwear, wool socks (I may have doubled up on these), sweaters, scarves, and most importantly, a hat.

If you’re still worried, know that most outdoor activities and excursions in Norway (like dogsledding—more on that later!) will provide extra layers of insulated clothing for you to borrow. So, even if you have to brave the wind and snow, you’ll be cozy in a down-lined snowsuit. It may not be the most fashionable outfit you’ve ever worn, but will you stay warm? Absolutely.

Objection #2: “But It’ll be Dark the Whole Day!”

Arctic Circle

This is another fair objection, and it’s almost entirely true. In the middle of winter, the Arctic Circle experiences polar nights, so the northernmost countries receive very little daylight.

And this change is pretty drastic. We only had between three and four hours of daylight each day, and even then, it wasn’t a bright, sun-high-in-the-sky sunlight. The most difficult part of the trip was adjusting my internal clock to the darkness, when my body always thought it was time for bed.

To help cure that confusion, make sure you plan outside activities for the middle of the day, then save the indoor activities, like museums (e.g., Polaria, which famously houses bearded seals and a fantastic Northern Lights documentary), a tour of the Arctic Cathedral, and Mack Ølbryggeri, the northernmost brewery in the world, for the morning or evening hours.

But you don’t have to spend all your time trying to avoid the darkness—in fact, you shouldn’t! During the darkest months of the year, you have the unique opportunity to experience a Northern Light chase. In the Arctic Circle, between September and March, the appearance of the Aurora is so likely that they say if the sky is clear, you will see the lights—you just have to track down the perfect viewing location. (Hence, the “chase.”)

To find the ideal spot, you’ll load up on a bus with experienced guides who use weather maps to gauge where the view will be best—and then, you drive. You may be on the road for a while (we made it all the way to the border of Finland), but with patience and a little luck, you’ll soon see colors dancing across the night sky. It's a phenomenon you’ll truly never forget.

Objection #3: “But There’s Nothing to Do There in the Winter!”

Arctic Circle

Now on this one, you’re wrong. This is where the Article Circle shines—the best (and most unique) activities are available here during the winter months. Dogsledding, for example, was the highlight of my entire trip.

The company that hosted our excursion (Tromsø Vilmarkssenter) made what could have been a simple outing into a complete experience. Upon arrival, we bundled up in warm (albeit marshmallow-like) snowsuits, toured the facilities, and met the 250 sled dogs (and their puppies-in-training!) that live there.

With tails and tongues wagging, the dogs know they’re about to go for a run in the snow, and they’re thrilled to meet their future sled drivers. You can choose to drive the sled or simply ride, and depending on the trip you select, the actual sledding expedition lasts up to four hours. Then, you come back to basecamp for a warm meal of reindeer stew (hey—you have to try the local fare), and a farewell to the dogs.

Of course, winter provides the perfect landscape for other snow sports, too, so check out snowmobile trips, skiing, and snowboarding. The country is known for snow—so bundle up, get outside, and take advantage of it! After all, the views of snow-covered mountains, frozen lakes, and scenic fjords just aren’t the same from behind a pane of glass.

Photos courtesy of Katie Douthwaite.