17 Amazing Things to Do in Alta in Winter [For the 2024-2025 Season!]

Snow-covered mountains and plateaus that glitter in the sun by day and cast a beautiful backdrop for the aurora at night: these are my memories of visiting Alta, Norway this past winter.

I had an amazing time visiting Alta in early February, 2024 and found that it far exceeded my expectations — so I felt quite compelled to write this guide to share my findings with you!

For a relatively small city, there’s quite a lot to do here, from dog sledding to chasing the Northern lights to visiting its museums to enjoying some excellent Arctic fine dining.

View of Alta's city center in the downtown with the lights almost all the way on for nighttime but still a little twilight
The beauty of Alta’s downtown

After visiting Tromsø in winter twice, I’m happy to report that Alta definitely holds a candle to it and is definitely a worthwhile place to visit in Norway in winter.

If you want to escape the ever-increasing mass tourism in Tromsø in favor of a lesser-visited Arctic Norway destination that is well set up for tourism but could use more of it, this guide is for you!

This post will explain all of the best things to do in Alta in winter and give you suggestions for having the perfect winter trip there.

Visit (or stay the night at!) the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel.

Allison Green sitting in an ice hotel in Norway with a yellow sweater and snow boots
The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel is absolutely worth a visit!

One of the main reasons people travel to Alta is to see one of the best igloo hotels in Northern Norway!

Personally, after having visited the Tromsø Ice Domes (as well as ice hotels in Sweden and Finland) in the past, I can definitively say that the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel is my favorite of them all.

As a bonus for budget-minded travelers, it’s also one of the largest igloo hotels, making it surprisingly affordable to splurge on an overnight stay in one of the economy double rooms. However, note that these double rooms offer less in terms of aesthetics.

For the really spectacularly-styled rooms, you’d want to upgrade to a suite room. These have beautiful ice sculptures over the bed as well as a seating area (covered in reindeer hides, because no one wants a cold butt) as well as colorful aesthetic lighting that makes the blue ice of the snow hotel really come to life. Obviously there’s a lot more effort involved in this — hence the higher prices. 

Check prices for rooms and suites at the igloo hotel here!

A basic double room at the ice hotel
These are what the economy doubles look like – they are very simple!

Even if you can’t afford to spend the night (or simply don’t see the appeal in paying upwards of 200 USD per night per person to freeze in a hotel room), don’t worry. You can visit the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel for 350 NOK (about 32 USD).

With your entry ticket, you can stay however long you like before the guests arrive for the night (check-in for guests begins at 8 PM) and take all the photos your heart desires.

We spent about an hour at the igloo hotel, enjoying the various rooms and suites and taking pictures of the many ice sculptures and cool features of the hotel, like the ice chapel, the ice bar, and the aurora room with constantly shifting light displays.

Opening for the season each year on December 20th, the igloo hotel works with local ice artisans (as well as some foreign artists) to create new sculptures with a different theme so you’ll never see the same exact hotel twice!

Stay up late in search of the Northern lights.

The aurora in Alta over a snow-covered cabin
The only night we saw the Northern lights in Alta

One of the main reasons people visit Alta in winter is that it’s considered the City of Northern Lights!

That’s because Alta has a long history of being an important place to learn about the aurora borealis. Fun fact: the world’s first Northern Lights observatory was built in Alta, on the mountain called Haldde, in 1899!

There are various ways to search for the Northern lights in Alta — I wrote a whole post about it, so I won’t reinvent the wheel in this post.

To be honest, we had a (frankly) disastrous minibus Northern Lights tour, but there are other aurora tours that I would recommend trying instead of the horrible tour I took. I wrote about it here if you’re feeling like indulging in a bit of schadenfreude — or just learning what tour to avoid.

If you want a different (read: actually good) tour, check out this one!

People on a snowmobile tour exploring the Northern lights wilderness in Svalbard
Snowmobiles under the Northern lights

If you want a more adventurous way of seeking the Northern lights, you can have fun doing a snowmobile safari in the winter months—as long as there is enough snow to operate the snowmobiles safely, generally by December or January!

There are other ways to experience the aurora more actively, like taking a snowshoe tour under the aurora which is offered by some tour operators or you can even try fatbiking on snow in search of the aurora, which is a unique option I haven’t seen offered anywhere else in the Arctic.

Still, frankly, I suggest either going by car or having some long-distance transit like dogsledding, snowmobiling, etc.

This offers you the best chances to find the perfect place with a clear sky — which is the only way you stand a good chance of seeing the lights, no matter how much solar activity there is or isn’t.

Here’s a snowmobile Northern lights safari option or a dog-sledding Northern lights option

Go dog sledding with an award-winning team of dogs.

Dog jumping with excitement while dog sledding in Alta
Sled dogs + cold winter days = unparalleled excitement

Did you know that you can go dog sledding with literal champions?

Holmen Husky Lodge is one of the best dog sled operators I’ve ever toured with, and I’ve gone dog sledding four times — in Alta (which I write about here), Tromsø, Rovaniemi, and Abisko.

The most notable thing about Holmen Husky Lodge is that it focuses primarily on its dogs and dog sledding operations. Yes, they also have accommodations, but they truly focus on their dogs in everything they do and it shows!

Holmen isn’t allowing tour bookings yet for the season, but you can book a similar husky tour experience here.

The views going dog sledding in Alta - so beautiful! View of sled and snow covered trees and dogs running
Dogs running their favorite home track at Holmen Husky Lodge

When you visit Holmen Husky Lodge on tour, as you suit up in your exposure suits and get ready for your dog sledding tour, you’ll see all the ‘diplom’ or awards of their various dogs for completing massive circuits of the Finnmarksløpet, either 600-km or sometimes even 1,200-km distances!

Of course, not all the dogs at the husky farm are race runners, but they have a core dog sledding team of champions that you can meet and greet. And trust me, the success hasn’t gone to their heads — they’re not above tackling you with kisses and love.

Join the crowds to send off the Finnmarksløpet racers.

Signs that say 'Diplom 600km' given to dogs who ran a long distance
Dog ‘diplomas’ for Finnmarksløpet runners at Holmen Husky Lodge

Haven’t yet picked what dates you want to visit Alta? In my opinion, the absolute best time to visit is the annual Finnmarksløpet, the longest dogsled race in Europe!

It’s actually sort of a 3-in-1 event: there’s the famous FL-1200, which tackles 1,200 kilometers (or 745 miles for my fellow Americans) of wild Finnmark terrain. This is the toughest race there is and only about 40 mushers attempt it each year.

The middle-of-the-road race is the FL-600, which is the most popular race for mushing teams. They cover 580 kilometers (confusingly, not exactly 600, but I guess they round up!) — that’s 360 miles, which is also quite impressive.

Two dogs sleeping in their side-by-side boxes filled in hay in the winter
Two Finnsmarksløpet veterans, resting at Holmen

Finally, there’s also a competition for young mushers, the FL-Junior. This is exclusively for young mushers between the ages of 14 and 18, where they race 200 kilometers (125 miles) with a team of six dogs.

All these races depart at different times, starting with the FL-1200, and staggering other races later on in the week, alongside other festivities during the race week.

This is Alta’s favorite time of year, so don’t worry, the dates for the next Finnsmarksløpet have already been determined; they will begin on March 14, 2025.

Have an exquisite fine dining meal at Trasti & Trine.

The interior of a fine dining restaurant in Alta, Norway
The cute and cozy interior of Trasti & Trine’s dining room

Hands down, the best meal I’ve ever eaten anywhere in Norway (and I’ve spent at least 3 months in Norway!) was the fine dining tasting menu at Trasti & Trine, a boutique hotel with an accompanying restaurant.

We had originally considered staying here, but the aurora cabins we really liked were booked up and only the normal guesthouse rooms were available. We wanted a more convenient location so we instead decided to stay in the center at the Thon Hotel Alta.

While our hotel was excellent, after tasting the food at Trasti & Trine, I am completely certain that we would have had an even more magical experience there… and I have it bookmarked for my return visit to Alta, which I’m hoping will be in the summer next time so I can see all its beauty once the snow has melted.

OK, back to the meal: it was somehow both extremely decadent and decidedly local, choosing down-to-earth ingredients with a beautiful presentation.

Fine dining menu at trasti and trine in alta, norway
A tasty reindeer dish at the end of our tasting menu

Things got off to a great start with our amuse-bouches: a taste of shrimp salad first, and then a delicious dish of smoked ptarmigan (a local bird) with lingonberries. It was an excellent introduction for what was to follow!

The tasting menu continued with more starter-style dishes, including a unique paté made of reindeer and bear (surprisingly not gamey at all!), and a delicious dill-salmon sashimi served Nordic-style alongside some herbed sour cream.

And honestly, even the bread course was delicious: the tastiest seed bread that words can’t describe served with dill-cultured butter. Despite our best intentions to save room for the rest of our courses, we quickly devoured the bread in front of us like starving peasants, and accepted another refill without a second thought.

Our main dishes didn’t want to make us choose between land and sea, so we were generously offered both. First up was a delicious, generous portion of cod filet, gently poached and served in the tastiest mushroom bouillon broth alongside a bit of steamed kale.

And finally, the pièce de la résistance, our final savory course of the night: perfectly-cooked medium rare reindeer nestled on a bed of parsnip puree, served with oyster mushrooms and beets.I still dream about how tasty that reindeer is!

Of course, a meal isn’t a meal without dessert, and this one—an Arctic berry sorbet with juniper, almond praline, and vanilla cream sauce—was refreshingly light after such a long meal.

This fine-dining menu at Trasti & Trine isn’t particularly cheap, but I think it’s worth it for all that you get. I counted and we had eight different dishes (if you include the bread course and amuse-bouches). It was 1495 NOK per person (about $136 USD), pricy but not outrageous for a tasting menu of such a caliber.

If you want a more down-to-earth but still delicious meal, they offer 2-course and 3-course “country style” dinners for 495 NOK ($45 USD) and 595 NOK, respectively ($54 USD)

Stay the night in an aurora cabin.

Aurora glamping dome in the forest
A glamping dome available at Holmen Husky Lodge

There are a bunch of really cool accommodations in Alta with huge panoramic windows, so you can see the Northern Lights right from your window!

Note that the aurora has to be really strong to see it through a window with your naked eye. I’ve only seen it through a car window once, and it was going so hard, it was practically rioting.

However, having those large windows can help you spot clear skies and then try to go outside for a better view of lights.

And yes, you can take those gorgeous photos of you inside an aurora cabin with the Northern lights swirling overhead—it’s not Photoshop composite magic.

View from a window of an aurora camp in Tromso
View of the Northern lights as it might appear on a long exposure shot inside a glass igloo

 It is, however, long exposure magic, and you can only get those types of photos with a tripod set up and increasing the shutter speed to at least 2-3 seconds to capture both you inside the cabin and the Northern lights outside the window.

As always with the Northern lights, whether you take the photos indoors or outdoors, the lights will always appear more “neon” to the camera than to the naked eye.

Now that I’ve given you the appropriate expectations, here are a few unique Northern lights hotels you can stay at in Alta.

Beautiful view of room in the traditional style of aurora lodges in norway
Room at Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge | Image courtesy of Hotels.com
  • Trasti & Trine: They have funky cabins with geometric windows that face to the sky so you can try to glimpse the aurora overhead! Also, the best food you’ll eat in Alta, hands down. They also have dog sledding.
  • GLØD Explorer: They have heated canvas domes with some glass panels so you can try to find the aurora, and they also offer a lot of fun activities like snowshoeing!
  • Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge: Not an aurora dome, but the panoramic windows at Sorrisniva are huge (including a panel on the ceiling) and the property is beautiful, and its remote location means lights are easy to spot!

Go whale watching in the Alta fjord.

Orca and fishing boat in the winter in norway
Both orcas and humpbacks are common visitors to Alta’s fjords

Whale watching is one of the other major draws for visitors to Alta in the winter season, because the whales visit Alta’s very own fjord regularly each year. 

And specifically the Alta fjord, not a fjord very far away in the case of Tromsø. That alone makes it one of the best spots in Norway to go whale watching.

You see, Tromsø is known for its whale watching, but to be completely transparent with you, it actually really shouldn’t be. At one point, the whales did visit the Tromsø fjord… but now, due to overfishing and changing climates, the whales steer clear of the area near Tromsø and instead choose the all-you-can-eat herring buffets out in Skjervøy.

This may not mean much to you if you’re unfamiliar with Norway’s geography… but Skjervøy is a far distance from Tromsø, requiring either a winding 3-hour bus ride alongside the fjord’s edge or (worse for seasick-prone people like me) a 3-hour choppy boat ride just to get to the spot for whale watching, where you might only have an hour or so to spot whales before you have to go home.

whales in tromso

Alta, meanwhile, has whales right in its very own fjord as well as ones very close by.

This means you can have a shorter tour (which is good in the sometimes-rough winter seas) and have that time dedicated to searching for whales. 

Check out whale watching tours in Alta here!

Alta is also less impacted by mass tourism, so these boats are smaller and more ethically-run. Unfortunately, I visited Alta in February just as the whale watching season came to an end so I was not able to do this tour for myself. 

If whale watching is important to you, I recommend visiting in January so you can both get to watch the whales and also do fun snowy activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding, etc.

Explore the Alta wilderness by snowmobile – day or night!

Snowmobiles out in the middle of Svalbard, an easy way to get out off the main roads of Svalbard
Snowmobiles under the Northern lights — it doesn’t get better than that!

Alta is best known for its wild nature, between the twists and turns of the pristine Alta River and its location at the edge of the Finnsmarkvidda, Norway’s largest plateau area which is home to the most extreme temperatures in Norway.

Alta’s relatively flat landscape out on the plateau makes it an excellent place for beginners. But it’s definitely not only for beginners, as experienced snowmobilers, too, will find the stunning beauty of Alta’s winter magic enchanting.

It’s hard to be blasé in a landscape this beautiful and untouched!

You can book a daytime snowmobile excursion here or a nighttime snowmobile in search of the Northern lights!

Visit one of the world’s northernmost chocolate factories.

different kinds of chocolate on sale

Did you know Alta is home to one of the world’s most northerly chocolate factories? I love random fun facts like this (this is why I love pub quizzes!).

OK, let me get pedantic for a quick second. Technically, Fruene in Svalbard is the world’s northernmost chocolate-maker at 78° N. But still, Alta isn’t that far behind — and I’m never going to slight anyone who tries to bring chocolate to remote places.

On a cold winter day, nothing warms me up on the inside quite like eating some delicious chocolate. 

But even better, you can actually tour Æventyr, the chocolate factory (that also happens to run tours, because Alta’s a small town), and see how the magic is made! Learn more here.

Wander down Alta’s main street, Markedsgata.

The markedsgata main street of alta
Alta’s main pedestrian street

Admittedly, Alta’s downtown scene isn’t the most bustling, but it does have an incredibly scenic pedestrian main street: Markedsgata.

This car-free road brings you past the handful of restaurants in Alta’s dining scene, past the shopping mall entrance, and brings you all the way to the Cathedral of the Northern Lights.

It’s especially beautiful in the winter when there are some festive lights adorning some small trees!

Photograph the beautiful Northern Lights Cathedral.

One small faint band of aurora over the northern lights cathedral
Very faint aurora with the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta

Whether you can capture the Cathedral of the Northern Lights with its namesake aurora or not, trust me when I say that it’s still the most interesting architectural site in Alta.

OK, Alta isn’t exactly dripping with beautiful architecture — it’s a bit of a strangely laid-out city that was formed when a few villages came together to become one municipality. 

But still, beauty is beauty, and the Cathedral of the Northern Lights definitely boasts a certain architectural elegance — one of the decidedly modern variety. Its fluid style reminds me a bit of a Frank Gehry building, but with a clearly Nordic vision behind it. It’s spectacular.

View of the alta cathedral on a clear day with soft morning light falling on the building
The beauty of the cathedral by day

Since it’s so centrally located in the heart of the city of Alta, I think it’s totally worth seeing it at least twice, if not more. You have to see it during the day to really understand its architectural design and appreciate the subtle curves of the metal and how that echoes the dance of the aurora.

And then of course, on a clear night, you have to try to photograph the aurora with it — you definitely won’t be the only photographer trying, but it won’t be crowded per se — and it’s absolutely worth it.

Learn about the region at the excellent Alta Museum.

The exterior of the alta musuem with an ice sculpture in front
The lovely Alta Museum is worth a visit in winter, even without its rock art displays

One of Alta’s main claims to fame is the UNESCO-listed Rock Art of Alta, but you can’t see it in the winter because it is located outside and well, Alta is basically nestled up under a giant duvet of snow all winter long.

Still, even if you can’t see its rock art (some of which dates back as far as 4200 BCE!) it’s still absolutely worth visiting the Alta Museum in the winter. Note, though, that you can see a few petroglyphs inside on display even outside the summer season. 

Not only can you warm up there, but you can learn so much that it’s almost overwhelming. Trust me, I visit a lot of regional museums. Most are fairly lackluster; this one is not. 

It’s one of the most well-executed museums of its kind that I’ve ever visited, and I definitely walked away from the museum with a far more complete understanding of the Finnmark region as a whole, as well as Alta’s specific history.

As a bonus, the museum café has one of the most scenic views in the entire city, where you can sip a cup of delicious coffee while admiring the snowy landscape and the fjord out of a ton of panoramic windows. 

It might seem basic, but since most of the city is located inland as opposed to on the fjord like many Norwegian coastal towns, this is something quite special in Alta.

Allison walking along the balcony at the alta museum overlooking the fjord
One of the best photo spots in Alta!

Their terrace area is particularly beautiful and it’s one of my favorite spots to photograph in Alta.

Admission in the winter is 100 NOK (about $9 USD), a savings compared to the summer price of 150 NOK because you cannot see the rock art now.

Discover the region’s salmon fishing history.

Detailed information of the salmon industry in norway
House of Salmon is a must-visit in Alta!

Another great place to visit in Alta to understand its history is the House of Salmon in the center of Alta, which tells the interesting story of salmon fishing and farming in Norway.

For example, did you know the Norwegian salmon industry is the reason why Japanese people eat salmon (sake) in their sushi? Traditionally, they never did, but Norway put on one hell of an ad campaign in Japan and now salmon sushi is extremely mainstream all over Japan.

​Plus, it’s absolutely free to visit—and free is a highly valuable (and quite rare) word when it comes to touring expensive Norway!

Have a delicious meal (and meet the reindeer) at Sámi Siida.

A plate of meat, potatoes, and a carrot and cabbage slaw with traditional sami ingredients
Reindeer schnitzel with caramelized onions or stežan in Sámi
An orange mash, reindeer, lingonberry and boiled potatoes at a typical sami meal
Smoked reindeer with turnip mash or suovasbiergu in Sámi

One of the places I enjoyed visiting most during my time in Alta was Sámi Siida, a casual-cozy restaurant serving up traditional Sámi dishes (think: tons and tons of reindeer). We had reindeer schnitzel and a smoked reindeer stew: both were fabulous.

If you prefer to meet, not eat, your reindeer, they also offer reindeer feeding and reindeer sledding experiences here, but I didn’t personally try either.

A sami reindeer at the reindeer herding camp at Sami Siida
Reindeer are a huge part of life in Northern Norway!

I strongly recommend that all visitors to Norway (and other parts of Lapland) learn about Sami culture (the Sami people are the indigenous people of the Arctic) to keep preserving this unique part of the North’s cultural heritage and ensure that tourism dollars are shared with the region’s original inhabitants.

This place is one of the best places in Alta to start (though I think that the reindeer experiences in Tromsø generally do a better job at educating people about Sámi culture, but a win is a win).

Catch a movie at the Aurora Kino.

Aurora kino movie house and movie theater in the downtown of alta

If you want to do something at night and the forecast looks way too crummy to have a shot at the Northern lights, it’s definitely a good idea to go for a movie night at the local movie house, Aurora Kino.

Generally they will play English language films subtitled in Norwegian or vice versa so it should be easy to find a film you understand — just ask beforehand to be sure.

Cozy up at the local library.

The exterior of the local library in Alta
Libraries in the Nordics are my favorite!

Looking for a free place to sit down for a while and warm up and just generally soak in the cozy Nordic vibes? The Alta Bibliotek (local library) is just the place to do that.

I fell in love with Norway’s libraries when visiting Tromsø last February and I ended up going almost every day to answer emails and just get some work done in a cozy, free environment.

Browse (or shop!) at Amfi.

AMFI shopping complex in center
I love to window shop when it’s cold out!

One of the biggest shopping areas downtown is the Amfi Mall located right near the Thon Hotel as well as Markedsgata.

There’s all sorts of shops in here, from an H&M to a winter sports store to interior design store, as well as cafés you can stop at for a quick pick-me-up.

It’s a great place to while away a few cold hours in Alta between activities.

Best Time to Visit Svalbard: Monthly Weather, Daylight & Activity Breakdown

While Svalbard is a beautiful place to visit, it’s also an extremely expensive one… which means it becomes even more imperative to pick the right time to visit Svalbard for the experiences you’re hoping for.

Here’s the rub: for many, Svalbard is a “once-in-a-lifetime” type of place. Between expensive flights and the necessity of taking a lot of tours because independent travel is all but impossible to non-locals, you can expect to spend a pretty penny in Svalbard. 

But here’s the other thing: there’s no way you can ever do all the activities that make Svalbard so special in one single trip, simply because this place is so seasonal and conditional upon the weather. 

Glacial ice in one of the northern fjords off the coast of Spitsbergen in the summer months

Planning your Svalbard itinerary means making some hard choices. Unless some very specific conditions align, you won’t be able to dog sled across the frozen tundra and go kayaking among glaciers in the same visit.

If you’re not bound to a specific vacation schedule and have the luxury of choosing when to visit Svalbard, I advise you think about what activities you want to do first, and then from there, pick the right month within that time period.

The Three Seasons of Svalbard

View of the Svalbard seed vault looking over Isfjord in the february blue hour month
My visit to Svalbard was in mid-February, between the end of polar night and the sun’s return

Forget what you knew about the four seasons in temperate climates or the two seasons in tropical climates. Being so close to the North Pole, Svalbard really has three seasons — and two are just different flavors of winter

As agreed upon by Svalbard residents, the three proper seasons in Svalbard are:

  • Sunny Winter (March through Mid-May)
  • Polar Summer (Mid-May through September) 
  • and Northern Lights Winter (October through February)
Dog sledding tour happening in Svalbard with a perspective as if you were the one dog sledding

This post will start with sunny winter as that’s really when the tourism season starts in Svalbard, although some snow activities like visiting the ice caves do begin a little earlier in February.

February was when my visit was, so I have the most personal tips and advice from that period, and I’ll be writing a dedicated post about visiting Svalbard in February soon.

Sunny Winter (March to Mid-May)

People snowmobiling in bright weather conditions in the middle of sunny winter in Svalbard

Pick sunny winter if…
✔️ You want to go snowmobiling and dog sledding
✔️ You want to enjoy Svalbard before cruise ships start docking 
✔️ You want to enjoy the cold of winter with the benefit of long sunny days

Skip sunny winter if…
❌ You want to see the aurora borealis
❌ You really can’t handle the cold
❌ You want to see lots of wildlife

March in Svalbard

Winter mountains near the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard in March, with blue light as well as pastel pink glow lighting up the tips of the mountains as it transitions to sunny winter.

At a Glance: 

  • Temperatures: Average highs of -8°C (18°F), average lows of -14°C (7°F), with much lower days possible.
  • Sunlight: The sun returns on Longyearbyen at the beginning of the month and days are bright, almost endless by the end of the month.
  • Activities: Snowmobile safaris, visiting ice caves, dog sledding, aurora tours possible at the beginning of the month

March may be the most rapidly changing month in all of Svalbard’s winter season!

The beginning of the month has days that are about 7.5 hours long, with sunrise around 8:30 AM and sunset around 4 PM. But by March 15, sunrise is already at 6:30 AM  (a full two hours earlier in just two weeks) and sunset is around 5:45 PM (nearly two hours later), giving you 11 hours of daylight. 

By March 30th, days stretch as long as the longest summer days in lower latitudes. By now, the sunrise is around 5:20 AM and sunset isn’t until 8:45 PM — plenty of time to explore and enjoy!

As usual, you can expect twilight hours to stretch about two hours before and two hours after sunset, giving you even more light… and thus ending the aurora season in Svalbard rather abruptly.

With so much sunlight and also so much snow, this is the best season for all the snow sports!

Three snowmobiles and a winter landscape with mountain, and the sun is starting to set behind the mountain despite it being quite bright outside, there is one person in the shot too.

Snowmobiling trips like this one to East Spitsbergen or this one to the ice caves are a great way to enjoy the sunny winter months. It’s the only way to see certain parts of Spitsbergen that are generally inaccessible at other parts of the year.

A particularly unique snowmobile excursion only available in March and parts of April is this blue light snowmobile safari, where you get to see Svalbard in its most beautiful colors, not quite day and not quite night!

March is also a very festive feeling month in Svalbard because this is when the town of Longyearbyen celebrates Sun Festival Week, the week leading up to March 8, full of concerts and fun cultural activities.

While the first sunrise for the year will have been in mid-February, it takes about 3 weeks for the sun to rise high enough above the horizon to peek above the tall mountains that block light from the east from falling on Longyearbyen.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5): The sunlight is beautiful and snow is plentiful for snowmobiling and winter sports, but this is often the coldest month of the year, so bundle up and pack wisely. Coming during Sun Festival Week can be a ton of fun to celebrate the unique return of the sun to this high Arctic town!

April in Svalbard

Reindeer grazing during the midnight sun period in Svalbard

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F).
  • Sunlight: The month begins very bright and ends in midnight sun, starting on the 18th.
  • Activities: Snowmobiling, ice caves, dog sledding, 

It may be hard to believe that a month where the Midnight Sun begins can be considered winter, but Svalbard is an unusual place! 

On April 1, sunrise is around 5:15 AM and sunset is at nearly 9 PM… already almost 18 hours of daylight! By April 18, though, you’ll see the last sunset for several months, when the sun sets for the final time for several months, translating to 24/7 sunshine at the end of April.

A glacier in Svalbard, Norway with a person traveling on a jet ski on a sunny day in March in sunny winter

This is another great month for snow sports before the warmer months settle in and end snowmobile season. Snowmobile trips are a major draw at this time of year — I recommend the snowmobile tour to Eastern Spitsbergen and the snowmobile safari to glacier ice caves. 

This is also still prime dog sledding season, and you can join tours to the ice caves or around Adventdalen or Bolterdalen if you want a less strenuous, more relaxing dog sled experience.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5): The combination of midnight sun and all the snow sports you can dream of is a perfect combination. However, most boat tours haven’t yet started, and the migratory birds and other wildlife generally haven’t returned yet.

May in Svalbard*

May in Svalbard*

Some streaky snow remains in the downtown area of Longyearbyen with its famous colorful painted houses with the sun quite high in the sky in the middle of the midnight sun

* Technically, the first half of May falls under “sunny winter” and the second half falls under “polar summer”. But since you can still often do many snow activities at the beginning of the month, I’ll put it in the winter section.


At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 1°C (34°F), average lows of -3°C (27°F)
  • Sunlight: Full sunlight all month long
  • Activities: Snow sports like snowmobiling at the beginning of the month, changing to boat tours and hiking-based activities by end of the month.

Welcome to the full-on midnight sun season: there are no sunrises or sunsets all month! May is the transitional month between Svalbard’s sunny winter and polar summer seasons, but it feels very summery with never-ending days. Plus, average temperatures finally climb above freezing: what passes for balmy in this part of the Arctic Circle.

This isn’t quite a shoulder season month, because it’s very much high season in Svalbard. However, the unique opportunity to enjoy both snow and boat activities is only possible at this time of year. However, the timing is hard to get exactly right, so it should be thought of as a bonus if everything aligns.

The warm light of the midnight sun being cast on ice in the fjords, a contrast between winter and summer

It depends on the temperatures this time of year, but usually around halfway through the month, snow sports like snowmobile safaris and dog-sledding on the snow come to an end. Until then, though, you can enjoy activities like midnight sun snowmobiling and even snowmobiling all the way to Eastern Spitsbergen in hopes of spotting polar bears where they’re most likely to be.

Once there’s not enough snow for snow sports, activities shift more towards boat trips (such as ones to walrus colonies as well as RIB safaris to glaciers), hiking tours, and dog-sledding on dry ground using a cart with wheels rather than a dog sledge.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5): Midnight sun, boat season starts, and if you’re lucky you may still have enough snow for some snowmobile trips! This is the best of all worlds for Svalbard… and it’s before cruise season starts. 

Polar Summer (June to September)

People kayaking in front of glaciers in the arctic ocean in svalbard

Pick polar summer if…
✔️ You want to go on boat trips and visit other parts of Svalbard
✔️ You want to see wildlife, including possible polar bears
✔️ You want to experience the sun never setting!

Skip polar summer if…
❌ You’re bothered by cruise ship crowds
❌ You’re traveling on a tight budget
❌ You want snow and Northern lights

June in Svalbard

A bit of remaining snow on top of a mountain in front of the town of Longyearbyen, on a summer's clear sunny day with blue sea

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 6°C (43°F), average lows of 3°C (38°F)
  • Sunlight: Full sunlight all month long
  • Activities: Boat tours, sea kayaking, wildlife excursions, hiking

June is full polar summer at its best — all the outdoor activities around this time of year focus on boat trips out on the Arctic Ocean!

Now that it’s finally calm enough and sea ice has subsided some, it’s possible to visit some of the more remote places like Ny-Ålesund, the research town that’s the northernmost permanent settlement in the world, and Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet-era mining town.

The town of Ny Alesund in the most northern and remotest part of Svalbard that is still occupied by humans year round

Also, sea kayaking season begins again! This is one of the most unique things you can do in Svalbard but you can only do it for a short window of perfect conditions during the summer months, from June through August.

This is the first month that the migratory birds begin to return to Svalbard, meaning you can do fjord safaris to bird cliffs and also do land-based photo safaris. This is also when you have the best chance to see polar bears on a boat tour, especially if you’re going further afield.

Wildlife lovers will also love the chance to go on a walrus safari to Borebukta, a walrus colony where you’re basically guaranteed to see these enormous sea clowns.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5) Relatively warm temperatures, all the boat activities you can dream of, and endless summer days! The downsides are that all the snow sports have ended and cruise ship season has begun.

July in Svalbard

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 10°C (50°F), average lows of 6°C (43°F)
  • Sunlight: Full sunlight all month long
  • Activities: Boat tours, sea kayaking, wildlife safaris on land and sea, guided hikes, enjoying the midnight sun

Boat season continues under the midnight sun all July, which also happens to be the warmest month in Svalbard… though that’s not necessarily saying much in the polar regions.

You can take a boat tour to Ny-Ålesundgo kayaking among glaciers, visit walrus colonies by RIB boat, etc. Virtually all boat tours operate during this month giving you tons of choices.

Walrus colony herd on the sand beach in Svalbard, Norway

If you’re looking for some stuff to do on land, you can take a wildlife photo tour from Longyearbyen, where you’ll travel by car around the wilderness parts of town and see what you can spot, including Arctic foxes and birds.

You can also go on a variety of hiking tours in the mountains around Longyearbyen, but note that you must always hike with a guide due to polar bear safety measures.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5) The warmest month in Svalbard! This is a full month under the midnight sun, lots of different boat tours you can choose from, but this is another peak season month with lots of cruise ships arriving and making Longyearbyen extremely busy. Also quite pricy.

August in Svalbard

The colorful houses of Longyearbyen next to tundra landscape with some green grass and orange growth on the mountains

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 9°C (49°F), average lows of 5°C (41°F)
  • Sunlight: Full sun for most of the month, with midnight sun coming to an end around the 25th.
  • Activities: Boat tours and excursions, kayaking, hiking tours, birdwatching and wildlife excursions

August in Svalbard is all about exploring Spitsbergen by boat and on foot! This is the last month you can enjoy some activities that require calmer seas, like sea kayaking among glaciersand the RIB boat tour to the walrus colony in Borebukta.

If you’re looking for something land-based to mix it up, consider this wildlife photography safari, which departs by car from Longyearbyen and brings you on guided hikes to areas where some of the archipelago’s most iconic land-based wildlife, such as Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes, like to hang out. 

A summertime view of the  abandoned Russian arctic settlement of Pyramiden, a former mining town,  with the bust of Lenin on display and a glacier in the background

Note that you are unlikely to see a polar bear on this tour, as they don’t tend to hang out very close to Longyearbyen, but anything is possible — that’s why you always have to have a guide with polar bear protection!

If you want a chance to see polar bears, you’ll have more luck on a tour like this one, the fjord cruise to Nordenskiold, which goes near the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden, a popular polar bear hangout spot.

Note that if you’d like to go to Pyramiden, not many tours go there due to the war in Ukraine and tensions that have arisen with Russia as a result of it. However, Henningsen Transit and Guiding does offer tours there, though you won’t find it advertised by Visit Svalbard (again, due to the war).

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5) Beautiful nearly endless days and the chance to see the midnight sun end make this a special month in Svalbard. Great conditions for all sorts of boat excursions, although August is also another peak cruise ship month, the only thing that knocks it down a star.

September in Svalbard

Summer view of the main street of Longyearbyen town, with nobody out and about, and the tall mountain looming over the town

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 5°C (41°F), average lows of 1°C (34°F)
  • Sunlight: Generally long days and short nights. The month starts with 18 hours of daylight and ends with about 11 hours.
  • Activities: Sea kayaking season ends, but aurora season begins near the end of the month.

As September begins, the seas begin to get a bit rougher and sea kayaking season comes to an end, as do several boat tours, such as the one to Ny-Ålesund and the walrus watching tours.

Some continue like this nature and wildlife boat tour and the fjord cruise to Nordenskioldthough the birds tend to migrate away by mid-September, making it less appealing for birdwatchers after mid-month.

Scruffy looking arctic fox in his summer coat, on the tundra floor with some wildflowers

This month is quite spectacular because now that the midnight sun is over, you get some really spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and at this latitude they’re particularly long-lasting and beautiful.

You can still do some hikes and many of the land animals of Svalbard are still able to be easily spotted on a wildlife photography safari.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5) Cruise ship season comes to a close yet still you can do a few boat tours and see some of the last remaining wildlife of the season, especially if you visit in the beginning of September rather than the end. Long days near the beginning of the month, with the chance of auroras increasing near the end of the month!

Northern Lights Winter (October to February)

Pick Northern lights winter if…
✔️ You want to see the Northern lights (obviously!)
✔️ You’re curious about experiencing a day in the polar night
✔️ You’re on a budget and want to cut costs significantly

Skip Northern lights winter if…
❌ You get negatively impacted by low light conditions, such as if you have SAD
❌ You want to see the diversity of Svalbard’s wildlife
❌ You’ll feel like you’re missing out on a lot of its activities

October in Svalbard 

Snow begins to return to Longyearbyen with some orange contrast of the autumn tundra creating beautiful color

At a Glance:

  • Temperatures: Average highs of 0°C (32°F), average lows of -4°C (25°F)
  • Sunlight: Short but still distinguishable days at the beginning of the month with the final sunset of the year on the 25th. Twilight hours only at the end of October.
  • Activities: Northern lights tours begin again, some boat tours continue

A select handful of boat tours continue through most of October, including the fjord safari to Nordenskioldthough the birds will have usually left by mid-September so this tour is more about enjoying the landscape by now, rather than the wildlife.

The month starts out with about 10 hours of sunlight, with sunrises at 7:30 AM and sunsets at nearly 6 PM. But you start losing daylight quickly, about 15-20 minutes per day for the entire month of October, speeding up rapidly in the last days before the final sunset of the year in late October. 

One small band of the Northern lights appearing over the town lights during the winter in Svalbard

On the 25th, there are a mere two hours of daylight, and by October 26th, the sun is down all day and will be for the remainder of the year, as polar night approaches.

But that just means more time for aurora tours, and they are abundant in October — I suggest this land-based one, as none of the snowmobile tours will be running.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5) This shoulder season is a great time of year for those looking for good value! You compromise a bit and can do some of the last of the summer activities, like fjord safaris, while also getting to have a good chance of seeing the Northern lights. Cruise ships are gone and prices are lower, it’s not too cold yet, and the island of Spitsbergen turns a beautiful orange autumn color as it transitions into winter. 


​November in Svalbard 

The colorful houses of Longyearbyen with a light dusting of snow and just a little hint of the aurora in the distance
  • Temperatures: Average highs of -3°C (27°F), average lows of -8°C (18°F)
  • Daylight: None at all, but the first 10 days have some twilight before the true beginning of Polar Night.
  • Activities: Cozy city activities around Longyearbyen like museums and cafés, Northern lights tours. 

 November is the first month of the winter in Svalbard where there is no sunrise or sunset. However, the first 10 days of the month have some hours of civil twilight, which is when the sun is still more than 6° below the horizon, giving you enough light that it doesn’t feel like pitch blackness. 

If you come around the beginning of the month, things are a little better. November 1 starts off with a decent amount of light, with civil twilight starting around 8:45 AM and ending around 2:35 PM.

However, that quickly fades about 20 minutes per day, with November 11th being the final day with any twilight at all, and only from 10:50 AM to 12:25 PM.

The polar night falling on the town of Longyearbyen in the winter

The good thing about November 11th? That’s when the Christmas hotel opens at Base Camp Explorer, adding one small cozy spark to an otherwise slightly lackluster month.

There’s not enough snow for snowmobile based activities, and it’s too dark to safely be able to do any boat tours, so you’re limited to land-based activities… by car, since there’s almost certainly not enough snow for snowmobiling yet.

There’s not much happening at this time of year, to be honest, but you could join a Northern lights chase by car if you want to increase your chances of seeing the aurora.

mushroom soup at a restaurant in longyearbyen

Other than that, this is a time of year to nest, eat comforting food at restaurants, shop along the main street, and just accept the darkness.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐ (1/5) With no sunlight and just a very brief period of twilight, this is a rough time of year to visit Svalbard. There aren’t yet Christmas festivities and it’s too early for snowmobile season. However, it’s not that cold yet, it won’t be crowded, and prices are very low.

December in Svalbard

True pitch black darkness in Longyearbyen during the polar night with very little lit up and visible in the dark night sky
  • Temperature: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F)
  • Daylight: None at all, not even twilight.
  • Activities: Christmas events, museums and restaurant hopping, Northern lights tours, a few snowmobile tours might begin.

There is no twilight at all in the month of December, making this a full month of the true Polar Night. The light conditions will not change virtually at all during the month of December — except during the full moons, which in the pitch black of Svalbard’s polar night, almost feel like a proper day. 

Svalbard does get into the Christmas season, though, which helps add a little light back into this incredibly dark month. On the first Sunday of the Advent, there’s a torchlit march up to Santa’s mailbox (he takes up residence in a mine above Longyearbyen during December) and then back to watch the Christmas tree be lit.

The warmly lit interior of Cafe Huskies with several people inside enjoying drinks and chats with friends and a husky sitting on the couch

Other than that, this is mostly a month about trying to embrace the dark rather than resist it.

Think bowls of soup in cozy restaurants, enjoying drinks at the pub by a fireplace, and giving scritches to retired sled dogs at the local husky cafe.

Depending on snow conditions, some snowmobiling tours will start up again, like this one that brings you in search of the Northern lights out in Adventdalen. You can also join other Northern lights tours, like this Northern lights tour where you chase the lights by car.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐  (2/5) The Christmas décor and festivities make polar night more festive, and there’s a chance of having enough snow to do things like dog sled and snowmobile as long as there has been enough snow. Still, the darkness is quite oppressive and doesn’t let up at all, so it’s hard to see the beauty of the landscape.

January in Svalbard

Another dark period over the town of longyearbyen as seen from a vantage point near an old dismantled mining area
  • Temperature: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F)
  • Daylight: None, although polar night officially ends on the 29th, and a few hours of twilight begin to appear each day as the “Blue Hour” season approaches.
  • Activities: Museums and restaurants in Longyearbyen, Northern lights tours, some snowmobile tours.

Polar night continues until the end of January, officially ending on January 29.

That’s when civil twilight returns, even if just for less than an hour (from around 11:50 AM to 12:30 PM, in fact). By January 31, that extends to a few hours of twilight, from 10:55 AM to about 1:25 PM. 

All those hours of darkness leave you plenty of time to chase the Northern lights by car or by snowmobile (there are shorter tours and longer tours that include time at an aurora camp located inland which is the best place to have a shot at seeing the lights, away from the coast).

People on a snowmobile tour exploring the Northern lights wilderness in Svalbard

Even though there’s enough snow, not all the snowmobile tours are back up and running: just the Northern lights-focused ones. That’s because you can’t really see much, so the landscape-focused tours won’t start up again until February or even March.

In lieu of snowmobiling, there are a few dog sled tours you can do, such as this dog sled tour to an ice cave (starting mid-January), or this dog sled tour in search of the Northern lights.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐ (2/5) Still a very dark month, though there’s some light at the end of the tunnel near the end of the month. Snowmobiling is generally possible, but with polar night very much on for nearly the entire month, most tours do not run. Dog sledding is a good option too, but like December, you won’t get to see much of Svalbard’s landscape in the pitch black.

February in Svalbard

Blue light in Svalbard as the season shifts towards a beautiful twilight period as it exits polar night
From my February 2024 trip; taken around 4 PM
  • Temperature: Average highs of -6°C (21°F), average lows of -11°C (12°F)
  • Daylight: None at the beginning of the month, but some twilight and “blue hour” The sun rises above the horizon after the 15th, but won’t yet fall onto Longyearbyen until March.
  • Activities:

This month changes quite rapidly in Svalbard, and it’s when the real winter tourism season begins in earnest… yes, after four months of ‘winter’ have already passed. That’s what happens when there’s about 2/3 of the year in some state of winter! 

The first half of the month has no true sunrise or sunset. On February 1, civil twilight lasts from 10:40 AM to around 1:40 PM… a whopping 3 hours of mild blue light. But by around February 14, the last day without any sunrises, that civil twilight period lasts between 8:30 AM and 3:55 PM, giving you what feels like almost a full daytime. 

View of the mountains in blue hour with a slight bit of pink in the clouds
Some of the first pink tones of the February 2024 season!

The sun starts to rise around February 15, but you won’t see the sun in Longyearbyen village until March. Still, as soon as the sun starts rising, days get a lot longer and brighter even if you can’t lay eyes on the sun. 

On the 15th, the sun rises from 11:30 AM to 12:50 PM, but then by February 28th, the sun is up from between 8:30 AM and 3:45 PM, and twilight extends that brightness by about two hours before and two hours after sunrise and sunset.

As the sunlight returns, so do the snowmobile tours that explore more of the island for more than just the Northern lights.

Snowmobiles in front of the town of Longyearbyen in summer
Still a few days from the first sunrise of the year, but plenty of dim twilight.

Halfway through the month, the snowmobile tour to Eastern Spitsbergen begins, which is one of the coolest snowmobile tours you can do on the island. You can also snowmobile to the ice caves in a glacier, or visit the same ice caves a more adventurous way… by dog sled!

This is the last full month of aurora watching, so you can join an aurora tour by car or by snowmobile (there are 3.5 hour shorter tours and longer tours (about 7 hours) to an inland aurora camp.

Overall Rating for Visiting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5): Another slice of shoulder season perfection, especially if you visit near the end of the month. The twilight conditions are quite beautiful, giving Svalbard its famous “Blue Hour” color. But if you visit near the beginning or the end of the month, the sunlight conditions can still be quite challenging for many visitors. It’s quite cold, which is fine, but there are often a lot of winter storms this month, making it less likely to see the Northern lights.


Svalbard in Winter: What You Need to Know + 17 Fun Things to Do!

Endless nights livened up by candles and string lights underneath a galaxy of stars and streaking auroras. Pastel blue light washing over snow-capped mountains with not a tree in sight. Brilliant sun shining day and night above snow-covered tundras, pristine nature marred only by a few snowmobile tracks showing the path to adventure.

Believe it or not, these are all the same season, just different flavors. Welcome to Svalbard in winter.

Lit-up informational placards displayed around Longyearbyen with mountains visible across the fjord in the distance
Beautiful Longyearbyen in the February blue

🏔️ Planning your winter Svalbard trip in a hurry? Here are my quick picks!

❄️ Best Winter Activities
1. Snowmobile safari to an ice cave in a glacier
2. Eastern Spitsbergen snowmobile safari with chance of polar bears
3. Arctic wildlife photography safari 
4. Budget-friendly aurora chase by car

🛏️ Best Places to Stay
1. Svalbard Hotell Polfaren (mid-range, where I stayed and recommend!)
2. Funken Lodge (slightly pricier but beautiful boutique option)
3. Coal Miners Cabins (budget rooms with shared bathroom)

Ever since I first saw Svalbard on a map, tucked in a top-most corner near the seam of a page, and truly processed how remote it was, I wanted to go. At this age, I knew nothing of polar nights and midnight suns, or even polar bears. I just knew that it was far and that I liked the idea of far.

Then I fell in love with the Arctic, slowly but surely over many visits: first a trip to Kiruna and Abisko, later a trip to Tromsø, next a trip to Rovaniemi, and then back to the Norwegian Arctic again. And Svalbard? Svalbard is as Arctic as it gets, and winter there is an experience like no other.

I visited Svalbard in February, right at the tail end of Northern Lights winter but before the dark season properly came to an end.

A bunch of snowmobiles in front of the town of Longyearbyen, where you start the ice cave tour
Snowmobiling is the best thing about Svalbard’s winter season!

As a result, I got to experience a nice mix of many of the activities that make Svalbard winter so unique: Northern lights tours, snowmobile rides, and gorgeous pastel light.

Here are my favorite activities to do in Svalbard in winter, and some that I want to do on a future visit.

You really need to visit Svalbard at multiple times throughout the year to properly do everything on your Svalbard bucket list, because the seasons in Svalbard are each so different and that really impacts what activities you can do.

When is Winter in Svalbard?

Svalbard with blue light and golden light shining out of the windows in the February winter season with a crescent moon over the town of Longyearbyen
Beautiful soft light during February’s enchanting twilight

How long does winter last in Svalbard? Quite a long time, about two-thirds of the year. Only the period between May 17 and September 30 is considered Polar Summer by locals. Even part of the Midnight Sun season coincides with what is still considered “Sunny Winter”!

Winter in Svalbard is divided into two main parts: dark winter (which they’ve tried to rebrand as “Northern Lights Winter”) and sunny winter. But dark winter, too, can be divided into the true Polar Night, which has 24-hour darkness and two periods of Twilight preceding it. 

The Twilight period lasts from October 1 through November 10 and again from February 1 to 28.

February’s twilight hours are called the “blue hours” for the beautiful azure light mimicking daylight, even though the sun never rises above the horizon.​

View of the frozen river landscape overlooking Adventdalen in Svalbard
Technically, the sun never rose this day, but it didn’t feel like it with this much twilight!

Here’s a quick breakdown of the sub-seasons of winter and when they fall. Note that this has a lot more to do with light conditions (and thus what activities are available to you!) than it does with temperatures.

  • October 1 through November 10: Northern Lights Winter (Twilight Period, Part 1)
  • November 11 through January 31: Northern Lights Winter (Polar Night)
  • February 1 through February 28: Northern Lights Winter (Twilight Period, Part 2)
  • March 1 through May 16: Sunny Winter (note: Midnight Sun begins around April 18)

Winter Temperatures in Svalbard

Northern Lights Winter

Aurora over the town of Longyearbyen's famous colorful houses
Unfortunately, I never saw the aurora in my 4 nights in Svalbard in winter… it’s unpredictable!

While these are the average highs and lows, extreme temperatures are possible during storms.

Icy cold temperatures of -20° C (-5° F) are frequent in the winter, and on my February trip, the high temperature one day was -15° C (5° F), but it felt much colder due to the windchill!

  • October: Average highs of 0°C (32°F), average lows of -4°C (25°F)
  • November: Average highs of -3°C (27°F), average lows of -8°C (18°F)
  • December: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F)
  • January: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F)
  • February: Average highs of -6°C (21°F), average lows of -11°C (12°F)

Sunny Winter

A group of five people snowmobiling through a valley with huge mountains surrounding them as they traverse the rugged Svalbard landscape
Sunny winter is all about enjoying the snow-covered Svalbard landscape… no matter the temperatures!

While these are the average highs and lows, extreme temperatures of up to -35° C (nearly -40° F) are possible during winter storms. Temperatures of -20° C (-5° F) are frequent, especially in March.

Windchill can significantly impact the real feel of the winter conditions. It can seriously increase your risk of frostbite, so be incredibly cautious when doing outdoor activities during colder seasons.

Note that while sunny compared to other parts of the winter in Svalbard, March is typically the coldest month of the year.

  • March: Average highs of -8°C (18°F), average lows of -14°C (7°F)
  • April: Average highs of -5°C (23°F), average lows of -10°C (14°F)
  • May: Average highs of 1°C (34°F), average lows of -3°C (27°F)

15 Cool Things to Do in Svalbard in Winter

Allison Green's hand holding a warm beverage as she drinks a cup of warm juice after her tour
Drinking delicious hot beverages on a Svalbard winter tour just hits diffferent!

This guide to Svalbard winter activities is a little unique in that I’ve also included when you can do each activity.

The winter season in Svalbard is broken into so many unique parts, so I don’t want you to be disappointed if, say, you arrive at the end of March and realize you’ve missed aurora season or you arrive in December and snowmobile season hasn’t started yet.

Svalbard’s winter covers many different conditions: there are days when you can see the aurora borealis literally in the middle of the day, and there are days when you won’t see a moment of darkness at all. 

Visit an ice cave in a glacier

All bundled up for my winter Svalbard trip in February 2024
Visiting an ice cave in Svalbard is a real winter highlight!
  • When: Mid-February through mid-May

Visiting an ice cave by snowmobile was my favorite Svalbard tour I did during my time there in February! 

This is an adventurous tour, not for the faint of heart. We got on our snowmobiles and drove more than 50 kilometers to and from an ice cave near the Tellbreen Glacier, deep into the heart of Spitsbergen. 

It was only my second time driving a snowmobile but I felt safe and pretty confident as we navigated first through the huge valley expanse of Adventdalen before later zig-zagging our way through slightly more treacherous terrain to get to the interior where we could find the glacier.

Once we reached our endpoint, our guide made sure the area was safe and led us down a rickety ladder into a beautiful ice cave, crystals glittering in the glow of our headlamps.

It was a magical experience seeing the glacial ice and the air bubbles that had been trapped inside of it for thousands of years, water just as pure as they were the day it froze.

Book your snowmobile safari to a glacier ice cave here!

Learn polar history at the Svalbard Museum

Different displays of animal life you find on Svalbard archipelago on display at the local museum
The interior of the newly-renovated Svalbard Museum
  • When: All winter

One of my favorite places in Svalbard, the newly-renovated Svalbard Museum, is equally educational and entertaining. You’ll learn all there is to know about Svalbard here, from its geological roots stretching back millions of years to its more recent history of exploration (and exploitation).

You’ll learn about its fascinating history as both a whaling station and fur trapping hub, as a base for scientific research and expeditions, and its time as a major hub for mining… before now shining as an icon of sustainable tourism in the Arctic.

Go on an Arctic wildlife photography tour 

Tour with with giant camera and binoculars looking around the fjord in Svalbard in an icy winter landscape trying to spot wildlife
Our tour guide looking for walruses in the harbor of Svalbard
  • When: October, February-May (not available during Polar Night)

Here’s the thing about visiting Svalbard: even if you fly in as an independent tourist, you can see very little of the Svalbard archipelago (basically, just a few streets in Longyearbyen) without an organized tour. 

Why? Because it’s not permitted to leave the settlement of Longyearbyen without a rifle, and that’s not something the average tourist can obtain while traveling to Svalbard on a quick trip.

So doing a car-based tour like this Arctic wildlife photography safari is the perfect way to see the nature around Longyearbyen as much as the roads will allow.

Admittedly, there’s not as much wildlife in the winter as there is in the summer. Expect to see a handful of Svalbard reindeer—they’re pretty much everywhere on the island of Spitsbergen.

An arctic fox in the Svalbard landscape sitting on some rocks
An Arctic fox in the wild — unfortunately the cold killed the battery of my camera that had a proper zoom lens, so I had to use my phone!

If you’re lucky, you’ll see an Arctic fox (we saw two!) and possibly a walrus (we saw one way out in the water).

Note that many of the Arctic foxes near Longyearbyen wear a collar around their necks, which helps researchers at the local university identify them and track the health of the population. As cute as they are, they’re definitely no one’s pets!

Most birds migrate away from Svalbard in the winter months. Still, we were lucky enough to see some cool Svalbard rock ptarmigans.

The feather-footed svalbard rock ptarmigan which turns snow white in winter to camouflage
The Svalbard rock ptarmigan turns snow-white in winter and deep brown in summer!

This is a unique and very hardy species that lives on Svalbard year-round (this fascinating bird literally grows feathers on its feet to act like snowshoes—wild, right?), as well as some common eiders out in the water.

This was one of my favorite activities I did in Svalbard in winter because it gave me a sense of the area around Longyearbyen and what would be your backyard if you were a local.

Book this Svalbard photography safari here!

Check out the unique Global Seed Vault

The cool structure of the Svalbard global seed vault with the fjord views behind it
The seed vault stands on a hill overlooking Longyearbyen and the Isfjord
  • When: All winter, but better in twilight or daylight

Did you know that Svalbard is home to a ‘doomsday vault’ of more than 1 million unique species of seeds — representing nearly every country on planet Earth?

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was chosen to be located here for two main reasons: one, Svalbard is demilitarized and far from the European mainland so it’s unlikely to be affected in the case of war; and two, the permafrost (theoretically) keeps the seeds at a safe and stable temperature in case of power outages.

Eventually, this massive vault can hold up to 4.5 million different seeds, and in the event of some big catastrophe, it can possibly help us repopulate the world’s biodiversity in food supply.

Of course, you can’t actually enter the building… that’s humanity’s future at stake, they’re not going to let some random tourists in! But it’s still quite cool to see, and it looks even more otherworldly surrounded by snow.

Visit the world’s northernmost brewery, Svalbard Bryggeri

A dark beer from the svalbard brewery and a finished beer next to it
Photo Credit: Megan Starr
  • When: All winter

While Mack Brewery in Tromsø stubbornly (and erroneously) claims to be the world’s northernmost brewery, that honor actually belongs to Svalbard Bryggeri, which you can visit all year round in Svalbard.

Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I’ve had to quit alcohol and thus didn’t go to visit during my trip to Svalbard…

Can of sparkling water with lemon that says "svalbard vann" which means svalbard water. Allison's hand holding it in front of a poster of a polar bear.
Sparkling water from the Svalbard Brewery

… but I did taste their delicious carbonated water, which you can pick up at the Svalbardbutikken and restaurants all over Longyearbyen.

If you’re curious about visiting the brewery, my friend Megan has written a comprehensive guide.

Have coffee and cake in a lovely husky cafe

The warmly lit interior of Cafe Huskies with several people inside enjoying drinks and chats with friends and a husky sitting on the couch
If you’re a dog lover, you can’t miss this place in Svalbard!
  • When: All winter

One of the things I was most excited to do in Svalbard in winter was visit Cafe Huskies, a cute little coffee shop and bakery staffed by a team of retired sled dogs (oh, and some humans who help take orders)

Their coffee was absolutely perfect and they had a really excellent selection of pastries and cakes. Megan had a delicious caramel cheesecake and I had an otherworldly raw cake with all sorts of nuts, agave, and chocolate.

They also have sandwiches and (somewhat confusingly but I’m sure deliciously) poké bowls pre-made that you can grab for a light lunch.

There’s also a small gift shop where you can grab husky-related and Svalbard-related gifts!

Grab chocolates from the world’s northernmost chocolate factory

A selection of chocolates made on Svalbard including white chocolate polar bears
How cute are these chocolates as a gift?
  • When: All winter

You’ll find when visiting Svalbard that almost everything is labeled with the superlative “northernmost” — this is the northernmost lamppost in the world! — and so on. 

And mostly, I just nod along, as it’s not much of a contest when you have only Ny-Ålesund north of you. But I find a hard time being blasé about anything chocolate-related.

Fruene makes their own chocolates at 78° N, so it can boast exactly that. It’s also a lovely little café and wine bar! This is another great place to grab some souvenirs and also a cup of coffee or light lunch.

Enjoy the cozy pub and restaurant scene of Longyearbyen

A delicious plate of pea puree and cod with pork belly
Arctic cod with a pea mash and bacon, served at Polfaren
  • When: All winter

I was pleasantly surprised by just how lovely the restaurant scene in Longyearbyen is!

You’d think that this small settlement on an Arctic archipelago wouldn’t have a ton to offer in the food department, but considering the town’s small size, there was a very wide range of delicious places to eat.

You can have everything from a simple soup of the day at Kroa for about 160 NOK (about USD 15) to an exquisite multi-course meal at Huset, the best fine dining restaurant on the island, where an exquisite tasting menu costs 2200 NOK (about USD 206). 

A bowl of mushroom soup and bread served at Kroa with water
My budget is decidedly more on the “soup” end of the spectrum

For something in the middle, try dining at Polfaren in Hotell Svalbard. It has delicious mains roughly in the 300-400 NOK range (that’s about 28-37 USD) and is a nice place to enjoy a more substantial meal without seriously breaking the bank.

Other recommended restaurants:

  • Stationen for delicious and affordable burgers around 200-250 NOK (about 18-23 USD)
  • Funktionærmessen for good value 4-course tasting menus (850 NOK or around 80 USD) and main courses around 400 NOK (37 USD)
  • Gruvelageret for high-concept 4-course tasting menus (1250 NOK or around 115 USD)

Search the sky for the Northern lights

Person on a tour of the Northern lights in Svalbard, standing on top of a car holding their hands up to celebrate, as the Northern lights streak across the sky in bright green colors
Visit during Northern lights winter for a chance to see the beautiful aurora
  • When: October through mid-March

To be honest, seeing the Northern lights in Svalbard isn’t the most straightforward place to see the aurora.

Svalbard is located so far north of the Arctic Circle that it’s outside of the optimal “aurora zone,” and daylight hours shift so rapidly that the aurora season is about two months shorter in Svalbard than in other places like Abisko, Rovaniemi, and Tromsø.

That said, you have the unique opportunity to see the aurora in the middle of the day during polar night, so that certainly makes up for it. It’s one of the most special things about the Polar Night time of the year!

You can sometimes see the Northern lights as you’re just walking around Longyearbyen if there is a lot of solar activity and you have a clear sky.

Snowmobiles out in the middle of Svalbard, an easy way to get out off the main roads of Svalbard
Snowmobiles are a great way to have a better shot at seeing the lights!

But there are other ways to see the Northern lights in Svalbard, such as going on a dog-sledding tour under the night sky, going on a car chase tour of the Northern lights, visiting a wilderness camp, or going snowmobiling during dark skies, hoping the lights appear overhead.

Here are a few of the different Northern lights experiences you can try!

Visit the North Pole Expedition Museum

The cute exterior of the North Pole Expedition Museum located in longyearbyen with snowmobiles and a polar bear cut out in front
The cute exterior of the North Pole Expedition Museum
  • When: All winter

Admittedly, this museum could use a facelift, as it’s a bit hard to navigate and pales compared to the Svalbard Museum. But that’s not for lack of the lovely staff’s efforts, who will do their best to tell you the best way to tackle this museum, which feels like it’s been put together by a hoarder rather than a curator. 

I was expecting something similar to the Polar Museum in Tromsø, one of my favorite museum experiences. However, it’s a bit scatter-shot, with a disproportionately large section of the museum dedicated to airship exploration and rescue missions, as well as challenging the varying accounts of people who claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole.​

Despite some of the shade I’m throwing towards the museum, I think it’s worth going. There are only a few museums in Longyearbyen, so you might as well enjoy them!

I learned even more than I previously knew about Roald Amundsen, one of the greatest polar explorers, and his attempts to reach the North Pole — and also about many polar blunders of other explorers along the way.

Admire the brightly-colored houses of Longyearbyen

A snowy day in Longyearbyen but you can see the colorful houses painted brightly in the snow
Even a snowstorm won’t dampen these colors!
  • When: Year-round, but best lighting in October, February-May

​Of course, the brightly-colored Longyearbyen houses in candy-bright colors are there all year round… but during the darkest of the winter months, you won’t really be able to admire them in all their colorful glory the same way you would once Twilight Season or Sunny Winter rolls around.​

The hillside neighborhood, Lia, is one of the most spectacular parts of Svalbard’s architectural scene. With beautifully painted rows of housing, it has earned the nickname “spisshusene,” the pointed houses, for their shape as well as their brilliant color. 

The idea behind these colorful houses was the brainchild of Ingvald Ohm, who then worked with the color designer Grete Smedal — a female designer from Bergen (a city that knows a thing or two about color) to create a color palette that complemented Svalbard’s tundra and its ever-changing seasons.

She also considered how the snow-covered landscape would look with these colors, as well as how the colors would look in the dark of the Polar Night — pretty cool, huh?

She eventually chose colors in red, yellow, green, and teal to represent the naturally-occurring colors of the Svalbard tundra. Those colors are now part of the government’s official color scheme for all buildings in Longyearbyen and are now codified into Svalbard’s building codes.

I learned all of this cool information from the Arctic University of Norway’s records — you can read more about it here.

Take a snowmobile safari to Eastern Spitsbergen

Three snowmobiles looking at glacier ice and other landscape features with a pastel sky in Spitsbergen
Spitsbergen’s gorgeous and remote east | Photo Credit: Megan Starr
  • When: Mid-February through mid-May​

I didn’t get a chance to do this tour because I left Svalbard before these tours began again, but my friend Megan stayed a few days longer than I did. She enjoyed this tour so much that she said it’s the best thing she ever did in Svalbard — and she’s visited five times!

This tour is called the Polar Bear Snowmobile Safari from Longyearbyen but you should be aware that it is not a true safari where they track and try to find polar bears.

That is strictly illegal on Svalbard, and for good reason. Polar bears are extremely dangerous to humans and also vulnerable to extinction. An interaction, particularly on land, between tourists and polar bears should be avoided, not sought out. 

However, the largest concentration of polar bears in Svalbard can be found on the Eastern coast of Spitsbergen island. This is because this side of the island has far lower average temperatures than the rest of Spitsbergen because it is not impacted by the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer, more temperate weather.

Person riding a snowmobile in the arctic environment with a glacier backdrop behind them
The eastern part of Spitsbergen is a beauty!

As a result, there is a ton of sea ice and glaciers here, making this the wildest (and coldest) part of the Svalbard archipelago and where you are most likely to see polar bears. 

This is not a ride through peaceful trails but rather an active, all-day adventure that will leave you exhilarated (and exhausted).

Expect to travel at least 150 kilometers and for it to take the entirety of a day. On her tour, Megan did not see any polar bears, but she still ranks it as her favorite Svalbard adventure she’s ever done.

Go dog sledding, night or day

The dog sled tour arriving at the ice caves in mid day in February
Dog sled tours arriving at the ice cave entrance
  • When: All winter

One of the most incredible things you can do in winter in Svalbard is go on a dog sledding trip — many different ways, in fact, depending on the time of year, how much daylight you have, if there’s a lot of snow on the ground, and if there’s anywhere cool you want to go, too.

While doing the ice cave tour of Svalbard by snowmobile, I was surprised to see a few teams of dog sleds roll up right to the same place as we were!

Since I love dog sledding so much (and have done it in four places — Tromsø, Alta, Rovaniemi, and Abisko), I found myself briefly regretting going by snowmobile instead of by dog sled. 

If you go dog sledding in Svalbard in the winter, you can have several different types of experiences.

During the season, when you have enough daylight or twilight, as well as enough snow, you can do a variety of dog sled rides through a few different landscapes of Svalbard.

Point of view perspective of mushing your own dog sled while in SValbard in a winter landscape
Mushing your own dog sled is so. much. fun.

If you don’t want to go to the ice caves, you can also go around in some of the more accessible, less hilly areas around Longyearbyen, like Bolterdalen and Adventdalen.

If you’re visiting Svalbard during the complete darkness of the Polar Night season, you can also do combination dog sled and aurora tours… at any time of day or night!​

Here are a few different dog sled tours you can pick from:

Take a photo with the polar bear sign

Allison in front of the sign warning about polar bears in Svalbard
You simply must take a photo with the Svalbard polar bear sign!
  • When: All winter, but better photos in twilight or daylight

Besides the typical colorful houses of Longyearbyen, the other most iconic photo of Svalbard is the polar bear danger sign, which can be found on the outskirts of town.

We visited it during our Arctic wildlife photography trip as we made our way towards the abandoned mine area. It won’t take you too long to see it, but it is a great photo souvenir of Svalbard!

Go on an icy boat cruise

Ice in the water as seen from a boat sailing through a winter sea in Svalbard
Cruising through icy seas in February | Photo Credit: Megan Starr
  • When: Depends on the sea ice, but some boats start again mid-February

Again, this is another tour I could not do because I visited Svalbard too early in the winter season to enjoy all of its best activities.

If I had to pick the best time for Svalbard, late February is better than mid-February, and March is even better than February. It’s unbelievable what just a few weeks will do in a place that changes as rapidly as Svalbard!

Your wildlife-focused boat tours and ones that include a sea kayaking component typically start up again in polar summer, but my friend Megan clued me in on a little hack. You can go on a boat cruise with Henningsen Transport, which begins running its boats as soon as it is safe to hit the seas!

You can take the Glacier Cruise they offer on Fridays, as early as mid-February. They also provide transportation to Pyramiden and Barentsburg, but there is no guarantee you can dock (and in the case of Pyramiden, it is all but a certainty that you can’t until at least June).

However, these are towns owned by Russian state-owned mining companies. As a result of the war in Ukraine, Visit Svalbard does not promote them out of solidarity with Ukraine. Whether or not you choose to visit is up to you but I leave you this information to make your own choices!

Take a tour of a now-defunct coal mine

Headlamp casting a shadow on the mine's interior
Interior of the Gruve 3 Mine
  • When: All winter

Svalbard is slowly trying to shift away from its mining roots, with the last mine in Longyearbyen planned to close in 2025. But it still values its mining history, as the Arctic island shifts more towards tourism instead of mining as a sustainable economy for the future.

You can visit a former mine, Gruve 3, which was shut down in 1993. This mine is located on the outskirts of Longyearbyen on a Gruve 3 Mine Tour near the Global Seed Vault.

The tour lasts about 3 hours and includes transportation and a full guided tour including equipment like coveralls, headlamp, and helmet. Just be sure to dress warmly as it is very cold in the mine in the winter!

Book your Gruve 3 Mine tour here!

Go on a polar night ATV ride

people on quad bikes under the polar night in svalbard
Photo Credit: Manawa via Svalbard Adventures
  • When: November

There’s a brief period of time during polar night when there’s no daylight but there’s also not enough snow to safely snowmobile around Longyearbyen.

Luckily, no one in Svalbard just sits on a problem without trying to solve it: this is a hardy Arctic community where people come up with solutions, not complaints.

If you happen to plan your Svalbard trip for November, you can go on an ATV ride in search of the Northern lights, checking out frozen ice formations and other cool sights under the polar night sky.

This is the same tour company I did my Northern lights snowmobile tour with and I can highly recommend them if you arrive in Svalbard before snowmobile season starts.

Where to Stay in Svalbard

Hotel in Svalbard the Hotell Svalbard Polfaren in the downtown area of Longyearbyen with white bed with yellow bedding and pillows

During my trip to Svalbard we stayed at the charming Svalbard Hotell Polfaren, which had spacious rooms and a really cozy lobby with a fireplace roaring at all times and 24/7 free coffee, which I appreciated in the darkness of winter.

It’s a great mid-range option with prices right smack-dab in the middle of what’s normal for Svalbard. In off-season we paid about $180 USD per night for a double room; in high season, expect to pay more like $250-300 USD a night.

If Polfaren is booked up, there’s also The Vault, another branch of the Hotell Svalbard, located right across the street and offering all the same amenities.

For a slightly nicer option, Funken Lodge is a gorgeous boutique hotel locate just a short walk from downtown.

The rooms are more modern and stylish, but it’s not that much more expensive than other offerings, typically around $250-300 USD per night. It’s also home to one of the best restaurants in Svalbard!

If you’re trying to stick to a budget in Svalbard, it’s not easy… but there are some more affordable accommodation choices, like Coal Miners Cabins, where private rooms with a shared bathroom start around $100 USD per night.

Winter Festivals and Events in Svalbard

Avalanche fencing on the mountain and small houses with cozy warm glows in lights coming off the houses
Charming festive lights during the winter season in Longyearbyen

There are a number of winter festivals and fun events in Longyearbyen to make the long, cold winter just a little more pleasant.

The dates change every year and aren’t yet determined for the 2024-2025 season, but the approximate timeframe should remain the same, so I’ll just give an outline for when you might expect them to occur.

  • October: Taste Svalbard food festival in the beginning of the month, Dark Season Blues Festival at the end of the month
  • November: Christmas Hotel at Basecamp Explorer reopens mid-month
  • December: Torchlit walk to “Santa’s Mine” and lighting of the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent
  • February: Polarjazz Festival at the beginning of the month, Arctic Chamber Music Festival at the end of the month
  • March: Sun Festival Week is the first week of March every year as the sun returns to Longyearbyen
  • April: Svalbard Ski Marathon occurs around mid-month, close to the midnight sun’s return

What to Wear in Svalbard in Winter

All suited up in my winter snowsuit!
When in doubt… throw on a polar suit from one of your tours!

This post is already so long so instead of going into a huge amount of detail, I’m going to refer you to my Svalbard packing list post here. But here’s a quick bullet point list of what an average “Svalbard winter outfit” should entail!

  • Very warm, waterproof parka
  • Wool base layers
  • Waterproof pants or ski pants
  • Wool sweaters
  • Neck gaiter and/or scarves
  • Warm hat
  • Wool socks
  • Snowboots
  • Mittens and photography gloves

Lapland Souvenirs: 12 Thoughtful & Unique Gifts from Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland is a region of untamed beauty, one that’s a bucket list wish for many people. 

The magic of life above the Arctic Circle is hard to express, especially its pristine landscapes and dazzling Northern lights displays.

Getting here is a trek, but it’s worth the effort, and many travelers don’t want to end their trip to Finnish Lapland without some mementos from their time in Finland. 

That leaves many travelers to Arctic Finland wondering: what even are some good Lapland souvenirs?

Whether you’re shopping for yourself to keep the memory of the Arctic alive or you’re bringing a slice of Lappish tradition back home to loved ones who couldn’t join you, this guide to Lapland souvenirs and gifts will be a good starting point. 

souvenirs for sale in santa claus village in finland
Christmas souvenirs from Santa Claus Village

This guide goes beyond fridge magnets and postcards: it draws inspiration for meaningful gifts from Finland that go beyond the conventional.

This Lapland souvenir guide is focused on highlighting items that embody the sustainability, craftsmanship, and traditions of Lapland, including products that are eco-conscious, Nordic inspired, and influenced by the Sámi culture of the northernmost reaches of Europe.

You can find these gifts in downtown Rovaniemi, in many boutiques and shops in ski resort towns like Ruka and Levi, and even the Rovaniemi airport is a surprisingly great place to souvenir shop!

Sámi handicrafts

a pair of handcrafted sami reindeer shoes with traditional sami crafting and embroidery and sewing

Duodji is the word for Sámi artisan crafts made in traditional ways by the indigenous Sámi people.

The crafts are regulated in Finland, so that only items marked Sámi Duodji (fully handmade by Sámi artists) or Sámi Made (designed by a Sámi artist, but not necessarily traditionally made) are authentic.

Unfortunately a lot of cheap manufacturers have ripped off Sámi intellectual property designs and stripped them of their meaning, as some Sámi clothing has very special significance specific to a family, area of origin, etc.

If you want to buy Sámi designs and ensure you are appreciating the culture rather than appropriating it, look for items marked either Sámi Made or Sámi Duodji.

Sámi designs include embroidered ribbon work, reindeer-hide shoes, and more.

To get an idea of what Sámi crafts look like, you can check them out here, but buying these online will be a lot more expensive than buying them from a Sámi artist in Finland.

Reindeer-based snacks

Cans of fish and reindeer pates and jerkys

One of the most quintessential ingredients in Finnish cuisine is reindeer… yes, really.

While you can’t exactly bring back a perfectly-cooked reindeer steak, you can likely bring home a little Lappish reindeer in a more, uh, travel-friendly format.

At the smallest of grocery stores and even at the airport, you can buy reindeer-based meat products, like reindeer pâté and reindeer jerky.

Depending on what country you are going to, these travel well and don’t need to be refrigerated for transit!

However, if you are traveling overseas on your way back from your Lapland adventure, you may not be able to bring meat products back through customs.

Keep this in mind if your country is particularly strict about these things!

Reindeer pelt rugs

a stack of reindeer pelts for sale at the airport in rovaniemi for 200 euro apiece

The Sámi people, who both historically and in present-day make a living off of reindeer husbandry, don’t waste any part of the animal.

Their reindeer pelts are proof of this important ethos, which is about taking no more than you need from the land.

Reindeer have been domesticated by the Sámi people in Northern Finland (and Sweden and Norway and the Kola Peninsula too) for thousands of years.

Despite the rugged conditions of life in the Arctic, reindeer are easy to raise sustainably, living nomadically and naturally outdoors while being herded by their Sámi guardians.

While it may seem like an unusual choice of meat, reindeer is one of the most commonly eaten meats in Finland and particularly in Lapland because it’s incredibly sustainable. 

Since reindeer is eaten so often, it’s not surprising that reindeer pelts are a natural byproduct of that — and you can buy a gorgeous reindeer pelt at all sorts of shops and also the airport!

For a reference on price, as of February 2024, a small area rug made from a single reindeer pelt typically costs between 150 and 200 euro.

Christmas ornaments

cute reindeer christmas ornaments in the shape of a ball with a smiling reindeer

Since Rovaniemi is home to Santa Claus Village, it’s not surprising that a lot of Lapland souvenirs are focused on the Christmas season.

If you’re visiting after the Christmas holidays (as I did, since my last visit was in January and February), don’t worry — it’s always Christmas in Santa Claus Village.

All throughout SCV, downtown Rovaniemi, and other Finnish Lapland towns, you’ll find adorable Lappish-themed ornaments.

These are great to put on your tree this year and for many years to come, always evoking the memory of Lapland in winter!

Camping cups

Camping cups made of metal with painted colors of blue, red, and text that reads santa claus holiday village

One of the most popular souvenirs in Nordics are metal cups that are perfect for camping and backpacking. 

These cups are extremely durable, making them easy to toss in a bag or clip on the outside of a backpack.

As a bonus, they’re not just functional, they’re often quite cute: Nordic design is top-notch!

Finnish wooden cups (Kuksa)

Allison Green's hand holding a kuksa, a traditional cup from Finland made of birch burl

For a more Finland-specific souvenir, there is a unique kind of cup that is made from birch burl, called kuksa when they’re turned into cups.

Essentially, a burl (a large mass) on a birch tree is cut off, which doesn’t harm the tree at all.

This knot grows in a circular fashion, with lots of pulpy fibers.

Rather than carving the cup with a knife and disrupt the natural layers, fibers, and structure of the knot, the cup is hand-“carved”.

This is done by removing strand by strand of pulp until only a bowl or cup remains. You can read more about the process here.

This takes a lot of work and can only be done by hand, so expect these cups to cost upwards of 50 euro per cup, and sometimes closer to 100 euro. 

There are cheaper versions that sell for around 20 euro per cup which look similar but don’t have the same design process or durability.

These are a good compromise if you want the aesthetic, but just be aware that they are made of wood composite and aren’t traditional Finnish souvenirs but rather a product of the modern era.

If your budget allows and this is the kind of item you want to buy, I recommend buying an authentic kuksa from a birch burl to support this ongoing tradition.

Handicrafts are always an endangered custom in our modern time, which focuses on quantity and “value” over durability and tradition.

When possible, support an authentic craft!

Wool garments

Wool socks in Lapland in a variety of colors: black with stripes, blue, brown, and olive green.

Wool is the only way to get through a Finnish winter… trust me! 

Honestly, I resisted wool for the longest time as I found it quite itchy, especially since I am neurodivergent, and sensory sensitivity is a large part of my disabilities.

But what I never learned was how to properly layer wool: the softest and finest knit possible on the bottom layer, and then you have a nice barrier for more thick-knit wools.

I only wear Kari Traa merino wool base layers. These also make fantastic gifts from Lapland!

Technically, they’re a Norwegian brand, but the love for Kari Traa is pan-Nordic: you’ll find them in plenty of stores in Lapland like Intersport, often on sale in January and onwards!

But wool base layers aren’t the most exciting gift from Lapland, I’ll admit… even if they may be absurdly practical.

For a more traditional Lapland gift, you can get really cute, thick wool garments like socks, scarves, mittens (so much warmer than gloves!), and even thick wooly sweaters if the budget allows.

Finnish teas

A selection of finnish teas utilizing arctic ingredients

The Finns love drinking coffee and tea… and let’s be real.

How else are you going to get through an Arctic winter, which can have as little as literally zero hours of daylight per day in some parts of Northern Finland?

While Finland loves its coffee, it imports virtually all of it, and while there are roasteries (with some especially lovely ones in Lahti), that’s not really a typically Finnish gift.

Instead, I’d suggest bringing home some of the unique Finnish teas, which focus on ingredients loved in Finland, like cloudberry, sea buckthorn, spruce, cranberry, and blueberry!

Antler candle holders

antler shaped candle holder in finland gift shop

Another Northern Nordic design element that is quite popular is utilizing antlers in decor.

One affordable and portable example perfect for a souvenir from Lapland are things like these cute antler candle holders that are a perfect centerpiece for a table.

Using reindeer antlers in decor is part of the Sámi and Finnish dedication to respecting the life of the animal by finding a use for every part of it. 

That said, some of these antlers are recovered from reindeer who have just shed their antlers on the ground, so it’s not necessarily an animal byproduct in the same way that reindeer pelts are.

Moomin souvenirs

moomin bear-like figure magnets and other memorabilia

The popular children’s cartoon, Moomin, is a major point of Finnish national pride.

In fact, there’s even an entire Moomin Museum in Tampere dedicated to this beloved animated figure! 

You can buy all sorts of cute Moomin figurines, magnets, and other souvenirs — a perfect Lapland souvenir for kiddos, and one that is quintessentially Finnish.

Reindeer leather products

lapland famous for reindeer products like reindeer leather, a blue wallet being shown

Another reindeer item?

Well, it may seem like overkill but this shows just how essential reindeer are to Finnish life, and how little waste happens with traditional artistry of the region.

While some reindeer skins are turned to pelts, others are turned into leather, dyed, and turned into wallets and other leather goods.

Nordic skincare

a stand for lumene skincare, a finnish skin and beauty brand, with arctic skincare ingredients

The Nordic region has great skincare brands, some of which you’re probably already familiar with from back home, like Ole Henriksen.

Look for unique brands that you can only find in Finland, like Lumene, which incorporate traditional, sustainable Finnish and Nordic skincare products that aren’t often found in other brands.

Some products in this vein would be their Nordic-C Arctic Berry Oil, a vegan serum made with cloudberries, cranberries, and lingonberries: packed with antioxidants and vitamin C!

Since Arctic conditions can be really hard on your skin (it’s especially dry here), Nordic skincare brands really deliver!

Renting a Car in Sicily: 21 Helpful Tips From an Italian Local (2024)

Woman enjoying a drive in a cute blue car overlooking a gorgeous Sicilian town at sunset

While traveling light and relying on a combination of public transit and walking can be incredible, nothing can truly compare to the joy of getting out on the open road.

There’s something that’s just so freeing about having your own set of wheels, and renting a car in Sicily is the best way to explore all the nooks and crannies of this beautiful island.

Just picture it: windows down for a nice sea breeze, your favorite tunes playing, and gorgeous Mediterranean coastal views as far as the eye can see. Sounds like a dream? Maybe, but it’s easily achieved!

With the freedom that comes with renting a car in Sicily, the entire island will be yours to explore! 

You’ll get to stop at picturesque little towns for an espresso or a gelato, pull off the road to admire breathtaking views, even stretch your legs with a walk along gorgeous Mediterranean beaches.

A beautiful coastline near Palermo, Italy best accessed if you are renting a car in Italy. Boat, mountain landscape, teal and dark blue sea.
You can reach way more of Sicily’s beaches by car!

So, you’re probably convinced by now that a road trip is the perfect way to explore Sicily, but there’s a few caveats we should go over first. 

Perusing your options for renting a car in Sicily only takes a few minutes, but the tips and tricks in this guide will help you make the right choice and avoid any logistical headaches or last-minute complications!

First of all, who to rent with? I always pick Discover Cars to search for the best deal for multiple reasons.

🚗 Best Sicily Rental Car Prices: Discover Cars

This search engine not only looks at the typical rental car agencies (which can be $$$), it also looks at local, small Sicilian agencies that may offer better deals. Their pricing is straightforward (no bait-and-switches) and they offer free cancellation if you need it.

Check rental prices in Sicily with Discover Cars here!

Over the 16 years or so that I lived in Italy, I took two incredible trips to the island of Sicily, mostly by car, which left me with some of my absolute favorite memories of my extended time in Italy.

Without a doubt, the island is one of the most picturesque regions in all of Italy (and that’s saying something!) and one that is worth exploring by car, which sets it apart from other places like Rome or Venice, which are better enjoyed on foot. 

So, without any further ado, here’s everything you need to know about rental cars in Sicily, plus tips for enjoying a Sicilian road trip beyond your wildest dreams. 

Quick Facts About Sicily

Aerial view of a beach near Palermo, Italy, which shows a beautiful turquoise shallow wading area and darker waters, as well as a pier stretching out from the ocean. The photo is taken from an aerial angle, perhaps from a drone or from a plane, and you can see the city below it.
The views flying into Palermo airport are stunning!

Okay, so maybe there’s a little more ado before we get into the specifics of renting a car in Sicily, but trust me, this is interesting stuff worth knowing!

Sicily is Italy’s largest island, covering an area of more than 25,000 square kilometers (nearly 10,000 square miles). The island counts over 5 million inhabitants and is one of Italy’s autonomous regions.

Sicily is located just off the tip of Italy’s boot, separated from the peninsula by the narrow Strait of Messina.

The capital of Sicily is Palermo, while other major cities include Messina, Catania, Siracusa, and Marsala.

the downtown area of palermo sicily the capital of the island with palm tree and ornate architecture and cloudy sky
The downtown area of Palermo is known for its stunning architecture

Historically, Sicily was the site of several invasions, all of which have left marks you can see to this day. 

To name a few, Germanic, Byzantine, Arab, and Norman conquests took place between the 5th and the 12th centuries.

All of these different influences on Sicily led to the great variety of architectural styles you can still admire in many Sicilian towns.

The Mediterranean island is home to several famous attractions, including (but certainly not limited to!) the Etna volcano near Taormina and Catania, several archaeological sites, multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites, spectacular beaches, and beautiful towns. 

Last, but most certainly not least, Sicily is known for its delicious cuisine, from tasty local pasta dishes to decadent desserts!

Should You Rent a Car to Visit Sicily?

A small traditional car in Sicily, Italy, a red small four person car in a vintage style parked on a street.
Renting a car in Sicily is practically a must to best enjoy the island!

If you’ve read this far, you can probably tell that my answer is going to be a resounding “yes”. 

If you want to truly experience the wide variety of landscapes, charming seaside towns, and spectacular beaches along the Sicilian coasts, renting a car in Sicily is the way to go. 

Nothing else will give you the same flexibility in getting around and reaching even the most remote places.

With that said, even I have to admit, if you only plan on visiting one or two big cities, like Palermo and Messina, then booking a car rental in Sicily is not necessary. 

In fact, if you’re only visiting one or maybe two cities, you should avoid renting a car to get around the cities. 

Between searching for parking spots, dealing with restricted traffic areas, and lots of traffic, you’ll just end up stressed out – not the Sicilian vacation vibe we’re hoping for!

Roads in Sicily

Be aware of the various road conditions in Sicily!

Aerial view of several different motorways in Sicily, some going through mountains via tunnels, and view of the beach and Sicilian landscape alongside the motorways.
The roads in Sicily are generally good, especially on the motorway (autostrada).

The first thing you’ll want to note when preparing to drive in Sicily is the types of roads you’ll be driving on!

Unlike the peninsula, Sicily is only partially connected via motorway. You will likely not drive along motorways a lot unless you want to get straight from Palermo to Catania, for instance.

Instead, you’ll mostly drive on small, toll-free roads.

Driving along scenic routes in Sicily usually means the roads are smaller and can get crowded at certain times. 

On these roads, the speed limit is also lower, so you may take a long time to get from one place to another.

The biggest headache about driving in Sicily is its traffic.

Heavy traffic in Sicily. You can see a row of cars on the Via Roma in Palermo, Sicily. View is from looking from above, just next to the San Domenico church in the heart of the city.
Don’t get stuck in heavy traffic in Sicily’s cities if you can help it!

That being said, roads are mostly in good condition unless you get really off the beaten track.

In most cases, the only thing you may need to worry about when it comes to driving in Sicily is traffic, especially during the summer months. 

But hey, you’re on vacation, so where’s the rush? Just bring a good road trip playlist and settle in for a gorgeous drive.

With confidence and patience, you’ll make your way around the beautiful island without problems.

Where to Rent a Car in Sicily

Use a car rental search engine to find the best price.

Woman enjoying a drive in a cute blue car overlooking a gorgeous Sicilian town at sunset
Rent a car through an affordable, reputable company and breathe easy.

I don’t recommend going based on blind brand loyalty when it comes to booking your Sicilian car rental.

I’ve had awful experiences with seemingly reputable car agencies abroad (I’m looking at you, Hertz, and the one time I racked up $150 in BS fees while renting a car in Northern Italy).

I now always use Discover Cars to both 1) find the best price for my rental and 2) compare that to the recent reviews to ensure no travelers have had recent issues with that company.

Plus, their full coverage insurance is the most inexpensive around, costing around $7 per day for smaller rentals.

And as we’ll go into below, your rental price in Sicily does not include full coverage, just a collision damage waiver — which isn’t sufficient coverage in case anything goes awry.

Discover Cars has rentals available all over Sicily, so it’s easy to compare prices and find the best deal around.

Airports almost always offer the best deals on your Sicily car rental.

Catania Airport, in Sicily, seen with Mount Etna in the far distance, behind, on a clear day with just a few clouds in the sky. You can see the runway, a few cars and trucks, people, and air traffic controller, and then the city center in the background.
Renting a car at Catania Airport (above) or Palermo Airport offer the best value

The most common places to rent a car in Sicily are the main airports of Palermo and Catania. 

Airport rentals are the most convenient option, not just because you get to pick up your car as soon as you arrive, but also because they have the lowest prices.

Many people choose to start by renting a car in Palermo, because it’s one of the largest airports in Sicily.

However, renting a car in Catania (which also has an international airport) is a close second.

However, you can also rent a car in many towns and cities of Sicily.

The beautiful checkered piazza ground in the city center of Taormina, with old tower, church, and hills in the background.
Generally, renting a car in smaller destinations like Taormina is more expensive.

You can also find car rentals in many cities across the island, but you’ll pay more for it.

The trade-off in price may be work out to be in your favor if you only want to rent a car in Sicily for a portion of your vacation.

In places like Trapani, Cefalù, Messina, Taormina, or Ragusa, you should have no problem finding car rentals within the cities, but be warned!

Prices here are a fair bit higher than renting a car from one of the airports, so expect to pay more.

That said, if you’re planning a city-heavy itinerary, like spending 3 days in Palermo or 2 days in Catania, renting a car won’t really make sense in those destinations.

In that case, it may be better to rent your car at the end of your city break before you go explore a more remote corner of the island.

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in Sicily?

The cost of a car rental in Sicily depends on seasonality and location.

Beautiful beach near Palermo with dressing chambers and blue chairs with yellow umbrellas on a clear day. No one is on the beach yet so it has a peaceful atmosphere.
Car rental prices are highest in July and August, when everyone rushes Sicily’s beaches!

Renting a car in Sicily can be relatively inexpensive in the low season, but prices jump up a bit during the peak season rush of summer. 

Even so, if you book far enough in advance, you can find deals as low as $35 per day when renting a car at the airport.

That price includes basic collision liability, doesn’t include full coverage rental insurance though, which you should definitely consider.

When booking through Discover Cars, full coverage can cost under $7 per day — not bad for peace of mind, and a way better price than you’d get at an airport rental counter.

Also be sure to book at the airport vs. the city center whenever possible to help you save money on your Sicily car rental.

There’s a serious premium on rental fees from the city center – just as an example, renting from Palermo city center instead of Punta Raisi airport can cost you up to an extra $100 daily, and other cities are similar! 

Booking your rental car early can help lock in better rates.

Road surrounded by green trees and plants with cars driving in Taormina, Sicily, with just a few other cars on the road on a cloudy day
Renting your car early will save you money! Just make sure you have free cancellation.

Bargain hunters, take note! Booking well ahead of your trip can be a great way to lock in lower fares, and many rental services even offer free cancellations, so go ahead and book early.

Of course, no matter what you do, renting a car in July or August will always cost more than booking a car hire in March or November.

One more note on cost: as you might expect, your rental rates won’t include gas money, so be aware that recent fuel price increases have made it a bit more expensive to fill your tank. 

Tips for Renting a Car in Sicily

The process of renting a car in Sicily is pretty similar to the rest of Italy, or even other countries in Europe or the US.

However, here are a few tips specific to the Sicilian car rental process to have a smooth experience.

Get full coverage insurance for peace of mind.

Two men discussing car insurance after an accident where a white car shows mild damage to the front of the car.
Let’s hope you don’t need to use it, but having full coverage is highly recommended.

Car insurance, specifically Collision Damage Waiver, is mandatory by law in Italy.

When looking at car rental prices in Sicily, you’ll notice that this insurance is included in all car rentals by default. 

On top of this, you really ought to get full coverage insurance, which we highly recommend.

It’s only a few bucks more per day, but it covers anything from deductibles to towing expenses and major repair costs.

When I book my rentals with Discover Cars, I find that full coverage only typically costs me just under $7 per day — a small price to pay to be anxiety-free, in my book.

If you ask me, even though it’s a little more money, getting full coverage is so worth it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve got full protection in the unfortunate event of an accident. 

I’ve dealt with situations in the past where I got a flat tire, had my rental car keyed, etc. — having full coverage has always been useful because these are the little things that are a lot more likely to happen to you than a full-on collision.

Have all the necessary documents – especially your international driving permit!

Car keys on top of a pamphlet that says international driving permit
In addition to your license, you need an IDP to drive in Sicily!

Before you even board your flight to Sicily, check that you have all the necessary documents. 

To rent a car in Sicily, you will need your driving license, an international driving permit, a credit card (not just a debit card!), and your passport.

Make sure all your documents are current and won’t expire soon, and don’t forget to get an international driving permit (IDP) in your home country before traveling if that’s needed.

You will want to check on whether or not you need an IDP based on what country your license originates from. If you’re from the EU, you’re in the clear, but most other countries require it.

If you’re from the USA, you can do this at an AAA location or online, and it costs about $20 USD plus any passport photo fees.

This is something that Italy requires that many European countries do not, so be aware of this! 

While it is not 100% consistent that you will be asked for your IDP at the car rental counter, you can incur a large fine if you are pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint and you do not have one.

Choose the right transmission type.

Someone's hand on an automatic transmission car changing gears into drive.
Only drive automatic? You’ll be fine, but make sure you book in advance (and check you don’t book a manual!)

If you know how to drive a stick, you’re in luck! 

In Italy, manual transmission is still the most common type, which means it’ll even be a little cheaper when renting, so pay attention to this when you are picking out your car. 

This can sometimes sneak up on you – when Allison was renting a car in Tahiti, she forgot to check that her car would be automatic – luckily, she snagged the last automatic car available, though at a premium!

Don’t worry though, if you’re like me and a little (or a lot) unused to driving stick, automatic transmissions will still be available for rentals!

Just be sure to book in advance, especially if you want to drive in Sicily during high season.

Luckily, the car rental search engine we recommend, Discover Cars, has a generous cancellation policy (typically allowed within 2 days of arrival), so you can book early, lock in a good rate, and make any necessary changes along the way.

Choose the right car size.

A person's hands holding the steering wheel while driving in Sicily near a giant aqueduct type structure
Sicily’s roads are narrow, so small cars reign supreme here!

When it comes to driving in Sicily, size matters.

If you’re coming from the US, this might come as a bit of a shock, but overall, cars in Europe are smaller (and so are the roads, and parking spaces, and basically everything).

Like, way smaller. This is the continent that birthed the SmartCar, after all!

If you travel with a lot of luggage, be sure to check out the specifications before choosing your rental to make sure you’ll have enough room to fit everything and everyone. 

Fair warning, though; renting a large car is definitely not ideal for driving in Sicily. Let me explain a bit more.

If you want to see picturesque little villages and charming beaches near Catania, Taormina, etc., you have to take scenic routes. Some of these roads are narrow and parking can be harder to find. 

So if you can avoid it (i.e. you don’t have too much luggage and are not traveling with a large family or a family with really young kids), renting an SUV is a bad idea in Sicily.

Lastly, pay attention to the number of passengers allowed in your rental car.

Some small cars can only take a maximum of four people, whereas most car rentals in the US can take five, so don’t let this catch you off-guard!

Be careful when you choose your pick-up and drop-off locations!

The old town of Palermo with a historic building in the city center
Whenever possible, try to rent and return your car at the same place!

It’s always cheaper to pick up and drop off your rental car at the same location, but that’s not always the most convenient.

If you don’t want to do a circular itinerary like this 4 day Sicily itinerary based in Palermo, you can drop the car off in a different location, as long as you’re willing and able to pay an extra fee.

If you want to rent your car in mainland Italy, you’ll have to check in advance whether you can drive it to Sicily.

Most car rentals will not let you take the car on the ferry crossing to Sicily, which can be a headache.

If that’s the case, your best option is to rent a car in Messina when you arrive in Sicily.

Likewise, if you rent your car in Sicily and want to cross over to the Italian mainland, you need to make sure the rental company allows this. 

You may have to return your car and then book a separate rental for driving in other Italian regions. Bureaucracy, am I right?

Have cash for fuel, tolls, etc.

10 euro note, 2 20 euro notes, a 5 euro note and several euro coins.
Always have some euros on you in case your cards don’t work!

Most gas stations will allow you to pay by card, but you should always carry some cash just in case. 

If your credit card is not accepted or the card payment system is simply out of service (as has happened to me!), you don’t want to be stuck with an empty tank, so make sure you withdraw some euros for emergencies.

You’ll never be sad about having an extra 20 or 40 euro on hand in case things go awry.

Important Driving Rules in Sicily

Driving in Sicily isn’t particularly complicated, as long as you are aware of a few specific rules. 

Generally speaking, you should not have any trouble, especially if you come from any other country where you drive on the right side of the road.

To help you avoid the most common mistakes travelers make when renting a car in Sicily, here are a few important driving rules and laws you must be aware of.

Beware of Limited Traffic Areas (ZTLs)

Restricted traffic zone road sign in Italy for the historic center of Treviso, sign reads "ZTL attiva" "zona traffico limitato"
Example of a ZTL sign and ‘attiva’ status from another city in Italy

Ah, the ZTL, the foreign traveler’s number one nemesis.

One thing that often gets tourists in trouble when driving anywhere in Italy, including Sicily, is passing through the so-called ZTL. 

The acronym stands for Zona Traffico Limitato and means limited traffic area.

These areas are usually within the historical centers and limit through-traffic to local residents only.

ZTL are not always active, which can make things trickier.

However, you will always see a sign where a ZTL starts stating whether or not it is active. 

If you see “ZTL Attiva,” you’ll have to find another way around.

If the sign says “ZTL Non Attiva,” you’re good to go.

Always double check the signs, and be warned: your GPS or Google Maps might be helpful tools, but even they may try to lead you through areas with a ZTL, so don’t follow them blindly… or you may end up with hefty fees!

Many of these ZTLs are patrolled by camera, so you may end up with a surprise ticket in your inbox, even months after returning your rental car! 

Parking can be quite difficult in the cities.

Steep paved town street at Catania with cars, Sicily, showing the difficulty of parking with many cars already parked in the limited parking spots available.
While generally renting a car is helpful, it can be a headache in cities

Another thing you need to watch out for when driving in Sicily is parking.

Let me start off by saying that finding parking in the biggest cities, especially in the city center, can be tricky (which might even be a bit of an understatement – Herculean feat may be a bit hyperbolic, but it feels more accurate)

Whenever possible, try to park a bit outside of the center and walk.

Lucky for you, Sicily’s got enough beautiful scenery to make the walk a pleasant one!

Look down: the colors of the parking lot lines show whether they’re paid or free.

As a rule, blue parking spots have a fee, white ones are free, and yellow ones are reserved for disabled people or unloading only. 

You’ll find machines where you can pay for parking within a few meters, but you’ll need to carry coins for these (to reiterate our driving tip about always carrying cash above).

As an easier option, you can download the EasyPark app before you arrive in Italy so that you can pay with your phone. 

If you see no line, check for signs around, but make sure you never park in front of a “passo carrabile,” or you’ll get a fine.

These are clearly marked on the gates or doors and are common for garages.

Be aware of road tolls.

Cars making their way to different lanes at a toll booth area before the autostrada in Catania, Italy, with Mt. Etna visible in the background on a clear day.
A toll booth for the autostrada near Catania — you’d want to avoid the yellow lanes!

While many Sicilian roads are free to drive on, you’ll have to pay tolls when driving on the large motorway. But how to spot one?

You can easily recognize motorways as they are signaled with the letter A (abbreviated for Autostrada), and the signs are on a green background.

You’ll always pass through toll booths to access the motorway, and this is where you need to pay attention.

You’ll notice a few different booths with different payment methods, so be sure to follow the signs.

The yellow sign reading Telepass is for people who have the Telepass system in their cars.

If you have a Telepass, the system allows you to drive right through the booth while paying the toll directly from a bank or credit card. 

If you don’t have the Telepass system, you won’t be able to drive through these booths… at least not without getting fined!

As a general rule, if you’re a tourist, avoid the Telepass lanes like the plague!

The other booths allow you to grab a ticket and pay by card or cash.

The way this works is that you pay by the distance you drive.

You always take a ticket when entering the highway, which you will need to present at the exit booth to pay the corresponding amount.

You can usually pay by card at most toll booths, but some may only take cash, so always bring some change. 

Exact change is best, so keep a varied selection of some euro coins on hand, too!

Most toll booths are automatic, but you may occasionally find manned booths.

Always adhere to speed limits

Sign warning about icy roads with a speed limit of 30 km per hour in Italy
Example of a speed limit sign in Italy

This one’s probably obvious, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. 

Respecting speed limits will spare you a lot of headache and some hefty fines, so always check to make sure you’re driving under the posted limit. 

As a general rule, the maximum speed is 130 km/hr on the toll motorway, 110 km/hr on the slightly smaller highway, 90 km/hr on regular roads outside inhabited areas, and 50 km/hr inside inhabited areas. 

However, always check posted signs, as they may differ slightly in certain areas, or there may be a speed trap where things slow down momentarily (such as when driving through a town) before speeding back up.

Aside from sticking to the speed limits, you must be aware of speed cameras which can fine you automatically.

In Italian, these are called autovelox and are always signaled several meters in advance.

Never drink and drive. 

Sicilian vineyards with Etna volcano eruption at background in Sicily, Italy. Rural Sicilian landscape
Visiting Sicily’s vineyards? Great. Driving impaired? Not cool.

Lastly, this should also go without saying, but don’t (seriously, don’t) drink and drive.

Keep in mind that the legal alcohol limit for driving in Italy is 0.05%, which corresponds to one or two glasses of wine — but exactly how much depends on a variety of factors.

Note that for Americans, this alcohol limit is even stricter than it is back home, where the legal limit for your BAC (blood alcohol content) is 0.08%!

Your blood alcohol level depends on many factors, from the type of drink, size of the drink, time you wait between or after a drink, and whether you drink on an empty stomach — just to name a few.

To stay within the limit and be safe, avoid alcohol entirely or stick to just one glass of wine with your meal. 

After all, if you are an oenophile — amateur or advanced — you can’t travel to Italy without trying the local wine.

Plus, Sicily is known for its wines, such as the famous Nero d’Avola and the fantastic wines of the Etna region.

Just make sure you factor in a nice, leisurely break after having a drink, perhaps taking a long stroll to sober you up a bit before getting back in your rental car, for everyone’s safety!

Navigating the roads can be somewhat tricky.

A blank phone in a a cell phone holder in a car, showing the intent to navigate

Unless you’re one of those lucky travelers blessed with a supernatural ability to find your way around (seriously, I’m jealous), you’ll probably need a little help, especially when visiting smaller towns on the island. 

The two most common options to get around are with a GPS in your car (which you should confirm when booking your rental car), or by using Google Maps or some other online map service on your phone.

If using Google Maps or something else like Maps.me, be sure to download the offline map for the region so that you won’t get turned around if you don’t have data and you make a wrong turn. 

However, don’t rely too heavily on these systems. While they are great to get you around, they can also get things wrong.

Always look at the signs and check whether it makes sense to follow the map or GPS. 

This is especially important when driving in the city, where you may come across limited traffic areas (ZTLs) and your GPS insists on forging ahead anyway.

Don’t blindly listen to it; always pay attention and follow what your eyes are telling you, not your GPS.

Best Time for a Road Trip in Sicily

There’s no bad time for a Sicily road trip.

very detailed ceiling of the monreale cathedral in the arab norman style
Winter trips to Sicily are great for culture: churches, ruins, museums, etc.

Great news! Sicily has pretty good weather year-round, so you really can’t go wrong here. 

What you do need to take into account is how crowded the island will be as well as what kind of weather you are hoping for. 

The peak season runs from mid-June through the beginning of September, so as you might expect, this is when renting a car (along with everything else) in Sicily is more expensive.

A road trip in Sicily in winter may not be the best for swimming and sunbathing, but it can be nice for a cultural trip based on sightseeing the cities, enjoying the local gastronomy, and visiting cute towns. 

The weather’s still pleasant enough to enjoy walking around, and you’ll have more places to yourself without all the summer tourists!

However, the shoulder season (spring and fall) are arguably the best of all worlds.

One of the beautiful beaches of Sicily with beach chairs out and turquoise sea
Places like Mondello near Palermo can be jam-packed in summer but lovely off-season.

For my money, though, the best combination of pleasant weather and fewer tourists is in early spring or late fall. 

Late March to mid-April and all of October are ideal months for a road trip to Sicily.

Once November rolls around, the weather starts to turn for the worse and many seasonal establishments close up shop or seriously reduce their hours until the spring season starts.

(Editor’s note: Take it from someone who planned a honeymoon to Puglia in November…)

Places To Discover on a Road Trip to Sicily

Renting a car in Sicily lets you get off the beaten path!

Mount Etna volcanic landscape with hidden cave on side crater with ash, stones and green patches of scrub, guided hiking tour on Etna, Sicily, Italy
You can visit Mt. Etna at your own pace if you rent your own car!

The best part of driving around Sicily is exploring places you’d never get to with public transportation. 

You can discover charming small towns like Sambuca di Sicilia, Niscemi, Scicli, Marzamemi, and Scopello.

Even better, renting a car in Sicily allows you to easily explore national parks and preserves, including the Etna National Park, Nebrodi National Park, and Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro. 

These are often hard to get to with public transit or require a pricy tour in the case of Etna.

Plus, it brings you to Sicily’s most remote beaches and towns

A stunning remote beach in Sicily at sunrise, with a white rental car at the edge of the road, as the sun sinks into the horizon with no one else around.
You can have beautiful places like Ognina Beach all to yourself!

Lastly, if you’re really looking to get away from it all, you can even discover hidden beaches and coves you’d never get to by bus.

(We’ve written about them in these posts about beaches near Taormina, beaches near Palermo, and beaches near Catania!).

It’ll also allow you to visit dozens of darling Sicilian beach towns that are otherwise a pain to get to by public transit.

***

If you were on the fence about renting a car in Sicily, I hope this guide gave you the information you needed to make your decision!

If you do decide to rent a car, do your research!

Be sure to read the most recent reviews of the rental car agencies you’re looking at (luckily, Discover Cars makes this easy) and opt for full coverage for extra peace of mind.

However you choose to do it, a trip to Sicily is the experience of a lifetime!

Renting a Car in Portugal: 13 Tips From Someone Who Lived There! [2024]

road with two little tuktuks on it while driving in portugal

Exploring Portugal on a road trip is one of the best ways to discover the country and reach remote places you wouldn’t otherwise visit.

Despite its small size, Portugal overdelivers everywhere: stunning coastal and mountainous landscapes, cities out of a storybook, and picturesque villages tucked away and seemingly untouched by time.

Since I lived in in Portugal for over two years, that gave me the chance to to explore the majority of the country.

I really enjoyed taking weekend trips from the big cities like Lisbon (where I lived) and Porto to explore pristine Algarve beach towns and tiny Central Portugal villages that few tourists get to see unless they have as much time as I did there to explore.

The beach of Praia de Rocha with sandy white beach and cliffs and stunning ocean views

Since I lived in Lisbon, owning a car didn’t make sense (can you imagine parking in that city, on those hills? No thanks!) — so I frequently rented cars there (which is how this guide to renting a car in Portugal was born!).

However, when it came to exploring the coast up to Porto and down to the Algarve, as well as more remote parts of Portugal, renting a car was absolutely necessary.

So that’s why I’m here to share what I’ve learned with you!

This guide will cover everything you need to know before renting a car in Portugal, from important driving rules to car rental tips.

Plus, as a bonus insider tip, I’ll share some of the places you really shouldn’t miss on a road trip around Portugal that most people keep secret!

This post was written by Roxana, a Romanian-born travel writer who has also lived in Italy, Portugal, and Germany. She's sharing her knowledge of road tripping Portugal with us in this post. 

This post was last updated by Allison, the blog's founder and editor, in January 2024 to reflect the most up-to-date knowledge that also reflects her personal experience renting a car in Portugal's Azores Islands.

Should You Rent a Car in Portugal?

Curving road next to vineyards and houses on a sunny day in Portugal

Well, it depends on your overall Portugal travel plans and what places you want to visit.

Portugal’s main cities are well connected by public transport, so if your goal is to visit Lisbon, Porto, and a few other major cities, you can get around easily by bus or train — no rental car needed.

However, the historical villages of Central Portugal, the beaches on Alentejo’s coast, and even many places in the Algarve are easier to explore if you have a car.

Certain small villages are impossible to reach with public transport, despite being absolutely worth exploring.

Bottom line: if you want to get off the beaten track and discover authentic villages and spectacular natural landscapes in Portugal, you absolutely should rent a car.

Where to Rent a Car in Portugal

Views in Lisbon from one of the famous miradouros in town

You can rent a car in most big cities in Portugal, such as Lisbon, Porto, and several towns in the Algarve.

Airport rentals can be slightly cheaper, but overall, there isn’t much difference from city center rental agencies.

The three international airports are located in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro, and each are good hubs for renting a car when you start your Portugal trip.

Lisbon is by far the city with the most options for inbound flights and the most affordable prices in general for both flights and car rentals.

If you have multiple options, the easiest and most central location is to fly to Lisbon and rent your car there.

Ultimately, though, unless you want to rent a car last minute in summer, you won’t have any trouble finding rentals near any of the most important airports in Portugal.

Wherever you choose to rent your car, the best option is to book in advance.

Don’t wait to arrive at your destination and go straight to a car rental agency. Chances are, you’ll pay much more if you wait to the last minute!

Who to Rent with in Portugal

Aerial view of the road from above, ocean on one side, cars driving on a highway

When looking for a rental car in Portugal, I always use Discover Cars to search for the best deal for multiple reasons.

It’s easy to search, includes 500+ agencies (including smaller local ones, not just the pricey international ones), and is very clear about what the costs are, so there are no hidden fees or surprises.

You can also look at each individual’s agencies ratings, so you can avoid any company that has less-than-stellar reviews.

Plus, their cancellation policy is generous, so you can book in advance to lock in a good rate, and cancel or adjust if you end up needing to.

Tip: Make sure you book your rental in Portugal with full coverage insurance for peace of mind — it starts at only $7 per day, cheaper than you’d get at a rental agency!

🚗 Best Portugal Rental Car Prices: Discover Cars

This search engine not only looks at the typical rental car agencies (which can be $$$), it also looks at local, small Portuguese rental agencies that may offer better deals. Their pricing is straightforward (no bait-and-switches) and they offer free cancellation if you need it.

➜ Check rental prices in Portugal with Discover Cars here!

Tips for Renting a Car in Portugal

Renting a car in Portugal is a pretty simple process. If you have the necessary documentation, you won’t encounter any difficulties. 

Nevertheless, we want to make sure you have as easy a time as possible, so here are the most important things you need to be aware of.

Prepare the necessary documents.

An international driving permit and car keys

This might seem obvious, but make sure you have all the necessary documents for renting a car in Portugal before your trip.

The documents everyone needs to rent a car are a passport and a driving license. 

Additionally, you’ll need a debit or credit card. While most rental companies require a credit card, you may find a few local ones accepting debit cards, but it’s best to check ahead and confirm which you’ll need.

Lastly, check whether you need an international driving permit, abbreviated as IDP. 

Recently, Portugal has passed a law allowing citizens of multiple countries to drive just with their country’s driving permit.

These include the US, the United Kingdom, and most European countries. However, some travelers may still require an IDP.

Buy car insurance.

car insurance people singing documents by a car

All car rentals include the basic CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) policy. However, this often comes with a high deductible. 

You can purchase additional insurance to cover the car’s excess, theft protection, damage to mirrors, windows, and wheels, and any charges in case of breakdown or key loss.

The full protection is optional, but you should really consider buying it.

It’s so much easier to pay a little extra for peace of mind rather than risk paying the high deductible or cover for any charge, such as towing or key replacement.

Choose the right car type.

Person's hand on an automatic transmission car

The first thing you have to check when renting a car in Portugal is the transmission type. 

Manual transmission cars are the most popular and affordable option available.

If you’re not used to driving with a manual transmission, you may want to pay extra for the automatic one to make your life easier.

If you plan to spend any time driving within the cities, you’ll likely wind up driving uphill and through narrow streets quite often.

Having a car with automatic transmission can save you the stress of driving in hilly places like Lisbon and Porto.

Secondly, pick the right car size. Very often, a small car is a better option, which might be a bit of a surprise for American readers! 

As long as you’ve got enough space for all the passengers and your luggage, you don’t need a big car.

A smaller car will make driving in Portuguese towns and finding parking so much easier!

Choose where to pick up and drop off your car.

driving in a car in portugal, person with hat blurry passenger, lighthouse visible at the end of road

When renting a car in Portugal, the cheapest price will always be when you drop it off as the same place as where you picked it up…. otherwise, you’ll pay a (sometimes hefty) one-way rental fee.

Even after factoring in for the extra gas and tolls to drive back to the initial location, one-way rentals are usually a pretty bad deal.

However, for the most time-crunched of travelers, the convenience may outweigh the cost.

Luckily, since Portugal is such a small country, you can easily plan a road trip that starts where it ends.

Picking up your car in Lisbon is the most convenient idea to avoid this hassle.

Lisbon is very centrally located — 3 hours to the Algarve, 3 hours to Porto — so it’s not too much of a time suck to return your rental car in Lisbon in order to avoid this one-way charge.

➜ Check rental prices in Portugal with Discover Cars here!

Avoid driving in the big cities.

two red tuktuks juxta posed against a baby blue wall backdrop

The typical advice is to rent a car as soon as you get to the airport. After all, airports have the best deals right?

Well, yes and no. If you plan to spend some time in the city you’re flying into before starting your road trip — whether that’s Lisbon, Porto, or Faro — it’s actually probably a better idea to rent your car in the city center (or return to the airport to pick up your rental car).

Driving in Lisbon and Porto can get complicated quickly. With many uphill roads and narrow streets, driving is no fun.

Besides, both cities have very good public transport and cheap ride-hailing apps like Uber and Bolt, so you won’t really need the car until you get outside the city proper.

Always carry some cash

Euro money, bundle of euro banknotes fan and column of coins.

Whether you use it for tolls, parking, or gas, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on you.

While you can pay by card at most gas stations, you may occasionally find some that only accept Portuguese cards or have the card payment out of service.

The last thing you want is to find yourself stranded between destinations with no way to refuel your rental!

Use proper navigation tools.

map for navigating roads gps style

Google Maps and other navigation apps are usually accurate for directions around Portugal…

But problems can arise if the route takes you through an area with no service and then it tries to reroute you but has no data available.

Worse, sometimes the maps are a bit out of date.

One way to avoid getting lost driving in Portugal is to download an offline map that you can use even without service.

Another way is to have a backup paper map that you can consult in emergencies like running out of phone battery.

Lastly, always pay attention to road signs. Especially in cities, roads may change due to ongoing construction or other reasons.

Always follow traffic signs instead of relying on your GPS directions.

Rules & Tips for Driving in Portugal

Spain Crossing Border Portugal Sign Highway, one kilometer from the border of portugal on a road

Driving in Portugal is similar to most continental European countries — driving on the right side of the road, adhering to posted speed limits etc.

Even if you don’t read Portuguese, traffic signs are pretty straightforward, and the roads are mostly in good condition.

Generally, driving in Portugal’s cities and navigating tiny streets of its small towns can get a little more complicated compared to the highways.

That said, keep your wits about you and pay attention to all the street signs!

Still, there are a few important rules and tips to know when renting a car in Portugal.

If you keep these in mind, you’re practically guaranteed to have a smooth Portugal driving experience.

Parking

A closeup shot of a parking sign on a blue background with text on Portuguese in Lisbon, Portugal

Finding free parking in Portugal isn’t always easy.

Most parking spots are metered, so always check and pay for parking to avoid a fine.

You may want to know a few Portuguese words, such as the days of the week, to help you with street signs (e.g., the above says that parking only needs to be paid between Monday and Friday, from 9 AM to 7 PM).

If you do get a fine, the car will be clamped (booted), and you must call a number and pay the fine before it gets towed.

To avoid these headaches and complications, always pay for parking… no one wants to come back from lunch and find their car booted, just as you’re ready to go to your next destination.

Also, beware of no parking signs!

If parking is not allowed, you’ll see a sign with a round white or blue sign with a red line across.

Avoid parking there, or you’ll face the same penalty as above.

Road Tolls

Image of section of the A3 motorway, Portuguese motorway that connects Minho, Valença to the Douro coastline Tolls, fees section. "Reserved for members", "Violation punished by law"

Unlike some countries where most highways are free, be aware that you have to pay tolls to drive on highways in Portugal… and the payment process is not always so straightforward.

Most toll booths work like in every other country. You get a ticket when you enter the highway, and pay the toll when you exit.

However, Portugal has a system called Via Verde.

You shouldn’t pass through booths dedicated to Via Verde unless you have the system in your car.

This transponder allows you to pass through these dedicated lanes faster.

If you pass through the Via Verde lane without a transponder, you’ll end up paying the fee for the length of the entire highway (even if you didn’t drive that far yourself)

How to avoid this? Well, simply have a Via Verde transponder in your car.

When you rent the car, the rental agency will probably ask if you want to pay to include the transponder in your rental. If they don’t, you can inquire yourself.

While most rental agencies will charge a small extra fee to rent you this device for your car, it’s worth it: it’ll make everything easier.

Simply connect your credit or debit card to the Via Verde system online, and all tolls will be charged automatically to your card.

Plus, if you get charged fines for not using the toll system properly, you might get slammed double with fines by the rental agency for ‘processing’ the fee.

Speed Limits

Road signs stating that to drive in the tunnel you must stay under 100 kilometers per hour and a car driving in Portugal.

Another aspect of driving in Portugal is adhering to the speed limits.

Americans, take note: everything — from the posted limits to the car’s speedometer — is measured in kilometers, not miles!

If you don’t see a posted sign, adhere to the following general rule of thumb: below 50 km/hr in urban areas, below 90 km/hr on most public roads, and below 120 km/hr on highways.

Although these are the basic rules, road signs may indicate something different, and that takes precedence over everything.

While speed cameras are almost nonexistent in Portugal, always respect speed limits for your safety and that of other drivers.

Drinking and Driving

people cheersing while wine tasting in portugal

Last but certainly not least, you need to keep in mind of the alcohol limit for driving in Portugal: 0.5 grams per liter (which is lower than the US limit, 0.8).

That’s about one glass or wine or one beer, but it depends on a complex equation that is hard to give one easy answer to.

Food helps soften the blow of alcohol; typically having one drink with your meal will allow you to stay below this limit.

However, the best option is to avoid alcohol altogether.

Having food with your drink and waiting for some time before driving can also help you stay below the limit.

If you want to do some wine tasting, it’s a good idea to do so on a tour, such as one of these Douro Valley wine tours from Porto, rather than risk drinking and driving!

Best Time for a Road Trip in Portugal

Purple wisteria covering the walls of a Portuguese house, with a brown door and a blue door

The best times to take a road trip around Portugal are spring and autumn.

The shoulder seasons allow you to avoid the crowds and traffic of the summer months and the potential rain of the winter months… especially in Northern Portugal, which is notoriously rainy.

In spring, late March (March in Lisbon is amazing!) to the beginning of May is the best time, excluding Easter.

In autumn, your best bet is from late September to the end of October.

After that, the chances of rain increase substantially and make driving more of a challenge.

Winter isn’t necessarily a bad time to go on a road trip in Portugal. The weather tends to be pleasant nearly everywhere south of Lisbon, but you may get the occasional cold and rainy days.

In the north, it tends to rain a lot, so winter may not be the best time to drive to Coimbra, Porto, the Douro Valley, and the surroundings. (Did you know Porto has more rainy days than London?)

Places You Must Visit in Portugal When Renting a Car

Most of Portugal has pretty good public transportation, but there are quite a few remote places in Portugal that you can only reach by car.

Here are some out-of-the-way places that are worth the detour while you drive through Portugal.

Aldeias de Xisto

a small schist village in portugal with landscape and mountains

These small schist villages are nestled within the remote hills of Central Portugal.

Most villages are in the Serra da Lousã and Serra do Açor, two forested, mountainous areas not far from Coimbra.

Some of the prettiest villages are Talasnal, Fajão, and Chiqueiro.

Aldeias Historicas

the charming, historic hillside village of piodao with mist on the mountains and terraced gardens and stone houses

The Historic Villages of Portugal is a program aimed at restoring and promoting ancient villages across Portugal.

Since the program started in 1991, 12 villages were classified as historical villages.

Piódão, Monsanto, Castelo Rodrigo, and Belmonte are among the most charming.

Alentejo Beaches

the beautiful praia bordeira on the alentejo coast

Another area worth exploring by car is the coast of the Alentejo region, between the Algarve and Lisbon.

This area is not easy to reach by public transport, so if you rent a car in Portugal, you’ll get the chance to discover some wild beaches!

Praia da Amália, Praia de Odeceixe, Praia da Amoreira, Praia da Bordeira, and Praia do Castelejo are just a few spectacular beaches you can explore in Alentejo.

Peneda-Gerês National Park

Beautiful lake in the national park Peneda Gerês, Portugal

Located in Northern Portugal, bordering the Spanish region of Galicia, this national park is worth the side trip.

It’s just one hour from Porto, but its stunning lush forests, thundering waterfalls, and wild rivers feel like they’re much further away.

It’s a great place to pair with visiting the Douro Valley and its charming small towns like Peso da Régua.

My Final Recommendation:

🚗 Best Portugal Rental Car Prices: Discover Cars

Searches 500+ rental agencies (including small local ones) to find the best price

Best Personal Item Bag: My Tried & Tested Bag + 5 Runner Ups

I’ve been an avowed carry on traveler for as long as I can remember.

I don’t know what I hate more, paying extra for my baggage or the extra steps of checking it in and then waiting what feels like an hour at baggage claim after my flight is over.

That said… I’m not exactly the lightest packer. I have too many little items on my packing list that all feel so essential to bring.

The way that I’m able to get around carry-on baggage restrictions is by picking the best possible personal item bag for the plane.

The trick is to find something that is roomy enough to fit all your in-flight necessities while still being compact enough to fitting under the seat.

The best personal item bag will be suitable for use both on and off the plane – I use mine as my daily travel daypack as well.

This means, for me, I look for security features, comfort, and a sleek aesthetic in addition to the practical concerns of size and shape.

In this post, I’ve included my top favorite personal item backpack that I’ve used every day for the last year and a half of travel spanning multiple continents and 30+ countries — plus 5 runner up options in case my top pick doesn’t suit you.

What To Look For When Picking a Personal Item Bag

Me and my trusty personal item bag in a Bulgarian junk shop

There are a few considerations you should have when picking the best personal travel bag.

Obviously, because many airlines have size restrictions and can sometimes charge large fees for items that need to be checked at the last moment, size is the number one consideration.

But there are other things that should be considered, such as shape/style as well as aesthetics and design. Here, I break down a few of the things you should consider when picking your personal item

Size

Consider what airline you fly the most often and their regulations. You’ll want to ensure your personal item bag is small enough to meet their restrictions.

Generally, budget European airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair will have the tightest restrictions. If you fly budget airlines often, you will want to make sure your personal item meets these standards.

If you tend to only fly on domestic flights in the U.S. or on larger international airlines, you can opt for a slightly roomier bag.

Here are a few airlines and their size restrictions for personal items, which must fit under the seat in front of them.

  • United:  9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm)
  • American: 8 inches x 14 inches x 18 inches (20 cm x 35 cm x 45 cm )
  • Ryanair: 8 inches x 8 inches x 14 inches (20 cm x 20cm x 35 cm)
  • Norwegian: 10 inches x 8 inches x 13 inches (25 cm x 20 cm x 33  cm)

Shape

Shape is another factor that should not be discounted when picking a personal item for carry on travel.

My top tip is that the bag you pick should not be hard-sided, but rather soft-sided and malleable.

This helps in the event that you need to shove it under the seat in front of you and you’re in one of those unfortunate seats that have a strange configuration that takes away from your legroom.

So skip the hard-sided mini-suitcase and go for something more like a backpack or duffel bag that can be squished to fit if necessary.

Double-Duty

My personal item for the plane also doubles as a daypack for short hikes!

One more thing to note when picking a personal item bag is that it should be something that is actually useful for carrying around in your day-to-day travels, not just for flying.

There is no point bringing both a daypack and a separate personal item bag –  pick something that does both and does it well.

I prefer a personal item backpack as I can use it as my main travel bag when I’m out and about after the flight is over.

For this reason, I prefer a bag that has some security features such as lockable zippers and slash-proof material, so that it is effective as both my plane personal item and my travel daypack.

If you don’t carry backpacks when you travel, then I would opt for a large carry on purse or something similar.

However, you can also pick an underseat wheeled bag or larger duffel if you are truly packing light and want to only have one bag with you, or if you are flying on a basic economy or low cost fare. I’ve reviewed the best underseat bags here.

Best Personal Item: Backpacks I Love for Travel

My #1 Pick: Pacsafe 17L Anti-Theft Backpack

The pacsafe backpack in a cafe in Sofia
My personal item bag doubles as my everyday bag and I bring it everywhere — even the coffee shop I’m writing this article from.

With dimensions of 15 by 11 by 6 inches, this backpack will do the trick for nearly all airlines.

While technically, it exceeds the size limitation of Ryanair and Norwegian Airlines, I’ve taken this personal item backpack on Ryanair, Wizz Air, Norwegian, easyJet, Level, and several other budget airlines.

I’ve never ever had to check it or worry about it not fitting under the seat.

It has always slid under the seat easily with no problems as long as I didn’t overstuff it.

This backpack is pretty much the Mary Poppins bag: it looks tiny, but I can fit an incomprehensible amount of stuff in it.

At any given time when I am flying, this backpack usually contains my 13″ Macbook Air laptop, chargers, my Mavic drone, my camera and all its lenses, and a few other odds and ends that I ended up needing at the last minute.

I’ve also used it as my only bag when traveling to London and Berlin for one week of conferences, where it fit my laptop, camera, mini toiletries, and 6 days of clothes for conferences.

But the most important thing: it’s actually a nice backpack that you don’t mind being seen with.

I actually use this as my everyday bag for bringing my laptop to coffee shops and walking around a city with all my photo gear or on short day hikes.

How much do I love this backpack? Well, I’ve owned it for nearly two years and have taken it to over 30 countries with barely more than a scratch to the bag — despite generally being a careless, terrible excuse for an adult. Any bag that can last even a year with me is something special.

Even better, the bag has several security features that are awesome without looking like an actual security bag.

The zippers lock together, and then you can loop the locked zippers through the clasp on the front of the bag for double security. It was hard for me to figure out how to open the clasp when I first got the bag — so imagine if a thief was trying!

There is no way a thief could break into the main compartment of the bag without you noticing (the outer pocket even has a loop that the zipper can go through that makes it difficult to open, too).

Check out more features of my favorite personal item backpack here!

The bag also has nice water-resistant material. While you certainly can’t submerge it under water, I have gotten caught in the rain in it several times and my stuff inside, including my laptop, haven’t gotten wet.

I still recommend taking precautions if you carry electronics in it, but I’ve never gotten the insides soaked when I’ve been walking in the rain.

I do recommend bringing an additional laptop sleeve for your laptop as there isn’t a lot of padding in the backpack itself. 

I have never come close to breaking my laptop using this bag but I have had some close calls where my backpack has fallen and given me a bit of a scare. A simple laptop sleeve like this one will give you some peace of mind.

I’ve owned this bag for nearly 2 years and have put it through nearly daily abuse and have had no problems – not even a single stitch unraveling – so I can definitely vouch for the quality of the bag.

Runner Up: Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 Anti-Theft 15L Backpack

Check out the 15L Metrosafe LS350 here!

No, this post isn’t sponsored by Pacsafe, I just have been a paying customer of theirs for over two years and really love their products! I have never used this backpack, but if I wanted a slightly cheaper backpack that still fit nearly as much, I’d pick their 15L Metrosafe LS350. With dimensions of 5 x 11.6 x 16.5 inches, it will fit most airlines’ size rules (technically it is over Ryanair’s limits but I have brought the similarly sized 17L Pacsafe without issue on budget airlines several times).

This bag has a more standard backpack construction with a more unisex/masculine look, so if the other Pacsafe was too “girly” or trendy this may be a better fit aesthetically. It still shares a lot of the same perks, such as slash-proof straps and construction, lockable zippers, RFID blockers, etc.

With all the security features, it still manages to look like a normal backpack so it doesn’t arouse suspicion or make it look like you’re carrying a lot of expensive gear the way certain branded camera bags look.

Runner Up: Hynes Eagle Lightweight 18L Travel Bag

Check out the Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack here!

This Hynes Eagle personal item backpack is super cute and comes in a fun variety of colors, plus it’s one of the cheaper options on this page.

However, it is cheaper because it is lacking some of the security features of the other bags, so you are offsetting a bit of security for the lowered price.

Personally, I use my personal item as my main travel bag when I am going around big cities that have issues with pickpocketing like London, Lisbon, and Rome – so I enjoy having the security features of Pacsafe or other anti-theft travel brands like Travelon.

This bag doesn’t have lockable zippers or anti-slash construction so it’s a no for me, but other people not require those features.

But if you just plan to use this bag for the flight, it’s a great option as it’s inexpensive and fits a lot of stuff. However, it doesn’t have a laptop compartment, so bring your own laptop sleeve if needed.

There is only one internal pocket for things like keys and your phone, but other than that there is minimal interior organization — which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you prefer your bag to be. Check out more details and specs on the backpack here.

Overall, it’s a good option for aesthetics-conscious people who prefer a budget-friendly bag with minimal security or organizational features.

Best Personal Item: Purses I Love for Travel

#1 Pick for Purses: Pacsafe Slingsafe LX250 or LX200 City Tote

Check out the Pacsafe LX250 City Tote here!

Another Pacsafe, this time in purse edition! While I don’t have this tote personally, I can vouch for the quality of Pacsafe products as a paying customer who has used them for years.

I have a Pacsafe backpack RFID-blocking wallet and slash-proof camera strap and all have served me well and held up to the abuse I put them through.

I much prefer to carry backpacks to purses due to the fact that I have crappy shoulders and prefer the weight to be distributed evenly, but if you prefer to carry a purse when you travel then I highly recommend the Pacsafe LX250.

At 12 inches x 16 inches x 4 inches, this bag has a capacity of 18L and generally fits all but the most stringent airline restrictions.

If space is a concern and you want 100% peace of mind when flying ultra-low cost carriers like Ryanair, you will be better off with the smaller 14L Pacsafe LX200 which fits basically every airline with dimensions of 13 inches by 11 inches by 4 inches.

While Pacsafe products are generally a little pricey due to their quality construction and security features, this is one of the cheaper Pacsafe options as it’s made of canvas rather than their typical nylon-like water-resistent material.

Both totes have the standard Pacsafe security features of RFID blockers, mesh slashguard construction, security buckles, and lockable zippers.

Runner Up: Bluboon Canvas Weekender Bag

Check out the Bluboon Weekender Bag here!

If you want a personal item bag that you can be sure will pass even the most eagle-eyed of budget airlines, opt for this Bluboon Canvas Weekender bag.

At only 10 inches by 8 inches by 3 inches, this fits even Ryan Air and Norwegian’s stricter limits so long as you don’t completely overstuff it.

It has handles as well as a shoulder strap so you can carry it in different ways depending on the situation and what is most comfortable for you.

I personally like to use a longer strap when in the airport but would prefer to carry it like a regular purse outside the airport; having flexibility of options is great in this instance.

Another perk is that it has internal and external pockets so you can organize it to your liking; however, there is no laptop sleeve (but most weekender bags tend not to have this feature, anyway).

It also has a trolley sleeve so that you can place it on your rolling suitcase flight-attendant style.

However, keep in mind that it is a budget bag. While it generally has quite positive reviews, a few people have complained that the zippers and fabric don’t hold up over time, so be prepared to replace it eventually.

Runner Up: Lily & Drew Carry On Weekender Travel Bag

Check out the Lily & Drew Weekender Bag here!

For a sleek but versatile travel bag, this Lily & Drew weekender is a solid pick.

This personal item purse is also convertible into a shoulder bag, which is nice because you can toggle between the two configurations depending on what is more comfortable and convenient for the situation.  

The bag also has a trolley sleeve so that if you are traveling as well with a rolling suitcase (either carry-on or to check) you can place it on the suitcase so that you can roll rather than carry it – the trick that many flight attendants use!

It is 18″ wide by 14″ tall by 8″ deep (20 cm x 35 cm x 45 cm) so it is the perfect size personal item purse for domestic U.S. carriers like American and Spirit.

It is a little too large for United’s specifications, but I’ve often found that as long as I don’t over-stuff my personal item I can usually squeeze it under the seat anyway.

However, it would be a little too big for European low-cost carriers so if you plan to do a lot of Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air etc. flights with this bag, it is a bit of a risk in terms of fit.

While it doesn’t have all the security features of my favorite travel backpack or purse, it does have a laptop sleeve, water-resistant canvas-esque material, several internal and external pockets.

If you prefer to carry a big purse when you travel, this could be an option, but one thing that subtracts from its usefulness to me is that the bag itself weighs 3 pounds so I wouldn’t want to carry it around the city I was visiting – it’s more of a ‘flying only’ bag.

If that works for you, it could be a good option, but I prefer my bags to do double duty.

23 Most Beautiful Places in Slovenia for Your Bucket List

view of the small island with a church on it on the center of lake bled, a beautiful turquoise lake in Slovenia

Slovenia is a small European country tucked away in the Balkans, bordering Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria.

Despite its small size (it’s actually smaller than New Jersey!), the country has remarkable variety and exceptional beauty – from alpine peaks to rolling plains, from peaceful coasts to deep caves and roaring rivers. 

We spent two weeks exploring all the corners of Slovenia, and absolutely fell in love – it’s just a really special country. 

If you’re thinking of visiting Slovenia and looking for the most beautiful places to explore, you’re in the right place!

This post highlights the top attractions and activities you can’t miss while you’re there.

Most Beautiful Places in Slovenia

1. Triple Bridge in Ljubljana 

The famous triple bridge of Ljubljana with a pink church in the background on a sunny day

Triple Bridge is one of the most iconic locations in Ljubljana!

As the name implies, the Triple Bridge has three slightly unparallel pathways across the Ljubljanica River that are all adjacent to each other. It has grand stone railings, and the middle pathway is made of cobblestones.

What makes it more adorable is the pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation situated behind it. This church casts a reflection on the water that, along with the bridge and draping trees, is absolutely charming.

Pro Tip: One of the best spots to photograph the bridge, the church, and the river all together is from the Ribja Brv bridge, just south of Triple Bridge. 

2. Skocjan Caves

view of light coming in through crevices of the cave at skocjan caves in Slovenia

Skocjan Caves was a big surprise – we were not expecting how much this UNESCO World Heritage site would literally make our jaws drop!

The start of the cave tour is through caverns with a few stalagmites and stalactites (and tbh, is pretty meh). 

However, the really incredible experience begins when you reach a massive cavern that is over 150 meters (450 feet) tall!

You’ll follow a winding path that runs along the cliff’s edge, high above a rushing river.

As you walk along, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the cavern below and a stunning head-on view of the bridge before crossing it. 

The cavern was really giving a Lord of the Rings feel, much like the Mines of Moria and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

While the start of the cave was fairly forgettable, the walk through the cavern was truly a highlight of our trip to Slovenia.

It’s easy to get to, too — Skocjan Cave is a popular day trip from Ljubljana, as it is less than an hour from the capital. 

3. Predjama Castle

view of a castle built into the side of the wall in Slovenia which is also part of a cave complex

Predjama Castle is considered to be the oldest cave castle in the world!

This castle is built on a cliffside and possesses some really cool and innovative cave features – sometimes it’s hard to tell where the castle ends and the cave begins!

Visiting this beautiful place in Slovenia will allow you to explore and learn more about its history, and even discover some of the caverns in the rock behind and adjacent to the castle.

Inside the castle, each room is beautifully set up to reflect its appearance during Medieval times.

An audioguide is provided to each guest and tells the fascinating story of the people who lived here, how they withstood sieges, and how they were ultimately conquered.

It’s a crazy story involving the leader using the bathroom in the middle of the night!

4. Logar Valley

views of a pathway in a green meadow with mountains in the distance in Slovenia's logar valley

The Logar Valley is in a lesser-visited mountain range in north-central Slovenia.

It features long, narrow valleys with lush meadows and forests that end in majestic mountains.

With scenic driving routes, waterfalls, numerous hiking trails, and jaw-dropping views, there are plenty of ways to explore and enjoy this unique mountain range.

We absolutely loved this valley and are so glad we took the time to explore this less-visited region in Slovenia. 

5. Velika Planina

Velika Planina is a high mountain plateau near the Logar Valley.

You can reach it by cable car from the valley floor, or you can just drive up the mountain yourself.

On top of the plateau, you’ll be surrounded by a charming and picturesque pastoral scene.

Rolling hills are filled with wildflowers in the summer and tall mountain peaks are in the background.

Cows freely roam the village and hills, the clanging bells around their necks creating a soundtrack as you explore.

The village is filled with simple wooden huts that look like they would fit right in 200 years ago (though they have clearly been updated with modern conveniences).

Historically, shepherds who make cheese have lived on these plateaus throughout Slovenia, and dairy farming continues to be the main economy.

You can (and should!) even buy locally-made cheese and dairy products on your visit. 

6. Lake Bled

view of the small island with a church on it on the center of lake bled, a beautiful turquoise lake in Slovenia

Lake Bled is one of the most enchanting spots in all of Slovenia!

The lake’s stunning turquoise waters are set against a backdrop of mountains, and an island with a medieval church sits in the middle of the lake. 

There are quite a ways fun things to do around Lake Bled, including hiking to the Mala Osojnica viewpoint for overhead views of the lake, or renting a rowboat or a stand-up paddleboard and going out on the water.

The impressive Bled Castle stands tall on a cliff on the lake’s edge, and you can explore the castle grounds and admire the view from the castle walls.

Make sure you walk along the path that encircles the entire lake, and stop by the Vila Bled, a mansion-turned-hotel that used to be owned by royalty. 

7. Triglav National Park and the Julian Alps

Triglav National Park, located in the stunning Julian Alps of northwest Slovenia is where much of Slovenia’s preserved natural beauty can be found. 

This park is massive and known for its rugged mountains, clear alpine lakes, dense forests, and crystal-clear rivers.

In the center of the park is Mount Triglav, which is Slovenia’s highest mountain and a symbol of the country. 

People who visit Triglav National Park can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities, like hiking, climbing mountains, and even paddling in clear lakes and rivers.

Besides the natural beauty, there are also cute little villages and old landmarks to explore.

8. Soča River

bright turquoise river called the soca river in the heart of Slovenia with gorgeous foliage on the sides of the river water

The Soča is easily one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen, and the Soča River Valley is easily one of the most beautiful places in all of Slovenia. 

The water is clear and deep turquoise and the nature around it is pristine. It has a beautiful turquoise color, which changes at times and becomes either light or deep green depending on its depth.

The banks are lush with greenery, and there are scenic hills and mountains in the background, creating a wonderful setting.

The river is also famous for its activities and tours, especially white water rafting, which you can do near the towns of Bovec and Kobarid.

There are also many hiking opportunities in and around the Soča, and numerous towns situated next to it.

The Soča River is really the ideal place to visit if you are looking for a fun-filled yet relaxing spot while in Slovenia.

9. Vršič Pass

the vrsic pass in Triglav national park with mountain peaks and edges and sunny weather

Vršič Pass (pronounced ‘virsheech’) is a steep switchback road that traverses a high mountain pass.

It’s a challenging drive, with 49 tight and narrow switchbacks!

The scenery is truly awe-inspiring… for the passengers, that is. The driver will definitely be focused on the twisting road!

Thankfully, there are quite a few pull-out spots where you can stop, admire the views, and take some pictures.

You can also stop at the Russian Chapel, a quaint wooden church built for the Russian POWs who constructed the pass during World War I.

The top of the pass is Switchback 25, which hosts a hut offering great food and incredible views.

This spot also marks the beginning of several trailheads leading to the surrounding mountains.

For example, we did the Path of the Pagan Girl and the Slemenova Spica hike, both starting at the Vršič Pass summit.

10. Kozjak Waterfall

the kozjak waterfall in a narrow slot canyon style landscape in Slovenia on a beautiful day in the summer with water pouring into a small pool

Kozjak Waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Slovenia due to its bright turquoise water and enchanting cove setting.

The trail to the waterfall follows the Soča River before veering off to follow the Kozjak stream (which feeds into the Soča), and you’ll enjoy incredible views of the turquoise river as you hike. 

There are also some trenches and embankments left over from World War I that you can see just off the trail – this region saw a lot of fighting and conflict during the Great War. 

11. Virje Waterfall

the virje waterfall, a series of small waterfalls cascading over a large rock and forming a beautiful natural swimming pool at the foot of the waterfall

Virje Waterfall is another amazing natural wonder located near the town of Bovec in the Soča River Valley.

It is comprised of multiple cascades that spread out into a deep turquoise pool, and it’s spectacular.

The pool is stunningly clear and you can wade or swim during the summer if you don’t mind the chilly water temperatures.

12. Great Soca Gorge

large gorge with a canyon in the middle of it, with a river in between, seen from above looking into the narrow slot between the two sides of the gorge

The Great Soca Gorge is a specific section of the Soca River that is particularly gorgeous.

It is a 750-meter-long and 10 to 15-meter-deep slot canyon along the river, with high, curving, undulating walls, and captivating blue-green turquoise color.

Along the gorge, you’ll find bridges spanning the river, a dirt path running parallel to it, and many charming lookout points.

Narrow paths lead from the main trail to river overlooks where you can admire the rapids and curving canyon walls from above.

In other areas, you can get closer to the water and enjoy a remarkable view of the deep turquoise river with dark canyon walls.

The southern mouth of the gorge, where the slot canyon ends and opens back up to a wider river, is stunning, full of rocks to climb on, and views directly into the canyon.

The water here is much deeper than in other sections, which makes it a perfect place for swimming. 

We spent some peaceful and breathtaking moments here enjoying a leisurely summer evening, watching the other swimmers and picnickers, and enjoying the beautiful views.

13. Vintgar Gorge

beautiful hazy landscape of the vintgar gorge in Slovenia with water, bridge, and trees

Not far from Lake Bled is the Vintgar Gorge, which looks like it came right out of a fairytale.

Vintgar Gorge is a narrow canyon with tall walls, a river with vibrant blue-green water, and a wooden boardwalk attached to the side of the canyon walls.

The path through the slot canyon is pretty long – lasting more than a kilometer, and delivers beauty at every turn. 

Mist rises off the water, which sometimes babbles pleasantly along, and sometimes churns over small waterfalls and sharp rapids.

The boardwalk occasionally crosses the river and the canyon is adorned with vegetation, adding to the “fantasy-land” feeling of the canyon.

The end of the gorge hike is marked by the beautiful Sum Waterfall — not a bad way to end the trek!

14. Kanal ob Soci

the unique riverside town of kanal ob soci in Slovenia along the river with an arched stone bridge and old fashioned stone architecture and fairytale aesthetic

Kanal ob Soci is a lovely small town situated directly on the Soca River.

A tall bridge, the “Most Kanal” stretches across the river gorge, surrounded by the town on both sides.

The sight of this high bridge over the gorge, with the green river flowing beneath and the village above, provides a breathtaking view. 

You can enjoy the views from the bridge, along the upper banks, or even walk down to the shoreline of the river to see the bridge from below.

Shockingly, there is actually a small diving board attached to the middle of the bridge, clearly intended for anyone brave enough to take the long plunge into the river below.

On the buildings right next to the bridge are pictures and articles about some of the people who have dove off the bridge! 

15. Lake Jasna

peaceful calm waters of lake janna reflecting mountains above it in the water, and view of a dock in the foreground

Lake Jasna is a small and charming lake located in the heart of the town of Kranjska Gora, near the Vrsic Pass. 

On one side of the lake, you’ll find a row of restaurants and hotels, and a path runs through the center of the lake, which divides it in two.

There are also docks and relaxation spots along the lakeside.

The highlight of the lake, however, is the breathtaking view of towering mountains behind the lake, which creates a stunning reflection on the water’s surface. 

16. Lake Bohinj

calm waters of lake bohinj in the spectacular landscape of Slovenia with a bridge crossing the lake and a bell tower

Lake Bohinj is the largest lake in Slovenia and is a tranquil paradise just 30 minutes southwest of busy Lake Bled. 

The lake is surrounded by mountains and is filled with beautiful blue water (although not as vibrant as other lakes in Slovenia). 

In Lake Bohinj, you can take the ferry across the lake, rent a canoe or kayak, or go for a swim.

There is also the Savica waterfall nearby – a beautiful waterfall that feeds into the lake. 

One of the must-visit places here is the famous church called the Church of St. John the Baptist, which was built a long time ago in the 11th century.

Uniquely, it has beautiful paintings on the outside of the church and is situated right along the banks of the river. 

17. Tolmin Gorge

person hiking in tolmin gorge wearing a tank top and shorts walking alongside the waters edge

Inside Triglav National Park, just outside the town of Tolmin is the Tolmin Gorge, a charming and scenic canyon to discover. 

The Tolminka River and the Zadlascica River converge in the gorge, and you can hike up both forks to follow each river. 

The trail follows an interesting winding path, taking hikers to various points of interest: down to Tolminka River, then back around and up the Zadlascica River, around to a cave, across the Devil’s Bridge, which sits very high above the river, and back to the starting point, creating a pleasant one-way loop. 

The water in the gorge is a vibrant icy blue, and the gorge is often tall and narrow, creating a fairytale feeling.

Tolmin Gorge is often overlooked in favor of the much more popular Vintgar Gorge, but I think it’s definitely worth visiting both!

18. Brda Wine Region

vineyards in the brda wine region of Slovenia with stunning landscape and vineyards in rows in the green summer landscape

Brda is a secluded wine region situated along the border of Slovenia and Italy, nestled between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps.

This region has gained renown for its production of high-quality wines.

You’ll see endless vineyards, rolling hills with grapevine terraces, olive groves, and cherry orchards.

You’ll admire charming hilltop villages with castles or churches towering above the valleys, peaceful countryside roads with light traffic, white buildings with terracotta roofs, and the distant peaks of Triglav National Park. 

In short, we absolutely loved this region.

And of course, there are plenty of wineries that offer wine tastings for visitors passing through. 

While there are plenty of ways to explore the Brda Wine Region, I’d recommend driving on Vipolze Road to Dobrovo and then taking Highway 402 from Dobrovo to Smartno for great views. 

19. Slap Pericnik

crushing waterfall with roaring waters seen from behind at the pericnik waterfall in Slovenia

Slap Pericnik is a stunning waterfall, and probably in my top 3 waterfalls in Slovenia. 

This waterfall is one of a kind because you can walk all the way behind it! It’s a unique experience walking under the rocky overhang and witnessing the waterfall drop in one big cascade to the valley below. 

While you can observe the falls from the parking lot, you’ll need to climb a fairly steep trail to walk behind the falls.

It’s definitely worth it, though! From the falls, there is also a fantastic wide view of the valley, which adds to the beauty of the whole scene.

20. Piran

lovely view of the Iran port harbor area in Slovenia at sunset with boats and bell tower and city behind it

Piran is a charming coastal town on the Adriatic Sea.

It’s almost entirely pedestrian-friendly, with no cars allowed in the town center. (Visitors usually park on the outskirts and walk or take a bus.)

The streets are narrow and winding – almost alley-like – and filled with colorful buildings. 

The city is built on a hill, so expect to find several great viewpoints, like the City Wall ruins whose remaining towers and walls offer incredible vistas over the Adriatic Sea.

The bell tower of St. George’s Church is also impressive, providing stunning panoramic views of the area. 

Make sure you stop by the harbor and Tartini Square, and then walk the pathway along the shore, taking in the clear, blue-green water.

Make sure you enjoy some gelato or dine in one of the many delicious restaurants near the harbor. 

21. Zelenci Nature Reserve

brilliant nature preserve with green grass and blue waters and a hiking trail along the waters edge

Zelenci Nature Reserve is a nature reserve located just outside Kranjska Gora. This beautiful spot is where the Sava River starts!

The water here is incredibly clear and blue, and you can actually see it bubbling up from springs at the bottom of the pool.

It’s a quick and easy walk through the forest to reach the lake, which has a short boardwalk leading to a small observation tower. 

It’s free to visit and open all day. While many people come just for the lake, there are also lots of trails through the wetland in the nature preserve. 

22. Dreznica Church and Valley

a little white church on top of a hill with a mountain behind it and the valley landscape around it

We came into the Dreznica Valley to do a waterfall hike, but just entering the valley took our breath away.

Surrounded by tall, jagged mountain peaks, the most prominent part of Dreznica village is the Sacred Heart Church, a white church set on a hilltop above the village. 

The church is open to visitors during the day and is lovely inside, and the views from the church overlooking the valley are also gorgeous.

After you visit the church, there are several interesting waterfalls in the area you should visit, including the Koseska Korita loop, which showcases five different falls. 

23. Maribor

the charming glavni square in Maribor with pink and beige buildings round the central square

Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia, with a charming old town filled with stunning Hapsburg-style architecture. 

Glavni Trg is the main square and is a bustling hub for activities and events in the city.

Be sure to admire the beautiful churches, walk along the river, see the world’s oldest grapevine (more than 400 years old!), and stroll around beautiful Slomskov Trg, surrounded by numerous historic buildings. 

Just 30 minutes away is the adorable village of Ptuj, which has a castle, colorful streets, and a historic church with a maroon steeple. 

We really found Maribor to be a delightful surprise and a beautiful addition to our Slovenia itinerary

3 Best Amarone Wine Tours from Verona [Curated By a Wine Nerd]

drying grapes for the first step of the amarone process

One of the best things about a trip to Verona is just how amazingly close to the Valpolicella wine region it is!

This is where you’ll find some of Italy’s most classic wines, including the delicious, prized Amarone — a collector’s favorite for its ability to age the distance.

Alongside Prosecco wine (which grows in Valdobbiane, near Venice), Amarone and Valpolicella wines are some of the most famous wines of Northern Italy.

While they don’t have quite the name recognition of Barolos and Tuscan wines, they’re definitely in the same tier. Wine geeks in the know (read: me) will tell you that!).

Amarone can be quite expensive to buy in the States because the bottling process takes quite a bit of time, and it uses more grapes than other wines do due to the unique vilifying process.

As a result, it’s rare that you have the opportunity to taste multiple kinds of Amarone in one go — but on these Amarone wine tours from Verona, that’s exactly what you can do!

While these wine tours from Verona do not only include Amarone, most of them do, particularly those in the Valpolicella Valley, which is famous for it!

The 3 Best Amarone Wine Tours Verona Has to Offer

4-Hour Amarone Wine Trail Tour from Verona – Book Here

Grapes put into baskets between rows of vineyards in the Amarone wine growing region near Verona on a cloudy day

This half-day Amarone wine tour from Verona is the perfect introduction to the Valpolicella valley and al the incredible wine it produces!

While also being beautiful, this region also brims with centuries of wine-making traditions unique to this part of Italy.

Luckily, you’ll be led along the way by an expert sommelier who will explain just how significant the wines you are trying really are.

This tour is also convenient for including a transfer service, so you don’t have to worry about drinking and needing someone to drive — an air-conditioned minivan will handle all the logistics for you. Just show up, listen, and drink!

On this tour, you’ll try a variety of Valpolicella wines and do a showdown between two of the region’s most celebrated wines: Ripasso and Amarone.

Ripasso is known for its robust flavor and heavy structure, which is achieved by re-fermenting the wine with Amarone grape skins.

On the other hand, Amarone is rich and full-bodied, made from dried grapes which gives it an almost Port-like or Madeira-like flavor — not quite a dessert wine, but with similar candied notes from the dried grapes.

The tour offers a two distinct tasting experiences, taking you to two wildly different wineries: one with a massive production scale of 1.5 million bottles and a small boutique estate which produces merely 50,000 artisanal bottles.

At these two wineries, you’ll be led by a sommelier through the wine cellars — and the tastings, including of course the legendary Amarone!

The first, larger winery is especially beautiful, so this is a great place to explore the sprawling gardens and vineyards, taking those perfect Instagram photos for later!

After the first winery, don’t worry if you haven’t quite had your fill — a second awaits to offer even more tastes of the delicious Amarone and other local wines, this time by a smaller boutique producer.

Overview:

  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Wines Tasted: At least 10 wines, including Amarone and Ripasso, at two wineries.
  • Note: Transfers are included from Verona. Lunch is not included, but snacks are.
Check this wine tour from Verona here!

Full Day Verona Amarone Wine Tour with Lunch – Book Here

Valpolicella vineyards in a grape growing region near Venice and Verona with beautiful hills and lush vineyards with grapes growing on them on a sunny day

For true wine geeks who want to dedicate an entire day of their Verona trip to tasting Amarone, this is the full-day Amarone tour for you!

Indulgence is the name of the game on this 7-hour Amarone wine tour — in a whirlwind day trip, you’ll depart the historical city of Verona and delve right into the heart of the Amarone region, tasting a whopping dozen wines along the way.

You’ll start your day with not one but two winery visits before lunch — this tour takes wine seriously, like life or death seriously, okay!

You’ll sample not only Amarone but all the other delicious Valpolicella DOC wines that the region is so loved for, giving you a good idea of the smattering of wines that are produced in this region (but predominantly red wines — sorry, white wine drinkers!)

After the tastings, you’ll get to savor a sit-down lunch featuring farm-to-table Italian cooking, masterfully paired with the rich flavors of Valpolicella wine.

And when you’re juuuust about fit to burst, you’ll head to the third (and final) winery of the day, where you’ll sample (at least) four more wines, guaranteed.

What sets this tour apart is the length of it but also the breadth: you’ll visit three distinct wineries and sample at least four wines at each.

That’s a bare minimum of 12 wine tastes… not to mention the wine you’ll get topped up with at lunch!

You’ll definitely be grateful all transfers are included with this Amarone wine tour. I doubt you’d make it home otherwise after all those tastings!

Overview:

  • Duration: 7 hours
  • Wines Tasted: At least 12 wines, plus bonus wines at lunch, at three different wineries and a local restaurant.
  • Note: Transfers are included from Verona and lunch is also included in the price of the tour
Check this Verona Amarone wine tour here!

2-Hour Amarone Wine Tasting Tour from VeronaBook Here

A picturesque vineyard stretching over rolling hills, with neatly aligned grapevines, guarded by tall cypress trees. In the background, the scenic countryside unfolds, featuring patches of greenery, sporadic houses, all in the Amarone fields of the Valpolicella wine region of Italy

This two-hour wine tour brings you to the heart of one of the most prestigious Amarone wineries near Verona.

Celebrated for producing some of Italy’s most renowned and award-winning Amarone wines, this tour goes beyond your average tasting.

They’ll also teach you all about the Valpolicella region’s wine-making heritage (and the specific wine-making process of Amarone, which is quite unique).

But best of all, the entire 2-hour wine tasting will be guided by an expert sommelier — a high distinction to earn, and an honor to learn from!

On the tour, the sommelier will explain the innovative techniques that go into creating the full-bodied Amarone and what makes it so distinct in the wide world of Italian wine.

That’s because Amarone wine goes through a unique set of techniques to create the rich wine you enjoy — namely, the traditional “appassimento” process.

To make Amarone, the premium-picked grapes are dried for several months: this concentrates their flavors before moving into the fermentation and bottling process, which is what gives Amarone its characteristic rich, intense, almost raisin-like taste.

Of course, it’s a tasting, right, and you want to know how much you’ll be getting? 

The tasting session is quite extensive — you’ll get to sample 9 different wines, carefully selected to represent the best of what the Valpolicella region have to offer (including Amarone, obviously!)

Another cool factor of this Amarone wine tour is visiting the sandstone cellar, admiring the traditional ambiance and seeing the grand barrels of Amarone aging… just imagine where they’ll end up one day!

Overview:

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Wines Tasted: 9, including premium Amarone and other Valpolicella varietals
  • Note: Transfer to the winery is not included, but it’s only a 15-minute drive or taxi ride away (please book a taxi if your entire party is drinking — drinking and driving laws in Italy are quite strict!)
Check details of this wine tour here!