Lapland Packing List: What to Pack for a Cozy Winter Trip to Lapland

reindeer sled and forest and cabin in rovaniemi finnish lapland

If you’re planning a trip to the Nordics in winter, you may be a little overwhelmed when it comes to what to pack for Lapland.

Between the freezing cold weather and outdoor activities you’ll be doing, you’ll need to pack smartly in order to have a good time.

You’ll need the right combination of clothing (especially outerwear and footwear), electronics (more than you’d think), and a few essential toiletries to make sure you have the trip you are dreaming of!

… and you’ll also want to leave enough room to pack some souvenirs from Lapland to bring home, too!

a snow-covered church in kiruna sweden

I’ve traveled to the Arctic several times and have refined my packing list over the trips to hit the right blend of minimalist (carry-on only preferred!) yet without missing anything.

This Lapland packing list is the accumulated effort of my many trips to Lapland, which have included time in Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland.

Where is Lapland?

Photo Credit: Rogper at English Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

First, we should note that Lapland is the settler-given name for the region known as Sápmi, the original name of the land of the Sámi people who are indigenous to the Arctic region.

The area known as Lapland or Sápmi spans the northernmost reaches of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

Sámi people still live in this region today and maintain their languages, traditions, and customs, despite centuries of oppression and forced assimilation by occupants.

However, I find that when most people are thinking about Lapland, they think of Finnish Lapland and destinations like Rovaniemi, even though destinations like Abisko and Tromso are also part of Lapland!

For some reason in tourism parlance, Lapland is more associated with Finland than any of the other countries that make up the region.

This Lapland packing list is suitable for Norwegian Lapland, Swedish Lapland, Finnish Lapland: really, anywhere in the Arctic North!

What to Pack for Lapland

Winter Clothing: What to Wear in Lapland

Allison all bundled up in a hat, scarf, jacket, while in a reindeer sleigh

Generally, you can get away with wearing most of your normal winter clothing in Lapland — as long as you have the proper accompanying clothing items.

You’ll use thermal base layers as a first layer, layer on your usual winter clothing, accessorize appropriately, and finish things off with a high quality parka/jacket and winter boots

Focus on investing in high-quality base layers, snow boots, outerwear, and winter accessories. Besides that, you can often wear your typical winter clothing — even if that’s just jeans and long sleeve T-shirts — without a hitch!

If you have to prioritize and budget, get the best quality outerwear and snow boots. You can spend a little less on base layers and accessories if your outer layers are solid.

Below, I’ll list each important piece of winter gear you need for Lapland below and give my specific product recommendations.

Base Layers

Allison in an ice hotel in Tromso
Tip: Wear your heaviest layers, like jackets and boots, on the plane to fit the rest in your carry-on!

Base layers are probably the most important part of your winter packing list for Lapland. This is where you want to invest — it’s quite literally the foundation of your winter wardrobe!

When choosing a base layer (aka thermal underwear/long johns), you want to pick something that is both moisture-wicking and antimicrobial.

This will help you from getting stinky or uncomfortable when you sweat. And yes, you can sweat in the Arctic, if you’re walking around or being active!

I brought one pair of thermal leggings and one thermal top with me for my last one-week trip to Lapland. I found that was fine — I just aired them out overnight and slept in pajamas.

I didn’t have any issues with odor, but if you’re squeamish about wearing the same thing day after day, you could bring a second pair of each if you prefer to alternate daily.

For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. They are both antimicrobial and moisture-wicking, so they won’t trap odors or sweat.

For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men, also by Columbia.

Most people will advise that you wear merino wool for your base layer. Personally, I find it too itchy for anything but socks (where my skin is less sensitive), but you may find it to be perfect!

If you can tolerate wool then something like these merino wool leggings, paired with a merino wool top layer, will serve you very well.

(Men’s version here for bottom layer, here for top layer).

Winter Jacket

Allison wearing a yellow beanie and jacket with fur lined hood
A trusty hooded, waterproof parka: the most essential thing to pack for Lapland in winter!

You’ll want a nice and warm winter jacket for your travels to Lapland, since you’ll spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the Arctic wilderness!

Preferably, you should pick a parka which goes to about mid-thigh that is water-resistant, windproof, and hooded, to keep you warm in the snow and cold winds!

I suggest investing in a high-quality winter jacket by a trusted brand like Helly Hansen (a favorite of people in the Nordics) or the North Face (a favorite of my people, the Northern Californians, who bring out their fleece every time the temperature dips below 50 degrees)

If you’re looking for a trendy yet comfortable insulated jacket, this women’s parka by Helly Hansen is perfect for freezing cold winter days in the Arctic Circle. Here is a men’s version as well.

I’ve always gone with North Face jackets because they’re what I grew up with. I love this North Face parka for women; here’s a men’s version as well.

If you plan to do skiing, you’ll want something you can move around in better, as a parka will constrict your movement. I would suggest this women’s ski jacket or this men’s ski jacket.

Snow Boots & Thick Socks

Allison posing at the top of Fjellheisen in Tromso
My typical Lapland winter outfit!

Lapland in winter is very snowy — you’ll want proper snow boots. On my last trip to Lapland, I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online.

Here is a similar winter boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in the Nordics and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version).

I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick socks — wool socks specifically.

No matter how insulated your snow boot is, you ought to avoid cotton socks and invest in some warm Smartwool socks or similar that will keep your feet nice and toasty warm!

While the price of woollen socks is a little high, you don’t need that as many pairs as you would if they were cotton.

This is because you can actually re-wear them a few times because wool is naturally odor-absorbent and antimicrobial. I was fine with two pairs of socks over a week, which I alternated and aired out daily.

Even though I generally can’t tolerate wool because of itchiness, I don’t mind them on my feet as my skin there is much thicker and therefore less sensitive.


Allison wearing a winter scarf in Lapland
Wearing my favorite winter scarf at the Tromso Ice Domes!

For a scarf, you want something big and wrappable and ideally colorful — this is what will pop most in your winter photos.

I brought two simple acrylic scarves similar to this one to add a bit of variety to my photos, since I’d be wearing the same jacket every day.

Winter Hats

When it comes to variety, the same advice goes with hats: the more and the more colorful, the better!

On my last trip to Lapland, I brought three different knit beanies because I could add some variety to photos without adding much heft to my backpack.

I picked bright colors like red and yellow so they’d stand out against the white snow, and picked ones with pompoms so they’d look cute from behind as well.

I like simple fleece-lined knit hats like this one which comes in a variety of colors (men’s version here).


My heavier gloves came in handy while dog sledding in Tromso!

As for gloves, I recommend having two different pairs!

You should pack one pair of one pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves for daily use around the city.

The other should be a more heavy pair of waterproof gloves for things like dog sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, and playing in the snow.

Some people prefer mittens and say they keep your hands warmer. This may be true, but I don’t like having to take them off to do anything with my hands.

If you do get mittens, I’d wear a thin pair of gloves beneath and then use a waterproof pair of mittens like these ones from Helly Hansen.

Other Clothes

Sitting in the fancy chair at Tromso ice domes

For the rest of your clothing, you can pretty much wear whatever warm clothing you are used to wearing in winter…. basic sweaters/jumpers, jeans, etc.

If you have all the above accessories, you’ll be good with the basics!

For me, for one week, I bought three sweaters and two pairs of jeans and it was perfectly fine with all my other winter clothing listed above!

Note that if you are planning to do any activities that involve a lot of snow activity, like snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or skiing, you may also want to bring waterproof ski pants (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version).

You can also ask the tour operator if they provide thermal snow suits. Many do, and therefore, you wouldn’t need to pack it.

I personally found that when doing activities like husky safaris, reindeer sleigh rides, and Northern lights tours, snow suit rentals were always provided in the activity cost, so I’ve never needed to pack snow pants.

If you really get cold and are doing a lot of heavy outdoor activities, you may also want to pack a neck gaiter (or snood) or even a balaclava for some winter activities.

These will keep your head and neck warmer and therefore the rest of your body a lot warmer, since this is the area you lose the most heat from.

I haven’t found this to be necessary, personally, but if you want extra warmth, that’s what I’d add.


Pretty self-explanatory. I brought eight pairs for seven days and two bras.

But you probably know your underwear needs better than I do!

Bathing suit + flip flops (optional)

sauna in winter with person in a robe in the background

If staying at a hotel with a jacuzzi or sauna (you lucky duck), be sure to bring these!

Note that some saunas don’t actually allow you to wear swimwear — especially in Finland — so do check on any posted signage on sauna rules and etiquette before hand!

Electronics & Camera Equipment for Northern Lights Photography

Mirrorless Camera

camera freezing over while trying to take photos in finnish lapland
The cold can wear out your camera batteries… and frost over your camera! Bring a lens cloth to defog it as well.

If you’re planning to invest in a camera before your Lapland trip — especially to capture photos of the Northern lights — I highly recommend choosing a mirrorless camera and not a DSLR.

Mirrorless cameras are just as high-quality as DSLRs but weigh a fraction of the weight — very important to consider with a long-term investment like a camera.

On my past trips to Lapland, I used my Sony A6000, which I bought back in 2016 and loved using for many years.

I’ve since upgraded to the Sony A7 II, which also needs companion lenses (pick wide angle lenses for Northern lights photography, to get as much of the landscape as possible).


person with tripod taking photos of the northern lights

A tripod is an absolute must for Northern lights photography.

You will need to stabilize the camera when photographing the Northern Lights and hold the camera exactly still for several seconds at a time — your hand is not capable of doing this, especially in the cold!

Some Northern lights tours will offer tripod rentals; others do not, so ask first and if they don’t, you’ll want to bring your own from home.

If bringing your own, you’ll want a stable tripod that won’t be knocked around if there are high winds (a major possibility in Lapland in winter!)

This COMAN tripod is reasonably priced but far sturdier than the cheapest bare-bones tripods you’ll find on Amazon, which can fall over easily.

Trust me, you don’t want to submerge your expensive camera in the snow (since snow is just water, and we all know how water and electronics get along…)

Extra Batteries

view of the northern lights with green color

A camera battery in the Arctic has a short life! For reference, I typically run through a battery in about 30 minutes of use in the Arctic… sometimes even faster!

I strongly recommend bringing about 4 extra batteries with you. Store them in your pocket to keep them as warm as possible before you use them.

Sony’s proprietary batteries are really expensive, so I use these Sony-compatible ones by Wasabi Power.

External Battery Charger

It’s not just your batteries — everything that can charge loses power more quickly in the cold weather, including your phone.

Bring a portable charger (I bring two, so I can swap them out easily and charge the other overnight) with the ability to store enough power to complete several charges.

Anker is perhaps the most reliable battery brand, so it’s what I personally use (I have this one) — it’s never let me down.

Microfiber Lens Cloth

These lens cleaning cloths will help you remove ice and condensation that occurs on the lens in these extreme cold climate conditions!

I didn’t have this on my last trip photographing the Northern lights, and I really regretted it.

Smartphone & Charger

fjords and mountains in norway
A quick snap taken out of the bus window on my phone in Norway

Even having a nice camera, I still use my smartphone quite a bit for on-the-go photography!

I use and love my iPhone 12 for mobile photography; the 0.5x zoom is a game-changer for capturing wide-angle scenes!

Laptop/Tablet & Charger

Whether it’s just for plane entertainment, nightly Netflix unwinds, or checking on emails from time to time, you will likely want to pack your laptop and charger.

Just be sure this stays in your carry-on!

Toiletries & Personal Hygiene

Lip Balm

Views over Tromso in winter

The Arctic weather conditions can be extremely harsh on your lips. You’ll want a high quality lip balm like Aquaphor Lip Repair for keeping your lips moisturized!

I forgot lip balm on my last trip to Tromso in winter and ended up with wind-chapped lips in two days due to the cold temperatures… don’t make my mistake.


Just like your lips will get chapped easily, your skin will also dry out in the cold air and harsh winds.

I lovethis moisturizer from La Roche-Posay: it’s my daily moisturizer and it works just as well in the Arctic.


After many years neglecting my skin care (and having the sunspots to prove it), I now am pretty religious about sunscreen usage.

I love La Roche-Posay again and use their SPF 60 sunscreen because I am near-vampiric in complexion.

Shampoo, Conditioner & Body Wash

If not provided by your accommodation, or you have a specific shampoo/conditioner you like, you’ll want to bring your own from home.

Toiletries are extra expensive in the Nordics so avoid this unnecessary expense by planning ahead!

Tip: If you’re running low on liquid toiletry space because you’re traveling carry-on only, I suggest swapping your liquids for these solid shampoo & conditioner bars, and using bar soap instead of body wash.


There are not enough words in the English language to convey my hate for European deodorant.

So trust me — bring your favorite brand from home. I’m a big fan of Lume deodorant!

Period Products (If Applicable)

If you are a person who menstruates, I suggest having your preferred period products on hand.

I find menstrual cups and disks to be the most convenient for travel, personally, as I don’t worry about leakage as I would with tampons.

Of course, you can easily buy tampons or pads anywhere if you need them, but they may not have your preferred brand, so that’s why I always bring my period products (menstrual disks, in my case) from home.

Additional Odds & Ends

rovaniemi landscapes in winter


Don’t forget a sturdy pair of crampons, which are small spikes or grips that you attach to your winter boot.

You don’t need a super intense-looking mountaineer type crampon. I used these simple Yaktrax which were really easy to take on and off.

They were perfectly grippy for icy city streets and icy mountain walks!

Small Backpack

In addition to whatever you’re using as your luggage, you’ll want a small daypack that can fit the day’s basics: a water bottle, some layers, your camera and related electronics, etc.

I use a foldable backpack like this one which I can put in my luggage and then use once I arrive.

Reusable Water Bottle

The water is potable everywhere you’d go as a tourist in Lapland.

If you don’t already have your own water bottle, try this onefrom Simple Modern.

Rechargeable Hand Warmers

These rechargeable hand warmers are a great way to keep yourself warm, especially on long nights spent chasing the Northern lights.

Keeping them in your pockets will also keep you nice and toasty!


It gets dark early in the Arctic… if the sun even comes up at all!

You may need a headlamp in some settings — walking between buildings at your accommodation if staying in a more remote place like a Finland glass igloo, snowshoeing or winter hiking, or for capturing cool photos of the Northern lights!

I suggest this rechargeable headlamp.

Travel insurance

Yes, I know this isn’t something that you pack, but in my opinion, it is just foolish to leave home without it… especially in 2022.

It’s extra important to have travel insurance in winter as the weather is unpredictable, and you will be protected and reimbursed in case of trip cancellation.

Plus, it covers the usual accident and illness coverage — both of which have more elevated risks in winter.

I recommend buying travel insurance as far in advance as you can, as it’s typically cheaper that way.

I always use World Nomadswhen I travel. The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, the excess/deductible is low, and it covers a wide range of activities and events.

What Luggage To Use for Winter in Lapland

Abisko train station
My trusty travel backpack, convenient even in the Arctic!

Rolling Suitcase vs. Travel Backpack

Having seen my friend struggle with a giant suitcase throughout Swedish Lapland… I strongly recommend that you bring a well-designed travel backpack instead of a suitcase.

It’s possible to travel with a suitcase… but you will likely regret it when you end up trying to drag your bag through freshly laid snow, getting all your clothes wet in the process. (Take it from me, who brought a rolling suitcase to Helsinki in November…)

While rolling suitcases are great for short weekend trips, they are not the best thing to use when packing for Lapland in winter.

There will likely be snow and ice on the ground, and you will have to drag, not roll, your suitcase… which kind of defeats the whole point of having a rolling suitcase.

Recommended Travel Backpack

In my opinion, you’re way better off with a backpack that you can easily carry. I am a light packer, so my Tortuga Setout Backpack is perfect for me.

This is the backpack I’ve brought with me on every trip to Lapland, and it had plenty of room for everything I brought! This bag is a spacious 45L and has three main compartments.

There is one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc.

There’s also one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to. It also has a water bottle holder on the outside and a strap for something like a jacket or yoga mat.

Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute the weight evenly across your body. 

Check out more specs and details of the Tortuga bag here!

Travel Bag Organization

To keep my backpack organized, I use packing cubes.

These super helpful zippable bags are a miracle when it comes to organizing your clothing, keeping everything from bursting out every time you open your bag.

I personally use these eBags packing cubes and love them to the ends of the earth.

I also bring a laundry bag, since traveling in Lapland in winter, you will get your clothing wet, dirty, and covered in snow constantly.

This means you’ll have to change your clothes a decent amount. A laundry bag will come in handy at keeping dirty stuff separated from the clean. I like this travel-themed one from Kikkerland!

I also keep my toiletries in this convenient Pack-it-Flat toiletry bag which I can hang up in the bathroom for easy storage and access.

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!

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

Svalbard in mid-February, between the end of polar night and the sun's return

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

Chisinau to Kiev by Train: Well, That Was a Trip

Note: Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine I don’t think this train journey is possible any longer; and if it is, I wouldn’t recommend it. However, in the spirit of honoring of this memorable trip that I took in 2018, I’ll keep this post as-is in hopes that, in the future, travelers can make this journey safely once again. All my hope and love goes out to the innocent people caught up in this senseless war. 

Despite being separated by a mere 500 kilometers of distance between the two points, taking the Soviet-era sleeper train from Chisinau to Kiev took a whopping 18 hours.  And would I recommend it? Yes, yes, and yes again.

Taking an ancient, glacially-paced train — a train older than either of the two countries it was going between — was probably one of my highlights of visiting Chisinau.

Though to be fair, that’s because the majority of my time in Chisinau was spent navigating the hospital system attempting to get a rabies vaccination after a cat bite incident in Odessa… but that’s a story for another day, and it’s most certainly not Chisinau’s fault that I didn’t get around to doing most of the best things to do in Chisinau.

Nor is it Chisinau’s fault that I didn’t take out my proper camera and took only crappy cell phone shots the entire 3 days I was there… but I digress again.

Sadly, this is the ‘best’ photo I have of Chisinau

Not a ton of travelers opt for this train due to time and budget concerns and a lack of information out there, so I’ve broken down the information that was missing on the internet here  to help people who plan to make this journey between Chisinau and Kiev by train in the future.

Bus vs. Train? Breaking Down Getting from Chisinau to Kiev

Upon arrival at my hostel in Chisinau, I was given a map with the arrival and departure times of buses. Traveling by bus from Chisinau to Kiev is by far the more popular option. But after a memorable #Experience in Romania and the marshrutka from hell from Ganja to Sheki in Azerbaijan, I’m a bit allergic to bus travel.

So when given the option between a 10 hour overnight marshrutka to Kiev and a sleeper train of indeterminate length and roughly twice the price… I opted for the train in a heartbeat, not even thinking about the price.

The train station in Chisinau is a happening place

The train journey is not the popular choice because it is both a longer journey (in my case, nearly by twice the time) and it’s more expensive. I paid 650 lei for my bed in an open sleeper car, whereas a bus ticket will cost around 300 lei. A bus takes approximately 10 hours between the two cities, and my train took 18 hours.

I’ll Take the 21:19 Train to Moscow

Attempting to purchase a train ticket between Chisinau and Kiev is a little intimidating because the people at the train station ticket counter don’t speak English. Knowing a tiny bit of Russian will help. I speak Russian with the complexity of an early toddler and through that and some gesturing I was able to get a ticket for the train to Kiev.

If you don’t speak Russian, I recommend asking your hotel or hostel receptionist to write down what you want in Russian or Romanian. Barring that, you could always use Google Translate if you have a SIM card or the language file already downloaded on your phone to use offline (guide how to do that here). This is highly useful for traveling through Russian-speaking parts of the former USSR. This tip also came in handy in Taiwan when I had to translate Chinese as the camera can automatically ‘translate’ things, making you feel like you’re from the future.

The departure times between Chisinau and Moscow as of July 2018.

However, in my bumbling Russian, I was able to get what I wanted across. There were three departures on the day that I booked my ticket, all heading towards Moscow and making stops in Kiev along the way. Despite the ongoing war in Donbass between Russian and Ukrainian forces, trains are traveling between the two countries as scheduled.

The woman at the ticket counter told me my train was due to arrive the next day at around 15:00. I’m not sure when the other two trains would arrive in Kiev. Theoretically, according to an out of date blog post, the morning train would arrive somewhere around 2 in the morning, whereas the 23:00 train arrives past noon the next day.

Comparing those times to my experience, I’d say those times are off, though. Unless it follows a very different route or I accidentally took a train with countless local stops and the other train is an express train, I have a hard time buying that. I’ll leave that gap for other intrepid travelers to fill in – if you find out, comment below and I’ll update this post accordingly.

When at the train station, be sure to check out the Monument to the Victims of Stalinist Repression in front

All Aboard the Slowest Train of Your Life

From start to finish, it took a whopping 18 hours to span 500 kilometers, including a perplexing 9 hours to traverse Moldova… which, given the size of this tiny landlocked country, practically defies physics.

On Soviet train, Moldova leaves you!

The train departed at 21:19 exactly on schedule and chugged along through Moldova making countless stops, finally reaching the border with Ukraine around 6 AM. Luckily, unlike the night train to Istanbul, all the passport-checking takes place on board the train.

The train itself is spartan but functional, as befits a Soviet-era train. The train has bunk beds, where the bottom level has a luggage compartment underneath it that can be lifted up. The top bunks can be folded away and typically are, as it’s rare for the train to hit capacity (no need to buy tickets in advance save for the fact that the ticket line moves quite slowly). There are also bed/seat combinations on the side, so that each “section” can fit 6 people.

You’re given two sheets, a mattress pad that is actually quite comfortable, a pillow and pillowcase, and a towel if you’d like to wash your face or something on the train. There is hot water available and you can borrow glasses to drink tea or coffee out of (I assume you have to bring it yourself — my nice seat mate kindly shared his coffee with me in the morning, because people are angels). There was a restaurant car on my train in theory, but I didn’t check it out personally. The bathroom was actually one of the cleanest I’ve seen on a train, though of course, it’s strictly a BYO TP and hand sanitizer kind of affair.

One of the few photos I took on the train.

I wish I had taken better pictures but I am a shitty wannabe train blogger. I blame the combination of boarding a pitch black train, drugging myself in order to sleep, and then having a series of weird encounters with border officials and random people as soon as I woke up.

I arrived in Kiev around 3:10 PM the following day, pretty much exactly on schedule – if not a few minutes early.

Crossing Between Moldova and Ukraine

I exited Moldova with only a slight hitch. My border stamp, which I got at the Palanca border crossing commonly used between buses between Odessa and Chisinau, was so faded it almost looked as if it weren’t there.

I heard a flurry of a language I couldn’t understand with the words “Tiraspol” being bandied about — evidently, they thought that given the lack of entry stamp, I had entered via Transnistria. Eventually, they were able to detect the tiny hint of a Moldovan entry stamp (side note: I really hate it when this happens) and I was given my exit stamp.

After a quick and awkward pause for customs entering Ukraine (in which I thought I was being asked to get off the train because, again, toddler-level Russian, and began to change out of my sleeping shorts in front of a border guard), they quickly checked my baggage and ascertained that I hadn’t brought in too much alcohol in from Moldova.

I then waited for the Ukrainian passport control to come and stamp me in. The guards made some awkward comments on my appearance (oh, the joys of traveling while female) and then proceeded to ask me if I was sure if I didn’t need a visa to enter Ukraine (despite the fact that my entry stamp into Odessa a few days back was staring them right in the face).

This is the happy face of someone who didn’t take a bus.

All in all, it was a less pleasant experience than the super-smooth Palanca border crossing from Odessa, which had free Wi-Fi as well as the only land border Duty Free shop I’ve ever seen, but it was nothing crazy.

Just be aware that they don’t see a ton of people who are not Moldovan, Ukrainian, or Russian nationals doing this route so you may have to answer questions about visas that should seem obvious.

Welcome to Ukraine

Not long (I think – I was still blinking off the effects of my sleeping pills) after crossing the border into Ukraine, we pulled into a small city and instantly a flurry of activity began. People began boarding the train, selling kielbasa, soda, and SIM cards — ah, the trifecta of life’s necessities.

But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn.

I met a mysterious man in all yellow who addressed me in Russian. I repeat: all yellow, shirt, jeans, and all. Upon finding out I was foreign, his demeanor changed into something extremely exuberant. When I answered that I was American, he grew even more animated, and began shuffling through his briefcase through a series of tattily-laminated documents translated into several languages, the text of which read quite a bit like a standard spam e-mail and had a bunch of American-sounding names in it that, of course, meant nothing to me.

He began reading out the text of this spam-like document to me in English at full volume for the entire train to hear, flourishing his hands and shouting “your excellency,” trying to shake my hand with a suspicious forcefulness (which held what looked like a deck of laminated Tarot cards but were probably cards of Orthodox saints).

I was confused and still slightly drugged so I began yelling what I thought was “no, goodbye” in Russian over and over again… before realizing that I was babbling in Bulgarian. Whoops.

My seatmate — a young Russian backpacker about my age — looked on, bemused but looking prepared to intervene if necessary. When the man left, he cracked a smile.

“Welcome to Ukraine.”

Nicaragua Bucket List: 25 Epic Things to Do in Nicaragua

Learning to surf in Las Penitas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Nicaragua was just made for bucket list adventures – with nearly 20 active volcanoes and two equally epic coastlines, it’s heaven on earth for the adventurous spirit.

The icing on the cake? Nicaragua is one of the most affordable places to travel in all of North America, with budget-friendly hostels and lots of affordable things to do.

Nicaragua is far cheaper than its neighbors Costa Rica and Panama, but it’s just as full of adventures.

In fact, it’s one of the cheapest countries in the world to travel!

If you don’t know what is there to do in Nicaragua, you’re in luck – this country has something for everyone.

colorful houses in granada nicaragua

I spent over five weeks in this small yet action-packed country and had the adventure of a lifetime.

From hurdling down the slope of an active volcano to scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea, I couldn’t simply pick a top 10… so here are the 25 best things to do in Nicaragua to help you plan your trip.

Curious to see what to do in Nicaragua? Let’s get started!

Best Things to Do in Nicaragua

Volcano board down Central America’s youngest volcano.

Allison wearing hiking boots, shorts, and a red shirt, hiking up a mountain in order to go volcano boarding, one of the more unique things to do in Nicaragua

Of all the top things to do in Nicaragua, volcano boarding down Cerro Negro is perhaps the most unique.

Cerro Negro is a young volcano at only 150 years old, and it’s also one of Nicaragua’s most active.

In fact, it’s overdue for an eruption, adding an extra death-defying element to your 30+ mph hurdle down thousands of feet of volcanic gravel!

It’s one of the most popular activities to do in Nicaragua… truly, you can’t go far in the country without seeing a backpacker wearing a volcano boarding T-shirt.

This one’s not for the faint of heart — I fell three times and lived to tell the tale — but it’s an adrenaline rush that only Nicaragua can offer.

Volcano boarding is something you have to do with a tour; it’s impossible (and unwise!) to do independently.

It’s the most popular thing to do in Leon, so be sure to book ahead to reserve a spot.

It should go without saying, but make sure you have travel insurance in Nicaragua, especially when doing crazy things like this!

Where to Stay

I stayed in a dorm at Hostal Casa Abierta and loved it, especially the excellent outdoor pool (perfect for hot Léon) and the delicious restaurant.

It’s quiet but well-kept, with its own eco garden and sustainability measures, which I really liked!

Cliff jump and swim through Nicaragua’s canyons.

Allison wearing a bathing suit and sneakers while canyoning in Somoto, a fantastic place to visit in Nicaragua

The incredible Somoto Canyon was only “discovered” in 2004, and it’s a well-kept secret (though less guarded as each year passes).

Few people outside of Nicaragua have even heard of it!

Those who go will be rewarded with turquoise blue water surrounded by limestone cliffs reaching hundreds of feet high.

You can jump off cliffs up to 33 feet high or just swim and float through the peaceful water.

No matter how you enjoy it, Somoto is one of the best things to see in Nicaragua, so be sure you make time for it if possible.

Be sure to reapply your sunscreen carefully under your life jacket, so you don’t end up permanently branded with a tramp stamp suntan like I did. Ooops.

I suggest you go with a tour like I did — my friends who tried to go on their own found it rather difficult.

Where to Stay: Stay in Léon or if you want to attempt to self-guide, check out Estelí. You can get to Somoto easily from there, about 1.5 hours away.

For Estelí, Casa Vínculos is among the best-rated rated in town and an excellent bargain.

See lava bubble and glow at Masaya.

Looking into the lava at Masaya and seeing it glow in the dark

In Granada and wondering what to do? Nicaragua’s most lively volcano is right outside the city!

There’s nothing that makes you respect the badass b*tch that is Mother Nature like staring into the eye of a bubbling orange lava pit!

At Masaya Volcano, you can peer into the volcano from a safe distance, though because of the noxious fumes they limit your time at the crater to about 10 minutes.

Still, it’s an incredible experience, and definitely one of the most iconic things to do in Nicaragua.

Best as a day trip from Granada, a night tour to Masaya surely should top any list of must dos in Nicaragua.

Where to Stay: I prefer to stay in Granada and take a tour, though it’s possible to stay in Masaya as well.

For hostels, I recommend El Caite since they have a pool and Granada is hot, hot, hot.

If you prefer hotels, try Hotel Colonial – the nicest in town and not too expensive!

Swim in an ancient volcanic caldera at Laguna de Apoyo.

a giant lake in a caldera where you can swim in nicaragua

Laguna de Apoyo is a lake formed in the caldera of an extinct volcano between the capital of Managua and the tourist favorite of Granada.

At 175 meters (574 feet) deep, this natural lake is actually surprisingly warm… thanks to the geothermal activity below!

Hostels nearby offer amenities like kayak and stand-up paddleboard rental.

You can do a day trip for as little as $12 including roundtrip transportation and day access to amenities.

Now really, where else can you kayak inside a volcano?

There’s a reason this is one of the most popular places to visit in Nicaragua, so join the crowds and enjoy it.

If you don’t feel like making the day trip to Laguna de Apoyo and would prefer some nature right in Granada, kayaking the Isletas of Granada are a great second choice!

Check tour availability here!

Where to Stay: Same as above – stay in Granada; my recommendations are above!

Learn to surf in Las Peñitas.

Learning to surf in Las Penitas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Many people go to San Juan del Sur to learn to surf, but I preferred quiet little Las Peñitas, about a 30 minute chicken bus from León.

Lessons start around $20, cheaper than San Juan del Sur where they’re around $30, and the beach in town is much lovelier than San Juan’s.

If surfing’s not your thing – the sunsets ain’t bad either!

The die-hards amongst us can choose a surf camp, but it’s also possible to pick lessons á la carte as you prefer.

Where to Stay: For a hostel, I recommend Mano a Mano Eco Hostel. For a guesthouse, I’d suggest Nayal Lodge.

Hike in the Miraflor Nature Reserve.

the lush green landscape of the miraflor nature reserve in nicaragua's northern area

Nicaragua’s north is untouched and pristine, and Estelí makes the perfect base for jumping off to nearby Somoto Canyon and Miraflor Nature Reserve.

You can even arrange 3- to 4-day long homestays with local families who live within the nature reserve if you really want to get off the beaten path and discover Nicaragua’s north.

You can easily make it a day trip by asking around in Estelí.

Where to Stay: Same as my recommendations for Somoto Canyon, Casa Vínculos.

Party in San Juan del Sur.

the orange and white church in san juan del sur with orange and blue benches

This little touristy town in the very south of Nicaragua (that’s where the “del Sur” comes in) is surprisingly charming despite the legions of Sunday Funday-ers.

Sunday Funday is a massive pool crawl that takes place — you guessed it — each Sunday, with an open bar across 3 different hostels.

The bad news is that this’ll cost you a cool $30 USD, a fortune in cheap Nicaragua.

My liver definitely cannot make $30 worth of beer worthwhile, so I passed.

If you’re younger and hipper than I am, this is one of the can’t-miss things to do in Nicaragua.

Where to Stay: Pick a place wisely — the hostels in town are very party-heavy. If you have more of a budget, Hotel Alcazar has some of the nicest rooms in town.

Sleep on top of an active volcano.

Allison wearing hiking clothes and sitting on the side of a crater of a volcano in Nicaragua, Telica volcano

Telica Volcano is another one of Nicaragua’s most active, and it also has the best view of all of them!

And that’s saying something, as Nicaragua has nearly 20 of them.

It’s home to a constantly smoking lava pit and views out to the Pacific as well as San Cristobal.

Since it’s located right on the Ring of Fire, you can also see the other surrounding volcanoes (five of ’em in a row) all the way down to Lake Nicaragua.

The smoke from the crater may look ominous, but it’s actually a good sign — my guide told me that when it stops smoking, that’s when it’s time to run!

On lucky nights, you can look down and even see lava glowing, though not quite at the level as you can at Masaya.

We didn’t have any luck to see the red lava, but the sunset and the following morning’s sunrise were more than worth the climb.

In my eyes, this is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, so if you’re into hiking, be sure to make time for Telica.

I recommend doing this as a tour unless you’re a super experienced hiker, as the paths leading up to the volcano aren’t well marked and there aren’t too many people around.

This is the tour I did — I recommend it highly!

There’s nowhere to stay on Telica — just your tent — so see my references above for where to stay in Leon.

Scuba dive – or just relax – in the Corn Islands.

The pristine waters of Little Corn, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua, with a sailboat out on the turquoise and dark blue sea.

The untouched paradise of Little Corn Island will forever have a little piece of my heart – this gem of an island is simply special.

In contrast to the lovely laidback island life, the surrounding reefs are teeming with active marine life.

Swim with peaceful nurse sharks, parrotfish, spiny lobster, barracudas, blowfish, and more.

It’s one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, if not the entire Caribbean (I found the diving there comparable to Roatan and Utila, though not quite as good as Cozumel).

Little Corn is one of the cheapest places in the world to get SCUBA certified; when I was there, it only set me back about $330 USD.

If you’re already certified, dives here are cheap. When I was there, you could get a package of fun dives, 5 for $150, or single dives for about $35 each.

Make sure you have dive insurance if you dive in Nicaragua! I use DAN, and I use that in addition to my regular travel insurance.

Where to Stay: There aren’t too many options for hostels – I stayed in a private room with a shared bathroom at Three Brothers and thought it offered great value for money.

If you have more money to spend and want something a bit fancy, you can’t go wrong with Yemaya Reefs, where I was a guest for two nights and was the highlight of my time in Nicaragua!

Learn how chocolate is made in Matagalpa.

a man and a woman in matagalpa making and packaging chocolates

Wondering what to visit in Nicaragua’s northern highlands?

If in Matagalpa, be sure to check out El Castillo de Cacao, a small little chocolate operation where for around $6 USD, you can receive a tour showing you how they make their own chocolate from nearby farms.

It’s no Willy Wonka, but it’s a charming and humble little factory — and samples and coffee are included, of course!

As chocolate is one of the most important crops in the country, it’s definitely one of the most iconic (and delicious!) top things to do in Nicaragua.

Where to Stay: In my opinion, Maria’s B&B can’t be beat in Matagalpa!

Visit a coffee farm.

the lake at serra negra near matagalpa where you can enjoy a cup of coffee

Nicaragua is renowned for its delicious coffee, and Matagalpa’s surrounding highlands are some of the best places to grow coffee in the world.

If you take the chicken bus from Matagalpa towards Jinotega, you can stop at Selva Negra and take a coffee tour for $20 USD, including tasting the best of Nicaragua’s coffee scene.

These tours only happen once or twice daily, so be sure to call ahead to inquire about schedules.

If that’s not in your budget, you can get a cup of freshly brewed coffee at the restaurant for less than a dollar and enjoy the views of the pond.

You can also hike around the surrounding cloud forest, which is extremely well marked with clearly defined paths.

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Matagalpa!

Stand atop the largest cathedral in Central America.

Allison Green wearing a blue dress sitting on top of a white cathedral in leon

In a country not particularly known for its architecture, the Cathedral de Léon is one thing you simply must see in Nicaragua.

It’s iconic for a reason: how incredibly dreamy is that white rooftop?

They keep it so white by requiring you take off your shoes — wear socks or be prepared for your feet to scorch!

From there, you have an amazing view of the volcanoes surrounding León – you can see Cerro Negro of volcano boarding fame, Telica, Momotombo and Momotombito, San Cristobal, and others flanking the city.

Definitely one of the most photogenic things to do in Nicaragua – I may have had a 30-minute long solo selfie shoot!

Where to Stay: As before – Poco a Poco Hostel for budget; Casa Azul for mid-range.

Pay your respects to those who died in the Revolution.

a small, humble museum room with some artifacts

Wondering what to do in Nicaragua’s revolutionary city, Léon?

Visit the Museo de la Revolución, of course!

It is not really a traditional museum; there are no informational placards and very few artifacts to speak of.

What makes this collection of rooms — mostly filled with simply framed photos resting on the floor — a museum is the people who guide you through it: survivors of Nicaragua’s bloody revolution.

Listening to the guide will help you understand the issues both historical and present which face the country today.

Learn how to roll Nicaragua’s finest cigars.

an older woman smoking a cigar at a nicaragua cigar factory

When you think cigars, your mind naturally goes to Cuba – but did you know that hundreds of Cubans fled to Nicaragua after the Cuban Revolution and brought their tobacco farming knowledge with them?

Now, Estelí makes some of the finest cigars in the world, and for around $10 you can take a tour of one of the city’s many small cigar factories selling the best of Nicaragua.

One of the most badass grandmas in the world, who had been working at the factory for nearly 50 years, carefully taught me how to roll cigars.

I had to smile when she deemed me fit to work in the factory and dubbed me “la reina de la fábrica” — queen of the factory.

Learning to roll cigars from the pros is definitely a can’t miss thing to do in Nicaragua’s north, even if you’re not a cigar smoker!

Where to Stay: If you want a hotel, Casa Vínculos is the highest rated in town.

Chase waterfalls in Estelí.

Tisey Estanzuela waterfall in nicaragua near esteli

If you’re in Estelí looking for some exciting things to do, Nicaragua’s waterfalls can’t be missed!

The cigar factories of Estelí are so cool, but you leave them feeling as if you’ve just lost a year of life from your lungs because the fumes are ridiculous.

Refresh your poor lungs at one of the many beautiful waterfalls flanking Estelí.

Tisey Estanzuela is the most well-known and is quite close to town – about two hours’ walking distance or a cheap, quick taxi ride away.

If you want to go further afield, there are day trips to Colocondo and Quiabuc las Brisas, which you can find in town when you visit Estelí.

Where to Stay: See recommendations for Estelí above.

Kayak in Nicaragua’s idyllic mangroves.

sunset near the mangroves of nicaragua with water and boats

Kayaking through mangroves of Isla Juan Venado, a nature reserve near Las Peñitas on Nicaragua’s northern Pacific coast, is one of the most peaceful things to do in Nicaragua.

Look for birds and other native life, and if you’re lucky, you may even see a turtle laying its eggs in the sand, as this is a protected turtle sanctuary.

It’s one of my favorite places to visit in Nicaragua, and it’s peaceful and not very touristy.

Where to Stay: I recommend staying in Las Peñitas and getting a day tour or overnight stay. For a hostel, I suggest Mano a Mano Eco Hostel or for a guesthouse, I’d suggest Nayal Lodge.

Get a chocolate massage.

woman receiving a chocolate massage with a flower in her hair, looking relaxed

You may be exhausted just reading all of the epic things to do in Nicaragua….

… So why not take 5 (or 60) and relax with a chocolate massage at the luxe Mansion de Chocolate, a colonial era building turned hotel and spa in the beautiful city of Granada?

For a mere $40 USD or so, you can get lathered up in chocolate, scrubbed off, and then have an invigorating massage to soak up all that cacao-y goodness.

Not into the massage, but still curious about chocolate? There are also chocolate workshops in Granada that teach you how to make chocolate.

Where to Stay: If you’re on a budget, try El Caite. If you have some extra cash, though, you can stay at the Mansion de Chocolate itself for not that much money!

Photograph the colonial buildings of Granada.

green and blue houses of granada in the colonial area

Granada is an Instagrammer’s dream and its colonial architecture is one of the top attractions in Nicaragua – houses of every color line the streets.

From deep cobalt blues to vibrant yellows and hot pinks, basically every color you can think up has a home here.

The doors are no less stunning, and so fun to pose in if you can grab a photo buddy. One of the can’t-miss things to do in Nicaragua without a doubt!

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Granada.

Get the best view of Nicaragua’s most iconic church.

brilliant skyline view of the granada cathedral at sunset with lovely colors.

The best view in Granada costs only a buck, and it’s a Nicaragua must see.

Climb to the top of Iglesia de la Merced‘s belltower and marvel at the view of the yellow and red postcard-perfect Granada Cathedral.

Lake Nicaragua even peeps behind it to make a photobomb appearance so you can really grab the perfect photo!

Go around 5 PM for the best light and a sneak glimpse of sunset before the belltower closes at 5:30.

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Granada.

Try the local food.

Allison Green eating a lobster tail while at a restaurant in Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s food will never win any awards for creativity, but it’s not without its comforts.

Gallo pinto – a simple side of rice and beans – will adorn basically every local meal you eat in this country.

Have it with pollo asado (grilled chicken), tajadas (super-thin plantain chips), ensalada, and maduros (sweet roasted plantains) for the most Nica of meals.

Other things to try include vigerón in Granada, a dish made of yucca, cabbage, and chicharrón, and nacatamales, a Nicaraguan spin on the tamale.

Also, if you like lobster, this is one of the cheapest places in the world to eat it!

You can get a whole lobster meal for about $10 USD in certain parts of the country, particularly the Pacific Coast and Little Corn Island.

Swim in a natural spring on Isla de Ometepe.

El Ojo de Agua is a natural swimming hole on the stunning Isla de Ometepe, an island composed of two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is freaking hot pretty much any time of year, so cool off with a lovely dip at this natural beauty.

There are lots of fun things to see in Ometepe to make it worth your while, so swimming in the springs is only one of many things you can do!

Where to Stay: I didn’t make it to Ometepe – I blame the beautiful Corn Islands for holding me captive for two weeks – but I’ve heard to skip Moyogalpa, the port city. Instead, try to find accommodations in Altagracia, Balgue, or Mérida on Ometepe.

Hike Nicaragua’s toughest volcano, Concepción.

the concepcion volcano in nicaragua with smoke at the crater

Warning: not for the faint of heart.

I didn’t even attempt this one after hearing from countless people that it took over 10 hours and was the toughest thing they have done in their lives.

At 5,282 feet or 1,610 meters, altitude is not what’ll get you here: it’s the sheer steepness of the incline, muddiness of the paths, and relentlessness of the Nicaraguan sun.

After climbing Telica and Cerro Negro, I can attest that climbing any volcano in Nicaragua is tough, and Concepción only ups the ante.

Maderas, the other volcano composing Ometepe, is also tough but supposedly not quite as difficult.

It is illegal to hike either volcano without a guide, and with good reason – people have lost their lives trying. A guide will cost you around $50-70 for a day hike.

See a Pacific sunset.

Seeing a pacific sunset, one of the simplest yet best things to do in Nicaragua

As a California girl, the Pacific holds a special place in my heart.

Whether you watch the sun sink into the ocean from the chilled out beach town of Las Peñitas, the surf mecca of Popoyo, or the party city of San Juan del Sur, you can’t go wrong with that view.

One of the simplest yet best things to do in Nicaragua.

Check out a traditional craft market in Masaya.

colorful woven hammocks and basket chairs in nicaragua at masaya market

If you’re a souvenir person, Nicaragua’s got your back.

Quite literally, in fact, if you opt for their most famous export, the high-quality hand-woven hammocks. These’ll set you back about $20 apiece.

Ceramics, jewelry, and embroidered clothing also round out the craft offerings you’ll find here.

Masaya’s craft market is the most traditional in the country.

Just make sure to ask to be directed to the municipal or local market – prices are half the price of the tourist market!

Where to Stay: Masaya is easy enough to get to by chicken bus from Granada, but if you’d like to stay and get a more local experience, there are lots of affordable places to lay your head at night in Masaya. The best-reviewed guesthouse in town is Hostal Casa San Miguel.

Ride a chicken bus.

The humble chicken bus, the real Nicarin

This is more of an inevitability than a thing to do, but alas.

If you haven’t taken a chicken bus, I don’t think you get to say that you’ve been to Nicaragua.

The humble chicken bus will take you virtually anywhere you need to go in this country for a song – I never paid more than $2 for a single journey, and often less than $1.

These are converted American schoolbuses tricked out to the nines with distinctly Jesus-y vibes.

Enterprising locals swarm the bus at every stop, selling sodas, tajadas, enchiladas (which are basically empanadas with salad), cakes, coffee, you name it.

It doesn’t get more Nicaraguan than that!

Important Safety Notes 

Travel Insurance: Nicaragua is generally a safe but developing country, and accidents, illness, or theft can happen anywhere. There have also been intermittent protests and unrest between 2018 and 2022, which could potentially impact some travel plans. Have travel insurance just in case – I use SafetyWing.

Mosquitos: Nicaragua has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there.

While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, unless you’re pregnant and concerned about Zika, protect yourself anyway with mosquito repellent.

I also carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my backpack in case I forget to bring spray.

Petty Theft: Nicaragua is one of the safer countries in Latin America. However, crimes of opportunity happen everywhere.

Pay attention to your belongings, especially on public transit, and I recommend this anti-theft backpack with locking zippers if you chose to carry a daypack.

11 Incredible Wadi Rum Bubble Hotels to See the Night Sky!

woman posing on the interior of a wadi rum bubble tent showing the see-through dome effect of the tent

Ready to step off the earth and into a whole new planet?

Staying in a Wadi Rum bubble dome hotel in the stunning Jordanian desert is closest thing you’ll find to waking up on Mars.

Imagine this: after a day of exploring the alien-like landscapes of Wadi Rum — affectionately dubbed the Valley of the Moon, since just about everything about this place is extraterrestrial — you return to your own private bubble dome.

Picture a tent shaped like an astronaut’s helmet, complete with a glass panel to take in the Jordan desert views, but with WiFi and air-conditioning… yup, that’s what glamping in Wadi Rum is all about.

View through the glass panels of a Wadi rum bubble tent, someone in bed looking at the desert landscape

These clear-paneled geodesic domes encapsulates a fusion of modernity — the stunning glass, the modern construction — and traditional Jordanian design.

There are a surprisingly large number of bubble hotels in Wadi Rum, and it can be hard to suss out what the difference between each is.

Rather than sort through all the Jordan glamping options laboriously on your own, we’ve done the legwork for you and picked out the top Wadi Rum igloo hotels for you.

Here they are, alongside our thoughts on the type of traveler they’re best for!

The Best Wadi Rum Bubble Hotels

Sci-Fi Vibes: Memories Aicha Luxury Camp

Have you ever dreamed of staying on your own alien base? Memories Aicha Luxury Camp will allow you to do just that. 

The blue panels and sprawling (yet geometrically balanced) setup will make you feel like you’re staying at a location straight out of your favorite sci-fi adventure. Just wait until you see it lit up at night!

After checking in, meander down the pathway to your very own private geodesic dome, where you can enjoy amazing mountain views from the comfort of your bubble. 

Your dome includes a private bathroom and a comfy bed, as well as an outdoor sitting area depending on your price options.

view of a wadi rum bubble hotel at night

Once you’re settled in, you might want to head over to the coffee house or restaurant to enjoy some eats while still taking in the sights.

Or, if that doesn’t appeal, perhaps you’re in the mood for a relaxing afternoon in the luxury tent’s public bath or the warmth of the sun terrace. 

Whether you want to take in the garden, go on an excursion to check out the surrounding area, or simply kick back with your favorite sci-fi novel, you won’t have to fantasize about a good time at Memories Aicha Luxury Camp. 

Check availability, prices, and reviews here!

Star-Gazers’ Delight: Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel

The night sky has fascinated humans for generations, and the open desert is  the perfect place to catch the show.

We think that Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel is an especially great place for stargazers, and after one night here, I’m willing to bet you’ll agree!

This place is seriously unique, even among the unique world of bubble hotels.

Located in a protected area near the French Fortress, the Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel offers stargazing experiences with local astronomers on hand to tell you all about what you’re seeing. 

As if all that wasn’t enough, it also features a waterslide, a magnificent restaurant that offers a high tea, and geodesic domes with private terraces on which you can eat your own personal assortment of fresh fruits (yum!).

wadi rum bubble hotel during the day

Speaking of the domes, each one is on its own little foundation, and thoughtfully spaced well away from the other domes so that you’ll feel like you’re staying on your own little island. 

The plush, white decor makes them feel like you’re sleeping inside your own personal cloud.

Each room is air-conditioned with free WiFi, a coffee/tea maker, and a private bathroom. 

Great news for those traveling with your littles: cots and extra beds are available upon request!

With its luxurious amenities and stunning views any time of day or night, you’ll be glad you chose this 5-star option when it comes to desert getaways.

Check availability, rates, and reviews here!

Jacuzzi Paradise: Wadi Rum Bubble Luxotel

Let’s take the luxury up a notch: do you want your desert views with a comfy jacuzzi too? At Wadi Rum Bubble Luxotel, you can find exactly that! 

Each luxury bubble accommodation has its own jacuzzi tub on a private balcony, which almost guarantees that you’ll be able to unwind and feel like Bedouin royalty after just a few short hours on the premises.

Just imagine all your cares melting away with a restful soak while taking in mountain views or the desert’s night sky.

As if that weren’t already more than enough to convince you, this resort brings the meaning of “personal bubble” to life in the best possible way.

Let’s just say living in a bubble isn’t a bad thing, here!

person in a wadi rum bubble tent with views of desert around him

Each air-conditioned accommodation is in the shape of (what else?) a bubble and feels like one too, if that bubble was filled with beautiful mid-century furniture to make you feel like royalty.

The resort’s twin and king suites are ideal for two people, but a sofa bed can accommodate a third guest upon request.  

Each bubble comes with a private bathroom and luxury items for your comfort (think bathrobes, slippers, and hair dryers).

The decor is specifically designed with relaxation in mind to create the perfect environment to ease you into a peaceful night’s sleep.

In the morning, you can take coffee or tea on your balcony while enjoying the outdoor hammock and furniture.

Start the day with a buffet breakfast before heading out on the day’s adventures, which you can select at the property! 

When it comes to 5-star, world-class treatment, Wadi Rum Bubble Luxotel is hard to beat.

And we haven’t even talked about their amazing barbeque yet! You’ll just have to drop by and try it for yourself.

Check rates, reviews, and availability here!

Best Photo-Opp: Sun City Camp

If you’re looking for hands down the best glamor in the desert, park yourself at Sun City Camp

It may look like a destination right out of Star Wars, but it’s actually a luxury resort where you’ll have trouble putting your phone down, but for a good reason.

Everywhere you turn is an amazing, new photo opportunity. Just don’t forget to enjoy the moment!

It’s honestly hard to put it into words, but this place is simply gorgeous.

The light and dark browns of the dome and square-shaped dwellings reflect the sunshine-meets-shadow hues of the desert, while the crisp edges of the walkways are reminiscent of the region’s rock outcroppings. 

The insides aren’t too shabby either!

You can have your choice of rooms (single, double, triple), tents (royal or family two-bedroom), or Martian domes (aka, the classic Wadi Rum bubble hotel) each with panoramic views of the mountains. 

wadi rum bubble hotel at night with everything lit up and night sky

You’ll love how the colorful, traditional decor makes you feel like you’re at an actual Bedouin camp.

Each dwelling has its own private bathroom, shower, and air-conditioning unit, ensuring that you have the most comfortable stay imaginable.

When your tummy starts growling (or you feel the itch to take some food shots), head over to Sun City’s restaurant to enjoy the camp’s signature dish: traditional Zarb. 

In between bites of slow-cooked lamb, chicken, rice, and vegetables, you’ll enjoy spontaneous live entertainment that will transport you back in time to the days of traditional desert hospitality. 

Whether you’re enjoying the common area, restaurant, or private accommodations, Sun City Camp is sure to make you feel part of the culture and heritage of Jordan. 

Check rates, reviews, and availability here!

Garden Glitz: Sara Luxury Camp

If you ask me, Sara Luxury Camp is a beautiful name for a desert hotel, and I think that it lives up to its name!

This stunning Jordan bubble hotel is well known for its garden, and you’ll feel like you are in a living garden with every step you take on the premises. 

If your idea of beauty is a vast hall with crystal chandeliers or dome rooms that are geometrically spaced into a perfect pyramid pattern, this encampment is the place for you.

Choose from a couples-size or family-size tent, and get ready for a luxurious stay. 

view of a bubble hotel in wadi rum in the daytime

You’ll love how you feel like you’re living in a cloud. The bed linens and decor come in billowy white, and even the showers are crafted from white stone. 

A private bathroom, slippers, hairdryer, and free toiletries will keep you snug in your accommodations, while a snack bar, sun terrace, and 24-hour front desk will give you the full resort experience.

Start your desert day with an on-site breakfast before relaxing at the public bath or taking in the mountain and garden views. 

Later, enjoy a local coffee at the on-site coffee house or relax with other guests at the fireplace. Need some privacy? Set out on a picnic or plan a stop in the hotel’s chapel for some quiet and solace.

Sara Luxury Camp’s main mission is to give guests a satisfying experience of a lifetime, and they live up to it admirably.

From its cooking classes, happy hours, and themed evenings, you can’t go wrong by making Sara your home base during your Wadi Rum bubble hotel stay.

Check rates, reviews, and availability here!

The Martian: Zeina Desert Lodge

Ever wondered what it would be like to live on Mars? Zeina Desert Lodge is the perfect chance to find out!

This resort is located extremely closely to where the movie The Martian was filmed. And, yes, the cliffs and clay are really that red!

While you can certainly stay in a the typical Wadi Rum bubble tent if that’s your heart’s desire, Zeina Desert Lodge also offers accommodations that are more, well, lodge-like (some rooms even have a loft). 

Regardless of your room choice, you can expect luxury with mountain views, towels, slippers, and a private bathroom.

The dome rooms and suites come with a private terrace or balcony from which to view the sunrise (and trust me, you’ll want to wake up in time to catch that view).

desert of wadi rum with bubble hotels in the background

Other perks of this resort are its outdoor fireplace and seating area as well as the hanging swings!

The swings, lined with cushions and blankets, are the perfect perch for reading, daydreaming, or cuddling with a loved one.

Zeina Desert Lodge doesn’t disappoint on the culinary side either. The resort’s restaurant offers Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Moroccan cuisine. A buffet breakfast can be enjoyed daily.

While we likely won’t be able to visit Mars in this lifetime, we can tell you that Zeina Desert Lodge might be the next best thing.

Check availability, rates, and reviews here!

Royal Luxury with Private Beach: Rum Desert Princess Camp

If you want the highest luxury that the desert can offer, Rum Desert Princess Camp is the perfect place for you.

As the name might suggest, you’ll be treated like royalty from the first moment you arrive.

Just take the restaurant, for example. It offers cuisine from nearly 40 nations! 

Unlike other desert resorts, Rum Desert Princess Camp also has a public bath, hot tub, private beach, and a spa with all the fixings!

Just think of how relaxed you’ll feel after a facial or massage. 

aerial view of wadi rum bubble hotel with desert landscape during the daytime

Did we mention there’s also a casino? You won’t be at a loss for things to do, regardless of the time of year.

Even better: that goes for your littles as well! They’re sure to enjoy the children’s playground and kids club.

No matter the size of your party, Rum Desert Princess Camp can accommodate you. Choose from single, double, and triple rooms or book one of the suites. 

There’s even a room with 12 single beds if you’re traveling with a group. Each unit is air-conditioned and has a functional kitchen to make sure your stay is just as convenient as you want it to be. 

While you’ll surely be ready for a good night’s sleep by the end of your Rum Desert Princess Camp day, don’t call it a night without a royal celebration at the bar.

In addition to wonderful libations, live entertainment and music will be the perfect nightcap to send you off to dreamland.

Check prices, rates, and reviews here!

Best on a Budget: Star Rum

Want a Wadi Rum trip vacation at a price that leaves room in the bank for other travel later in the year? Star Rum may be for you.

They pack a powerful vacation punch at a great value. They even have a public bath you can use for a luxe hammam experience in the desert!

The bubble units at Star Rum offer city views, air-conditioning, and free WiFi. They also come with fully equipped kitchens in case you want to try your hand at making your own feast!

a view of the wadi rum bubble hotels of the landscape

With a fridge, stovetop, toaster, dishwasher, oven and more, you can make Star Rum your home away from home.

Our favorite perk? The plush chairs! Many of the rooms have comfy chairs in soft textures and wonderful colors.

You’ll love looking out over the desert landscape from the comfort of your own little chair in your bubble room.

While guests appreciate the great value, they also comment on the incredible experience Star Rum offers.

You’ll love moseying down the walkways to the resort lounge or to enjoy à la carte breakfast each morning.  

Check availability, rates, and reviews here!

Garden Oasis Grounds: Palmera Camp Wadi Rum

When we talk about Palmera Camp Wadi Rum – we might as well call it the “desert resort oasis.”

This place positively sparkles with green lawns under every bubble room!  

It even has an outdoor swimming pool complete with a lawn area and very plush sun loungers. Who says the desert can’t be cushy, even lush?

Palm trees and boardwalk pathways will lead you to your abode, which is likely to be one of the most colorful in the desert.

Don’t let the typical geodesic dome exterior fool you; inside your room is a delightful palette of rich tapestries and mosaics in a gorgeous Jordanian style.

You’ll have your choice between king or twin rooms, but either way you’ll enjoy a unique traditional-meets-modern feel.

You’ll think you’ve stepped into a dreamlike mirage when you see the fire pit area!

Etched into the side of a cliff, the cushion-lined space begs for group gatherings, good eats, and stories of days of old.

You’re sure to feel as though you’ve traveled back in time as you mingle with friends and strangers in the flickering light.

a glamping scene of bubble hotels in jordan at night with lit up tents

Each room has access to a continental breakfast and the on-site restaurant. The resort also offers billiards and a selection of hiking paths.

One caveat, though: if you’re looking for a more natural desert experience, this may not be the place for you. 

Palmera is so stunning that you might (almost) forget that you’re in the desert. What you won’t forget are the memories that you will make here. 

Check availability, rates, and reviews here!

Couples’ Delight: Bubble RumCamp

When it’s time for a romantic getaway with your special someone, you want your environment to reflect your relationship.

For this, we suggest giving the idyllic Bubble RumCamp a try. 

While it’s open to guests of all ages, couples highly recommend it in particular for its charming, intimate ambiance.

Each of Bubble RumCamp’s single, double, and triple rooms has its own terrace and comfy furnishings.

a comfortable wadi rum bubble hotel for glamping in jordan on a cloudy day

You’ll love the stone accents that outline each terrace as well as your own set of outdoor furniture to enjoy. 

Luxurious linens, free WiFi, and a private bathroom with toiletries will ensure that you’re surrounded by comfort for the duration of your stay.

While the scenery alone will set a proper mood, you can also forge a deeper connection with your loved one by enjoying the continental breakfast or sampling local coffees at the on-site coffee house. 

Lounge on the sun terrace to soak up the rays or take a trip to the public bath, and when the sun sets, enjoy a themed dinner night or perhaps a nice, long walk in the desert.

Check availability, rates, and reviews here!

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

Where to Stay in Alta: 9 Unique Hotels, Igloos, & Aurora Cabins!

Aurora glamping dome in the forest

While Tromsø often steals the show when it comes to Norway’s Arctic winter offerings, Alta is slowly emerging as a great alternative destination away from the crowds.

You can do all the same things in Alta in winter as you can in Tromsø, while saving some serious money on hotels, which are a lot more affordable in Alta.

Want to go dog-sledding? You can do it with literal dog sled champions!

Dog sledding lodge in Alta
Holmen Husky Lodge – a great place to go dog sledding!

See the Northern lights? Alta is literally the City of the Northern lights, where the world’s first Northern lights observatory was built.

Whale watching? Yup, and you won’t need to take a 3-hour boat ride across rough seas to find them!

Plus, Alta has some seriously unique accommodations outside of the city center, including panoramic glass cabins, igloo hotels, wilderness lodges, and canvas-and-glass domes.

Ready? Let’s get into it!

Best Alta Aurora Cabins & Tents for Northern Lights Views

Flatmoen Nature LodgeBook Here

A person in a hot tub in this Alta lodge
Flatmoen Nature Lodge | Photo Credit:

One of the more unique accommodations in Alta is the beautiful Flatmoen Nature Lodge, which has just two scenic panoramic cabins, each with its own private outdoor hot tub.

This beautiful little cabin is away from the main lights of Alta city center, in the Ovre Alta area. 

It sleeps two people, so it’s a great choice for couples or two friends traveling together who don’t mind sharing a queen bed (note that in Scandinavia, individual duvets are always provided!) 

This cabin has a coffee/tea station and a small kitchenette if you want to cook for yourself, including a mini-fridge, microwave, and stovetop. Being able to cook yourself is a great way to save some money on your trip to Norway!

And if you want breakfast in bed? You can request it and it’ll be cooked to order and delivered to your room for just 200 NOK (about ~18 USD).

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Trasti & Trine – Book Here

The aurora in Alta over a snow-covered cabin
Trasti & Trine | View of the Northern lights over the property

While I didn’t stay at Trasti & Trine, two of my favorite memories of my Alta trip took place here…

One, the delicious multi-course fine dining meal we splurged on here, and two, seeing the Northern lights from their property as soon as we waddled away from the meal!

Fine dining menu at trasti and trine in alta, norway
Meal at Trasti & Trine

The property is really beautiful, with a typical guesthouse as well four aurora cabins.

These four individual cabins all have glass panels aimed towards the heavens so that if you turn off the lights, you can see if there’s any aurora happening above you.

They also have a dog kennel on site so you can book dog sledding excursions through them!

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GLØD Aurora Canvas Dome – Book Here

Aurora seen through the ceiling of an aurora dome
GLØD Aurora Canvas Dome | Photo Credit: Agoda

For a unique spin on glamping, the adventure travel company GLØD has a two aurora domes that you can stay in. 

And don’t worry — they have a fireplace (and electric blankets) so you won’t freeze!

These canvas domes have a few plexiglass panels that you can look out through and see if there’s any aurora happening over your head

Note that these aurora domes don’t have their own ensuite bathrooms, but there is a shared bathroom nearby. Breakfast is included in your stay in the main building.

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Best Alta Luxury Hotels

Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge – Book Here

Interior of the Sorrisniva Arctic wilderness lodge in the winter
Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge | Photo Credit:

One of the most spectacular places you can stay in Alta is the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge, which is the year-round permanent hotel companion to the beautiful Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. 

The hotel is a boutique design dream, with beautiful interiors that place the focus on the stunning views over the river valley. 

Both the bed and comfortable armchairs face the views with floor-to-ceiling-to-roof windows (yes, there’s a glass roof panel, perfect for peeking through to see if the aurora is overhead), as well as an enclosed balcony.

This lodge is all about enjoying the nature, so there’s a ton to do here that you can organize through the hotel. From summer activities like king crab safaris to winter activities like snowmobiling and Northern lights chasing, there’s so much to do here. Plus, the restaurant here is one of Alta’s best!

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Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel Book Here

Allison Green sitting in an ice hotel in Norway with a yellow sweater and snow boots
Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel | Photo taken from my February 2024 visit

Part of the Sorrisniva property, the igloo hotel is a temporary hotel rebuilt from scratch every year, re-opening annually on December 20th.

Even if you can’t afford to (or prefer not to) spend a night in the hotel, you can visit for 350 NOK (~32 USD) and spend as much time as you like exploring all the cool features of the hotel.

With an ice chapel, ice bar, all sorts of stunning ice sculptures created by artists near and far, there’s so much to see in this beautiful igloo hotel.

I’d honestly only recommend staying one night in an igloo hotel — it’s more of an interesting conceit than a comfortable stay — so you could stay here one night and then move to the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge the next day.

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Best Alta City Center Hotels

Thon Hotel Alta – Book Here

Thon Hotel | Photo from my stay in February 2024

The modern and ultra-central Thon Hotel is personally where I stayed in Alta and I can highly recommend it to people who want to stay in Alta center.

The rooms were really spacious and comfortable and I enjoyed the tropical vibe of the décor, which provided a nice contrast to the freezing cold outside!

View from the hotel room in Alta
View from my room at the Thon Hotel in Alta in February 2024

The breakfast buffet was absolutely delicious, the best I enjoyed in all my travels in Norway. I especially loved being able to make my own freshly-squeezed orange juice each morning!

The only con I can say is that there’s no on-site parking and the main parking center in the city is quite expensive, but that’s true for all Alta city center hotels as far as I can see.

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Scandic Hotel – Book Here

Interior of the scandic hotel with a white bed and aurora painting
Scandic Hotel Alta | Photo Credit:

I didn’t stay at the Scandic Hotel Alta in particular, but I’ve stayed at many Scandics in other cities in Scandinavia and I’ve always been really satisfied with my stay.

Many Scandics are also quite business travel focused, which means they have a lot of good amenities even for leisure travelers and families.

This particular Scandic is quite massive — with over 240 rooms — and it has a fitness room, an indoor pool, and a sauna!

There’s also a free buffet breakfast daily, and they have on-site overnight parking for 80 NOK (~7 USD) per day, which is a good rate compared to what it costs at parking lots in the city center.

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Canyon Hotell – Book Here

Interior of the canyon hotell in central alta
Canyon Hotell | Photo Credit:

If you’re looking for an affordable play to stay in the middle of Alta’s city center, Canyon Hotell generally has the best prices of the city’s three main central hotels.

It has everything you’d need from a basic hotel, but in my opinion, hotels like Thon are a slight step above when it comes to their amenities, like their hotel breakfast.

It’s a nice mid-sized hotel with just 22 rooms, with two on-site restaurants for lunch and dinner, as well as a daily breakfast available included in the room cost.

This is a good option for families, because they have rooms that sleep up to 4, and rollaway/extra beds can be had for 300 NOK (about 28 USD) per day.

Note that like the other Alta city center hotels, there is no on-site parking.

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Is it Worth Visiting Svalbard in February?: 7 Key Things to Know

Snowmobiles in front of the town of Longyearbyen in summer

If you’ve decided to visit Svalbard, congratulations: an incredible adventure is ahead of you, no matter when you decide to visit.

But more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited, the time of year you visit Svalbard has a huge impact on what your trip will be like.

And I’m not just talking season to season or even month to month. Honestly, from week to week or sometimes even day to day, Svalbard can be a completely different experience.

Svalbard in mid-February, between the end of polar night and the sun's return
View of the Global Seed Vault and the Isfjord in the Svalbard February blue hour

So much so that I’ve actually written a full guide to when to visit Svalbard — it outlines everything from daylight hours (and how they change over the course of the month… if they change at all) to the typical weather conditions to the activities that you can likely do during that time.

But if you landed on this post, it’s likely because you’re specifically considering a trip to Svalbard in February. Or you’re just a daydreamer, in which case, same — and I hope this post is interesting nonetheless.

After visiting, I can say that yes, it is worth visiting Svalbard in February… but I do have some tips to make the most of it and so that you have the right expectations for your trip.

My February Trip To Svalbard

Flight ticket in February between Svalbard and Tromso
My flight details for my February trip to Svalbard from Tromsø

I made my first trip to Svalbard this past February of 2024, specifically from February 12 to February 16.

Though it may seem like overkill to tell you my exact dates of travel, hopefully by the end of the post, you’ll understand why these dates matter so much!

I was going with my friend Megan, who is a true Svalbard expert! She had been to Svalbard many times before, but never in February.

While we originally had booked the same dates, she ended up extending her trip until February 20th, and frankly — she had the right idea! She got to do a lot of things that I didn’t get to do, as many tours began operating again on February 15th.

Expert Tip

If planning a trip to Svalbard in February, the later in the month the better. Several tours don’t even begin until February 15th!

7 Key Things to Know About Visiting Svalbard in February

Daylight conditions change quickly, as in, from day to day.

Allison in front of the sign warning about polar bears in Svalbard
Bright ‘blue hour’ light around 1 PM on February 13, 2024

The first half of February, there’s no sunrises or sunsets at all in Svalbard. And even by the end of the month, the town of Longyearbyen won’t have seen the sun, as it won’t have risen high enough above the horizon to shine on the town.

That said, the light conditions are incredibly different throughout the month, because even before the first sunrise of the year, there are prolonged periods of civil twilight. Colloquially, the twilit period gets called “blue hour,” even though it actually extends throughout much of the day, far longer than just an hour or two.

Here is an example of how much “blue hour” you can expect:

  • February 1: Blue hour from 10:40 AM to 1:40 PM [~3 hours]
  • February 14: Blue hour from 8:30 AM to 3:55 PM [~7.5 hours]
  • February 28: Blue hour from 6:30 AM to 5:45 PM [~11 hours]

Technically the sun rises for the first time each year around February 15 (about from 11:30 AM to 12:50 PM).

That quickly extends, until by the end of February, the sun is up between 8:30 AM to 3:45 PM, but you won’t see it unless you leave Longyearbyen and find a spot that isn’t blocked by the mountains.

Blue hour in Svalbard is absolutely stunning.

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. Early morning blue light, as seen around 10 AM on February 13, 2024.

If you’re a photographer coming to Svalbard, the light conditions in February are a dream. How does it sound to literally never worry about harsh mid-day light?

The downside of not having a lot of hours of light is pretty obvious. But the upside, also probably obvious, is that there is truly no part of the day where your photos will come out in harsh light or overexposed.

The blue hour light means that you’ll mostly have beautiful dawn-like conditions all day long, with mostly robins egg blue and deep, rich jewel-toned blues the likes of which I’ve never seen elsewhere.

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!

As the middle of the February creeps nearer and sunrises and sunsets are soon to return to Svalbard, you’ll also get some beautiful pastel pink and purple tones.

If you have a keen and creative eye, you’ll surely find no shortage of photo opportunities that inspire you in February!

Photography Tip

If using a camera with RAW capability, be sure to use it! Due to the lack of sunlight, your photos can end up looking quite dark in JPEG form. You can revive a lot of those colors if you shoot in RAW and capture the landscape more accurately!

Expect to have your rhythms thrown off.

The warmly lit interior of Cafe Huskies with several people inside enjoying drinks and chats with friends and a husky sitting on the couch
Expect to drink more coffee than ever before in your life (and still feel tired)

I visited Svalbard before the sun had officially risen for the first time that year, but there was plenty of “blue hour” light, at least 6 hours a day of semi-lit conditions.

I was aware of that going in, and I had previously spent a lot of time in the Arctic, including January in Rovaniemi and other parts of February in Tromsø and Alta, and never really had any significant issues with my energy.

But I wasn’t prepared for how significant those few hours of sunlight that places north of the Arctic Circle, but south of Svalbard, truly would be for my body.

Svalbard blue colors before it gets pitch dark
While blue hour light is beautiful, I found myself exhausted easily.

I drank so much coffee during the day yet I always felt tired. I was in my bed every day by 5 PM, feeling as if I could pass out at a moment’s notice… and then somehow, time would pass, and I’d find myself still awake at 2 AM.

When I returned to Tromsø, I instantly felt revived and my energy and sleep schedule got a lot more normal, even though there wasn’t that much daylight there. Just don’t underestimate it, especially if you have ever experienced seasonal affective disorder!

The weather also changes quickly.

All suited up in my winter snowsuit!
Luckily, virtually all outdoor activities in Svalbard give you an expedition suit to wear!

Given the fact that Svalbard is roughly halfway between the North Pole and the northernmost tip of Norway, you’d think that the weather in Svalbard in February is brutally cold.

But that’s actually not the case, especially on the western side of Spitsbergen, where Longyearbyen is. You may be surprised how warm (relatively speaking) it can be in February in Svalbard!

During my 4-night, 5-day trip, we had temperatures ranging from a high of 2° C (36° F) — which is far too warm and alarming for the Arctic, but I digress — down to a low of -15° C (5° F).

Since Megan stayed a little longer, she had some even colder weather… it went down to -25° C (-13° F) on one of the days she was there!

I wrote about how to pack for Svalbard in winter here, if you’re like me and you’re utterly clueless when it comes to the cold.

Expert Tip

The key to staying warm in Svalbard? Layers! You’ll need: wool base layers, a wool sweater to wear atop it, wind-proof pants, a wool neck gaiter, a parka, mittens, a hat, wool socks, and snow boots.

Some tours only start running again mid-February.

Megan took this photo on her East Spitsbergen tour, which starts for the year on February 15

Personally, I think I made one critical error on my February trip to Svalbard — I came just a few days too early in the season.

It’s hard to overstate just how critical a few days here and there can be in an environment as extreme as the Arctic.

Megan quickly realized how much she’d be missing if she left on the 16th as we originally planned and extended her stay so she could do a really cool snowmobile adventure to the eastern side of Spitsbergen and take a few boat tours of Svalbard.

She was kind enough to share some of her photos from the East Spitsbergen snowmobile tour (above) and her fjord boat tours with Henningsen Transport & Guiding (below) so that you can have an idea of what you can do in the second half of February.

Ice in the water as seen from a boat sailing through a winter sea in Svalbard
Megan’s photo from a boat tour in late February

I can admit when I’m wrong — I definitely should have extended my trip and stayed extra so I could see Svalbard from the water as well as taken a snowmobile to Svalbard’s eastern edge.

In the moment, I was too exhausted by the extreme low-light conditions to feel like I had enough energy to stay longer, but I wish I had powered through because I can truly see how much more she got to see by staying later in the month.

Looking now, I see that the tour she took – the polar bear snowmobile safari – actually runs as early as February 11, 2025, but this wasn’t the case when I visited.

Screenshot of availability for the polar bear safari
As of now, availability for the Eastern Spitsbergen polar bear safari starts on February 11, 2025

Note that while this tour calls itself a ‘polar bear’ safari, you won’t actually track polar bears as that is illegal in Svalbard… for good reason, because these animals are dangerous!

However, it will take you to the eastern side of Spitsbergen, where there are a lot more polar bears since there is a lot more sea ice for them to hunt from.

This tour will bring you to the eastern side, where you can see the Barents Sea, look out on Königsbergbreen Glacier and Rabotbreen Glacier, and see the Barents and Edgeøya islands, both of which are uninhabited.

That said, if you visit earlier in February, you can still do some tours, like this snowmobile ice caves tour that I did and loved, this wildlife photography tour that I also loved, and this Northern lights snowmobile tour (which I also did and somewhat enjoyed, but we didn’t get to see the aurora).

Accommodation prices are usually quite low throughout the entire month.

Interior of a hotel room in Svalbard in winter
The Svalbard Hotell Polfaren, where I stayed in February

I stayed at the Svalbard Hotell Polfaren during my February trip and found that prices were extremely reasonable for such a nice hotel at the northernmost edge of the world!

Looking forwards next year, I can see that prices are quite reasonable for February 2025.

Screenshot of prices for Svalbard hotel in January and February
Prices for Svalbard Hotell Polfaren where I stayed in February

What I find interesting is that the prices don’t really change much at all throughout the month of February.

As of the time of writing, weekday prices are a consistent $177 USD per night whether you visit at the beginning of February vs. the end of February. For that reason, I’d suggest booking your stay near the end of month if you can!

The Northern lights are still a possibility if you’re lucky!

Person with a headlamp on, sitting down in the snow, looking up at the Northern lights as they shoot around overhead
If you’re lucky, the view of Northern lights over Svalbard’s treeless, snow-covered landscape is truly otherworldly

Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky during my trip and despite staying for four nights, I didn’t get to see the Northern lights in Svalbard during my trip.

Actually, Svalbard is a bit interesting because it is outside what scientists have deemed the ‘aurora oval’ where the aurora borealis appears the most often. It’s actually a little too far north for its own good!

But that doesn’t mean you can’t see the Northern lights in Svalbard — you definitely can, as pictures show! It just means that actually, places like Rovaniemi in Finland and Abisko in Sweden have higher chances of seeing the Northern lights.

One thing to note is that you can’t leave the town of Longyearbyen independently without an armed guide due to the threat of polar bears. So if it’s cloudy in the village, you won’t be able to see the aurora even if there is a spectacular solar storm happening.

For that reason, I suggest taking a tour like this snowmobile tour to an aurora camp in Sassendalen to get a bit more inland (where there is less chance for clouds to obscure your vision) and away from light pollution.