Viking's "In Search of the Northern Lights" itinerary is the perfect winter cruise — Photo courtesy of Viking
Thanks to its stunning scenery, Norway is a perfect cruise destination. Not only do you get to surround yourself with magnificent views as you sail around the country, but you stop in both big cities and small villages to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Of course, Norway is a great place to visit in the summer since the midnight sun offers almost 24 full hours of daylight, but you don’t want to miss the magic of a winter cruise when the northern lights take over the sky and the snow turns everything into a fairy tale scene. It’s a completely different experience and one of my all-time favorite trips.
Because of their deep roots in Viking territory – founder/chairman Torstein Hagen was born in Norway and his ocean ships are based in Bergen – no cruise line does Norway like the aptly-named Viking. Although their “Into the Midnight Sun” itinerary is a must-do in summer, consider “In Search of the Northern Lights” for a true must-do adventure. As one of their most popular itineraries, it always sells out quickly.
Even if your dream cruise involves lying on a ship deck in your bathing suit, don’t let the cold weather stop you. Here are 10 reasons you should buy yourself a warm jacket and book this winter wonderland of a cruise right now.
The northern lights are just magical — Photo courtesy of Donna Kawakami
Seeing the northern lights tops so many travelers’ wish lists and, although there are no guarantees, chances are you’ll get to experience them on this itinerary. In fact, I think every passenger got at least a glimpse of them on the cruise I was on. You can even sign up to get a phone call in the middle of the night if there’s a sighting so you can head outside.
Because the route takes you so far north, crossing into the Arctic Circle and visiting places like Tromso and Alta – considered some of the best sites for viewing the aurora borealis – there are endless opportunities to catch those glorious dancing lights on both land and sea. Many of the activities and shore excursions are actually designed around that goal but are just as enlightening on their own.
View from the ship — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
This itinerary really gives you an opportunity to experience winter in Norway firsthand, taking advantage of the snow to participate in activities just like the locals do.
Even on sea days, though, you’ll get to enjoy Norway’s gorgeous scenery from the comfort of the ship, whether you head out on the decks to search for northern lights at night or just admire the snow-covered views from your stateroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows during the day.
The Igloo Hotel
Spend the night in The Igloo Hotel — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Built – and rebuilt every winter – entirely out of ice, The Igloo Hotel is one of the most unusual hotels in the world, and you can spend a night there.
Tour the hotel, which is filled with creative ice sculptures, and enjoy a drink in a glass made of ice before settling in to your “bed,” which is surprisingly cozy, thanks to reindeer hides and a double layer of down sleeping bags. Don’t worry if you have to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. It’s located in the warm building next door and, because there’s so little light pollution, the northern lights just may illuminate the way.
8 snow globe stays where you'll be immersed in a winter wonderland
8 snow globe stays where you'll be immersed in a winter wonderland
View from the dog sled! — Photo courtesy of Donna Kawakami
What better way to enjoy the beautiful Norwegian landscape than on a sled pulled by huskies? These dogs aren’t just cute, though. They’re fast and hard-working, and they’ll happily take you on the ride of your life.
You’ll be given warm weather gear to bundle up in before getting comfortable in the sled and letting an experienced musher take the reins. Afterwards, you’ll want to take selfies with your new furry friends.
Snowmobiling is a great way to take in the scenery — Photo courtesy of Viking
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking the road less traveled, Norway is the perfect place to do it – especially on a snowmobile. Your guide will provide you with a snowsuit, gloves and helmet and teach you everything you need to know. Then you’re off through the wilderness, with picturesque views on all sides.
You’ll learn about the important role snowmobiles play in the community and, whether you’re in the driver’s seat or sitting back as a passenger, you’ll imagine yourself living in the Norwegian countryside and being able to do this all winter long.
Scenic hikes by snowshoe
Don a pair of snowshoes for a winter walk — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of Norway is by walking and, in winter, that often means donning snowshoes.
Get to know the Arctic landscape one step at a time, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the forests along with sweeping open views. You’ll get an invigorating workout as you set out into the wintry tundra, hear the crunch of your footsteps in the snow and breathe in the fresh air.
Reindeer sleigh rides
On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen... — Photo courtesy of Viking
You won’t find Rudolph here, but you will get to make your childhood dreams come true as you go dashing through the snow on a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Admire these magnificent creatures and their breathtaking antlers as they guide you through the equally breathtaking snow-covered countryside.
You’ll also get to meet one of the Sami families who travel around the north with their herd of thousands of reindeer to ensure that the animals have enough land for grazing. As you sit in the lavvu – the teepee-like dwelling of these Indigenous people – and learn more about their traditions and way of life, you’ll appreciate that this is what travel is all about.
Northern Lights Cathedral and Arctic Cathedral
The Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta, Norway — Photo courtesy of Viking
The Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta and Arctic Cathedral in Tromso are so unique, they’re worth a visit any time of year. But, if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, they will immediately put you in the holiday spirit during the winter. Plus, you can choose shore excursions which treat you to a private musical performance in each one.
Designed to reflect the aurora borealis in all its swirly glory, the Northern Lights Cathedral has become an important gathering place for the community. The Arctic Cathedral, with its triangular structure, is one of Norway’s most iconic buildings and is often compared to the Sydney Opera House.
Check out the views from this tent — Photo courtesy of Viking
Spend the night at a husky lodge in a tent with views of the expansive Nordic landscape and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights.
After a sled ride led by the trained dogs, you’ll be treated to a traditional Norwegian dinner before settling into your tent for the night. You’ll be warmed by the wood stove and by the thought of all those furry huskies just waiting for a hug.
The Nordic-inspired spa is a soothing sanctuary on all Viking Ocean Cruises — Photo courtesy of Viking
After an active day of winter sports and sightseeing, there’s nothing like relaxing in Viking’s serene Nordic-inspired spa. Unlike on most cruise ships, it’s open and complimentary to all guests, even if you haven’t scheduled a treatment (which, trust me, you should).
Enjoy the steam room, take a nap by the (faux) fireplace and, if you haven’t had enough of the cold yet, enter the snow grotto for a brisk wake-up call before parking yourself in the hot tub.