Incredible Experiences Around the World You Can Only Have During Winter Months
Don’t procrastinate on booking these cold-weather thrills—the only season you can experience them is the dead cold of winter.
Ice caving in Iceland
Vatnajökull Glacier is one of Iceland's most popular sights, but plugged-in travelers know the real beauty is what lies beneath. Namely, the ethereal blue ice caves—tiny fortresses of solitude formed by rivers of meltwater dating back thousands of years. Tours book out months in advance to see these translucent shelters of endless blue, white, and black hues set aglow as sunlight filters through from above. The country's true winter—November through March—is the only time you can experience the ice cave season and finding them is a challenge in itself. The formations move year to year with the shifting ice, or disappear altogether—so going with a guide like Guide to Iceland or Glacier Trips is essential.
Long before palace-like ice hotels sprung up in places as far-reaching as Romania, there was Sweden’s Icehotel, the first of its kind. Every year since 1990, artists have made the pilgrimage to the tiny village of Jukkasjärvi, above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, to design and carve a new hotel out of snow and ice cut from the nearby Torne River. The experience, which only runs from December to April, is as magical as you’d expect: guests are transported by dogsled or snowmobile, where they dine off ice-block plates in the restaurant, drink from all-ice glasses in the bar, and bed down in one of 65 individually designed rooms. (Yours might feature Moorish archways and glistening chandeliers or an all-ice bed frame shaped like palm fronds, centered by a nest of reindeer pelts.)
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Sleep in an authentic snow igloo in Finland
We can't think of a better place to take in winter’s wonders than from your very own igloo. Sure, you could hole up in the glass-enclosed rooms at Finland's Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, which come fully heated with en-suite bathrooms and private lounge areas—but for a truly authentic Lapland experience, opt for one of the snow igloos, which include down sleeping bags and thick walls that keep all outside noise at bay. Don't forget to take a peek outside every once in a while for a chance to spy the Northern Lights.
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Ice skating in Central Park at Wollman Rink
First opened in 1949, Wollman Rink in New York City's Central Park has become an iconic attraction during the New York City holiday season, making wintery cameos in such films as Serendipity and Home Alone 2. The romance factor is obvious: beginner and novice skaters alike take turns swirling around the ice from day to night, with the park's tall trees and sparkling Manhattan skyline beyond as their backdrop. The rink remains open from late October to early April, weather-permitting.
Ice fishing in Alaska
Alaskan ice fishing is not a sport for the faint of heart: safety concerns necessitate you fish through no less than 4-6 inches of clear, solid, freshwater ice—which, even in southern Alaska, may not form until December (if at all). After drilling a large hole, you then widen it by hand-held chisel before dropping your line through. Whether or not the fish bite is all a matter of luck as you sit, sometimes for hours, in the cold. But for those to whom the “tug is the drug” (as they call it in the biz), there’s nothing quite like it. If you're looking to skip the hard labor, the Jewel Lake Ice Fishing Jamboree, in Anchorage, does the drilling work for you, so all you have to do is hold the pole between sips of hot chocolate.
Run a marathon in Antarctica
For all you runners out there, try this race of a lifetime on for size. During the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon, held every December in the heart of the continent’s arctic tundra, you’ll contend with ice, snow, and an average wind chill of -4F as you follow markers cross the continent. You'll have to fork out a cool $17,900 to participate in the four-day event, but the all-inclusive cost covers your roundtrip flight from Chile, accommodations, food, and the entry fee along with professional photos, t-shirts, and medals for all participants. Not quite ready to clock in a full 26.2 miles? The Frozen Continent Half Marathon (13.1 miles) is held at the same time.
Ice-climbing in the Adirondacks
“I want to climb that” may not be the first thought to enter your mind upon encountering a waterfall, but come wintertime, it’s the exercise of choice for many an adventure-seeker and rock climber looking to stay in shape during the off-season. No experience is necessary to take a seminar with trusted outfitters like Eastern Mountain Sports and Earth Treks, whose classes in the Adirondacks provide you with everything you need—crampons, boots, helmets, ice climbing tools, and expert guides to help you step-by-step—as you learn, and put into action, the basic techniques of scaling an icefall.
Whale watching in Hawaii
Who said all winter-season specials have to be in the cold? For travelers with “aloha” on the brain, there’s really no bad time to visit Hawaii, but let us make a case for going just after the holidays. Why? January through March spells peak whale-watching season off the Hawaiian Islands, when, during their annual migration through the North Pacific, pods of humpback whales travel all the way from Alaska to frolic and mate in the islands’ subtropical waters. Tours with Pacific Whale feature sunrise and sunset sails as well as workshops with a wildlife photographer.
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