7 Things You Could Only Find in Europe During the Winter


northern lights finland
The Northern Lights from inside of a glass igloo.

Scandinavia is one of the best places on earth to view the Northern Lights during the winter season. It’s also the only place you can view the Northern Lights from inside your own personal glass igloo. The igloos are heated, come equipped with bathrooms, and are essentially just like little hotel rooms. They’ve been all the rage on the Internet lately (check out your Pinterest feed and someone is bound to pin an image of them soon).

This resort is located in Kakslauttanen, Finland.

Ice Skating on the Eiffel Tower.

Perfect for those who want to combine sightseeing and exercise. What other monuments around the world can boast that they offer an ice skating rink?  Trust Europe to take monuments to the next level. This may also just be a case of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — if it’s going to be freezing cold outside, you might as well be moving around while enjoying a timeless piece of a city’s history.

The rink is located on the tower’s first level. It looks like it was closed for renovations in 2013, but should be up and running again for winter 2014.

Travel Tip: If you’re heading to Paris from Amsterdam or Brussels, try the high-speed Thalys train! Select tickets on sale on our website (at the time this blog post was published).

A guy running [nearly or fully] naked out of a sauna and jumping into a freezing lake.

Arguably, you could also probably witness this during the late hours of a particularly wild party anywhere there’s alcohol and frozen lakes in close proximity to each other, but let’s focus on the Scandinavian tradition for now.

I think we already suspected that Scandinavians are a bit tougher than the rest of us when it comes to winter weather, but even this seems a little extreme. The Finnish claim that submersing yourself in freezing water actually has a variety of health benefits — it is supposed to relieve stress and revive energy, and long term results allegedly include relief from things like asthma and rheumatism.  It also seems like a great way to win a bet.

The tradition goes like this: sit in a sauna until you almost can’t take it anymore. Run from the sauna to a hole in the frozen lake and lower yourself into said frozen lake. After you’ve been fully submerged, run back to the sauna to recover.  Make sure you get your friends to take a picture.

reindeer finland

A sleigh being pulled by actual reindeer.

Fun fact: in the Finnish Lapland, the number of reindeer is roughly equal to the number of people. The tradition of riding a sleigh pulled by one of these storybook creatures wasn’t actually invented by the tourism industry, either — it’s just how some people actually get around in this part of the world. With that said, I’m sure it didn’t take long for them to realize that visitors would be willing to invest in this unique experience during a vacation.

Reindeer husbandry still plays a massive cultural role in Lapland today, so in addition to being a fun way to spend an afternoon, this is actually a pretty authentic cultural experience as well.

On your doorstep: a singing horse that kinds of looks like a ghost and will try to make rhymes with you.

If you find yourself in Wales over the holidays, guess what: someone might dress up as a horse (with the head made of wood, cardboard, or sometimes an actual horse skull. This is attached to a wooden pole and then a sheet is used to hide the person underneath), and then this person and a small group will go from door to door singing cheerful songs in the hopes of bringing luck and of being invited inside for food and drinks. Sometimes the singers even get into a rhyming contest with the inhabitants of the house.

This tradition isn’t very common or widespread anymore, so actually if you do ever witness it, I’d say there’s a good chance it will indeed bring you good luck!

fjord norway

Ok, last one from Scandinavia, we promise. This time Norway takes the spotlight with its majestic fjords. A fjord is an inlet formed by melted glaciers — basically, stunning mountain scenery with a side of stunning water scenery. Many people like to view them from onboard a relaxing boat ride, but there are more adventurous types who also set out on climbing expeditions up the fjords.

(To be fair, there are also fjords in places like Canada, Alaska, and Chile, but Norway’s fjords are widely considered to be the most stunning and are worth a visit if you only ever to get to visit one set of fjords in your life.)

Travel Tip: The Norway in a Nutshell tour is perfect for travelers who love fjords but hate planning. The tour takes care of much of the route-planning and even features a ride on one of those quaint, old-fashioned cog-wheel railways. If you want to plan your own adventure from scratch, you’ll still want to book a ticket for the train from Oslo to Bergen.

A German Christmas Market — on a boat.

Obviously we have to mention the German Christmas markets, arguably one of the most recognizable and anticipated winter events in Europe. To go one step further, though, we’ve recently found out that you can attend a Christmas market while cruising down the Rhine! River cruises are one of Germany’s most popular summer activities, and Christmas markets are one of its most popular winter activities, so this really combines the best of everything we could hope to experience in Germany at any point in the year. Sounds good to us.

To get there: Cruises depart from a few major ports in Germany: Cologne, Frankfurt, and Dusseldorf among them. Each of these cities is serviced by high-speed trains and is easily reachable from other German cities and even from neighboring countries.

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