Over the winter, we took off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe armed with our Eurail global passes and plenty of winter gear. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. To mush in the sugar-coated winter land, we tried our hands at all sort of outdoor activities from racing on snowmobiles and sledding with husky dogs, to sleeping in an igloo and catching the Northern Lights. The train journeys were even more unforgettable – we feasted on the spectacular views while swooshing past fjords, through mountains and past frozen rivers.
Over the month, we clocked over 3,076 miles (4.950 km), crossing 6 countries and stopping at 25 different locations.
To round up the highlights of our journey, here’s a list of our favorite experiences:
Riding the Arctic Circle Express
Armed with some ultra-thick winter gear, we hopped on board the Arctic Circle train and weaved our way through the sugar-coated wonderland of Lapland. Over two weeks, we experienced three different parts of Lapland (from Finland to Sweden then Norway) and drank in the spectacular landscapes and pristine nature of the northernmost corner of Europe. As our train worked its way around the edges of the mountains, we admired narrow fjords, steep mountain slopes, and random clusters of Nordic villages. The Arctic Circle journey was easily the most beautiful scenic route on the Ice Run.
Watching the Northern Lights in the Swedish Lapland
Swathes of green lights danced and shimmered across the sky, almost like electronic curtains flapping before us. Like a luminescent green flame, the lights moved and swayed in slow motion. In Abisko we finally caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights during our stay there with The Aurora Zone. Poised along Lake Torneträsk and entrenched within the U-shaped Lapporten Valley, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to see the Northern Lights. With its location 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this wilderness area lies close to the Aurora Oval, the hub for the formation of the Aurora Borealis.
Dog-sledding in Abisko, Sweden
In Abisko National Park, we swooshed through the thick snow into the pine tree forests on sleighs led by our trusty canine hosts. On this dog-sledding trip in the Swedish Lapland, we zipped through snow-covered bridges, over frozen water channels and slippery ice chunks, experiencing Lapland’s backcountry at its best. But it wasn’t just about the views – we also got to know the huskies and learn about their lives.
Riding A Reindeer Caravan in Rovaniemi, Finland
I’d always imagined reindeers to have the power to whisk me into the sky, just like Santa Claus’ reindeer sleigh. But on our reindeer caravan, we swayed in a slow, hypnotic rhythm through the beautiful woods of Luosto. After a short ride around the forest on board a reindeer caravan, we met reindeer Herder Anssi Kiiskinen, one of the many reindeer herders in the Finnish Lapland. Here in Lapland, most people still make a living from reindeer herding. It’s no surprise since there are more reindeers than people in Lapland (over 200,000 reindeers and 180,000 people).
Visiting the Original Ice Hotel
Amidst the gorgeous Narnia landscape of the Swedish Lapland stands ICEHOTEL, the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow. While we didn’t get a chance to stay here, we did a short tour of the hotel and hung out at the ice bar. Everything is made of ice: The ice chambers have rock solid ice beds and frosty ice chairs, and ice chandeliers hang from the ice ceiling. Even the glasses in the ICEBAR are made of ice. Thankfully, despite the all-ice philosophy, guests are snug under reindeer skins and thick sleeping bags.
Experiencing Norway in a Nutshell
The ‘Norway in a Nutshell‘ trip gives a glimpse into the best that Norway can offer in just one day – perfect for those with short on time. Lauded as one of the best day-trips in Norway, the journey brought us through the most picturesque part of Norway traveling on train, bus, and even a fjord cruise. By the end of the day, we felt that we’d seen Norway from several perspectives. We started the journey from the capital city of Oslo, where we hopped onto the famous Bergen Railway. Instead of taking the railway all the way to Bergen, we did a detour at Myrdal, hopping onto the Flåm Railway on board an old-style vintage train before taking a fjord cruise to Gudvanger and eventually a train to Bergen.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Stockholm
As the clock struck midnight in downtown Stockholm, we saw the entire sky light up with fireworks and cheers echoing from different corners of the city. We huddled close to one another at the Fjällgatan viewpoint, a historical location set on the edge of a cliff with a fantastic view of the city and the river before us. As we rang in the new year, we popped open a bottle of champagne and headed downtown to party the night away. Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Stockholm was indeed quite an experience and we’d love to do it again!
Riding the Glacier Express in Switzerland
Of all the train journeys we took, the Glacier Express in Switzerland was one of the best. The extraordinary rail experience brought us from the eastern corner to the western half of the Swiss Alps, through landscapes of epic proportions. Starting our train journey in St Moritz, we wound past flowing rapids, ice-covered lakes, acres of prairies covered in sparkling white snow, ski slopes peppered with snowboarders, and countless alpine towns before reaching our final destination of Zermatt. Through the open-roof windows of the panoramic trains, we drank in the views of the Swiss backcountry and snapped away with our cameras.
Sleeping in the Igloo Village
To end our trip in Northern Europe with a blast, we arranged a stay at the Igloo Village near Zermatt and had a fantastic time sleeping in snow. The trip up there was an adventure on its own as we drank in stunning views of the Matterhorn on board the Gornergrat Train. Built from fresh snow each year, the Igloo Village is a hotel made of a mixture of snow and ice, with igloo-shaped rooms and white icy bars and lounge areas. In the day, it acts as an aprés-ski bar and by night, it’s converted into a frosty ice hotel. For dinner, we were served warm and rich cheese fondue and mint tea, as well as a glass of champagne for welcome drinks. To warm ourselves up, we hda a comfortable dip in the jacuzzi before heading out on a short snowshoeing excursion before getting tucked in our warm and cosy sleeping bags for the night.
Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com and several other sponsors, but all opinions expressed are our own.