When draped in a winter blanket, the northernmost polar regions of the world provide a dramatic backdrop for a sub-zero adventure, perfect for aurora hunters, nature lovers and outdoor activity enthusiasts. During the ‘polar night,’ a phenomenon when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon in winter, the days there are characterized by a perpetual twilight that adds an air of mystery to the landscape. With over half (58%)* of travelers wanting to focus on uninterrupted shuteye on vacation in 2024, what better opportunity to catch up on sleep than in the polar darkness? With that in mind, Booking.com, with a mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, shares seven magical destinations where travelers can bed down in a cozy stay as a base to explore the beautiful surrounding wilderness.
Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
Midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is a land of extreme climate, dramatic glaciers and vast ice fields. Its main town of Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost settlement accessible by flight to Svalbard airport, is considered the gateway to one of the world’s last great wildernesses. A destination where there’s more polar bears than people, travelers can experience the ‘polar night’ between mid-November and late January, a mesmerizing time of year that provides superb aurora viewing opportunities, and atmospheric tours including snow-mobile safaris and cruises to wild fjords and ice caves. In town, travelers can visit the Svalbard Museum, an impressive exhibition space that displays artifacts and information about local nature, or hike Plateau Mountain with its moon-like landscape for the best views of Longyearbyen. To unwind, book a cozy evening at Camp Barentz, a cabin at the foot of Breinosa mountain, to enjoy an Arctic dinner around a log fire whilst learning all about polar bears.
Where to stay: The snug charm of Svalbard Hotell | Polfareren is the perfect answer for those seeking a warm and comfortable retreat. Located in the center of Longyearbyen, guests have quick access into town yet everything onsite from fine dining Nordic cuisine based on the season’s best ingredients, to draft beer on tap from the Svalbard craft brewery and a raft of exciting tours and activities led by locals. This Booking.com Travel Sustainable hotel has a no-shoes policy based on an old local tradition, and provides guests with information regarding local ecosystems, heritage and culture, as well as visitor etiquette.
The northernmost city of Sweden, accessible by flight from Stockholm, is home to a vibrant indigenous Sámi culture, a space center and the world’s largest, underground iron-ore mine. Yet winter is when the magic happens and the region transforms into a white wonderland, with its remote landscape blanketed in snow and bathed in the colorful northern lights. Travelers can bask in a range of adventurous activities, from reindeer sleigh rides to snowshoeing, and discover ancient forests, expansive lakes and mountains. With the highest concentration of lodgings in this northwestern corner of Sweden, visitors can sleep in extraordinary places from cozy cabins to the world’s first-ever ice hotel. For those visiting in January, the Kiruna Snow Festival (January 24-28) hosts fun activities from dog sledding to figure skating as well as live music performances, painting exhibitions and a snow sculpture competition. To discover the city with a local guide, book a Family-friendly Private Walking Tour of Kiruna which runs at an easy pace and includes the best viewpoint of Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise.
Where to stay: The family-run and small-scale Máttaráhkká Northern Light Lodge offers one of the best northern lights experiences in Lapland and is just a short drive to Kiruna. During the day, guests can make the most of complimentary cross-country skis and snowshoes and engage in exciting activities from snowmobile tours to dog sledding. Come the evening, curl up next to the roaring log fire or relax in the steamy hot tub or sauna. Rooms have mountain views with decor inspired by traditional Sámi art, and the lodge offers the best breakfast views in Kiruna – the snow-covered peaks and a roaming moose or two!
The North American territory of Greenland within the Kingdom of Denmark is the world’s largest island that is not a continent. Greenland is a country of extremes, with its vast uninhabitable icy wilderness and its delightfully warm people living in harmony with it. The Inuits are the indigenous people of the Arctic and renowned for their hospitality, even known to open up their homes to travelers for a Greenlandic coffee (a heady mix of whisky, coffee and orange liqueur topped with whipped cream). The ice sheet in the center of the island, and the icebergs scattered around it, sets this destination apart from any other in the world. Head to the coastal town of Ilulissat, via boat or direct flight from Iceland, which is famed for its impressive UNESCO-listed Icefjord and icebergs that dwarf even the largest ships. Visitors can take a cruise, enjoy snowmobiling excursions in the hills around town, or brave polar-night excursions out to the darkest sites for the best chance to glimpse the magical northern lights.
Where to stay: The modern Hotel Icefiord, just north of the Arctic Circle and a short walk into Ilulissat, has breathtaking views of Disko Bay and its icebergs from every room, with the possibility of spotting whales right outside the windows. Guests can unwind in beautifully designed rooms, and upgrade for big skylight windows that offer a private showing of the northern lights from bed. This Booking.com Travel Sustainable hotel dishes up locally sourced Greenlandic cuisine including freshly caught fish in its upscale restaurant, uses 100% renewable energy and offers a wide range of activities organized by local guides.
Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
The capital of the territory of Nunavut is celebrated for its ice-capped mountains, tundra climate and rich Inuit culture. A colorful city, Iqaluit is home to the igloo-shaped St. Jude’s Cathedral, huge sculptures and a host of inviting restaurants and stays where travelers can cozy up in the cold. With its incredible setting around the bay and nearby parklands, visitors can spot whales, caribou and arctic foxes, and try dog sledding, a 2,000-year-old tradition where dogs sled across the Arctic ice. Travelers also have a once-in-a-lifetime experience to view the northern lights deemed the holy grail in this region, and best seen from October to April anywhere near Frobisher Inn. With 80% of the population Inuit, the Inuktitut language is widely spoken in the street and splashed across signs. Head to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in town which houses a collection of Inuit artifacts and fine arts to learn more about this fascinating culture.
Where to stay: After a day of activities, unwind at the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre which is Inuit owned and offers guests a chance to explore more of the local culture. A short walk from the town center, this Booking.com Travel Sustainable property offers local artists a platform to display their talents and a wide range of tours and activities organized by local guides from dog sledding to snowmobiling. With all the creature comforts guests could want to get snug in the warm, and a delicious onsite restaurant serving local fare, the hotel is also well positioned near the natural wonders of the Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park.
The island of Hokkaido and winter go hand in hand as Japan’s northernmost prefecture turns into a winter wonderland between December and February, with the freezing winds of Siberia sweeping across the Sea of Japan and creating huge quantities of snow. Known for its swathes of wilderness, ancient forests and natural hot springs, Hokkaido may not be officially classified as a polar destination but the climate, nature and way of life is similar. Ski enthusiasts can head to the mountain resort of Niseko, famed for its deep powder snow and 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of groomed runs, as well as its spectacular backcountry, which is ideal for beginners, experts and everyone in between. When travelers are not traversing the mountain, snow-shoeing is an excellent way to explore Niseko, through snowy forests to the frozen Half Moon Lake. An impressive selection of bars, pubs and restaurants are available for après ski in town, or visitors can take a dip in one of the toasty geothermal onsens to warm up.
Where to stay: Enjoy a soothing stay at the five-star Setsu Niseko, ideally situated in Niseko with views of Mount Yotei. With some of the finest restaurants and wellness facilities in the area, this hotel is a destination in itself. After an exhilarating day on the slopes, guests can enjoy a bowl of steaming ramen, or a true ocean-to-table experience with the freshest sushi, before soaking in the healing waters of the hotel’s private onsen bathing pools. As well as ski equipment for hire, this Booking.com Travel Sustainable hotel offers activities organized by local guides from cat skiing, a guided backcountry experience, to horse riding.
Nudging the Norwegian border in Finland’s far north, the tiny village of Nuorgam is a remote base that will give travelers an authentic taste of the Arctic. The most northernmost area of Europe and just a stone’s throw from the Arctic Ocean, travelers can enjoy the snow in winter with exciting activities from snowmobiling and reindeer excursions to night snowshoeing, husky safaris and ice fishing. The village has approximately 200 inhabitants, mostly Sámi peoples, the oldest culture in Lapland, and is surrounded by expansive open nature that is astonishingly diverse. South of this riverside village rises the barren upland fells of the Kaldoaivi wilderness area, a paradise for skiers and hikers with secret lakes and ancient trails as well as incredible sightings of the northern lights. It also provides excellent opportunities for watching nature, such as reindeer, Norway lemmings, mountain hares, elks and foxes. In this neck of the woods, travelers can slow down and soak up oxygen-rich air and natural waters, the perfect tonic to frenetic urban life.
Where to stay: Guests can enjoy a warm and hospitable stay at the family-run Holiday Village Nuorgamin Lomakeskus on wooded grounds in Nuorgamin that makes an outstanding base for exploring the Arctic wilderness. Rustic cabins have wood burning stoves and terraces, and upgraded options offer private saunas and floor-to-ceiling windows with river views. This Booking.com Travel Sustainable property serves organic Lappish-Finnish dishes and the ingredients can’t get more local: salmon caught from the nearby Tenojoki River, and cloudberries and wild mushrooms picked from the highlands.
Just south of the Arctic Circle lies the city of Fairbanks, the ‘golden heart’ of the state of Alaska, home to 33,000 residents and the largest settlement for hundreds of miles. The city is the gateway to some epic adventures from dog sledding to snowmobiling, and the Fairbanks Winter Solstice (December 21) in downtown is well worth a visit with live music, reindeer, Santa photos and a fabulous fireworks display over the Polaris sculpture. Fairbanks is located directly underneath the ‘Aurora Oval,’ a ring-shaped zone over the far north where aurora activity is concentrated. Book a Northern Lights Viewing at Murphy Dome, once an Air Force station 2,930 feet (880 meters) above sea level, and a prime spot to witness the northern lights dance across the sky. To warm up, visitors can indulge in a toasty soak on a Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs Tour from Fairbanks with a selection of warm mineral rock pools, and enjoy cocktails served in ice-carved martini glasses at the Fairbanks Ice Museum.
Where to stay: For a true Alaskan experience, the family-run A Taste of Alaska Lodge is just a short drive from the center of Fairbanks and set on 280 acres (110 hectares) of land. A sparkling winter wonderland awaits guests, far enough away from the lights of the city for spectacular sightings of the northern lights, all from the comfort of a cozy viewing cabin onsite. Homey rooms feature cabin-like decor, balconies and homemade quilts, while secluded cottages have a kitchen and spacious decks. Guests can enjoy a hearty American breakfast with fabulous views of Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.
*Travel Predictions 2024 research commissioned by Booking.com and conducted among a sample of adults who plan to travel for business or leisure in the next 12-24 months. In total, 27,730 respondents across 33 countries and territories were polled (including 1008 from Argentina, 1012 from Australia, 505 from Austria, 1001 from Belgium, 1002 from Brazil, 1009 from Canada, 1009 from China, 1002 from Colombia, 508 from Croatia, 504 from Denmark, 1011 from France, 1011 from Germany, 1016 from Hong Kong, 1004 from India, 510 from Ireland, 504 from Israel, 1014 from Italy, 1004 from Japan, 1009 from Mexico, 1014 from The Netherlands, 1015 from New Zealand, 500 from Portugal, 502 from Singapore, 1010 from South Korea, 1009 from Spain, 502 from Sweden, 507 from Switzerland, 504 from Taiwan, 1003 from Thailand, 502 from the UAE, 1007 from the UK, 1005 from the US and 1007 from Vietnam). Respondents completed an online survey in July 2023.