winter family vacations

Check out the inside of an ice cave in Iceland. (Photo: Getty Images)


Take Your Family on a Nordic Adventure Inspired by Disney’s Frozen 2

It’s hard to believe years have passed since Elsa first appeared on the big screen in Disney’s Frozen. With the release of the sequel, Disney’s Frozen 2, Elsa casts off from Arendelle once again to venture even farther north alongside her beloved friends from the original movie on a remarkable adventure.

Tourism to the Nordic countries has absolutely boomed since the movie’s original 2013 release, and with brand-new, jaw-dropping Arctic landscapes serving as Elsa’s backdrop as she unleashes her almighty powers once again, it’s good inspiration for dreaming about your own family adventure to the north.

You might not be able to shoot ice from your fingertips like Elsa can, but your kids will think you have superpowers anyway as you take them reindeer sledding, exploring forests and mountains, scouting for the northern lights from the warmth of a geothermal spring, and venturing into a bona fide Nordic ice cave with the family.

Read on for inside tips for the ultimate movie-inspired winter adventure with your entourage in Norway, Finland and Iceland. As smart travelers know, always check for any local restrictions or closures prior to your trip — and let the good times roll!


winter family vacations
Heat up in a hot spring. (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s no shortage of ways to channel a family adventure in Iceland, the land of fire and ice.

With long shaggy manes to keep them warm, Icelandic fjord horses are stunning creatures, and a ride atop one is an iconic way to move through the country’s otherworldly landscapes — from meadows and mountains to Icelandic forests and lava fields.

About 60 miles east of Reykjavik in Skeiðvellir, the breeding farm at Icelandic Horseworld offers hourlong tours into landscapes dwarfed by glacier and mountain views. The outfitter provides overalls, gloves and rain gear to keep you warm and dry as the majestic horses lead you through their backyard wilderness.

On the company’s Under the Volcano tour, you’ll glimpse breathtaking views of the Hekla volcano, as well as glaciers and the river Rangá. The tour takes you through landscapes ranging from an Icelandic forest to lava fields and soft grassy meadows.

Head out with Extreme Iceland which will take your family on tours that touch on colorful mountaintops and waterfalls. Or join them on an ice cave tour to hidden-away spaces carved by nature within the Vatnajökull and Langjökull glaciers. The magic is real as you watch your kids marvel at the caves’ walls that appear to glow electric blue from within.

When it’s time to warm up, bypass crowded Blue Lagoon for a more mellow scene at Secret Lagoon Hot Spring, where you can bathe in warm geothermal springs surrounded by snowscapes (bonus: kids 14 and under are free with paying adults).

The pool stays open until 8 p.m. during the winter season, which is well after darkness falls at these northern latitudes. So be sure to keep your eyes trained skyward just in case the aurora decides to start lighting up the night sky like those blue and green blasts from Elsa’s fingers.


winter family vacations
Chase the Northern Lights. (Photo: Getty Images)

Norway’s jaw-dropping fjords and castle-strewn landscapes inspired the movies and are idyllic settings for a autumn or winter vacation with the family.

Fall travel to the country is stunning — autumn colors are at their finest and it’s the perfect time for a hike into Norway’s verdant forests, or berry picking in the mountains.

For city adventures with a spin, you’ll find them right in Oslo with a stroll to see the Akershus Fortress. The castle’s medieval design provided much of the inspiration for Arendelle. Akershus is particularly striking in the fall months, as the trees surrounding it change color, providing a brilliant autumnal backdrop.

Warm up with the kids after at Café Skansen, a five-minute walk from the fortress, where they’ll delight with a piece of cake and a Norwegian hot chocolate crowned with thick, real cream.

As for winter travel, don’t worry about how you’ll keep everyone warm on your adventures — most tour operators provide cold-weather gear to make sure you stay toasty while venturing out into the icy elements Olaf calls home.

Near Tromsø in Arctic Norway, a traditional Sami reindeer herding family guides you on adventures with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer that replace downhill sledding with a slower-paced, reindeer-powered version.

All you and the kids have to do is sit back atop warm skins on a cozy wooden sled and let the strong and stout animals pull you along a snowy coastal route while you marvel at mountains all around. Afterward, they’ll let you feed the reindeer and teach you how to lasso the antlers.

When you catch the aurora borealis truly doing its thing, it looks as spectacular as the animated version in Elsa’s world. Head north to Alta in Finnmark to take the family out on a combo dog-sledding and northern lights hunt with Trasti & Trine and GLØD Explorer.

After learning how to mush the dogs in the late-afternoon light along the Alta River, it’s time to hunt the northern lights on bus trips with experienced guides where you can keep warm between popping out to scout the sky.


winter family vacations
See a real reindeer. (Photo: Getty Images)

No place does holiday-inspired winter wonderland like Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, a town that actually trademarked itself as the official hometown of Santa Claus. The good news is the Santa Claus Village here is far less kitschy than you might fear.

When it’s covered with snow (which is most of fall and spring and throughout winter), the experience of strolling the mostly outdoor amusement park with the kids is nothing short of fairy-tale-like.

Admission to the village and to meet Santa is free, and you can pay extra to go reindeer or dog sledding or sit for a typically Finnish meal of salmon cooked on an open fire inside a kota (a traditional Lappish tent) at Santa’s Salmon Place.

Also in Rovaniemi, One Day in Lapland offers tours that keep families toasty warm while waiting for the northern lights by providing a bonfire you can sit around to grill sausages while awaiting the great show in the sky.

And for a totally unique way to see the northern lights, head out with Safartica in Ylläs, north of Rovaniemi, to try Aurora Ice Floating with the family. Though you might not leap across the ice as Elsa does when she first meets Nokk, you’ll instead be outfitted in warm and dry survival suits that make it possible to bob on your back in a lake dotted with bits of ice while the aurora curtains dazzle overhead.

Why was Elsa born with magical powers? The answer is calling her and threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she’ll set out on a dangerous but remarkable journey. In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In Frozen 2, she must hope they are enough. From the Academy Award®-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen 2 in cinemas now.