The word “island” typically evokes images of silky white sands and lapping turquoise waves. But there are dozens of idyllic remote islands worth visiting around the world where the temperature dips below freezing and a fireplace feels like a necessity.
While beachside lounging may not be on the itinerary for these island vacations, you can instead count on memorable activities like polar bear-spotting, cold-weather surfing and picturesque hiking. Swap out your bathing suit and flip-flops for a jacket and hiking boots, then book a trip to one of these far-flung, chilly isles.
Home to the world’s northernmost continuously inhabited town, in Svalbard, you actually have to look south to see the “Northern” Lights. A part of Norway, this fascinating archipelago is as wildly rugged as it gets.
But just because it’s closer to the North Pole than Norway doesn’t mean it’s hard to get to. Travelers can sail to Svalbard with cruise companies like Hurtigruten, who started their Svalbard Express route this year. You can also fly into Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s main town, where more than 2,500 people from over 50 nationalities live.
While there, book a room at historic luxury accommodations like Funken Lodge, or the more budget-friendly Radisson Blu Polar Hotel. Spend days on the lookout for polar bears or traversing the tundra with sled dogs. At night, dine at Huset, Svalbard’s Michelin-worthy fine-dining restaurant, and chase the aurora borealis.
Like something out of a Scandinavian fairytale, the landscape of the Faroe Islands is the stuff of legends. Emerald green fjords, skyscraper-tall waterfalls and the bountiful sheep (there are more sheep than people) are all hallmarks of this self-governing Danish territory.
A new direct flight from New York from Atlantic Airways launched this year, making these North Atlantic islands more accessible than ever. On arrival, rent a car from Unicar so you can explore these 18 islands’ tiny, windswept villages at your own pace.
Plant yourself in the capital city of Tórshavn and stay at the eco-friendly Hotel Brandan, which has been welcoming guests under its turf roof since 2020. During your visit, surf the beach in Tórshavn, explore the hiking trails of Gjógv and visit the famous waterfall in Gásadalur. For traditional Faroese food, try the fermented delicacies at Raest and the fresh seafood at Michelin-recommended ROKS.
Known Down Under as Tassie, this southern island can look more like the U.K. than Australia. Separated by the Bass Strait, the country’s coldest island is known for its clean air and award-winning wine and cheese.
The capital city of Hobart is beloved for its food and bar scene. Among its most lauded is Institut Polaire, which celebrates cold-climate sips and bites. In 2022, they opened the Polaire Suite, a Scandi-chic apartment that travelers can book.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the city, head east along the East Coast Wine Trail, stopping at up to 14 vineyards. Stay the night at the oceanside Piermont Retreat, where you can choose between a charming stone cottage or one of the new, stunning multi-bedroom timber homes. And whatever you do, don’t miss the multi-course, hyper-local menu at its restaurant, Homestead.
Shetland Islands, Scotland
Scotland has roughly 800 islands off its coast, and none more majestic than the Shetlands. The archipelago’s untamed, craggy coast draws in nature lovers who don’t mind the wind whipping through their hair.
Reachable by ferry, flight or cruise, once you’re there, renting a car is the best way to explore its vast range of islands from Northmavine to Whalsay. The Shetland Islands’ largest and only town of any considerable size, Lerwick, is going to be your home base, but its sandstone buildings don’t offer much in the way of luxury accommodation. Instead, there’s a mixed bag of hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs for all budgets searchable via Visit Scotland.
But travelers don’t venture to the Shetlands for cosmopolitan comforts. It’s all about adventure here. Head out on a bicycle or e-bike and coast along 1,000 miles of roads. Climb its towering cliffs and marvel at its unique birdlife from above. Cast your line out in the Shetland’s 300-plus freshwater lochs, home to wild brown trout. Whatever adrenaline-filled activity gets you going, the Shetlands deliver.
This long-disputed U.K. territory is self-governing with a surprisingly diverse 3,200-person population from over 60 countries. A popular stop for cruise companies like Lindblad Expeditions on the way to Antarctica, thousands of penguins waddle along its wild western shores.
Arguably the hardest to reach on our list of far-flung cold-weather islands, the Falklands are best accessed by plane if you’re not stopping during a cruise. Once you arrive, prepare to traverse dirt roads to reach more remote villages and beaches scattered around East Falkland and West Falkland. And if you’d like to visit some of the smaller, even more remote islands, a short domestic flight will take you there.
Base yourself in the capital of Stanley. The tourism board recommends a variety of guesthouses and lodges showcasing the islands’ famous warm and welcoming hospitality. While here, hike through stark, dramatic trails without a person in sight. And always keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including penguins, seals, whales, dolphins and its famous black-browed albatross population.
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