We arrived in Fairbanks on the Alaska train. Lots of people take the winter train up, stay overnight and then leave by plane the next morning, so our arrival didn’t raise too many eyebrows. … We, however, are not most people.
We are not leaving Fairbanks – we are sticking around to explore. This is met with a little incredulity.
‘You came to Fairbanks? In February? For fun?’
Well, um, yes… we did. I’m not at all sure all the locals feel completely happy about it. Living here year round is hard work and many seem to view it as a badge of honour… so having a few kids trotting round the place didn’t feel altogether comfortable them. But, it’s an adventure I’d recommend to anyone.
Our first full day in downtown Fairbanks was a Sunday and the place was like a ghost town. It felt like we’d been transported into the wild west…. Just colder. Much, much colder. At first glance, everywhere appeared shut. It turned out that lots of places were not shut, they just looked that way. I guess when it’s -30C outside, you don’t tend to leave the door open!!! Once we’d worked that out, we learned another important fact: The people of Fairbanks are very friendly and helpful.
So, here are our 5 top things to do in Fairbanks:
- The downtown area: It’s like stepping back in time… quite literally. It looks like it was built in the early 20th century and barely touched since! We found an amazing co-op of shops selling a remarkable range of handcrafted gifts. J got some wonderful knitted dragons (some that were knitted especially for him while we were there). G got an Alaskan pendant and I got a glass ornament designed from a picture of the northern lights (yes, yes I am a bit obsessed!)
There are a good range of museums – from dog mushing to the history of Fairbanks – but our favourite was the children’s museum… it wasn’t the biggest or the best in the world, but it was great, hands on fun and very down to earth. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there.
And then there is the snow – just having the place to ourselves and jumping in waist deep snow was all we needed to be totally content.
- The sign. I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for a photo opportunity and this was one that could not be missed. We took a taxi just to go and see this sign and have our photograph taken (there is a museum here too, but it was closed when we visited so I can’t say how good or otherwise it is) but just going to see this world famous sign and having our photo taken was enough. And we were lucky that it really was flippin’ freezing!! We weren’t brave enough to do it in underwear though!!!
- Expressions in glass. Now, I do love for the children to make their own mementoes, so I was really happy to find a little company offering glass workshops in Fairbanks. The children got to crush, cut and glue glass to make a unique picture. This was a brilliant experience and we made keepsakes we’ll treasure forever.
- The north pole. This town was named some years ago in the hope it would attract investment from toy manufacturers keen to promote their toys as ‘made in the North Pole’. I don’t think that worked out and, to be honest, this is one of the least Christmassy places I think we’ve ever visited..
It’s basically a big warehouse selling tacky gifts with a huge santa outside. it’s about as festive as the 4th July!!! But I think it’s one of those places it’s kinda nice to say you’ve been to… And the huge Santa did make for a very funny photo opportunity!!
- An arctic circle tour. While we’ve been to the Arctic circle before, I really wanted to take the children on a small plane and see the wilderness of Alaska.
We got to see the Yukon river
and the trans-Alaskan pipeline
both of which were very interesting. Learning about the pipeline was a definite highlight of our trip.
We landed in a little village called Beaver, which has a population of 43 people and J thought it was hilarious that our host’s wife was called Ai (pronounced ‘I’) so he introduced her as ‘his wife I’. J really thought she was his wifi connection and wanted to ask for the password and how he could get himself one of these ‘magical wifi women’!!!! Sometimes, J’s literal thinking is so funny!
And sometimes, it’s really really not!! Sadly, our day was memorable for all the wrong reasons… within minutes of arriving at our host’s house, J was asked to ‘warm his hands on the stove’…. and that’s exactly what he did…. being autistic, he is totally literal… He stuck his hands directly onto the stove 🙁 It’s fair to say that it would have hurt anyone, but having a range of sensory issues, to J this was torture. We buried his hands in the snow and bandaged them as well as possible (thankfully, I travel constantly with a first aid kit) and – far sooner than planned – headed back to the medical centre.
Thankfully, we were in good hands. Our tour operator sorted out medical care immediately and had a car waiting for us when our little plane landed and they paid for all of J’s medical costs (so please… no mention of legal action… it’s not our style and is not appropriate. We were treated very very well! And anyway, I always like to look at the positives… J was fine and we’d never have known there was a publication called ‘Ducks Unlimited!!!)
So, while our day didn’t quite go to plan, this is something I would really recommend as it’s an opportunity to see Alaska in all it’s glory… the vastness of the place is quite breathtaking.
And what about food? Well, we might have been on the other side of the world, but we established that Dominoes pizza is the same wherever you go!!! J declared it delicious! We also found a brilliant little restaurant called ‘Soapy Smiths’
– Now, I liked it here because while the food was to J’s liking, the place itself was totally unique and the staff (and other customers) were all a little bit eccentric… we even met Santa there! He was a larger than life character who also worked at the local police station and told us all about the people he had to put on the ‘naughty list’
Will we come back to Fairbanks? It’s hard to say we will, but it was wonderful to see the Alaskan way of life. We met some truly lovely people and we very much enjoyed our time here.