The home of Santa and a Winter faerie wonderland, Finnish Lapland is the perfect destination for both romantic traditionalists and those in search of adventure.
WHEN TO GO
I travelled here in the Winter (February), during the height of the snow season and stayed in a resort town in Sirkka – known as Levi.
WHAT TO SEE & DO - WINTER
Winter in Finnish Lapland is an ideal time to experience some of the wonderful traditional cultural activities or engage in Winter snow sports.
Booking day tours is very easy, through the tourist information office in the centre of Levi. Everything is within easy walking distance in this pretty little resort town and, being a tourist town, the common language is English, despite its European location.
I would highly recommend
Levi is a ski resort town so there is plenty on offer for those who want to ski or snowboard. The lifts are fast and there are plenty of wide, groomed, intermediate runs to keep you entertained. You will also find some jumps for those who like to combine being upside-down with their skiing/snowboarding. Since the sun sets very early at this latitude, there is even a well-lit, night area that allows you to continue the fun well after the sun goes down!
A magnificent way of seeing the beautiful landscape around the resort town is to book a snowmobile tour. Tours range in duration from as little as 1 hour, to as long as 5 hours. The snowmobiles are easy to operate and there are lots of groomed trails to explore either as a solo driver or with a friend on the back with you. Depending on the kind of tour you book, you can find yourself gently motoring around, enjoying the scenery, or whipping across frozen lakes at 100km/h (60mi/h). It should be noted that you are restricted to trails in Finland - off-road snowmobiling is not permitted and police do carry out regular patrols.
Keep an eye out for a stunning natural phenomenon called diamond dust. This is when the moisture in the air freezes and floats around on air currents like superfine glitter. It only happens when it is very cold, but it is a magical sight.
ARCTIC ICE FISHING
This is one of the activities where you will want to layer up with very WARM clothes and boots! A little hole is drilled in the ice and you dangle your tiny fishing rod over the hole and hope that the little nibbles you feel are fish and not just the hole freezing over in front of your eyes. If you get too cold, there is usually a beautiful hut nearby, where you can retreat to enjoy a steaming bowl of what is quite possibly Finland’s greatest contribution to the culinary world – Lohikeitto (a delicious, creamy, salmon and potato soup). Make sure you try this at some stage. You will not regret it.
The Santa Village is a little distance away from Levi; nearer the big town of Rovaniemi. It is a great place to visit with children (and Santa lovers), who would find the opportunity to sit with the jolly man a real treat. Santa is surprisingly knowledgeable about the world and takes time to talk to each and every person who visits.
Other attractions at the Santa Village include Santa’s Post Office, where you can send a post-card to a loved-one with the help of Santa’s elves and a line of markers showing the location of the Arctic Circle.
ONE-HORSE SLEIGH / HORSE RIDING
Lovers of the traditional Christmas carol Jingle Bells can satisfy their fantasy by taking a one-horse open sleigh ride through the storybook forest. If you would prefer to ride the horse, then there are plenty of options available for all levels of ability, to ride Finnish horses through the forest.
REINDEER SLEDDING / SAMI CULTURE
This one was a bit of a surprise for me. I had imagined gently gliding through the forest behind one of these majestic creatures – I was half right. We did gently glide through the forest, but reindeer are FAR from majestic! They grunt and pant with their tongues lolling out, tossing their head around, while they trot along the paths. I couldn’t help but giggle when I looked back to the reindeer pulling the sled behind mine to see this comical sight.
Try to get a safari that involves a stop at a Sami hut where you can learn about how important the reindeer is to the Sami people and you may even get to try some reindeer salami. Very tasty.
HUSKY DOG SLEDDING
These guys are FAST! The initial impression can be quite overwhelming, with barking dogs everywhere, but once the driver gives the signal to go – they are silent, fast and the smoothest ride of anything I tried. This is a not-to-be-missed experience.
Options range from short safaris driven by professionals to self-driven safaris that range over quite long distances. I tried both and would recommend both, so that you can get a taste of what it is like to drive a team of dogs, but also experience how it feels when someone who actually knows what they are doing is in control.
For the romantics and star-gazers, staying in a glass igloo might just be the icing on the frosted cake of Lapland. Levin Iglut has a number of beautifully appointed glass igloos that overlook the fell. They are comfortably heated and include everything you need for a private getaway, including a kitchenette and bathroom. Nothing quite matches the experience of lying in bed, watching the starry sky dance with ribbons of aurora.
LAINO SNOW VILLAGE
Every year the Laino Snow Village is built from scratch out of blocks of snow and ice to a selected theme. When I visited, the theme was Game of Thrones and the whole place was filled with ice sculptures of wolves, iron thrones and other icons from the HBO series.
The village is also a hotel and guests can choose to stay in one of the ornately carved igloo rooms. One such room, when I visited, was adorned with an enormous White Walker looming over the ice-bed. Try sleeping in there!
NORTHERN LIGHTS TOURS
Since the nights are long and dark and Finnish Lapland lies right in the aurora belt, it is an ideal place to see this breathtaking natural phenomenon. The lights are visible almost every night, as long as they are not obscured by cloud and a late night sojourn is well worth braving the cold. There are many tours that can be booked to take you to ideal vantage points for aurora viewing using various forms of transport from car, to dog-sled, to horse-sleigh and snowmobile. Try to time your trip for a new moon so that the moonlight does not impact on the brilliance of the aurora,
Definitely take a good SLR camera for this activity and learn how to take night photos before you go as, to the naked eye, the lights are usually only very slightly coloured (a side-effect of our mostly colour blind night vision), while with the camera, the brilliant colours of green, pink, purple and red are revealed.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
No trip to Finnish Lapland would be complete without trying sauna. The delightful practise of sitting in a room heated to about 90’C (194’F) is just the thing to warm you through to your bones after a day out in the snow.
It should be noted that the Finn’s sauna naked. It is not permitted to wear swimming costumes in the sauna due to the risk of chlorine fumes. However, public saunas are gender segregated and small towels are provided for sitting to ensure hygiene. Being naked in front of total strangers may feel a bit strange at first for foreigners, but the Finnish people think nothing of being naked in front of each other and sauna is a respectful place for relaxation, more akin to a church than a club.
No photo for this one - for obvious reasons.
WHAT TO PACK
Warm. Warm. Warm. I cannot stress this enough. Lapland is cold in February. Average daytime temperatures could be as low as -20'C (-4'F).
Outside, on your tours, you will need good thermals under your normal clothes and the outer layer will need to be wind/waterproof. I generally wore my snowboarding jacket and pants. I also took a good down jacket – it doesn’t need to be a Himalayan expedition weight jacket, but it does need to provide enough insulation to keep you comfortable at -20’C. My gloves just didn’t make the grade and I splurged on a pair of beautiful down mittens that kept my hands toasty warm through even the coldest activities.
Inside, in restaurants, bars and hotels, you can wear pretty much anything. Most people are wearing ski/snowboard clothing and just take jackets off inside.
Big Tip – wear good quality boots with merino socks and ensure that the boots are large enough to not compress your toes or you risk frostbite!