Lapland is the largest and northernmost region of Finland, part of it located above the Arctic Circle, which means the sun can stay above or below the horizon for 24h. This is known as the Midnight Sun in the summer, when the sun doesn’t set at all; and the Polar Night in the winter, when there is literally no sun at all. There are endless things to do in Lapland, Finland. If it isn’t already on your bucket list, let me tell you, IT SHOULD BE. There are endless reasons on why Lapland is one of the best winter destinations in Europe.
Finnish Lapland is the definition of ‘winter wonderland’. Home to Santa Claus, this beautiful region offers everything you can dream of: ski resorts, animal safaris, cultural experiences, amazing hotels and the magical Northern Lights. Discover the best experiences in this bucket list destination reading our guide of the best things to do in Lapland, Finland.
MUST KNOW BEFORE GOING TO LAPLAND, FINLAND
How to get to Lapland: the easiest way is to fly to Helsinki and then catch a domestic flight to any of the airports in Lapland. The most popular airports (& destinations) in Lapland are Ivalo, Kittilä & Rovaniemi. I always use Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights.
Where to go in Lapland: the main touristic areas are Rovaniemi, Kittilä & Ivalo (Saariselkä), because of the accessibility of close-by airports.. We chose to fly to Ivalo and stay in Saariselkä due to the glass-igloos, as they have the best ones. Also because it’s the town that’s further North, and we wanted to maximice our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. That said, Kittilä looks pretty cool too but doesn’t have glass-igloos. Rovaniemi seems a bit too touristic for my liking.
How to move around Lapland: if you plan on visiting a few areas, renting a car is a good idea. We were hesitant about the safety on the icy roads; but all the cars come with winter tyres and they drive surprisingly good. The roads are maintained daily so it’s pretty easy to drive! It will also give you a lot of freedom, and most hotels offer free parking.
What to pack for Lapland: layers are everything. Get some good thermals and wear them underneath, add a good fluffy jumper and snow clothing on top. I will be making a detailed post on what to pack for a trip to Lapland soon; so make sure you subscribe to the blog.
Weather in Lapland: it is cold. Like really really cold. Temperature in winter ranges from -10ºC to -30ºC, and if it’s windy then it can feel way colder than it actually is. Keep in mind the coldest months are December and January, and also when there is almost no daylight. I would recommend going early in the season (October, November) or late at the end of it (March).
How to book activities in Lapland: every single hotel offers the same activities, so no matter where you stay you will be able to experience them all. Some hotels have their own staff and resources and some others use external companies; either way, it tends to be more expensive if you book with the hotel rather than with a specialized tour company. We booked most of our activities directly with tour operators and they always offered to pick us up at the hotel; so the logistics for you will be the same but you will be saving some money.
VISIT A REINDEER FARM
Reindeers have been herded by the Sami (the only indigenous people of Europe!) for centuries, and are a central part of the culture in Lapland. There are actually more reindeer than people in Finnish Lapland! They are semi-wild animals, and pretty much every hotel has its own little farm, so it’s very easy to arrange a visit, where you can photograph and feed them. There is also the option of doing a reindeer ride, which is like husky sledding but with reindeers. We chose to only visit the hotel farm and another one we found through google, so we could take some pictures and learn about the reindeers.
GO HUSKY SLEDDING
This is a very controversial activity as it involves animals. I strongly advocate for responsible tourism especially when it comes to wildlife/animals. As travelers we have to be aware of the effects our visit has on a region. Dog sledding is not cruel, these dogs love mushing and you can tell they are really happy when running. But I encourage you to do a bit of research on the tour operator, make sure the dogs are treated properly and taken well care of; ask what they do with elder dogs once they can’t run anymore, make sure they have a no-kill policy; and also ask how they treat the dogs in the summer. Since there is no snow, some operators leave the dogs in kennels all summer long, which is such a cruel thing to do. Dogs need the same amount of activity during winter/summer, even if tour operators are not making money.
Dog sledding is a traditional mode of transport in the arctic for centuries. You can feel the excitement of the dogs as soon as you get close to the farm. They love running and they can’t wait to start. Once you start traveling you’ll be immersed in the peacefulness of the forest and the connection with nature. There are many options for a Husky Sledding experience in Lapland, we chose to do a midday 2h tour through the forest, but I would recommend trying a longer one or maybe even going Aurora hunting with the huskies! If you do some research there are also 3-day tours where they take you far away into the wilderness and you will sleep in cabins and explore off the beaten path. Definitely Husky Sledding is one of the best things to do in Lapland.
STAY IN A GLASS IGLOO
Staying in a glass igloo in Lapland is definitely a bucket list thing. Ever since I found out that glass igloos were a thing I’ve wanted to experience it myself, so when we were planning our trip to Lapland we definitely knew we had to stay in a glass igloo. There are a lots of hotels that have igloos everywhere in Lapland, but in my opinion the best ones are located in Saariselkä, which is also further north, meaning chances of seeing the Northern Lights from your room are higher!
We stayed in Northern Lights Village, in one of their half igloos, as the room is more like a small cabin with a part glass ceiling, and in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, in the full glass igloos that were suuuuuper beautiful from the outside but pretty basic on the inside. For me, staying in a glass igloo was a highlight of our trip and even if they are expensive, one of the best things to do in Lapland, Finland. You can read my experience of staying at Kakslauttanen here.
RIDE A SNOWMOBILE
In Lapland, riding snowmobiles is like riding bikes. Every neighbor has one, and they use them all the time to do daily things, as it is their main mode of transport during winter. It’s pretty easy to drive them and they have roads specifically for snowmobiles. There are a lot of different options for a snowmobile experience in Lapland; depending on the duration they can even take you to Russia or Norway. You can also combine the snowmobile ride with a reindeer farm visit.
It’s a super cool experience so don’t miss it! You can definitely get to places you can’t with a car or walking. We opted to do a 3h ride through the Fells, almost at sunset and it was so beautiful. It can’t get very cold when you are moving fast for so long, so make sure to dress accordingly. A driver license is required and no drinking is allowed before the activity.
GO AURORA HUNTING
Let’s be honest… the main goal for any trip to the Arctic Circle is seeing the Northern Lights. But it’s not always easy as there are a lot of factors that can affect the probability. I will write a specific post on how to maximice your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis, so make sure you subscribe to the blog to stay up to date with the new posts!
But no matter what, if you go to Lapland, I recommend booking an Aurora Hunting trip. They will take you further north and away from the towns to have a better chance of seeing them. This is tricky as most hotels go on trips every night, even if it’s cloudy or snowing or there’s full moon and chances are 0, but they won’t cancel the trips since that would be losing a lot of money. I made proper research and found an independent operator that only goes when they can almost fully assure that you will see the Aurora (in fact, they cancelled our trip 3 nights in a row!), so you make sure you are not just throwing money away.
CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
Cross-country skiing is a national sport in Finland; and nearly every Finn learns how to do it pretty early in life. Some people use it to move around or even kids to go to school. There is a network of skiing tracks that are maintained daily, making it easier to get out and explore. Cross-country skiing is suitable for everybody, and there is no better way to experience the calm and beauty of the winter forests than on your skiis, at your own pace. Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in Europe to do cross-country skiing because of the amount of snow and the somewhat flat terrain. We booked a 2h lesson and I found it to be super fun! We got to a frozen lake and learned about local animals and trees, all the while doing some exercise!
Another fun thing to do in the snow and feel like a kid: tobogganing! This is an unique experience as the longest toboggan slope in Finland is located in Lapland! We loved the snow toboggan in Saariselkä, and went back two days in a row! We raced to see who would get down to the valley before and obviously I won! You can rent a toboggan from any shop in town (they are around 4€ for 24h) or just borrow it from your hotel. We went to the Aurora Tobogganing , you can take the lift and go to the top of the mountain to then head down sliding! In my opinion one of the best things to do in Lapland, Finland.
Walking out of the paths in Lapland is almost impossible as you will sink into the snow thigh-deep! It’s a lot of fun but makes it impossible to go for a walk. That’s why the locals use snowshoes, and you can join a guided hike to explore Lapland’s white wilderness. The good thing about this activity is that is suited for everyone (if you can walk on your shoes, you can also walk on snowshoes!), and it’s quiet and fun at the same time. Exploring the forest and learning about its flora and fauna while in Lapland is a must!
Lapland is the hometown of Santa Claus, so if you are traveling with kids I’m sure they will love to meet Santa. The official Santa’s Village is in Rovaniemi, but he has offices and has been seen all around the region ;). You can also drop him a letter in his official post office, visit his workshop and meet his reindeers. At Santa’s Park there are also ice sculptures, sleight rides, elves shows… endless activities to keep you entertained! A bucket list thing to do while in Lapland.
STAY IN AN ICE HOTEL
There are a couple ice hotels in Lapland, that are built from scratch every year as they are solely made of ice and melt in the summer. It takes about 2 weeks to build them, and they also have an ice bar & restaurant! Because of this, the design changes every year so it will never be the same experience. If you decide to stay here, they provide a warm sleeping bag and reindeer furs, and toilets and showers are located in the main building. It’s recommended, however, to dress accordingly with wool or termal clothes, and stay only for 1 night. If it gets unbearable, there is a warm area that you’ll have access to, so you can sleep there.
GO ICE FISHING
Ice fishing is a very popular activity in Lapland as there are not many places in the world this could be done. Once the lakes have frozen in the winter, you can walk on top of the ice and once in the middle of the lake, drill a hole in the ice and try catching a fish! During this experience you’ll also learn about Finnish traditions & culture. They will set up a fire, so you can be warm while waiting for the catch, and also so they can cook it afterwards! Dress up warm as sometimes you have to wait for hours before catching anything (if it happens at all).
This was very high on my list as I love karting and definitely ice karting sounded like a lot of fun! It’s basically the same as indoor karting but with studded tyres and on an snow track. No driver’s license is needed to kids can also participate. Keep in mind if it’s snowing the track will be closed, since it’s not possible to race on fresh snow. But if you do have the chance to do ice karting, go for it. Race with your friends or partner and let’s see who wins! Definitely one of the best things to do in Lapland, Finland.
TRY AN AUTHENTIC FINNISH SAUNA + SWIM IN A FROZEN LAKE
Did you know that in Finland there is a sauna for every 3 persons? It’s part of their culture and, once you are in -20ºC weather, is easy to understand why. It was wonderful to escape the cold for a while, and feel like a local. There are different types of saunas in Finland, but the traditional and most special ones are smoke saunas.
Some hotel rooms and cabins even have their own private electrical sauna, which is great after a long day of activities in the cold. But if you want to live the real experience ask your hotel if they have or can recommend a traditional sauna. Most of the traditional saunas in Lapland are only turned on a couple days a week, so it’s important to plan ahead, as it’s one of the best things to do in Lapland, Finland! Also some of them are next to a river or a lake and you can go for a quick dip in the freezing waters!
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