When planning a trip to Scandinavia, Finland is usually overlooked by its neighbouring countries of Sweden and Norway. Whilst it may be small in size, this artic winter wonderland is big on its offerings and is in its own right a bucket-list-worthy destination. We explore the Finnish Lapland, Santa Clause Villiage, the Northern Lights and the Arctic Circle. We highlight all the epic things you can do when planning your next getaway here.
It thrives during its sub-zero winter season when the lush green and largely untouched landscapes are coated in snow, transforming the region into a picture-perfect, white, frosty winter wonderland.
Lapland, in Finland’s northernmost region, has a strong connection to nature and is best known for its vast subarctic wilderness, ski resorts and natural phenomena including the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights.
More so, it has been aptly nicknamed the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’, as it has more than 200,000 inland lakes that you would really appreciate.
Snow is almost always guaranteed, as the snow season lasts for seven months. The first snowfall begins in late October and continues until mid-May.
Rovaniemi, situated right on the Arctic Circle, is the authentic capital of Lapland and the gateway to the region. As strange as this may sound, Rovaniemi is actually the largest city in Europe, by size.
A variety of cultural institutions, tourist attractions, shopping centres, sports facilities, restaurants and bars have earned Rovaniemi a reputation as the vibrant provincial capital of Lapland.
And whilst downtown Rovaniemi bustles with experiences, you need only take a few steps out of town to experience its mystical nature.
Watch the Northern Lights Dance
If you are under the impression that Norway is the best place on earth to experience the Northern Lights, think again. Lapland experiences this magical phenomenon for 200 days of each year as a result of its close proximity to the Arctic circle.
Plan your trip between mid-August and early April, when the region experiences shorter days and darker nights. During this time, the natural forces come together just right putting on a spellbinding astral show.
A dazzling display of intense green, blue, red and violet bands dance about in the sky. They can last anything from just a few minutes to several hours and each time you experience these they never quite look the same.
There is no doubt in our minds that it will just captivate and mystify you. And the best part? You don’t have to venture too far to experience these. A couple of minutes walk out of the city centre, you will be away from light pollution, making it an ideal situation in which to experience really strong Auroras dancing about and illuminating the dark sky. A few places to consider viewing these at is the Arctic Garden and the top of Ounasvvara.
Whilst being up all night in the cold chasing the Northern Lights might be a fun way to experience them, it can prove to be a tiresome and cold process, especially in the ever-changing weather conditions of the Arctic.
Why not opt to view these from the comfort of a warm bedroom instead? For an experience of a lifetime, you can spend a few nights in a glass igloo and admire the bright stars and Northern Lights through the glass roof. This experience is sure to stay with you for life!
Traditional Sami People and Their Reindeer
A highlight of Lapland is spending some time with the Sami people, the only indigenous people of their kind in the European Union. This unique culture, rich with traditions, extends into all of Finland’s neighbouring countries – Norway, Sweden and Russia. There are 80,000 Sami people spread between these four countries.
Still to this day, they can be found living in traditional ‘lavvu’ tents in the remote locations of the region. To shield themselves from the frosty cold, they wear traditional clothing call “kofte” and blister sedge-filled boots to keep their legs warm when the temperature drops below -40 degrees Celcius.
Reindeer are the icons of Lapland and you probably won’t believe us when we say this, but there are more reindeer here than there are people. We can give thanks for these to the Sami people who are the only culture allowed to herd these animals in the entire country.
For a long time, reindeer provided transportation, warmth and nourishment in this challenging arctic climate for centuries.
Depending on how you choose to experience this unique culture, you may get to help feed the reindeer, ride in a reindeer sleigh, participate in an “Arctic Circle Crossing” or even taste smoked farm-fresh reindeer meat served inside a traditional tent.
Get into the Christmas Spirit at Santa Claus Village
If you didn’t get to see Santa climb down your chimney last Christmas, you can make up for that by meeting the man himself, as well as Mrs Claus, Rudolf and the busy gift-making elves in his Finnish hometown.
The family-friendly Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi has declared itself Santa’s official “North Pole” residence.
There is nothing that makes the planet’s most iconic figure happier than posing for a Christmas card-perfect photo with you. You can even send a copy to your loved ones back at home with Santa’s special postmark, directly from the Santa Claus Post Office. It even has the arctic circle postmark stamp on it which gives you bragging rights for venturing to the North Pole.
And speaking of the Arctic Circle line… You can experience crossing over it, right here in the village. And to prove your accomplishment, you even get a signed certificate.
If visiting an arctic destination isn’t already impressive enough for you, then spend a night in one of the region’s novelty Snow Hotels.
At first glance, they appear to be frigid and cold arctic dwellings, yet they really are not as cold as they sound. Although ice and snow hotels are kept at temperatures around -4°C inside, the thermal sleeping bags and soft reindeer skins you are provided with will keep you warm and comfortable.
After a good night’s rest, there’s a steaming hot sauna to look forward to in the morning.
Snow Castle Resort and Seaside Glass Villas
Located in the northern reaches of the Finnish Lapland you will find the world’s biggest Snow Hotel. What once started out as a seasonal hotel, rebuilt each year from ice and snow, has now established itself as a 365-day-a-year Snow Castle Resort.
Inside you will find Seaside Glass Villas, the IceResturant365, Seaview Restaurant, a sauna, spa and activity centre. Whilst these facilities are all open year-round, the Snow Hotel only opens up during the months of January to April.
This magnificent structure gets rebuilt year after year, and is made entirely from ice and packed snow. To make this outstanding meltable work of art a reality, the resort takes water from the sea and makes snow from it.
The theme of the hotel varies annually as well. Including the sculptures and the furniture found inside that have been made from ice cut from the sea next door.
Colourful lighting beams in each of the individually decorated bedrooms that flaunt carved-out walls featuring mystical creatures. A thick rug and thermal sleeping bag rest above each bed, ensuring you warmth against the cold.
In the evenings, you can experience a truly unique dining experience at the snow restaurant. Indulge in fine cuisine, take a sip of your drink from ice glasses all whilst sitting on ice chairs covered in reindeer fur.
There is even an ice chapel for those looking at braving tying the knot in these extreme climates.
If you are a huge fan of skiing, then head to Levi – Lapland’s famed ski resort. Since 2004, Levi has been hosting the Alpine Skiing World Cup. And for good reason. The resort’s unique natural environment has paved the way for 43 ski slopes.
Beginners will love the blue ones, intermediates will love the red ones, and experts will love the black slopes. Little members of the family enjoy it here too. Not only is there a ski school where your children can learn how to ski, but there are also two fun playgrounds for them called the Leevilandia and Kids Land.
Cross-country skiing is another popular activity that you can do here. Not only is the scenery beautiful but it will also challenge your endurance in an entirely new way. The wide ski tracks, fields of snow and exciting forest routes will offer you memorable moments.
Snowmobiles do not just serve as convenient ways to pass through the snowy landscapes by locals. They are for you to sightsee as well. You can try this special activity by renting a snowmobile from one of the several tour companies that offer the snowmobile safaris in and around Rovaniemi.
In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you get to explore the amazing scenery that surrounds you and even access frozen lakes you would not be able to get to on foot.
In this region, you can take part in yet another one of your favourite activities – go-karting. Except, with a twist. Here, you will ride around a 500-metre-long ice track that rests on a frozen lake.
Once you are all geared up in your complete winter-racing gear, jolt around the track in a traditional go-kart that has been equipped with studded tires. Feel the rush of adrenaline and the wind through your hair as you accelerate past your opponent.
To add to this out of the world experience, you can ride at night as the track is entirely illuminated.
Enjoy an adrenaline rush and beautiful scenery with dog sledge rides through the arctic.
This unique tour by skill-fulled enthusiastic huskies will whisk your sledge through the picture-perfect snowy landscapes.
These experiences range from one-kilometre rides to overnight safaris. During these, you will have the chance to experience the northern lights with your new-found furry friends.
If you prefer immersing yourself in local-based activities, take part in an arctic swim by plunging into the nearest freshwater lake you can find.
The Finns go crazy for the invigorating effect of ice-cold water! It is said to improve circulation and is believed to have a favourable effect on asthma, circulatory problems, rheumatoid arthritis and arthrosis pain.
Can you muster up the courage to do this?
Feel the Heat of a Sauna
Indulging in a traditional Finnish sauna is a fail-safe way for you to defrost in these arctic temperatures.
These saunas are an inseparable part of Finnish culture, and Lapland is no different as most people have saunas in their homes and cottages.
Best Time to Visit
Anytime between November and February to fully experience all the attractions.
South Africans are required to apply for a Schengen visa which, once received, it will not only allow you to travel to Finland but to many other European destinations as well. The Finland Visa Application Centre in South Africa accepts applications for short stay visas only. Allow over 15 working days for the visa application.
Book your cheap flights to Rovaniemi. When you arrive, take a local bus number 8 to the Santa Claus Village. It is only eight kilometres from the city centre.
Have you ever visited the Arctic Circle? Share your experience in the comments below.
Ready to start planning your Arctic getaway?
- The Ultimate Guide to the Best Places to See the Northern Lights
- A Guide to the Schengen Visa Application
- White Christmas Destinations to Add to Your Winter Bucket List
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