Finnish Lapland is really as close as it gets to those who dream about a winter wonderland.
Winter time has always been my favorite season. The holiday festivities, the season cheer, the atmosphere. It’s all just so JOYFUL. When one thinks about the winter holidays, we think busy, lit, and loud shopping malls, streets, and Christmas markets.
Lapland is the opposite of that. (I can almost hear you scratching your head like, WHAT?!) lol. let me continue...
Blanketed with dense forests and white winter snow during the winter time, Lapland is truly a lonely but magical place waiting to be discovered by those who choose to brave the arctic temperatures. It is a place where Mother Nature herself puts on the show!
Little do people know, there has been a steady explosion of visitors coming from Asia, Europe and North America looking to celebrating Christmas in this part of of the world!
But why is that?
Besides being the a winter wonderland, Lapland is home to the Santa Claus. Yup, that’s right the MAN himself’s main workshop is located here! And if you are patient enough, you can have a meet and greet and tell him your Christmas wishes yourself :)
Because this area is so far north, away from bustling industrial Europe, filled with forests and fresh lakes, you can only imagine how crisp the air is in this place! I can honestly say that this is probably the freshest air I’ve ever inhaled in my life.
Lapland is an area most commonly referred to the northern region of Finland.
However, uncommon to the knowledge of most, Lapland is actually a region that is covers the northernmost regions of a few countries-- Norway, Sweden, Finland and some of Russia.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland, and is located in Finland. It is the gateway to the Arctic, which means that weather conditions here can be harsh. For this reason is why only 60, 000 of Finland's population live out here. And at about 100,000 sq km of space, that means less than 2 people per sq. kilometer live in the area. This only means one thing: more space to feel the beauty and magic this region has to offer!
How to get there:
About a 826.6km north of Helsinki, Lapland can be reached by an hour plane ride from Helsinki International Airport.
However, if you are into the charm of traveling by train, there is a high-speed train that will take you about 10 hours to reach Rovaniemi.
After having spoken to multiple people regarding their train experience, I gathered that taking the overnight train would allow you the most efficient use of your time, and allowing you a scenic course of travel, of course. Wit-fully called the Santa Claus express, as Rovaniemi is the hometown of the Father Christmas himself :) https://www.vr.fi/cs/vr/en/night-train-car-carrier-train-timetables-routes
Personally, we decided to take a plane, since we did not have much time in Finland. Flying from Helsinki to Rovaniemi costs upwards of $50 on FinnAir, depending on the season, of course.
There is also an option to take a bus. This is the cheapest of all options, of course—about $25/each, and will take approx 12hrs.
Unfortunately, public transportation is not as developed nor reliable in this part of Finland. Even locals can attest to this. Save your time and energy of waiting for that bus that only goes around once an hour and rent a car/take a taxi.
Being that Rovaniemi is more so in the countryside, the easiest way to get around Is by car. There are many options for car rentals out there. I must admit that I am not the best driver, which is why I opted not to rent a car during the time of snowfall. If you are comfortable with this type of driving, then by all means, rent a car.
Getting a taxi is an easy but pricier way to get around. Their original taxi service company is calledLahitaksi Rovaniemi. There won’t be many of them driving around, so your best option is to know their number, and call based on your need.
Finnish is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Even immigrants find it quite difficult to learn. I was lucky enough to be able to read out loud, in which 9 times out of ten I murdered, while I was out there. Lol
Luckily enough, pretty much everyone speaks English. So, there was no need to stress too much about a language barrier :)
Speaking of a barrier, Lapland is an area with no barriers, may it be with land or people. What do I mean by that? It is a vast region covered by deep forests, a magical, wilderness that covers as far as your eyes can see. It is a region that covers northern Finland, Sweden, Norway, and some of Russia.
Lappish people, to my surprise, were one of the sweetest hospitable people there are. It may be a bit difficult to break the ice, but once you’re in, it’s like you’re friends for life ;)
What’s there to do? Arktikum: This is the regional museum of Lapland. It houses all things Northern- history, culture, nature. It's definitely one to see, not just for the experience, but it's architecture.
Santa Claus Village; No visit to the north is complete with a visit to man himself! Open all-year-round, feel the Christmas spirit and enjoy the food, and activities Santa's village has to offer!
Here, you will also be able to officially cross into the Arctic Circle!!
Ounasvaara Park Here is an outdoor resort that boasts beautiful slopes and trails that lead to gorgeous views and photo-worthy forest trails. Highly suggested that it is hiked or during daylight, as it can be pretty dark, and forests can be dense, making it easy to get lost in this beautiful labyrinth.
Reindeer/Husky Park: A well-known trademark of Lapland is the reindeer. Reindeer make up twice as much it's population than of the people. Check out some tours that will provide a visit to the reindeer farms where you can spend some time petting and feeding these beautiful creatures. If you are lucky enough to come the winter, you can book a sledge ride!
Dog mushing is a popular way to get around Lapland since the olden times. Meet the award-winning competition dogs and try sled-riding at the Husky Park. A unique and unforgettable experience!
Finnish SaunaHere's a local experience rare to it's visitors, and you don't want to miss it! Book a tour that will bring you to a local lakeside cabin, relax and decompress in a sauna. They may even even ask if you'll want to jump in the lake, then go back in the sauna, a traditional Lappish experience!
Lordi’s SquareTo be completely honest with you, you will see this in all the tours, blog pages.
There really isn't much special about this place, but being the center of all hotels/restaurants/stores.
Northern lights hunting: Considering how far it is up north, Lapland is undoubtedly the best place to see the Northern lights! With the likelihood of seeing Aurora Borealis every other night, your chances of seeing them are higher!
where to eat
Food Tours Rovaniemi What better way to immerse yourself in a culture than spend some time with some locals and learn how to make the local cuisine? This was the best meal I had during my whole stay in Finland. Experience making a full Lappish dinner with a local restaurant chef who is passionate about authentic cooking, teaching those willing to learn...and ultimately making local friends! :)
Roka Kitchen and Wine Bar: Located in the heart of Rovaniemi, it is a kitchen and wine bar that incorporates northern Finnish cuisine with a twist of European flavors. Their dishes highlight the natural ingredients found locally.
As recommended by the staff, we tried their 4-course menu for 45Euro each. Worth the money? YES. And we even came home with left-overs!
Rakas Restaurant & Bar: Located at the luxurious Arctic Tree House Hotel. This is where we had our breakfast each morning. It had such a charming ambiance, and a great menu that showcases traditional flavors with a modern twist.
Cafe & Bar 21: Voted #1 by its locals, this was one place I totally regret not having tried! They've got a Sunday brunch that have got all the locals talking! They even have a gelateria! This uber hip and cool (no pun intended) bar is the local go-to. Don't miss out on this place!
want to see the northern lights?
If you are wanting to see the Northern lights, mid-August to early April is a good time to come and visit.
It is important to understand that there are never any guarantees.
The KP index, the measurement of solar activity that causes the Northern Lights to appear, is what hunters look at in predicting a good night to hunt. However, dark and clear skies is paramount to their success as well. Because even if your KP index is high, but there are clouds, you might just not see them at all.
Per a local photographer, autumn is the best time to go for Northern lights viewing. Why is that? Because nights are particularly darker and without the cloud coverage. Also, some places are much easier to access during this time, as there isn’t much snow yet.
when to visit
Lapland is beautiful all year round. The busiest time is of course in the winter. Ironically, when the days are shorter, the temperatures are lower is when tourists decide to visit this beautiful place. So why would you want to visit a place so dark and gloomy? Because it is the true epitome of a white Christmas!!
The power of Christmas shines and radiates through this naturally dark city that you forget how dark it is. The joy and cheer of the Christmas spirit within those around you will really make you forget that you are in the freezing arctic.
I however, because it was my mom’s birthday in October, decided to come during shoulder season—in October. Luckily for us, winter decided to come a bit early this year, and show off it’s winter white earlier than the usual.
If you ask me, it was quite perfect. Seeing the transition between the fall and winter was quite fascinating. One day it was about a few centimeters of snow on the ground…and the next thing you know, I wake up and BAM! A winter wonderland right outside my window!
This showed me how quickly and drastically temperatures can change in this part of the world.
where to stay
Accommodations range a wide array of budgets— from your local boutique hotel, cozy hostel, airbnb, up to your luxury glass igloos and tree houses, Lapland has it all.
For a traditional Finnish experience, there are many rustic lakeside cabins in Airbnbthat pepper across Lapland that will give you enough space to feel a sense of solitude with a view of a vast lake views and landscapes.
You can also find peace in your own hotel in downtown Rovaniemi, which will allow you to roam around the main square Lordi’s square easily.
The trend of unique luxurious hotels have reached the arctic! Arctic Tree House is a unique experience of a blend of nature and luxury.Situated in the heart of the density of the forest, their cozy treehouse-like “nests” are designed to allow you to be in tune with your surroundings. Withpanoramic views of nature’s spectacles from ’s floor to ceiling windows situated across each bed, you are given the best views from the comfort of your own bed.
how much time do i need?
While it is completely possible to get around Rovaniemi in a weekend, I’d like to think that the beauty of Lapland deserves way more than that. There are so many activities worth experiencing that take more than just a few hours of your time.
I mean, if your plan is just to see Santa, take a reindeer sleigh ride and go, then go for it! You WILL be exhausted though.
Note that in the the winter time, people can wait up to FIVE HOURS for a meet and greet with jolly old St. Nick!
But give yourself some time to enjoy this unique destination. Let yourself feel the adventure, relax, and absorb its beauty, because it is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous!
Also, if you are coming to hunt for the northern lights, I highly suggest staying for more than just a weekend. As I’ve said earlier, hunting the northern lights is based on weather and luck. Trust me, you will thank yourself for giving yourself enough cushion, in case you don’t see it on your first night.
how much does it cost?
Let’s get this one out of the way, compared to its neighboring European countries in the south, Finland ain’t cheap.
BUT, don’t let this steer you away from seeing this beautiful country!
there are ways to get around!
Coming from the United States straight to Finland WILL be expensive. I highly suggest taking a flight from your local airport to a more popular/larger European city such as London, Paris, or Rome.
Why is that? Because more often than not, those flights will cost you half of what it will cost you to fly directly into Finland.
I did so by flying into London, spending a few days there, then took a flight to Rovaniemi. Breakdown of flight costs:
$355 SFO- LHR RT vs. $1150 SFO-Rovaniemi
$56 LHR to Rovaniemi RT
Now, which sounds better to you, ONE country or TWO? ;)
It had always been a goal of mine to stay at the Arctic Tree house. However, let’s be real, it was at least $350/night to stay in one of these. Being that we were there for 5 nights, 5 nights placed me waaaay over budget.
So, in order to be able to stay in this place, we decided to stay in a cheaper hotel in downtown (Arctic City Hotel for $50/night) for 3 days and saved our money that way. We then were able to stay in Arctic City Hotel for 2 nights.
A win-win situation? I’d like to think so!
We decided to stay in hotels that provided breakfast in order to save money on eating out. We would go grocery shopping, which I love to do anyway when traveling.
We then would eat out once a day, usually for dinner.
The average daily costs per person, per day, in this country is about 121 Euro.So I would budget about $150/person just to be safe. This would include accommodations, food, and tours. Tours will be the bulk of your expenses, as they typically do smaller group tours/vs large.
Splitting hotel accommodations also help a great deal.
is it kid-friendly?
Because Lapland is very Christmas-focused, thus family-focused, then yes. Many places and activities definitely take into account families that are traveling with kids.
However, there are other activities (i.e. Northern Lights hunting) that are not recommended for small children (under 5). This is for the reason that it can be extremely cold, and the length of time we are outdoors might not be the best environment for kids this age.
There are many activities that can be done with the kids, so I suggest finding the right one that will suit their interests and activity level— reindeer/husky sledding would be top on this! :D
And of course, a visit to the great Saint Nick himself ;)
-Bring external batteries, and an EXTRA external battery. Being that the cold will drain your batteries quickly, the last thing you want is a dead cellphone or camera while out in the beautiful arctic! I swear, this place has no bad angles!
-dress in layers! You don’t want to be too cold, nor do you want to be too warm. There is nothing worse than being too hot indoors, and stepping out to the chilly arctic winds while sweaty. Check out my post on WINTER TRAVEL PACKING LISTwritten for my arctic weather travels!
-Use vacuum bags to pack bulky sweaters/snow pants in order to allow more space.
-Don’t forget a camera tripod, if you’re planning to go Northern lights hunting!
Living my best life: robe, plush bed, amazing view, and CHOCOLATES!!!!
This was HANDS-DOWN one of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences I've had traveling, and I am thankful that I was able to spend it with one of the most important people in my life.
This is one of those posts that I really worked to detail as best as I could in order to share with you the amazing experience I had. I wish for everyone, at least once in their lives, to experience this winter wonderland! If you have any questions and comments, please share below!
And if you've been, please share your experience and tips down below :)