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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 26 January, 2023

Knowing it’s the home of Santa would normally be enough to get any kid (and maybe even some of us adults) excited about a holiday here, but Lapland is no one-trick playground.

One of Europe’s last great wilderness areas, Lapland is a vast panorama of lakes, moors and coniferous forest – an outdoor adventure paradise. Santa aside, visitors come for the snowy thrills: husky dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, ice skating, and ice slides. You can also learn to build igloos, sleep in igloos, (luxury ones if you don’t fancy the real thing), and dine and sleep in restaurants and hotels made from ice.  Every bucket list winter activity is here, and more.

Don’t discount summer though for excellent hiking, biking, fishing and even husky dog sledding – on wheels. The lack of urbanisation, with associated artificial lighting, also makes it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights at their glorious best.

Whenever you go, be sure to experience the local specialty: a smoke sauna, followed by a (freezing?) dip in a lake. (Warning: the kids may opt out of this one, especially if you follow strict Finnish tradition and take off all of your clothes).

Also look out for the colourful local Sami people, who still follow traditions dating back centuries, living a sustainable lifestyle in perfect harmony with this harsh environment and its wildlife.

Orientation

Lapland’s a vast wilderness – you don’t want to spend all of your time travelling. We’ve built our guide around four main bases – Rovaniemi, Saariselkaa, Mouni and Inari – that offer all of the bucket list experiences you could wish for. Three or four days in one place is usually enough to tick off all of the bucket list experiences there (unless you opt for longer tours).

Rovaniemi

If you’re coming for Santa Claus, base yourself at Rovaniemi, Lapland’s defacto capital. From there you can do all the classic winter activities from the Santa Claus Village. It’s touristy though, but it’s the perfect base for younger children. You can do a day trip to see the Kemi SnowCastle or ride the Sampo Icebreaker, or both.

Muoni & Saariselka

If you’re bringing older kids and want a more authentic experience away from the tourist crowds, head to either the Harraniva Holiday Centre at Muoni, or the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort at Saariselkä. Both are ‘resorts’, offering a full range of higher quality, more authentic activities & tours, either on-site or from nearby.

Inari

If culture is more what you are looking for, head to Inari, Lapland’s cultural centre. It’s home to the excellent Sámi Museum, plus other Sámi-themed tours, events and activities.

Food & Drink

Full of surprises, Finnish food demands investigation, especially given the current renaissance in Nordic cuisine. Dishes up north meld Western and Eastern influences with regular appearances by herring, salmon and crayfish, as well reindeer and elk. Russian dishes, such as cabbage and mutton pastries and casseroles, are also favourites.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Small circular cabin in the woods
Experience

Experience a Finnish Smoke Sauna

Lapland, Finland

Finns have used saunas for centuries – for hygiene, warmth and community. The traditional ritual alternates between intense heat and icy cold plunges into nearby frozen lakes. Sounds painful, but if heat up enough first, you won’t feel cold – only exhilaration and a deep physical, emotional and spiritual cleanse. Best experienced in Lapland wilderness.

Best for ages: 8+ | Free | 1+ hours

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Snow Castle at Kemi

Kemi, Lapland, Finland

An extraordinary real-life ‘ice castle’ that you can stay over in and/or dine in. It’s rebuilt every year, using giant blocks of ice cut from a nearby frozen sea.

 

Best for ages: 13+ | £350

Sampo Icebreaker

Kemi, Lapland, Finland

This retired, 3,500 icebreaker carries guests as it ploughs through the Bothnian icefields. During the tour, daredevils can don a bright-orange puffy rubber survival suit for a float in the icy waters. Complete the experience by snowmobiling back to Kemi for dinner or sleep-over at the Ice Castle.

Best for ages: 6+ | £280 | 3 hours

Husky dog sledding in Finnish Lapland

Lapland, Finland

Traversing across the tundral plains and through boreal forests of Finnish Lapland’s gloriously unspoilt wilderness is special. Doing it on a sled pulled by husky dogs is thrillingly unforgettable. Tours range from several hours to several days; multi-day include the opportunity to harness, rig, feed and prep the pack.

Best for ages: 4+ | £30 | 1+ hour

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Hotel Harriniva

Muoni, Lapland, Finland

A comfortable mid-range hotel that’s also the biggest husky dog centre in Finland, and the place for husky dog sledding. It’s also a Mecca for a host of other winter and summer outdoor activities, and seeing the Northern Lights.

Official star rating:

Isokenkaisten Wilderness Lodge

Kuusamo, Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland

Family-run rustic lodge in Finland’s remote north-east that celebrates local culture, with a super smoke sauna and a ‘wild food’ restaurant.

Official star rating:

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

Saariselka, Lapland, Finland

An exceptional wilderness and adventure resort, offering a full range of outdoor activities. Their best known for their glass-domed igloo rooms for star- and Northern Lights-gazing from bed.

Official star rating:

Santa Claus Holiday Village

Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

A family-fuelled chalet holiday and entertainment park next to Santa Claus’ house, with snowmobiling, huskies and reindeers on your doorstep. Kid heaven.

Official star rating:

When to go

It depends what you are coming for. For winter activities, most start up around the end of November with the first snows, and finish towards the end of March. The drawback of winter is the short days and long nights – but darkness won’t stop you doing many of the fun activities on offer. The Fins are well set up to overcome it.

The summer (June-August) is when the climate is warmest, the days are longest and the blossoming landscape is at its prettiest. June, July and August are almost always sunny and clear.

Visually speaking, autumn is a superb time to visit, when the ruska-aika (russeting) turns the lower fells golden, poplars cloak the hills in yellow and the higher hills morph a deep crimson. Autumn and Spring are also best for seeing the Northern Lights.

Getting there and away

The easiest way to reach Lapland is by flying to Helsinki, then on to either Rovaniemi or Ivalo. Additionally, there are overnight trains from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. Some international flights go direct to Rovaniemi.

Car hire is available at airports, and most hotels in airport towns will offer airport transfers (for an additional charge).

Getting around

Transport within Finnish Lapland is largely by road, and hiring a car (available in bigger towns) is a simple affair. Finnish roads are excellent and well-maintained, and hire cars come with the necessary tyres for the cold conditions.

There’s also an excellent network of bus routes. Travel between our recommended bases and attractions is never more than three hours by car if you do plan to move around, but usually there are organised tours that will take you to a major attraction in another location, and bring you back again.

Health & Safety

Finland is one of the safest countries in Europe in which to travel. Violent crime is extremely rare, especially in the more northerly, remote areas, and there are no nasty tropical diseases to catch.

Pack warmly and plan on layering clothing. This is obvious in the winter, but even during the summer temperatures can drop, especially at night. Another summertime must: mosquito repellent.