10 best things to do in Lapland
Here are my top tips for Lapland tours from a Finnish point of view. Here you will find some tips for Lapland day trips that you won’t find on other travel blogs, as they are not written by someone with real local connections. I have spent time outside the popular resorts that most Lapland tours recommend for you. Also independent travellers will benefit from my travel tips, such as how to catch a bus in Lapland. At first you may think there is nothing to know. But as in Lapland the sun doesn’t rise at all during the winter months, it’s difficult for the driver to see you hailing for the bus by the road side. For best Lapland tours and many practical tips for the independent traveller, keep reading!
Lapland tours: Aurora Borealis – The Northern lights
If you visit Lapland in the winter time and spend a whole week there, you should be able to catch aurora borealis. Although it can never be guaranteed, as it’s a force of nature that appears when it wants to appear. It will help you spot them, if you stay outside busy destinations with lots of lights on at night time, as the glare will hide the weaker northern lights.
Indigenous People’s Film Festival
The Indigenous People’s Film Festival is organised annually in the village of Inari, near the Ivalo airport at the end of January. Especially interesting are the movies that tell stories about the Lapland Sami people. A special Northern Lights Theatre will be built entirely out of snow. If you have had a enough of the cold air, you can also choose to watch great films at the culture center called Sajos in Inari. And in Inari, the best party is held at the bar called Papana, which is right in the tiny heart of the Inari village. Try the favourite drink of the locals: Lonkero, which is on tap right next to the draught beer. It is gin mixed with grapefruit lemonade. Check the hotel availability and prices for Inari here.
Stay in or visit a hotel made of snow and ice
Many of the best Lapland tours will take you to a Northern town called Kittilä. Kittilä is known world wide for its ice hotels that are built entirely out of ice and snow each year. The designs change every time and the team of around 30 people work away on the structures and sculptures for weeks before the hotel is ready to open. The ice hotel consists of over ten rooms and facilities also includes a real ice bar (not those ones you see around the world that imitate real winter), a restaurant and different pieces of ice and snow art. You can check the Snow Village Hotel’s prices and availability here. But if you are closer to a town called Kemi than Kittilä which is really high up North, you should definitely check out their magnificent SnowCastle. Here you can see the prices of all Kemi hotels.
Kittilä Snow Hotel Visiting address
Lainiotie 566, Kittilä, Finland
SnowVillage is open for day visitors daily from 10am-10pm, but the last entrance is at 9pm. And Finns are typically quite particular about their time-keeping so don’t turn up late!
Snowmobiles are a popular form of transport in Lapland and they are not there only for the amusement of tourists. Snowmobiles feel surprisingly stable and are safe to use, as long as you remember a few things: don’t turn the accelerator handle too quickly and when you are moving fast, don’t try to turn. Slow down first. I’ve had an amazing time doing speeds of over 90 kilometres per hour over a frozen lake. You can probably tell that snowmobile safaris are my favourite kind of Lapland tours of the all! Now if you are going in a big group, you probably won’t be allowed to go this fast. Last time I drove a snowmobile, we were out with a group of friends under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor. If you find a great safari, you can enjoy coffee and tea that has been prepared over a wild camp fire. And what’s great about Lapland is that most municipalities offer visitors free cottages and free firewood. It is totally ok and safe to stay a night in such a cottage, that you will typically find next to a ski path. And by ski path I mean cross-country skiing, not the slopes. Just make sure you have enough wood and newspapers in the cottage to keep you warm the whole night. Unfortunately there are just wooden benches to sleep on so if this is not up to your standard, just visit a cottage during the day!
Huskies have traditionally been used as a mode of transport to get you from A to B. Huskies have been bred to be very energetic and fast dogs that love the outdoors and the chilling temperatures. These days husky safaris are incredibly popular Lapland tours that most visitors find exotic and fun. What is best about these dog sledges is that if you find a good one, you will be taken into the wilderness, where you don’t see anything but the vast forest. You won’t hear other noise apart from the sledge and the excited dogs and the air you breathe is the clearest and purest air you will ever breathe. I had a tough time hitting the break though! I was steering the sledge back towards the finish line and the dogs were so keen to get back to their dog friends, I had to keep jumping on the spiky break that cuts into the snow. In the end a guide jumped on the sledge and stopped the excited dogs for me.
Lapland tours: Reindeer safari
Reindeer herding is still a profession and the livelihood of many local Lappi residents. Hop on a reindeer sledge to enjoy a unique experience that will stay with you for a life time. The quietness of the surrounding, pure and white snow under the sledge will relax you whilst you marvel at the beautiful and snow-packed trees.
I apologise if I shock you, but reindeer are hearded by the locals mainly for the meat and the skins. Reindeer meat is light and in high regard. If you don’t mind trying reindeer meat, the best dish is called poronkäristys – it is reindeer meat with potato mash, served with sour cranberry-like lingonberries.
Sauna in a ski lift
The Ylläs ski resort has a wild ace up its sleeve – a sauna gondola that takes you around the ski lift right above the slopes. If you are able to make a group booking, you can bring the price down but it still won’t be cheap. This is actually my family’s favourie ski resort in Lapland. Not so much for just the gondola sauna but also because we have simply always had a great time here. The selection of hotels and cottages is also great in Ylläs.
Traditional smoke sauna at the Saariselkä ski resort
Saariselkä ski resort is one of the most popular ski resorts in Finland. Last time I visited there, we put some cross country skis on didn’t exactly have an accident free ski trip! I recall us having had a few laughing fits along the way as our whole group fell in the same downhill turn seconds apart from one another. My recommendation is that if you are up for cross country skiing and you see a warning sign of a steep hill with a bend, walk down!
The smoke sauna is a holy institution to the Finns. Not only is it heated with just wood, but you sit there surrounded by the smoke darkened walls, which makes the experience all the more relaxing. You may ask if the smoke in the sauna could be dangerous but it is actually let out of small hatches in the walls before you go in. When you have warmed up enough, try plunging into the icy lake. In Saariselkä they actually cut a hole right into the ice – yep you read it right. The water is freezing cold but if you keep up with the sauna – ice lake – sauna repetition, you will experience such deep relaxation you have never felt before.
You can check the prices and availability of Saariselkä hotels here. You can also scroll down for information on flights to Lapland.
Ruska – watch the nature turn fiery red
The Finns call the the changing colours of the leaves “ruska”. In Lapland the trees begin to turn yellow, orange and finally deep red. This time of year is very popular especially amongst the Finns, who may drive up to 14 hours North, before they reach their hiking destination of Lemmenjoki, Ylläs or Levi.
Bear watching in Lapland
This tip applies to those visitors to Lapland that miss the winter season and decide to go in the spring, summer or around September – October. You can actually watch real brown bears in their natural habitat. I will attach a link for you below for a good tour organiser that also speaks English. As bears hibernate during the winter, it will be one quiet bear watching trip if you want to combine it with your ski holiday!
Lapland Log Cabin Holidays
If you are interested in log cabin holidays, you should consider these points first:
- Do you want to be right next to a ski resort? Then look for a Lapland lodge in the following resorts: Ylläs, Saariselkä, Kittilä or Levi. Many of the Lapland tours on the market will take you to one of these resorts.
- Are you going fishing? You probably don’t want to deal with the Finnish authorities to gain a fishing license, so you should consider going with a local fishing guide. I will share the link with you below to an English website, so it’s easy for you to arrange your own Lapland tours.
- Are you going bear watching in Lapland? Bear watching in Finland is organised under strict safety regulations, for a good reason. Your guide knows the behaviour of bears very well, which is important for your safety. Therefor hire a bear guide or join one of the bear watching in Lapland tours.
- Driving in Lapland: the distances are long and when you are caught in a snow blizzard, the visibility can be very poor. The snow piles up quickly, so you should follow the orange plastic tubes inserted in to the ground next to the roads – these are used by the local drivers to indicate where the road is. The big roads are cleared and gritted but small roads may take long to be cleared of snow. Many locals use their own tractors to make way for cars but there are no guarantees, as Lapland is a very large area. Driving on ice is made safer by changing to metal studded winter tyres or tyres with extra grip, that are required by law in the winter time. If you rent a car in Lapland, these tyres will have been fitted on your car automatically and you don’t need to request them separately. I have not seen cars in Finland to be fitted with snow chains. Remember that winter tyres are heavier and use up more fuel than the normal kind, so always carry extra fuel with you on long trips if you are not sure of your car’s consumption.
Lapland day trips
If you are interested in Lapland Day Trips, your best options are either to get a package trip from a travel agent or to fly into Rovaniemi, which is the biggest city in Lapland. There you can find lots of husky safaris and reindeer safaris. Day trips to Lapland are gaining popularity and Thomson sells UK Lapland UK trips on their site. Thomson takes you to Kittilä, where you are given the suitable snow overall and warm winter boots. You can either wear them or bring your own skiing clothes. If you don’t want to look like you are wondering around with the tourist heard, you need to wear “salopettes” style ski trousers and a thick ski coat, as the temperatures of -30C or more probably won’t stop the tour from going ahead. Check out hotel prices in Rovaniemi here.
Santa Claus trips are very popular Lapland day trips. You can also combine your day trips to Lapland with other Lapland tours, as travelling all the way there just to see Santas Lapland for a day can leave you with a feeling that there was so much more to experience and only so little time. I recommend you book at least 4-5 days for your Lapland log cabin holidays, if not a whole week. It’s good to acknowledge that if you intend to go skiing in one of the popular ski resorts, such as Levi Lapland, you will be exhausted in the evening after a fund day at the slopes. I do recommend you book enough time for your visit. But if you are looking for last minute Lapland deals or Lapland day trips only, go with an established tour operator, such as Thomson.
How to get around in Lapland
Driving in Lapland
The distances can be very long in Lapland from A to B so a rental car is a smart option. Driving on the icy roads is still relatively safe, as in winter time metal studded winter tyres are required by law. However, the visibility can be very poor when it snows and therefore you should allow lots of extra time on the road. The blizzard can block the driver’s view a bit but the locals councils help the drivers by sticking orange, plastic sticks to stand on the edge of the roads, so you would get to your destination safely. Bring extra fuel in case you take a wrong turn. Don’t rely on Google Maps too much!
Public Transport in Lapland
There are some train connections that also offer sleeper carriages. The coaches are also a popular mode of transport. I will include links for both booking sites in English below.
How to catch a bus in Lapland
If you are visiting Lapland in the winter, here’s a top tip for you! If you are standing on the roadside in the winter, it’s likely to be quite dark as the higher up North you go, the less sunlight you have during the winter months. This makes it hard for the bus driver to see you. When you see the bus approaching, you should hold out your smartphone and wave it so the driver notices your light. You do not want to miss your only bus connection back to the city!
What to pack to Lapland
Weather in Lapland can easily get below -30 degrees Celcius. Pack lots of warm of ski clothes! If you visit Lapland in the winter, you will need a long sleeved under layer and possibly also a cotton ski mask. Just don’t walk into a bank wearing one.
The best Lapland airport for your destination
There are a few international and domestic airports in Lapland to choose from. Flights to Lapland can be found on this trusted site that I recommend whole heartedly. I have partnered with the price comparison site only because it is my favourite one and I use it constantly myself. Flights to Lapland tend to increase in price the closer to Christmas you are, as for most overseas visitors, Lapland is a winter holiday destination. You may have to fly to Helsinki and change flights there. The Helsinki airport is conveniently small and one of the most punctual airports in the whole world, which means that even a short connection time could work for you. And the Finnish airports operate like clockwork also in severe weather (which is several months of the year).
Flights: Lapland UK and UK Lapland
You can either find a package holiday from a UK based travel agent or find Lapland log cabin holidays online. If you want to put together your own itinerary online, search for flights to these airports:
- Ivalo: a 30 minute drive from Inari where the Indigenous People’s Film Festival is held each January and where lots of visitors go see the Northern Lights. Ivalo is the Northernmost airport in Finland and if you are continuing over to the Northernmost part of Norway or the Arctic Sea, this is probably your best airport to fly to. If you are interested in the Indigenous People’s Film Festival in Inari, you need to arrange this yourself. As far as I’m aware, there are no official Lapland tours that will take you there. Inari has a few hotels and a few AirBnB’s.
- Rovaniemi, which is the home of the Santa Park. Many Lapland tours take you here, but I personally didn’t think the Rovaniemi Santa Park was up to standard of international tourists. The whole place lacked some TLC but the outdoor ice track looked extremely fun. As most areas in the Santa Park are free to visit, why not spend a few hours there but I wouldn’t plan the whole trip around it. Are you looking for a hotel in Rovaniemi?
- Kemi-Tornio: great for the Kemi SnowCastle (this is not to be confused with the IceHotel in Kittilä)
- Kittilä: this is a popular ski resort and the home of the SnowVillage, where you can find the SnowHotel.
- Kuusamo: near to the Easternmost border of Finland and surrounded by incredibly beautiful nature. If you want to go watch bears in their own habitat, Kuusamo is a great choice. Here’s one recommended bear watching tour in Kuusamo. Technically Kuusamo is situated just outside Lapland border but many Finns count it as Lapland.
Lapland tours: are there Cheap Lapland holidays?
Lapland tours are usually not low-cost holidays, partly due to the long flights and the relatively high cost of employee wages for those who serve the hotel guests in Finland. The longer you wait to book, the more expensive the Lapland holidays and last minute deals to Lapland are. Not only is Lapland very popular with overseas visitors, it’s also one of the favourite destinations of the Finns to spend their Christmas or New Year in. To get an idea of the prices, I recommend Thomson Holidays for Lapland tours, SkyScanner for flights and Hotels.com for hotels. I have partnered with them as these are my favourite sites I use all the time.
Transportation in Finland
Coaches / buses in Finland:
Low cost bus company Onnibus