Best Winter Activities in Lapland, Finland
Lapland in winter is a land of frozen lakes and fairytale snow-covered forests. It’s a magical place, with many winter activities for any traveller or holiday style. Lapland is above the arctic circle in Northern Finland and is home to the Northern Lights in winter and the midnight sun in summer. During winter it becomes a winter wonderland, of snow and super short daylight hours. After spending a week in Lapland I fell in love with the landscape and the Finnish people. There are many winter activities to get involved with, in Lapland, Finland, so make sure you add it to your bucket list.
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Why You Should Choose Lapland, Finland
As a travel agent, I’ve sold several holidays to Finland and knew that I had to go one day. When planning our Christmas, we decided on Lapland, Finland because we wanted a white Christmas, but still with the opportunity for lots of winter activities to keep us occupied. There’s usually something for everyone, whether you want to sit by a fire, sweat in a sauna, or marvel at the beautiful countryside while speeding around on a snowmobile. Please find my list below of the best winter activities to do in Lapland, Finland.
Any winter activity in Lapland is not complete without a visit to Santa Claus and his Santa Village. This is located in Rovaniemi (it took me ages to learn how to say it), which also has the largest airport into Lapland. Santa’s Village is a collection of about fifty businesses all working together to create the best Santa experience. You can do absolutely everything here, and if you love Christmas and everything related to it then you’ll love this place. One of the coolest parts is that there is a post office here and it is the official post office for Santa Claus. If you or your kids send a letter to Santa this is where the letter will go. They receive over 500,000 letters from all over the world every year.
The Santa Claus Village is open all year, even when there’s no snow, (Santa’s got to receive all those letters). Some great activities are crossing the Arctic Circle, visiting Santa in his house and his office, going reindeer or dog sledding and so much more. Visiting the post office and sending a letter with the official stamps is definitely a must, and a photo with Santa is a fun souvenir, although it will set you back 30 Euro for a photo or 45 Euro for a downloadable file. If you want more information on the village then visit their website, which has all the details. It’s definitely a fun winter activity in Lapland.
If you’re not going to spend much money, then I recommend only a few hours of your time. However, if you want to spend more time here, then I recommend that you commit and go Christmas crazy. Do everything, see everything, buy all the gifts. For me, it was a place where you either dipped your toe and then left, or happily sold your soul to the Christmas marketing gods.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Lapland
The Northern Lights are definitely the best winter activity that you can do in Lapland. It’s one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. I got tears in my eyes, which then froze as it’s winter in Lapland. To begin with, it was just a haze on the horizon, that could have been cloud until we took a photo and saw the unmistakable green glow. It then grew in intensity until the lights were dancing and undulating across the sky and we could see colours with the naked eye.
There’s no right or wrong way to see them but you’ve really got to be prepared. We learnt this from our trip to Tromsø in Norway, which I loved, but was still pretty disappointed with our Aurora experience. Always check the weather on your trip and pick your days carefully for the best weather. Even great weather can still not be enough if you don’t have Aurora activity. There are several websites you can visit, and one of the best for Lapland is Aurora Forecast.
The great thing about Lapland is that you can choose to do a Northern Lights tour, or if your accommodation is further out of town you can walk out your door and watch them right there. Light pollution and clouds are the biggest factors that will destroy your chances at seeing the Northern Lights. You can’t control the weather, but you can control how much light you’re near. That means avoiding the full moon at all costs, and either doing a tour to get you away from the town you’re staying in or picking accommodation that is located away from the town or city lights.
There’s so much I could go into on this topic, and you can find my much more detailed guide on how to photograph the northern lights on my blog. If you’re looking for a tour check out Lapland Safaris or the Visit Lapland website. They have a huge list of different Aurora activities in winter to choose from. Always remember to layer as watching the Northern Lights is cold and have a good camera. Your mobile phone won’t be able to pick up the Aurora properly. If you’re interested in other places to see the Northern Lights, check out my guide to Tromsø in Norway.
Cross Country skiing
The Finnish are obsessed with cross country skiing. It’s one of the national past times and every Finn that we met recommended it. It’s a great winter activity in Lapland that will keep you warm, but also get you outside and help you explore the stunning winter wonderland. If you’ve never skied before then I’d recommend taking a beginner tour so that you can have instructions and make sure you’re looked after. The Finnish Grandmas make it look simple, but the snow is slippery under the skis and there’s definitely a knack to staying upright.
Once you’ve got yourself going it’s quite a meditative experience. New tracks are usually graded all around Lapland, which makes it easier, and there’s usually a café selling hot drinks halfway along the routes. Pick up a cross country skiing map from just about anywhere in Lapland, or book yourself onto a tour. This winter activity in Lapland is definitely one I highly recommend if you want to experience the Finnish culture. You can find multiple tours for this starting at different levels on the Visit Lapland website.
Another way of getting around in Finland is snowshoeing. It’s a fun winter activity to do in Lapland and can be enjoyed by the whole family. When the snow gets really deep it’s almost impossible to walk in. I stepped off a path while taking a photo and sunk up to my hips in snow. Snowshoes fix this problem as they act as sort of tennis rackets for your feet. They distribute your weight across the snow and ensure you can walk where there’s no path. Our accommodation had snowshoe rental, but you can also book tours that show you Lapland, or also include the Northern Lights while snowshoeing. It’s almost like skiing but much more stable, and it didn’t take us long to pick up the knack for it.
The Snow Village is near Kittilä and is created every winter from snow and ice. It’s more like a palace with passageways and rooms with glowing lights. What it also is, is an actual hotel. You can stay the night in a room made of snow and ice with a pretty ice sculpture on your wall. The room has no heating (otherwise it would melt), but they have areas where you can go and eat and get warm.
Because it’s officially a hotel by Finnish law they have to have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Entry was eighteen euros and each year they follow a theme with their ice and snow sculptures, this year was Illusion and the year before was Game Of Thrones. There’s an ice bar for drinks and replicas of the bedrooms so you can see what it would be like to stay there.
The biggest tradition that you can not miss in Finland is the Finnish Sauna. Up until the sixties people were born in saunas because they’re the cleanest room in any house. 5.5 million people live in Finland and there are an estimated 2 million saunas. It’s the national obsession and definitely one of the best winter activities that you can do in Finland. Most tourist accommodations will have one, so make sure you book in a time and get sweating. You can hire this one through Bed and Breakfast Ylläs
The sauna is usually in a small wood cabin with a woodfire oven inside and wooden benches to sit on. The Finnish usually do this naked, and they’re quite relaxed about it. However, you can also wear bathers if you want. Another tradition you can become involved with is getting hot in the sauna (it’s usually 80 degrees Celsius) and then plunging into an icy lake or the snow. The Finnish believe this will keep you fresh and young.
Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity in Lapland, and also one of the primary ways that the locals get around in winter (watch out for them, they drive crazy). You can do an hour-long tour all the way to five-hour tours, and some will include extra activities like the Snow Village or Northern Lights. All you need is a valid driver’s licence and they’ll teach you the rest. You’ll also be given warm weather gear such as thermal jumpsuits and snow boots.
If you’ve never ridden motorbikes or have never done snowmobiling before I don’t recommend a long tour. We made this mistake and I found it very stressful. Snowmobiles are quite hard to drive (at least ours was) and we almost tipped over twice, even when we were going super slow (terrifying). I think if you book the right tour for you then you’ll have fun. Start with a short one and if you like it, book the longer option. Also, if you book a long drive prepared to be cold. My hair and eyelashes froze, and my husband lost feeling in his feet. This was on a -20 degrees Celsius day.
If you’re feeling adventurous then you should definitely give the winter activity of dog sledding a go. The practice is popular in Lapland and we even met a man staying down the road who comes to Lapland every year to sled with his own dogs. It’s always best to check the reviews of the company that you’re booking with or find a reputable wholesaler like Visit Lapland, Polar Lights Tours, or Lapland Safaris. You don’t want to end up supporting a company that mistreats their dogs.
The dogs who are bred for sledding love it. When they’re waiting for the sleds to start moving they start barking and leaping in the air with excitement. A sled run is the highlight of their day, as well as getting pats from the participants. You can book active safaris where you have to drive the sled yourself or more sedate options where you’re just the passenger. Remember to rug up, although most of the experiences will give you thermal overalls.
Reindeer are very important in Lapland as a source of food and income. Reindeer herding can be done by anyone (unlike Norway), but it’s still traditional in the way that you have to announce to the town that you’re doing it. There are many farms all over Lapland where you can go and feed the reindeer, go reindeer sledding, and buy reindeer meat. I’ve fed the reindeer in Tromsø, which is actually still considered Lapland and it was such a fun activity. The reindeer are glutens and love being fed.
Reindeer sledding is very popular in Lapland and many companies offer it. You’ll rug up in a sleigh and journey through the winter wonderland. Many of these also include extra activities like, ice fishing and reindeer sledding, or seeing the Northern Lights while reindeer sledding. This is not an adventure activity, so don’t expect a wild ride through the snow.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Lapland is mostly flat, but there are still several Fells where you can go skiing. A Fell is a small mountain, and the Finnish make the most of it. The most popular Fells for skiing and snowboarding are Levi, Pyhä and Yalläjävi. Levi and Yalläjävi both have lifts and multiple runs for beginners and experts. Levi especially has ski in ski out accommodation for ease, as the slopes are located right in the town. You can get different lift passes and hire your equipment when you’re there. If you’ve never done skiing or snowboarding before, then always book a lesson so that it’s fun.
If you like fishing, then this will be a fun activity that you can only experience in winter. The tours take you to a frozen lake (which is every lake in Lapland), cut a hole in the ice and then you can fish. You can mix this up with other winter activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing and Northern Lights chasing. Most companies will provide winter gear and there’ll be a guide to make sure you don’t end up in the water yourself.
They will usually start a fire and provide hot drinks and marshmallows while you wait for a fish to bite. Some tours will even fillet and cook your fish while you’re out there.
Winter Fun Activities
If you want something free to do, then just have fun in the snow. If you’re in Lapland for winter, then let your inner child out, or let your kids run wild, and get involved in these fun winter activities.
Start a snowball fight with your friends or family. This will warm you up if you’re feeling cold, and snowball fights are always lots of fun for everyone.
During winter the Finnish get around using sleds and toboggans. I even saw people taking their grocery shopping back on their toboggans. It’s practical, and lots of fun. A lot of the children use sleds to get to school. Most accommodation in Lapland will have one to borrow. So get outside and have a go at sledding or tobogganing.
“Do you want to build a snowman?”. If you have the right type of snow (can’t be too fresh and powdery), you can have a lot of fun building a snowman. The technique is all about rolling your ball through the snow, which then grows it in size. You can have competitions to make it more competitive.