Authored by ThePickyTraveller
Located above the Arctic Circle (from the “capital city” Rovaniemi in the south all the way up to Utsjoki in the north), Finnish Lapland is an exotic region in northern Finland sculpted by round-shaped rugged mountains (tunturi), extensive pine forests (taiga), treeless flat lands (tundra), pristine lakes and rivers with gold nuggets.
Lapland is a unique destination which casts a powerful spell. Offering a wide array of activities for any nature lover, and with a certain sense of magic in the air, travelers visit for the midnight sun, the Sámi peoples, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and roaming reindeer.
This is as close as reality gets for those who dream of a winter wonderland, and even with four very distinct seasons, contrasts are a key factor in the allure here; where 24-hour sunlight in the summer replaces the dark winter days, and the hustle and bustle of towns and ski resorts is just minutes away from the peace and quiet of the wild wilderness.
A Travel Guide to Finnish Lapland: When, Where & How to Go
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When to Go: Winter
A visit in winter means you will experience the phenomenon of the polar night; when the sun doesn’t rise at all (the exact dates depend on how north you go, but the phenomenon is visible as soon as you cross the Arctic Circle).
The Northern lights are visible almost every night, which makes Lapland one of the best places on Earth to experience them! The lack of daylight may seem scary at first, but is in fact a very interesting thing: besides the northern lights, stars shine incredibly bright thanks to very low light pollution (no big cities here).
Around noon and for a few hours the atmosphere goes from different shades of blue (the blue hour is quite impressive on crisp cloudless winter days) to golden rays of light coming from the sun staying right below the horizon, before the sky turns soft pink, purple and blue again.
A thick layer of snow covers everything from early November to late April. Temperatures are freezing (usually between -5C and -30C all the time, with periodical drops to even as low as -50C) but there is no humidity in the air and usually no wind either, which makes them totally bearable if you dress accordingly.
When to Go: Summer
Visit in summer to experience the famous midnight sun; a period where the sun doesn’t set at all! It’s amazing how much you can fit into your day when you have 24 hours to play, and is quite something to see the sun hit horizon, but immediately start to rise again!
Personally I find the midnight sun more difficult to cope with than the polar night as it’s difficult to sleep when the sun never sets, but is quite comforting warming up in front of the fireplace and burning candles during polar nights.
Summer in Lapland (after the last remains of snow have melted in May, until October and the first snowfalls) is a paradise for hikers, from short, easy and well-marked scenic paths to many days long treks in the wilderness.
Shorter walks near the main tourist spots are suitable for almost anyone, but you should be well prepared for longer hikes and consider hiring a guide.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning on wilderness hiking, we recommend brushing up on your orientation skills, as paths are not well marked the further you head in (though cell phone coverage in Finland is pretty amazing, even in remote areas).
In addition to a good map, also stock up on efficient mosquito-repellent. it’s surprising how fierce and numerous mosquitoes are in Lapland. Really.
When to Go: Autumn / Fall
When fall comes, nature becomes truly magnificent; leaves and needles vary from evergreen (spruces and pines) to golden yellow (birches), orange and red (aspens and rowans).
We can all conjure stunning pictures of autumnal colors in destinations like New England and Canada, but in Lapland they don’t just stick to trees, spreading across the ground vegetation as well (in gorgeous bright red tint).
This special time of the year is short but intense, usually lasting only for the first 2 or 3 weeks of September.
Where to go?
For skiing head to Levi, Saariselkä, Pyhätunturi, Ylläs or Ruka (technically not in Lapland but close enough). For snowmobile safaris, in addition to those same locations you can go to Kilpisjärvi close to the Norwegian border, with higher mountains and less trees around.
Snowshoeing can be done pretty much anywhere in Lapland. Book a room or a chalet in a modern ski station if you don’t like the idea of finding yourself alone in a remote area (but then what’s the point of going all the way to Lapland?). I’d rather recommend to rent a traditional wooden cabin with all commodities and enjoy the unique sensation of being in the middle of nowhere.
To visit Santa Claus Village (this is a tourist trap) and/or the very interesting Arktikum museum, head to Rovaniemi. In summertime go to national parks for great hiking opportunities: Urho Kekkonen, Pallas-Ylläs, Pyhä-Luosto, or trek the 65 kilometers long trail to Kevo Canyon.
The area around Kilpisjärvi is also very beautiful in summer (climbing up Mount Saana is a must). In Tankavaara you have the special opportunity to experience some real gold panning!
How to go?
The easiest way to access Finnish Lapland from Helsinki is by plane. Main airports with scheduled daily flights are in Rovaniemi (for Santa Claus village, Arktikum museum and Pyhä-Luosto), Kittilä (for Levi and Pallas-Ylläs), Kuusamo (for Ruka) and Ivalo (for Saariselkä, Urho-Kekkonen and Tankavaara).
During Christmas season there are also direct flights from some major European hubs to Rovaniemi. A nice way to get to Lapland (my favourite) is to take the night train from Helsinki. It’s clean, modern, comfortable (there are cabins with 2 beds and private bathroom or cabins with 4 beds and shared bathroom) and sharply on time.
Once in Lapland it’s recommended to rent a car, unless you want to stick to one small area. Driving in summer is very easy (be careful of reindeers on the road though) but in winter, as you can imagine, it requires skills to drive on icy and snowy roads.
You can also drive to Lapland all the way from Helsinki, as Finnish roads are in very good condition (it will take you 10 to 15 hours depending on how far north you go). This option is not recommended in winter though, because of potentially bad weather, lack of light and lower speed limitations.
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Photo credits: Pinterest image, reindeer & handler by sangak. Northern lights in order of appearance by Chris, Timo Newton-Syms, & Timo Newton-Syms. Grassy pond by Mild Delirium. Reindeer pulling a sleigh by zsoolt.