Finnish Lapland Travel Guide – 10 things to do in Finland in winter

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The approaching winter in Finland is a magical time of the year, which makes especially Lapland worth visiting. There are plenty of things to do and see during winter season and in this travel guide we will give you 10 reasons, why you should visit Finnish Lapland especially in winter.
Husky sledding is a traditional winter holiday activity in Finnish Lapland

Table of contents

#1 Meet Santa Claus

Santa Claus office in Rovaniemi, Finland
© Riku Pihlanto | Visit Finland

Meeting Father Christmas must be the high point of winter holiday, especially for children. In Finnish Lapland, you can meet Santa Claus in many different locations, out of which the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi must be the most popular. And what is best about it: you can do this activity completely free of charge.

Another plus side is the fact that you don’t have to visit Lapland at Christmas time to be actually able to meet Santa. Father Christmas and his elves are ready for a visit any time of the year. There is something very special about meeting and chatting with him in winter though, so I do recommend timing your trip for the snowy months – from November to March.

In Ranua, you can book a separate activity from Gulo Gulo Holiday Village, which allows you to actually go and visit Santa Claus in his secret hideout cabin.

#2 Try ice swimming

Ice swimming is a popular wintertime hobby in Finland
© Harri Tarvainen | Visit Finland

Yes, you did read correctly. Winter swimming has become popular wintertime activity all over Finland and Lapland also offers many possibilities for this chilling and somewhat traditional activity. So, if you want to experience something truly unique and crazy: you should try winter swimming.

The secret of plunging into icing cold water lies in the feeling that surges through your body after getting out of the water. Even though the initial lowering yourself into the water requires a fair amount of courage, the initial shock and numbness in your legs will soon disappear as your body gets used to the feeling. As soon as you’re back on dry land your blood circulation kicks in, and your body starts to warm up quickly.

Even though ice swimming was previously mainly known as elderly people’s hobby, the sport is currently enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in Finland. This is because many young people have also found this hobby and made it more fashionable. Winter swimming is not anymore all about toughening yourself up or being a macho, but instead an incomparable energy boost.

In Lapland, we have had multiple visitors all over the world, who have tried ice swimming for the first time and immediately fallen in love with this winter activity. When you can pass the first obstacle of going into the water, you will most likely be enjoying the refreshing feeling so much that you will want to try this activity again and again and again.

#3 Search the Northern lights

Northern lights in Ranua, Finnish Lapland
A cabin in the wilderness and the northern lights - © Jari Romppainen

Seeing the Northern lights, also called Aurora borealis, it’s hard to pick a better location than Finnish Lapland. Most parts of Lapland lie within or above the Arctic Circle, which is a prime spot for aurora gazing as it is so close to the North Pole.

In fact, almost the whole Lapland is situated in the so called “aurora zone” – located between 65 and 72 degrees North. This is where aurora frequency and intensity are highest on the planet.

The Northern lights is a subject that we have covered on our blog many times before and this is why I will not be talking about in more detail on this blog post. You can find links to our other Northern lights stories on our blog’s main page.

The magical fame of the Aurora borealis has not been built out of nothing and there is a good reason, why seeing them finds its place in so many travel bucket lists. Even as an original Lapland resident, you are always waiting for the new Northern lights season to start.

#4 Enjoy snow and winter activities

Downhill skiing in Finnish Lapland
© Flatlight Films | Visit Finland

Finland is the home of many fun and adventurous wintertime activities. The best place to enjoy them is Lapland, where you will be able to enjoy all this fun in beautiful and snowy landscapes.

There are plenty of popular snow and winter activities in Finland. Out of these husky sledding is probably the single favorite, thanks to the adorable and professional sled dogs. Even though huskies more than likely are people’s favorites, sledding can also be done in more traditional way with reindeer and Finnish horse sleighs. Sledding is a quintessential and easily accessible activity when you’re in Lapland and simply a fantastic and calm way to see the snowy scenery.

If you are interested in more speedy drives in the nature, snowmobiles probably are the thing for you. Many travel businesses in Finland arrange guided snowmobile trips and a singular favorite could be the night-time Northern lights safaris, where groups are taken with snowmobiles to a remote location without light pollution. These kinds of locations are ideal for seeing the Aurora borealis.

If you are looking for something more traditional and want to also exercise a little bit, consider going for cross-country skiing trip or snowshoeing in the beautiful winter sceneries of Lapland. Many Lappish travel businesses also arrange these activities as guided options. Other traditional and popular winter sports would be ice skating and downhill skiing, which can be done in various ski centers in Finnish Lapland.

One of my personal favorites in terms of snow activities is ice fishing, which can be both calming and exciting type of fishing. If you happen to find a good-sized group of perch, for example, the fish catch can be very large even in a short period of time.

#5 Experience the Finnish sauna culture

Traditional lakeside sauna is an important part of Finnish culture
A traditional Finnish lakeside sauna in Ranua - © Jari Romppainen

If you would have to pick one season, then winter is a perfect time to enjoy a classic Nordic spa tradition at its purest by entering a Finnish sauna. As sauna is such an important part of our culture, you really don’t need to go far to find one in Finland.

Many people want to book plenty of activities during their winter holiday in Finland and there basically is no better way than to finish a busy day in a Finnish sauna, where you will be able to relax your muscles and activate your blood circulation in traditional settings.

It is also a tradition to take a dip in the icy water or roll in the snow during a trip to the sauna. By exposing your body to large changes of temperatures will boost your immune system and relax your muscles even further. Both activities demand a little bit of courage, but if you are visiting Finland in winter, you should give them a go. After all, we live (and maybe visit Finland) just once.  

#6 Spend Christmas and New Year in Finland

Crossing the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is a real Christmas wonderland in winter-time - © Visit Finland

If you would have to choose a singular one-week period for a winter holiday in Finnish Lapland, the pick would be Christmastime and New Year. After all, Finland is the home of Father Christmas and thanks to this, the Christmas spirit and atmosphere is at its purest in Finnish Lapland. Think about all the Christmas markets, bright lights, snowy landscapes and of course Santa Claus himself.

The holiday season is special especially for the children, who will practically be in a Christmas heaven. Rovaniemi is the place to visit during the holidays as you will be able to send Christmas cards from the Santa’s Post Office and even meet Father Christmas himself. But the Christmas spirit is not limited to Rovaniemi only. Many people visiting places such as Levi, Ylläs, Salla or any other town in Lapland will be able to experience a magical Finnish Christmas experience.

My favorite activities in Christmas time have always been searching for the perfect Christmas tree together with my brother and dad and the visit to our local cemetery in the evening, where will light candles for the memory of those, who have already passed. Before sharing the Christmas presents in the evening, we also tend to sit to have a dinner together as one big family. These are all things that can only be experienced once a year and that is the main reason, why I am always hoping to have all my family together in my hometown Ranua for Christmas.

Even though Christmas is my personal favorite holiday, let’s not forget about New Year’s Eve either. You could celebrate it in a winter wonderland, enjoying a festive dinner at a traditional cabin or even inside a glass igloo. At a traditional Lapland party, you can try traditional Finnish habit called tin casting. The explanation behind this activity is that when you drop the melted tin to cold water, the shape that is formed, will be a thing that will be part of your future.

New Year’s Eve in Finland would not be the same without fireworks, that will paint the Lapland’s sky with different kind of shapes and colors. At midnight we will also raise the glasses to greet the new and hopefully also happier year than the previous one.

#7 Visit a local ice hockey match

Ice hockey is one of the main sports in Finland and if you are even somewhat interested in sports, visiting a local ice hockey game is worth considering. Ice hockey is a fast tempo, physical and entertaining sport, which is also fairly easy to understand after you get hold of the basic rules of the game.

Even though many smaller local teams don’t exist anymore due to the lack of players, there are still plenty of smaller towns in Finnish Lapland, where you can see the local people playing. There are no top-tier teams in Lapland area but the biggest team in the area, Rovaniemen Kiekko, plays in the second level of Finnish ice hockey. The nearest league side can be found in Oulu, which is the home city of Oulun Kärpät.

If you don’t want to visit an official match, you can also visit some local hockey rink where there are usually exhibition games played by locals. These games are usually called “pipolätkä” in Finnish language, which means beanie hockey. Beanie hockey is usually a game of ice hockey between friends that is mainly played just for fun.

#8 Familiarize yourself with the Sami culture

Sámi reindeer herder in Finnish Lapland
© Mikko Ryhänen | Visit Finland

If you want to take a dip to the Finnish culture and traditions, then getting to know with the Sámi or Saami culture is a way to go in Lapland. The Sámi, or Saami, are an indigenous people who used to live across large parts of what is today Norway, Sweden, northern parts of Finland, and the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. In Finland, the Sámi people used and still live in Lapland.

The Sámi survived and sustained themselves in the harsh environments of Lapland by fishing, hunting, sheep, and reindeer herding. The Sámi people across the different regions also developed their own languages and cultures.

Forced and voluntary cultural assimilation, discrimination, technological advances, economic marginalization, governmental policies, and many other factors led to the loss of many traditional Sámi cultural practices and ways of life over the centuries.

Today, there are less than 10,000 people who identify as Sámi in Finnish Lapland, but there is a great interest by many to protect their traditional culture. Three Sámi languages in total are still spoken in Finland.

The town most associated with the Sámi in Lapland is Inari, where you can find the Finnish Sami Parliament, a cultural and a language center, and the Sámi Museum called Siida, which is also probably the best place to learn about the culture.

Another museum related to Sámi culture is the SamiLand in Levi, which is focused on the history, culture, and mythology of the Sámi people. There are also outdoor exhibitions and during the winter, you can also meet reindeers inside the area. The center is also part of the UNESCO Observatory Cultural Village Program.

A third museum related to the Sámi culture is the Arktikum in Rovaniemi, which is both science center and museum. Arktikum focuses on Lappish culture, nature, science, and history. Even though the museum is not specifically focused on Sámi people, it does include lots of information on the Sámi culture also.

#9 Spend a night in a log cottage in the wilderness

A traditional Finnish summer cottage in the wilderness
A traditional Finnish summer cottage in winter - © Tuomas Haapala

Many people could say that spending a night in a glass igloo is the thing to do in terms of accommodation in Finland. But I disagree a bit here: sure, glass igloos are nowadays popular and special type of accommodations, but if you really want to dive into the Finnish culture, staying in a log cabin or cottage in middle of nowhere is the way to go.

For us Finns, cottage is an institution. Especially in the holiday seasons, Finns flock to the countryside for quietness and relaxation at cozy hideouts, where the only thing you can hear is the silence. Visiting a “secret hideout” is an important rehabilitation from the busy everyday life for many people living in Finland.

Cabins in Finland are usually situated by water or fells, and they are often accompanied with lakeside saunas, where you can take a cooling dip in a lake, pond, or river. Nowadays, luxurious cottages are located all over Finland, and they have become a really popular way to spend holidays. However, many people also prefer smaller and more basic cabin that offer minimal amenities. Some people even want their cabins not to be equipped with running water, electricity, or internet connection, which allows them to be even more connected to the surrounding nature. There is a good reason why on average every fifth household in Finland has at least some kind of a cottage.

So, if you are planning on visiting Finland and still thinking about, what kind of accommodation you should book, I would recommend a cabin stay. Cottage stay in Finland is a traditional option, with its own atmosphere that you cannot experience while staying in a hotel, resort or even an igloo village.

#10 Enjoy the Finnish Lapland cuisine

Dried reindeer meat in Finnish Lapland
Dried reindeer meat is a traditional Lappish delicacy - © Julia Kivelä | Visit Finland

Last, but not the least would be the Finnish Lapland food culture that certainly has its own unique vibes. The purity of our wilderness and the care that Finns generally take in preparing any meal guarantees some of the most mouth-watering dishes you’ve ever tried. The Lappish cuisine might be simple, but it’s packed full of fresh flavors such as fresh Finnish berries, mushrooms and of course game meat.

The first ingredient that we need to mention is of course the reindeer, which has been herded in Lapland for centuries. Despite roaming free in our wilderness, reindeers are all owned by a herder. The most traditional way to enjoy reindeer is the sauté, which is usually served with lingonberries and mashed potatoes. Even though sauté is probably still the singular favorite, nowadays reindeer is being served in more versatile and modern ways: in ribs, pizzas, burgers, jerky and even as sushi.

Leipäjuusto is a soft bread cheese that has been slightly grilled, giving it the distinctive brown marks. This traditional Lappish cheese is also known as ‘’squeaky cheese’’ due to the sound it makes when you chew on it. Leipäjuusto is traditionally served as a dessert and with cloudberries, but some locals also enjoy the cheese in their cup of coffee.

Next up would be the flatbread (rieska), made of barley, that is one of the few grains to survive in the Arctic climate of Lapland. Along with being used for baking and brewing, barley has traditionally been added into stews to richen the dish. Barley flatbread is at its best freshly baked in a traditional Finnish oven and it can be enjoyed with just butter or with smoky meat or fish, such as the reindeer or salmon.

Salmon is also something that you cannot leave unmentioned here as there are so many good salmon rivers especially in Finnish Lapland. The salmon is often cooked slowly near an open fire or by smoking it, which gives the food a strong, smoky aroma. This kind of preparing also makes it easier to preserve the Fish. Along with smoked salmon, a creamy salmon soup is also worth tasting.

Thank you for reading

At this point, I would like to thank you for reading this text. I’d also like to wish all of you warmly welcome to visit Lapland at any time of the year. If you have any feedback related to this text, any doubts, or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the contact form that can be found below.  

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