Winter Adventures in Finland’s Lapland

Northern LightsEvery February, the winter blues set in and your misguided optimism about “embracing the cold” has petered out. You’re watching reruns of Jeopardy in your jammies, while wondering what flavour of pizza you will be ordering (Hawaiian) and eating the Valentine’s chocolates you bought for special someone like a drugged-out woodchuck.

Well, not this year adventure seeker! Grab your snow pants and get off the couch because we are going to Finland’s Lapland.

350 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, the Finnish Lapland (it extends over Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia) is so much more than home to Santa and a great name for a strip club. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of winter fun no matter what your proclivities. Let’s start by flying into Helsinki.

Can We Get a Hel Yeah?!

HelsinkiHelsinki: a tiny harbour city with a big heart that’s worth exploring, especially from a culinary and design perspective.

Awarded City of Design status by UNESCO, Finnish design is evident in every home, store and restaurant and its architectural mores make for a picturesque city landscape. Visit the design district to get the most bang for your buck or hop on a kickass food tour with Fork In Hand to experience the edible wonders of Finland. Start at the Helsinki Tourist Center for information, maps and tour schedules.

Bear pate in Finland

Bear pate and reindeer are among some of the delicacies on offer in Helsinki.

OK, enough buggering about with food tours and fancy dishes – let’s find some shenanigans!

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Husky safaris are a common feature in Finnish Lapland and you can pick your own adventure; anywhere from two hours to seven days. Many husky safaris offer overnight stays in cabins or tents with a view to catching the northern lights.

Huskiy safari Finland ArcticThe most important thing about the husky adventure and any other Lappish mischief you get into is dress properly. No seriously; you really do need another layer! When selecting a tour company, find one that treats its dogs humanly and with respect—check online for reviews.

Dashing through the Snow

Reindeer safari FinlandCan you say reindeer friggin safari?!?! I can, and it’s so very, very awesome. Riding a sleigh drawn by Rudolph (or his relative) won’t be blowing your hair back, but they are the sweetest beasts. Sure, this sounds a little sedentary and I know you may not be into that, so you can also go reindeer racing. That’s right—strap a pair of skis on, grab the reins and hold on tight, this is going to be one hell of a ride!

Reindeer Race Finland

Winterland in the Hinterland

1000km of snowmobile runs, 200km of cross country skiing and hundreds of ski slopes makes the Lapland the Disneyland of winter fun.

Lapland wildernessLapland is also home to some of the world’s finest national parks. If you want to ski or snowshoe in and stay overnight, the Lappish government makes available (for free!) a number of hiker’s huts where travelers can safely stay overnight. The huts are equipped with fuel for stoves and wood for fires. There are huts which you can book or rent with slightly more luxurious accommodation (beds!) You can see the locations and information for hiker’s huts here.

I know you’ve been waiting for this the whole damn time – so on to the NORTHERN LIGHTS!

Northern Light Hunting

Northern LightsOkay, I’ll admit it – this was by far my most fun activity. I had already been to the Yukon to hunt the lights, but with no luck so I was extra determined this time. Finland’s arctic is one of the best places in the world to spot the Aurora Borealis. You can go northern lights hunting on huskies, reindeers, snowmobiles and skis and it does help to pass the time.

But I wasn’t mucking about this time, so I enrolled the services of Northern Lights Hunter Extraordinaire, Jouni Männistö. Armed with all the latest technology, a flask of tea and an incredible knowledge of the area thanks to being on border patrol his whole life, Jouni is your best bet if seeing the lights is a priority. And they should be: they are spectacular!

Northern Lights

Photo: Joseph von Meding

Jouni is also a professional northern lights and wildlife photographer and his expertise in getting night shots was invaluable. Of course if you aren’t into adventuring and want to watch the lights from the comfort of your glass igloo, then head to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, where you can spend a night or two under the stars.

There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Sauna

Smoke Sauna Finland

A traditional smoke sauna hut in Finland.

So I’m not your garden variety spa bunny, but after all that running, jumping, mushing and riding, I was pretty tuckered. One way to relax is to do a traditional smoke sauna and ice dip at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. Yes, you heard me: you schlep your sweaty body to the frozen lake and submerge yourself in icy Arctic waters.

Ice dip FinlandWhen we returned to Helsinki, my ingenious travel companion booked us into the Långvik Spa. They have more activities, treatments and pampering than you can poke a sharp stick at including a cold room which is set at -110°C and a mineral salt room too. I just hippoed in the hot tub and had about twenty saunas.

Langvik_Sauna Finnish saunaThe relief and resuscitation was beyond measure and the fine dining was a welcome change from the utilitarian meals we had been eating. My faith in humanity restored, I boarded my plane feeling like the cat’s fleecy jammies.

The Deets:

If you want to get your Lapland on, check out Visit Finland’s website for trip ideas.

The writer was a guest of Visit Finland. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.

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