What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Lapland? A snowy land, Santa Claus, reindeers? Well, Lapland is way beyond all this. It’s a winter wonderland with wild adventures and magical tales, it’s the land of the midnight sun and the Aurora Borealis, home to the Sami tribe and some really exotic experiences.
Of all the places I’ve travelled to – the buzzing cities, the secluded islands, the quaint Europeans towns and the Arabian deserts, I can definitely say that Finland has stolen my heart.Â Located in Northern Europe and bordered by Sweden, Norway and Russia, this country is the ultimate Arctic paradise. In case you’re wondering about Lapland then that is Finland’s northernmost region and also the official address of the real Santa Claus.
There’s something so enticing about this intangible and frozen paradise. From the quiet wilderness of Saariselka to the hustling town of Rovaniemi, Lapland has something for every traveller. The crunch of the snow beneath the feet, the sight of the frozen lakes and snow clad trees, the clenching of the teeth in -15 degrees, the first Northern Lights sighting, dressing up in a snow-gear every single day and unleashing my inner child on seeing Santa, are just some of the moments that will be a part of me forever! I can give you a hundred reasons to ditch the ordinary and opt for this North Pole experience. Since this is not so easy to plan I’ve put down a detailed itinerary of Lapland including tips, suggestions and all my personal experiences.
Day 1- Fly to Helsinki
We flew in from Dubai to Helsinki with Finnair. Itâ€™s the only direct flight from the Middle East to Finland. Upon landing, we took the free shuttle and checked in to Holiday Inn which was 5 mins away from the airport. Since we landed in the evening and our flight to Rovaniemi was next morning we had to spend a night in Helsinki. Alternatively, you can stay in this city for a day or two before heading to Lapland
– Helsinki is the capital of Finland and Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland. Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region.
-If you are in transit then stay close the airport as itâ€™s very convenient. There are free airport shuttles to most of the hotels nearby.
– All the flights to Lapland are via Helsinki, so you can either fly into Rovaniemi or Ivalo.
– Dubai to Helsinki with Finnair is a 6 hour direct flight. They do not have an entertainment system but since the flying hours are less itâ€™s totally worth it!
Day 2- Fly from Helsinki to Rovaniemi
We were so excited because we were finally flying into Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and home to the real Santa Claus. Landing there was like setting foot on a vast spread of clouds; that moment was enough to gear up our anticipation further. We didnâ€™t waste any more time to begin our mystical endeavour in the city and hailed a cab to our hotel. Can you believe we stayed in Hotel Santa Claus!?! If the bliss of being in his birth land wasnâ€™t satisfactory; staying in an accommodation named after him totally guaranteed it.
The room was decently spacious and welcoming with a huge balcony overlooking the town. For miles I could spot only tiny colourful houses, stunning mountains and a frozen lake. We spent the rest of the evening strolling around the local market where we also bagged in my new snow boots.
Since we had to book our activities we headed straight to the Lapland Safari office which was a minute away from the hotel. The night ended with a beautiful and romantic dinner at Restaurant Nili which is very famous for Finnish food and a must try on every travellers list. Luckily our hotel concierge had reserved a table for us. The food was just like the restaurant interiors, warm and pleasing. While I stuck to my basic salmon, Manish experimented with the Reindeer meat which he actually liked. After a wholesome and hearty meal we went for a nice walk along the lake.
– We flew Norwegian Air from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (1 hour 20 mins)
– In Rovaniemi, there are two popular locations to stay: Downtown Rovaniemi or Santa Claus Village. We chose to stay in the city as it is very convenient to move around, try activities and new restaurants. If you have kids or a huge family you can opt for a cottage in the Santa Claus Village but for a couple I would recommend Downtown Rovaniemi.
– Try and shop for boots and winter clothes from the local markets there, the stuff is fantastic and so cheap. There was a mall just two min away from our hotel, opposite McDonalds.
– You can book the activities online or visit the office in person. But incase of peak season itâ€™s best to book it in advance. We were just lucky to find a spot!Â www.laplandsafaris.com/en/
– Late night walks around the lake are the best, it’s peaceful, cold and so romantic.
– Book your meal at Nili in advance as it is always running full.Â Website
– Rovaniemi is a good base in Lapland but I would also recommend you to visit the North and spend a few nights there as there are more chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Day 3- Husky Safari & The Arctic Snow Hotel
After a delicious breakfast in the hotel we headed to the Lapland Safari office for our much awaited husky ride. On reaching we were escorted to their warehouse behind where they handed us warm overalls and thicker boots for a joyous experience. Once we wore those outfits, we literally couldnâ€™t wait to experience the adventure. Along with a group of 10 other people were taken a little far away from the city in a mini bus. On arriving the Husky farm they gave us a little brief on the ride and commenced with the tour. The 30 minute ride was so exhilarating and left us wanting for more. Itâ€™s also the best way to see the real Arctic Forest and the super friendly huskies were the highlight. Once we finished the ride we were taken in a little hut where they briefed us about the life of the huskies while we sipped on some hot lingonberry tea.
After coming back to the city, we headed for lunch to Koti Pizza, a small joint in the city centre. A good meal and a hot coffee helped us recharge for our next adventure- A tour of the Arctic Snow Hotel. The team picked us up in a van and we were driven to the location, 20 mins away from the city. Upon reaching, we were amazed at the beautiful Ice structure, imagine an entire hotel that is made up of Ice, can you even believe it?! If you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie then spending a night here should definitely be on your list. We were so fascinated looking at the different ice bedrooms, ice restaurant, a chapel and even an ice bar where the glass is made up of Ice. A tour of this place should definitely be on your list. Once we reached the city, we indulged in an amazing Italian meal and a glass of wine at Monte Rosa.
– For all the activity details read this- www.myhautelife.com/activities-in-lapland/
– The husky safari prices start from 100 Euros per person approx.
– When you book any activity with Lapland Safari, it includes the transfer and the overalls.
– If you can tolerate the cold then do try and stay a night at the Ice Hotel, if not then just take a tour. You also have an option to dine there. We booked everything fromÂ Â www.laplandsafaris.com/en/
Koti Pizza and Salmon at Monte Rosa
Day 4- Santa Claus Village
My childhood fantasy was about to come true. Our first stop for the day was the famous Santa Claus Village. Post breakfast we hopped on to bus no. 8 from the city centre which dropped us right outside the location.
After a quick stop at the information counter, we got a map of the place, took a stroll around the market area, bought a few things and then finally headed inside Santaâ€™s home. Although there was a long queue ahead of us the wait was absolutely worth it. It was a dream come true, I felt like a little child when Santa spoke to me 🙂
A trip to Santaâ€™s home is incomplete without riding his reindeer sleigh. All we had to do was settle in a carriage which slowly drifted around a snowy forest with the soft hum of Christmas music in the background. This entire experience seemed to materialize right out of a fairy tale.
After frolicking in the snow and exploring every bit of the village we tucked ourselves into the cozy hut like restaurant- Kotahovi. Imagine indulging in a warm cheese soup, grilled salmon and poached pear with cheese while it continued to snow outside. After the meal we even crossed the Arctic Circle officially and got a certificate for it. Honestly thereâ€™s so much to do in the Santa Village. Just before sunset we took the same bus and headed back to the city. We spent our last night in the buzzing centre of the town and of course took a walk around the lake.
-The local bus is the easiest, most convenient and cheapest way to reach the Santa village, especially when youâ€™re not driving!
– Go early to the Santa Village so you can spend an entire day there. The place has too many activities, the Santa House, a shopping section and some cozy restaurants.
– The reindeer ride at the Santa Village is much better as compared to the ones offered by Lapland Safari. Since this is in the Santa Village it seems so surreal and also its way cheaper than the other tours. Book from-www.santaclausreindeer.fi/
We had paid 25 Euros approx.
– The entry to the Village and meeting Santa is free.
– I loved the food at Kotahovi, itâ€™s the best local meal Iâ€™ve tried in Finland. Just make sure to check the restaurant timings before you reach. Also do try Santa’s Salmon Hut.
– I would recommend staying for atleast 3 nights and 3 full days in Rovaniemi as thereâ€™s so much to do.
– For more pictures and details readÂ www.myhautelife.com/activities-in-lapland/
Hotel Breakfast and our Bus Stop
Day 5- Spend a night in an Igloo
I woke up with a huge smile on my face because I was finally going to tick something off my list. We were going to spend a night in an Igloo.. Omg! From Rovaniemi we opted for a bus journey to Saariselka. It was super comfortable as the seats were pre assigned and it was very punctual. The three hour ride was a visual treat as we crossed the arctic wilderness, a zillion pine trees covered with snow and cozy little cottages. We were dropped right outside the main gate of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. The property is divided into two sections, east and west, both very similar to each other and with the same number of igloos, a restaurant and a reception. We stayed in the East village and we loved it! When I walked towards my igloo my eyes gleamed with joy. I couldnâ€™t believe that I was literally about to sleep in one, that bucketlist moment had finally come true.
The space was heated and just sufficiently spacious. Under the glass igloo was a recliner bed, an area to keep your luggage a washroom and a snowy landscape outside, well isnâ€™t that all you need! The bed inclined perfectly well to ensure that you enjoy the Northern Lights with full comfort. The igloo was way more comfortable than I thought, it was temperature controlled so you never have to worry about freezing inside.
We spent our day taking long walks in the snow laden landscape, exploring the other side of the village, sliding down slopes, dancing around the igloo and playing in the snow. At dusk we headed for a cozy dinner in the restaurant after which we sat outside our igloo talking and chatting all night while we waited for the lights to appear.
– Check out my entire review of Kakslauttanen here:Â www.myhautelife.com/kakslauttanen-arctic-resort/
The article has all the details about the room price, the experience, the food, locations, tips and suggestions etc. It is definitely worth spending a night in a glass igloo.
– We booked the bus tickets from â€“ https://www.matkahuolto.info/lippu/en/
Take the bus which goes to Ivalo, Saariselka is a stop right before that. The bus was on time, extremely convenient, economical and comfortable. You can also rent a car and drive down to Saariselka.
– Kakslauttanen has a half board package which includes breakfast and dinner. The meal options are very limited here so if youâ€™re a fussy eater/vegetarian make prior arrangements.
– The Northern Lights are quite unpredictable. Unfortunately we couldnâ€™t spot them in Saariselka (we saw them the next day, keep reading ) But here is a detailed guide on how to track them-www.myhautelife.com/northern-lights/
Left- Bus stop in Rovaniemi; Right- One of the tiny bus stops along the way
The Wooden Cottages
The Igloo Bar
Day 6- Hello Ivalo!
Imagine waking up right in the middle of the Arctic wilderness in a transparent glass room, how exotic right! I was smiling ear to ear because it was undoubtedly the best bedroom I’ve ever lived in! After soaking it all in, we rushed and checked out as it was time for the last leg of the trip – Ivalo.
A 45 min cab ride later we reached Hotel Ivalo, a boutique 4 star property sitting right on the frozen lake. The rooms were extremely spacious, clean and had the lake view. We spent the day exploring the property, chilling in the hot tub and walking around the town followed by an amazing buffet dinner in their restaurant. Later that evening, we were scheduled to meet Mr Juoni from Ivalo Trek Lapland for a Northern Lights Tour. That night he drove us close to the Russian Border and we had the chance to witness a faint green light. It wasnâ€™t the best since the activity level was low but I was extremely happy to even see a glimpse of it. We ended the night listening to Mr Juoni’s Aurora tales and sipping on hot chocolate in a little cafÃ© in Inari, a moment to remember!
– Highly recommend Hotel Ivalo. The staff, rooms and location is fabulous.
– The buffet dinner in Hotel Ivalo was so good and affordable (12 Euros per person approx)
– Check out my detailed guide on Northern Lights here-Â www.myhautelife.com/northern-lights/
The frozen lake outside Hotel Ivalo
Day 7- Ride a Snowmobile on Lake Inari
Our second day in Ivalo was spent playing in the snow, sliding down slopes, snow shoeing and skiing on the frozen lake. The activity centre of the hotel- Club Nord, allows you to rent equipment, shoes, skis etc for free. Later in the day we took a private snowmobile tour in the arctic forest and the experience was so thrilling that it can’t be described in mere words. Our instructor Juoko, took us riding all along the lake and in the Arctic forest. Adding to the joy, that evening we had taken a Northern Lights tour from the hotel and we got super lucky. At around 10pm, my fingers started to get numb but the patience was rewarding. There she was, the Aurora Borealis in full form, playful and enchanting, bright and dancing just like I had imagined. While she took over the entire sky, we clicked and watched. It was a perfect night that ended with tons of glasses of warm Lingonberry Juice and a fun chat with everyone on the tour.
– You must experience a snowmobile tour while in Finland and there was no better place than a frozen lake. (Price: 100 euros per person approx)
– On this day, we had joined the Northern Lights tour organized by Club Nord in our hotel (100 euros per person). Incase you donâ€™t want to opt for one then you can drive down near Lake Inari or the Fox bridge, basically look for a spot with zero cloud cover and track the activity level.
– I have shared my Northern Lights pictures and experience here-Â www.myhautelife.com/northern-lights/
Day 8- Ice Fishing & Northern Lights
Since we loved our snowmobile tour with Club Nord, we booked ourselves for an Ice Fishing tour on the last day. We started this ride on our snowmobile from Lake Ivalo to Inari along with other tourists. Once we reached there, our instructor explained the basics of fishing and that of the fishing gear. By the end, we were all game for this adventure. We had to drill a hole in the ice until there was finally some water, then tie the bait to the rod and catch a fish. It sounds quite easy but it was not, yet it was a really exhilarating experience. Well it was too freezing to wait for some fish, I gave up in literally 10 mins. We were then treated to a warm Lingonberry tea in the forest and once again we mounted on the snow mobile for a ride back to our hotel. That night again, we saw the best Northern Lights with Mr Juoni! The sky was blazing green and the Mother Earth displayed her colours in it’s best form, almost like a painting.
– Northern lights can be very tricky to spot so donâ€™t give up in a single day. Make sure you try to head out every single night especially when the activity level is very high.
– The frozen lake is great for all kinds of activities-Â www.myhautelife.com/activities-in-lapland/
– Do try Ice Fishing on Lake Inari, it is definitely worth experiencing.
– My detailed Northern Lights Guide-Â www.myhautelife.com/northern-lights/
Day 9- Ivalo to Helsinki
With a heavy heart, it was time to bid goodbye. We rushed to Ivalo airport to catch our flight to Helsinki. On landing, we immediately went to the luggage lockers, stored our bags safely and took a local bus to the city centre since we had six hours to spare before our flight to Dubai. We walked around, shopped a little bit and then came back to the airport. At that moment we were so grateful to experience all the wonderful moments and beautiful memories in Finland and promised each other that we would definitely come back to this part of the world.
-If you want to step out then luggage lockers available at the airport are your best option.
Ideal length of the trip:
I would recommend spending atleast 9 nights or more in the Finnish Lapland. You might spend a day or two in transit so make sure you have enough time in Lapland.
Spend minimum 3 nights in Rovaniemi, 3 nights in Ivalo, minimum 1 to 2 nights in the Igloo Hotel, 2 nights in Helsinki and if you have a few more days in hand then do visit Kemi and try the Ice Breaker Sampo (next on my list).
Best time to visit:
If Northern Lights is on your agenda then pick a time between September to April. I would really recommend going in February or March as the snow starts to fall only around November. Without the snow itâ€™s impossible to do the fun activities like husky safari, ice fishing, snowmobiling etc. In Feb/March itâ€™s not as cold as Dec/Jan, the snowfall reduces yet the snow is still abundant and the weather is bearable, also I think itâ€™s the best time for Northern Lights. We went in the first week of March and the saw the lights three nights in a row.
Honestly, Iâ€™ve had the best food experiences in every Scandinavian country, Finland included. Expect to see a lot of beef, salmon, lamb, reindeer, warm soups, roasted potatoes, salads and local trout on the menu (barely saw chicken). There are vegetarian options available too but if youâ€™re very picky about the food make prior arrangements. Pizzas and sandwiches are available almost everywhere. Also there are tons of small supermarkets from where you can stock up munching items.
Because of itâ€™s remote location, Finland is definitely not cheap, it’s a little pricey and not recommended for backpacking. All the activities cost around 100 Euros per person approx. Food and other expenses would be between 50 to 100 euros (flights and hotel not included).
What to Wear:
I’ve written a detailed article on the entire packing list. Read itÂ here
Donâ€™t leave without:
– Meeting Santa Claus
– Trying the husky and reindeer safari, snowmobile, ice fishing
– Tasting the Lingonberry juice/tea
– Trying the Finnish Sauna
– Indulging in the local food
– Attempting to see the Northern Lights
– Spending a night in an Igloo
Tips & Suggestions
– Start your journey from South to North. (Helsinki- Rovaniemi- Ivalo- Helsinki). Since all these destinations have an airport it is very easy to plan everything. We flew in from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and then back from Ivalo to Helsinki.
– If you plan to roam around in other towns or see the Northern Lights without a guide then you can hire a car as itâ€™s more convenient.
– I suggest hiring a Northern Lights Hunter especially if itâ€™s your first time. I tried Ivalo Trek Lapland and the tour from Club Nord at Hotel Ivalo, highly recommend both of them.
– Spend atleast 3 nights in the North as the chances of seeing the lights are higher in the Inari region as compared to Rovaniemi
– Don’t just plan a trip for the Northern Lights, plan it for the entire Finnish experience.
Language: The locals speak Finish but English is widely spoken and understood.
Currency: Euro (Check conversion here)
Laplandâ€™s untouched and chaste beauty will stay with you even long after youâ€™ve left the magical land. With insane experiences at every breathing step, the Finnish Lapland is a doorway to heaven!