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The Ultimate Winter Travel Guide for Lapland, Finland

We always wanted to visit the winter wonderland of Lapland, Finland, especially during the Christmas holidays.  It was a dream come true for us. We checked so many things from our bucket list. We stayed in a glass igloo and saw the northern lights, enjoyed a reindeer ride on a sleigh, experienced a Finnish sauna on a cold winter night, and met Santa Claus!

We visited Finland in 3rd week of December. December is the best month to experience the holiday vibe in this winter wonderland of Europe. We flew from NYC to Helsinki and then to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in northern Finland. After spending a few days in Rovaniemi, we headed further north to a place called Saariselka. 

We couldn’t recommend to visit Finnish Lapland enough to travelers who love winter destinations and also for romantic getaways, family vacations & a trip with friends. There are numerous things to do in Lapland, Finland during winter time.

 In this travel blog, we share how we spent 7 days in Finland, what we loved, and some helpful winter travel tips. So, here is your ultimate travel guide for Lapland, Finland with a detailed Itinerary.

Day 1 – NYC to Helsinki to Rovienami

We flew to Helsinki from NYC (with SAS Airlines) and then flew to Rovaniemi from Helsinki (with Finnair) on the same day. Our flight from NYC to Helsinki was via Stockholm, Sweden where we finished the border control and immigration formalities. After 3 hours of layover in Sweden we flew to Helsinki. At the Helsinki airport, we took our luggage from the baggage area and headed for the next check in for our flight to Rovaniemi which we had booked with Finnair.

After arriving at Rovaniemi Airport, we boarded the airport shuttle which dropped us near the City Center (Rovaniemi Tourist Information).  We paid 7 euros per person to the bus driver with a credit card via apple pay.  The shuttle bus usually runs around the flight timings and you will find it just outside the airport. We stayed at  Santa’s Hotel Rudolph. It was not exactly in the city center but was an easy walk of around 10 mins from the main hotel building – Santa Claus Hotel where we checked in. We booked the room for 2 nights. The room was big enough for 2 people with a private traditional sauna (yes you read it right !)

Tips/Notes –

– If you want to explore Helsinki, I would suggest staying for 1-2 days either at the start of your trip or before the end of the trip as you will mostly fly via Helsinki. You can also add a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia via ferry from Helsinki to visit the famous Christmas market (November & December only)

– I would suggest staying near the Rovaniemi city center for two reasons – you will find comparatively cheaper hotel options here & you will avoid commute costs in case you are planning to do all the winter activities. Alternatively, you can also stay in the Santa Claus Village which is near to the airport and also, a lot of activities start from there as well.

Day 2 – We went for Arctic Plunge !!

On Day 2, we booked a day trip to Båtskärsnäs, Sweden with Polar Icebreaker. It was a whole day activity that started around 7.30 am and we were back to Rovaniemi in the evening by 7.00 pm. This activity was high on our Finland bucket list (though we were actually in Sweden) –  Floating on a frozen sea!   We started the journey on frozen winter roads and then watched a beautiful arctic sunrise on the way. When we visited the sun never fully came above the horizon (Crazy right!). After the bus ride, we hopped on the polar icebreaker ship.  

The ship started cruising on a frozen sea – OMG! We had never seen something like that before and it was an amazing experience that we cannot put in words. The ship stopped at a place where the water was not frozen so that we can float (Yes, you read it right!). Mind you, the temperature was around -15 degrees Celsius. We both put on our floating suits and jumped onto a cold sea – Damn! it was such a thrilling experience. After the jump, we just relaxed enjoying the hot Lingonberry berry juice while watching the arctic sunset. Aah! What a day. 

The Polar Icebreaker experience is pretty expensive including the bus ride & lunch. The bus picked up & dropped us off from the city center of Rovaniemi which we booked along with the Polar Icebreaker experience. (Pickup and Drop costs extra). If you don’t want to spend so much and still want to enjoy the float, I would suggest an alternative activity called Arctic Ice Floating.

After coming back, we explored Rovaniemi city center which was decorated for Christmas. For dinner, we went to  Nili’s to try the traditional Lappish cuisine and would definitely recommend it. We reserved a table with them a month in advance. We ordered mushroom soup, traditional sautéed reindeer, and crème brulee for dessert. Everything was delicious!

Day 3 – We met Santa Claus & stayed in a snow hotel

On our Day 3, we checked out from our hotel, took a taxi, and headed to meet Santa. 

Santa Claus Village

Known as the official residence of Santa Claus in the North Pole, Santa Claus Village is an area in Rovaniemi where you can meet Santa Claus 🙂 We reached really early around 8.00 am and waited in a queue to meet him. It was a childhood dream to meet Santa Claus in the North Pole. Yayii!! We met him. We chatted for some time, took photos, and bid goodbye to him. We also clicked photos that were taken by his elves. The photos were available for print and you can also buy digital copies. 

– If you are looking to store luggage in Santa Claus Village, we found two options – Santa Claus Holiday Village (The hotel reception) or Santa Claus Office (1st floor at the gift shop). 

– Santa Claus Village is located around 8 kms away from the city center of Rovaniemi. If you don’t have a rental car, you can book a local taxi (we used an app taksini) or you can also take the Bus No 8. Do remember to check the bus timings beforehand. 

Meeting Santa Clause in Finland

After we met Santa Claus, we roamed around the village. We crossed the imaginary Arctic Circle line (We did that in Alaska, USA before) – it was so much fun. We also met cute reindeers – you can also do a ride with them but would suggest visiting a family-owned reindeer farm for a better experience.  Then we headed to ‘Husky Park Arctic Circle‘ and met a lot of adorable huskies. The park looked absolutely beautiful – a perfect winter wonderland. We also did a 10 mins husky ride.

If you are looking for list of activities in Santa Claus village, you can check it out here. You can also do a tour of Santa Claus Village instead of planning it yourself. Check out this tour.

There are cafes and restaurants in Santa Claus Village in case you want to dine or grab some snacks and coffee. I would recommend checking out –  Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi, Santa’s Salmon Place – if you like salmon or Loft Cafe. We spend half a day, however, I would suggest either spending full day or staying in the village if you are visiting during Christmas time.

We then said goodbye to Santa Claus village and headed to our stay which was a 40 minutes drive. We hopped on a shuttle which we booked with our resort for pick up from Santa Claus Village. 

Arctic snow hotel
We stayed in this unique room which was built from Ice in Arctic snow hotel & glass igloo. So basically, we spent a night in a cold icy room. Sound crazy right?  After arrival and check-in, we got a room assigned to us. Then, we went on a short tour of the snow hotel with the staff.  You can actually go, check out all the rooms and take photos inside the snow hotel (unless there are people inside). There is no door but a curtain and chain which signifies that the room is booked.

The temperature inside the room was around -5 C but we were provided insulated sleeping bags which kept us warm and cozy. There is a common storage room in the reception building where we kept our luggage and carried only the essentials + valuables with us in the snow hotel room. The snow hotel entrance is a minute’s walk from the reception building. There is a heated locker room attached to the snow hotel where you will find lockers for your valuables, a changing place, and sleeping bags. The same room also has bunk beds in case you are not able to survive in the cold in the Ice room. There is also a shared bathroom inside the hotel. 

To sleep, we just wore the fleece layer and carried an extra layer in case we needed which we did not use. The sleeping bags were warm enough and we slept well through the night. What an experience! We even got a certificate for spending a night here, haha! what an achievement. 

We also booked ourselves a Finnish sauna which included a private snow room sauna with a hot tub. It was so relaxing! They have built a sauna room out of Ice and it actually keeps you warm as you put water on a hot stone. It just blows my mind. The whole experience was unique and we really enjoyed it.

After that, we went to the Ice Restaurant where we had dinner on a table & chair made of Ice. They served delicious food. It was a 3-course meal with a pre-fixed menu to choose from. The best part was the dessert which was served on an ice plate. OMG! What an experience!

Lapland Finland in Winters

We booked only for a night in the Ice room in the Arctic snow hotel and I think it is more than enough for the experience. There are two restaurants inside the Resort – Kota Restaurant and Ice Restaurant. You need to make reservations for dinner and it is not included in the room price. Apart from the Snow Hotel, they also have a heated glass igloo option for stay. You can also just visit the snow hotel just for an experience in case you don’t want to spend a night. Check out their visiting packages here.

Day 4 – A night in a Glass Igloo

The next morning, we were woken up by a staff who bought us a hot berry juice. Then, we changed and went for breakfast in the reception building. After breakfast, we roamed around the property a bit and then checked out from the hotel. We then took the shuttle and headed to Rovaniemi bus station, where we boarded the bus for Kakslauttanen. The bus dropped us just in front of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (East Village). In case you want to book a bus from Rovaniemi to Kakslauttanen/ Saariselka, you can check here.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
One of the reasons we visited Finland in winter was to experience the magic of staying in a Glass Igloo and watching the northern lights above! And for that reason, we chose Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (East Village). This is one of the most popular hotels in Lapland and they have many different kinds of stays to choose from.  There are two different villages in the resort, the East Village and the West Village. West Village has more facilities but the East Village is a bit secluded. We chose the Glass Igloo in the East Village. There is a shuttle provided by the resort which runs between the East and the West Village. 

After check-in, we walked towards our Igloo. We didn’t carry our luggage, it was later sent to our room by the hotel staff. We booked a small Igloo for two which comes with a bed for two, a luggage area, and a small washroom with no bath. Dinner & breakfast (Half Board) are included in the price.


The iconic Igloo stay in Kakslauttanen

That night, we saw the northern light! It was a cloudy day, but we were happy that we could see a glimpse of the Northern Lights from our Igloo. We didn’t book any activities with the resort, however, they have all such options for winter activities.

Tip – If you plan to stay more than one night, I would suggest booking a wooden cabin for the next night in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (West Village). This way you can see both the villages and also enjoy different stays.

Day 5 – On to the next stay in Northern Light Village

On Day 5, we woke up, packed our luggage, and headed for breakfast. We then roamed around the resort and clicked so many photos. Next, we headed to Northern Light Village which was a 20 mins drive. We then checked in however we didn’t get to our cabin as we were early. So we headed for a short – reindeer sleigh ride which we had booked with the resort. We were so happy to meet reindeers and learn about them. The ride was calm and peaceful but a chilly one. You should definitely wear extra layers for this or check with the resort for a winter suit.

After that, we went to our cabin which was ready for check-in. And omg we were pleasantly surprised! The heated cabins were super cozy and luxurious. It also had a private bathroom (yes, shower as well). The views from the huge glass roof were magical. We could just lie on our beds and enjoy looking at the snowy trees outside. And the best part was the glass roof was laser heated (you can heat the glass roof), so your views will never get obstructed due to snow getting accumulated on the windows! We just settled in and relaxed a bit before heading for the sauna.

We booked ourselves a sauna with a cold dip – sound interesting right?! It was really fun to sit inside a hot sauna room and then come out to take a dip in ice-cold water. Just try it! They also have a hot tub in case you need to relax after the dip in icy cold water. Beware – the floor surface tends to get slippery so don’t run. It is a private sauna, so when you book you will have the whole place to yourself !

After sauna, we headed to our cabin and enjoyed the outdoor view while laying down on the bed. We then headed for dinner which was arranged in the reception building. After that, we went for snowmobiling at night for the Aurora hunting tour. The resort provided us with the necessary winter gear which kept us really warm throughout the ride. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any northern lights as it was cloudy but definitely enjoyed the ride & hot Lingonberry juice.

Tips/Note –

If you are staying in the resort for more than one night or if you have extra time, you should visit the nearest town Saariselka. Try the longest toboggan run in Finland there or visit Saariselka ski resort if you like to ski.

Day 6 – Flew to Helsinki

On Day 6, we woke up, packed our bags, and headed for breakfast. We then hopped on a taxi and headed to Ivalo airport which is around 30 mins drive from the resort. The drive to the airport was stunning. We boarded the flight and headed to Helsinki. After arriving at Helsinki airport, we took a taxi to our hotel which was near the city center (You can also take train from the airport to city center). In the evening we went to the Helsinki Christmas market. It was an open-air market and won’t lie it was very cold. We had 2 glasses of glogi (hot spice wine) to keep ourselves warm. We spent the evening roaming around the city.

Day 7 – Back home

It was time to go back home. We checked out early in the morning and headed to Airport. We tried to book a taxi via Uber (budget option) but that did not work out so we asked the hotel staff to call a taxi which was a little expensive (I would suggest to take a train if you don’t have big luggage). We flew back to NYC with SAS Airlines. Our flight was via Copenhagen, Denmark where we crossed the exit border control.

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Best way to reach 

Most International flights land in Helsinki which is the capital of Finland. From Helsinki, you need to book another flight for Rovaniemi or Ivalo based on your Itinerary. We flew with SAS Airlines from NYC to Helsinki and Finnair from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. We then took a bus from Rovaniemi airport to City Center which was the cheapest option. You can also book a local taxi just outside the airport. Uber does not work here. We used the local taxis & buses to explore Rovaniemi. You can download a local taxi app to call a taxi. You can also book a train (Santa Claus Express) from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (or vice versa) which takes around 12 hours.

If you are traveling between Rovaniemi and Saariselka, the best option is to book a bus. You can check out the schedules and pricing here. If you are okay to drive on a snowy road, I would suggest renting a car. The other option is to book a private transfer. Just note – There are no direct flights between Rovaniemi  & Ivalo. You will only find flights via Helsinki. If you are coming from Helsinki, you can fly into Ivalo airport. Finnair runs non-stop flights from Helsinki.

In Saariselka or Ivalo area, you can either take taxis or buses to commute. I would suggest renting a car (only if you are okay to drive in snowy conditions). We would have loved to rent a car but when we visited the daylight was short and we didn’t want to drive in the dark on unfamiliar snowy roads.

Where to Stay 

Rovaniemi

In Rovaniemi, there are plenty of hotels in and around the city center. We stayed at the Santa’s Hotel Rudolph. It was not exactly in the city center but was an easy walk of around 10 mins. Mostly all the activities start from the city center near the Tourist Information Center, so it’s a good idea to choose a hotel close by. 

The other hotel we stayed in is the Arctic Snow Hotel and Igloos. This was probably our most unique stay where we slept on an ice bed! The hotel is situated outside Rovaniemi city and you will need some means of transport to reach the hotel. We opted for the shuttle service (pickup and drop) provided by the hotel itself. There are few pickup points for this shuttle and we chose the pickup from Santa Claus Village.

Saariselka 

Saariselka is situated 250 kms north of the arctic circle. It is a popular destination for amazing resorts in the area. We stayed in two different resorts – Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (which is 15 kms south of Saariselka) & Northern light resort. Both the resort have their own charm. We chose to stay in Kakslauttanen arctic resort (east village) for the Glass Igloo experience in the wilderness and totally loved the experience. 

Just note that the facilities of  Kakslauttanen arctic resort will depend on the kind of igloo you book and the side of the resort – East or West (the East side is old and secluded whereas the West side is new with more facilities). For example – we booked a small igloo in the east village which has limited facilities. On the other hand, In Northern light resort, we stayed in a Aurora Cabin which was a completely luxurious experience. There are numerous stay options in and around Saariselka. You can also find budget options in case you are not looking to stay in resorts.

Helsinki 

We stayed for one night in Helsinki near the city center, which we would highly recommend if you are in the city for a short time. 

When to visit 

Best months to go to Lapland would be between December and March for Winter activities & Northern Light. We visited in Mid -December as we wanted to see & feel the holiday vibes and the winter wonderland. We wanted to see the polar nights which means the sun does not rise above the horizon for days. Also, we wanted to meet Santa Claus, though you can meet him throughout the year, I feel meeting during Christmas time is something special 🙂 If you are visiting only for Northern Lights as well as Winter Activities, our suggestion would be to visit in March. The days will be longer and the chances of witnessing northern lights are relatively higher in March.

What to wear

The temperatures are below freezing and it gets very cold in Lapland, so come prepared with layers. We wore 4 layers – base woolen layer; Mid fleece layer;,outer later (jacket) and Parka. We had our gloves + mittens on all the time along with a woolen beanie and two pairs of woolen socks. We wore winter boots as well. When you go out for activities, the tour guide will provide you with all the necessary winter gear to protect you from the biting cold. Some resorts also provide winter gears for free so check with them.

Note – If you want to know more about what we carry for winter travels, you can refer to this blog.

Budgeting for the trip

Lapland is an expensive destination to visit. Visiting during holidays is even more expensive. The cost will vary based on the type of accommodation you choose, the number of activities you plan to do, the mode of transportation you choose, and whether you are eating at restaurants or shopping at the grocery market. 

Flights – We booked with SAS airlines from NYC to Helsinki- $700 roundtrip per person including baggage & seat in December which we booked 3 months in advance. However, it will vary based on the city you are flying from and the month you are planning to visit. We usually use Skyscanner for better price comparison.

Accommodations  – Resorts cost between $500 and $1000 per night for 2 people depending on the month you are planning to visit. However, you can find basic hotels and Airbnb or Vrbo for much cheaper.

Food – Eating each meal at a restaurant can be expensive. You can find a good “to go” option in the Grocery stores for a much cheaper price. If you have a room with a kitchen, buy groceries and cook yourselves. If you are staying at a resort usually the price includes a Half board meal which means breakfast & dinner is included in the price. We usually budget $80 – 100 per day for 2 people. It is safe to drink tap water in Finland, so just bring your reusable water bottle with you.

Activities – It would depend on what kind of activity you are looking for. You can check out all the activities here and budget accordingly. You can also book some winter activities with the resort itself. 

Chasing for Northern lights

Northern Lights are mostly visible between September to April and peak in March, though it depends on a lot of factors like weather, solar activity, and long dark nights (prefer new moon). We visited in December and for all 4 nights we were near or above the arctic circle but we got lucky for only 1 night. So, yeah it is all about luck and weather. I would suggest visiting in March and traveling towards northern Finland for the best chance of Aurora viewing.

If you are visiting for the 1st time chasing northern lights, I would suggest booking a tour as they take you to a good viewing location. I would prefer tours with photographers so that they can capture the moments for you in high resolution. Do read the reviews of the tours before booking. However, I won’t suggest booking the Aurora tour way in advance as weather and the KP index plays a major role for Northern Lights. The other best option would be to book a stay (preferably cabins in the wilderness with less light pollution) with an Aurora viewing area.

Finnish Experiences you should definitely add to your list

1. Finnish Sauna – A winter trip to Finland is not complete without a Finnish Sauna. Especially when you take a dip in the cold freezing water after a hot sauna.

2. Traditional Lappish cuisine  – Definitely try the local delicacy which Finnish people love, the reindeer steak or try the creamy salmon soup.

3. Try the local drinks – Hot Lingonberry juice and Glogi (Spiced hot wine)

Activities you should add to your Itinerary 

1. Plan to watch Northern Lights – Book tours if you need to.

2. Meet Santa Claus

3. Meet the reindeers and go for a short sleigh ride. Don’t forget to ask for a photo.

4. Meet the adorable huskies and go for a husky ride

5. Spend a night in a glass igloo.

6. Go for snowshoeing in the wilderness.

7. Go on a IceBreaker and enjoy the a dip in a frozen sea

Visa for Finland 

We are Indian passport holders, and to enter Finland we require Schengen Visa (Tourist visa). If you want to know more about it, we have a full video on the youtube on ‘How to Apply Schengen Visa‘. For other nationals, please check if you need a visa to visit Finland.

Other things to know before you go!

1. Finland’s currency is Euro. Most of the places in Lapland (where we spent the majority of our time) accept credit cards but it’s always good to keep some cash with you. We use credit cards with zero foreign transaction fees. Please check with your credit card company or bank about this before traveling.  Also, if you are using an ATM in Europe to get Euro, use only Bank ATMs. Never use ‘Euronet’ or 3rd party ATM for cash dispense as they charge much higher transaction fees. 

2. Apart from the passport and Schengen visa, I would always suggest carrying printed documents of return tickets, Insurance, and hotel stays. The immigration officer may ask about this at the border control entry. We were asked for return flight tickets this time at the border control.

3. The daylight in December is limited, close to 4 – 5 hours so plan your tours and activities accordingly. If you are visiting Finland for Northern Lights more than Christmas celebrations, our suggestion would be to visit in March. The days will be longer and the chances of viewing northern lights are relatively higher.

4. You can buy prepaid sim cards at the Helsinki Airport. We did not buy any sim cards, however, we used our existing numbers. We use T-mobile as our provider in the USA which offers an International pass for 7 days with 5 GB data or 30 days with 15 GB data. This international pass includes Finland which was enough for us.

5. The local language is Finnish, however, in most places we visited people spoke English. Also, if you don’t understand what is written on the menu or signboards use the Google Translate app.

6. If you have extra time and you are visiting Finland during Christmas – I would suggest staying an extra day in Helsinki, taking a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, and visiting the famous Christmas market there.

Winter in Lapland is something we would recommend to anyone who wants to experience the magic of holidays in a white winter wonderland. 

Pin it or bookmark this post for future reference. Hope you find this post helpful to plan your next memorable winter trip to Lapland. Also, let us know in the comments if have any questions. Happy to answer! or if you find our blog useful. Happy to know!

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Lapland, Finland in winters
Lapland in winters

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