Lapland in winter is a magical wonderland. Whether you’re after adventure or fun in the snow, here’s a list of fun things to do in Lapland.
Extending for hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. For many, this northern extreme is a mystery – where the midnight sun shines endlessly in summer and the stunning Northern Lights dance in the sky during the long, polar winter nights.
Our month-long trip in Lapland was one of the most memorable trips of my life. We crisscrossed the region by train, in search of the Northern Lights and winter thrills. And we found whimsical villages, spectacular winter landscapes and plenty of fun in the snow. Lapland is definitely one of the best places to go for winter in Europe.
But Lapland is more than just Santa Claus and Northern Lights. There’s so much to do here for thrill seekers: from dog sledding to snowmobiling and snowshoeing. You can choose to do as many winter activities as you want, or just spend your time relaxing in a naked sauna and an ice hotel.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Lapland
- Where to Go in Lapland?
- How to Get there
- How to Get Around Lapland
- When to Travel Lapland
- Travel Independently or With a Tour?
- Things to Do in Lapland
- 1. See the Northern Lights
- 2. Stay at the Ice Hotel
- 3. Go Snowmobiling
- 4. Go Dogsledding with Huskies
- 5. Take a Reindeer Caravan
- 6. Try Ice Fishing in the Frozen Lakes
- 7. Float in the Frozen Sea
- 8. Visit Santa Claus’ Home
- 9. Take the Arctic Circle Train
- 10. Visit the Arktikum to Learn Lappish Culture
- 11. Soak in a Smoke Sauna
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Things to Do in Lapland
Where to Go in Lapland?
Lapland is truly out of this world and you have to see it for yourself to believe it. It’s definitely one of the best winter destinations in Europe and highly worth a visit! This is a Lapland travel guide for those who are planning a winter trip to this beautiful part of the world.
The vast and rugged region of Lapland is the region of northern Europe that lies within the Arctic Circle. It stretches across northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland and into the Kola Peninsula of Russia.
Since Lapland covers such a wide area, most people choose to base themselves in just one part of Lapland, then explore and do winter activities from there. To help you decide on which part of Lapland to visit, here is a breakdown of each part of Lapland:
The Finnish Lapland is the most visited part and also the cheapest and most accessible area. Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, and the hometown of Santa Claus. There are loads of modern hotels here, as well as winter activities to do, and still within easy reach of more remote and rugged areas. Rovaniemi is also a great spot to catch the Aurora Borealis — check out these Northern Lights tips for Rovaniemi.
Kemi is another popular spot in the Finnish Lapland. It’s home to two of Finland’s blockbuster winter attractions – a snow castle and an ice-breaker cruise.The remote village of Kilpisjärvi is suitable for those looking to venture deep into the wilderness. The northernmost settlement in the ‘arm’ of Finland is wedged between the lake of Kilpisjärvi and the magnificent surrounding fells. It is also the highest village in Finland.
The Swedish Lapland has earned a reputation for itself with the original Ice Hotel and it’s still easily accessible from the capital Stockholm. Kiruna is the Swedish Lapland’s biggest city, and the best place to come for anything beyond basics like food and petrol.
For most people, Abisko is the highlight of a visit to Swedish Lapland. The town is one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights. Don’t miss the Aurora Sky Station, which is accessible by ski lifts, and you can even have a nice dinner up there. Of all the major towns in the Swedish Lapland, Jokkmokk is probably the prettiest. It’s also the centre of Sami culture in Sweden, and has an excellent Sami museum and Sami market. Another popular place to visit is Jukkasjärvi, home to the Ice Hotel.
The Norwegian Lapland, also known as Finnmark, is definitely the most expensive area to visit, but it can be easily combined with the rest of the country. Norway is what I consider the most beautiful country in Europe and there are plenty of see, regardless of the season.
Alta is the biggest town in the Norwegian Lapland, and is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Norway. Fish in the Altaelva river, explore Northern Europe’s largest canyon, or see world famous rock carvings at the Alta Museum. Kirkenes is another great base for those who want to explore the Norwegian Lapland. Only 15 kilometres from the border with Russia, Kirkenes feels like a real frontier town. Plus it’s in prime Aurora territory.
Narvik’s ski resort Narvikfjellet offers some of the best extreme and alpine skiing in Norway. It has one of Scandinavia’s largest drop heights and offers excellent conditions for off-piste skiing. We did an outdoor obstacle course at Narvikfjellet and highly recommend it!
How to Get there
This of course depends on which part of Lapland you’re planning to visit. It is now affordable and easy to book flights to many parts of Lapland from main hubs in Europe. Here’s a breakdown:
The gateway to the Finnish Lapland is the Rovaniemi Airport. Easyjet and Norwegian fly direct from London Gatwick to Rovaniemi in winter and spring. You can also catch a domestic flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi on Finnair or Norwegian. The flight takes 1.5 hours and cost around 70euros return if you book in advance.
There’s also a Lapland Express train that goes from Helsinki to Rovaniemi in 8 hours. It’s a sleeper train with comfortable sleeping berths. There are also airports in Ivalo, Kemi and Kittilä.
The biggest airports in the Swedish Lapland are in Kiruna and Lulea. Norwegian and SAS fly from London to Kiruna for around 200 euros return. Both airlines also fly from Stockholm Arlanda to Kiruna for around 100 euros return and Lulea for 80 euros return.
There’s also a sleeper train that goes from Stockholm to Kiruna in 18 hours. It costs around 50 euros each way. You can easily catch a train from Kiruna to Abisko, Jokmokk and other parts of the Swedish Lapland.Read the next section for info on train travel.
The main entry to Norwegian Lapland is from Alta Airport. Norwegian and SAS fly from London to Alta for around 250 euros return. domestic flight to Alta. A domestic flight from Oslo to Alta costs around 180 euros return and take around 2 hours. Flights to Narvik take 1.5 hours and cost the same. There are no trains connecting one town to another in the Norwegian Lapland — it’s best to rent a car.
How to Get Around Lapland
The best way to get around Lapland is by train as that’s the most feasible mode of transport when there are severe winter conditions. We traveled all over Lapland via a combination of train and bus, and had no problem (besides one occasion when we had to wait for a connecting train in the freezing cold, at a station with no indoor waiting area).
The Arctic Circle Train is the most scenic rail journey in Lapland. The route goes from Kiruna (Sweden) to Narvik (Norway), with stops at Abisko, Björkliden and Riksgränsen. Known as one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, the Arctic Circle train brings travelers along stunning fjords, near frozen glaciers, under icy waterfalls and whisk you past fairytale towns. It offers stunning scenery of Lapland and lets you see many of the rural parts of Scandinavia that are not accessible by cars.
GoEuro is an excellent search engine that lets you find out how to get from one town to another via train, bus or plane.
To find out train prices and schedules, you’ll need to check the website of each country’s train company:
Here are some details of travel time between the major towns and cities of Lapland:
- Helsinki — Rovaniemi: 8 hours | Cost 80 euros each way (train)
- Helsinki — Ivalo: 11 hours | 130 euros each way (train)
- Rovaniemi — Kemi: 1.5 hours | Cost 15 euros each way (train)
- Rovaniemi — Kittilä: 2 hours | Cost 19 euros each way (bus)
- Rovaniemi — Ivalo: 4 hours | Cost 35 euros each way (bus)
- Stockholm — Kiruna: 18 hours | Cost 50 euros each way
- Kiruna — Jukkasjärvi: 0.5 hours | Cost 4 euros each way
- Kiruna — Abisko: 1 hour | Cost 7 euros each way
- Kiruna — Jokmokk: 4 hours | Cost 28 euros each way
- Kiruna — Narvik: 2.5 hours | Cost 13 euros each way (train)
- Narvik — Stockholm: 21 hours | Cost 68 euros each way (train)
- Narvik — Alta: 7 hours (car)
- Narvik — Kirkenes: 5.5 hours (car)
When to Travel Lapland
Undoubtedly January-March is the best time to travel Lapland. They bring long dark nights and plenty of snow to play in during the day to keep you entertained. But it can be very, very cold indeed, with temperatures going from -10°C to +5°C (14 to 41 F). And there are only 4-6 hours of good daylight each day! It can get pretty crowded in December, as people flock here for short Christmas trips.
The spring equinox (around 20 March) brings greater solar activity. Combine this with slightly warmer temperatures and improving weather (with the possibility of less cloud cover) and this is the best time for aurora hunting.
September and October enjoy neither the summer warmth nor the winter snow. This is not the best time to visit Lapland – many tours and attractions are closed. However, photographers may like the autumn colors, and the Northern Lights could possibly make their dramatic appearance, especially around the autumn equinox.
Travel Independently or With a Tour?
The whole region is easy to navigate and explore independently, however you’ll be limited to bigger towns that have train stations. Buses don’t run frequently in winter due to thick snow, and renting a car is only recommended if you have experience driving in snow (we’ve driven in many countries, but we still got stuck in snow one time and that was pretty scary).
If you’re interested in booking an all-encompassing winter tour, check out Artisan Travel. They have over 16 years of experience running winter tours in Lapland and is one of the most reputed operator in the region. They have some great 4-day trips in Sweden and Norway and 8-day Finland active winter tour that include flights, meals and all kinds of winter activities.
You can also book day trips, but these are quite limited. The easiest place to book day trips from is Rovanimi, Finland. Choose from snowmobile safari to visiting Santa Claus village or an ice floating experience.
Things to Do in Lapland
1. See the Northern Lights
Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Due to the nature of the earth’s magnetic field, the auroras only appear at the poles. Lapland, which sits at the latitude of approximately 68° north, is thus in an ideal location for seeing the Northern Lights.
Solar activity can be unpredictable though. Out of the month we were in Lapland, we only saw the lights for three nights. Don’t hold high expectations and you should be fine.
For higher chances of seeing the Northern Lights, I recommend booking a Northern Lights tour. After all, these tour operators have been chasing the Northern Lights for years and know the best spots for them. Alternatively, stay in a Northern Lights hotel, such as the Aurora Dome to get the chance to see the lights right from your bed.
Check the Aurora forecast or download the Aurora Forecast app on your iPhone to monitor. Usually the best time of night (on clear nights) to watch for auroral displays is local midnight (adjust for differences caused by daylight savings time).
2. Stay at the Ice Hotel
Amidst the gorgeous Narnia landscape of the Swedish Lapland stands Ice Hotel, the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow.
Each winter, the hotel is built afresh in Jukkasjärvi, right next to Tornio River where the ice is collected from. Over 21,500 tonnes of snice (a mixture of snow and ice) are used to build the 5,500-square-meter building. Once summer approaches, the ice all melts away and flows back into the river. To avoid pollution, the hotel never uses color or paint in the ice.
Around 45 artists from around the world are invited to design the suites each year. Each suite features its own unique design and story so before you book your stay at Icehotel be sure to find the story behind your suite. Read my post about it here.
If the high prices of the Ice Hotel or the prospect of sleeping on ice scare you, you can still come for a day trip. Alternatively, check out the Snowman World in Rovaniemi, a similar hotel made of snow and ice. It’s just as big and has a dozen themed rooms as well as an ice bar and restaurant.
3. Go Snowmobiling
In Lapland, snowmobiling is a way of getting from one place to another (instead of cars). You can easily rent a snowmobile for the day or even do multi-day snowmobile safari, crossing ice lakes and vast wilderness.
It’s pretty easy to drive the snowmobiles, and they’re quite stable as well. We drove snowmobiles in Rovaniemi, Abisko and Narvik. We did skid on a frozen lake and almost spinned out of control, but nothing serious happened.
Keep in mind that snowmobiles can go up to 120 km/hour and is not simply a toy to mess around with. A driver’s license is required and just like driving a normal vehicle, no drinking is allowed before taking the wheel.
4. Go Dogsledding with Huskies
Dog sledding in Lapland is super fun for both adults and kids alike. You’ll be riding on sleds that are drawn by husky dogs. As a dog lover, I had my doubts about dog sledding prior to this trip. All sorts of questions filled my mind: Are the dogs being treated right? Is this animal abuse? But once I met the huskies, it was obvious that I had nothing to worry.
Huskies live to run. Every day they run for miles, not just as a race with their peers but also for the fun of it. They have so much energy wound up within them that running is the best way for them to release it.
5. Take a Reindeer Caravan
Lapland is home to the Lapp or the Sami people, who have sparsely inhabited the region for several thousand years. The Sami are the only indigenous people of the European Union, and their endangered language and culture is now protected by the various governments.
Today, the majority of the Sami people still make a living from reindeer herding and many of them run reindeer farms that are opened to tourists. You can easily sign up for a reindeer safari and spend some time with the reindeers. This way, you’ll also get to learn more about the Sami people.
6. Try Ice Fishing in the Frozen Lakes
Ice fishing is a popular winter activity in Lapland for both locals and tourists alike. We tried our hand at ice fishing on the frozen Karhulampi (Bear Lake) just outside Rovaniemi in the Finnish Lapland and it was CRAZY fun! I never thought I would enjoy fishing, but I really had a ball waiting for my bait to be caught.
The lake freezes each year from October to March, and pods of salmon and rainbow trout live in this lake all year round. It is common to find locals ice fishing on weekends with an open fire and drinking vodka.
7. Float in the Frozen Sea
This is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that adventure seekers would absolutely love. In Kemi, you can hop on the icebreaker Sampo on a cruise through the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. Read more about the icebreaker experience here.
Firstly, cutting through the frozen sea is an experience on its own. Then once you’re in the middle of the sea, you’ll put on dry suits and jump right into the water. All you do next is simply float. The dry suits keep you warm in the subzero temperature, so rest assured you won’t be dying from hyperthermia. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but you won’t find this ANYWHERE else in the world.
8. Visit Santa Claus’ Home
Make your childhood dream come true by visiting Santa Claus’s home in Finland! His official hometown is in Rovaniemi in the Finnish Lapland and anyone is welcomed to visit him.
We spent Christmas in Lapland and it was just the most magical experience, especially since we got to meet the REAL Santa Claus! We also visited Santa’s main post office, where every single letter – whether posted to Lapland or simply Santa Claus – is delivered. When we were there, Santa’s elves were busy wrapping gifts and replying to letters from kids all over the world. I felt like a child all over again.
9. Take the Arctic Circle Train
The Arctic Circle Train makes for an experience on its own, even if you don’t intend to travel all around Lapland.
Known as one of the greatest train journeys in the world, the Arctic Circle train brings travelers along stunning fjords, near frozen glaciers, under icy waterfalls and whisk you past fairytale towns. It offers stunning scenery of Lapland and lets you see many of the rural parts of Scandinavia that are not accessible by cars.
The Arctic Circle Train is also a great way to get from one Arctic town to another and you might even have the chance to spot the Aurora Borealis from your train window.
10. Visit the Arktikum to Learn Lappish Culture
Located in Rovaniemi, Arktikum is the best place in Lapland to learn more about the native Sami people. The Arkitikum is a big complex made up of a museum, a science centre and a conference venue. The museum showcases Lappish culture and artefacts from the Sami people of Finland. It’s definitely an excellent place to learn about the Sami culture.
Arktikum is opened everyday from 9am to 6pm. Tickets cost 13 euros for adults and 6 euros for kids aged 7-15. Kids under 7 can enter for free.
11. Soak in a Smoke Sauna
Saunas are a big part of Lapland’s culture. It is where locals relax, socialise, and unwind. There are many different types of saunas in Finland, and smoke saunas (savusauna) are probably the most unique. Smoke sauna is a special type of sauna without a chimney.
The wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna.
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