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Northern Lights and Much More: Finnish Lapland in Winter

Posted May 11, 2019

Finland is a true winter wonderland with a great variety of activities and experiences. One of the most popular activities is searching for the northern lights. The thrill of witnessing the aurora borealis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. Some, however, get hooked and can never get enough of seeing the vibrant colors in the sky.

Seeing the Northern Lights dancing up above is a powerful and unique natural phenomenon. Though they might look almost within reach, auroras form at altitudes of over 62 miles. Auroras are caused by electronically charged particles originating from the sun. Multi-colored displays form when different atmospheric gases are agitated by this solar wind.

Below are some tips for becoming a Northern Lights hunter.

Go north. In Lapland, the northern part of Finland, the lights shine during clear nights between September and March. Rovaniemi, Luosto, and Saariselkä are all perfect locations to view the Northern Lights. In southern Finland they are visible 10-20 nights a year.
Look to the stars. If you notice that the night sky is clear and starry, your chances of seeing the northern lights are good.
Stay outside. The lights might unexpectedly appear and just as suddenly vanish, any time between sunset and dawn. Bright aurora displays can even light up the snowy arctic landscape enough to help skiers find their way home.
Bundle up. It tends to be very chilly on the clear winter nights when the lights are most easily seen. A great alternative, of course, is to stay in a glass igloo or glass walled cottage and watch the lights from a comfy warm bed instead.
Darkness is your friend. Get away from bright lights and buildings. Hilltops and lakeshores make good vantage points.
Sign up for aurora alerts. On the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s informative Auroras Now! website, you can sign up for free e-mail alerts that are sent whenever magnetic conditions in the skies over Finland make aurora displays likely.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not always cooperate and the skies may be clouded. On days when the Northern lights are not visible, there is still plenty to explore in this part of the world.

Sunlight coming through the trees in a Lapland winter, Finland

Top 10 winter activities in Finnish Lapland

1. Meet Santa Claus and his elves 365 days a year

Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus, and you can experience Christmas magic every day of the year on the Arctic Circle. Visit Santa Claus Village and Santa Park, decorate a Christmas tree or gingerbread, and familiarize yourself with Finnish Christmas traditions. As the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi is also home to Lapland’s Provincial Museum Arktikum, the forest-themed Pilke Science Centre, and the Korundi House of Culture.

2. Icebreaker cruise in the Bothnia Gulf

A majestic vessel, the Arctic Icebreaker Sampo takes you on a truly unique cruise; the thundering sound of more than 3,500 tons of steel crushing the thick ice of the Gulf of Bothnia leaves even the most seasoned seafarers awestruck. You’ll get a guided tour of the ship with visits to the engine room and the captain’s bridge, but THE thing to do is to swim in the frozen sea. Yes, you read that right, but don’t worry—it’s not obligatory and if you decide to take that leap of faith, you’ll be geared up with a survival suit. Cruises depart from Kemi, which is located on the coast of Gulf of Bothnia in Sea Lapland, 74 miles from Rovaniemi.

Winter husky sled ride in Finnish Lapland

3. Husky ride through the snowy forest

There are many places in Finnish Lapland to experience the fun of riding on a dog sled. Sit comfortably in the sled with warm blankets and be whisked away across frozen lakes and rivers and through snowy fairytale forests. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you can try being a musher yourself with a small team of sled dogs.

4. Visit a reindeer farm

In Lapland, there are more reindeer than people. Reindeer herding has a long history in Finland with the original Sami people and newer Lapland inhabitants. During a visit to a reindeer farm, you can learn more about this local livelihood, meet the reindeer, and depending on the season, take a ride on a reindeer-pulled sleigh.

5. Skiing

During the Ice Age, the high mountain peaks in the region now known as Finnish Lapland were smoothed by the ice and the fells were created. Today, these areas are where you'll find world-class ski resorts. Spend a day downhill skiing, snowboarding, or cross-country skiing.

Snowmobile ride in Finland

6. Snowmobiling

For all "petrolheads" (and wannabees) this is a must. A snowmobile is the fastest way to move around wilderness areas in the winter, and there are many different excursions available where you can try it for yourself. A valid driver´s license is required, and you will be given clothing, boots, ana driving lesson before starting the tour.

7. Snowshoeing

For those seeking to experience the winter wonderland at a slower pace, there is always snowshoeing. Local guides know the best places to go and you won't want to forget your camera!

8. Ice fishing

Ice fishing is a very popular winter hobby for Finnish people and highly recommended for visitors, too. You'll be provided your own small stool to sit on the frozen lake while angling through a small hole in the thick ice. It's one of the best ways just to relax and listen to the quietness of Lapland´s winter nature.

9. Dining: Lapland delicacies

Local food in Lapland is inspired by the surrounding nature and the pure ingredients it offers. The cuisine is simple, yet full of the fresh flavors of berries, mushrooms, and game. Try local delicacies like reindeer, barley flat bread, and almond potatoes (called puikula).

10. Ice-cold swim with a hot sauna

After spending a cold winter day outdoors, relax in a sauna and let your muscles to warm up. If you are bold enough, start with a dip in the icy water to wake up your senses and circulation. After the cold water, the heat of the sauna feels heavenly.

The snow season in northern Finland begins in November and can last until May. In the inland regions of southern and central Finland, the first snow falls at the beginning of December and melts during late March or April. During January and February, there is almost always snow in northern and eastern Finland. Even if there’s little snow in Helsinki, there’s often three feet or more on the ski slopes of Lapland.

Dress warmly and enjoy it. Even if the thermometer reads -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), Lapland in winter doesn't feel as cold as you might think. The dry continental climate here doesn’t feel as chilly as the damp cold of central Europe. Finns are used to this kind of weather, so everything runs smoothly and punctually.

Outdoor Sauna in the snow in Finland

The Finnish way to warm up

"Sauna" is probably the only Finnish word in the world that everyone knows – without knowing that it actually is Finnish. Saunas are a tradition in Finland and were originally created due to practical reasons. People needed a warm place to wash themselves throughout the winter and also a place to soothe their tired muscles after a long, hard day at work. Today, saunas are still part of the everyday life of the Finns. The unofficial estimation is that there are two to three saunas in Finland, which is about the same as the number of vehicles in the country. These are incredible numbers given that the population of Finland is only 5.5 million!

There are many different saunas for travelers to try, from traditional smoke saunas to new modern urban design saunas. Some saunas can be visited in complete privacy but many are public ones where you'll encounter the locals. No matter where you go, you'll feel refreshed and recharged after your sauna experience. Want to boost blood circulation? Add a dip in the icy water before your sauna session. Whether you've spent your day participating in snow activities, trekking to see the northern lights, or wandering local towns on foot, a sauna is the perfect way to soothe tired muscles and prepare for another day of exploration.