Brave the Cold, Explore Northern Finland in Winter

With winters lasting seven months, Finland is a place of extreme cold, but becomes a playground for lovers of all things snow. Nomad Sudeshna explores the highlights of northern Finland in winter.

Shares

Photo © iStock/RomanBabakin

Located above the Arctic Circle, Finnish Lapland is one of the ideal spots for sighting the elusive Aurora Borealis, the so-called Northern Lights. One of the northernmost regions of the inhabited planet, the region is extremely remote, but the temperature and location doesn’t stop the fun on a trip to Finland in winter.

On our trip, we wanted to get as far north as possible, flying into Ivalo airport, an hour’s flight from Helsinki, and the gateway to the Inari and Saariselkä regions, the heartland of the indigenous Sámi people. 

We based ourselves at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, a 30-minute drive from the airport, but there are a few different accommodation options in the region, from spa hotels to rustic cabins.

The only way to get around the entire Lapland region is by road, as it’s not very well connected, but it can get expensive. You can rent a car, but it’s not advisable to self-drive on icy roads during the winter months.

We visited in early March and nothing prepared us for the cold. Our hotel supplied all the snow gear we needed for free, including outerwear and snow boots, but you’ll also want to pack layers of woollies, including thermals, to be comfortable. Only then were we ready to take on the various uniquely Arctic experiences on offer in this region.

Snow Mobiling and Snow Tank Safaris

Snowmobiles are the go-to vehicle for traveling around this stark, sparsely populated region. While locals use them for functional purposes, such as reindeer herding, they are also ubiquitous for recreation, too.

Numerous tour operators offer self-drive snowmobiling safaris (approximately €160 per person), and most resorts offer them as an activity, during the day or at night.

We chose the latter for our inaugural Aurora-hunting expedition, setting off from the resort as part of an expectant group, eyes scanning the skies for the celestial light show as we traversed fells and forests. Snowmobiles are quite easy to drive and provide fantastic mobility, perfect when the key to spotting the Northern Lights is to get as far away from light pollution as possible in order to optimize the chances.

We were lucky to see them on our first night and the experience was unforgettable. The sky came alive with dancing lights of green, sometimes purple, and even red), painting the night with an ephemeral luminescence. It was surreal; one of those real pinch-me moments.

A snowmobiling trip in Finnish Lapland. Photo credit: iStock/Sieto

To really go off the beaten track, try a snow tank safari, a unique activity only offered by an independent operator in the Saariselka area. Converted from an old army tank, the safari vehicle is cozy and comfortable as it forges its own path through the forests; glass windows offer panoramic views of the hauntingly beautiful lunar landscapes, and if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights.

Along the way, we had a pit-stop at a Finnish kota (traditional wooden huts that are dotted across the countryside, as a free resting place) for a warming cup of soup, and a chat with the friendly driver/guide and our fellow travelers. Snow tank safaris can be booked through hotels; prices start from about €110 per person. 

Go Dog-sledding with Huskies

While technology has certainly provided greater mobility, no trip to the snowy Arctic is complete without a dog-sledding excursion. These can be arranged through hotels with independent local operators. As an animal lover, I loved the thrill of speeding along on a husky sleigh, pulled by four pairs of dogs, across miles of wilderness, dotted with spruce forests, in deep snow. Reminiscent of the movie Eight Below, it was wonderful to have such an up-close interaction with the friendly, playful huskies.

After a brief orientation session, we set off, two to a sled – one of you stands and drives while the other sits and enjoys the scenery – and set off in a group with a guide on a snowmobile guiding the convoy. You need to be patient; the tours can range from two to four hours, and there are frequent stops, usually dictated by the dogs – whenever they want to take a break, and have a little play in the snow, or to quench their thirst!

While this is also offered as an Aurora-hunting option, it’s best enjoyed as a daytime adventure. Easy to arrange through local resorts, husky dog-sledding safaris start from about €150 per person.

Aurora hunting in Finnish Lapland. Photo credit: iStock/Widewingsstudio

Reindeer and the Sámi People

The Sámi people are a predominantly nomadic tribe indigenous to northern Scandinavia, across Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Historically reindeer herders, they possess a unique, ancient, culture rich in folklore and nature-based traditions, but are well integrated into modern society. Many Sámi people work in the tourism industry as guides, providing a window into their heritage.

Cultural tours to Sami settlements are often combined with a reindeer interaction – which involves a feeding session with some friendly (OK, greedy!) reindeers at a farm, and for those brave enough, a short speedy reindeer sled ride. While there are no wild reindeers in this region anymore, with most of the population tagged, the herds do roam free.

Two Sami people and reindeer near a lavvu. Photo credit: iStock/MicheleVacchiano

After our reindeer adventures, we loved the privilege of sitting around a roaring fire in a traditional tepee with a cup of warm lingonberry juice – a quintessentially Lappish drink – enjoyed with a freshly made snack of reindeer meat. Our guide gave us a unique insight into Sámi traditions and lifestyle. The lives of the Sámi are closely intertwined with the reindeers, with their skins providing warmth in the extreme cold, and their meat providing a valuable food source. A traditional diet includes other locally available products such as spruce, wild berries, elk, and Arctic Char – all of which can be tried at local restaurants, often given the gourmet treatment.

Expect to pay from around €130 per person for organized tours, which can include a visit to Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi.

Sleep in a Glass Igloo

For an extraordinary Finnish experience, the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is the original glass igloo resort. While there are many other igloo hotels in northern Finland now, we loved staying in the ultimate location for a lying-in-bed-and-looking-up-at-the-sky experience; we got a taste of traditional igloo life, but without compromising on mod-cons such as heating.

As well as compact glass igloos, the resort also offers more luxurious kelo igloos, which combine the rustic charm of a log cabin, with a glass igloo-roofed bedroom extension offering 360-degree views of the outdoors, to feel like your very own slice of Arctic paradise.

You’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to sleep in a glass igloo beneath the Nothern Lights. Photo credit: iStock/sysimages

What adventures have you had in the Arctic Circle?

No Comments

Add a Comment