Are you planning a trip to Lapland in winter? This complete travel guide gives you everything you need to prepare for your dream vacation in magical Finland.
From reindeer to dog sledding and snowshoe hiking, Lapland has so much to offer and will not disappoint you! I stayed there for one week, and I loved it.
This article is also perfect for first-timers and covers all the best things to do for an unforgettable winter gateway. In addition, I share my 7-day experience for more travel tips and insights. Enjoy!
My Lapland experience: Duration 7 Days Dates visited Jan 10 - Jan 17 Season Winter
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- Where is Lapland
- How to get to Lapland
- Where to go and stay in Lapland
- How to get around Lapland & road conditions
- Best time to visit Lapland
- Best things to do in Lapland in winter
- What to pack for Lapland in winter
- Lapland, Finland – Map
- Lapland travel guide: my 7-day winter experience
- Sustainable travel in Lapland
- Lapland travel planning guide
- Winter in Lapland FAQ
Where is Lapland
Lapland is not a country but a region of northern Europe lying within the Arctic Circle and stretching across northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland and into the Kola Peninsula of Russia.
Although Lapland is well-known in Finland, it occupies a good part of Sweden and Norway.
The reason why the Lapland region is underpopulated is mainly due to the rough climate. But, it does not mean that the area is empty. The native Sami people who have lived there since ancient times have managed to preserve their traditions, reindeer herding way of life and unique language.
In this article, we will be focusing exclusively on Finnish Lapland.
How to get to Lapland
Lapland is accessible and well-connected to the rest of the world by air, road and rail.
- By air: The easiest way to reach Lapland is by plane. The main airports with daily scheduled flights are Rovaniemi, Kittilä, Kuusamo and Ivalo. If you can not find direct routes from where you live, you can stop in Helsinki first and make a connection.
- By rail: A reliable rail network runs through Lapland, linking it to different parts of Finland, such as Helsinki. For example, you can take a night train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. Kemijarvi, Kemi and Kolari are also areas with well-served railway stations.
- By road: You can reach Lapland by public transport and buses from almost any part of Finland. You can also rent a car and drive to Lapland. If you come from Helsinki, you will pass through Lahti, Jyvaskyla and Oulu. Finnish roads are in good condition, and it will take 10 to 15 hours to drive, depending on how far north you go. However, driving this route in winter is not recommended due to bad weather and lack of visibility. Read more below for winter driving tips.
Looking for the best areas to stay in Helsinki? Check out this article:
Where to Stay in Helsinki: 8 Best Areas (& Hotels)
Where to go and stay in Lapland
Lapland offers many sights and activities. Whilst the best place to go depends on the season, most travellers will come to Lapland in winter to experience a magical snowy and festive paradise.
But, how to decide which area is best for you and fits your trip? Here are some of the best-known winter wonderlands:
Rovaniemi is the official capital of Lapland and one of the top places for a Christmas visit. It is well-located and close to many best sites. Additionally, it is an ideal base for tours and experiences that will allow you to discover Lapland in greater depth.
Where can I meet Santa? At Santa Park, an indoor Christmas theme park.
Kittilä is another popular holiday resort further north and a bit more remote, offering plenty of outdoor activities such as skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoe hiking. You can also meet reindeer and explore a snow village. It is where we decided to stay for a week, and we did not regret it. The area was great for relaxing and discovering the unique side of Lapland.
Where can I meet Santa? At the Snow Village or Santa’s Secret Cabin.
Ivalo is a village on the Ivalo River known as a gateway to Saariselkä, an arctic resort area to the south. It is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and get away from it all. To its southeast, you can find Urho Kekkonen National Park, home to pine forests and reindeer. It has many trails and offers ideal viewpoints of the Northern Lights.
Where can I meet Santa? At Santa’s Creek, a quaint log cabin in the woods.
Kuusamo is a town located southeast of Rovaniemi. It offers direct access to Ruka, a beautiful ski resort. It is also the area where you can discover Santa’s secret cottage and go on husky sledge rides.
Where can I meet Santa? At Santa’s secret cottage.
How to get around Lapland & road conditions
Lapland is an area well served by bus and train and is easy to explore using public transport, especially if you are staying in the same place. However, I would recommend renting a car if you are comfortable driving on snowy roads, as it will allow you to travel further and discover remote areas.
Luckily, my brother lived in Helsinki and had his own, which was big enough for us, so it was easy to get around. You can rent yours at the airport when you arrive. Your car will be equipped for snowy roads. However, I recommend being careful: some areas, like the huskies, were challenging to access.
DRIVING IN WINTER IN LAPLAND
Driving in winter in Lapland is possible but can be an adventure! The roads will be covered with snow and sometimes ice, but your car will have snow tires – although they are not magic. You will still need to drive slowly and take your time.
Here are more tips for driving in Lapland in winter:
- Always have your lights on, no matter what time of day.
- Go slowly! No need to rush.
- Use the engine heater for a while before going, if possible.
- If your battery stop working, do not panic and call your rental company.
- Be warned: Lapland is a reindeer country, and they can sometimes appear in the middle of the road.
- If you come across an elk, stop immediately and wait for the elk to go.
Special note about electric cars: Electric car batteries will work in Lapland, but you might expect a reduced battery range due to cold weather. Keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Fancy a city break in Helsinki? Check out this article:
Helsinki Travel Guide: 10 Best Things to Do
Best time to visit Lapland
Lapland is a year-round destination offering many activities and possibilities whatever the season. From Northern Lights to Midnight Sun, here is an overview of the two main seasons in Lapland:
- Summer (June-August): Summer has many wonders to offer: from beautiful sceneries to the Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon when the sun does not leave the sky for almost 24 hours every day. I experienced it in Helsinki in June, and it was impressive! In addition, the temperatures during this period will be mild but perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking or cycling.
- Winter (December-March): Lapland is undoubtedly a perfect winter gateway. During this season, the landscapes are magical and covered in snow, the ice villages and hotels are open, and you can enjoy many unforgettable activities such as dog sledding or meeting reindeer. Of course, you can also observe the Northern Lights dance in the sky. But on the other hand, it will be peak tourist season, and the weather can be unpredictable and rough.
Best things to do in Lapland in winter
There are so many incredible things to do in Lapland in winter. This place is truly a winter wonderland. Whatever the length of your stay, you will have a memorable time!
Here is a short list of the top 10 things to do in Lapland in winter:
- Chase the Northern Lights
- Take a husky safari
- Meet Santa Claus
- Encounter reindeer
- Go skiing on magical slopes
- Explore remote areas by snowshoe hiking
- Visit or/and sleep in an ice hotel
- Enjoy a Finnish sauna and ice bath
- Discover unique landscapes by cross-country skiing
- Learn more about the Sami culture
Unforgettable experiences I recommend
What to pack for Lapland in winter
The best way to visit Lapland in winter and enjoy the cold weather is to arrive prepared. Being mindful of how you pack your suitcase is essential. Here are some clothing items and gear you need to be comfortable on your winter trip:
- Boots: You will need good boots that keep your feet warm and dry during outdoor activities. I had some Sorel boots, and they were perfect. Super comfortable, and my feet were never wet or cold – I strongly recommend them.
- Winter thermal socks: Wearing quality socks is essential to keeping your feet warm. Mine were thick thermal socks that I used for hiking or skiing, and I loved them.
- Coat: One of the most necessary elements for a winter gateway! Choosing a coat that is right for you and can adapt to the types of activities you want to do is essential. I wore a Fjällräven Nuuk parka, and once again, it was perfect. Buying a quality cold-weather jacket is expensive, but you will not regret it. This coat has kept me warm for my winter trips and adapted to all activities.
- Base layers and second layers: These layers are crucial if you want to stay warm. The base layers are usually long-sleeved thermal t-shirts, and the second layers can be thin thermal sweaters or thick jumpers, depending on the temperature and how many layers you want to wear. They do not need to be fancy, but I recommend having several to switch over the week.
- Gloves and hats: Once again, enjoying the cold weather of Lapland without gloves or a hat sounds impossible! You can not forget to protect your head and hands when visiting a Nordic country. I also recommend you wear waterproof gloves for extra protection and a padded hat.
- Scarf: The scarf will depend on your preferences, as many people do not enjoy feeling something around their neck, especially when hiking or skiing. But because the wind can be strong, I had a Buff. It was one of my favourite items! The one I chose was lightweight and thermal and incredibly useful. Buff products are much easier to wear than long scarves and can adapt to different situations.
- Pants: The type of pants you wear will most likely depend on your activity. Most of the time, I wore my jeans with tights for this trip. However, for some places or activities like skiing, having windproof/waterproof pants was a must.
Lapland, Finland – Map
Click on the top left of the map to display the list of stops and locations.
Lapland travel guide:
my 7-day winter experience
In the winter of 2020, my mum and I went to Lapland in Finland to meet my brother. During this trip, I journaled our adventures each day as a method to collect memories and reflect on what I learned.
I usually prefer to keep the journals for myself, but for this article, I decided to share a part of it and my thoughts in a raw format, hoping to inspire your next trip to Lapland and encourage you to slow travel. Take more time to discover the destination you visit and set aside a moment to write each day. You will be surprised by the incredible benefits travel journaling provide.
Day 1 – Discovering Levi
My mum and I left Manchester early in the morning to catch our flight to Lapland. I already visited Finland a few years ago, Helsinki and Turku, to be precise, and I liked it. I enjoyed the calm and peacefulness these places were bringing out. But this time, we were going north to Lapland, and I could not wait to discover this incredible region.
We spent the day on planes before arriving in Kittila at 6pm (the closest airport to where we were staying). It was already nighttime, and we could not see anything, but the surroundings looked beautiful.
My brother picked us up and drove to our cabin in Levi. There was a lot of snow everywhere, although the temperature was not too bad, around minus three.
We arrived at the cabin where we met Annika, my brother’s girlfriend, and her dog Alma. They showed us around the chalet and our rooms. It was a traditional and lovely Finnish cottage, with a large living room to warm up by the fire and relax after a long day of skiing and a terrace with a beautiful and peaceful view.
We did not do much that night as we were all tired from the journey. We went to bed early, excited for the next day.
Day 2 – Skiing in Levi
We all woke up quite late that morning, at 10am (sunrise = 11am / sunset = 2pm). We had breakfast, got ready and went skiing for the day. I was a bit anxious as I had not skied for five years, but I remembered everything quickly and had so much fun!
We stopped skiing for lunch and headed back to the cabin to eat. It was nice to do a break, and the temperature was not too bad again, but the weather was quite cloudy.
We went back to ski after lunch. The sun was already setting, and the colours were beautiful, as was the view on top. We stopped for a drink in a small bar in the middle of a slope and gave back the skis around 6pm.
We spent the evening relaxing and playing some games. I also tried to look for the northern lights but did not see any.
Notes: life is expensive!
Some Finnish words:
yes = joo
no = ti
thank you = kiitos
please = ole kilti
hello = moi
goodbye = hyvästi / moi moi (my favourite word)
Day 3 – Snowshoe Hiking to Kätkä
We woke up at 10am, and the sun was slowly rising. We had breakfast and got ready for a snowshoe hike. The weather was sunny and beautiful. The temperature was colder than the other days, minus fifteen.
We put on snowshoes that we had rented nearby and started the hike to Kätkä (3,6km). The climb was tough, but the view at the end made it worth it. The colours were gorgeous. We enjoyed this moment for a bit and went back down before the sun was completely gone to give our snowshoes back.
After spending the evening shopping in the town centre of Levi, we went home to play new board games.
Day 4 – Cross-Country Skiing in Levi
As my brother was still sleeping, Annika, my mum and I decided to go cross-country skiing, which was my first time. We left the house around 11am with our skis and walked to the starting point. The weather was very cloudy but still not too cold. I was warm most of the time as this type of ski is very physical. You have to push a lot on your legs and arms. I fell a few times but tried again. These skis were so much lighter and slicker than the ones I am used to usually, but I learnt a lot and enjoyed it.
We did a total of 3,5km, and I took a few pictures along the way. Alma, the dog, was with us, so Annika kept falling at first as Alma was running too fast! After that, we went back to the cabin around 1pm and had lunch.
We spent the afternoon relaxing inside. I took the time to write my Vietnam article, and Annika made a chocolate cake. Afterwards, we went to a local restaurant in Levi for the evening, serving only reindeer, which, unfortunately, was not my type of food – I had a bowl of fries.
We went back home and played some games before going to sleep. Our favourite game was Munchkin – I recommend you give it a try!
Notes: sunrise = 11am / sunset 2pm. Temperature = -10, but I am surprisingly never cold (we always do quite physical activities). / Finnish are very nice. / Landscapes and colours are incredible.
Day 5 – Reindeer at Lapinkylä Farm
After a good night sleep, I woke up at 9am and had breakfast. We left the house at 11am to see reindeer at Lapinkylä Farm, near our cabin. I was excited as I had never seen one before. The reindeer were all around the farm. We could still approach them with respect and not too close. The colours on that day were also beautiful – all blue and pink, the sky was clear, and the farm was in the middle of nowhere. It felt great.
We skied for the afternoon. The weather was still clear, so I went on my own to the top to take pictures. I took more time taking pictures than skiing, as the view and colours were absolutely gorgeous.
I then met up with Annika and my brother, and we went back down together, as the weather started to be suddenly cloudy and the sun was setting.
Day 6 – Snow Village & Dog Sledging
I woke up early that morning. I took the time to book the accommodation for my following trip to Iceland. Then, we got ready and left at 11am to visit a snow village near Kittilä (a 35-min drive). The entrance was 18€. It was nice, but nothing special in my opinion. It is also a hotel, so you can choose to sleep in ice rooms, which seems impossible to me as it is freezing. We ate there and continued our journey to the huskies (a 40-min drive).
We had an appointment for the huskies at 2pm, and I could not wait. When we arrived, we could already hear them. The place was called Rami’s Husky, and it was beautiful, lost in the middle of nowhere. We said hi to the dogs, and the owner explained how to control the sledge. We were two people per sledge – one driver and one passenger. I did it with Annika. She started driving so I could take pictures, and we changed halfway (5km). It was going less fast than I expected, and we could use the breaks in case we needed them. It was incredible! My favourite experience of this trip.
The dogs were listening very well – we had 6, and the surroundings were stunning. It was not sunny, but it did not matter, as it was such a unique experience. After getting back to the camp, we cuddled with the dogs and went inside a cabin to eat sausages cooked on a fire, and we also had some tea. It was the perfect way to end the day.
Notes: you can have up to 12 dogs for the sledge. Minimum age = 1 year old / max = 12 years old. The owner had 120 dogs. They were Alaskan Huskies (faster) and Siberians (stronger). They love the cool temperature (fav = -20). During summer, they chill. They were all super cute and loved cuddles. The experience was just fantastic! I loved it and would love to work as a volunteer there.
Then, we headed home, and the sun was already gone. The roads were all covered with snow, but the car had specific wheels for this kind of weather. Once home, we enjoyed the sauna all together. It felt incredible after this long day outside. (side note – every building, apartment, house and cabin has a sauna in Finland).
We ended the night playing more games.
Sunrise = 10:45am / sunset 2:15pm. Temperature = -10.
Day 7 – Another Day of Cross-Country Skiing
We woke up late and had breakfast. After that, I went cross-country skiing on a frozen lake with my mum. Cross-country skiing was so physical, and I did not enjoy it as much as slope skiing, but it was still great to try something new.
The sky was a bit cloudy, but the colours were still beautiful. I loved the peacefulness of this place.
Notes: in Finland, you say ski for cross-country skiing, as it is one of the principal sports in the country.
We went through the lake and back for an hour. Then, we met my brother and Annika to eat. After that, Annika and my brother went cross-country skiing whilst my mum and I went shopping in the little town, where I found a lot of cute local crafts for my partner Matt and his family.
Finally, we went home and cooked our last meal together, enjoying the moment. I was sad to leave. I called Matt one more time whilst the others were playing a game and went to bed, ready to come home in the morning.
Sustainable travel in Lapland
Sustainable travel means exploring the world whilst being aware of your surroundings and having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the places you visit.
Finland is one of the greenest countries and is on a mission to fight climate change. So, what can you do to reduce your impact whilst exploring Lapland?
- Book direct flights and offset your carbon footprint. But, do not use carbon offsetting as a complete solution. Combine it with other sustainable practices, like avoiding single-use plastic on the plane and mindfully packing your suitcase to be ready for your green adventure.
- Prioritise staying longer and not only one day. Lapland is the home of Santa Claus, and it is understandable why parents want to give their children the opportunity to meet the man himself, but it is essential to think about the impact these 24-hour visits have. They are not beneficial socially, environmentally, or economically. That is why you are better off spending at least four or five days in Lapland and immersing yourself in the unique Finnish culture.
- Take part in tourist activities benefiting the local community and economy or hire a local guide. Look for authentic experiences but avoid tours more rooted in money than traditional culture! And, of course, never participate in activities harmful to wildlife. – Check out this article for more ecotourism activity inspiration: Top Ecotourism Activities Around the World.
- Try to avoid snowmobiling. Instead, go cross-country skiing or snowshoe hiking to slow travel in remote places or ice skate on a frozen lake and experience nature cleanly!
- Buy and eat local and seasonal. Finland presents incredible produce ranging from fresh fish to tangy berries and reindeer. It has a lot to offer, so support local. It also applies to souvenirs. Shop local crafts and ask questions about the product and its origins.
- Always respect the local heritage. Treat people and their surroundings with respect. Sustainable travel is not only about the environment but also about the local communities. So, ask before taking a photo, always be respectful and try to learn a few Finnish words!
Want to know more?
- The Complete Guide to Sustainable Travel
- 10 Best Ethical Coats for Iceland in Winter
- 10 Best Travel Apps for Exploring Sustainably
- 8 Best Filtered Water Bottles for Travel & Hiking
Download your free sustainable travel checklist ↓
Lapland travel planning guide
Yes, buying insurance is always valuable when travelling abroad. Enjoy your winter trip to Lapland stress-free with one of my favourite providers, Nomad Insurance.
Yes, tap water is safe to drink all over Lapland. However, I also recommend travelling with the UltraPress Purifier Bottle, a lightweight filtered water bottle perfect for reducing plastic and staying hydrated.
Yes, renting a car in Lapland is easy and is a great way to explore the Finnish region freely. I recommend booking yours with Rentalcars.com – they offer a variety of operators for all budgets.
The best way to book your accommodation in Lapland is with Booking.com – my favourite platform to compare and reserve places to stay each night, from affordable guesthouses to luxury hotels.
I recommend booking your plane with Skyscanner. It has been my favourite platform for years, as it allows me to book the cheapest flights whilst lowering my carbon emissions.
Winter in Lapland FAQ
4 to 5 days is an ideal amount of time to discover Finnish Lapland and experience the best of the region. However, staying as long as possible is always great as Lapland offers so many things to do: skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoe hiking, ice skating, fishing, dog sledging, visiting snow villages, and more.
Winter is the best season to visit Lapland and enjoy a unique snowy gateway. Between November and March, the landscapes are breathtaking, activities are endless, children can meet Santa, and you will have the chance to see the Northern Lights.
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland is from mid-August until early April. However, contrary to what one might think, the best chances of spotting them are at the beginning and end of the season when the weather is less cloudy.
Rovaniemi, Kittilä, Ivalo and Kuusamo are some of the best regions to experience the best of Finnish Lapland. Each of these areas offers something unique depending on what you want to do and will provide you with unforgettable memories.
And you, have you ever visited Lapland or would you like to go one day?
Let me know in the comments below!
With love ♡