A must for anybody’s bucket list, and with good reason. The Northern Lights are a phenomenal, mystical sight and are worth the long journey to the top of the world. The view of the lights in Finnish Lapland is particularly good, thanks to the lack of air pollution and several resorts built especially for aurora viewing.
The second great wonder of Lapland is its magnificent reindeer, which you can see both on farms and wandering wild. At some farms you can also take it one step further and drive a reindeer sleigh through the winter wilderness, taking part in a centuries-old practice.
Saunas can be found worldwide, but it is only in their native Finland that you can get the most authentic sauna experience, even if it’s far from a luxury one. Traditional smoke or wood-burning saunas are very different than the electric saunas offered at most spas. Many have dirt floors or use birch branches for beating the skin and increasing circulation. They may be more rustic, but they are also highly relaxing and good for your health.
If you can make it all the way up to the tiny village of Nuorgam, you will be standing at the northernmost point in the European Union, and one of the most northerly inhabited places in the world. The border marker at the highest point is a great spot for a selfie.
While you’re in Lapland to see the Northern Lights, there are a number of unique hotel rooms built to make the experience extra special. These include tepees, treehouses, glass bubbles, log cabins and even igloos. Each of these is made from heated insulated glass, so you have an unobstructed view of the night sky from your own bed.
Koli National Park may be one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Europe. Climbing to the top of the valley offers magnificent views of the lakes and forests, comparable to the view of the Grand Canyon in scope. If you stay in the park longer, you can also go boating or swimming in one of Europe’s largest lakes.
The Turku archipelago off the southwest coast of Finland is the largest in the world in terms of the number of islands – there are over 20,000, with more being discovered all the time. Exploring them by foot or by boat can uncover many beautiful sights and lead you to some terrific spots for camping.
This one is only for the truly daring – taking part in the traditional practice of ice swimming. It can be scary at first to enter a swimming hole in an ice-covered lake, but after you have taken the plunge, you will likely experience such a rush of adrenaline that you will want to dive straight back in.
The Finnish countryside is best experienced on the road, and you will be amazed at just how big and widespread the country is and how much of it is covered by forest. Sometimes you can drive all day and still see nothing but pine forests for miles around.
Most high-school graduates want to take their gap year somewhere hot, but they should also consider Lapland for the fun and memorable experience of caring for sled dogs. Not only do you get to spend hours of every day with the adorable dogs, you can learn how to mush a husky sledge, experience the best of Lapland culture and make lifelong friends, all in a stunningly beautiful location.
You don’t always have to go somewhere hot to stay on a private island, either. Finland’s coastline, and even some of its larger lakes, are dotted with islands with their own summer cabins, which you can rent or even buy for a good price. There you can spend the entire summer fishing, swimming, boating or just sunbathing.
A truly unique way to see Lapland is from the air in a hot-air balloon. Not only are the views unimaginably beautiful, but if the timing is right, you might even see the Northern Lights over the landscape.
The aurora is fascinating, but the Midnight Sun during the summer season is an equally surreal experience. There is something almost alien about sitting on your balcony drinking a beer at 3am when the sky is still tinged pink. It may mess up your sleep patterns, but it is also an excuse to stay up all night and see more of Finland’s beauty when the world is quiet and still.
Seeing bears laze around in a zoo enclosure is one thing, but watching them in their natural habitat from only a few feet away is something else entirely. On a bear-watching holiday in Eastern Finland, you can see bears and other wild animals safely and feel closer to nature than you have ever been.