How to Experience Sámi Culture in Finland

Reindeer herding is one of the oldest traditional livelihoods of the Sámi people
Reindeer herding is one of the oldest traditional livelihoods of the Sámi people | © Nadia Isakova / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Celia Topping
31 August 2021

In the unspoilt Arctic wilderness, on the edge of frozen lakes and snow-laden forests, live Europe’s only surviving indigenous people, the Sámi. Learn more about them on a trip to their ancestral home in northern Lapland, Finland.

Traditionally semi-nomadic reindeer herders, the Sámi live across the Arctic Circle in Russia, Norway, Sweden and northern Lapland in Finland. The homeland of these proud people is still alive with a vibrant culture and shamanistic folklore. In Lapland, they welcome you in to discover their rich, unique way of life and ancient traditions – from ice fishing to jewellery making. Discover the best way to immerse yourself in Sámi culture on your next visit to Finland.

Learn about Sámi culture

Architectural Landmark
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Wooden sculptures displayed outdoors at the Siida Museum in Inari, which is the national museum of the Sami People in Lapland, northern Finland
© Wolfgang Kaehler / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s nowhere closer to the beating heart of Sámi life than the village of Inari, nestled on the banks of Lapland’s largest lake, Inarijärvi. Its Siida museum and nature centre offers a unique opportunity to learn all about the cultural heritage and livelihood of the Sámi community. Don’t miss its superb shop with fine examples of local handicrafts and jewellery.

Visit Sajos, home of the Sámi parliament

Building, Architectural Landmark
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Siida Museum for Sami culture, Inari, Lapland, Finland, Europe
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Preserving the Sámi way of life, its language, culture and traditions is the core purpose of the Sajos cultural centre. This striking wood-and-glass building also houses the Sámi parliament; taking a guided tour is the best way to appreciate all it has to offer. Sit in on a parliamentary plenum session or book a place at a craft workshop, where you’ll learn the basics of Sami duodji – including embroidery, jewellery making and wood carving.

Try ice-fishing

Park, Natural Feature
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FINLAND, INARI: Fisherman on a frozen lake
© Universal Images Group North America LLC / DeAgostini / Alamy Stock Photo
Speeding out to the middle of the frozen Lake Inari on a snowmobile is all part of the experience of ice-fishing. You’ll try your hand at drilling a hole in the thick ice, and get your own rod to try to catch a fish, but there are no guarantees! Even if you don’t manage to hook an arctic char, perch or brown trout, simply being out on the ice with your Sámi guide is an unforgettable experience.

Watch a reindeer race

Architectural Landmark
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reindeer races festival at Inari in the Arctic Circle in Lappland Finland Europe. Image shot 1999. Exact date unknown.
© nik wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo
Reindeer racing takes place in early spring all across northern Lapland, culminating in the Reindeer Racing Championships on Lake Inari. Competitors, or jockeys, don’t sit on the reindeer, but get pulled behind it on skis, at startling speeds. The races are an important cultural event on the Sámi calendar and you can expect craft markets, food stalls and a jovial atmosphere at the tournaments.

Observe reindeer herding and take a thrilling sledge ride

Sports Center
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Saamis with Reindeer and Pulk
© Norman Price / Alamy Stock Photo
Reindeer husbandry and herding is one of the oldest traditional livelihoods of the Sámi people, dating back to the Stone Age. These days, herding is most often combined with other occupations, commonly in the tourism sector. So finding a friendly local to take you out on an enchanting sledge ride is not too difficult.

Go foraging for berries

Architectural Landmark
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Lingonberries mixed with wild blueberries in jar lit with sun beside a pine tree among lingonberry and blueberry (with reddened leaves) plants.
© David Bokuchava / Alamy Stock Photo
Foraging is a classic Finnish pastime. The long summer nights and midnight sun create the perfect environment for ripening all kinds of delicious berries – including cloudberries, lingonberries, blueberries, crowberries and cranberries. Finland’s policy, “everyman’s right,” ensures you’re free to pick whatever you find, and a local expert will be able to show you the best places to look.

Taste local cuisine

Restaurant, Finnish, $$$
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Sauteed reindeer venison steak served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry  -   traditional meal from Lapland, especially in Finland, Sweden, Norway a
© Alexander Mychko / Alamy Stock Photo
Have you ever tried reindeer meat? Or what about “arctic gold,” the rare, highly nutritious cloudberry? Sample some on soft bread, cheese, or leipäjuusto, for a truly local delight. Fish such as brown trout and salmon are cooked slowly on an open fire, and mushrooms are in abundant supply. Sámi cuisine is simple but fresh and delicious, sourced straight from the land, lakes and rivers. Ask for the traditional salmon soup in any tavern and you won’t be disappointed.

Discover the art of Sámi jewellery-making

Shop, Store
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Laplander traditional costume
© NTB Scanpix / Alamy Stock Photo
The eight Sámi seasons form the backdrop of the community’s relationship with the natural world. The significance of the seasons can be found in their traditional jewellery, which is still made with time-honoured methods. One of the most symbolic pieces is the risku or solju, decorated with tiny silver or gold plates, and is reminiscent of the sun. The risku is worn at weddings, on the brightly coloured national dress, to keep the scarf in place.

Head to the Indigenous Peoples’ Film Festival

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If you’re in Inari in January, you must go along to the Skábmagovat (Reflections of the Endless Night). This is no ordinary film festival, and you may want to swap your popcorn for hot chocolate – watching a Finnish film in a theatre made entirely of snow, in sub-zero temperatures, is an experience you won’t soon forget. The festival aims to strengthen mutual relations among the indigenous people, but welcomes visitors from all different cultures.
These recommendations were updated on August 31, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Celia Topping

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