Did you know Santa Claus is Finnish and lives in Lapland? The Lapin taika (Finnish for the Magic of Lapland) can be seen in the expansive natural beauty of the land, its cultural treasures, the legends of the Sámi people and not to mention Santa’s North Pole hideaway. Here is a guide to all the must-see, must-do and must-eat things in Lapland for the most magical winter experience.
Rovaniemi, the capital city of Finnish Lapland is the largest populated city near the Arctic Circle as well as the hometown of Santa Claus. However, there is much more to Lapland than being the North Pole hideaway of Santa Claus. There are many beautiful resorts, cities as well as cultural treasures to visit. If you’re looking for a magical Christmas experience, this is the place to go – and even if it’s not Christmas, you’ll still have an incredible time on Culture Trip’s five-day, action-packed Lapland adventure which departs in spring.
Along the river and around the city of Rovaniemi, you can find 70 lean-to shelters that can be freely used to roast sausages or snacks over an open fire. Firewood is even provided by the stae. Along Ounasjoki, the longest river in Finland, you can see beautiful views of the Jätkänkynttilä Bridge, especially when illuminated at night.
The Arctic Circle Post Office, located in Rovaniemi, receives more than half a million Christmas letters every year from all over the world. Each year, Santa Claus leaves the village in a reindeer-drawn sleigh to deliver presents to children, and his send-off is broadcast internationally on 23 December. All letters received with a clearly legible address are answered by Santa and receive a special stamp leaving the post office. If you want to send in your wish list for this year, you can reach Santa at: Santa Claus, Santa Claus’s Main Post Office, 96930 Napapiiri, Finland.
Lapland has some of the most beautiful and unforgettable accommodations in the world, including camping sites, cottages, cabins, ski lodges and hotels.
This is an entire village made of ice and snow. The Snow Village is built each year in late November and includes a restaurant, bar, lobbies, hotel rooms, outdoor buildings, slides and sculptures.
You can either stay in a glass igloo or the unique subterranean Northern Lights house at Levi Igloos Golden Crown. Partly built into the ground, the luxurious house is a personal and stunning holiday villa with large windows that allow you to have a beautiful view of the Northern Lights.
Lapland restaurants serve fresh local ingredients ranging from northern forest berries and wild game to fresh seafood. Local dishes will often include items such as bilberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, salmon soup, hare and, most popularly, reindeer meat.
This is a fine-dining restaurant located at one of the highest places in Rovaniemi, Ounasvaara mountain. Along with an incredible meal, you will enjoy beautiful views of the landscape. The food, though on the pricey side, is modern Finnish and Scandinavian made from the best local ingredients.
Reindeer sleigh rides can last from 10 minutes up to a few hours depending on the trail. Most accommodations will have places they will recommend. After the sleigh ride, you can pet and feed the reindeer.
A primary activity on Culture Trip’s exclusive five-day adventure to Finnish Lapland, dog sledding can last from 10 minutes to several days if you go on a dog sledding trek in the northernmost regions of Lapland. Sometimes there is a trained musher while you sit and relax for the ride. Others choose to go on a longer journey where they can command their own team of Siberian huskies. The dogs are trained, and most people only need to learn how to stop and go on the sled.
Hiking in Lapland, especially during the spring and autumn months, is the best way to see all that nature has to offer in this scenic country. It can also be done during the winter with the aid of snowshoes.
Ice swimming, which means hopping into a man-made hole in a frozen lake or river, is preferably done right after the sauna, and when you emerge from the icey water, you will feel a surge of adrenaline and blood pumping in your veins. Locals swear by its powers for curing aches and pains. If you are not near a lake, you can also try the alternative of jumping into the snow right after the sauna.
Go skiing in one of the 75 ski resorts located in Finland. Many of the famous and largest resorts lie in Lapland and are known as the Big Four – Levi (the most popular), Ylläs (the most fabled/oldest), Pyhä-Luosto (the most picturesque) and Ruka. They rise to more than 700m (2,296ft) above sea level and have lengths of up to 3km (2mi). The season starts in October and runs until early May. And if you prefer your adventure on the gentle side, try skiing on a frozen lake instead.
Go ice fishing, but be sure to remember your own equipment.
Have a snowball fight. This isn’t like your regular snowball fight; here, you build fortresses, work in teams and try to get behind enemy lines. The fun is not limited to children.
At the end of January and beginning of February, celebrate the end of the polar night by going to the Skábmagovat, the Indigenous Peoples’ Film and TV Production Festival in Inari or join the Sámi for their National Day celebrations on February 6th.
In the summer, in July, you can take part in the Teno river salmon fishing championship in Utsjoki.
The Music Festival of Indigenous Peoples, Ijahis idja (Nightless Night) and the Triphon procession of the Russian-Orthodox Skolt-Sámi through four villages both take place in August.
Every year there are international gold panning championships held in this village, which lies near the Urho Kekkonen National Park Saariselkä, a popular tourist destination. Today, Tankavaara is the only authentic European gold mining village and even looks like a 19th-century gold mining town. You can learn about gold prospecting all year-round and any found gold is yours to keep. You can also visit the Gold Museum, which traces the past and present history of the Finnish and international gold prospecting.
The autumn season paints the trees a beautiful ruska color.
The Saana fell, overlooking the village of Kilpisjärvi, is holy to the native Sámi people (population of about 9,000 members) and sacrificial fires to the supreme god Ukkonen were burned at the top of it.
Dead trees or (kelo in Finnish) are characteristic of Lapland’s nature.
Kaamos (or the two-month-long Polar Night), begins in November when the sun no longer rises above the horizon. The darkness then takes on a blue and violet colour.
The reindeer is an icon of Lapland and outnumber the people in the province.
The Midnight Sun lasts for as long as two months during the summer when the sun is seen 24 hours per day.
Michaelmas begins on 29 September and occurs when winter’s gate creaks open and the wait for snow begins. Up north the first snow falls in October, and the region has permanent cover by November.
In Northern Finland, winter lasts around six months.
Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, predict a snow storm.
Northern Lights shine every other clear night between September and March, and the further north you go the better. The lights might unexpectedly appear and just as quickly disappear just after sunset, so stay outside.
Elves, the guardians of the homes and hearths, are a real thing, and people show appreciation to them during the Christmas and winter months. Food and ale are left on the table in the darkest corner of the barn for them to eat and drink, and warm water is left in the saunas for them to be able to bathe. You will also find miniatures of elves in various places around homes and places in the region.
If you’re spending New Year in Lapland, there are a few legends. If you light the fireplace on the first try on New Year’s, you will be lucky in love. Huge drifts of snow on the yard predict wealth. If the New Year’s night is windy, it means the winter will be a harsh one.
January is the harshest month of the year. The Finnish named it tammikuu or (oak month) after the hardest trees in Finland.
When the new sun comes out in the spring, the first to see it receive the strength of its beams. Children also celebrate the new season by banging plates, ringing cow bells and jingle bells.