Going north of the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter isn’t everyone’s first thought when it comes to the perfect winter holiday. You might even think it sounds a little bit crazy. Prior to my first 1 week trip in Finland, many family & friends were puzzled by my desire to experience the Polar Night and frigid temperatures.
But Lapland was one of the things I came to Finland to experience. I really wanted to feel the winter wonderland vibes.
Embarking on a week-long trip through Finnish Lapland promises an enchanting journey complete with pristine landscapes, unique winter activities, and vibrant cultural offerings. This Arctic paradise is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m a Midwestern girl at heart, so the cold temperatures and snowy surroundings don’t really bother me. Winter makes you feel alive.
This comprehensive travel guide shares all my insights from 5 different trips to Lapland. From the mesmerizing dance of the Northern Lights to the thrill of husky sledding, Finnish Lapland encapsulates a unique blend of nature, adventure, and wintery goodness.
The Perfect 1 Week Itinerary for Finnish Lapland
Overview of Itinerary
I designed this itinerary based on my experiences visiting Finnish Lapland multiple times as part of my job as a trip leader. This is a winter itinerary for Lapland. If you’re traveling to Lapland for winter activities and the Northern Lights, the best time of the year is February and March. There is enough (albeit still very little) daylight, and conditions tend to be clearer and warmer for Aurora hunting.
This itinerary is done easiest as a self-driving road trip. If you want to drive in Finland using this itinerary, I’d recommend hiring a car in Rovaniemi for pickup from the airport. Car rental in Finland is comparable to other parts of Europe. In winter, cars will come with studded tires, and the roads are well maintained.
However, I specifically designed this itinerary for folks who DON’T want to rent a car.
I totally appreciate that driving in the extreme Finnish winter conditions is not for everyone. As such, you can easily complete this itinerary using a combination of flights, public transit and organized tours which include transportation. I make suggestions about those transportation options throughout the post.
Day 1 - Helsinki
Nearly every trip to Finland will start in Helsinki, the country’s capital and home to the major international airport (HEL). A surprisingly vibrant and culturally rich city, you can see the highlights of Helsinki in just 24 hours. Although 1 day in Helsinki is enough to get a taste of Finland’s capital, you could easily add on an extra day or two to explore more deeply. And maybe even take a day trip to nearby Tallinn.
Begin your day in Helsinki by immersing yourself in the city's architectural marvels, such as the iconic Helsinki Cathedral and the modern masterpiece, Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Take a leisurely stroll through the historic Senate Square, surrounded by neoclassical buildings that offer a glimpse into the city's past. Delve into the local culinary scene by enjoying a traditional Finnish meal or international cuisine. Afterward, head to the Helsinki Design District to discover the city's creative side. Close out your day at Löyly sauna, a stylish spa where you can experience the authentic Finnish sauna culture.
Day 2: Travel to Rovaniemi
It is time to begin your journey north to your next destination – Rovaniemi. Known as the official home of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi is centrally located in Finnish Lapland. In fact, it can trace its history back over 8,000 years. Although the city itself leaves a lot to be desired, it is the perfect jumping off point for Lapland adventures.
There are two good options for getting from Helsinki to Rovaniemi:
- Flying: this is the fastest option. Airport code is RVN and the flight is about 1.5 hours. There are several departures on SAS and FinAir daily.
- Train: you can take an overnight sleeper train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. This route is known as the Santa Claus Express. It takes around 12 hours, but it is comfortable.
I usually take the early morning flight to Rovaniemi, which arrives around 10am. There is a shuttle bus from the airport to the city center. You do not need to book reservations in advance. Tickets are 8€ per person and you can pay the driver by card on the bus. For the arrival day, you’ll probably want to take it easy, in case of any delays or weather issues. I would recommend doing just a few things around town, such as a visit to the Santa Claus Village and the Arktikum Museum.
At Santa Claus Village, visitors can meet the real Santa Claus! Since moving to Germany, I have absolutely fallen in love with Christmas and Christmas Markets, so I was really excited about visiting. It is cheesy, but also very joyful and fun. Visitors can have their photo taken with Santa and tell him their Christmas wishes. There are a number of other activities to try at Santa’s Village including reindeer sleigh rides, gift shopping, and meeting Mrs. Claus. You can also find Santa Claus's Post Office in Santa’s Village, where you can send letters with a special seal.
Arktikum Museum is a science center and cultural museum featuring a range of interactive exhibits, displays, and multimedia installations that explore the Arctic's unique wildlife, indigenous peoples, and stunning natural landscapes. One of the most popular exhibits at Arktikum is the Northern Lights exhibit, which explores the science behind this natural phenomenon and showcases stunning images and videos of the Aurora Borealis.
Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
If you’re looking for something in the city center, Scandic City is the perfect choice. The hotel features modern and stylish rooms, and there is a large breakfast buffet each morning in the glass atrium in the center of the hotel. Plus, there is a small sauna on the top floor of the hotel for relaxing.
For a more upscale and boutique experience, check out the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Unique and luxurious treehouse-style cabins are nestled into the forest with a large window for viewing the natural surroundings and northern lights.
Where to Eat in Rovaniemi
If you're a foodie, you'll be surprised by the number of tasty restaurants in this tiny town. I’ve got to admit, my culinary expectations weren’t high prior to my first trip. But turns out, there are a number of tasty eateries! Sample traditional Lappish cuisine, such as reindeer meat, wild berries, and fresh fish caught from the nearby rivers. I summarize all my favorite Rovaniemi restaurants in a separate blog post. And don't forget to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa or mulled wine!
Day 3 & 4: Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi offers a plethora of winter activities and stunning natural beauty that you won't want to miss. I have a separate guide specifically about planning a trip to Rovaniemi in the winter. There are LOTS of day trip providers based in town, offering a range of activities from ice climbing and ice fishing to Aurora hunting and snowshoeing.
I strongly recommend Safarctica. I’ve had great experiences with them on a number of their excursions. Most of the tours don’t book up super far in advance, so you can visit their office on your first day in Rovaniemi and select a few tours that sound interesting to you.
Two day trip experiences that I think everyone should try on winter trip to Lapland are:
- Husky Dog Sledding
- Aurora Hunting
There are lots of husky safaris, ranging anywhere from a few hours to a few days. A standard dog sled package includes a 2 hour ride through the wilderness on a 2 person dog sled. One person mushes while the other sits in the sled, and there will be an opportunity to switch off during the trail ride. Most operators offer guests the option to wear a thick snowsuit, but you’ll want to pack appropriate warm layers to wear underneath the suit.
It is important to ensure that you go with a reputable kennel that cares for the health of its dogs. As working dogs, they require thoughtful care, nutrition and veterinary services. I highly recommend Bearhill Husky. This no-kill, no-abandon kennel has a number of animal welfare and sustainability accreditations. Their dogs are very well-cared for. You can sense how connected the guides are to the dog teams, and they are incredibly knowledgeable.
Also known as northern lights, the aurora borealis are a natural electrical phenomenon which occur when solar wind particles from the sun collide with Earth's atmosphere. The Earth's magnetic field deflects the electrically charged particles towards the poles, which is why you can only see them around the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
The particles interact with elements in Earth’s air, creating colorful streaks of purple, red or green waves of light, or aurora, in the sky. I first saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, and it was an incredible feeling. The displays I witnessed in Lapland were next level! There is something awe-inspiring about watching this natural phenomenon dance across the sky. I even cried a little bit – it is just so special!
Auroras happen all year round, but they can only be seen at night in the winter because of low light pollution levels. You can hire a professional guide or photographer who can both teach you about the aurora and take you to particularly good photography and viewing locations. On clear nights in the winter in Lapland, you can also simply walk outside and look up to spot the Northern Lights.
Day 5 & 6: Ivalo
Continuing your journey north, it’s time to go to Ivalo. You can quickly reach Finland's northernmost airport (IVL) on a short 30 minute flight from Rovaniemi airport. However, I think the nicer option is a three hour bus ride. It is cheaper and you can enjoy the beautiful Lapland scenery along the way. It is so picturesque! As we drove, my eyes were glued out the window. I was totally awestruck by the beauty of the dense pine forests covered in thick layers of snow around us. It feels like a true winter wonderland! Once you arrive in Ivalo, there are local public transit options or many of the hotel offer pick-up shuttles from the airport or town center.
One of the main reasons why people travel to Ivalo is to stay at Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo Hotel & Resort.
You can sleep under the stars and Aurora in a glass igloo. It is such a romantic experience, perfect for couples. I stayed in a Kelo cabin glass igloo at Kakslauttanen. You can read my full review of my experience staying at Kakslauttanen here. Naturally there’s more to Kakslauttanen than glass igloos. The resort has a wide range of accommodation options, as well as an in-house activity center, which bring all the arctic activities to you!
Once at Kakslauttanen, you can try out any remaining Arctic activities you haven’t tried yet. Such as snowmobiling! With miles of snow-covered forests and frozen lakes, Finnish Lapland is the perfect destination to try snowmobiling. Riding a snowmobile allows you to access areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach, giving you unforgettable access to the Arctic wilderness. You can also typically pair snowmobiling with another activity, such as Northern Lights viewing or traversing the Arctic Circle.
Another thing I can recommend while in Ivalo is a Sami experience. The Sami people are the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland. With a visit to Siida, a Sámi Museum and Nature Center in Inari, you can learn about their rich heritage, traditional clothing, and cultural customs. Additionally, consider a reindeer safari with a Sami guide, where you can experience the joy of gliding through the snow-covered landscapes on a reindeer-drawn sleigh.
Day 7: Return to Helsinki
Similar to the arrival in Lapland, there are daily direct connections from Ivalo Airport back to Helsinki. We booked a round trip ticket from the US to Helsinki, and then two one way tickets to Lapland and back. Make sure to leave enough time to connect to your international flight, and try to accommodate for winter weather disruptions. One extra night in Helsinki is the ideal option.
Have thoughts or questions about planning the perfect trip to Lapland? Tell me in the comments!
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