Step out of Lapland’s small Kittila Airport during the dead of a winter’s night, and the icy air feels like it could turn your nose numb. This is the gateway to Finland’s largest and northernmost region, home to around 180,000 reindeer and approximately as many people.
And those people aren’t afraid of the cold. Rather than huddling inside all day during temperatures that dip to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, the people of Lapland put on their warmest gear and head outside and embrace the idea of sisu, a word used to describe endurance—the perseverance to keep going even when the odds aren’t in your favor. With endless wilderness to explore and plenty of outdoor activities, here’s what to look for if you want to take advantage of Lapland’s winter wonderland like a local—despite the frigid weather.
For more than six months of the year, the landscape is caked in snow, resembling a flat, marzipan-iced terrain dotted with pine trees, which hunch over from the weight of icicles. But that doesn’t stop the Finns, who take advantage of quirky snow sports, some of which are only feasible with enough snow and ice. If you’re not afraid of heights, try ice climbing along frozen cliffs and rock faces. And anyone who’s been yearning to try kite surfing could do some snow kiting, also known as kite skiing, which uses the power of the kite to glide along ice while riding a snowboard or skis.
More snowy sports
Rather keep your adrenaline levels down? Go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snow biking. There’s even an activity called “dry-suit floating” where enthusiasts dressed in special waterproof suits float around on a near-frozen lake. Harriniva also has a “snowshow and Arctic spa experience,” which involves hiking on snowshoes and then visiting the sauna; it costs around $130 for five hours.
To journey deeper into Lapland’s vast wilderness than snowshoes can take you, the best mode of transport is by snowmobile or husky dog. Companies like Lapland Safaris and Harriniva offer overnight expeditions on snowmobiles or sleds driven by huskies, where safari-goers traverse the landscape by day and overnight in cabins along the way. Costs for a day on a sled pulled by huskies ballparks at $400; snowmobile expeditions costs between $160 and $250, and an overnight experience is around $540.
Lapland Safaris and Harriniva also offer shorter day expeditions and night safaris to gape at the northern lights. Although seeing these brilliant streaks of color is never a certainty, the best time of year is between September and March, when the nights are long and there’s little light pollution. Guests who want to maximize their chances of glimpsing the aurora borealis often opt to glamp in the Aurora Domes, igloo-shaped tents with transparent walls that offer perfect views of the sky. The tents give you a great vantage point and they’re comfy, too, with sheepskin rugs, wood-burning fireplaces, and a nearby sauna.
Go to one of the country’s 40 national parks. All are free! Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in Kellokos is the oldest and most visited park in the country, home to 394 square miles of pristine wilderness filled with forests and arctic fells, ideal for cross-country skiing and hiking. There, you can also obtain information about different trails, rent equipment (for example, a fat bike costs around $20 for two hours), and warm up in the canteen, which offers breakfast, lunch, and endless cups of coffee.
Saunas are essential to Finnish culture (there are about 2 million in a country with only 5.3 million humans). Saunas are not only places where people thaw, but also where they go to relax with friends and family. A nearby icy lake or pool is also integral to the sauna experience. Hopping between the hot wooden room, where you warm up, and the pool of freezing water, where you immediately cool down, is invigorating—a true testament to the idea of sisu.
For visitors, public saunas can be found throughout the country. For a more private experience, you can even book one—plus the freezing pool—at Aurora Estate ($140 for the sauna and $11 per person). Most accommodation offerings in Lapland have access to a sauna and pool.
Finnair flies from Helsinki to Kittila twice daily, and the flight is 2.5 hours. Visiting from November through March? Pack. Warm. Clothes. Temperatures get well below freezing, so ensure you have a very warm coat, loads of thermals, and a good pair of snow boots, which you can also use if you go showshoeing. Don’t forget to throw in a bathing suit.