Is there a place where you can experience the magical winter wonder you have seen in so many films with your own eyes? Yes! This place is called Lapland and it's situated at the northernmost parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Based on my guided group tour in February 2017, here are my 10 best tested-and-tried tips for what to do on your very own winter wonderland trip to Lapland…
"Welcome Committee" in Korvola, Finnish Lapland
1. See the Northern Lights
Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden
Getting a glimpse the magnificent Northern Lights is the number one reason for many people to visit Lapland during the dark winter months.
Generally speaking, the Northern Lights can be spotted between October and April. However, there is no guarantee to see them and you need a little bit of luck.
My tip: Head to the Swedish town of Abisko, which is known as a place with one of the highest chances to see the Northern Lights in Lapland.
If you want to make sure that your lifetime photos will turn out well, you can book a guided Northern Lights Photo Tour from Rovaniemi, Finland or from Abisko / Kiruna, Sweden.
And don't worry if you haven't had any luck in seeing them out in the nature… At the Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi (see number 9), you can see the Northern Lights all year round – via a film and a special Northern Lights show.
COVID-19 Update 2021:
While it is not possible to travel to Lapland yourself, you can do an online tour on how to catch the Northern Lights with your camera. I did a virtual tour in Tromsø, Norway through AirBnB Experiences.
Rob, who normally offers real-life Northern Lights tours in Tromsø with his wife, offered plenty of interesting background information about the phenomenon of the Northern Lights and how to plan a trip / take great photos of the Northern Lights for when you can travel there yourself.
2. Go on a Husky Safari
The second most popular reason for visitors to come to Lapland during the winter months is to enjoy the beautiful landscape on a scenic sleigh ride drawn by huskies.
This was certainly one of my biggest bucket list items.… and I wasn't disappointed. The dogs were super cute and the Finnish landscape around Korvola showed itself from its sunny AND snowy side that day.
In the beginning, it was slightly scary that me and my riding partner had to drive the sleigh ourselves as this was something I hadn't anticipated. However, in the end it was pretty easy to control the huskies' speed with the help of the brakes.
For your essential Lapland experience, you can book a Husky Sleigh Ride and Husky Farm visit tour via GetYourGuide.
The dogs are ready to go!
3. Speed on a snowmobile
If you want to go really fast, try a snowmobile – besides a husky sleigh the most common means of transportation in Lapland.
You can book just a snowmobile tour from Rovaniemi in Finland or combine your snowmobile ride with an ice fishing adventure, a Northern Lights safari, and a visit to Santa's village, a Husky farm or a Reindeer farm.
4. Feed the reindeers
Visiting and learning more about the indigenous population of Lapland (the so-called "Sami") should be included in every Lapland itinerary. Many Sami still live a nomadic lifestyle and reindeers are their most important livestock.
When we stopped by on a Sami farm during our tour, we got a chance to pet and feed some of the local reindeers. Afterwards, a local Sami man told us more about his people and their culture while we were all gathered in front of a campfire in a traditional Sami tent.
He also passed around some hot drinks and samples of reindeer meat (a specialty for the Sami). Since I am a vegetarian, I politely declined. But the others said it tasted pretty good.
My tip: Wrap up warm! The Sami farm was one of the coldest places throughout my entire tour in February 2017.
5. Stay at or see the Ice Hotel
The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
A visit to the world-famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden should also be on everyone's Lapland Bucket List. And for Game of Thrones fans staying here, it will surely make you feel that you have landed beyond the borders of "The Wall".
Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, the temporary Icehotel is reborn every winter since 1989. In 2016, a permanent Icehotel called ICEHOTEL 365 was added.
Obviously, the nightly rates in a hotel completely made of ice are quite high (you have to set aside a few hundred euros). But even if you can't afford to stay over night, it is super cool (literally!) to learn more about this unique hotel, its differently designed rooms and the original ice bar on a guided tour.
A room at the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
6. Meet Santa!
Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland
If you ever wanted to know where Santa Claus lives… here it is! In the Santa Claus Village amusement park just outside the town of Rovaniemi in Finland, you can visit Santa Claus 365 days a year and take a picture with him! In Finnish, by the way, he is called "Joulupukki". 😀
7. Cross the Arctic Circle
The snow was real at Santa's winter wonderland in Rovaniemi!
While you're at Santa's, you can cross another item off your bucket list as you will automatically cross the famous Arctic Circle there.
8. Warm up in the sauna and cool off in the snow
Another typical Finnish winter activity (or for that matter the whole year) is a good sweat in the sauna and an ice-cold swim (or dip) afterwards.
In my experience, I would say that pretty much every hotel or cabin complex has a sauna, so you won't have trouble finding one!
9. Check out the Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi
Traditional Sami wedding costumes at the Artikum Museum in Rovaniemi, Finland
The Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi, Finland is a great place to learn more about the indigenous people of Lapland, the flora and fauna as well as historical and current developments in the area. The changing contemporary exhibitions are also really good and included in the entry price.
10. See the Norwegian Fjords
If you're on a guided tour by coach you might make a trip to Norway. On my tour with Time Travels, we drove from the Swedish town of Abisko to the nearby border to Norway and spent one afternoon in the Norwegian town of Narvik.
Here you will see a very different kind of landscape. While both Finnish and Swedish Lapland are quite flat, Narvik offers stunning fjord views as well as an unusual "mild" climate due to the nearby gulf stream.
Because of the fact that Narvik is an ice-free port even though it is located so far in the North, the city was of great interest as a strategic army base for Nazi Germany during World War 2.
You can learn more about Narvik's turbulent history at the city's War Museum, which opened in July 2016.
Good to know before you go
3 Travel Tips for Lapland
1. When to go?
Generally speaking, you will have a snow guarantee from November to March. This is also the time when you can spot the Northern Lights. If you're planning to go in December, just bear in mind that December is the darkest month of the year and you will only have a few hours of daylight.
My tip: Go in February! The days are already a lot longer than in December, yet you can still enjoy plenty of snow and might even get to see the Northern Lights.
2. How to get there?
With a guided tour
It's best to go to Lapland on a guided tour, or directly by plane or train. I would not recommend to drive to Lapland yourself due to the changing and sometimes difficult road conditions. I went on a guided tour with student tour operator Time Travels.
On your own
If you decide to go by yourself, there are frequent (night) train connections from cities like Stockholm. The quickest way is, of course, to fly. In Finland, there is a good, all-year-round flight connection from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which I took when I visited Rovaniemi in the summer.
You can conveniently book your activities in Lapland via websites like GetYourGuide.com. Here is a selection of which tours and activities are available in Rovaniemi.
3. What to pack?
- Several layers of warm clothes! (ski trousers, warm and long underwear, warm socks, gloves, mittens, windproof jacket, hats and winter boots). The worst for keeping you warm are tight clothes such as skinny trousers and shoes with too little space to move your toes.
- Bathing suit or bathing trousers for the sauna and an "arctic swim" afterwards
- A torchlight (it gets dark soon)
"Hugging it out" with an ice block. 🙂
Over to you: Do you have any questions or anything to add to this Lapland Bucket List? If so, let me know in the comments below!
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links to GetYourGuide.com. If you click on any of these links and make a booking through them, I will receive a small commission fee.