Finland’s largest region, Lapland, also has the country’s greatest offering for tourists. That’s no jab at Helsinki, which is terrific for a long weekend. But Lapland—the country’s northernmost region—provides a host of bucket list–caliber experiences.
Chief among them is seeing the northern lights—and why not see them from the comfort of a glass-dome hotel room? (Your odds are best between October and April, by the way.) Maybe you’re a sucker for summer hiking and 24-hour daylight. In winter, Lapland is as North Pole–ish as things get. In warmer months, it’s a beacon for nature lovers and leisure lovers, too.
If you’re planning a romantic getaway, an epic excursion, or simply want to add a long weekend onto your Helsinki visit, then here are four possible ways to experience Lapland, any time of year.
For a Cozy Weekend in Fall or Winter
If the kind of experience you want involves crackling fires, snowshoeing, hearty meals, and chasing the northern lights, then point yourself to any of these villages and resorts in Lapland.
Aurora Village in Ivalo: Name any winter activity, and Aurora Village offers it. From ice fishing and husky sledding to snowshoeing and horse sleighing, there’s enough on the menu to keep you busy for four days. There are daily reindeer feedings at 10 a.m.—and best of all, each room has glass ceilings that allow for cozy indoor viewings of the Aurora Borealis.
Northern Lights Ranch in Kittilä: Northern Lights Ranch is tucked away in north-central Lapland, surrounded by pines and offering expansive views of the glowing sky—which you can see from the glass-walled and -ceilinged rooms. You can pass each day with Finnish sauna, reindeer sleigh rides, burrowed book reading, and wind down with a bonfire or in any of the private outdoor hot tubs.
Luxury Lodge L7 in Ylläs: If you’re traveling with a group, then Luxury Lodge L7, with its seven bedrooms, is a must. It’s a 10-minute drive from Ylläs ski resort and Äkäslompolo village and lake. It’s a full-service lodge, with all meals prepared and hosts available on demand. You can book reindeer safaris, snowshoe and cross-country excursions, as well as husky sledding. And, of course, it’s so remote that the views of the northern lights are unscathed.
For a Winter Ski Escape
If you want to be a ski bum all weekend—cross-country or graded—then these are your best options. They offer as much as 200 days of snow cover each year.
Ylläs Ski Resort Äkäslompolo in Ylläs: Lapland’s largest ski resort offers 63 slopes (half of which are 1km+ in length, and eight of which exceed 2 or 3 km). You can teeter away from the grade, too, if you prefer off-piste skiing or if snowshoeing is your game. There are slopes for the kids and nightly entertainment options—the dance floor is known to fill up on weekends.
Levi Ski Resort in Kittilä: With 48 slopes and 28 lifts, Levi is no slouch either, operating its resort from October thru May. Its offerings cover every base, whether you’re wobbly legged or a black diamond pro. You can also hop on a fat-tired winter bike if you’ve got the strength to pedal through the powder.
Ruka Ski Resort in Kuusamo: While Levi and Ylläs are close to one another in the north central/west, Ruka is further southeast in Lapland. It’s got 35 slopes and 22 lifts, but is also one of the primary destinations for cross country skiers as well as snowboarders—superpipe and all—who head to Finland for sport.
For a Spring or Summer Road Trip
To savor the seemingly endless summer light, just rent a car and spend the weekend driving to different regions. While you’ll miss the Aurora Borealis, you won’t be lacking for natural beauty.
The best homebase for this trip is Rovaniemi, which is more or less the gateway to all of Lapland, as well as its primary airport. This is where you’ll rent a car. (It’s also where the “Santa Claus’ village” is located. Pay a visit if you’ve got kids in tow—or if you’re still young at heart.)
Make Arctic Light Hotel your home base. You can cast out in different directions each day, or do a big roundabout that starts and ends there, for ease of flying in and out.
Your main destinations should include:
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: Spend a day hiking or driving through Lapland’s most visited national park, which spans nearly 400 square miles.
Urho Kekkonen National Park, Saariselkä, and Ivalo: The resort village of Saariselkä makes for an upscale, far-north pit stop. It’s a good base for entering the massive Urho Kekkonen National Park (which covers nearly 1,000 square miles). The region is where the indigenous Sámi people herd reindeer to this day. You could also end your trip in Ivalo and fly out from here—back to Helsinki. It’s at the base of the Korvatunturi fell, which lore cites as Santa Claus’ home.
Inari: This is the heart of Sámi culture, with sacred sites and notable natural attractions, including Lake Inari, which is Lapland’s biggest lake. Ukonkivi island is at its center, which visitors are encouraged to explore (you have to secure the boat on your own). Hike the Otsamo Fell, with marked options for 4- or 11-mile treks.
Ylläs and Äkäslompolo: The region’s most popular ski resort is also known for its summer activities, like mountain biking, canoeing, hiking, and fishing.
For a Spring-Thru-Fall Outdoor Adventure
If hiking and camping are more your pace, then Oulanka National Park (104 square miles) and Syöte National Park (115 square miles) are your two best destinations. Both are in the south of Lapland, a roughly two-hour drive from main-hub Rovaniemi. Syöte is in the south center, and Oulanka in the southeast.
Each park offers endless trails, though Syöte is known for its sprawling spruces and Oulanka for housing Finland’s largest waterfalls and rapid streams. Camping is permitted, but only in designated grounds. The same goes for campfires and fishing, the latter of which may require a permit. In Syöte, you can camp one to two days, so it may be worth your while to split your weekend between the two parks, which is easy to do given their close proximity (approximately two hours).
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