Winter in Lapland is the most magical time of the year. We only recently returned from our winter break in Lapland, so we can share what we got up to, and what we consider to be the best Lapland Winter activities. I’ll also include recommendations on the best Lapland winter hotels, advice on what you’ll need to prepare, as well as all of our top tips for visiting this enchanting location in Scandinavia.
Lapland is the ultimate trip of a lifetime. It’s the trip we all dream about as a little kid. And regardless of your age, it possesses the magic to make you feel like a kid once again. Quite honestly, we usually dislike winter breaks, but Lapland is by far one of our favourite destinations to date. Our days spent discovering glorious winter landscapes and charming local culture, followed by cosy evenings by the fire or in our glass igloo beneath the Northern Lights. You see, Lapland is both romantic and adventurous in equal measure, so it’s guaranteed fun for all the family.
If you’re visiting Lapland in winter, there are tons of exciting things to do and look forward to. It’s the best time of year to catch the elusive Northern lights, while Lapland winter activities include reindeer safaris, husky sledging, snowmobiling, and skiing. Not to mention meeting the big man himself – Santa Clause. That is unless it’s Christmas Eve of course when he has other engagements.
Sound good? Want to go to Lapland? Let’s get to it then. Here is our ultimate guide to visiting Lapland in Winter.
An Ultimate Guide to Visiting Lapland in Winter
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Where is Lapland?
Is Lapland a real place? Is Lapland a country? Where is Lapland? These are all legit questions we’ve been asked when talking about our trip to Lapland. So I thought it made sense to address them here in case you guys were wondering the same.
So first of all, yes. While it might appear to be a fairy tale destination, Lapland is 100% a real place. I know, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Is it a country? No, but it is a region. A vast region in fact that covers northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and even part of Russia’s Kola Peninsula. To put its size into perspective, if Lapland were a country, it would be in the top 20 biggest countries in Europe, which is pretty staggering.
Planning a Trip to Lapland in Winter
You guessed it. Your first step in planning a winter trip to Lapland is to decide which part or parts of Lapland you want to go. While most visitors stick to one area, taking day trips and winter activities from there, some travel throughout the region by air, car or rail.
All areas are equally magical; After all, Lapland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights; however, there are certain unique features or attractions, that might appeal to you more than others. I’m going to break that down for you now to help with your decision.
Finnish Lapland is the cheapest and most visited part of the region, and where we based ourselves during our recent trip. The capital, Rovaniemi, is the official hometown of the real Father Christmas (Santa Clause). Which means that all the others you’ve met in shopping malls throughout the years are fake, unfortunately.
A big part of Finnish Lapland is occupied by national parks that protect some of the last remaining wilderness in Europe. You’ll spend most of your time skimming through forests and lakes that provide some of the most jaw-dropping views in all of the region. You also have an excellent chance of spotting the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland, as well as having access to an abundance of exhilarating winter activities.
Finally, there are several diverse and exciting places to stay in Finnish Lapland. Some of you may be familiar with the iconic glass igloo hotels. Well, they originated here in this part of the region. The owner of Kakslauttanen Resort came up with the innovative design, and other resorts soon followed suit, allowing guests to watch the Northern lights from the comfort of their beds. Other areas such as Kilpisjärvi are more remote, providing a somewhat more traditional and authentic Lappish experience.
Unique attractions in Finnish Lapland include the Snowcastle of Kemi and the only passenger ice breaker cruise in the entire world.
How to Get to Finnish Lapland in Winter
The easiest way to access Finnish Lapland is to fly to Helsinki, spend a day or two there, and then fly to Lapland. The main airports in Lapland with scheduled daily flights are in Rovaniemi, Kittilä, Kuusamo, and Ivalo.
Swedish Lapland takes up an entire quarter of the country, so it’s equally vast and just as enchanting as Finland. With sprawling forests, whimsical villages, and beautiful wildlife, the overall nature & culture aspects are not too dissimilar. However, there are some elements to Swedish Lapland that set it apart from its neighbours.
First of all, Swedish Lapland is famed for having the worlds first ice hotel – built entirely of ice and snow. The Icehotel is an ever-changing work of art that gets rebuilt each and every year. Then there is the town of Abisko, famed for being one of the best places in the world to spot the Northern lights. And for the real adventure enthusiasts, you can even drive race cars on the ice of frozen lakes.
Finally, you may also find the indigenous Sami culture of Lapland to be most prevalent here. Depending on how deep into the wilderness you’re prepared to go, you could encounter one of the last remaining aboriginal groups in Europe. Some Swedish Lapland experiences even include an unforgettable stay at the home of a Sami family.
How to get to Swedish Lapland in Winter
The easiest way to access Swedish Lapland is to fly to Stockholm, spend a day or two there, and then fly to Lapland. The main airports in Swedish Lapland are Luleå and Kiruna Airport, while smaller airports include Skellefteå, Gällivare and Arvidsjaur. You can also take an overnight train from Stockholm.
Finally, there is the Norwegian Lapland. Considerably smaller than its aforementioned neighbours, but no less beautiful and compelling. Reportedly the most expensive part of Lapland to visit, it’s possibly better tied in when visiting other parts of the country. Norway, in general, looks incredibly beautiful, so it certainly wouldn’t be a wasted trip.
Unique to this part of the region is the fantastic skiing opportunities in Narvik. Narvikfjellet is a jaw-dropping ski resort surrounded by majestic mountains and deep fjords, offering some of the best alpine skiing in all of Norway. For the best chance of spotting the Northern lights, you’ll want to visit Alta which is the biggest town in Norwegian Lapland.
How to get to Norwegian Lapland in Winter
The easiest way to access Norwegian Lapland is to fly to Oslo, spend a day or two there, and then fly to Lapland. The 2 main airports in Norwegian Lapland are Alta and Kirkenes.
When is Winter in Lapland
Not only is Lapland the home of untouched wilderness, majestic nature, one of a kind hotels, and the legendary Santa Clause, it’s the home of 8 seasons as well. I know, just when you were starting to believe me that Lapland is real, I go and confuse you even further. But it’s true, I promise.
While Lapland’s main seasons are spring, summer, autumn, and winter just like the rest of the world, the change of weather conditions is particularly dramatic. The lives and work of the locals are highly sensitive to the changing seasons; therefore, it makes sense for them to break down the year into eight seasons instead of four. If you’re interested, the eight seasons are as follows:
- True Autumn – Sami: tjaktja: September – October
- Autumn-Winter – Sami: tjaktjadálvve: November – December
- True Winter – Sami: dálvve: December – March
- Spring-Winter – Sami: gidádálvve: March – April
- True Spring – Sami: gidá: April – May
- Spring-Summer – Sami: gidágiesse: May – June
- True-Summer – Sami: giesse: June – July
- Summer-Autumn – Sami: tjaktjagiesse: August – September
So as you can see, Winter in Lapland can span across six months of the year. Although, if you want to make the very most of Lapland’s winter activities, you’ll want to visit from December to March.
December and January tend to be the peak months in Lapland, especially among families with little ones. Naturally, with this comes inflated hotel and travel prices. Considering there are also very few daylight hours during this time, and temperatures drop as low as -40C, you wouldn’t be missing much by pushing your trip into February or March instead.
Lapland in March
We visited Lapland in March, and the magical winter vibes were still in full swing. The landscapes adorned a thick blanket of white snow but the days were longer than the earlier winter months, and temperatures were a far more endurable -5 to -10C. No winter activities were out of bounds, and even Father Christmas allowed us to visit him. So if you’re planning a trip to Lapland in March, I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay in Lapland in Winter
I’m just going to say it; this is probably going to be the most exciting, but equally challenging part of planning your winter holiday to Lapland. Simply because there are so many epic hotels and resorts to choose from. Glass igloos, wooden cabins, ice hotels, tree hotels, the list is endless. All provide an equally magical experience. But each has a unique charm that makes it stand out from the rest. How on earth will you choose?
My advice is, do your research. After all, this is likely to be a once in a lifetime experience for many of you. So you want to ensure everything is perfect. I’m going to list some of my Lapland bucket list hotels below, including Kakslauttanen, which is where we stayed last time. But for more, you can check out this list of the best hotels in Lapland Finland and Sweden.
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Where: Finnish Lapland
After spending 4 nights at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in March, I can confidently say it’s one of the most magical resorts in the world. I am talking Disneyland on Ice. A giant playground for adults and children alike. As well as iconic luxury accommodation such as glass igloos and cosy log cabins, the resort offers several unique excursions. From reindeer, snowmobile, and husky adventures to meeting Santa and cross country skiing, there is guaranteed fun for all the family. You may also find the story behind Kakslauttanen Resort to be pretty fascinating – we certainly did!
Arctic Treehouse Hotel
Where: Finnish Lapland
For a slightly modern twist on the glass igloo, Arctic Treehouse hotel provide another extraordinary hotel experience in Finnish Lapland. Elevated on stilts overlooking the Lappish wilderness, the luxury cabin accommodation is designed to allow a nest-like view. Waking up to sweeping vistas of the majestic winter landscapes is an experience unlike no other. After a few nights here, mornings will never be the same again.
Where: Swedish Lapland
So I’m not sure which tree resort came first, but out of the 2, I think this one is my favourite. Treehotel provides a real treehouse experience, with extraordinary accommodation such as a UFO, birds nest and mirror cube cabin, set way up high among the tall trees of Northern Sweden’s Pine Forest. Each cabin allows you to watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. And during the day you can enjoy an abundance of winter activities, such as reindeer safaris, husky sledding and exploring the local Sami culture.
Where: Swedish Lapland
I mentioned the extraordinary Ice Hotel earlier, and I have a full section dedicated to it further down in the article. So for now, I will leave you with a short statement that I found on the website:
“Icehotel is a hotel and an art exhibition with ever-changing art made out of ice and snow. Icehotel is created in a new guise every winter, completely made out of natural ice from Torne River, one of Sweden’s national rivers and last untouched waters. When the winter suites have melted back into the river in spring, a part of the hotel still stands, a place where visitors can experience the ice and snow year-round.”
What to Pack for Lapland in Winter
Packing for your winter holiday in Lapland is the final step in the planning process, but it’s not one that should be taken lightly. With temperatures dropping as low as -40C, having the right winter gear is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. To help you prepare, you can check out our complete Lapland packing list here.
While Lapland is a very safe place to visit, with all adventurous activities comes a little risk. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. If the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll want the best cover money can buy.
For this reason, we always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling. Say, for example, you go scuba diving or hiking a mountain, World Nomads will amend your plan accordingly. It’s a super handy feature that we’ve used numerous times including the time we trekked to Annapurna Base Camp.
If you need further convincing, read our article on why you need travel insurance. Or get an on-the-spot quote from World Nomads using the form below.
The 16 Best Lapland Winter Activities
Lapland provides a realm of exploration opportunities throughout the year; however, wintertime is, without doubt, the most adventurous. In summer and autumn, you can enjoy tranquil hikes and bike rides amidst the sprawling national parks. But when the first sign of snow hits the ground, the hiking boots are replaced with snowmobiles, sleds, skis, and reindeer. Here are 16 of the best Lapland winter activities:
1. Husky Sledding Safari
I’m kicking off the list with what was probably our favourite winter activity in Lapland, and that is a Husky Sled Safari. Led by a team of energetic mountain dogs, you’ll discover the spectacular winter landscapes moving at a nailbiting pace. Nothing can prepare you for the exhilarating sensation until you experience it for yourself. But all I can say is hold on tight.
I should probably give you a little bit of background behind the husky sledding culture in Lapland as if you’re anything like us you may be questioning just how ethical it is. It’s sort of a grey area amongst animal rights activists, as ultimately, it comes down to how well looked after the dogs are. I go into more detail regarding this topic in our guide to dog sledding in Lapland, so be sure to check that out for more info.
From our personal experience at Kakslauttanen Resort, I’ve never seen such a happy and healthy bunch of dogs. Natalie did the honours of being the musher while I sat back and enjoyed the ride. These mountain dogs are born to run, and boy did they run. How we managed to stay on throughout the safari is beyond me and believe me, there were some close calls. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, this is one Lapland winter activity you don’t want to miss.
2. Reindeer Safari
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Reindeer Safari is an almost tranquilising experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve any flying, the reindeer save that for Christmas time. But it does involve dashing through the snow on a one reindeer open sleigh. (If you don’t understand the Christmas song reference there, I’m afraid we can’t be friends).
Reindeer safaris take place throughout the day during winter in Lapland; however, an especially special experience is to do a Northern Lights Reindeer Safari. We organised ours through Kakslauttanen Resort, and while the aurora refused to put on a show for us, it was still a magical experience. Wrapped up in warm clothes and a blanket, we cruised at a gentle pace beneath the light of a mystic full moon.
Again, we had our concerns regarding how ethical the reindeer safaris are. After our travels throughout Asia, animal tourism is a sensitive subject to us. And we would only ever want to promote ethical tours on this blog. For more information in regards to picking an ethical tour company or reindeer farm, see our guide to reindeer safaris in Lapland.
3. See the Northern Lights
Of course, one of the biggest bucket list experiences when visiting Lapland in Winter is to see the Northern Lights. Otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, the spectacular natural phenomena is an otherworldly experience, where colours such as green, purple, and even red dance around in the twilight sky.
Unfortunately, like most natural phenomena, the Northern Lights are unpredictable. The conditions need to be absolutely perfect for them to make an appearance, and sometimes they don’t show for days or weeks at a time. In our experience, it’s always best in these situations to have no expectations. That way, if it doesn’t happen, you aren’t left too disappointed. On the flip side, if it does, it’s a wonderful surprise.
In our case, the auroras failed to make an appearance for the four nights we were in Lapland. But honestly, we were so full of gratitude for the whole Lapland experience that it didn’t matter. We know we will catch them next time we find ourselves somewhere near the Arctic Circle.
4. Spend a Night in a Glass Igloo
It was on our bucket list since forever to stay in a glass igloo, and on our recent winter trip to Lapland, we were finally able to tick it off. As I mentioned earlier, the concept of the glass igloo was born in Finnish Lapland, created by Jussi Eiramo – founder and owner of Kakslauttanen Resort. The story behind Mr Eiramo and his vision for the world-famous resort is a truly inspiring one. After having the pleasure of meeting him, we could even believe that he’s the real-life Santa Clause!
Anyhow, I digress. While the glass igloos originated at Kakslauttanen Resort, you can find them now all over Lapland. The captivating design of the glass igloos allows guests a panoramic view of the night sky. So if the auroras are to make an appearance, you can watch the spectacle from the comfort of your bed. It isn’t a cheap stay by any means, but if your budget permits, it’s a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed.
5. Cross Country Skiing
With Lapland seeing snow anywhere from 175 – 225 days per year, cross country skiing plays a huge part in the local culture. Most locals learn to ski almost immediately after taking their first steps, and historically skiing was an essential means of transport during winter. Skiing across forests and lakes to get to work or school was not unusual, and I can’t help but feel like I was cheated by having to take the bus.
While the skis are now replaced with snowmobiles and cars, cross-country skiing is still a national sport in Finland. Locals insist it is a fantastic activity for both body and mind, and gliding through the magical winter landscapes is an incredible way to spend the day. Even if you’re a total beginner, this Lapland winter activity is fun for all the family.
6. Snowmobile Tour
Next up we have another of our favourite experiences in Lapland, and that’s a Snowmobile Tour. A snowmobile is a bit like a jet ski on snow. And it’s by far one of the most thrilling ways to discover the diverse winter landscapes that adorn the arctic circle.
With a variety of tours to choose from, you could spend anywhere from 1-hour up to an entire day whizzing through forests, lakes, and mountains. We spent 3-hours driving through the wilderness, and it felt like freedom. I couldn’t help but envy the locals who get to travel this way on a daily basis.
The snowmobiles are relatively easy to handle, but if you don’t fancy driving, you can ask for a guide to drive you instead. It took me 10-minutes or so to get to grips with it, but after that, it was smooth sailing. With this in mind, I’d safely say this Lapland winter activity is perfectly suited for families, beginners, and adrenaline junkies.
7. Traditional Finnish Sauna
If you aren’t already aware, saunas play a significant role in Finnish culture. Most family homes have them, and they are considered a necessity for a happy and healthy life. With this in mind, visiting a sauna is a quintessential winter activity in Lapland, helping you to relieve any stress of both the body and mind.
If you’re feeling brave enough, there’s a deeply rooted Finnish tradition called ‘cold therapy‘, whereby an ice plunge follows a hot sauna. The body-shocking process which you repeat numerous times is believed to have many health benefits, including pain relief, improved moods, and strengthening of the immune system.
Traditionally, the ice plunge takes place in an icy lake or by rolling in the snow. I gave the latter a try, and the first time I did it, it felt as if a million needles were stabbing every inch of my skin. The second time my body started convulsing, and that’s when I had to draw a line to stop. It may not sound appealing, but I felt entirely revitalised afterwards. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted but a memorable experience all the same.
8. Visit Santa Clause
No trip to Lapland is complete without visiting Santa Clause, and the best thing about it is it doesn’t even have to be Christmas time. Santa Clause takes visitors all year round in this part of the world, so if you want to spread the festive cheer in the middle of Summer, so be it! You see, in Lapland, anything is possible.
The official home of Santa Clause is the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. However, he does seem to have several houses all over the region, so it would appear the Santa business is doing very well indeed. Ask your hotel about the Santa experience closest to you, and prepare to make magical memories that will last a lifetime.
*Oh, and once your friends with Santa, it’s a great bribe to use against your kids every time they are naughty. You’re welcome!
9. Drive a Race Car on Ice
Exclusive to Swedish Lapland, driving a race car on ice is one of the most hair-raising experiences you can have throughout the region. The winter activity, known as ice-driving, takes place in Arjeplog at the world’s largest driving centre. It is available for just 11 weeks each year when the plains of Lake Adjaur transform into 2965 acres of icy terrain.
There’s only one company that offers this one of a kind experience, and that’s Lapland Ice Driving. This well-regarded company allows you to reach speeds of up to 200km/h in complete safety, with no walls or barriers to potentially get in your way. Not only that, their impressive fleet of vehicles that includes Porsche, Maserati, and Ferrari, is guaranteed to make any sports car fanatic drool.
10. Learn About Traditional Sami Culture
The entire Northern Lapland region is home to the Sámi – the last remaining indigenous people in the European Union. The Sámi possess a rich cultural heritage and are known for their close connection to the land and nature. Time spent exploring and learning about this fascinating culture, is time well spent.
Inari, Rovaniemi, Enontekiö and Utsjoki are some of the best places to explore the Sámi culture in Lapland today. You can discover the breathtaking Sámi homeland, join in the colourful festivals and activities of the locals, and discover their history. You can even organise to stay in the home of a Sami family and learn about their modern way of life.
Of course, a significant part of the local culture is the cuisine. With delectable dishes featuring locally sourced reindeer, cheese, fish, berries and mushrooms, your passion for the food is sure to match your love for the region.
11. Go Ice Fishing
Ice Fishing many be one of the more low key winter activities in Lapland, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless. A typical ice fishing experience involves a short hike to a nearby frozen lake, cutting a hole in the ice, and waiting for your catch to take the bait. We didn’t get around to trying ice fishing on our recent trip, but I can imagine it’s quite a fun experience!
12. Stay in the Worlds First Ice Hotel
Spending winter in Lapland is a once in a lifetime experience. But thanks to the breathtaking Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland, I think I’m going to have to visit twice. I had so many questions about this hotel when I first heard about it. Who are the artists behind it? Is the hotel there all year round? How can you possibly sleep in such conditions?
The Ice Hotel in Lapland is the first of its kind in the world, offering a hotel experience unlike no other. Each year a team of international artists skillfully sculpt the hotel using ice from the Tornio River, only for it to melt away months later. The hotel is an ever-changing work of art and a true reflection of the magic that exists throughout the Lapland region.
The special ‘ice rooms‘ within the hotel come fully equipped with thermal sleeping bags and extra warm blankets so you definitely won’t freeze. But if you don’t fancy sleeping in sub-zero temperatures, there are traditional hotel rooms and chalets instead. Or if the prospect scares you altogether, you can also visit the Ice Hotel on a day trip.
13. Discover Lapland by Snow Tank
One of the more unique ways to discover the beautiful Lappish landscapes is to travel by snow tank. Snow tanks are an awesome piece of machinery, made even more impressive by our guide who actually built his tank himself. This guy was some kind of superhero, I’m sure. While we wore layers upon layers of thermal clothes and winter gear, he had a thin shirt on bearing his chest and arms. We both agreed he seemed like a useful man to have around the house.
Our snow tank tour took place at night. Again, we were on the hunt for the elusive Northern Lights which as you know never showed. Nevertheless, crawling through the wilderness and enjoying the scenery from the panorama cabin was an enjoyable experience. I’d say this Lapland winter activity is perfect for families with small children or those seeking a more comfortable safari experience.
14. Go Horse Riding
Another winter activity fit for animal lovers, horse riding tours allow a peaceful and romantic journey through the rugged wilderness of Lapland. Experienced riders have the option to ride on horseback, or you can relax and enjoy the ride in a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh. Ask at your hotel for horseback riding tours in your area.
15. Polar Explorer Ice Breaker Cruise
When visiting Lapland in Winter, another once in a lifetime experience is to take the Polar Explorer Ice Breaker Cruise. Exclusive to Finnish Lapland, the 3-hour cruise transports passengers through the frozen water of the Bothnian Sea. In this time, you’ll experience the tremendous power of the vessel, as it effortlessly cuts through the ice, while enjoying an array of onboard facilities.
Included in your package is a guided tour of the vessel, including a short film in the onboard cinema. You can also relax in the cosy lounge areas, enjoying warm juice or tea, and during the stop, you can go for a walk on the frozen sea ice. For the true adventurers, you’ll even have an opportunity to swim using a floatation survival suit. The icebreaker makes a pool free of ice, where you can take the plunge into the dark, icy depths of the ocean.
16. Visit a Traditional Lappish Teepee
Another unique winter activity in Lapland is to visit a traditional Lappish Teepee. Historically, Teepees, otherwise known as Lavvu, were a temporary dwelling used by the Sami people. They served as a place of refuge when herding reindeers across the vast barren winter landscapes.
Today, the teepees are dotted all over Lapland, and most tours & excursions will include a visit to one of them. You’ll huddle around the centre fire and enjoy a warm drink or lunch while hearing spellbinding stories about the Sami history and culture.
Thank you for Reading
That concludes our Ultimate Guide to Lapland in Winter. We hope you enjoy your time in this enchanting location. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here, where we share further travel advice & inspiration.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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**Our trip to Lapland was sponsored by Kakslauttanen Resort. However, as always all thoughts and opinions are our own.
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Last Updated on October 19, 2021 by Our Taste For Life