Lapland, Finland holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
LAPLAND, FINLAND HOLIDAYS
Set in the Scandinavian Arctic region, Lapland covers large areas in Finland and Sweden, and a small part of Norway, with Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish the local languages. The nomadic, reindeer-herding Sami peoples are its main inhabitants, and have their own Sami language. English is spoken by those working in the tourist industry in towns and cities across the region.
Euro and the Swedish krona are accepted currencies in Lapland, and all major credit cards are accepted in cities and towns. In the Finnish/Swedish and Finnish/Norwegian border areas, the krona is the most acceptable currency, but it’s convenient to use a credit card for most payments, keeping small change for buses and small purchases. ATMs are easily found in the towns and currency exchange is best done at banks or airports.
Finland, Norway and Sweden are all Schengen members, so citizens of nations which are party to the agreement can enter without a visa. Additionally, nationals of EU and EFTA countries, including the UK, do not need a visa, even for an extended stay. Nationals of certain other countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, may enter visa-free for a stay of up to 90 days. All other nationals should contact their nearest Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish consulate or embassy for further details on visa requirements.
The cultural region of Lapland has a sub-arctic climate, traditionally divided into eight seasons by the Sami peoples. The further north from the Arctic Circle, the longer the polar night and the shorter the ’midnight sun’ summer, and the Aurora Borealis is visible over much of the terrain. The proximity of the Gulf Stream brings mild summers, and winters are freezing and snowy. January and February are the coldest months, with temperatures as low as -30°C and brief daylight hours, while summer temperatures usually hover around 15°C.
Out of Lapland’s six tourism-themed airports, the gateway, especially at Christmas time, is Rovaniemi Airport, set in the Finnish sector of the region. Each airport has its unique target audience, with Kittila Airport set at the main tourism hub, Ivalo, which is best for wilderness trekking, and Kuusamo Airport an ideal gateway to stunning natural beauty for active visitors. Kemi-Tornio Airport is on the coast and Enontekio Airport lies in Sami country. The total passenger throughput of all six airports hovers around a million annually, with December the busiest time overall.
Finnair and Norwegian are the main airlines with routes to Lapland airports, although Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Thomson offer winter seasonal charter flights and package holidays. Helsinki is the hub for flights from the UK, with onward flights to Rovaniemi Airport. Monarch offers a direct seasonal route from London Gatwick and Manchester to Kittila, while easyJet and Thomson operate seasonal flights to the same airport from Manchester and London Gatwick. Flight times from the UK average around three hours. For Norwegian Lapland, a flight from the northern Norwegian city of Tromso runs to Hammerfest.
Charter flights are the cheapest way to go, and avoiding the Christmas season gives a better chance of bagging a bargain. Most Lapland airports don’t offer daily flights to destinations outside of the region and, during the high winter tourist season, fares rise and seats sell out. The shoulder seasons see special offers, but the melt from the winter snows can put a dampener on outdoor activities. Summer sees many thousands of Scandinavians flock to Lapland for fishing, hiking and trekking, with travel costs rising as a result.
It’s possible to travel from the UK, at least as far as Helsinki, by train and ferry, although not all ferries operate during the winter season. Several routes are available, focusing either on Helsinki or Stockholm. The fastest route is by Eurostar to Brussels, picking up the ICE high-speed express to Cologne and continuing to Copenhagen via the Borealis night sleeper. The Copenhagen express to Stockholm is the next step, followed by a Viking Line ferry trip to Turku in Finland and an inter-city train to Helsinki. Once there, a 90 minute flight to one of Lapland’s airports, a long-distance bus trip or self-drive gets you to the heart of the region.
The Scandinavian Arctic region, of which Lapland is a major part, is sparsely populated. In remote areas, the only means of getting around is by car, with considerable distances between destinations and dangerous driving conditions in winter. In the Finnish and Swedish sectors, trains, buses and planes are the most-used options and, in the Norwegian sector, planes and long-distance buses are popular.
There are no connections by air between the three countries’ Lapland sectors. The only way to travel between the popular towns across Lapland is to fly to Helsinki and pick up a connection. The exception is Kittila Airport, which offers domestic flights to Ivalo with Finnair, but Kuusano, Kemi-Tornio, Enontekio and Rovaniemi airports only offer services to Helsinki. Finnair and Blue1 are the most-used carriers, along with Wideroe in Finnmark.
Private and public bus companies operate all over Finnish Lapland, with some offering round trips to the best sites. ExpressBus, Ketosen Liikenne Oy and Matkahuolto Bus give a wide network of links between inhabited areas. There are far fewer bus networks in Finnmark, including Norwaybus Express, and Swedish Lapland has LTN Buses and Lanstrafiken Buses. Long-distance buses are comfortable and less expensive than train travel.
A scenic way to travel along the coast in Finnmark, Norway’s Lapland, is by the Norwegian Coastal Express ferry, calling at all the little harbours spread out along the spectacular coastline. The route is famous as one of the world’s most stunning sea voyages.
In Norway’s Lapland area of Finnmark, there are no train services, but in Finnish Lapland trains run as far north as Rovaniemi and Kemi. Train travel from Helsinki to Rovaniemi with VR, Finland’s national rail service, takes at least 12 hours and sleeping cars are provided. Onward transportation is by bus as there are no train services further north. Railway connections in Sweden via its national rail service cover most of Swedish Lapland. Ticket prices vary according to the service, but train travel is pricier than bus travel.
All the usual international car rental companies have offices either at airports or in city centres. A car is essential if you’re planning wilderness travel as public transport is unavailable in the more remote areas. Driving conditions in summer are pleasant, but winter driving can be hazardous. In winter, snow tyres and snow chains are mandatory, an engine heater is advisable and emergency supplies, shovels and warm blankets should be carried at all times. Drivers need to watch out for crossing reindeer and moose.
Visiting a Sami village, especially in winter, is a highlight of any Lapland holiday. Tours can be taken from most of the tourist towns, and it’s also possible to link up with a Sami who will take you into his home village and show you traditional life in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth.
Ranua Wildlife Park is set some 80kms from Rovaniemi and is home to over 60 northern and Arctic species, including polar bears, Arctic foxes, wolves, wolverines and lynx. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the wild occupants of the Arctic lands in as natural a setting as possible, and far safer than meeting up with members of the larger species in the wilderness!
The Amethyst Mine at Lampvarra Hill lies in the popular visitor centre of Luosto and introduces visitors to the ancient techniques used to mine the beautiful semi-precious stones. Legends and tales are part of the presentation, and visitors can comb a surface area where the stones are found for their own semi-precious souvenir.
The Arctic Snow Hotel on Lake Lehtoajarvi at Sinetta is world famous and unique as the only hotel in the world carved out of ice and snow, and renewed every year. Overnight visitors can sleep warmly in specially designed sleeping bags surrounded by walls of sparkling ice crystals.
Many visitors arrive in Lapland during the winter for one reason - to see the Aurora Borealis in all its splendour. Know as the Northern Lights, this fantastic natural phenomenon has fascinated humanity for millennia. North of the Arctic Circle is the best place to view the unending ribbons of unearthly green light as they weave across the sky.
To find out more about the amazing history and traditions of the Sami peoples, the Sami Museum and Nature Centre in Siida is the place. A meeting place for local Sami as well as a fascinating exhibition space for traditional artefacts and cultural information, the complex gives a glimpse into a way of life that has remained mostly unchanged for centuries.
Arktikum in Rovaniemi is both a science centre and museum dedicated to all aspects of the mysterious world of the Arctic. Its highlight is the Chronicles from Finnish Lapland, an exploration of man and nature in the land of the midnight sun that takes in the lives of moose, bears, birds and much more. The exhibition on the recent changes in the Arctic environment is thought-provoking.
As every child knows, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. But he has a second home in Lapland where he and his helpers prepare for their annual Christmas trek across the skies to reward good kids with presents. Santa, his reindeers, his elves, his workshops and the Santa Park are must-sees during family visits to Rovaniemi.
Lapland is home to a plethora of national parks, with the best known in Swedish Lapland. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Laponia holds two parks, the largely untouched Muddus National Park with its primeval forests, ravines and swamps, and the Padjelanta National Park, set above the tree line, are among the most visited protected areas.
The landscape around Kittila is the closest to mountainous in Lapland, and is stunning in the winter season. It’s also the home of Lapland’s famous Levi ski resort and a popular tourist destination for holidaymakers from the UK.
Nightlife in Lapland is concentrated mainly in the little towns of Rovaniemi and Kevi, and consists of cosy pubs and watering holes frequented by local and visitors alike. The best way to find what’s hot and what’s not in Rovaniemi is to wander to the main square and interact with the locals. Hanging out with your new friends for the rest of the night or even being invited to a house party is standard here and gives a glimpse into life in this remote, inhospitable land.
For a hot night in a cool climate, Rovaniemi’s Doris Disco comes recommended as friendly and fun, and features a great choice of beers. Pub Paha Kurki is a favourite pub in the town, set near the centre and offering domestic and international rock music. Beer is the traditional drink here, with Koff, Kahu, Olvi and Lapin Kulta the favourite brands.
Nightlife in the ski resort areas during the winter season may not be as lively as in the Alpine resorts, but it has its own charm. Laplanders adore karaoke, and the sight of female revellers arriving on snow-cats, stripping off their helmets and snowsuits to reveal black cocktail dresses and changing their boots for high heels is one of the delights of a night out here.
Rovaniemi Theatre is the northernmost professional playhouse in Finland, set in the Lappa House and giving regular performances of works by Finnish playwrights. The Maxim movie theatre shows films in English with subtitles in Finnish and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra holds several concerts a year.
Lapland cuisine traditionally makes use of everything nature provides, and is based strongly on Sami gastronomy. Although Lapland isn’t a hub for fine dining, even the smallest towns have a few eateries serving warming, filling food. Rovaniemi and the winter ski villages have the best choice, with restaurants located in hotels as well as in the centres.
Fish, especially salmon, reindeer and other game meat, and a variety of berries form the base of Lapland cuisine, with the cloudberry highly valued and used in desserts and delicately-flavoured sauces. Rich, warming soups such as bierggojubttsa are made with root vegetables, potatoes and meat, and suovasbierggo is smoked meat, usually served fried. Birtggomales are chops and other meats, served as a five-course meal, with each meat accompanied by a rich broth.
Fish dishes include salmonâ€•fresh, smoked or saltedâ€•and cod is also popular. Favourite desserts involve cloudberries, served either fresh or as warm jam with ice cream, and jabma uses the stewed leaves of the mountain sorrel, served with milk and sugar. To end a meal, coffee is served with the unique and delicious Lapland cheese.
Traditional restaurants are often set in wooden Lapp huts and offer entertainments such as Sami storytelling and traditional music and dance. The hotel eateries have a choice of international cuisine, including pastas and salads. Roadhouses outside the towns serve local foods and often have bars and petrol stations attached.
Most of Lapland is an unspoilt natural wonderland divided into a good number of national parks. Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland is a true wilderness, great for hiking in summer and views of the Sarek Mountain chain in winter. Perameri National Park is set on a huge, isolated bay with offshore islands and fishing points, and the Urho Kekkonen National Park borders Russia and has a wide variety of wildlife.
Perhaps the most romantic Lapland setting of all is a snug, warm log cabin in a snowy forest with the Northern Lights gleaming overhead. Even cuddling down onto a layer of reindeer skins on your ice bed at the famous Arctic Snow Hotel can be romantic, and taking a dog sledding trip to your private cabin complete with a Finnish sauna gives a new meaning to getting away from it all. For the most romantic, snowy-white wedding ever, choose a lakeside, ice hotel or igloo village destination.
The famous Santa Park in Rovaniemi may be the most popular family destination in Lapland, but there’s much more to keep kids amused in this snowy wonderland. Dog sledding and reindeer sleigh rides are exciting and fun, and are available at all the large towns. Family-friendly skiing holidays are on offer at all the resorts, with the villages themselves smaller and less frantic than the popular Alpine resorts in Europe.
The wild, untamed expanses of Lapland are perfect for outdoor activities at any time of year, although for the magic of a unique Arctic experience, a winter visit is best. Favourite activities include safaris across vast snowfields by snowmobile, learning to drive your own team of huskies, reindeer sleighing, downhill or cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. For summer visitors, horseback riding, hiking and trekking the vast wildernesses make for the perfect break.