I’ve recently fallen in love with winter getaways, so I knew it was only a matter of time before we ended up in Finland. Lapland, in northern Finland, is the ultimate winter wonderland! My favorite highlights of this trip were husky-sledding (Jacob and I got to mush our own dog sled team!), floating in the Arctic Sea during our Icebreaker tour, and spending a whole day exploring the beautiful Oulanka National Park. For this trip, we did some extra shopping to prepare for the cold weather and it was definitely necessary. Finland is an incredible country, and definitely somewhere I’d like to return to.
Left to right from top: Views from the Icebreaker Sampo cruise, floating in the arctic sea during the Icebreaker Sampo cruise; trees in Oulanka National Park; dog-sledding in Kemi; the Icebreaker Sampo ship; a bridge in Oulanka National Park; frozen sea on the Icebreaker Cruise; visiting reindeer outside of Kemi; Kemi Pink Church; a local reindeer farm.
you should visit
to see it all
Kemi • 3 days
small town vibes with the best local activities.
Rovaniemi, Kittilä or Saariselkä • 2 days
three towns, each with their own remote accommodation to see the northern lights.
Kuusamo • 2 days
laid-back town with Finnish national park and ski resort within driving distance.
We flew into the Kemi airport and rented a car for this trip, which was essential to get around with. It’s a bit different driving in a lot of snow, but totally doable (rental cars will have snow tires) and makes traveling around Lapland much easier.
Where to Stay
- Hotel Merihovi – this historic hotel is centrally located in Kemi. It’s a short walk from local restaurants, the Kemi Church and the SnowCastle. Select rooms have built-in saunas, and the hotel also has one for guests.
- Kemi Seaside Glass Villas – if you’re all about having a glass ceiling to see the northern lights, this is your best option in Kemi. These villas are modern and equipped with a kitchen so you will feel right at home. Lots of activities are available to book through this hotel, but keep in mind it’s a splurge. Bonus: from mid-January, this property is home to the Kemi SnowCastle, an ice hotel (and yes, you can stay overnight there too!).
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Where to Eat
- Pizzeria San Milano – we loved the vibes at this quaint, family-friendly pizza restaurant with build-your-own pizzas.
- Restaurant Wok Thai – locals and visitors alike rave about this small Thai restaurant with a daily lunch buffet.
- Hotel Merihovi Restaurant – we opted for an afternoon lunch here and it did not disappoint. I’m not a sweet tooth, but the white chocolate dessert we ordered was my absolute favorite!
What to Do
- The Sampo Icebreaker tour – this was one of our favorite activities in Kemi. The tour begins with lunch in the dining room, and then you’re free to wander around the ship and experience incredible views of the frozen sea. The best part was the floating experience in the water, a must-do!
- Check out Kemi Church – I’m a sucker for any pink buildings, and this gorgeous church is no exception.
- Chase the northern lights – if the skies are clear, this excursion is a must. You’ll be taken into the forest at night to see the Aurora Borealis, between visiting a Finnish hut to sip fresh berry juice and fry sausages by the fire.
- Go dog-sledding – this husky farm is family-run and completely amazing. You’ll fall in love with the dogs as soon as you arrive (they get so excited to see people), and there’s nothing like driving your own husky sleigh through the frozen Finnish landscape.
- Experience the SnowCastle – whether you stay overnight, dine at the restaurant, or just go to walk around, this is a must-see if you’re visiting Kemi from January to April. Just be sure to check the SnowCastle opening schedule before you go.
- Visit Santa’s Seaside Office – experience the Christmas spirit and some traditional Finnish pastries and glögi (mulled wine) in this coffee shop.
Rovaniemi, Kittilä or Saariselkä
If there was one thing missing from our trip to Finland, it was spending one night in a famous igloo hotel or design hotel in Lapland. Here are a few hotels I would recommend considering – 1 night is enough if you just want the experience, but keep in mind most are located in remote regions of Lapland.
Where to Stay
- Kakslautten Arctic Resort – chances are you’ve seen photos of this famous igloo hotel, which is situated in the north of Finland. If experiencing the northern lights is at the top of your list, the accommodations don’t get better than this.
- Levin Iglut – another igloo option is Levin Iglut. The benefit of this hotel is its close proximity to the city of Levi (only 10 km away), though you still get the benefit of a quiet, secluded retreat.
- Arctic Treehouse Hotel – a new take on the glass-ceiling experience of many accommodations in Finland, this luxury hotel combines modern design with local Lappish traditions.
What to Do
Many people choose to stay in Rovaniemi since it’s a hub for Lapland’s snow activities. Here are some of my top picks for activities in the area: dog sledding, ice fishing, and floating beneath the northern lights. Booking in advance is a must! And if you’re having trouble choosing…know that I was originally most excited to see reindeer in Finland, but our favorite activity by far was husky dog sledding. Tip: for all the activities below, additional winter clothing is provided (and in my experience, it’s always much warmer than your own!).
Kuusamo is a must, purely for the nearby national parks and Ruka ski resort, all within driving distance. It’s a great way to round off your trip with the beautiful natural landscapes of Finland!
Where to Stay
- Ruka Ski Chalets – in terms of location and convenience, this is a top pick. These chalets are located at the base of Ruka’s ski slopes and nearby plenty of restaurants.
- Original Sokos Hotel Kuusamo – this hotel offers all the basic amenities you need (including in-room saunas, a bar and restaurant). Bonus: they also have reindeer!
Where to Eat
- Classic Pizza Ruka – we stumbled on this cozy pizza joint after a long day of hiking, and it hit the spot.
- Hanki Baari – this lively bar has a short menu that changes daily, featuring everything from fresh soups to local fish and meats. Don’t forget to try one of their cocktails!
- Studio Restaurant Tundra – if you’re looking to splurge, head over to this Chef Jarmo Pitkänen’s private restaurant. He calls each fixed course menu a ‘gastronomic journey’, inspired by his own travels and local specialties.
What to Do
- Visit the National Parks – choose from Oulanka National Park, Riisitunturi, Paanayarvi – or all three. You’ll explore hanging bridges, cabins, frozen rivers, and so much more. Get inspired by photos from our hike in Oulanka, and use this map to hit some of the most photogenic spots.
- Go Skiing – the lights at Ruka allow for skiing all day, despite the minimal daylight in winter. The après-ski vibes here are especially fun, and you’ll love the variety of restaurants located at the bottom of the slopes.
- See Reindeer – I personally loved feeding the reindeer more than anything, but reindeer rides are also an option at this local farm.
What to Remember
- Pack appropriately. You’ll need multiple layers daily – I recommend wool sweaters, scarves, hats, snow boots, and of course: long underwear!
- Lapland is big, so renting a car will allow you the freedom to explore this region. All cars come with snow tires but it’s also worth taking a couple minutes to refresh on the proper protocol for driving in the snow.
- Don’t forget to take daylight hours into account. When we visited Lapland in December the sun rose at 10:30am and set around 2:00pm!
- Seeing the northern lights is not guaranteed. Warmer temperatures usually mean clouds, which makes it nearly impossible to spot the Aurora Borealis. Don’t let that bring you down – we had cloudy weather, but that also meant it snowed a lot, which made for some beautiful days.
Left to right: sunset during our Icebreaker Sampo cruise; snowy views from Kemi Seaside Glass Villas; a husky at Ulla’s husky farm; trees near Oulanka National Park; our Lapland, Finland video (all video locations listed here).
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If you enjoyed this guide, don’t miss our 1 minute video from our time in Lapland or photos from our day exploring one of Finland’s beautiful national parks.