Things to Do in Lapland
With its beautifully designed glass tunnel stretching out to the Ounasjoki, Arktikum is one of Finland's best museums, albeit with a hefty admission fee. Exhibition spaces include superb static and interactive displays focusing on Arctic flora and fauna, as well as on the peoples of Arctic Europe, Asia and North America. It tells the story of the people of the North.
The level of information is very impressive; this is really a place to learn about the unique northern environments, and there is an excellent research library. There are also good displays of canoes, dwellings, fishing materials, and costumes of various northern peoples (including a good exhibition on the Sámi), as well as a room devoted to the history of Rovaniemi itself. A scale model shows the destruction wrought by the Axis retreat in 1944. There's also a multi-vision theater and a good restaurant. You should allow yourself at least a couple of hours to get around it all.
The city of Rovaniemi, in Lapland, is home to Santa Claus Village, a unique theme park located right on the Arctic Circle. The ultimate destination for kids looking for a private word with Father Christmas, the park includes Santa’s workshops, a reindeer petting area, gift shops, and Santa’s official post office.
As Finland’s most popular ski resort and host of the annual Alpine World Cup Race, Levi is a top choice for winter sports. Take on the downhill runs, cross-country trails, and the country’s largest snowboard park in winter, while getting your thrills mountain biking, dry-slope sledding, and zip-lining in the summer months.
Ranua Wildlife Park is home to over 50 species and 200 individual animals native to the Arctic region, animals including the polar bear, arctic fox, reindeer, otters, minxes, foxes and wolves. There are also birds including owls, buzzards and snow geese. You can tour the zoo and see the animals being fed. In summer there is also a domestic animal zoo and you can ride ponies or Finnish horses. Less animated but still interesting are the arctic rocks in the Rock Park.
The landscape around the zoo is beautiful and worth a visit in itself. The trail around the park is around 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and cold in winter, so dress appropriately.
Finland’s SantaPark Arctic World may be as close as you can get to actually visiting Santa at the North Pole. Located near the town of Rovaniemi in northern Finland, it offers the quintessential Christmas experience. Children and adults alike can attend Elf School to learn elf secrets and decorate gingerbread made with Mrs. Claus’ secret recipe in the Gingerbread Kitchen. Visit Santa Claus in his office and hand him your Christmas wish list or drop by Calligraphy School to practice old-fashioned elf writing and write your own Christmas card. Then, drop it off at Santa’s Post Office and watch the elves hard at work sorting out all of Santa’s mail. Your card will be stamped with a special stamp and you can even get a head start on next year’s Christmas mail.
Don’t miss the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle through a tunnel 50 meters underground and get your own Arctic Circle Undercrossing Certificate. Finally, ride a sleigh through the winter landscape around Rovaniemi and through the Elves’ Toy Factory before stopping at the Elves’ Workshop to make your own Christmas decorations.
A wild landscape of ancient pine forests, lakes and hills stretching between the fell resorts of Pyhä and Luosto, Pyhä-Luosto National Park is the highlight of central Lapland and a popular choice for a day trip from Rovaniemi.
With more than 90 miles (150 km) of walking trails, Pyhä-Luosto is a top destination for hikers all year-round, with highlights including Isokuru, Finland's deepest gorge, the Pyhä Waterfall and the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine, Europe’s only active amethyst mine, where visitors can try their luck digging for gemstones. With over 75 miles (120 km) of ski trails and ample opportunities for snowmobiling, reindeer sleigh rides and husky sledding, Pyhä-Luosto makes a fun place to spend the winter months, while summer activities include mountain biking, canoeing, swimming and fishing.
Created more than 200 million years ago, the Amethyst Fell of Lampivaara is one of Finnish Lapland’s most unique tourist attractions and the only active amethyst mine in Europe.
The journey to the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine is as spectacular as the destination, with visitors hiking or boarding a snowmobile and climbing through the snow-blanketed forests of the Pyhä-Luosto National Park to reach the hilltop mine. Here, visitors not only have the chance to learn about the history of the semi-precious gemstone and traditional mining techniques, but can even dig for amethysts within the mine itself. Best of all, if you find one of the semi-precious stones (provided it’s no bigger than your palm), you can keep it as a souvenir.
Located about 155 miles (250 km) north of the Arctic Circle, Inari-Saariselkä is one of Finland’s northernmost ski resorts, a remote spot that is an ideal choice for those looking to get off the beaten track and escape the crowds.
Inari-Saariselkä is best known for its winter sports, and the nearby fells of Kaunispaa and Iisakkipaa offer 11 ski and snowboard slopes, along with more than 155 miles (250 km) of cross-country skiing trails. Other popular activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, husky sledding and reindeer safaris, while summer visitors can make the most of the abundant hiking and mountain biking trails. Saariselkä also makes a great destination for viewing the Northern Lights, with its northern location offering some of the highest sighting rates from September to March.
A true winter wonderland sculpted from over 2,000 tons (2 million kilograms) of snow and ice, the Lainio Snow village is an undeniable highlight of a trip to Lapland and even more impressive when you consider that the 215,000-square-foot (20,000-square-meter) complex is completely rebuilt each winter season.
The star attraction of the Lainio Snow village is its grand ice hotel, where more than 30 individually decorated ice rooms, igloos and suites are constructed entirely from snow and ice, and temperatures hover between 23 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-5°C and -2°C). You don’t have to spend the night to admire the icy architecture though. Guests can also sip cocktails (or hot chocolates) in the ice bar; dine at a table made of ice in the ice restaurant; admire Europe’s largest ice dome or party at an ice disco. There are also tunnels and galleries filled with painstakingly carved ice sculptures; slides dotted around the complex; and the chance to visit a reindeer farm or enjoy snowmobiling or husky sled rides. There’s even an ice chapel, where couples can brave the cold for a truly unique winter wedding before checking into the ice hotel’s honeymoon suite.
With 63 slopes, 28 lifts and four separate snow parks, it’s no surprise that Ylläs is Finland’s largest ski and snowboard area, with runs to suit all levels. Expert skiers have more than 200 miles (330 km) of tracks to choose from, including ski runs up to 1.8 miles (3 km) in length and ample off-piste skiing terrain, while the ski school offers plenty of options for both first-timers and intermediate skiers. The Junior Park and free children’s activities provide entertainment for the younger members of the family.
Winter sports enthusiasts can also make the most of the myriad snow activities on offer—high-speed snowmobile or husky sled safaris, snowshoeing or Nordic walking excursions, reindeer sleigh rides and ice fishing are all popular choices, while the area is also renowned for hiking and mountain biking during the summer months.
More Things to Do in Lapland
Despite its close proximity to Rovaniemi, Suomu Ski Resort (Suomutunturi) is still among one of the least developed and little known Finland ski resorts. Its tranquil surroundings and laid-back atmosphere, however, have long been renowned among locals.
Located right on the Arctic Circle, Suomu is an ideal destination for outdoors activities all year-round, lying on the banks of the Kemijärvi lake, surrounded by dense pine forests and rolling fells, and dotted with cozy log cabins and reindeer farms. Hiking and snow-shoeing excursions, snowmobile adventures, reindeer and husky sled rides and ice fishing are all popular activities, but skiers and snowboarders will also be in their element at Suomu, with 13 ski slopes offering everything from gentle beginner slopes to thrilling black and red runs, alongside miles of cross-country trails.
With its faux-drawbridge, looming watchtowers and ramparts topped with Finnish flags, the SnowCastle of Kemi would be impressive even if it wasn't built entirely of snow and ice, but knowing that the architectural masterpiece is completely demolished each spring and rebuilt each winter is remarkable. Most mesmerizing is the attention to detail—elaborate sculptures stand in the hallways, archways are decorated with intricate carvings and the suites come complete with "thrones" and four-poster beds carved out of glistening blocks of ice.
Many visitors to the SnowCastle opt to spend a night in the on-site Snow Hotel, which offers rooms and suites for up to 48 guests, but non-guests can still explore the castle, dine in the Snow Restaurant or attend the grand opening ceremony and fireworks display. Before you leave, be sure to take a tour of the castle interiors, climbing the ramparts for a view over the snow-covered grounds, visiting the Snow Chapel and whizzing down the many snow slides.
A circle of latitude and the southern boundary of the Arctic, the Arctic Circle is the gateway to one of Finland’s most scenic regions: Lapland. In winter, shred the slopes at Suomu resort or use Rovaniemi as home base for snow sports, tours, and a visit to Santa Claus Village to see the circle’s exact location marked on the ground.
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