If you are looking for a winter wonderland then look no further than Finland. The official home of Santa Claus, Finland is a popular choice for a winter visit. But there’s more than just St Nick, experience a variety of activities from riding a dog sledge, to ice fishing or chasing the elusive Northern Lights. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about visiting Finland during the winter months.
Where can I go?
There are four regions in Finland: Lapland, Helsinki, Coast & Archipelago and the Lakelands. The most popular region for tourism in winter is the city of Rovaniemi in Finish Lapland. This is the official home of St. Nick, so expect plenty of snow, reindeer and winter activities such as dog sledding, skiing and ice fishing. If you want to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, this is the best region to visit.
Helsinki is the capital of Finland and is popular for anyone looking for a city break. You can try a traditional Finish sauna or if you’re brave enough take the plunge and give ice swimming a go! You can also visit the Christmas markets in the city located in Market Square which opens from the 6th to the 22nd of December.
During winter the regions of the Coast and Archipelago and Lakeside are all frozen due to the sub-zero temperatures. Activities change from kayaking to ice fishing and ice skating. There are plenty of summer cottages throughout these regions that are available to stay in during winter. Many come with their own sauna to warm up your cold bones after a day out in the cold.
When should I visit Finland in winter?
It all depends on what you plan to do and the region you are planning to visit. If you are heading to the north of Finland and want to make seeing the Northern Lights your priority, then it’s best to visit between November to February. If skiing is your passion, then the best time to hit the slopes is between February to May.
How to get around Finland in winter
Finland has plenty of public transport options. If you are looking to travel to Lapland it is best to fly direct, but you can take an overnight train from Helsinki if you want to experience a few days in the capital.
If you are planning on renting a car in Finland during winter, you must make sure that you are comfortable driving in such challenging winter conditions. All cars must have snow tires and drive with their headlights on, your car will also come with an electrical cable that you will need to plug into an outdoor socket. This will keep the engine running and will prevent it from freezing overnight. It’s important to ensure you have enough supplies in case of an emergency, breaking down in freezing conditions can quickly become a dangerous situation.
What should I pack?
In winter, temperatures in Lapland can drop to – 30 degrees Celsius, so you will need to pack clothes that can protect you against such freezing temperatures. Invest in a proper winter coat that comes insulated with down or a down alternative. It should ideally have a hood to keep your ears warm and come down to your thighs. You should also bring with you a variety of warm tops for layering up such as polo necks or wool jumpers. Warm socks, a hat, scarf, gloves and waterproof boots are essentials. The most important thing you need to bring in your suitcase is thermal base layers, which will keep you cosy no matter how low the temperature drops.
Popular winter activities to try in Finland
There are many things to experience in Finland during the winter months. We’ve outlined a few of our favourites below:
Get ready to hold on tight! Finland is the perfect place to experience your first ever ride on a dog sled. There are a variety of tours and experiences on offer from short three-hour excursions to two-day treks with overnight stays. The main thing to remember is how to brake, as the dogs will often not stop unless told to do so. But don’t worry, your instructor will show you the ropes and you’ll be hitting the ice in no time.
Enjoy a sauna
Saunas are an important part of Finish culture and you cannot visit the country without experiencing one. No matter where you are staying you can bet that there will be a sauna available. Visiting a sauna is often done in your birthday suit. Finnish people tend to visit a sauna as a family, or they are segregated to male or female. You don’t have to go naked of course and it’s perfectly acceptable to wear swimwear.
Another popular tradition in a Finish sauna is to be hit with the branches of a birch tree. It is believed that this improves your circulation. If you want to experience a traditional sauna be prepared to take the plunge into icy water nearby or have a roll in the freezing snow. This is also thought to help with circulation in the cold winter months.
Ice fishing is a favourite pastime in Finland. You don’t need to have a license and there are plenty of tours offering this experience to tourists. Prepare to be patient though as you can often spend at least a few hours waiting to catch a fish.
Visit an ice hotel
Finland is famous for its igloos and no visit to the country would be complete without checking out an ice hotel. There are a variety of ice hotels across Finland, with everything from restaurants to the bed made from ice. Staying the night can be a bit chilly as temperatures are kept at around freezing to stop the hotels from melting, but it is a unique experience like no other.
See Santa Claus in Lapland
You can’t visit Lapland without seeing the man himself. Santa Claus isn’t just for children! Head to the Santa Claus Village where you can meet St. Nick, his elves and reindeer. You can even write your own letter to Santa and pay a visit to the Santa Claus Post Office where over 500,000 letters to Santa are sorted every year.
Witness the Northern Lights
Northern Finland is one of the best locations to see nature’s most spectacular show. Go on a Northern Lights tour and with enough luck and patience, you’ll get to see the green and yellow lights dance across the sky.
Visit the Arctic Circle
Don’t forget to pay the mysterious Arctic Circle a visit when you’re in Finland. You can cross the Circle in Northern Lapland, just outside of the city of Rovaniemi. If you want to you can combine the visit with a trip to Santa Claus Village, which has an official crossing point.
Learn about the Sami
Finland is home to 10,000 Sami, an indigenous community who live a nomadic lifestyle and sustain themselves through reindeer herding. Many call Northern Lapland their home, so it makes sense to pay their cultural centre a visit in Inari.
Here you can learn about their traditions, culture and their famous crafts. If you want to experience the Sami way of life you can also arrange a homestay, this is a form of sustainable tourism that helps the community earn extra revenue during the harsh winter months.