It’s crispy -27ºC, the sun peeks from the horizon giving the sky a beautiful pink colour, snow crunches under the shoes, hair is covered with the white frost, everything around us is white and quiet, it’s polar night time. We are at the Arctic Circle, where the arctic region begins. In practice, it means that during the winter season the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon (and in the summer you can enjoy the midnight sun). Rovaniemi is located at the northern Arctic Circle and the border can be crossed, for example, in Santa Claus Village. We want to share our local tips on what to do in Lapland during the polar nights season.
Spot the Northern Lights
The Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are an amazing light show consisting of varying figures of different colors in the night sky. The Northern Lights are caused when electrically charged solar particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere and they are seen around the magnetic poles of northern and southern hemispheres. The most powerful northern lights are usually caused by the great eruptions in the sun’s corona. The human eye sees the Northern Lights usually in green or greenish yellow, but they can also be seen in shades of blue and red. It is possible to spot the Northern Lights from the end of August until the beginning of April, but the best time to see them is during the dark autumn nights and early spring. The two conditions for you to be able to see the Northern Lights are darkness and clear sky. Low temperatures (and we really mean LOW) often mean clear sky, so the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights increases. Those who are looking for the Auroras should head to darkest possible areas away from the city lights. The best time to spot the Northern Lights is around midnight and they might last only for few minutes or if you are lucky you get to enjoy the show through the whole night.
Every Aurora spotter’s best friend is the Aurora alert, which tells a real-time forecast of the appearance of the Northern Lights. You can check the situation online or download the app on your phone. Many hotels in Lapland have Aurora alerts of their own, meaning somebody actually comes to wake you up in the middle of the night when the Northern Lights are visible (if you want of course). The best places in Finland to spot the Northern Lights are Utsjoki, Kilpisjärvi, Inari-Saariselkä, Levi, Ylläs, Luosto and Rovaniemi. Above all, luck is the most important thing needed to see the Northern Lights. This time on our holiday in Lapland we didn’t see any Auroras, what a pity. However, we enjoyed the incredible light of the full moon in the middle of the winter landscape, which is also a really beautiful experience. So don’t get angry to your tour operator or host if the Northern Lights don’t appear in the sky during your trip to Lapland, they can’t do anything about it.
Enjoy the snowy forest
Going for a walk to a snowy forest is definitely the best! There are forests everywhere in Lapland, so finding them is easy. When moving in the woods, you should have good shoes, because your feet might sink up till your knee (or even more) to the snow and snow enters in your shoes making your feet wet and cold. Forests, especially nearby city, are safe and the animals you can bump into are rabbits, reindeers and squirrels, which are harmless. If you feel like trying the forest therapy we can recommend you to go for example Syvänvaara Observation Tower or Ounasvaara Nature Trail, which are both near Rovaniemi. You will find the Syvänvaara Observation Tower when you go up hill at Rakas Restaurant. Views are great from the viewing tower towards the city. Ounasvaara Nature Trail can be found at Ounasvaara. The forest is also the best place to admire the stars or the Northern Lights at the sky in the evening or at night, as there are no citylights disturbing the visibility. However, it is good to remember that the darkness comes quite early so it is important know the route back from the forest. Fortunately, nowadays, all most everyone has a torch in their smartphones.
A trip to Laavu
Laavu is a place (usually in the forest) where you can stop for a while, make a fire and have a lunch break. It’s half covered, made from wood and you can find them almost from any place where people like to go to forest. You can sit down to admire the flames of the fire, warm up, grill the sausages, prepare your own coffee and enjoy the winter day. There are several Laavus in Rovaniemi, but two easy ones to reach are, for example, the Laavu of Kirkonjyrhämä almost in the city centre and the Laavu of Ounasvaara Observation Tower. From Laavu you can find the firewood, but remember to take your own matches or a lighter for the fire. When you light up the fire, you are also responsible for putting it out if there won’t be any people staying after you leave. Also remember to clean up your trashes, we really want to keep the nature clean.
Lapland offers the best opportunities to try a variety of winter activities such as ice skating, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or driving a snowmobile. Just in the centre of Rovaniemi in the Lordi Square (Lordinaukio) you will find a small skating rink, where you can also rent the skates. In Rovaniemi you can try cross-country skiing and downhill skiing at Ounasvaara where you can rent skiing equipments or snowboard. You can also to rent snowshoes and go for a walk in the snowy forest. However, if any of these sports doesn’t inspire you, we still recommend you to visit Ounasvaara and buy a ski pass for the seat lift, which safely takes you to admire the scenery. There are several ski resorts in Lapland: Ylläs, Levi, Pyhä, Luosto, Pallas, Ollos, Saariselkä, Suomu and Salla. Snowmobiling opportunities are organized by several safari companies, so you should explore the offers and choose the most interesting one.
Go sledding and play with the snow
For this, you need a downhill (but not on the road!) and sliding gear for example sled, slider or even a durable plastic bag filled with snow. Sleds and sliders are sold at local supermarkets pretty cheap. Also ask your host for the sliding gear (whether you are in a hotel, cottage or Airbnb), probably they have some. Fun and free snow games are definitely worth a try! It is traditional to build snowmen or snow castles and to make snow angels. So, lie on your back on the snow, swing your hands and feet up and down in the ground and finally get up to admire your own snow angel!
Go to sauna and roll in the snow (or go to a hole in the ice!)
There are two types of saunas: electric sauna and wood sauna. Today, most saunas are electrically heated, but if you have the opportunity to visit a traditional fire and wood heated sauna, you must try it! Warm up well throwing the water to the sauna stove creating the steam (löyly), and go outside to refresh in the cold weather, and if you dare roll naked in the snow. Then head quickly back to sauna to warm up again. It is really good for your blood circulation! The bravest go to swim in a frozen lake where you can enter through the hole in the ice. In Rovaniemi you can do that right next to the city center on the other side of the river next to the Restaurant Valdemari
Visit Santa Claus Village
The Santa Claus Village is located in Rovaniemi, about 8 km from the city centre. From Santa Claus Village you can find real Santa Claus, and it is possible to visit him in his office and take a photo with him every day of the year! In Santa Claus Village you can also meet the Santa’s Reindeer and enjoy the reindeer rides. If you like dogs head to Husky Park and hop on a husky ride! Don’t forget to visit the ice bar, slide the icehill, get some souvenirs or the most important: enjoy the Christmas Spirit. The Arctic Circle runs through Santa Claus Village, so this is the best place to cross it, the line is clearly marked with blue light. One more tip: The new Moomin Snow Castle has also been opened this year, go and check it out!
Arktikum is a science center and museum that brings the northern nature, culture and history close to you. See, experience and enjoy Arctic stories in experiential exhibitions. Arktikum is located in Rovaniemi within walking distance from the city centre. Tickets: adults 13 €, seniors / unemployed / students 9 €, children (7-15 years) 6 €, children under 7 years free and family ticket 30 € (2 adults and 2 children aged 7-15 years).
Taste the Northern flavours
Traditional Lappish delicacies are reindeer meat, fish, bread called rieska, berries (blueberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, raspberries) and bread cheese. Reindeer is traditionally offered as a sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Dried reindeer meat is also popular. The iconic fish dish of Lapland is salmon soup. Also, smoked or salted salmon is delicious! For dessert, the bread cheese with cloudberries or cloudberry jam is just mouth-watering! Lappish delicacies can be enjoyed in several restaurants. Other option is to buy them from local supermarkets to eat right away or to take back home with you.
So how do you survive in a fair minus twenty degrees (Celsius) in outdoors? The answer is to put layers on top of layers. If you are going to move a lot or sweat, we recommend that you wear a technical underwear that transfers the moisture away from your skin while keeping you warm. Depending on the amount of minus degrees, wear another layer of warm thermal clothing, such as a sweater or fleece under your outdoor clothing. It is also good to put socks on top of each other, wool bottom socks and wool socks (loyal friends of every Finn). Thick and warm outdoor clothes are also important, not forgetting the warm winter boots. It is good to put a neck warmer or scarf on your neck (for example, a tube scarf is very handy and can also be pulled higher if needed to protect your chin and cheeks). Beanie on your head, and good mittens on your hands (thick mittens are better than gloves because the fingers keep each other warmer together), and you can even put the thinner mittens under your thicker mittens if your fingers get cold easily. Don’t forget to put on the reflector for cars to see you when it’s dark, it’s really important for your safety!
How to travel to Lapland?
The easiest way to get to Lapland is by plane. Flights are organized from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Kittilä and Ivalo. If you book your flight early (like six months earlier), you can get cheaper flights. Other possibilities for traveling to Rovaniemi are by train where you can book either a seat or a bed. A bed in a sleeping cabin is more expensive option but very comfortable as the journey takes about 12 hours! In this case, the train runs at night, allowing you to enjoy your trip by sleeping comfortably in a bed. If you are traveling alone, you can book one bed from sleeping cabin. In this case you may get an unknown traveler companion of same sex with you in the same cabin. Traveling by bus is also an option and Onnibus is most probably the cheapest choice (if you are able to sit on the bus for almost 12 hours, with few stops). Car hire and self-driving are of course possible. If you are traveling to Lapland during the high season, i.e. during Christmas or Easter, you should book your tickets well in advance. Especially at Christmas time there are many tourists visiting Santa Claus and many Finns going back home to spend Christmas with their families.
With love Sanna & Jenna