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
1. Timanfaya National Park
The area of Timanfaya was created almost 300 years ago in volcanic eruptions and it’s the most breath-taking place in Lanzarote. The landscape differs completely from everything I’ve ever seen and to be honest at some moments I had no clue in which planet I was. I could imagine that similar landscapes might exist in Mars: rough, dry, rocky, all the shades of red, brown, black and grey. You have to pay 10€ for the entry and you cannot wonder around the park by yourself but take a bus ride and admire the landscape through the window.
2. Cueva de los Verdes (“Green Cave”)
Cueva de los Verdes was born after the eruption of Corona volcano when the lava was flowing through the “lava tube” over six kilometres to the ocean. This lava tube is one of the longest existing ones in the world. The cave was named after the family “Los Verdes” (“The Greens”) who owned the land where the cave is located and has nothing to do with the green colour. There are tickets sold only for guided tours for 9,50€. On the tour you walk 1 kilometre inside the cave while you will be explained how it was born and its history. Because of the great acoustics there are some concerts organized.
3. Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua belong to the same cave network than Cueva de los Verdes and it’s located only a short walk a way near the beach. Inside the cave there is an amazing restaurant where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or even make a reservation for the dinner (open for dinner only Saturdays and Tuesdays). At the end of the restaurant you can see where the lava tunnel continues its way towards the ocean. The cave is amazing with the pool of water where the rare, blind and tiny white grabs live. The place is also culture and art centre and the entry costs 9,50€.
4. Cactus Garden
Lanzarote is famous for its cactuses and the cactus garden is a really nice place to visit. You can find over 450 different species of cactus from five different continents. Entry fee 5,80€.
5. El Golfo – Charco de los Clicos (“Green Lagoon”)
The Green Lagoon is formed in the crater of an old volcano right next to a small fisherman village called El Golfo. The green colour comes from a type of algae that grows in the water. Contrast between the green water, black soil and blue ocean is quite unique and worth of seeing. Free entry.
6. Los Hervideros (“Boiling Pots”)
The caves known as Los Hervideros are constituted of two caverns separated by a natural pillar, shaped by lava and the ocean. The name translates to Boiling Pots coming from the moment when the waves hit the rocks with such power that the ocean seems like it’s boiling. The recommended time to visit is during the high tide or full moon. Free entry.
Lanzarote is called the Hawaii of Europe because of the amazing surfing possibilities it offers all around the year. There are many windy beaches with daily red flag which means swimming is prohibited. If you are a beginner or even a bit more experienced, we recommend booking a surf lesson or course that many surf schools in the area offer. We booked a 1-day surf course from Calima Surf School at Famara beach. 2 surf lessons, wet suit, board and lunch were included in the price, which was 55€/person. The waves and currents were strong, lessons were great, and the wet suit kept the cold away. Every surf school has their own area at the beach were to arrange their lessons and at some point, it felt like there were too many people in the water at the same time, so you should be careful not to knock anyone with your board or to get hit by others. Couple of times we managed to stand up on the board and surf towards the shore!
8. Papagayo beaches
All beaches of Punta de Papagayo are in the south tip of the island in protected coast so here you can get away from the hustle and bustle of hotels, restaurants and masses of tourists. To reach Papagayo beaches you must ride a very bumpy and narrow road for some kilometres with a speed of 20-30km/h but when you get there the view is definitely worth it. The beaches are in their natural state with soft golden white sand and crystal clear emerald green water, surrounded by rocks. Personally, I love these kinds of beaches and that’s why we went there twice during our holiday. This is a perfect place to snorkel and the sunset is breath-taking!
9. Sunday Market in Teguise
The beautiful small town of Teguise located in the middle of Lanzarote comes to life every Sunday from 9:00 to 14:00 when the streets are filled with market stalls. From Teguise Sunday market you can find everything you can imagine from fashion and jewellery to souvenirs and food.
10. Mirador del Río
This view point is located at the north of the island more than 400 metres of altitude. It offers a view over El Río, the narrow stretch of the sea separating Lanzarote from La Graciosa, and you can see islands of La Graciosa, Alegranza and Montaña Blanca. The entrance is 4,75€ but if you want to save some money you can enjoy the same view just next to the Mirador del Río for free (like we did).
Many may not know that the biggest Go Karting race track in the Europe is in Lanzarote. On our last day we decided to give it a try from my mom´s suggestion. We drove around six laps, obviously my father and boyfriend bypassing me in the first curve, but my mother came to realize after first lap that karting wasn’t her type of sports and drove directly to the pit stop. Price 18€/person/8min.
The island of La Graciosa is located in the north really close to Lanzarote. La Graciosa has been maintained the best in its natural state comparing to other islands. You can take a ferry to from Órzola which goes every half an hour. Return journey costs around 20€. We were also tempted of the golden sandy beaches La Graciosa but we didn’t have enough time to visit there.
+Day trip to Fuerteventura
From Playa Blanca in the southern part of Lanzarote you can catch a ferry to Corralejo, Fuerteventura if you get bored staying only in Lanzarote. The island seems completely different from Lanzarote with its long sandy beaches one after another.
+Visit wine yard
The volcanic rich soil of Lanzarote is a good base for the grapes, but the strong winds keep the circumstances hard. That’s why they have developed a special way of growing the grapes in Lanzarote: Grape-growers dig holes and build stone walls to protect their grapes. Specially in the area of La Geria there are many wine yards/wineries to visit.
The “capital” of Lanzarote is often ignored by tourists. If you want have better shopping possibilities head to Arrecife. Have a walk by the beach, admire the view and stop for a lunch.
With love, Sanna
Why Lanzarote? I had never been there before and to be honest I hadn’t even been interested of going there as Canary Islands are known to be a “tourist trap” (seeing image in my mind of masses of retired Scandinavians red as tomatoes, socks in their sandals, equipped by ridiculous hats and fanny packs) until my boyfriend started talking to me about how I would absolutely love it and he made me do some research. Around the same time, it came up that my mom wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday somewhere near the beach and so we started to plan this trip. First, we were thinking to go Andalusia but at the end of October you never now how the weather would be so after all we ended up searching flights to Canary Islands. We booked the return flights from Madrid to Lanzarote last May with around 120€/person (for me, my parents and my boyfriend). It was my mother’s responsibility to look for accommodation and she booked very spacious apartment with terrace for us from Puerto del Carmen. My parents arrived at Madrid from Lapland couple days before our trip and this was actually my dad`s first time traveling to the south.
Lanzarote is the most eastern island of Canary Islands and fourth in size. Around 140 000 people live there. Temperature is above +20ºC all around the year and during the nights temperature drops only few degrees. It rarely rains there but of course the day after our arrival it was raining the whole day so much that the water even started entering into our apartment. Couple of days it was also super windy which seems to be typical in Lanzarote. Canary Islands get most of their income from tourism so in that sense it’s true that it’s a tourist trap. Also, Puerto del Carmen is a very touristic zone full of hotels and apartments, but it also means there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, little shops and supermarkets in walking distance like Eurospar, Hiperdino and Lidl.
When we arrived at Lanzarote, we rented a car (a Seat Leon big enough for max 5 people with a decent sized trunk for the luggage) from the airport which I had booked the day before. Renting a car is a very good choice for people who don’t only want to be chilling on the nearest beach but actively explore the island. I chose to get the car from CiCar (Canary Island Car) which is a local car rental firm and had the best offer: car rent 6 days + 2 hours, all-inclusive insurance, insurance for the driver, unlimited kilometres and additional driver. Also, for families the offer included safety seats for the kids and all for 117€. During the six days we almost used all the gasoline (the tank was full when we got the car) so filling the tank cost 45€ extra and the total cost of the car was 162€. Driving around in a new place for almost a week didn’t leave me much time to enjoy the views but for sure helped to gain some driving experience. It takes only one hour to travel through the whole island from north to south.
Personally, I’m not a fan of masses of tourists and I tend to avoid organized tours but if you want to enter to some of the Lanzarote’s most famous attractions you just have to tolerate it. You should be prepared to pay around 10€/visit but in the ticket sales points there are some package offers that may benefit you. If you want to visit many places, I really recommend doing some planning in which part of the island are they located and visit the places near each other on the same day. Check also the post 10+5 tips to Lanzaote . Lanzarote is part of Spain, so locals speak Spanish but also very good English. Currency is obviously euro and prices are normal or even some situations lower like gasoline.
The nature and landscape seem really dry and tough so there are not many products cultivated in Lanzarote. Typical local products are jewellery made from lava stones, products made from cactus and aloe vera, wine, small platanos (Canarian bananas) and Papas Arrugadas con mojo (“wrinkled potatoes” =boiled potatoes eaten with different spicy sauces). We tasted some cactus marmalade which was nice and cactus liquor which tasted a bit like cranberry.
Lanzarote is full of different kind of beaches but because of the weather conditions we didn’t visit that many. There are long sandy beaches mainly located in the most famous tourist areas, there are big and small rocky beaches, natural pools, black beaches, super windy beaches for surf and basically everything between. You can also do almost all kinds of water activities you can imagine: surf, dive, snorkel, rent a boat, drive a water jet ski, go dolphin or whale safari, wind surf etc. You shouldn’t expect a “warm bath” in the waves of Atlantic Ocean but at the end the water wasn’t as cold as than I expected and we went to swim on the warmest day.
Lanzarote surprised me positively with its extraordinary landscape and possibilities to do and experience many different things. You could spend there easily two weeks and the six days we were there passed by way too fast.
With love, Sanna