Do you want to experience the trip of a lifetime through Finland’s magical Winter Wonderland? Go on incredible adventures like husky safaris, northern lights excursions, or simply jump into a frozen sea?
We did all of this and more when we spent over 10 days in Finland and Lapland during the winter. It was absolutely mind-blowing, and of course we want to share our experience and itinerary with you through this blog.
My wife meticulously researched, and curated this 10 day winter itinerary for Finland that took us through some of the most gorgeous landscapes and unique adventures.
Finland & Lapland Winter Itinerary
Our itinerary takes you from the south of Finland, all the way up to the very north. It not only covers some of the more popular tourist destinations, but also places that are off the beaten track.
Our focus was to spend more time in Lapland to see the northern lights, and take part in many unique, outdoor activities. Just check out our awesome highlights video below.
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So, let’s start with our itinerary in the Finnish capital.
Arrive in Helsinki
Helsinki is both the start, and end point of this 10 day itinerary through Finland and Lapland.
The Finnish capital offers plenty to do, relax, and explore. It’s a grand city that is easy to get around on foot or by tram.
Things to do in Helsinki
There are ample attractions in Helsinki to cover.
Here are a few to give you an idea. Visit:
- The Helsinki Cathedral, and Senate Square
- The Uspenski Cathedral
- Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (entry included in the Helsinki Card)
- Discover Market Square
And if you happen to be visiting Helsinki during Christmas, we have a different itinerary chalked up for you in this blog.
To get a glimpse into the city, check out our Helsinki photo gallery.
Helsinki Hotel Recommendations
As with most cities, it’s a good idea to stay somewhere central. However, that could mean expensive properties. Luckily, we stayed at Hotel Indigo that was not just centrally located, but also very reasonably priced.Search for more hotels in Helsinki
Recommended Restaurants in Helsinki
Here are some of the amazing restaurants that we ate at in Helsinki.
- Delicious Finnish food.
- Address: Fredrikinkatu 41, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
- Restaurant Savotta
- Delectable Lappish cuisine.
- Address: Aleksanterinkatu 22, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
- Modern Finnish cuisine, great cocktails.
- Address: Kanavaranta 7, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki to Kemi
Days 3 & 4 in Kemi
After Helsinki, we move to Kemi. There is a short, direct flight that gets you to Kemi from Helsinki.
Kemi is a small town, and everything is conveniently located within walking distance from its centre.
Although there isn’t particularly much to see in Kemi, there is one awesome bucket list item on our itinerary.
Things to do in Kemi
First of all, make sure you visit the beautifully Gothic Kemi Cathedral. It look’s hauntingly beautiful during winter.
Also, catch the sunset around the harbour. It can be absolutely magical in the winter! To get a better idea of what Kemi looks like, check out our photo gallery.
However, once you’re done with walking about the town, let’s get to the main reason why this itinerary involves Kemi.
The Ice Breaker Sampo Cruise
The reason why Kemi is part of the itinerary is because of the Ice Breaker Sampo Cruise. The Ice Breaker Sampo is a retired ice breaker that now carries tourists through the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. It then drops anchor in the middle of its journey and everyone on-board jumps into the frozen sea!
It really is an experience of a lifetime!
All the details about the ice breaker cruise can be found on this dedicated blog post.
Kemi Hotel Recommendations
We stayed at the Cumulus City Kemi which was about a 5-10 minute walk from the city centre. Because we were late to book, this was the only hotel available.
Other than its location, the hotel also serves a stop for the bus that takes passengers to the Ice Breaker Sampo Cruise. You should know that the bus for the ice breaker leaves very early in the morning. So, make sure that you get a good night’s rest.
And FYI, Kemi has very few hotels. So, book fast before they run out.Search for more hotels in Kemi
Recommended Restaurants in Kemi
- Kemin Puistopaviljonki Ky
- Beautiful, quaint Italian restaurant located near the harbour, approximately 10-15 minute walk from the Kemi centre. Some of the best pizzas we’ve ever tasted!
- Address: Urheilukatu 1, 94100 Kemi, Finland
Kemi to Rovaniemi
Days 4 & 5 in Rovaniemi
From Kemi, Rovaniemi is a short train ride.
Rovaniemi is the capital city of Lapland, and personally I think it is the tourist capital of Finland. In fact, you could spend all your time in Rovaniemi and book every outdoor activity here.
Things to do in Rovaniemi
As I mentioned, there is tons to do in Rovaniemi. The city also happens to be very kid-friendly. We saw so many ad-hoc attractions for kids all over the city.
One of the main reasons why Rovaniemi has so many kids is because it is the home to Santa Claus. Yes, the real Santa Claus!
So, what should you do while you’re in Rovaniemi?
- Visit Santa Claus Village: Here you can stand in line to meet the real Santa Claus. Visit Santa’s post office to see letters that he receives from kids all over the world. Go on a reindeer safari, or simply stand on the Arctic Circle line.
- Visit SantaPark: An underground Santa themed park for kids.
- Visit an ice hotel: You can read all about our visit to the Arctic Snow Hotel in this blog post. You can also spend a night inside the hotel on a bed made of ice!
- Plan outdoor activities: You can practically do every outdoor activity in Rovaniemi from catching the northern lights, to ice fishing. There are numerous operators all over the city. Simply walk into their shop, or book online.
Check out more of our photos from Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi Hotel Recommendations
Unlike Kemi, there is no shortage of hotels in Rovaniemi.
Again, as we were late to book (don’t make the same mistake), we ended up staying at Piriko Studio Apartment.
Located in the heart of Rovaniemi, the apartment was very spacious, comfortable and clean. Although it was expensive, we would recommend it.Search for more hotels in Rovaniemi
Also, you can spend a night in the city’s ice hotel! The Arctic SnowHotel is a 30 minute drive from Rovaniemi city centre. Here you can sleep on a bed made of ice, inside a building made of snow. You don’t want to miss this opportunity of a lifetime!
And as with all other hotels, winters are peak tourist season and even this hotel sells out fast.
Recommended Restaurants in Rovaniemi
Here are a couple of must eat restaurants in Rovaniemi:
- Nili Restaurant
- Authentic Lappish cuisine.
- Address: Valtakatu 20, 96200 Rovaniemi, Finland
- Santa’s Salmon Place Restaurant
- Delicious fire-grilled salmon. Must visit if you’re in Santa Claus Village.
- Address: Santa Claus Village, Tähtikuja 1, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland
Rovaniemi to Saariselka
Day 6 in Saariselka
Saariselka is a 3.5 hour bus ride from Rovaniemi. When we arrived in Saariselka we felt relieved that we’d left the maddening crowds behind in Rovaniemi. Starting here, Lapland feels vast and deserted.
We technically stayed at a small village 10 minutes away from Saariselka called Kakslauttanen. You might have heard of it as it is most famously known for the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. The resort is practically on the cover of every magazine and website that promotes glass igloos in Lapland. Which should tell you that that Saariselka is great place to watch the northern lights.
Things to do in Saariselka
So here’s the thing. Although most visitors visit Saariselka to see the northern lights, we chose it for a different reason. We went there to experience a traditional Finnish smoke sauna.
Experience a traditional Finnish smoke sauna
Saunas are an essential part of Finnish culture. Every hotel, or B&B that we stayed at had a sauna on their premises. However, what you really want to experience is a traditional Finnish smoke sauna.
A savusauna (smoke sauna) is a special type of sauna without a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna.
After your body has heated up inside a smoke sauna, you’re expected to jump into a frozen lake. However, unlike the Sampo Ice Breaker, you have to jump into frozen water in your bathing suit!
Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds because your body can trap the heat from the sauna. So, once you step out of the sauna it’s not that bad. But after a minute, or when you jump into the freezing lake, you begin to feel the freezing temperature. It literally shocks your body!
Again, I can’t stress this enough – this was an experience of a lifetime!
Make sure you check out our photos from Saariselka.
Saariselka Hotel Recommendations
Saariselka is a popular tourist destination and that’s why there are numerous resorts in the town. Most visitors want to stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, possibly the most popular resort in all of Finland.
However, we chose to stay at the Suomen Latu Kiilopää (Fell Centre Kiilopää). Not only because it has the traditional smoke sauna on its premises, but also because it’s far more economical.Search for more hotels in Saariselka
Saariselka to Ivalo
Days 7 & 8 in Ivalo
The further north you move away from Rovaniemi, the less commercial it becomes. Many choose to travel up to Saariselka to get their peace of mind. However, that wasn’t good enough for us. We wanted to go even further north to Ivalo and Inari!
Ivalo is a small town an hour north, by bus, of Saariselka. Most people fly from Helsinki to Ivalo and then go to Saariselka. However, Ivalo in itself is a fantastic place to stay, and a phenomenal location to see the northern lights! We had an incredible time staying in Ivalo that is evident from our photos.
Things to do in Ivalo
Like most places in Lapland, Ivalo offers visitors similar outdoor winter activities. However, as not too many tourists stay in Ivalo, activities here can be more personal, and less commercial.
Ivalo is a great location for:
- Husky safaris (especially if you’re staying at Guesthouse Husky)
- Northern lights
- Ice fishing
- Snowmobiling, and the list goes on.
Where to stay in Ivalo
We stayed at the most incredible B&B in Ivalo called Guesthouse Husky. It’s a family run guesthouse, on a husky farm! We were so happy that we stayed here not only because of the 150 huskies that live with you on the farm, but also because its quaint character, and charm. And not to mention that we could see the northern lights right outside the guesthouse at night.
Guesthouse Husky was honestly the highlight of our trip!
You can read our thorough review on Guesthouse Husky in this blog post. Just keep in mind, there are limited rooms in the guesthouse, and the minimum duration of stay in 2 nights.
Ivalo Hotel Recommendations
If Guesthouse Husky is unavailable or you need a few other options, here they are.
Ivalo has a handful of hotel properties, so book in advance if you’re traveling during peak season.Search for more hotels in Ivalo
Ivalo to Inari
Days 8 & 9 in Inari
The distance between Ivalo and Inari is short enough to be covered by taxi. Taxis may not be easily available in this part of the country, so it’s advisable to ask your accommodation to arrange one for you.
Inari was the northern most town we visited while in Lapland. At 69° north, there is hardly any civilization or people around. It was pure wilderness! Our stay at Inari felt so personal and intimate, especially when we were participating in outdoor activities. It was just us and nature.
Things to do in Inari
Inari is probably the most epic place in Lapland to catch the northern lights. It’s miles away from civilization, and so far up north that the chances of seeing the aurora borealis are extremely high. Other than that, you can look at my list of things to do in Lapland, and pick any. The advantage of doing these activities in Inari is that it’s less touristy.
Where to stay in Inari
We would definitely recommend the Wilderness Hotel, Inari. It’s located at the shores of Lake Inari, and offers normal rooms, as well as glass igloos! If you want to stay in glass igloos, we’d recommend this property because it’s a fantastic spot to catch the northern lights! Just check out their Facebook page, or my photo gallery if you need any proof.
Ivalo Hotel Recommendations
Although we highly recommend the Wilderness Hotel, here are a few other recommendations.
Inari has a handful of hotel properties, so book in advance if you’re traveling during peak season.Search for more hotels in Inari
Inari to Helsinki
Day 10 in Porvoo
From Inari, head down to Ivalo and catch a flight back to Helsinki for your final night. However, this time round, we recommend heading out of Helsinki to visit a small town called Porvoo on your last day.
Porvoo Day Trip
Porvoo is an ancient, colourful medieval town of only an hour outside Helsinki by bus. The buses run fairly frequently, so it’s easy to fit Porvoo into your day’s schedule.
Once in Porvoo, stroll through its old cobblestone streets, admire it’s colourful houses, and enjoy some delicious food and coffee. And don’t forget to eat a slice of the famous Runeberg torte.
Take a look at our photo gallery from Porvoo if words don’t paint a picture for you.
All the information on Porvoo can be found in this dedicated blog post. Everything from how to get there, where to eat and what to do.
What’s the weather like in Finland in winter?
Extremely cold! We arrived in Finland just before Christmas, and left after the first week of January. Although there was no snow in Helsinki at that time, the temperature ranged from -4°C to 2°C. In Rovaniemi, the temperature ranged between 0°C and -4°C. However, as we went further up north to Ivalo, and Inari, the temperature ranged between -30°C and -12°C.
And how do I prepare for it?
The only way to combat the extreme temperature of northern Lapland is to layer-up. Wear multiple layers of clothes, from thermals, to sweaters, and finally top it up with a heavy, water-proof jacket that will resist the wind and dampness.
Make sure that you carry boots equipped to handle temperatures up to -20°C and wear woolen socks.
Although gloves are essential, but mittens are better especially when the temperature drops below -20°C. And of course, don’t forget to cover your head, and ears.
If you’re sufficiently dressed, the cold won’t be a concern any longer.
And if you’re carrying a drone to Finland in the winter, don’t forget to read my tips for flying your drone in the freezing weather. And of course, brush up on your Finnish drone laws.
Do you need to rent a car?
We covered this entire itinerary in Finland without a car. We used a combination of taxis, buses, trains, and planes.
However, if you’re looking to rent a car in Finland, check out some the best deals available on this website.
We hope that you find this itinerary helpful while planning your winter trip to Finland and Lapland. Our goal is to give you an idea of what to expect, and how to get around. Of course, you can modify this itinerary to fit your timeline, whether you wish to spend 7 or 14 days in Finland.
One word of caution. Hotels sell out fast in Finland during the winter holidays. Be sure to book your rooms well in advance.