Do you want to experience a trip of a lifetime, through Finland’s magical Winter Wonderland? Go on amazing once-in-a-lifetime adventures – 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 incredible, and we thought we’d share our experience and itinerary through this blog post.
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 so 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.
If you happen to be visiting Helsinki during Christmas, we have a different itinerary chalked up for you in this blog.
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
- Discover Market Square
Where to stay in Helsinki
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.
Recommended Restaurants in Helsinki
Here are some of the amazing restaurants that we ate at while 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 → Kemi
Days 3 & 4 in 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 the 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, try to catch the sunset around the hrabour. It can be absolutely magical!
And once you’re done with that, let’s get to the main reason why this itinerary involves Kemi.
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.
Where to stay in Kemi
We stayed at the Cumulus City Kemi which was about a 5-10 minute walk from the city centre. Other than its location, it is 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.
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 → 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!
- 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.
Where to stay in Rovaniemi
I would highly recommend the apartment that we stayed at – Piriko Studio Apartment. It is located right in the heart of Rovaniemi, and the apartment itself was very spacious, comfortable and clean.
Recommended 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 → Saariselka
Day 6 in Saariselka
Saariselka is a 3.5 hour bus ride from Rovaniemi. The town 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.
As Saariselka is a fantastic location to spot the northern lights, you could choose to stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. However, we didn’t include Saariselka on our itinerary for the glass igloos. We went there to experience a traditional Finnish smoke sauna.
Things to do in Saariselka
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.
Again, I can’t stress this enough – this was an experience of a lifetime!
Where to stay in Saariselka
There are many resorts in Saariselka. Most tourists stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. 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 its far more economical. And it’s also good to know that the bus from Rovaniemi stops at the Fell Centre.
Saariselka → 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!
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 small town that has a great place to stay, and is a phenomenal location to see the northern lights!
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 → Inari
Days 8 & 9 in Inari
The distance between Ivalo and Inari can be covered by a taxi. And it’s usually advisable to ask your accommodation to arrange a taxi for you.
Inari was the northern most town we visited while in Lapland. At 69° north, there is hardly any civilization or people around. Our stay at Inari felt so personal and intimate, especially when we were participating in outdoor activities. It was just us immersed in nature.
Things to do in Inari
Inari is probably the best 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! The property is also a fantastic spot to catch the northern lights! Just check out their Facebook page if you need any proof.
Inari → 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.
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.
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.
If you need any additional details, feel free to drop me a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Hope you enjoy your trip to Finland!