Imagine a magical landscape of pristine powder, trees bent double with snow, and candy floss-hued midday skies, the sun setting after just a few short hours of daylight. When talking of winter wonderlands, few compare to the majesty of Finnish Lapland.
With Narnia-worthy snowy forests and a good chance of experiencing the heart-stirring Northern Lights, it’s an unrivalled winter getaway, whether you’re seeking a romantic escape or a an active adventure. The crisp days of January to March are the optimum time to visit – it’s your best chance to see nature’s light show. For where to stay and eat, plus what to do on the ground, read our guide in full.
Though mere minutes from Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi the hotel is completely shrouded by forest. Influenced by nature and Lappish culture, rather than build a singular hotel, the architects behind Arctic Treehouse Hotel decided to place individual accommodation units on a steep natural hillside to reflect the character of the locale and bring guests closer to nature. Interiors are a unique blend of luxury, comfort, local traditions, and slick Scandinavian design. Suites are bathed in light thanks to panoramic windows, which spoil you with views of the Northern Lights from your bed when the sun sets.
Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara
For cosy, romantic rooms with the atmosphere of a private spa, opt for Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara. Over half of the hotel rooms at this property come with their own sauna, an essential part of Nordic wellness, so make sure you flag your request for one when booking. Just 20 minutes from the airport, the hotel is situated next to the Ounasvaara ski centre – in short, it couldn’t be better located. Whether you’re a guest of the hotel or note, it’s worth noting that the hotel is also home to one of Finland’s most popular restaurants, Sky Kitchen.
Kakslautannen Arctic Resort
Kakslautannen’s iconic glass-domed igloos might be small, but they’re mighty, allowing guests to immerse themselves completely in the snow-clad landscape. An unrivalled experience, sleeping under the stars in full view of the magnificent Aurora Borealis (but without the frostbite), the Kelo-Glass Igloos (which are made from Lapland’s unique Kelo pinewood) combine the comfort of a log chalet, complete with private sauna and fireplace, with a glass-roofed bedroom to maximise on those views. Situated 250kms north of the Arctic Circle, the resort is perfectly positioned on the edge of real Arctic wilderness and close to Finland’s largest national park, Urho Kekkonen.
Arctic Light Hotel
Housed in an an original 1950s building (built after almost 90% of Rovaniemi’s city surface was destroyed in World War Two), this contemporary hotel was converted in 2015 to offer visitors an urban Arctic hideaway that combines traditional Lappish heritage with contemporary style. Its 57 rooms include suites decked out by Finnish luxury lifestyle brand, Balmuir with luxurious soft furnishings. Foodies amongst you will already have read up on its famous superfood-filled breakfast buffet, which was designed by Finnish-American chef Sara la Fountain. In a word: yum.
EAT + DRINK
Lappish cuisine is uncompromising in its use of seasonal local produce, with menus embracing freshly caught fish, locally hunted game, and homegrown vegetables to accompany them. The chef’s passion for the variety of produce available in the region is reflected in the Arctic Restaurant’s menu, with dishes prepared in Arctic ways using traditional methods such as smoking and pickling. Think: king crab soup, reindeer roast, overnight stewed moose with with roasted local vegetables, and roasted Arctic Ocean catfish.
Found within Rovaniemi’s Sky Onasvaara Hotel, Sky Kitchen has frequently been named the best restaurant in Lapland. Famous as much for its modern Lappish cuisine, as for its dazzling panoramic views, Sky Kitchen promises a unique culinary experience. After a three-course dinner of dishes such as reindeer tartare and roast Arctic char (a local cold-water fish), guests are invited to wrap up and watch the Aurora from the restaurant’s roof terrace. Magic.
Restaurant Nili & Nest
Restaurant Nili showcases local delicacies like bear meat from Kemijärvi and grilled cod tongue, amid an enchanting dining room built from local natural materials including Lappish wood, reindeer horns, and leather. Across the road, its little sister restaurant, Nest serves up a less formal, yet equally indulgent, buffet presented in a traditional Finnish wooden boat.
Found in the sleepy town of Kemijärvi, en route from Rovaniemi to Salla, Mestarin Kievari is certainly worth the pit stop. Feast on dishes such as smoked and salted pike, a ‘Finnish surf and turf’ of fish caught in the local lake, and reindeer fillet with roasted vegetables fresh from the garden. As for dessert, don’t miss the leipäjuusto Lappish cheese with arctic cloudberries.
This is the place to visit for a hearty lunch, following a lengthy morning on the ski slopes of Salla. It’s a reindeer-rich menu (unsurprising, given Lapland is home to more reindeer than people) dine on dishes such as reindeer meatballs, reindeer blood pancakes and sausages, sautéed reindeer, and cold-smoked reindeer pizza. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, try the smoked moose burger.
Chase the Aurora Borealis
While the season for viewing the Northern Lights runs from mid-August until early April, January to March affords the best viewing opportunities. Whilst at the mercy of nature, and therefore of course never guaranteed, Lapland’s expansive skies and minimal light pollution offer the optimum conditions for seeing nature’s light show. The ski resort town of Salla isn’t named ‘the middle of nowhere’ for nothing; its location is ideal for undisturbed views with incredible photo opportunities to boot.
Ski some of the northernmost slopes in Europe
Finland’s location means its slopes are blanketed in snow from December through to May, and while winter’s polar night means daylight is scarce, its quieter floodlit resorts, fringed with snow-covered trees make a pleasant change compared to the busyness of the Alps. The ‘Big Four’ – Levi, Ylläs, Pyhä-Luosto, and Ruka – are accompanied by smaller resorts, like Salla. The plentiful gentle slopes and English-speaking ski schools are perfect for beginners, whilst great off-piste opportunities and championship-worthy steeper slopes will appeal to seasoned skiers.
Earn your reindeer driving licence
Few Lapland experiences will be as magical as a reindeer safari through silent, snow-covered forests. Cosily wrapped up from the Arctic sub-zero temperatures in your reindeer hide-lined sleigh, take in the wowing views as the midday sun tinges the landscape in a flurry of candy floss hues. Post expedition, you’ll be rewarded with your reindeer driving licence, though, be warned, it may not be as useful within the M25. For a more exhilarating adventure, upgrade to a husky safari and embrace your inner speed demon.
Explore Finland’s newest National Park
Finnish Lapland is a vast Arctic wilderness and as of 1 January 2022, Salla National Park officially became Finland’s 41st, joining five others in the region, including the three largest in the country. With walking and hiking trails galore and activities like fat-tire electric biking, snowshoeing, and snowmobile safaris, it’s an adventurer’s paradise. Lapland has the cleanest air in the world and despite temperatures plummeting to lows of -30ºc in the depths of winter, it’s still an irresistible experience to explore.
Finnair flies from London Heathrow to Rovaniemi and Kuusamo from £230 per person, including taxes and charges (fares are subject to change).
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.