Our trip to Finnish Lapland was one of the most spontaneous ideas. We’d been dreaming about the northern lights for a really long time, but when we had enough time, the weather forecast wasn’t good and when there was high probability that the aurora could be visible, we didn’t find at least three free days. So we risked it and bought tickets on Wednesday. For Friday.
Our departure was as usual. We were in a traffic jam 45 minutes before our flight, and my mom was still sending last work emails from the car. But as usually, everything went well and we arrived in Helsinki in the evening. Our next flight was at 7.45AM (from Helsinki to Rovaniemi), so we stayed in a hotel by the airport.
We only traveled with cabin luggages, which seemed to be quite a bold decision, given that we were going beyond the Arctic Circle and 80 % of my bag was taken by cameras, lenses & tripod. Eventually, it turned out that I could only travel with my purse. The whole week was so cold that we were wearing all our clothes and our luggage was empty anyways. We practically changed only socks and underwear every morning, so: arctic circle with just a cabin luggage for a week – approved by timetofit, haha:)
We only booked the first night because we had no idea of the local conditions, what we were going to do the whole week and what the weather would be like. You can’t really find reliable information about the winter Lapland on the internet, probably because there’s not too many crazy people without any plan like us. So this article may be a bit longer and will contain practical information, which I could have used myself before traveling to Finland. At the same time, we checked out every interesting accommodation with glass roofs, so I can tell which ones are worth it and which ones are not. It’s not a very cheap thing and therefore some information might be useful for you guys.
Rovaniemi is a town of sixty thousand people, located right on the Arctic Circle and is known as the place where Santa lives. That is why the whole town and its surroundings are decorated with Christmas lights and various statues of Santa and reindeer. And even though it was March, we had the impression that Christmas was happening tomorrow. It seemed a little absurd to us, given that we have been running away from the Christmas maddness for several years in a row now, and we find ourselves at its birth.
At the airport, we rented a car and headed north.
Practical information vol.1: Winter Lapland has three types of roads – a couple of main roads that are maintained (meaning passable with a regular car), minor ones that are partially-maintained (so the snow is cleared out but there is a thick layer of ice, which no one seems to mind, so you can drive on those too, but it’s super slippery) and unmaintained (meaning passable only on a snowmobile, not a car – not even a 4×4!). Beware of treacherous navigation, which obviously doesn’t know which roads are cleared and which aren’t, so the higher the road number is, the more likely it is that you won’t pass through it. I was surprised by the snowmobiles especially. In Lapland, it’s an ordinary type of transport, since the north of Finland is covered with snow and ice for 200 days a year. They are commonly used for riding on frozen lakes, but also on forest paths. They even have their own road signs. Also, they’re usually parked between cars in front of supermarkets, which I found incredibly amusing. By the way, if you want to visit Finland for its lakes, choose summer, because all the lakes are under ice and quite a big layer of snow in the winter, so you can see nothing but a large white area.
There wasn’t anything interesting between Rovaniemi and Ivalo, where we had booked our hotel for the first night. We stopped only at Kakslauttanen, where I was interested in these glass bubbles, serving as cabins. We peeked in and agreed that we would never spend €390 to sleep in one of the bubbles. They’re super old and simple inside.
We arrived at Aurora Village fairly early. We were equipped with several apps predicting the probability of aurora, and that night there was about a 50% chance. That’s why we stayed in this glass-roofed cottage to watch aurora right out of our beds. One night cost us 220 EUR, but normally – in the winter season – it’s around 350 EUR or even more. The inside was brand new and quite fancy. We even got two bottles of champagne as a welcome gift.
Even though we bought an app that was supposed to alert us when the aurora was visible, we were so scared that we would miss it, that my mom set up an alarmclock for every hour. So whenever the alarm rang, she hysterically woke up, sneaked out of bed, and was running around the room to see if it’s there or not. At about half past two, the app started ringing and notifying us that the aurora was visible. At first we didn’t see anything from bed, so we put on all the clothes we had and went into the cold. And what do you think?
It was there!!!!
Practical information vol. 2: It’s definitely worth it to invest into the aurora apps. But don’t buy those that evaluate probability only on the basis of weather forecasts, but those that are linked to cameras and sensors in the specific locations. Thus, you will only receive a warning if the norhtern lights are really visible, so you can rely on it. The app is bought at hotels for about 10 EUR. You receive a local code that you enter into the app and you will only be notified if the aurora appears in your location. I don’t suppose anyone wants to be up all night, so this app is a must-have. And don’t forget to turn off the silent mode for the night! 🙂
The next morning we went for a dog sled ride right from our hotel. This amazing experience is no less expensive, two hours on snow with these hyperactive dogs costs around 170 EUR/person, four hours around 220 EUR/person. At first I was a bit upset that it would be just a hitch for tourists, and that it was madly overpriced. But when we arrived at the Husky Farm, I realized that feeding dozens of dogs is not fun. And what was the best thing about it? That they let us drive! So it’s not like you just sit in the sled and the guide does all the fun. If there are two people, one drives first, one sits and they switch in the half. I’ve never seen dogs so happy that they can run like furious. So you don’t have to worry about animal abuse or something like that.
In the afternoon we headed north to Inari. We spent a lot of time in the car, so we planned to go for a short hike.
Practical information vol. 3: There’s not much of a hiking in winter in Lapland. You often don’t even get to the National Parks because the road is covered with snow. However, this can be solved in two ways – snowshoes or cross-country skis. If you want to go without them, you have absolutely no chance to get around because after the first step off the trails/road, you will fall into the snow up to your waist level. This also applies to the few hiking trails that are open and accessible – if you step off the beaten path (which is often just 30-40 cm wide), you find yourself deep in the snow.
We planned a hike in Pyhä-Nattanena NP and to a photogenic house in Otsamo, but the roads were impassable, so we had to give it up. The only thing that was open was a 5.8 km long Juutua Trail in the Inari neighborhood, so we set out on it. The whole trail led through a forest to a suspension bridge and back. Then we headed to Njurkulahti in Lemmenjoen National Park to spend our second night.
On the third day we headed south-west. Our only stop was at the Levi ski resort, where we wanted to try to climb the top of the mountain – just to move and not to just sit in the car all day. In addition, there is the famous & photogenic Santa’s Cabin between the ski slopes. The top can be reached either by a gondola (there is only one) and by foot. We chose the second option and hit the slopes from the parking lot by Tuikku restaurant. Santa’s Cabin is located between slopes 11 and 13. We spent the sunset there but the winds were so strong that we had to warm ourselves up with something hot to eat down in Levi in the evening.
Practical information vol. 4: When it comes to food, I definitely recommend trying salmon soup or reindeer broth. They both go for the main meal (so their price ranges from 10 to 15 euros) and are really tasty. Other specialties include, of course, liquorice candies which I could eat all day long, but most people see it the other way around. We ate a bag every day. Because the Finns are the biggest consumers of coffee per person in the world, they’ll make you coffee pretty much anywhere. But don’t expect a cappuccino, they serve black coffee without milk.
As the auroras forecast was promising for the third night again, we wanted to sleep in a glass-roofed cabin again. I was intrigued by the Aurora Dome & Glamping at Lake Torassiepintie, but their website wasn’t very functional, so I wasn’t able to make a reservation. We drove pass it anyways, so we decided to stop by and see if they had one bubble available. Luckily they did, but this time we took a normal cabin from one simple reason. There is no toilet in the glass cabin and we didn’t find the idea of peeing outside in -15 degrees very appealing. We arrived completely frozen, so we jumped into the sauna right after our arrival.
While enjoying the sauna, we heard some strange sounds. We peaked out of the sauna and found out what it was. It was my alarm clock ringing. I was wondering why I set the alarm to 11PM and why so loud. I was going to turn it off but I noticed five different notifications saying the same thing: “aurora is visible now!!”. I started screaming, so I perfectly freaked outmy mom too, who had no idea what was going on. We started hysterically putting our clothes on and flew out of the sauna. Within a minute my wet hair was frozen into icicles. I grabbed a tripod, camera, gloves. Then we sprinted towards the frozen lake where it was most visible. It was HUGE, beautiful, colorful and constantly changing shapes and colors. It was really something incredible. It lasted for about 3 hours, during which we froze again. We got to bed around four in the morning.
Anyways, I recommend this place most of all. First because sauna and breakfast are included (unlike the other overpriced accommodation) and second, they have a very nice staff and the cottages are brand new.
On the fourth day we went to Pallas National Park, just off Levi. We found one open trail here, and for me it was the best one of the whole trip. From the information center you can climb to one of the mountains, where you have a magnificent view, even though the mountains are just over 800 meters high. When the snow is frozen, you can go without snowshoes all the way to the top.
From here we wanted to go to Mount Enontekio, but there was no time left so we turned it back to Rovaniemi. We booked a night at Suomutunturi Hotel directly on the ski slope in Suomu.
Our fifth day took place in Oulanka National Park, where we hiked two trails. One 5-km-long circuit directly from the visitor centers called Hiiden Hurmos. And for the second, 12-km-long one, we drove to Juuma. The circuit was named Pieni Karhunkierros and copied the famous Bear’s Trail. Again, these two circuits are the only ones that are accessible in winter.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Rovaniemi and at night we went to see the Aurora Tree House Resort, from which we were a bit disappointed and were glad that we didn’t spend another 350 EUR for accommodation. In the pictures, it looks like there’s a few cabins in the middle of the forest, but in reality there are about 60 of them, right next to each other. Plus the resort is right next to the main road.
On the sixth day morning, before we left, we stopped by Santa’s Village, just to see it, but both of us agreed that we would enjoy this place if we were about 50 years younger. Access to the area is free.
That’s all from me, if you have any questions, feel free! :))) There’s a map of our roadtrip, so you can take it as in inspiration!:)