Have you ever dreamed of visiting Lapland? With sweeping arctic wilderness, dreamy snowscapes, colourful northern lights, midnight sun and herds of reindeer, it’s surely the ultimate travel bucket list destination? I recently visited a very snowy Lapland with my Husband Luke, so I have created the ultimate guide to Lapland, so that you can start planning your dream holiday to Lapland today.
As the home of Santa, Lapland remains the obvious choice for a Christmas break, but beyond the magic of Santa, there is so much to see and do in this beautiful, wintry, European destination. In this stunning part of the arctic circle, you can experience snow sports, stay in an ‘Aurora cabin’, chase the northern lights, go hot tubbing under the stars and feast upon Lappish cuisine. Here’s a guide I have written to some of the best experiences you can have in Lapland.Have you ever dreamed of visiting Lapland? With sweeping arctic wilderness, dreamy snowscapes, colourful northern lights, midnight sun and herds of reindeer, it is surely the ultimate travel bucket list destination? Click To Tweet
Where to stay in Lapland
There are lots of places to stay in and around Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, from swanky hotels to cabins, ski resorts and aurora cabins in the forest to suit all styles and budgets.
You can tick off some serious travel bucket list goals by staying in an Aurora cabin in the Apukka Resort, just north of the Arctic circle. This amazing resort looks like something out of a fairytale. There are wooden, snow-covered cabins and ice cottages surrounded by dense forests and wandering reindeer. Apukka Resort is outside of the bright city lights and is the ideal place to see the beautiful and elusive aurora borealis, dancing in the night sky.
We stayed in a luxurious Aurora cabin for a few nights during our stay in Lapland, here you can look up at the night sky through the glass roof and see twinkling stars, falling snowflakes or even the Northern Lights if you are lucky! The cabins are decked out in a style that I can only describe as ‘Pinterest goals’, with an ensuite bathroom, a minibar, a switch to heat the roof to melt the snow off and even complimentary wifi. I have frankly never stayed anywhere as amazing as this, it was a dream come true to fall asleep under the stars in serene silence, except when Luke started snoring of course.
The resort also has a wide range of activities that you can book, from northern lights hunting, snowshoeing, snow train trips, ice fishing, or a session in private hot tub or bathing in an ice sauna. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience staying at Apukka Resort, there’s a sense of remoteness and wildness here, despite the fact that you aren’t that far away from the city. You can choose to simply relax with a loved one or fill your days with activities and excursions or release your inner child and play in the snow. Just remember, this is Finland, making snow angels may result in you sinking into 9ft of snow, you have been warned!You can tick off some serious travel bucket list goals by staying in an Aurora cabin in the amazing Apukka Resort, just north of the Arctic circle in Finland! Click To Tweet
If you are looking to stay in the heart of Rovaniemi, then the Scandic Rovaniemi hotel is an incredibly chic and cosy place to stay. We stayed in a luxurious and well equipped Superior room for a few nights and got to experience all the amenities the hotel has to offer, as well as being right in the centre of town.If you are looking to stay in the heart of Rovaniemi, then the Scandic Rovaniemi hotel is an incredibly chic and cosy place to stay! @ScandicGlobal #travel Click To Tweet
The Scandic Rovaniemi has everything you could hope for from a smart city hotel. They have beautiful rooms, sauna facilities, lobby bar, a fabulous restaurant serving Nordic classics with a twist and an extensive breakfast buffet with over 100 items, many of which are traditional Lappish breakfast foods to try. It’s definitely a fabulously modern and convenient place to stay in Rovaniemi.
Santa Claus Holiday Village
It’s Christmas year-round at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, or as I like to call it, the happiest place on earth. My excitement levels reached fever pitch upon arriving at the holiday-themed wonderland! This huge village has high-quality accommodation, activities, restaurants, shopping and lots and lots of Christmas trees.
We stayed in a luxury ‘Superior cottage’ during our magical stay in the village. This spacious apartment had a beautiful ‘festive feel’ with handcrafted Lappish crafts and room features, as well as a personal sauna and a gigantic bed to snuggle up in. The attention to detail at Santa Claus Village is incredible, everything had a hue of ‘festive red’ and touches of Christmas are everywhere you look, no matter what time of year you visit.
At Santa Claus Holiday Village you can book an array of fun-filled activities and excursions, as well as the chance to meet the man himself, that’s right guys, Santa is in the house and accepting visits from all the good boys and girls. Obviously, I must be top of his list as I have been on bestest behaviour all year. You can also spend some time relaxing in the restaurants and gorgeous lobby area with a cheeky hot wine or three, just remember darlings, Klaus is watching you, so no dancing on the table after an evening on the wine.
Clearly, this is the ideal place to bring the kids for a festive few days but that’s not to say that Santa Claus Holiday Village can’t be enjoyed by adults. We saw plenty of adults wandering around, their faces full of Christmas wonder, with no kids in tow. It’s hard not to love somewhere that is full of twinkling lights, decorations, mulled wine and holiday cheer, it is definitely worth a visit to delight your inner child.
Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara
The Sky Ounasvaara is located in the Ounasvaara Winter Sports Center, surrounded by beautiful forests and nature. We stayed for a few nights in this retro looking hotel and experienced amazing views from our room and from the restaurant and breakfasting area.
Whilst the hotel might look a little ‘old school’ on the outside, it is warm and inviting on the inside and offers some spectacular views. The snow-covered trees outside really do make for a picture perfect view from the hotel and the Instagram potential is frankly off the chart.
At this hotel, we not only enjoyed a spacious hotel room with our own private sauna, but also the amazing walks around the hotel. We spent some time hiking around the nearby forest trails and trying to photograph dreamy snowscapes, partly for this article and partly for a cheeky ‘Look where we are’ Facebook brag.
It really is great to stay high above the town and enjoy peaceful views as well as feasting on delicious cuisine in their stunning panoramic restaurant. It’s definitely worthwhile escaping the town and surrounding yourself with nature for a few days, the sunsets are totally worth it.
What to do in Lapland
There is an overwhelming amount of activities to choose from in Lapland, as we visited January we were able to experience an array of snowy activities. Having rarely experienced snow in the UK, it was outrageously good fun to play in the snow and take part in winter activities!
One does not go to Lapland and not experience a reindeer ride. There is nothing quite like being pulled along by gorgeous reindeer in minus 15-degree conditions, with the sun setting in a glorious pastel shade haze.
There is something incredibly romantic about the calm serenity and the sheer isolation of the frozen landscape when it is just you, your beloved and the reindeer guide up front. I turned to Luke to eloquently express this sentiment, only to find my face was frozen shut. Needless to say, wrap up warm kids.
Santa Claus Holiday village organised our reindeer ride and it was a fabulous experience from start to finish. We were picked up from our accommodation, driven to the middle of the forest before embarking on a wintery reindeer ride through the forest, we even got to meet and feed some of the reindeer! Whilst it was absolutely freezing in the forest, we were treated to hot juice and a roaring fire in a snug tipi after the ride, which meant I was once again able to talk and have facial expressions.
Chasing the Northern Lights
Seeing the Northern lights has long been an ultimate travel goal of mine, I have longed to see the dancing aurora borealis in the night sky. The Northern Lights are famously elusive and it can be down to sheer luck if you actually manage to see them. Santa Claus Holiday Village organised an evening excursion for us so that we could hunt for the Northern Lights.
We were picked up from our accommodation, given warm overalls and taken to a quiet forest clearing. Within minutes of arriving the Northern Lights started to appear and everyone fell silent. It’s hard to put into words the feeling you have when you see them, especially when you are in a remote and snowy location, it almost feels like you have a quiet and profound, connection with nature. The silence was broken by me shrieking “Oh crap, get the camera, we HAVE to get photos of this, think of the INSTAGRAMS!”.
I sat waist deep in snow and spent a long time fiddling with the camera settings before managing to get some decent snaps of the Northern lights. Whilst I had lost all feeling from the waist down, it was definitely worth freezing my ass off to capture this amazing phenomenon and one of my happiest travel memories. We were thankfully able to warm up with hot juice and sausages cooked on an open in an adorable little tipi in the forest.
Hot tubbing under the stars
When you stay at the Apukka Resort you can book a private, open-air hot tub under the stars and your own personal sauna. We had a ridiculously romantic night sipping champagne in a lovely, bubbly hot tub as tiny snowflakes fell upon us.
We had brought over a lovely bottle of champagne that had been gifted to us for our wedding and popping the cork whilst soaking in a Lapland hot tub seemed like the ideal place to enjoy a glass of fizz. Especially when it came ‘Snow chilled’. It’s a magical experience to be both warm in the hot tub and have snow falling upon you at the same time.
High on champagne and love, we returned to our cabin to discover we had locked ourselves out. This meant that I had to run barefoot through the snow, in a bathing costume to reception to get a spare key. Kudos to the reception staff for not howling with laughter at the sight of a frozen Welsh girl in swimwear pleading for a key, stuttering with the cold.
Hiking in the forest
There are lots of fabulous walks in and around Rovaniemi, we walked through the snow following the popular ‘two bridges walk’, that combines the old railway bridge and the ‘Lumberjack’s candle’ bridge. We also walked to the Arctic Garden, following the River Ounasjoki.
It was so quiet when we were exploring the forests, we didn’t see another person around us and everything was so still and so peaceful. I have never walked through a snow-covered forest before and I was completely blown away by how beautiful it all looked. I would really recommend strapping some snow boots on and getting outside to experience some dreamy snowscapes. Your friends and family back home are frankly going to die with jealousy when you post your ‘winter forest’ pics on Facebook.
There is something thrilling about racing through a wintery forest being pulled along on a sledge by excitable Huskies. Santa Claus Holiday Village booked us a traditional husky ride with the most adorable and playful husky dogs.
There’s a definite feel of ‘days gone by’ when you find yourself whizzing through the forest listening to your guide command the Huskies in Finnish. I was amazed at the speed we were going along at, these dogs LOVE to run and it was a challenge to get some snaps as they bounded through the snow. We were able to meet the trainers after our ride, ask lots of questions and play with the Huskies. It was an amazing experience and I do hope you have more luck getting a ‘Huskie selfie’ than I did, though we did miraculously manage a ‘Sledge selfie’.
Meet Santa Claus
No visit to Lapland is complete without a meeting with Santa Claus, even if you are a married couple in your mid-thirties! We were lucky enough to have a private audience with Santa at the festive Santa Claus Holiday Village. There was some initial confusion whereby I thought we were meeting Santa at his residence and then 5 minutes before meeting Santa, it transpired Santa was, in fact, coming to visit us at our holiday cottage.No visit to Lapland is complete without a meeting with Santa Claus! You can meet Santa at the festive Santa Claus Holiday Village! @SCHV_cottages #travel Click To Tweet
“Quick, run back, tidy for SANTA”, I started shrieking at Luke in a panic, “Santa can’t see my underwear on the floor”, perhaps being married to me isn’t quite the delight I think it is? After a frantic tidy, with everything shoved into cupboards, Santa arrived with a helper elf and instantly I was a little girl, in awe of Santa again. During our time with Santa he sang to us in Finnish, gave us a gift and asked what I would like for next Christmas “A basket of kittens please” was my optimistic response. Santa and husband exchanged nervous glances as I promised to be “extra good”.
Ski across the arctic circle
At Apukka Resort you can experience cross-country skiing across a frozen lake and cross the arctic circle. You can book a trip with a guide who will show you how to cross ski and also tell you about the surrounding area, as well as a bit of history on Lapland and the Sami people. “Now we’re going to ski across the frozen lake” beamed our guide. Needless to say anxious husband Luke looked like he was having a mini-stroke at the suggestion and needed to be coaxed onto the lake.
Cross-country skiing is a great way to get through the snow and explore the frozen landscape, without sinking into the snow. After some initial hesitation, Luke decided he was the lead ‘explorer’ and excitedly charged through the snow. It was wonderfully peaceful skiing across the lake, there was no one else around and all we could see ahead was miles of serene snowscapes.
Explore Rovaniemi Town Centre
The capital of Finnish Lapland Rovaniemi, has a quaint and compact centre with shops, bars, restaurants mini skating rink, as well as being within walking distance to attractions such as Arktikum museum and being a cutesy and convenient base for organising nearby activities.The capital of Finnish Lapland Rovaniemi, has a quaint and compact centre with shops, bars, restaurants and a mini skating rink! @VisitRovaniemi #travel Click To Tweet
It really felt like a festive town when we visited in January, with Christmas trees, sparkly Christmas lights, snow on the ground and the sound of Christmas songs being played in shops and cafes. There were an array of adorable wooden huts where you could buy traditional Lapland handicrafts and gifts, as well as more modern stores to shop in.
I would also definitely recommend a visit to the Arktikum museum whilst you’re in town. This museum and science centre has a lot of exhibits and information on aurora borealis, Sami culture and the history of Finnish Lapland.
Where to eat and drink in Lapland
Lappish cuisine appears to consist of rich, hearty foods steeped in tradition and authenticity. I will shortly be writing a ‘Foodie’s guide to Lapland’ but for now here are a few places in and around Rovaniemi, that you should visit for fabulous food.
Make sure you swing by Restaurant Nili for authentic Lappish food in gorgeous, traditional settings. There are some serious Hygge vibes here and the entire restaurant looks like a Pinterest Account, with handicraft decoration and reindeer horns adorning the walls.Make sure you swing by Restaurant Nili for authentic Lappish food in gorgeous, traditional settings. There are some serious Hygge vibes here and the entire restaurant looks like a Pinterest Account! @RavintolaNili Click To Tweet
We tried a Reindeer platter, with reindeer meat prepared in a variety of ways. Our visit to in Lapland was actually the first time we had tried reindeer meat and we weren’t sure what to expect? Reindeer meat was actually a lot milder than I expected and didn’t taste at all gamey. It’s very lean and so I thought it tasted very different to beef. Our food was beautifully presented and extremely tasty, Nili staff were also very friendly and knowledgeable and were able to tell us a lot about Lappish cuisine, as well as prepare fantastic, fruity cocktails, laced with Finnish Vodka.
Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara Panorama Restaurant
The Sky Ounasvaara restaurant offers spectacular views as you dine, you can gaze out of the large windows across the treetops. There is a very authentic and regional menu here, with typical dishes including ‘Reindeer Prepared Two Ways’ with Jerusalem Artichoke and Mushroom Sauce, Beef Tenderloin with Lappish Potatoes and Béarnaise Sauce and Lingonberry Sorbet.
We dined in the evening and we were able to enjoy an incredibly romantic night of fine dining, great wine and looking out over a remote, snow-covered forest and twinkling stars. The cuisine was authentically Finnish and we feasted upon Arctic char and reindeer. The service was extremely attentive and the food was absolutely delicious.
Scandic Rovaniemi Restaurant
You don’t have to stay at this gorgeous hotel to enjoy dinner at the cosy new restaurant in the Scandic Rovaniemi. Located on the ground floor, this Scandi-cool restaurant features a seasonal menu with a fresh take on Nordic classics.
We feasted upon mouth-watering and crispy battered Pikeperch with crayfish aioli, salsa and French fries, as well as traditional, sautéed Lapland reindeer, with mashed Lapland potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. The dishes were simple but really flavourful and well portioned. Even though I was completely full, I still managed to make some room for creamy, white chocolate Skyr mousse, which was utterly heavenly.
In and around Rovaniemi there is a selection of bars, pubs and clubs to grab a drink in. We mostly stuck to a quiet drink in traditional pubs, as we were frankly wiped from all the activities we were doing during the day. We had a few drinks in the town centre and visited a few good pubs including Oliver’s Corner, Uitto Pub and Bull Bar & Grill.
If you are looking for something a little less boozy then there are several cafes serving up amazing hot chocolate in the centre of Rovaniemi. We loved the Coffee House in Rovaniemi centre. This popular coffee shop will do you an absolute cracking hot chocolate, with lashing of cream that you can enjoy in kooky and warm surroundings.
What do you think of my ultimate guide to Lapland? Has it inspired you to come and visit Lapland and to tick off some travel bucket list goals? Let me know what you think in the comments below!