Finland (Lapland) beyond Northern Lights!

It was late in the night when we came back to Sariselka, after a lovely relaxed reindeer ride in the forest. We walked straight into a bar, rather appropriately named 'Local'. It was our last night and our host David had been hopeful till a few hours back about sighting the Northern Lights. But all hope was lost and we decided to gulp down mugs of chips beer to drown the sorrows for the missed opportunity.

As we walked back to our hotel just across the street, I kept looking at the sky, hoping for an opening where lights were getting ready to give us the show of the lifetime. The sky remained grim, and clouds never really parted.

man male hiking lapland finland
Hiking - a popular activity in Lapland (Photographer: Aleksi Koskinen)

Back in the room, it was a relief to peel off all the layers of clothing and sleep naked on my last night above the Arctic circle. A few times during the night I was tempted to go out and check on the sky, but the thought of wearing all layers once again was a big enough deterrent. Plus as per the weather forecasts, the sky was likely to open up only the next afternoon.

But something changed when I took a short nap on the short flight from Lapland to Helsinki. I dreamt of reindeer, and snow, and cold, and the rather unusual adventures over the past one week in Finland. Northern Lights were such an important part of my trip to Finland, that missing out on them seemed like a disaster. But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that there was so much more to do in Lapland than Northern Lights, even if that's what the region is most famous for.

church saariselka lapland finland
A church in Saariselka

Plus, catching the Northern Lights depends a lot in your luck, something similar to getting a glimpse of a Tiger in Bandhavgarh Reserve in India. If it happens, it's great, but that one thing shouldn't really define your entire safari experience. So if you are planning a visit up Finland, do accept nature as unpredictable, and you will come back a much happier person, whether or not you get to witness the Northern Lights.


Lapland Beyond Northern Lights

Here are my top recommendations of things to do in Lapland beyond the Northern Lights.

Reindeer safari in the forest

When you think of Finland, one of the first things that comes to mind are the lovable reindeer. It was only there that all reindeer are pretty much wild, but they all have owners - the indigenous Sami people. Though most of them stay in the forests, a few stay with their owners during the tourist season and were the primary means of transportation, before snowmobile came in.


reindeer safari lapland finland
Reindeer Safari (Photographer: Juho Kuva)

So while you are there, explore the Lapland the local way - with reindeer. You can do a safari during the day, but the more fun way of doing it is in the night. Though it's much colder during the night, the ride is slow and you can really relax, and even doze off. Often your host will also stop for a bonfire and coffee (it gets cold ridiculously fast in your cup), before turning back.

Price: 95 euros/ person
Duration: 2 hours

Snowmobile safari

The first time I tried snowmobiling was in Spain, but it was a in a pre-decided track in a designated area. But Lapland was completely different - not only did we drive our snowmobile in the most surreal possible part of the countryside, the entire ride was a total of 40 km (20 km one way).

snowmobiling lapland finland
Snowmobiling in the wild! (Photographer: Juho Kuva)

I was with my travel buddy Nisha, and as he hand was hurt, I could drive it through the entire journey, and I loved it! Of course being a great sport, Nisha handled the camera without gloves despite temperature dropping to below 10 degrees. Before turning back you can even stop by at a Sami home, tepee, (it's made for the tourists) and eat your lunch.

snowmobile gear lapland finland
I am ready! 
Riding the snowmobile is not easy, but you can get a hang of it in a few minutes. We had a speed limit to follow and the maximum that I could go up to was 35 km/hr. It's not fast, but fun, nevertheless!

Cost: 80 euros when two persons share one
Duration: 2h

There is another option to take a night snowmobile to catch the Northern Lights, and here are the cost details for that:
Cost: 125 euros / person when 2 persons / snowmobile
Cost: 165 euros / person when 1 person / snowmobile
Duration: 3 hours

Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing in Lapland lasts from October to May, and it's an unmissable adventure sport, even to an Indian like me who has barely ever skied.

We had planned to ski when there was still some light, but we were delayed, and it was already dark when we reached Saariselka after the visit to the Sami museum. But it didn't matter so much as the track was well lit.

cross country skiing lapland finland
Cross-country skiing in Lapland

After getting ready with lots of help, we were ready to hit the tracks for our adventure. But it ended up being more fun than adventure, as everyone kept falling off :) I fell twice and that was the best in the group. I really wish we had more time to ski, everyone was already getting better when our time was up and we had to head back for dinner.

Cost: 64 euros / person
Duration: 2 hours

Explore the Sami culture

Sami are known as the people of the sun and wind, and number only about 70,000 in the world. They have their own language (completely different form Finnish) and culture which existed much before the country was formed.

sami culture lapland finland
A Sami woman weaving a cloth (Photographer: Riku Pihlanto)

In Finland, the Sami population is concentrated in Lapland and run many businesses there, including many adventure sports. They are a friendly and peaceful race and that's what caused their destruction, though now all efforts are being made to retain their culture and celebrate their uniqueness.

So while you are in Lapland, make sure you make some Sami friends, eat their food and learn about their culture. The starting point could be a visit to the Sami museum, Siida, located on the banks of Inari lake.

Museum timing:
In winter, Sept. 20.2016 – May 31.2017, it's open from from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue. – Sun. (Mon. closed)
Other seasons, timings vary a lot and check in advance.
Entry ticket: 10 Euros.


Visit Santa's village - Rovaniemi

Santa Calus village is an amusement park in Rovaniemi and opened rather recently in 1985. It's actually possible to meet Santa Claus every single day of the year (with a few rare exceptions) and make your gift request!

santa claus rovaniemi lapland finland
Santa Claus with the reindeer (Photographer: Juho Kuva)

Rovaniemi, the official residence of Santa Claus, has numerous places to stay and things to do in the city. You can also fly directly there from Helsinki.

Cost: free


Lapland sauna

Sauna in Finland is a serious business, and also perhaps one o the most fun! Sauna was invented in Finland centuries go as a place where people could go and clean themselves, and over the years it has evolved into an art itself.

However, Sauna in Lapland is unique. Traditionally, men and women sit in a hot sauna room, then walk out in the extreme winter cold, and either take a dip in cold water or roll in the snow. What's even more fun is that it's all done in the nude, which adds even more to the fun bit :)




Gorge on Lapland berries

Ranua in Lapland is often known as the berry capital of the world, and when it's summers, it's also the time for foraging the iconic cloud-berries from the swamps. Locally known as hilla, even travellers can join in in picking them. Unfortunately, I was there in summers so couldn't eat them fresh, but only had the canned version, and quite enjoyed it.

cloud berries lapland finland
Cloud-berries (Photographer: Virpi Mikkonen)

Live in a snow Igloo

Igloos are the homes of people living in Greenland, but now it's even possible to live in an igloo in Finland also. And these igloos are not the typical houses, but glass igloos where you can lie down in the night and watch the sky (with Northern Lights, if you are lucky).

There are many such places to stay in Lapland, and one of the more famous ones is known as Arctic SnowHouse & Glass Igloos. The igloo village is surrounded by pine trees and snow, and the experience is truly magical!

glass igloo lapland finland
A typical glass igloo

I didn't stay in one this time, but this will surely be on my list when I do visit next time :)

Cost: The prices vary a lot based on where they are. The cheapest one that I found costs about 210 euros at Nellimö. The cost can go as high up as 1000 euros in the best of the places.

Husky Safari

Unlike reindeer, husky safaris are much faster and adventurous, than the much more relaxed reindeer safaris.

husky safari lapland finland
Huskies resting during a break (Photographer: Jaakko Posti)

Each sledge is pulled by four huskies and the ride is in the wilderness - just you, your friends and huskies. The safari will also typically include a cup of hot coffee or soup in the forest.

Cost: 120 euros / person
Duration: 2 hours

Cost: 160 euros / person
Duration: 4 hours

Wilderness dinner in the forest

This was perhaps the most unexpected dinner in Lapland. We started from our hotel after 7pm and drove for half an hour before stopping right in the middle of the forest for dinner. We stopped at a gorgeous little wooden house, and quickly went in for dinner.

Unlike our hotel, the wooden hut was not heated and we had to sit in our layered winter clothes, but it was absolutely fine by me. This was perhaps the only time we ate our meals like most Sami people did back in the days.

So what was made for dinner? Well, as a vegetarian, I had only a few things to eat but I enjoyed it all nevertheless.


Planning a trip to Finland

So if you are convinced about planning a trip to the country, read my detailed guide to travel in Finland. The guide covers everything from the regions of the country, different seasons to travel, things to do, food to eat and everything else that you might need for a trip there.

Read more: Planning a trip to Finland? Here's all you need to know for a dream vacation!


Stay in Saariselka - Holiday Club

I explored Lapland with my base in Saariselka and I can easily recommend it to anyone who wants to explore Lapland, with or without the Northern Lights.

I stayed at the Holiday Club Saariselkä - the northernmost spa hotel and holiday home resort in Europe. Now many of you may not know, but Holiday Club is now a part of Club Mahindra, and as a member of Club Mahindra family, you are eligible to stay in all of these as well.

holiday resort saariselka lapland finland
Resort from outside in winters

I was in Finland as a guest of Club Mahindra and Holiday Club, and I must mention I was absolutely impressed with everything they offer there. However, one small word of caution - Scandinavians are not Indians, and their resorts reflect their life philosophy and way of working. Minimalism is in vogue in almost everything they do - from the lobby of the hotel to your rooms, and I was actually rather happy about it as it allowed me to experience a very different kind of resort experience. Also, do-it-yourself is a mantra to follow, but it's certainly not tough.

holiday resort saariselka lapland finland
Water park in the resort

Now the resort at Saariselkä might be a simple one, but it has all the facilities you will need to survive the cold and enjoy a Finnish way of holiday. By the time I was in Lapland I was already a fan of Finnish sauna and visited it a couple of times during my stay there. There are gender-specify saunas as well as mixed family sauna, and you can visit either one of these. If you are a bit shy, I would suggest start with men-only or women-only sauna before you move to family sauna.

There is also a small worker park inside the hotel, with small rides. However, the pool is great swimming as it goes as deep as 6 feet in certain parts and so far fewer people come to that side. Needless to mention, there is also jacuzzi and it's really powerful - so hold on to the side bars and then start the water flow, else you will not be able to stand there :)

holiday resort rakka saariselka lapland finland
Rakka restaurant

For food there is a rather good restaurant in the hotel itself which is also frequented by other travelers to Saariselkä - Rakka. Rakka is great for trying out local cuisine, especially reindeer meat, but also serves burgers and a few vegetarians foods for those who don't eat reindeer. It's open everyday from 12 noon to 10.30 PM, and the last order is taken at 10 PM.

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Disclaimers:
1. I was in Finland on invitation of Club Mahindra. All views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences/ conversations in the the country.
2. Many of the images used have been provided by Visit Finland and have been used with permission. Wherever available, the name of the photographer is also mentioned. 

Comments

  1. You know what? I am halfway writing on this very topic! You beat me to that. Great minds think alike?

    Lovely post. Thanks for mentioning me. You were a good driver too! :)

    It was a wonderful trip with wonderful hosts and friends. Hope we travel soon again.... to Finland! There's so much to see.

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    Replies
    1. Haha...yes I like that! Great minds do think alike :) Looking forward to your post on this now, I am sure it's going to be epic! :)

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  2. Nice to know about Lapland beyond the northern lights.

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  3. I'm impressed reading your blog and all the destination you had visit. Lapland looks dreamy place. There are no words to describe how stunning these photos are! They’re absolutely amazing.It makes me want to travel there so badly!

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  4. All the bloggers seem to be going to Finland, it looks like a marvelous place to visit, it has so many interesting things, a lot to discover, thanks for sharing.

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  5. This is such a cool list for such a great destination. Wow it would be hard to choose with so many great options. How could you miss a chance to take a husky safari or a reindeer sled ride or all the other awesome treats. How long a stay do you recommend?

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  6. I keep reading about Lapland, Finland and each time I feel the urge to plan a trip ASAP. I was lucky enough to experience the Northern Lights by chance one summer evening in Canada. I can still remember how silent everyone became as the sky danced away. It was incredible, but I would love to see them again in Finland and perhaps stay in one of those glass igloos. How cool! Thanks for this post. I must go to Lapland.

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  7. Fantastic pictures. Looks like a fantastic trip. Winters in cold destinations are so special :-)

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  8. Woaah!! Reading experiences like this at night with a mug of coffee feels so relaxing. Surely I am looking forward to see your other posts. And I am an 18 year old and want to start travel blogging. I just want to be like you🙌❤😍

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  9. So many great things to explore! I've never been to Lapland but I love the northern nature and would love to go and see the beautiful landscapes one day!

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  10. I know this is about other things to do than the Northern Lights, but as I haven't seen them, they would be top of my list! Other activities that look incredible are the dog sledding and living in a snow Igloo. Amazing photos!

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  11. Great article! Seeing Northern Lights is on top of my bucket list also! Hopefully in near future. Great suggestions, thank you for that!

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  12. Indian eagle congratulates you for making a progress in your blogs. Your information are really worthy...

    ReplyDelete

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