What comes to mind when you think of Lapland? We reckon it’s a form of personality test. For instance, do you imagine the majestic, otherworldly beauty of the Northern Lights? Do you think about rugged adventure activities, like dog-sledding and cross-country skiing, or do you imagine a jolly old man with a white beard in a red suit surrounded by elves? Tucked away in the far north of Europe, Lapland spreads over Norway, Sweden, Finland and eastern Russia. It’s a place where winter magic comes alive, and you’ll feel like a little kid all over again. Check out these tips for an unforgettable trip to this Nordic wonderland:
See the Northern Lights
What’s top on the list of what to see in Lapland? The Northern Lights, of course. Most of the region is far above the Arctic Circle, where you’ll have the very best chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis. You’ll need to travel between October and April to see the light show. Cross your fingers — they’re never guaranteed, but in some parts of Lapland, you’re in with a very good chance.
One of our favourite places to see the Northern Lights is in Tromso, the northernmost city in the world. Located right at the top of mainland Europe, this Norwegian settlement is a world away from the busy streets of Oslo. Deep within the Arctic Circle, it experiences the Polar Night — a phenomenon in the far north, where the sun sets in late November and doesn’t rise again until mid-January. You’ll need a head torch to get around, but it gives you more hours to see the Aurora Borealis.
Another great spot for light-watching is Kiruna, the capital of Swedish Lapland. Unlike Tromso, it still has some daylight in winter. So, when you’re not watching the skies, you can go exploring. Although Kiruna is much further south than Tromso, it’s still a fantastic place to see the Northern Lights. Plus, it’s home to some more of the best things to do in Lapland.
If you’re travelling to watch the Northern Lights, plan your trip carefully. Since it’s impossible in summer, the best time to visit Lapland to see the Aurora Borealis is from autumn to spring. Winter gives you more hours of darkness, but there’s usually plenty of light activity around the equinoxes in September and March.
Try some of the local sports
Dog-sledding is one of the most popular ways to get across the frozen landscape, and Kiruna is also a haven for cross-country skiing. Take a short trip to see the sights, or go on a longer expedition. In many parts of Lapland, you’ll be able to go on multi-day dog-sledding adventures, taking you deep into the frozen wilderness.
If you’re staying in Kiruna, then take a dog-sled to Sweden’s famous Icehotel, the world’s first hotel made entirely from ice, just half an hour from the city. It’s rebuilt every November as winter starts, and each year, it has a different design. For five months, guests can stay in one of the weirdest types of accommodation in the world — until it all melts away when spring finally comes.
Meet Santa Claus
Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, sits right on the Arctic Circle. It’s the gateway to the far north, and its main attraction for most visitors is simple: it’s the official hometown of Father Christmas. As soon as you arrive in this enchanting place, you’ll feel like a little kid all over again. Wandering the streets of Rovaniemi, it’s impossible not to smile. This is where the magic of Christmas truly comes to life.
You don’t even need to visit Rovaniemi in December to enjoy the Christmas spirit. Up here, the festive season lasts 365 days, and Saint Nick is always ready to receive visitors. There are plenty of activities to keep the whole family happy, including some of the best things to do in Lapland for young and old alike: feed reindeer, learn crafts from the elves in their workshop, or enjoy a cup of hot chocolate with Mrs Claus. Yes, you might be a bit sick of Christmas music by the end of your trip, but you’d have to be a true Scrooge not to feel the magic of Rovaniemi.
While you’re here, be sure to send a couple of postcards home. It may seem old-fashioned in the social media era, but the Rovaniemi Post Office has a unique Arctic Circle stamp that makes a great souvenir! The Arctic Circle crosses through central Rovaniemi and is marked in the streets. It’s a great place to pose for a photo hopping into the Arctic.
Explore Sámi culture
The Sámi are the indigenous people of Lapland, and they have their own distinctive way of life. If you’re curious about surviving up here in the frozen north, then you’ll want to spend some time with them. Many of their traditions still endure into the 21st century, so if you like to explore other cultures, be sure to take the time to learn about Sámi art, music and handicrafts.
Kiruna is a great destination if you want to learn more about the Sámi culture. Traditionally, the Sámi people dedicated themselves to reindeer herding, and there are several family-run businesses in the area that let travellers try their hand at this ancient activity. If you’ve got the skills, you might be able to lasso a reindeer. Not feeling agile? Don’t worry, as you can still hop on the back of a reindeer-drawn sleigh, a type of transport that the Sámi have used to get around for thousands of years.
The Sámi National Day is the 6th of February, so if you’re visiting Lapland at this time, look out for festivals and cultural celebrations. You’ll usually find craft markets with handmade clothes, hats and carvings, as well as beautiful displays of music and dance. Head to Tromso to watch the annual reindeer herding contest — will you win the lasso challenge this year?
Eat the local cuisine
Don’t miss the chance to nibble on local Sámi food while you’re in Lapland. A totally unique cuisine was developed here, thanks to those long, harsh winters when fresh food was all but impossible to find. If you’re a foodie, a meal at a Sámi restaurant should be high on your list of best things to do in Lapland. Delicate fruits like cloudberries, which continue to grow in winter, are common, while reindeer meat is the staple protein. Many locals carry reindeer jerky in their pockets when they’re out and about, as it’s still a popular snack in the region. Just don’t think about Rudolph while you’re dining.
Take a walk on the frozen sea
How’s this for an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world? You’ll have to head to Kemi, in Finnish Lapland, to do this. In the winter, the Arctic Sea partly freezes over, and steel ships called icebreakers are used to make paths in the ice. Today, you can take an icebreaker cruise through the Gulf of Bothnia. This isn’t your grandma’s cruise holiday! You’ll gaze out at the breathtaking sights of Arctic scenery while the vessel crunches its way through thick slabs of ice.
At one point, the icebreaker stops and lets guests disembark, not only on dry land but onto a huge sheet of ice. If you dare, you can even put on a special bright red safety suit and get into the frozen water, bobbing up and down surrounded by blocks of ice. This has to be one of the best things to do in Lapland, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Ride a snowmobile across Abisko National Park
Abisko is truly one of the highlights of Swedish Lapland. In fact, if you’re a keen photographer who wants to know what to see in Lapland, we’ll send you straight there. This national park is a little slice of pure, untouched wilderness. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re one of the last humans left on the planet, as it can seem impossibly remote. You may not get data coverage up here, but we can promise you won’t miss it.
Abisko National Park is packed with cool outdoor activities for you to try. Top of the list is snowmobiling. If you’re already tired of trudging across the white landscape with your feet sinking into the snow, then you have to give this a go. You’ll zoom across the snow on the back of one of these awesome vehicles, enjoying the stunning, one-of-a-kind scenery as you go.
While in Abisko, you can also try your hand at ice fishing. It’s a simple process: make a hole in the ice, dangle your hook in and wait for the Arctic char to bite. You may or may not catch anything, but if you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is as good as it gets.
Spend a night in an igloo
Staying in an igloo is surely on most people’s lists of the best things to do in Lapland. Traditional igloos are made from tightly packed ice, but for travellers who don’t want to rough it, there’s a much more comfortable and modern alternative. The igloo village of Kakslauttanen in Finnish Lapland has cosy glass igloos. As you lie in bed, you’ll be able to stare straight up at the night sky — and yes, if you’re lucky, you might just see the Northern Lights up overhead.
You’ll also find glass igloos in the Arctic SnowHotel near Rovaniemi. Here, you have two options for your overnight adventure: either stay in a warm glass igloo or check yourself into a bedroom made entirely of snow. Does that sound painful? Well, don’t worry! Though the bed is a frozen slab of ice, you’ll be tucked up in a special sleeping bag designed for Arctic nights, and you’ll have plenty of reindeer skins to keep you warm.
If you choose to stay in the glass igloo village, be sure to sign up for the Aurora Borealis-watching service. That way, you’ll get alerted if the Northern Lights make an appearance, ensuring you can wake up to enjoy the spectacle.
Explore local history in Kirkenes
Want to know more about the history of the region? Kirkenes, in Norwegian Lapland, is the place to go. It’s just 16 kilometres from the Russian border and was used as a German base of operations in the Second World War. This tiny town — which today has a population of just 3,000 — was so heavily bombed during the war that only 13 houses survived, so it had to be completely rebuilt.
Today, Kirkenes is home to the intriguing Borderland Museum. You can also visit the underground bunker where residents sheltered during World War II, and several tours for history buffs are available. Tour through the streets of the town to learn about its intriguing history, or hop on a dog sled and see the surrounding countryside. Private tours will even take you close to the Russian border.
Spend a day at the beach in Haukland
Really? A beach trip might not spring to mind when you’re thinking about the best things to do in Lapland. However, don’t forget that even though the winters here are long and dark, this is also the land of the Midnight Sun. If you visit Lapland in summer, you’ll need to be prepared for endless daylight.
We don’t recommend swimming in the Arctic Sea, even at the height of summer, unless you’re feeling incredibly brave. But you can still spend a fun day sunbathing and relaxing in the north of Norway. The best place for a beach day in Lapland is Haukland, a picture-perfect sandy bay on Vestvagoy Island. It’s surrounded by dramatic cliffs and stunning scenery, so it’s perfect for hikers. If you’re really keen to get in the water, then put on your wetsuit and go kayaking. The rugged coastline here is just perfect for exploring.
Are you ready for your trip to the frozen north? Join us on this group tour of Swedish Lapland. You’ll spend six days immersing yourself in the local culture, going dog-sledding, testing your skills at cross-country skiing, and watching the night sky for the Northern Lights. It’s the winter adventure of a lifetime