If you like adventure travel, do I have a place for you! Far north near the Arctic Circle is one of the coldest places I’ve ever traveled to but also one of the most beautiful. Lapland, in northern Finland, has become a popular destination as more and more tourists visit in search of the Aurora Borealis.
A wonder of the world
The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is considered by many to be one of the wonders of the world. If you’re lucky, you might just see this spectacle of green and blue lights in the night sky during a visit to Lapland. If not, don’t fret because there are many other fun things to see and do in this glorious winter wonderland.
I had a chance to visit Lapland last fall courtesy of Collette Travel on their Northern Lights of Finland Tour. The itinerary included a pre-and-post stay in Helsinki, a capital city known for its design center, cultural landmarks and up-and-coming foodie establishments. However, Lapland was the reason that I and my fellow explorers had selected this particular tour.
Lodging at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
We stayed at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland. It’s just what you would expect an Arctic resort to look like: log cabins everywhere and snow-dusted trails amidst a wilderness setting. There are glass heated igloos, too. (I’ll tell you more about those later.) Dinners at the lodge include reindeer meat with lingonberry conserve and a bar which offers a special cocktail called Aurora Borealis made with gin and blueberry juice, a Finnish favorite.
Five fun things to see in Lapland
Getting up close to nature is what it’s all about when you visit a unique place like Lapland. Here are five things to see that will captivate you and your Instagram feed:
1) View a Lapland sunset
The sun sets early in Lapland. I think it went down around 3:30 p.m. when I was there in November. If you plan to capture the beauty of a Lapland sunset, I highly suggest you check your weather app for the exact time each day. Then head outside about 30 minutes prior to see the skies turn shades of pink and purple. If you’re at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, one of the best places to see the sunset is high up in the Igloo Tower, which offers a beautiful vista.
2) Behold the breathtaking landscapes
Once you bundle up and put on your layers of clothing and footgear, the best place to be during the day is outdoors. The landscapes around Lapland are breathtaking: snow-capped trees and mountains tops, wooden bridges over frozen streams, and small wooden huts that were used for meat storage by aboriginal Sami. Put your camera on autopilot and snap away.
Be sure to carry extra chargers for your mobile phone as the cold weather will quickly zap its energy. Best to bring extra batteries for your camera as well.
3) Gaze up into the night sky
I had several opportunities to go out into the wilderness to see the night sky. The first night in Lapland, we went on a Northern Lights trek, driving north towards the small village of Inari, making stops along the way for the best views of the night sky. Unfortunately, Aurora didn’t show but I did see the Big Dipper.
The second night, we went on a horse-drawn carriage ride. It was so cold that we stopped along the way for some warm blueberry juice. Aurora stayed hidden again.
The last evening I spent in my glass igloo, looking up at the stars and trees until it started to snow and flakes covered the glass. While Aurora decided to be quiet once again, I enjoyed gazing at the sky.
4) Be mindful in the middle of the forest
Since I’m a yoga instructor, I love to take mindful walks. Lapland is a wonderful place to commune with nature with your eyes wide open. You can go in a different direction each day, and you’ll see nature at its finest: icicles, animals, streams, mountains. Listen to the sounds of winter, too: the crackling of the branches under your boots, the whirling of the wind as you walk. It’s a peaceful place where you’ll feel limitless.
5) Witness Santa’s real home and his reindeer
We hiked to Santa’s house on the hill and shared our holiday wishes with him. He was just as you would expect, dressed in red, with a cascading white beard, and full of good cheer. We mingled with the reindeer in his backyard. Warning: Reindeer can be quite aggressive when you want to feed them, so be careful. One reindeer grabbed the basket of food right from the elf’s hand.
Five fun things to do in Lapland
Beyond the potential to experience the Northern Lights, here are five things to do on an adventure in this rugged region:
1) Stay in a Finnish log chalet
My Finnish chalet at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort was equipped with a private fireplace, a personal sauna, a seating area and kitchen, a big log cabin bed and a second bedroom with bunk beds for two. I was alone, but this chalet easily could accommodate a family of four or two couples.
Each chalet has an Aurora alarm. It sounds anytime, during the evening and early morning hours, if there are sightings of the Northern Lights. I’m sad to report my alarm never went off during my stay.
2) Dwell overnight in a glass heated igloo
OMG, staying in a glass igloo overnight was the coolest lodging I’ve ever experienced. The igloo was heated and had a toilet. Plus, it came Wi-Fi-equipped. I went for a sauna and shower in a separate building nearby. Luggage is delivered by sled.
3) Go dog sledding or hiking with the huskies
If there’s enough snow (which we didn’t have), you can go dog sledding through the trails. Instead of sledding, we took the huskies for a hike. They’re trained to work in teams and listen to commands, are strong and fast, and it wasn’t easy keeping up with their speed. I bet sledding with the huskies is an exhilarating adventure.
4) Go cross-country skiing
According to the Kakslauttanen website, this part of Finland “has frequently been ranked as one of the world’s best cross-country skiing destinations.” You can right from your chalet or take a bus to other tracks around Lapland. Downhill skiing also is available, as are lessons both types of skiing. The ski season lasts from October all the way into May, as long as there is enough snow on the ground.
5) Chill-ax in a Finnish sauna
Après-ski, I vote for warming up inside a Finnish sauna. That’s what keeps the Finns so happy. Even though I didn’t go skiing, most late afternoons I turned on the electric sauna in my chalet and chill-axed. It was so rejuvenating. Before bed, after an Aurora-hunting outing in the cold, is another great time for a sauna. You’ll sleep like a baby.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- You can easily fly from the Helsinki Airport to Lapland. That’s why it’s nice to spend a few days on either end touring Helsinki.
- Those who like adventure travel will enjoy Lapland. When staying at the Kakslauttanen Lodge you can share a chalet as they easily accommodate two couples or a family if you are doing a multi-generational trip. They also offer combination lodging with a chalet attached to an igloo.
- Going on a tour to this area, such as the one I did with Collette Travel, is nice because you don’t have to do any of the planning. They make all the arrangements and transfers. If you take the tour, be sure to add an extra few days in Helsinki to have more time to enjoy the city.
- It’s not so simple to take pictures of the Northern Lights at night. Bring a camera, don’t rely on your mobile phone, and be prepare before going out in the darkness. My mobile phone lost charge very quickly due to the cold weather. I was glad to have my camera and extra charged batteries.
- Bring a good flashlight. You’ll need the light to navigate around the resort in the darkness. There are more dark hours than light ones.
- Dress in layers, and bring waterproof hiking boots with good tread. It can be icy underfoot. Check out my helpful packing post on my blog.
All photo credits except lead photo: Judy Freedman; northern lights photo courtesy of Colette
Disclosure: The author traveled as a guest of Collette Travel on its Northern Lights of Finland Tour.
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