One of Europe’s last great wilderness areas, Lapland covers stunningly beautiful, vast stretches across northern Scandinavia. Here you’ll find cinemascope panoramas of lakes, moors and swathes of coniferous forest, punctuated by tracts of placid marshland and stark, barren upland rising high above the treeline. Yet amidst this remote expanse there is life: reindeer, bears, foxes and the region's traditional, nomadic Sami people. If you're in the market for unrivalled remote outdoor adventure, look no further.
Starkly beautiful wintry landscapes
Outstanding wilderness experiences
Unique indigenous culture
Rovaniemi, straddling the Arctic Circle, is the undisputed capital of Finnish Lapland. North are the isolated communities of Sodankylä, Ivalo and Inari, the latter of which is the most appealing – a remote village with a superb Sámi museum and plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure. Several national parks – and some of Finland's most precious scenery – run along its 815-mile border with Russia.
Culturally, Lapland is best known for its native inhabitants, the Sámi people. Numbering several thousand, these nomadic peoples have lived in harmony with this special, often harsh environment for millennia. Discovering their culture and way of life can be as exciting as experiencing the Arctic itself. Despite threats from modernisation, tourism and – most dramatically – the fallout from Chernobyl, a fair number of Sámi still herd their reindeer and maintain their traditions in these uncompromising latitudes.
Don't be shy
The Finnish sauna is both for health and peace of mind. If a Finn invites you to join, by all means say yes – there is no experience more Finnish.
Drink like a local
If you get the chance, try a shot of salmari, a Finnish specialty and one of the planet’s most acquired tastes: the bracing Koskenkorva vodka and Fisherman's Friend salty liquorice.
Full of surprises, Finnish food demands investigation, especially given the current renaissance in Nordic cuisine. Dishes up north meld Western and Eastern influences with regular appearances by herring, salmon and crayfish, as well reindeer and elk. Russian dishes, such as cabbage and mutton pastries and casseroles, are also favourites.
What to try
At the top of the local specialties list is (rather obviously) smoked reindeer, but there are other goodies as well: bear meatballs, snow grouse, Inari trout and – for dessert – lingonberries.
Where to stay
Though Lapland's large towns make for bases to explore the wilds, to really get to know this fascinating region you need to head off into the wilds: settlements in Lapland's most northerly extremeties such as Muonio, Enontekiö and Inari, for example, the latter of which is a centre for Sami culture. Out here you'll find remote and rustic cottages spread around the region. For an overview of Arctic culture, for visiting Santa Claus' home and for skiing, base yourself at the de facto capital, Rovaniemi, easily accessible by train or plane from Helsinki.
What to buy
Sámi outdoor knives, colourful hand-knit wool mittens and traditional silverware.
Health & safety
Finland is one of the safest countries in Europe in which to travel. Violent crime is extremely rare, especially in the more northerly, remote areas.
When to go
Definitively the best time to visit Lapland is during the peak season of summer (June-August), when the climate is warmest, the days are longest and the blossoming landscape at its prettiest. June, July and August are almost always sunny and clear. Visually speaking, autumn is a superb time to visit, when the ruska-aika (russeting) turns the lower fells golden, poplars cloak the hills in yellow and the higher hills morph a deep crimson. Lapland's long, dark and cold winters might seem inhospitable, but in fact offer an superb variety of outdoor activities, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice diving.
The easiest way to reach Lapland is by flying from Helsinki to either Rovaniemi or Ivalo, from either of which you can hire a car. Additionally, there are overnight trains from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.
Transport within Finnish Lapland is largely by road, and hiring a car (available in bigger towns) is almost required. There are also long-distance bus routes from Rovaniemi that follow two main roads north. If you are doing this in the colder months, it is essential to have snow tires for driving – and preferably chains, if possible.
What to take
Pack warmly and plan on layering clothing. This is obvious in the winter, but even during the summer temperatures can drop, especially at night. Another summertime must: mosquito repellent.
- Type Region
- Notoriety Somewhat known
- Price guide $$$$$
- Time zone GMT / UTC +02:00
- Currency EUR
- Climate Polar
- Environment Tundra
- Politics Moderate
Kemi [Tornio] [KEM]
Get in the mood
Kalevala by Elias LonnrotThe Finnish national epic centres on a war over the possession of a talisman between the mythical regions of Kalevala and Pohjola. Essential for understanding the country’s psyche.
Under the North Star by Vaino LinnaLinna’s novel is the first tome in a trilogy about a late nineteenth-century rural Finnish community, highlighting the seminal historical events which helped to mould the Finnish national character.
Drifting Clouds (1996)One of Finland's most beloved films, this slow-paced, melancholic story follows a Helsinki couple along the path to straighten out their lives after both losing their jobs in a recession.