It is freezing in the winter but it doesn’t mean you can’t get active in the snow. While I was in the Arctic Circle for my search of the Northern lights in Lapland, I wonder “is there anything else you could do during the day if you want to explore Lapland?” And the answer is “Yes!” Lapland has incredible nature sceneries and a long-stemmed Sámi culture that makes your expedition an active and meaningful one. Here is the list of the best things to do in Lapland during winter vacation in Finland.
A search on Google would tell you that Rovaniemi is in fact the most popular place in Finland to see Aurora Borealis. Taking an offbeat alternative, I headed to Nellim which has a lesser crowd. So where is Nellim? Nellim is about 40 kilometers away from Ivalo and it’s less than 10 kilometers away from the Finnish-Russian border. Settling around Lake Inari, people there claimed the chances of catching the Northern Lights are 99 percent! If you want to know more about catching the Northern Lights, I have also shared a 101 Guide about chasing the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Canada, on another trip.
Relax comfortably at the resort
Chasing the northern lights is mostly a nocturnal activity. However, it doesn’t mean that travelers have nothing else to do in the daytime (even though there are only a couple of hours of daylight in winter). Given that Ivalo is a small town and there are really not that many hotels and shops around, most travelers are usually staying in the resort for a full board multi-day package.
I stayed in the Nellim Wilderness Resort and the package offers all meals with accommodation. On top of that, they include a half-day tour for hotel guests to participate in each day before heading out to view the northern lights at night time. The activities include snowshoeing, husky riding, cross-country skiing… and more. Besides, there are different ways to go out at night for the northern lights, for example, guests can follow the experienced guide on a snowmobile and explore the region, or ride on a bus for a better chance to see the lights in farther places.
Most guests usually stay up all night (if not very late) to see the northern lights, and so most of the guided tours happen in the afternoon. Still, there are tours in the morning session if hotel guests are up for it, yet it is recommended to pick one each day as it could get quite exhausting for two or three. Of course, if you are not looking for doing something active, it’s absolutely fine to stay warm inside the cabin, have a cup of hot drink, and watch the snow as the day goes by. Each hotel guest would be given a mobile device upon check-in to notify any northern light sighting if there’s one. Lastly, don’t forget to make a reservation at the Finnish sauna facility to relax and experience this rich tradition.
Explore the region on a Husky Safari
My favorite activity always involves animals and nature. Husky Safari is probably one of the most popular and signature activities for travelers in Lapland.
When we entered the pen, we immediately saw the furry fluffy Huskies lined up by the sled and they were so energetic and excited to run. Usually, a sled will carry two persons: one passenger sat at the front, and the other stood at the back, controlling the speed by stepping on the brakes.
Each sled was pulled by 4-6 huskies and they were all well-trained to follow the guide in the lead without derailing or delay. Once their strings were untied they would just ‘go’. Besides, the first few hundred meters within the husky site were bumpy and so the driver needed to maintain control and keep the sled steady. Once the sled reached the lake, it was a completely different world. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of frozen Lake Inari, but pay attention in case the doggies ran too close to the sled in front.
The entire tour was about 1.5 hours; after about a 45-minute ride we stopped for hot drinks (red and sweet berry juice) and took some rest (apparently the Huskies could keep going). At that point, we were really close to the Finland-Russian border. The guide told me, that the Finnish and the Russians rarely interact through the border from Inari, the nearest Arctic city, Murmansk, is about a 4-hour drive away with a population of over 300,000!
Go snowshoeing & trekking in the forest
Another memorable moment for me in the wild was snowshoeing and trekking. It was the first time I put on the “snowshoes”, a paddle-like device attached to your shoes, and it was supposed to make the snow walking much easier and faster. Trail walkers can have a view of some interesting flora and fauna of Nellim, with the Russian mountain ranges as our backdrop. We even saw a group of deer in the woods!
The guide then set up a bonfire (with our helping hands) to make lunch and we had fun barbecuing in the peaceful, quiet frozen world before we headed back to the resort. I was told in Finnish folklore, that they don’t put out the fire in the woods for the tree spirits. Not sure about the full story, I wonder if that’s true.
Hop on a snowmobile & go safari hunting
The snowmobile was fun! In fact, it’s another way to get around the region for the northern lights. A valid driving license is required to drive a snowmobile, and the vehicle is easy to control and balance anyway.
I hopped on a snowmobile for the aurora viewing at night. The group of us was then driving in a line. The guide was in the front of the line and each driver was instructed to pass on the hand signal for the driver at the back (like to ‘slow down, to ‘turn’, to ‘watch out’, etc.) That’s true when we entered the darkness, I could only see the guide at the front and nothing else. With the snowmobile, we were able to drive somewhere farther away for a better chance to catch the aurora.
Unwind and relax in a Finnish sauna
The Finnish sauna is a popular tradition and it’s available all around Finland. Many resorts and hotels (even Helsinki) have a Finnish Sauna, and the resort in Nellilm is no exception. This is a great activity to socialize and this is also a relaxing and comforting experience for every traveler to wash away all the exhaustion from all the daily activities, especially in the cold.
Discover Sami Culture in Nellim Village
Experience the true culture of Lapland by going on a day trip to the village of Nellim. The village is located at the border between Finland and Russia, with highlights including the Paatsjoki River Bridge, a bridge that straddles an unfrozen Paatsjoki river and offers a view of the surrounding area; the Holy Trinity Church with log walls and unique work of art that reflects the centuries-old Orthodox history of the Skolt Sámi people.
Sign up for other outdoor sports & Activities
Other activities were available ranging from a cultural visit to the Nami culture center to active cross-country skiing.
- Aurora hunts at night by car, snowmobile, or sled
- Cross-country skiing
- Reindeer farm visit
- Ice fishing