Finland enjoys a long snow season with snow beginning around November and lasting until May in northern Finland, making it a perfect place for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. The main ski season is between December and March. It is not as well known as other countries for skiing and doesn’t have any giant mountains, but there are plenty of opportunities all over the country to try skiing and other ski activities. The main ski season is between December and March.
There are over 70 ski resorts in Finland, but most of these are fairly small in size with limited amenities. But as a tourist, you can choose the smaller one and get nearby accommodation and other services. Sure the bigger ones offer more slopes and services, but the smaller are just great with the family or one day activity, for example. The Finland also has wintertime a lot of cross-country skiing opportunities, almost every city and municipality. You can rent your own gear and find a good track, or you can join a guided tours. One of the best Winter Activities in Finland!
Riding on a snowmobile is a great way to experience the outdoors in Finland and they can be ridden by one or two people at a time. It is not only a fast and efficient way to get from one place to another, but it also allows you to go fast and take in gorgeous scenery along the way. It’s a lot of fun and isn’t too hard to learn the basics, but do be careful as you can get it stuck in a snowdrift and the machines can tip so do pay careful attention to safety instructions and go only as fast as you (and your partner) feel comfortable.
It can be really cold going on the snowmobiles and most companies will outfit you in extra winter gear on top of your own clothing and coat. Be sure to note snowmobile restrictions and rules before booking. Children under 15 years of age usually cannot drive snowmobiles, and there are also restrictions for younger children being passengers. You can rent snowmobiles or take snowmobile tours in any area of Finland where there is a lot of snow. There are even tours you can do from Helsinki. You should try this Winter Activities in Finland.
Kicksledding, or kicksledging, is a unique mode of transportation that is primarily done in Norway, Finland, and Sweden and was invented in this region. Kicksledding is pretty straight forward. You’ll need a kicksled and a large surface covered in either ice or hard-packed snow, after which you stand at the back of the sled on the runners, and kick to provide forward motion. Loose snow tends to be a bit sticky and make the process a lot harder on your legs. But still, lot of fun even it is quite a workout!
Tour skating (also known as Nordic skating), is a highly unusual but energising sport which is popular throughout Finland and many of the Nordic countries. It works by wearing ice skates during the winter or roller skates during summer and propelling yourself along either ice or pavement using long poles.
During the summer it is common to see skaters gliding along country roads and in winter people skating on frozen lakes. These are some of the best spots in Finland for trying Nordic skating yourself. Because Finland is known for its thousands of lakes, you can try touring skating in many Finnish cities and municipalities.
Ever dreamed of dog sledding? Finland is a perfect place to make that dream a reality. Dog sledding does require a minimum amount of effort, but the dogs know what they are doing in terms of direction and so on. The main thing to do is to hold on and learn how to operate the brake to stop the sled, because the huskies like to run and they often won’t stop unless you make them stop.
You’ll find husky dog sledding companies throughout Lapland and we recommend carefully reading reviews beforehand to avoid booking companies that show any signs of mistreating their dogs.
Saunas are an integral part of Finnish culture and historically were the place where many major life events would take place from birth to death. Sauna houses are popular places for Finns to meet friends, visit with family, meditate, and even hold business meetings. Traditionally, most people visited public saunas, but many Finns have their own private saunas in their homes or summer cottages.
There are three major types of saunas: smoke sauna (savusauna), wood-heated sauna, and electric sauna. The smoke sauna is the most traditional type of sauna, the wood-heated sauna are the most common in the countryside, and the electric saunas are the least traditional but most abundant in the cities and apartment complexes. It would really be a shame to visit Finland without experiencing a traditional sauna, and it is an experience that is fairly easy to arrange no matter what part of Finland you are visiting.
Saunas are usually done in the nude and they are normally sex segregated or done as a family. When done in a mixed sex scenario with non-family members, people generally wear a swimsuit or towel. Finns generally go to saunas in the nude, but if you feel uncomfortable being naked, you can wear a swimsuit or towel. Birch branches (a native tree) are often brushed or hit against the skin during a sauna. This is believed to be good for the skin and circulation. For the full winter sauna experience, you should consider doing a sauna next to a lake so you can cool off with a plunge into the icy water. Or just jump in to the snow straight from the sauna. Having roasted sausages and cold beer is a very typical Finnish after-sauna experience.
For a unique experience, consider a ride on an ice breaker boat. From the town of Kemi in the north of Finland you have the chance to do that. Icebreaker Sampo offers a unique and authentic cruise experience in the Bay of Bothnia. You can listen to the ice break under the weight of the icebreaker, admire the open landscape and even go floating in the middle of the ice blocks.
During the cruise, you will learn more about the icebreaker’s technology and history. In the restaurant, which has been renovated with respect for its original appearance, you can dine and socialize with other guests. There is also the option of taking a swim and floating in the sea while wearing a full survival dry suit.
If swimming in a frozen lake doesn’t appeal to you, how about fishing in one? Ice fishing is considered a public access right in Finland, which means that you don’t need a license to go ice fishing. The top of the lake may be frozen in winter, but if you can drill down through the ice you’ll find water and fish. Perch, the national fish of Finland, and pike are two of the common types of fish in the lakes.
Although we recommend doing it as a tour unless you have prior experience, you could do it on your own if you rent or have access to the fishing equipment. You’ll need an ice drill, fishing pole, bait, and very warm clothing. You’ll also need some patience as ice fishing is a fairly solitary quiet activity well-suited for deep thought and meditation, and people seriously intent on catching fish usually stick it out for several hours. The post ice-fishing campfire with coffee and sausages were also a real highlight of the experience!
If skiing or snowboarding is a little fast paced for you, or you just want to try something a bit different, then maybe you should give snowshoeing a go. This involves strapping oversized “shoes” onto your feet and then wandering the snowy landscape. The wide snowshoe allows you to walk over snow without sinking very far in as the shoe helps distribute your weight more evenly over a wider surface. These are recommended for winter hiking as they cause less damage and erosion on trails than walking in regular boots.
Walking comfortably in them can be a little tricky to master at first, as suddenly you find yourself with what feel like clown shoes on, but we both got used to it fairly quickly. It’s a different way to get around, and it allows you to see landscapes and locations that you might not have otherwise accessed without the shoes. You can experience snowshoeing in a number of regions in Finland, and you just need a thick layer of snow. You can rent snowshoes in many Finnish towns and resorts during the winter, or you can take a guided tour.
One experience on many people’s lists to do in Finland is to stay in a snow hotel, ice hotel, or igloo. A number of places in Finland provide the opportunity to stay in a snow hotel or igloo. There are also seasonal ice hotels and restaurants where everything from the beds to the walls are made of snow and ice! This also means that each year the hotels are a bit different than the year before. Ice hotels in Finland normally open each year in December and close at the end of March or beginning of April. There are also the traditionally-constructed igloo’s, made out of snow, that you can spend the night in. These are often made by regular people in Lapland, or are offered as part of a much larger winter resort as an extra experience for a one-night stay.
Just note although these sound awesome, the temperatures here are kept just below freezing to keep the snow and ice from melting. To be able to stay warm and sleep, you’ll want to wear a hat, thermals, and wrap up in the provided thick furs and heavy-duty sleeping bags. Even with all the blankets, it can still be quite chilly for some guests. If you are sensitive to cold, we’d only recommend booking for one night at a time. If you’d rather build an igloo than sleep in one, you can also build your own igloo! A great unique experience for families.
You may have thought that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. Or in Indiana. Well, according to the Finns, you’d be wrong. Santa Claus actually lives in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, just inside the Arctic Circle, where he spends the year chatting with visitors, posing with them, and of course, replying to all the mail from children (and the young at heart). In fact there is a whole Christmas village in Rovaniemi, the Santa Claus Village. This is the official home of the Santa Claus post office, which receives over half a million letters a year from people all over the world. Visitors can write and mail their very own letter to Santa from here.
It’s a fun place to visit, and it is actually free to visit and see Santa, although if you want a photo of yourself with Santa you do have to pay a small fee. There are also restaurants and shops here. For those with kids, you may also want to visit the nearby SantaPark. It is an amusement complex built within a cave that includes ice sculptures, games, exhibitions, elf school, gingerbread baking demonstrations, and a train.
There are family-oriented tours from Rovaniemi, that include visits to the Santa Village and Santa Park as well as reindeer sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and lunch. If you are not visiting Rovaniemi, you can still find Santa Claus in many other locations in Finland during the christmas holiday season.
Although wild reindeer used to be found across most of Finland, today there are only a small number of wild reindeer left in Finland. Finnish forest reindeer, which can be found living in herds in Kainuu in central Finland and the Suomenselkä area in western Finland. They are rarely seen. However, there is a large number of semi-wild and domesticated reindeer in Finland that are mainly kept for food and tourism. Some are fenced and some are free roaming, but almost all are owned by someone.
If you want to see reindeer, there are lots of opportunities and you might visit a reindeer farm, wildlife park, or do a reindeer safari with reindeer pulling a traditional sled. Reindeer is a traditional meat in Finland, especially the northern part of the country and you’ll find it on quite a few menus if you are interested in trying it. It is commonly served with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce.
Staples of Finnish cuisine include meats such as pork and beef (often in sausage form), mushrooms, berries (blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, sea buckthorns, bilberries, etc.), potatoes, rye bread, porridge, and fish (salmon, zander, pike, perch, Baltic herring). A common treat eaten with coffee is pulla which is a sweet roll. Meats such as reindeer, elk, and bear are also served.
A popular lunch item at many Finnish restaurants is traditional sautéed reindeer with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce. Lunch is often served cafeteria style at many local Finnish restaurants which often includes a main dish such as meatballs and mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, bread, a dessert, coffee, and water. We also recommend a taste for cloudberries, which are berries high in Vitamin C. These orange berries are a local delicacy and are used in all sorts of ways, even being eaten with heated leipäjuusto (a local cheese), cream, and sugar. Cloudberries also make for good wine and liquor, and you can find local alcohol made from these and many of the other local berries.
Helsinki has been nicknamed the “Christmas City” and it is no wonder that it is a popular city to visit during the month of December. Highlights include shopping along Aleksanterinkatu street with its festively decorated shop windows, exploring the handicraft stalls and local food vendors in the open-air St. Thomas Christmas market, and listening to church recitals in the city’s many beautiful churches. A number of stores and markets sell special Christmas gifts, decorations, and Christmas tree ornaments.
Traditional Finnish Christmas food and a glass of Glögi, a traditional Christmas drink made from warm spiced wine with a sprinkling of almonds and raisins, will help get you into that holiday spirit. If you are not visiting Finland in December, and still want to find some Christmas spirit, the best place to visit is Rovaniemi, where you can visit Santa Claus and find Christmas related activities year-round.
A great way to get absorbed into the local culture in many places is to go to a local sporting match, and Finland is no exception. Whereas pesäpallo, a game similar to American baseball, is the national sport of Finland, the most popular sport is ice hockey. Attending a local ice hockey game or other sport is a great way to do something different and see locals doing their thing. You can find ice hockey games and tournaments throughout Finland in the winter. The ice hockey season begins in September and runs until the beginning of April. Just check locally for your options.
Visiting museums, churches, and other indoor attractions is not unique to the winter, but sometimes you’ll need a break from all the cold weather activities or you are liable to turn into an icicle. Helsinki is the cultural heart of Finland, and here you’ll find a large number of churches and museums. But you can also enjoyed the smaller speciality museums that you can find in just about any larger Finnish town.
You’ll likely find at least a couple of museums that will match your interests whether it is history, photography, art, design, science, or local Finnish history. Some attractions in Helsinki can be pricey, some museums are free or have free days each week or month so you can visit even if you are traveling on a tight budget.
One of the reasons many people come to Finland in winter is to see the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis. This gorgeous natural phenomenon is caused by solar activity, and results in an amazing display of light and color in the night sky. Although the Northern Lights are sometimes viewable across Finland, the further north you go, the better your chances of seeing them. Ideally you want to be inside the Arctic Circle and away from any unnatural lights or pollution. Then, you need to have luck, patience, and of course, clear skies.
So unless it is a really strong display, you’ll need to be outside of a town or city to see it clearly. If you have a car, you can drive or you can take a Northern Lights tour which are offered in towns throughout Lapland. Or you can choose a lodging option outside of a town and there are many places designed with large glass windows or glass igloos that are ideal for viewing the Northern Lights.
Ice karting is a fun way to enjoy the winter as you race around the ice on a go-kart designed for the slippery ice circuits. You can race around trying to beat your own time or compete with others at the track. For ice-karting sessions, there usually needs to be at least 2 people booked for each time slot. Check guidelines for children, but some places offer mini ice karts for younger children over age 5.
Looking for something unique to do in Finland? Consider digging for amethysts (a pretty purple gemstone) at the Arctic Amethyst located within Pyhä-Luosto National Park. This is one of the only gemstone mines in the world that welcome visitors.
The tours from the visitor center include a “snow train” ride to the mine, then you learn about amethyst and the mining process, visit the mine, and have your own chance to find an amethyst gemstone. You get to keep anything you find that fits within your closed fist. You also get a glass of warm berry juice to give you a little warm up.
It can be hard work trying to swim in icy water, so you may want to just lay back and float instead! Several adventure companies in Finland offer the chance to do just that.
You are taken to a frozen lake or body of water where a large area of ice has been broken. You wear your own warm clothing and then are outfitted in a full body high-quality rescue suit which keeps you completely dry.
The Sámi, or Saami, are an indigenous people who lived across large parts of what is today Norway, Sweden, northern Finland, and the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. In Finland, the Sámi originally lived primarily within the region now known as Lapland.
The Sámi survived and sustained themselves in the harsh environment by fishing, fur trapping, hunting, sheep herding, and reindeer herding. The Sámi across the different regions developed their own languages and cultures. Today, there are less than 10,000 people who identify as Sámi in Finland, but there is a great interest by many to protect the traditional culture. Three Sámi languages are still spoken in Finland.
The best place to learn more about the Sámi is probably the Sámi Museum Siida, which is the national museum of the Finnish Sámi. Here you’ll find a beautiful museum that talks about the Arctic and explains the history of the Sami and other Arctic peoples.
If an ice hotel or igloo sounds a bit cold then you might like to try one of the glass igloos, which are optimized for viewing the Northern Lights. These offer full glass ceilings in an igloo style, whilst still being fully heated so they are warm and cosy! Most are to be found in Lapland near or within the Arctic Circle, which offers the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. They all vary a bit in construction and amenities. For example, in Ranua there is Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos which offer great experience for that.