Finland: In the Winter Wilds

Eleanor Hughes


The Arctic Circle in winter… Brrrrr! But that chilly weather gives rise to some incredible experiences in Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, situated right on the Arctic Circle, and nearby Sinetta. Venture 250km north and Saariselkä offers even more. You’ll be jumping into your thermals too, for possible sightings of the magical Aurora Borealis between the end of August and April.

Go husky dog sledding

There are not many places where you can experience a husky dog safari but Saariselkӓ is one of them. Tucked up in a reindeer hide-covered sled pulled by a team of eager Alaskan huskies through a white landscape broken by snow-laden, dark-green pine trees is like being in a Christmas snow globe scene.

It’s pretty chilly swooshing along in sub-zero temperatures, tiny frozen icicles form on eyelashes and dog’s muzzles so, although most tour companies provide winter overalls, boots and mittens, several clothing layers beneath are an absolute must. You’ll be paired with someone with both parties taking turns at riding and driving… don’t worry instructions are given. Afterwards, if you’re still cold you’ll get to thaw out in front of a blazing fire with a hot drink.

Husky dog sledding is available from the beginning of December through to early April. You can go for a short time, a day, or multi-days staying overnight in wilderness cabins. Several airlines fly into Ivalo, the closest airport to Saariselkӓ, with transfers available and safari companies offering pick-ups from town.

Chill in an ice hotel or sleep in a glass igloo

There are a number of ice hotels and glass igloos in Finland. Twenty-six kilometres from Rovaniemi and a shuttle away, Arctic SnowHotel and Glass Igloos have both.

Wooden igloos have electric-heated glass rooves starting from around shoulder height. Should the Northern Lights make an appearance the management sounds a buzzer in the room and you can view them from your bed by using its mechanised controller to lift the head end thus staying warm under the cosy duvets. The igloos also have bathrooms.

Alongside the igloos, an ice hotel opens mid-December through to the beginning of April and is carved differently every year. Mattresses are set within an ice base and covered with reindeer hide. With the temperature inside between 0°C and -5°C, you’ll be thankful for the sleeping bags provided. Windowless rooms off an ice corridor can feature ice sculptures lit by coloured bulbs which provide lighting within the hotel. It’s magical. The dining room has ice slab tables and benches as does the ice bar and there is no need for ice in your drink… the glass is made of ice. Rooms are windowless, so should the Northern Lights appear you’d have to go outside… but that might be worth the rare experience of sleeping in an ice hotel!

Rocket across the ice on a snowmobile

While Saariselkӓ offers snowmobiling adventures, see a little more of Lapland by heading to the capital, Rovaniemi. Located on the Arctic Circle at the junction of the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki Rivers, it can be reached by an 11-hour train ride from Helsinki, or 3-hour bus ride from Saariselkӓ.

The rivers should be frozen over come January offering a vast, flat, white expanse. However, in recent years the ice has been thin and unsafe. Book a snowmobiling adventure through a local company that will know where to head, and they also usually provide warm gear. You’ll need to have your driving license with you to be able to hire a snowmobile. Unless you pay extra, you’ll be partnered with someone and take turns at driving and being a passenger.

A jiggling, shaking ride, you’ll need to hold on tight! Driving takes a little getting used to. It’s easy on wide, frozen rivers, but requires a little muscle to turn corners and get the snowmobile skis out of grooves made by previous machines once entering the wilderness of the pine forests and thicker snow.

Evening snowmobiling, with white tape on trees indicating the forest path, can offer the opportunity to see the Northern Lights dance across the sky, or even just pink tinges breaking its blackness. Tours can include a hot drink and sausage cooked over a fire in the warmth of a lavvu, a tepee-style tent.

Ice fishing in a frozen river

Ice fishing can be combined with a snowmobile trip and is one of Finland’s most popular leisure activities.

Taking place on frozen lakes, special equipment is required – not your ordinary fishing line. An 8-inch hole is drilled through the ice to the water below with an auger, like a giant corkscrew. Fishing is done with plastic rods about 12 inches long with rubber maggots and silver-coloured sinkers on the end of a nylon line. This fishing technique involves continually jiggling the line. It also helps to jiggle up and down yourself… to stay warm! The hole’s surface can begin to freeze over after about half an hour and icicles form along the line.

Perch, pike, poach, whitefish and trout are some of the varieties that can be caught but if they’re not biting there’s usually sausages cooked over the fire to fill you up in the warmth of a lavvu.

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!