Lapland travel guide

Lapland travel guide


2 minute summary

Lapland’s clear character – laid-back, capable and amusingly deadpan – as well as its traditional cultural stamp is evident in every town and village it touches, but pinning it down geographically is tricky. For the original semi-nomadic Lappish, or Sámi, Lapland, which they call Sápmi, extends from Norway through Sweden and Finland to the Russian Kola peninsula where they have lived a traditional life for centuries tailing their reindeer herds from the bottom of valleys to the top of fells. Geography aside, it’s the vast and truly awesome wilderness and sense of huge skies so crisp and clear that you will only recall them from vivid dreams that makes Lapland such a magical destination.
Whichever part of Lapland you find your feet in, prepare for a world steeped in indigenous life and a natural playground of winter sports, never ending forest, gushing rivers and quirky villages sat high on hills. It’s wild and peaceful all at the same time; it’s the hunting ground for the elusive, otherworldly Northern Lights; and Father Christmas lives there too (just don’t mention the fact that he might not be real, the elves take it pretty badly).
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What we rate & what we don't


Our best & worst of Lapland holidays

Underrated

Norwegian Lapland Swedish Lapland Sámi culture Lapland in summer

Norwegian Lapland

Think Lapland, think Finland and then probably Father Christmas, but it’s actually a very varied region that extends across borders exposing lots of wonders as it goes. Norwegian Lapland has a glorious coastal fringe for cruising and a hinterland characterised by numerous rocky islands, deep fjords that meander inland and a chain of mountains and very navigable peaks ripe for climbing.

Swedish Lapland

People come to Swedish Lapland for the Northern Lights, the snow and the huge nature; it’s a magical combination. January is a much quieter month than December and an excellent time to visit because you still get the beautiful blue semi-darkness that falls early and the daytime sunlight spreads an ethereal sheet of bright colour over everything.

Sámi culture

The Sámi are the original inhabitants of Lapland, and spending time with them on your Finland holiday will add a fantastic new perspective on this remote region. Around 10 percent of Sámi still herd reindeer – which they use for milk, clothing, meat and bedding; and their rich culture includes weaving, traditional cuisine, improvised singing and shamanic drumming.

Lapland in summer

Lapland in summer reveals an incredible landscape of mountains, water and endless space that can be explored 24-hours a day. The midnight sun, an iconic Polar phenomenon where the sun remains visible at midnight during June and July in the far north, makes day and night interchangeable; try hiking trips or sea kayaking, all past the stroke of 12.

Rated

Northern Lights Finnish Lapland Husky safaris Reindeer Farms

Northern Lights

Nature’s greatest light show can last from a few minutes up to a couple of hours, and disappears into the dark northern night as suddenly as it appears. Sitting by a fire on a frozen lake, laughing and sharing warm drinks with fellow travellers while waiting for the elusive spectacle is all part of Lapland’s most otherworldly experience.

Finnish Lapland

Thanks to an overwhelming association with Father Christmas, Finnish Lapland get overlooked as a destination in its own right, but if you genuinely want to get away from it all, there is nowhere more vast and pristine. During the height of winter it’s a paradise for winter sports, it has a great Northern Lights record, plus it’s a lot cheaper than Sweden and Norway because it’s in the Eurozone.

Husky safaris

It’s debatable who enjoys sledding more – the driver or the dogs. The huskies’ excitement will no doubt add to your own; after a short lesson you’ll be in charge or your own four-legged team, harnessing them before mushing through frozen, Christmas-card scenery with just the sound of paws on snow and swishing sleigh runners. Magical.

Reindeer Farms

Pivotal to Sámi culture, reindeer are used for food, clothing, milk and jewellery, and the life of the farmers is intricately linked to the feeding, mating and movements of their herds. Meeting them during your holiday and learning about their lives is fascinating. The reindeer are actually free to roam through the forests, yet each Sámi herder recognises his own animals amongst hundreds.

Overrated

Northern Lights with small kids Fly-in Christmas trips Ski resorts Whale meat

Northern Lights with small kids

As romanticised as the idea might be in your head, anyone who’s ever tried to watch a firework display with a small child will know two things: they get tired and they moan about the cold. Teenage years and upwards? Great. But younger than that and it’s likely they won’t grasp how incredible a phenomenon the Lights actually are and will be too sleepy and chilly for the hunt.

Fly-in Christmas trips

Those who grumble that Christmas is becoming ever more superficial will dismay at this latest fad: a daytrip to see Father Christmas. Flying from the UK to Lapland and back in a day, whizzed around the snowy activities, this exhausting ‘holiday’ is sure to be memorable for all the wrong reasons, as well as contributing nothing to local communities and creating a horrendously high carbon footprint.

Ski resorts

We’re not saying all ski resorts are terrible, just those places run by huge multinational corporations which welcome charter flights by the dozen and fly the income stream right out of Lapland as quick as they fly people in. The skiing is good and so is the equipment, but you don’t get great elevation and you can do all of the activities they offer in smaller towns and villages just without the crowds.

Whale meat

Norway continues to defy global opinion over commercial whaling, killing 1000-2000 whales a year for meat – much of it aimed at curious tourists in search of novel dining. Whalers cite tradition and also claim their prime target – minke whale – is abundant. We disagree. If you want to eat something distinctly Norwegian try elk/moose.

Food, shopping & people


Discover Lapland like a local

Eating & drinking


‘Glow fried salmon’ – doesn’t glow and isn’t fried, but is actually grilled over an open fire pit. Juicy, warming and simply delicious.
Reindeer are cute, but they’re also very tasty – try cured, roasted (reinsdyrstek), or in a hearty Sámi stew (bidos).
Wild arctic berries including bilberries, cloudberries and lingonberries encapsulate the taste of Lapland’s wilderness; you’ll find them in jams, juices and sauces to accompany meat.
Lapland occupies 30 percent of Finland’s land area, but houses just 3 percent of its population.

People & language


Lapland has a diminutive population of just over 180,000, but is a region of many languages. Sámi is spoken mostly in the far north of Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Lapland and although there are a number of dialects, the main variety is North Sámi, which is spoken by about 14,000 people, but is sadly in decline. Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish are all spoken in their respective countries, but you’ll hear Finnish a lot in the north of both Norway and Sweden.
Ask a Sámi if they speak English: “Hálatgo Ea?galasgiela?
If you're sledding and hear “Varo!” - watch your back – it means “watch out!

Gifts & shopping


In Lapland, the ‘Sámi Duodji’ label shows that souvenirs have been made by local Sámi craftspeople.
Pendants and trinket boxes are skillfully carved from reindeer antlers by Sámi craftspeople.
Keep warm even when you’re back home – knitted mittens and reindeer skin slippers are a cosy Finnish treat.
Sámi weaving is a beautiful, colourful tradition. We particularly love the belts, handwoven on traditional looms.

Fast facts


Speeding tickets in Finnish Lapland are income-assessed: a millionaire with an income of EUR 7 million annually was charged EUR 116,000 for one ticket. Ouch.

How much does it cost?


A beer: £4-6
A day with a traditional Sámi family: £122
Basic lunch: £7.20
Snowshoe hire: £14.40
Full day Husky safari: £144.50

A brief history


To summarise Lapland’s history isn’t easy without delving into the backstory of each country that the region covers, which would probably only complicate matters more… In a nutshell, however, as a result of the Napoleonic war settlement, Finland became part of Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy in 1809, having formerly been under Swedish rule. Swedish laws were retained and the country was allowed to keep its own currency, mail and railway systems, but after the collapse of Tsarist rule in Russia in 1917, Finland declared itself independent on December 6 of that year. Lapland is a little bit of each of these countries with a touch of Norway thrown in too. Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Snowy Lapland: edweerdt] [Norwegian Lapland: michael davis-burchat] [Swedish Lapland: Heather Sunderland] [Sami culture: Tarja Mitrovic] [Lapland in Summer: Heather Sunderland] [Northern Lights: The Municipality of Tromso] [Finnish Lapland: Clarence] [Northern Lights with Kids: Nick Russill] [Ski resorts: kokorowashinjin] [Whale meat: Isaac Kohane] [Food & drink: kahvikisu] [Gifts & shopping: Thorguds] [Cost: Stephen Harlan]

Written by Polly Humphris

Husky safari in Finland

Husky safari in Finland

Sled with huskies through spectacular Finnish scenery

From £1625 8 Days inc UK flights
Winter adventure in Finland

Winter adventure in Finland

Experiences which stay with you

From £1795 7 Days inc UK flights
Winter cottage holiday in Finnish Lapland

Winter cottage holiday in Finnish Lapland

Log fires, lakeside trails & a range of winter activities

From £1595 8 Days inc UK flights
Northern lights short break, Finland

Northern lights short break, Finland

Leisurely stay in Finnish Lapland & an Aurora alert system

From £1355 5 Days inc UK flights
Finnish Lapland activity holiday

Finnish Lapland activity holiday

A log cabin wilderness experience, Luosto, Finnish Lapland

From £1425 8 Days ex flights
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