Staying in a log cabin in Finland

There’s a nickname for Finland: “Land of a Thousand Lakes.” But peruse a map, and you’ll realise that’s a huge understatement. There are in fact almost 200,000 lakes in Finland – and for every lake, there’s a clutch of lakeside log cabins.

“My parents had a log cabin and we stayed there every summer,” says Riitta Kiukas, founder of our Finland log cabin holidays partner Skafur-Tour. “My best memories are of hot summer days, rowing a boat out to the middle of the lake and diving in, swimming… Every single Finnish family spends their holiday like this because we have so much water and so much space.”

Whether you’re swimming or snowshoeing on the lake all depends on the time of year you go. Summer cabins in Finnish Lakeland might be kitted out with rowing boats, kayaks and bikes, while winter wilderness cabins are more likely to have cross country skis and ice skates in the cupboard.
Many Finnish families have a second home in the countryside that they rent out when not in use. These log cabins aren’t just buildings – they’re practically part of the family, often passed down from grandparents to children. These cabins are furnished for warm welcomes, with family-sized dining tables for shared dinners of sausage stews and cloudberry pies, kitchens well-stocked with coffee grounds (Finns drink more coffee per capita than any other nation in the world), and lounges heated by fireplaces and – of course – a sauna.

“It’s funny,” says Tim Williamson, director at Responsible Travel, who often stays with his family at a friend’s log cabin in Finland. “When we think about saunas in the UK, it’s all about health, but in Finland it’s a leisure activity. It’s just what you do. It’s part of cleaning, socialising and everyday life.”

Tim remembers the sauna as being their evening ritual at the log cabin. “Every evening, our friend would light a barbecue. Then we’d run down their little gangway and jump in the lake, sit down, have a beer in this little anteroom in the sauna or on the decking, depending on how cold it was, and do that a few times, go and get dressed – and do it all over again the next evening.”

As well as plentiful lakes, there are plentiful pine and spruce forests in Finland – soft woods that provide the naturally insulating building material for the houses. These materials were cleverly chosen hundreds of years ago, as a log house could be built in a couple of days and yet still endure harsh winters, all while staying warm in snowstorms and cool in summer.

How to choose a log cabin

There are thousands of log cabins for hire all over Finland – so how do you decide? The choice is about as vast as Finland itself.

“You need to be pretty careful if you just book a log cabin online,” says Riitta. “It can go totally wrong… There are millions of questions you have to consider when booking.”

For starters, it’s easy to misjudge distances in Finland. This country is huge – around 1,160km from north to south. Most Finnish cabins aren’t like the grand lodge-style cabins in North America. Many are cosy family homes with a lived-in vibe. Then there’s the question of when to go. You’ll be competing with Finns if trying to find a log cabin in July and August, when the schools have broken up. You need to consider whether you’re happy self catering or would rather stay in a cabin that’s part of a lodge accommodation, where an on-site restaurant serves dinner.

Transport is a consideration too, especially in winter – whether you need to be on the ski bus route or if you’re happy driving on winter roads. Be careful what you wish for when looking for a wilderness cabin, because Finnish wilderness really is exactly that.
“They are very isolated,” Tim agrees. “It’s one of the things I love about it. You’re more likely to bump into a moose on the roads than you are to see other people… You’ve also got to know how to drive in extreme conditions in winter. There’s a reason why Finland breeds so many racing and rally drivers!”

Of course, all these concerns are taken out of your hands when you travel with our partners, who have excellent knowledge of the area – often because they live there. Riitta says she feels like a detective, seeking out the perfect cabin for travellers.

“Personally, it’s very important what the interior of the cabin looks like,” says Riitta. “Some of the log cabins might be new but the insides are horrible… Because although almost every family does have a log cabin in Finland, not every family has lots of money to spend on interior design, or has good taste!”

Visitors often want a picture-postcard log cabin, so if you want more emphasis on the “chic” part of shabby chic then local people like Riitta can dig out something that meets your requirements.

“Calling it a ‘log cabin’ probably does it an injustice,” says Tim. “Expect a pretty substantial house – traditionally one storey, but with ground source heating that’s completely sustainable, and they’re totally warm and completely air-tight. They’re really comfortable; you’re not roughing it. It’s not a mountain walking lodge – they’re pretty cosy.”

Winter wilderness cabins in Sapmi

When you stay in a log cabin in Finnish Lapland, you’re staying in Sápmi – an Arctic region that has been sliced up and claimed by the kingdoms of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia over the last thousand years. Long before that, it was the borderless home of Europe’s Indigenous Sámi communities. These days, about 10,000 Sámi remain in Finland, and less than half remain in Sápmi.

One of our most popular Lapland trips is a winter log cabin holiday. As well as staying in a locally owned cabin, the trip champions businesses owned by Sámi, offering you insight into the day-to-day lives of people who live close to the Arctic Circle. Or you might stay in a log cabin on a reindeer farm in Salla in Eastern Lapland, where meals are served in a traditional wooden hut. People have lived in these parts for millennia – one of the oldest skis in the world was found here, dating back almost 5,000 years.

Nature & culture

Sámi-owned businesses in Sápmi are often deeply rooted in nature, so you’ll find yourself zooming across frozen lakes and through snow-heavy forests by husky sled or slipping across frozen rivers on a more sedate cross country skiing or snowshoeing tour. You can visit working reindeer farms to understand how herder families cut out a living in dark, freezing conditions before sitting down to share food from the farm.

Visiting the Siida Sámi Museum in Inari combines history lessons with a nature centre that uses the Sámi’s vast knowledge of ecology to discuss how to adapt to climate change in a region that’s vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable snows and ice formation. You can also visit the Sámi Parliament of Finland in Inari for a peek into present and future projects and challenges.

Winding these activities throughout your holiday is a far cry from exploitative trips that dip into Sámi culture without truly connecting you with the people who live here. In winter, most of these activities run when it’s light (10am-2pm) – which means you spend a lot of time in the log cabin.

“So it has to be cosy,” says Riitta. “A fireplace with a lot of firewood is very important. A sauna, a well-equipped kitchen and a nice dining table that everyone can eat around… My favourite is the traditional cabin, where you can see the real wooden log wall – and a little bit of luxury.”

Aurora cabins

The long, pitch-black nights and unpolluted skies are a great canvas for watching the Northern Lights. Go on a log cabin holiday in autumn or early winter (September-November), when eerie “double auroras” are reflected in the icy lakes before the snows cover them. Again, Lake Inari is one of the best places to watch out for the Northern Lights, with wintry nights combining with a flush of red and gold across the Arctic tundra and forests.
Travel Team
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Summer cabins in Finnish Lakeland

Summer log cabin holidays are still something of a national secret. They mostly stick to the Finnish lake district, Finnish Lakeland, in the southern half of the country. Here, the landscape is thick with islands, forests and lakes. Cabins settle right by the water, so activities are dictated by the landscape around you – kayaking, hiking and swimming in the lake right next door.

“Summer is so different, because there is always water,” says Riitta. “The cabins are by the lake. So if you stay in a log cabin in summer, you usually have your own rowing boat so you can go rowing and fishing, and you can do many things at the cabin without having to book activities elsewhere.”

Fewer people travel to Finland in summer, so it’s also a cheaper time to travel. Plus, you can keep costs down by sticking to activities like hiking and biking the surrounding forest trails or renting a car for day tours. The days are long and bright even in southern Finland, so you can fit in loads.

“But mostly, people want to stay on their own and swim in the lake, have sauna and pick berries,” says Riitta. “It’s very, very different from staying in a log cabin in Lapland in winter.”

Few people go to Lapland in summer, but you can buck that trend on a summer holiday in Finland. Accommodation is more substantial (you might be glad to hear, what with the 1,500 bears mooching around this part of the Finland-Russia border), toeing the line between a log cabin and forest lodge.


Small group holiday or a tailor made trip?

Small group holidays run to a set itinerary on set dates, and you’ll be travelling with a group of around six people. You might share a large log cabin or stay in separate cabins close to each other. Most meals and activities, plus – if you’re travelling in winter – snow gear are included in the price.

Tailor made trips are designed to fit your needs. It’s worth following a suggested itinerary, as they’re designed by local experts who know the most peaceful national parks and best hiking trails, but it can be tweaked to add in places you’d like to visit – or ditch stops you’re not so fussed about. You can also share your preferences about what you’d like from your log cabin accommodation.

Hosted or self-catered accommodation?

Most log cabins are self-catered. You’ll have a well-equipped kitchen and the freedom to prepare your own food without worrying about sit-down meals. Small group holidays, however, often use catered log cabins, as most meals are included. They’re usually located in ski towns or in the grounds of wilderness hotels, so restaurants are in easy reach too. You can also stay in lodges that are more like guest houses, where your hosts live on-site, although they’re far and few between.

Are log cabins good for families?

“Log cabins are always built for families,” says Riitta. “If a Finnish family goes to Lapland, for example, they always book a log cabin and then they do winter activities on their own. Staying in a log cabin is the most common way of having a domestic holiday in Finland.”

Tailor made trips can seek out cabins for bigger groups – say, if a couple of families or multiple generations of family members are travelling together. Cabins accommodating 10-16 people do exist, but are rare, so it’s worth booking well in advance. En suite bathrooms are very rare in Finnish homes, so you must also be prepared to share toilets.

When should I stay in a log cabin?

Stay in December to April for a winter holiday in Finnish Lapland. You’ll spend your days husky sledding, cross country skiing and visiting reindeer farms and your nights watching out for the Northern Lights. Nights are long and dark, with five hours of daylight around Rovaniemi in December, but the natural insulation of the wood cabins means that they’re toasty throughout. Finnish people often travel to Lapland between February and Easter, with ski towns and log cabins getting very busy in the Easter holidays (usually April).

Summer log cabin holidays usually run from June to August. Summer holidays – both school holidays and midsummer celebrations (21 June) occur in June, so log cabins are often booked up far in advance. Festivals and summer concerts don’t wind down until the end of July. You’ll have more accommodation options in August, but as the Finnish school term begins on the second week of August, some family activities stop.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rural Explorer] [Intro: Olivier Guillard] [How to choose: Taneli Lahtinen] [Aurora cabins: Hendrik Morkel] [Summer cabins in Finnish Lakeland: Juho Luomala]