Finland is a far off destination most well known for being home to Ol’ Saint Nick and the starry Northern Lights. We have partnered with professional travel blogger Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip.com to get insider tips on some exciting winter activities in the Nordic country of Finland.
Summer is without question the peak season for vacations and family getaways, especially given the long school hiatus. As summer months draw long and recent trips fade into memories, it’s time to look at that next big adventure. Another benefit? When you plan your chilly escape during a hot summer’s day, you’ll forget about the heat — if only temporarily! Sounds like a good enough excuse to me.
While Finland can certainly offer visitors those typical winter sports such as snow skiing and ice skating, this Nordic country also offers activities that are truly unique and memorable and will make the long journey an experience that is not soon forgotten. A few years ago I spent a couple weeks exploring both the southern and northern parts of Finland. Here are some of the highlights I would recommend.
Rovaniemi is located in the far northern part of the country known as the Lapland region, which is part of the Arctic Circle. Lapland is a term not solely used to describe northern Finland, but all of northern Scandinavia, including parts of Russia.
- For a truly unique dining experience, visit the extraordinary igloo restaurant “Snowland.” This seasonal restaurant is more of a snow/ice experience. In addition to the dining portion of the evening, there are many sculptures to admire as well as other structures on the property to explore. There is even a fire pit to cozy up to while sipping some Finnish vodka from a glass made of ice. Once you sit down to eat on a table made of solid water, on a deerskin covered stool, eat fast as the food gets cold quickly.
- To get the adrenaline flowing head over to Lapland Safaris, where they will take you to an ice track on a frozen river to race souped-up circa 1980s Ford Escorts. This is an absolutely thrilling experience as the studded tires grip the ice while drifting around each corner. After some practice, the timed races begin. High performance go-cart and ATV racing are also available on nearby tracks.
- Lapland Safaris actually offers many types of thrilling winter activities. Another one includes a snowmobile excursion. Snowmobiles depart right from downtown Rovaniemi and travel along the river bank and are soon atop the frozen river, eventually veering off onto a snowmobile road system that leads up into the forest. The scenery is stunning, the way the tree-filled branches are weighted down by snow and the views below are simply a sight to behold. During straight-away stretches on smooth frozen rivers you can reach speeds near 70 mph.
- Dog sled and reindeer sleigh rides are both available and quite a thrill. I was amazed at how anxious the Husky dogs are to start running, and just how fast they are. Gliding through the forest on a dog sled as the wind whispers past your ears brings you one with nature.
- Finally, no trip to Rovaniemi would be complete without a visit to Santa’s Official Arctic Circle headquarters. Both kids and adults will get a thrill out of the vast Santa Claus Village, from the plethora of activities to meeting Ol’ Saint Nick himself. The experience for adults is reminiscent of those fond and innocent childhood Christmas memories. In downtown Rovaniemi there is even a hotel named for Ol’ Saint Nick … The Hotel Santa Claus, which is where I stayed.
Kemi has two very popular tourist attractions in the winter … the SnowCastle and the Sampo Icebreaker. Staying in a hotel made of snow and ice may not sound that appealing to some, but I found it fascinating as well as providing a surprisingly good night’s rest.
- It’s not until you enter the SnowCastle than you really appreciate just how large and artistically intricate the structure made of snow and ice really is. Around every corner there is something new to see … from relief art in the walls, to ice sculptures throughout. While there is no question the freezing temperatures make it a bit uncomfortable getting in and out of bed, it’s actually quite cozy. The thick snow walls create tremendous insulation, and therefore the rooms are extremely quiet and peaceful. Once you get situated inside the arctic sleeping bag, which lies atop a layer of lambskin, it’s very warm and comfortable.
- The other main attraction in town is the icebreaker cruise. The Sampo is the only icebreaker in the world dedicated as a tourist attraction. This mighty icebreaker takes passengers around the northern Gulf of Bothnia (part of the Baltic Sea). After serving for thirty years in demanding Arctic waters, the vessel has been given a new task — to provide an unforgettable experience for winter enthusiasts!
- Once on board the icebreaker, passengers are given a presentation about the ship and a guided tour takes them to the massive engine room, as well as the bridge. After getting acquainted with the ship, a three-course meal is served in the ship’s galley.
- Before and after lunch are great opportunities to head toward the bow or sides of the ship to witness the Sampo work her way through the thick ice. The ice conditions are extraordinary to observe and vary greatly in texture (as the ice is broken and frozen back in place).
- Just before returning to port, the ship stops for about an hour to allow passengers (who want to take part) a chance to don an arctic dry-suit and jump into the frozen waters. I found this to be an extraordinary experience, a massive ship stops in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by frozen sea. Passengers not interested in jumping in the water are allowed to disembark and walk on the solid surface of water to take pictures of the ship.
- While in Lapland, away from the city lights of Helsinki, there is a good chance on a clear night sky that you’ll bear witness to the extraordinary Northern Lights. Lapland Finland is one of the best places in the world to see this natural phenomenon.
Helsinki is the capital city of Finland and is located in the southern part of the country. Helsinki is a hip and happenin’ city with amazing art galleries, gastronomic experiences, outstanding architecture and renowned night clubs.
- One of my favorite activities was one of those traditional winter activities … ice skating, which I did in the evening hours at Icepark, a rink in the heart of Railway Station Square.
- Ambling through town will yield all kinds of discoveries, from a farmers’ market (an unlikely sight in the middle of winter) to an array of talented street performers.
- A popular Finnish activity is the Sauna, followed by plunging into a hole cut into a frozen body of water. Burrr!
- A ferry ride through the nearly frozen waters of the harbor to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a World Heritage site. Encounter historic military architecture while enjoying the many views from different vantage points.
[NOTE: If you have the time, plan in advance to get a Russian visa and visit St. Petersburg. It’s just a short train ride from Helsinki]
Winter in Finland is a magical experience. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Mike Shubic is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads visit TravelocityGnomads.com.
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