This is our ADVENTURE guide to Lapland. If you’re looking to plan a cozy, gentle holiday, this guide won’t help. But if you’re looking for an adventure, read on.
If you Google the term Lapland, you’ll usually get tons of results that talk specifically about Finnish Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland. But in fact, there are also regions of Sweden, Norway and even Russia which are part of this awesome expanse called Lapland. The non-Finnish Lapland areas have traditionally been called by different names, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll call it all Lapland.
I’ve done a couple of trips to this mind-blowing arctic region, and it is one of, if not my absolute favorite places in the world. It’s the kind of place that gets you daydreaming about building a cabin by the side of one of Lapland’s many lakes and living your days out there in the wild.
Moreover, traveling to and even living in Lapland can be surprisingly affordable. Cities in Nordic countries, like Stockholm in Sweden and Helsinki in Finland, are notoriously expensive, but up North in Lapland, prices plummet and life is really affordable. You can find a daily rental for a Lappish cabin in the woods for less than $50 (±£40) a night if you book something a bit out of the way (which is actually better, in our opinion, for adventure trips!). Car rentals are also surprisingly affordable, and as long as you’re buying from a grocer rather than going to restaurants, food won’t burn a hole in your pocket either.
The novelty of Lapland simply doesn’t wear off.
In winter, there are endless drifts of snow, biting cold that makes your beer freeze in your hand and your nose hairs snap off if you blow too hard (no not really, but I’d pay to see that). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the splendor of the Northern Lights or the sight of a Moose wading through snow as deep as you are tall. There are activities to keep you busy for a year, from dog sledding and skiing to ice fishing and just straight-up surviving (see some of my Lapland survival stories in this post).
In summer, the sun doesn’t set for almost 2 months. Blueberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, mushrooms, herbs and vegetables of every variety abound in the wild, making for an epic treasure hunt fit for adults and children alike. Salmon splash in the rivers, animal life explodes and pumpkins grow as big as cars in the 24 hour sun. It’s the perfect time for solo cycling trips, family cabin-by-the-lake getaways and never ending steam train rides.
And for the true adventurers, there’s Allemansratten, which makes for the perfect place for a remote getaway.
Freedom to roam
You may have heard of ‘Freedom to Roam’, or ‘Allemansratten’, but it means more than you might think. In short, it is a legal right to roam the wilderness as you please.
This ‘right to roam’ is found across the Lapland regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and also in a number of other Northern (and some not-so-Northern) European countries such as Scotland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
The law exists in its most pure form in Lapland, where you are entitled to roam the wilderness, even camping on privately-owned land or picking wild fruit, subject only to common-decency restrictions (like camp sufficiently far away from inhabited buildings and leave no trace). Even making fires is acceptable in Swedish and Norwegian Lapland (though not so in Finland or Russia), provided it is not in the peak summer months when fire hazards are high.
There are any number of awesome Lapland adventures you can dream up by making full use of this historic freedom.
Planning an epic adventure in Lapland
It was on a boy’s trip to Finnish Lapland that I really figured out how to have an awesome adventure. It was early December, -35°C in the middle of the month-long arctic night. In a cabin many miles from any living human, we lived out our days cutting firewood to keep us from freezing and to melt enough snow for drinking water, ice fishing for Salmon on the frozen Tornio river and roaming the vast white expanse on skis.
At the end of the day, doing an adventure trip comes down to a few key things which if you don’t get right, will ruin your chances of a great trip, even if you follow all the other advice here.
Here are my 4 rules-of-thumb for planning an adventure:
- Go with awesome people
Adventure trips are all about unexpected things happening, and it’s no good having unexpected things happen if you don’t have anyone to share it with. It goes without saying, but choosing the right people to go with is critical. I’ve found that going with ‘crazier’ people is better than not-so-crazy people – more things seem to happen and more memories are made.
- Know what you’re getting yourself into
Some of my favorite trips are in the icy, dark, wintery months. And I love being completely away from civilization, where if you fail to keep a fire going you will literally freeze to death. But this is definitely not everyone’s idea of a grand adventure.
If you’re planning a trip like this, or even one of more mild-sounding character (Lapland is seldom ‘mild’ – be careful of falling into this trap!), beware that you might be getting yourself into something that you may not actually enjoy.
- Have a main purpose
There are so many things to do in Lapland that you may find yourself with 50 things on your to-do list. Adventure trips are always best when the trip centers in on one main activity, so I’d encourage you to pick one thing to build your trip around, and then whatever else you end up doing is just a bonus. But make it about that thing.
If it’s kayaking the Norwegian Fjords, then it’s a kayaking trip. If it’s skiing at Yllas, then it’s a ski trip. If it’s foraging for Lappish berries, then it’s a foraging trip. Make it about the main purpose, and if you can’t decide then simply split your trip up into, say, 3 days of foraging and 3 days of kayaking.
For adventure trips, it’s better to only do a few things properly rather than a bunch of things half-heartedly. And it also helps with the budget.
- Embrace the heck out of wherever you are
Adventure is best served with unexpected side dishes. To get the most out of your adventure trip, you’re best off embracing whatever crazy circumstances you’ve put yourself in. If it’s cold and snowing, don’t hang around at your accommodation and ‘wait for better weather’ – go run out onto the frozen lake and get a picture! Adventures aren’t adventures without memories of stuff that really sticks out. Make it so!
How to prepare for an arctic winter
- Bring legit warm stuff, preferably an eskimo suit/onesey
If you’ve never experienced -30°C (-22°F) cold, I can tell you that the difference between +30°C and 0°C (86°F and 32°F) is the same as between 0°C and -30°C (32°F and -22°F)… It’s COLD.
If your hair gets wet, it freezes instantly. If you make the rookie mistake of walking out of the sauna without sandals on, your feet will be glued to the floor after one step. And if you feel the urge to lick a street pole, yes, you will lose some of your tongue. And the ability to eat for a few days.
While it’s not always -30°C (-22°F) of course, winter in the arctic is no joke. You’ll want warm clothes. For those of you who intend to do a lot of outdoor activities, I strongly recommend getting an eskimo suit.
‘Normal’ snow gear will work just fine, but I always end up with chunks of icy snow finding their way between the cracks. Eskimo suits like this one will help you avoid that, which makes outdoor adventures much more enjoyable.
- Be prepared to work hard
The amount of time it takes to melt enough snow for drinking water is unfathomable. You can spend half your day just chopping enough wood to keep a fire going for heat and water (assuming you stay somewhere off the grid).
While chopping firewood, making fire and melting snow to survive is an experience on its own, it can be a lot of hard work. Be prepared for the fact that your adventure trip could end up being more work than relaxation!
- Yes, you need boots and gaiters
You absolutely need snow boots or wellingtons. Snow finds its way into everything, and you will be soaked and cold in two seconds flat if you don’t have the proper footwear.
Gaiters, in my opinion, are also a necessity. When your feet punch through snow up to your waist, gaiters will prevent snow from getting in your boots, which is a non-negotiable.
How to prepare for an arctic summer
- Bring a sleeping mask
The sun doesn’t set for over 2 months in many parts of Lapland during summer. After a few days, this sounds much cooler than it feels. Your body clock can get truly confused, and after a few days of terrible sleep you’ll wish you could block out the light and get some real sleep.
So bring a sleeping mask to block out the light when you sleep. It’s the only way to keep your circadian rhythm intact. Most accommodations will have blockout curtains, which help too, but sleeping masks are the only sure-fire way to get some sleep.
- Prepare for mosquitoes
Mosquitoes can destroy an otherwise-perfect trip to Lapland. And you’ll want to be prepared for them, because they can sometimes hit you in literal black clouds, buzzing and biting and ruining everything.
Many Lappish locals seem to think the whole mosquitoes thing is overplayed, but if you’re anything like me (I hate mosquitoes, and would happily wage nuclear war on them if I could), then you’ll want to have a strategy to keep them at bay.
The mosquitoes usually come out towards midsummer, though it is difficult to predict exactly when. To be safe, if you’re doing a trip anytime between June and September, remember the following:
- Loads of mosquito repellant
- Loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and clothing (they’ll bite through skin-tight clothing)
- If possible, a netted head cover is useful
- If camping, a mosquito net is a must
Also, mosquitoes are only really an issue in the wilderness – if you’re going to a town, or will be spending your time in an ‘upland’ area (like on top of a hill), you won’t have much of a problem with mosquitoes. They’re only really a problem when you are near water sources or in the woods out of the wind.
Okay, the good stuff…
Where to go
I’ve found AirBnB to be a great source of finding everything from remote cabins to luxury apartments. I’ve stayed at this awesome salmon fishing cabin on the Tornio river by Pello and this remote cabin near Kolari (linked below). I highly recommend them both.
Our favorite AirBnB’s in Lapland
The Pello Cabin (±£75 / $100 per night)
Accessible, with electricity and all the character and charm of a Lappish cabin.
This makes for a comfortable base for an arctic getaway. On your doorstep is the Tornio River, which is the border between Finland and Sweden. This is great for salmon fishing and canoeing in summer, and for ice fishing and cross-country skiing in winter. It is just a 45 minute drive to one of Finland’s greatest ski resorts, Yllas.
The Kolari Cabin (±£45 / $60 per night)
A remote and incredibly novel experience.
Lying 27 kilometers (16 miles) from its nearest living neighbor, and often unreachable by car when the winter snow packs up, it will give you a true sense of being one with the wilderness. Being right on a lake, fishing is a great activity whether in winter or summer. And being so far out makes for a great base from which to do an overnight camping outing to go foraging in the woodland or build a quinzee/snow igloo. Just remember, this cabin has no electricity, so you’ll need to work to stay warm and cook food.
Other than the two cabins above, which are both in the Finnish Lapland, really any area will make for an amazing trip. Here’s a few more places to check out:
- Riverland Wilderness Cabin (Finland) – a true Lappish-style cabin.
- Lovers Lake Retreat (Finland) – with an outdoor, wood-fired hot tub.
- Tiny House in Kvikkjokk (Sweden) – remote and unique.
- Senja Fjords House (Norway) – potentially a great base for kayak day trips.
- Kuusamo Lakeside Cabin (Finland) – rough and remote, but my favorite.
Also, don’t forget about Allemansratten, the right to roam. If it’s a camping adventure you’re looking for (or even if you want to stay in little huts on a lengthy hiking adventure), you could exploit this right by visiting a national park. You can camp at all of the national parks under Everyman’s Right laws, and most of them have many little cabins dotted throughout the parks which can be booked (oftentimes for free).
Our favorite national parks
Urho Kekkonen: Situated in the North-East of Finland, stretching into Russia, this large national park is one of Finland’s most well known parks. It is well-equipped and packed with great activities.
Sarek: In North-West Sweden lies Sarek National Park, with rolling hills, some of the highest mountains in the Nordics and thousands of lakes and rivers. It is home to a portion of the famous 400+ km (250+ mile) Kungsleden hiking trail, an absolute gem of a trail.
When looking for a place to stay, bear in mind:
- Proximity to an airport: One way or another, you will likely need to rent a car at whichever airport you land at, as Lapland is vast with a sparse population, and public transport routes are limited if you are going out into the wilderness.Driving through Lapland is beautiful at any time of year, so while a 5 hour drive shouldn’t be a showstopper, it’s something to consider if you don’t fancy being in a car for long.
- There are many great holiday cabins in the Norwegian Fjords (deep inlets of sea into the mainland – resembles mountainous islands rising out of the sea), which can make for amazing active adventures.
- There are many small villages across Lapland, so don’t worry too much about being ‘too’ remote. While Lapland is indeed sparsely populated, it is unlikely that you will be more than an hour away from a convenience store from which to buy essentials (like chocolate and beer), unless you really try.
Things to do
There’s a thousand things to do in Lapland. The touristy things are listed on plenty of sites, so here’s our thoughts on non-touristy activities that will give you a real Lappish experience.
Summer is short in the far North, running from June to August. Though you can still do most of these summer activities in the shoulder season months of May and September. By October, it’s cold, and the snow only melts toward mid-May in most years. Personally, I recommend August as the ideal summer month, as you still get the warmth and long days, and the tail end of the foraging season.
Forage in the woodland
There are countless berries, mushrooms, herbs and vegetables in the Lappish wilderness, and under Everyman’s Right you can forage wherever you please. If you’re up for the challenge, pack a few essential ingredients, head out foraging for the day and cook up a mushroom risotto over an open fire, and a wild-berry salad.
For those who want a traditional experience, fill up a bucket with blueberries and sell them at a local market (in addition to the experience you can pick up 20 Euro or more for a bucket of them). Check out our foraging guide for details on where to go, what to forage for and what to cook.
Kayak the Fjords
A fjord is a deep inlet from the ocean into land. Norway’s coastline is teeming with them. In summer, the fjords are teeming with marine life, with crystal clear water and steep mountains rising straight out of the water, blanketed in the deepest coat of green.
On a kayak, you can do day trips from a base cabin or pack camping equipment and pitch a tent on whatever island you come across. The scenery is mind-blowing, the fishing is incredible and the experience unforgettable.
Canoe the lakes
There are an estimated 800,000 freshwater lakes across Scandinavia. Most have been formed by glacial erosion. For an inland equivalent of kayaking the fjords, consider renting a canoe and paddling across the many lakes. There are many canoe trails with marked portages, which can make for a great day trip if you pair this with some foraging and cooking in the wild.
Sauna in the midnight sun
Jumping in a hot sauna is one of the most amazing feelings, especially after a long day in the wild. While it gets quite warm in the summer, nights are still chilly enough to warrant an hour or two in the sauna.
One of my favorite time-wasters is to grab a beer (or three), and alternate time between the piping-hot sauna and the ice-cold lakes. Doing this jig under a midnight sun is all the more exciting.
Catch Salmon in the Torne River
From June to August, the Torne River brims with shoals of Salmon swimming upstream. The river is renowned for its enormous Salmon, averaging 6-8 kg (13-18 pounds) and getting up to 20 kg (44 pounds). You can fish from a traditional long boat or fly fish too.
For anyone into fishing, this is one place you can catch a trophy fish. Midsummer in late June/beginning of July is about when the best fishing kicks into gear.
Embark on a multi-day hike
There are many multi-day hiking trails, like the Kungsleden mentioned above. Whether you’re on a camping mission or staying at a hotel, it’s 100% worth it to get out for a few days on a hike.
If you pick a well-known trail, there will likely be busses and trains at some of the stopovers, which you can use to circle back around to where you came. It’s a great way to get that coveted feeling of being one with nature.
Winter is long in the far North, running from November to March. By October it is cold, though the thick snow only really sets in in November. The ice and snow usually doesn’t melt until mid-May, and it can be regularly below freezing right through April.
Personally, I recommend March as the ideal winter month. The perpetual darkness in December and January can be depressing (which is not something to ignore – I have struggled through this twice during December trips), but March brings both a decently-long day but still loads of snow and cold for that true winter experience.
Go cross-country skiing
There are some great downhill ski resorts around Lapland (my favorite is Yllas), but there’s nothing quite so adventurous as donning a pair of old school wooden cross-country skis and trekking out across frozen lakes and rivers to take in the scenery and catch the Northern Lights.
Overnighters are commonplace and virtually part of Lappish culture, but day-long outings can be just as good. While of course you can do this through a travel company, we recommend just renting a pair and high-tailing it on your own!
Sauna all night long
This is without doubt my absolute favorite thing to do in Lapland. Most cabins in Lapland have a traditional wood-fired sauna, and it’s no wonder why – it can get as low as -45°C (-49°F). After a day of ice fishing, skiing or just absorbing your surroundings, nothing is better than firing up the sauna and cracking a beer. Lapin Kulta is my favorite local beer, and armed with a few of these and a hot sauna, I can spend the whole night alternating between piping hot sauna to ice cold snow.
There’s nothing quite like opening the sauna door and walking out into the snowy darkness with nothing but sandals on. Your beer freezes through in a few minutes, so you’ll just have to knock it back pretty fast. If you’re brave enough, knock away the ice at the edge of a nearby lake and dunk yourself in the icy water! You’ll be running back to the sauna in 10 seconds.
Catching the Northern Lights while drinking a slushy beer in nothing but your underpants is a memory you’ll never forget.
Ice as thin as 7cm (3 inches) is safe to walk on, and lakes can freeze as much as a meter (40 inches) in a cold Lappish winter. Most AirBnB cabins are equipped with a hand drill and some fishing gear, so heading out onto a frozen lake to drill a hole and catch fish. If you get serious about it, you can even put up a tent to shelter you from the wind while you fish.
Go dog sledding
While you won’t be able to simply ‘rent dogs’ and go mushing on your own of course, dog sledding is a captivating experience and certainly worth your while.
A 4-day dog sledding tour from Kiruna in Sweden with Nature Travels will set you back £797 (±$1040). It is quite a sum, but includes everything from the dog sledding itself to accommodation and food (and you can do a few hours of mushing for much less). You’ll also get to run your own dog team rather than simply sitting on a sled while the guide does the work.
Camp in the snow
There’s nothing that says ‘adventure’ like snowshoeing/skiing out into the wilderness and setting up camp. Try building a snow cave, or dig down to the ground and pitch a tent.
You can conveniently rent equipment including everything from tents and sleeping bags to cutlery and lights from either Rovaniemi or Saariselka in Finland at this great gear rental site. Take a look at this awesome video of one of our favorite Youtubers camping in Canada.
Bundle up and search for the Northern Lights
Whether you do a camping overnighter or not, seeing the Northern Lights (or at least searching for them – they can sometimes be stubbornly-difficult to time) is a must. The waving lights caused by electrified solar gases colliding with our atmosphere is a sight to behold. They can be tricky to time, as you need clear weather conditions to line up with the random spewing out of electrified gases by the sun. You can use this Aurora Borealis forecast to give you a bit of a heads up as to whether or not you can expect any activity.
If you don’t plan on doing an overnighter in the Lappish winter cold, make sure to keep an eye on the forecasts. On a good night, bundle up in a sleeping bag and lie outside stargazing until you catch it, or get your sauna on while you wait.
How to get to (and around) Lapland
There are 20 airports across Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Lapland, making the region very accessible. Most traffic comes from the United Kingdom, and peaks in December (Lapland is famously the home of Santa Claus). Tourist crowding should not really be much of concern – the region is so vast and so sparsely populated that even the influx of tourists doesn’t result in crowding in areas other than some popular hotspots like ski resorts, Santa Claus village and some destination sightseeing spots.
Flights will run you up around £135-175 from London or $650-900 from New York, though as is the case with most routes, you can find incredibly good deals if you keep an eye out. Especially if you’re prepared to have multi-hour layovers (which is sometimes awesome if you’re interested in seeing a city in a few hours between flights).
Trains and busses
A 6-berth private cabin on the overnight sleeper train from Stockholm to Kiruna (Swedish Lapland) costs about SEK3,500 (±£300). If you are 4 or more people, you’ll automatically get a private cabin for roughly the same price. Taking a train can be fun, and cost-competitive if not downright cheap if you’re a group of 4-6 people.
The Arctic Circle Train, which as above can take you from Stockholm to Kiruna, stops at a total of 12 places all the way up to Narvik, Norway (the far North). With the proper train pass, you can hop on and off as many times as you like. This could form the basis of an entire trip if you like, otherwise simple an engaging way of getting to your destination.
The bus networks are fairly extensive, and can take you from the train stations to most Lappish towns. They’re also really affordable. We won’t delve into the details here, as Google Maps and Rome2Rio do more than an okay job of explaining your options and pricing.
Renting a car in Lapland, despite Scandinavia’s reputation as an expensive region, is quite affordable. In 2018, I rented a mid-sized Skoda (perfect for snowy weather) in Kiruna (Sweden) for less than 260 Swedish Krona per day (±£23 / $30). You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding something at around £26 ($35) per day.
Road networks are quite extensive across most of Lapland, and are ploughed regularly during winter (mostly through government arrangements with local farmers).
Yeah, cycling. If you’re prepared to do the work, a bicycle can actually get you from A to B! This is the most breathtaking way to travel during summer… Pedaling along on a bicycle packed with camping gear in the midnight sun is a stunning experience, and certainly the prime mode of travel around here.
There are plenty of bicycle rental places to choose from. You can pick up a top-notch e-fatbike (‘fatbikes’ are the ones with fat tires, which are perfect for all weather conditions, and the ‘e-fatbike’ has an electric drivetrain so you don’t have to pedal the whole time) for £60-70 ($80-90) per day all in. Or £40-50 ($50-65) per day for a normal mountain fatbike. These prices can be significantly cheaper if you book for 4, 5 or more days. Sport Corner at Yllas has some good deals. See their price chart below:
A no-go in many places around the world, hitchhiking in Scandinavia, and particularly in the Lapland regions, is very safe. While of course bearing in mind obvious safety protocols, don’t underestimate the benefits of hitchhiking. Getting from A to B with a friendly local is a great way to get helpful tips, experience a bit of local culture and get a free ride on top of it all.
Awesome stuff I never knew about before visiting Lapland
Need I say more? There are entire cartons of this stunning blue liquid! I’ve travelled a fair bit, and never come across blueberry juice before Lapland. Blueberries are incredible, but I never guessed there’d be actual juice made from the stuff! Finnair, the major domestic airliner in Finland, serves blueberry juice in-flight. That’s reason enough to fly with them as far as I’m concerned.
After some research, it turns out root cellars are a thing in many places in the world. But I first happened across a root cellar while staying at a remote cabin in the Swedish Lapland. Basically it’s just a hole in the ground – usually dug out of a hill such that you can access it from the side – which uses the cool earth to keep vegetables and other produce fresh. Locals use this earth-refrigerator to keep vegetables, berries and nuts at just above freezing temperatures and high humidity levels, which are the conditions under which they last longest.
Root cellars are a common food storage trick that many off-grid Lappish cabins use to remain self-sufficient. They’re super cool (no pun intended).
Lapin Kulta, the world’s most satisfying beer
I came across Lapin Kulta for the first time in Kiruna, a little town in Finnish Lapland. There was a tv advertisement running at the airport there. The voiceover for the ad was done by the coolest-sounding Finn, and his resounding pronunciation of ‘Lapin Kulta’ has stuck with me for years. A cold Lapin Kulta while chilling in a Finnish Sauna. They’ve also got hilarious commercials.
Okay so yeah we all know the Northern Lights are amazing. But they’re really amazing! They’re also difficult to spot sometimes, because you need cloudless conditions to coincide with a solar burst – both fairly rare occurrences (it rains or snows a lot in Lapland). That said, on any given cloudless night, you stand a fair chance of seeing at least faint Auroras, but the big, multi-colored, waving Northern Lights are quite a bit rarer.
Rovaniemi, Santa Claus Village
Rovaniemi is the officially-recognized home of St Nick, aka Santa! This is a super-famous thing, but I had no clue until I literally drove into Santa Claus Village. It’s really commercialized, so not really my kind of thing. But still super cool to say I’ve been there, and definitely worth dropping by to buy yourself some Christmas stockings at the curio shop to take back home.
Pronounced ‘sow-nah’. I have had some crazy sauna experiences in Lapland (read some of them here). There are more saunas in Finland than there are cars, and I completely understand why – it is the most relaxing and immersive experience you can have in Lapland. Especially in winter, when you do the traditional dunk in an icy lake intermittently.
Other stuff you should know
Winter is cold and dark, summer is mild and perpetually light. Do not underestimate the effects of 24/7 darkness in winter, nor 24/7 sunlight in summer. Too long in the dark can really negatively affect your mood. And too long in the light can mess with your sleeping patterns quite severely.
Scandinavia has incredibly-high proficiency with English, with 80%+ speaking English fluently. If you are visiting Norway, Sweden or Finland, you will have no trouble finding English-speakers to point you in the right direction. People in the Russian regions of Lapland are less proficient, but by and large you should be able to get by with English.
Scandinavians drink more coffee per capita than anywhere else in the world. But the coffee quality is so bad! I have no clue why they can’t seem to make a good espresso, but virtually every coffee outlet I’ve tried in Scandinavia sells weak, tasteless coffee. I’m sure there are some good couture coffee outlets, but so far I’ve failed to find them. So if coffee is important to you, look up your coffee spots before booking your trip, or bring your own.
So! That’s our guide to having a crazy adventure in Lapland. Let us know if you think we’re missing something important.