Lapland in Winter: Best Things to Do

Visiting Lapland in winter is a magical prospect for a vacation. This vast region is a spellbinding destination for travelers, a place where the sun barely rises in the winter months, where lights weave patterns in the sky and reindeer roam free among pine forests.

A trip here is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural landscapes of Lapland. From experiencing the Northern Lights and taking a husky dog ride, to cosying up after a relaxing sauna or visiting Santa Claus himself, there’s something for everyone to do in this genuine winter wonderland.

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A Guide to Lapland in Winter

Where is Lapland located?

Where is Lapland located?

In general, Lapland is a region that stretches across the northern portion of Fennoscandia, which includes parts of Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.

It’s a distinct ethno-cultural area that doesn’t adhere to any particular boundaries. The area is dominated by subarctic wilderness — a land of midnight sun, the Northern Lights, and the indigenous Sami people.

Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland is the “main” area of Lapland. Making up the northern part of the country, it’s the largest official region of Finland. The climate here is, as you’d expect, very cold. The area is characterized by pine and spruce trees.

Most recently, it has become famous as the legendary home of Santa Claus. Usually arriving at the capital of the region, Rovaniemi, visitors can trawl the museums and cultural spots of the city before heading out into the wilderness.

Norwegian Lapland

Like Finnish Lapland, Norwegian Lapland makes up the far northeastern part of the country. Officially called Finnmark, this county of Norway is its largest and least populated area. Situated above the Arctic Circle, it is typified by the tundra and the culture of the Sami people.

It’s also home to Honningsvag, which lays claim to being the world’s northernmost city, but most travelers choose to base themselves in either Alta or Kirkenes. These towns are the ideal hubs for excursions like ice fishing and husky dog rides.

Swedish Lapland

Called Lappland, and historically referred to as Laponia, Swedish Lapland is vast, taking up almost a quarter of Sweden’s land area. Home to just under 100,000 people, the area is rich in natural beauty. It features mountains, lakes, and stark scenery within several protected national parks.

Due to the remote wilderness encompassed by Swedish Lapland, it’s one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. It’s also a great place to learn more about Sami culture, particularly their culinary traditions, which have had a lasting impact on Swedish cuisine.

Weather in the Lapland in Winter

Lapland is famous for being a freezing wintry destination — the ideal spot for a white Christmas, thanks to the snowfall. And it’s true: winters here are cold! Visiting Lapland in winter means sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, and plenty of snow and ice.

Temperatures in December are an average of 21°F, with highs only reaching 26°F. Nights dip to a very cold 15°F. It’s much the same for January and February, if colder! Expect rain, fog, and snow (bring clothing to protect yourself against the elements). But at the same time, sunny spells are common, so you can bring your shades!

Things to Do in Lapland in Winter

Chase the Northern Lights

Witnessing the magic of the Northern Lights is one of the top activities that travelers want to experience in Lapland in winter. Also called the Aurora Borealis, this natural light show appears in the sky as a result of the Earth’s magnetosphere being disturbed by solar wind.

Northern Lights is Swedish Lapland
Northern Lights is Swedish Lapland

Far from being a mere disturbance, however, the result is spectacular. It’s a display of spirals, flickering curtains, and rays dancing in greens, blues, reds, and purples across the night sky.


The best time to see the Northern Lights in Lapland is during the winter months when these phenomena illuminate the skies over the Arctic. Due to the lack of light pollution, and the northerly location (which means long, dark nights), Lapland is the ideal place to see this natural wonder. Taking a tour with a local expert is the best way to see them.

Husky Dog Sledding

Husky Dog Sledding in the Lapland in winter
Husky Dog Sledding in the Norwegian Lapland

Traversing the landscape of Lapland in winter via husky dog sled is an iconic way to see the scenery of this magical region. Huskies love to run, and eagerly await to transport travelers across the wilderness in teams that work together to pull their loads.

Husky Dog Sledding in the  Norwegian Lapland in winter
my furry friends in the Norwegian Lapland

It was a traditional way to travel from A to B in Lapland before the advent of snowmobiles, with teams of huskies used to transport goods (and people) across the vast, snowy expanses.


Today it may not be as integral as it once was, but it’s still an important part of the culture. However, you can’t just rent yourself a sled and dogs and go your own way. You’ll have to enlist the help of a local husky “musher” to lead the way. Husky dog rides can be anything from an hour to trips that last multiple days across the wilderness.


snowmobiles in the Norwegian Lapland
snowmobiles in the Norwegian Lapland

A more modern mode of transport, snowmobiles provide a much faster, adrenaline-pumping activity for thrill-seekers in Lapland. These all-terrain vehicles have been carefully designed to tackle the thick snow and ice of this freezing northern region; instead of wheels, the vehicles have rubber tracks and skis that help them glide across the tundra.

Not only are snowmobiles used to get around for everyday activities (even going to school!), but they’re also a fun recreational activity. Some people even race them. Of course, Lapland is the ideal place to head out on a snowmobile tour.


Best of all, after a short tutorial, you’ll be able to have a go yourself. You’ll be weaving through snowy pine forests and whizzing over frozen lakes in no time!

Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Reindeer Sleigh Ride in the Lapland in winter
Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Reindeer have long played an integral part in many aspects of traditional life in Lapland, particularly for the Sami people, who herded them for their fur, meat, and milk to use as transport. While today most reindeer roam wild, there are still herds of semi-domesticated reindeer that play a part in local traditions.

cute reindeers in the Lapland in winter
cute reindeers

Exploring Lapland on a reindeer tour is a wonderful way to do it. It’s a family-friendly way to see some stark, dramatic scenery — much less adrenaline-fuelled than snowmobiling or riding a husky dog sled. Get wrapped up warm with your family (or friends) and bundle onto a reindeer-pulled sled.


Tours of this kind usually include blankets so you can cozy up together and keep warm. The journey leads through the snow-dusted forests of Lapland and across ice fields. It’s the sort of experience you won’t forget in a hurry!

Snow Shoe Hike

Snow Shoe Hike in Finland

The snow-covered landscapes of Lapland in winter may seem inhospitable, but it is possible to explore them without the use of a vehicle. This is where snow shoes come in. These specialized shoes create a big footprint so you don’t sink into the snow, but this isn’t any new type of technology.

In fact, it’s believed that snowshoes could have actually been invented some 6,000 years ago in Central Asia, with the oldest surviving example being found in the Dolomites, Italy, dating to around 3700 BC.

Today, snowshoes have undergone careful modernization and are constructed out of neoprene and aluminum rather than the traditional wood of ancient varieties. It’s easy to find a snowshoe excursion or tour that you can join. These typically lead along forested trails and ice fields, with a knowledgeable guide, and last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days.


Ski slope in Narvik Norway - Lapland in winter
Ski slope in Narvik Norway

Ski enthusiasts and complete beginners alike can make the most of the snowy conditions of Lapland in winter by hitting the slopes. The pristine powder in this part of the world is ideal for skiers and snowboarders looking for a unique place to enjoy some winter sports. It’s something of a national pastime in this corner of Europe, with many learning to ski from a young age.

The ski season in Lapland begins towards the end of October and peaks in February when the snow is at its best. The resorts are a little different from those found elsewhere (the Alps, for example). The inclines aren’t as steep, but there’s an incredible amount of ski runs that make the most of the backcountry setting.

Learn About the Sami Culture

Sami people are the indigenous people of Lapland. Their homeland, for the most part, is called Sapmi and stretches across more or less the same area as that covered by Lapland — from Norway, through Sweden and Finland to Russia. Historically they were known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle, herding reindeer and sheep, but also settling near the coast to live off the sea.

Nobody particularly knows the origins of the Sami people or even the word “Sami” itself. The first mention of them is believed to have been by the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote in 98 AD of the “Fenni” people in northern Europe.

sami culture in the Lapland

There are nine different Sami languages, five of which can be heard in Norway. Interestingly, however, none of them relate to each other or any of the Scandinavian languages.

Their lifestyle and culture have been adapted to the wintry climate for thousands of years. Today many Sami people still live their lives based on traditional practices, with large numbers of Sami occupying villages in the Arctic Circle. Half of all Sami people are thought to live in Norway.

Though the industrialization of Fennoscandia resulted in the victimization of Sami people (they were banned from speaking their languages in some parts of Norway), their rights came more into the spotlight in the late 20th century. The Sami Parliament, located in Karasjok, Norway, opened in 1989.

Due to their intrinsic relationship with Lapland, learning more about Sami culture is a rewarding part of your trip to the region. Guides are on hand to teach visitors about Sami culture, with tours to villages and to take part in traditional crafts. You can also visit Siida, the Sami Museum in Finland that features exhibits and plenty of information about the history and lifestyle of the Sami people.

Hop on an Ice Breaker Cruise

Ice Breaker Cruise in the Lapland in winter

It’s one thing seeing snow on the ground for miles and witnessing a frozen lake, but seeing the actual sea freezing over is an incredible sight. In Lapland, visitors can actually embark on a cruise aboard an ice breaker, a ship especially made for polar seafaring.

Hop aboard an ice-breaking tour for one of the most unique experiences to do in Lapland in winter. The large ship will plow through fields of sea ice, and along the way, you’ll get to learn more about the landscape and ecology of Lapland.

Tours like this include some exciting perks. Not only will you get a warming drink, but you can also opt to float in the freezing sea in a survival suit, or walk on the ice!

Check Out an Ice Hotel

ice hotel in Lapland

Far from a basic igloo, an ice hotel is an elaborate way to stay in Lapland in winter. Diligently rebuilt every winter out of mounds of snow and blocks of ice, these Arctic resorts can only exist in sub-freezing temperatures.

There’s a whole host of ice hotels that you can choose from, many of which have novel amenities like ice bars (complete with ice glasses, stools, and tables), chapels, and even saunas.

ice hotel in Swedish Lapland

In Finland, you can find the largest so-called “snow fort” in the world, the Snow Castle of Kemi. The design and layout changes each year according to different themes. There’s also Lainio Snow Village (also located in Finland).

enjoing the Ice hotel in Sweden

It features multiple restaurants, fun sculptures and activities such as ice fishing and dog sledding to get involved in. It’s a really fun accommodation option!


You may be surprised to learn that “sauna” is actually a Finnish word. This version of sauna originated in Finland, first in the form of dwellings dug into hillsides, and later developed into the more recognizable communal bathhouse-type steam room we know today.

Taking yourself to a real Finnish sauna while you’re in Lapland in winter is an invigorating experience. Sit back on the wooden bench as you allow the hot steam to permeate your skin, allowing your muscles to relax and your mind to unwind.

And then, once the temperature gets too much, it’s time to run outside into the icy landscape to roll in the snow. The best thing to do after you’ve enjoyed a classic sauna experience is to tuck into a traditional dinner accompanied by a warming drink or two.

Visit Santa in Rovaniemi

Santa Claus village on Rovaniemi
Santa Claus Village on Rovaniemi

Apart from the Northern Lights, visiting Father Christmas himself is the main draw that brings people to Lapland in Winter. And Finland is where you’ll find him. Santa Claus Village opened in 1985 in the municipality of Rovaniemi. Situated right on the border of the Arctic Circle, it’s always Christmas at this tourist attraction.


Visiting here is an amazing experience with children in tow. The festivities begin as soon as you arrive; the whole village is carefully curated to look the part and bring the magic of Christmas to life. Obviously, there’s also a chance to meet Santa Claus along with teams of cheeky elves. Visitors can actually opt to stay in the village itself, in one of the cozy, rustic cabins in the surrounding woodlands where reindeer roam free.

Stay in a Glass Igloo

Glass Igloo in Finnish Lapland

Taking a trip to Lapland is an incredible experience in itself. But staying in a glass igloo really elevates that experience, bringing you close to nature and making for a memorable accommodation option. These stylish pods are usually parts of carefully curated resorts, where you can lean into luxury (think gourmet restaurants on-site) but also be enveloped in wilderness.

A few great options in Finland are the design-led Wilderness Hotel Inari, Northern Lights Ranch, and Kakslauttanen.

These glass igloos are like spending a night in a high-end cabin, but one that has a glass dome over the bedroom. Lay back and relax on your bed as you fall asleep with views of the dazzling night sky above. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights during your stay.

Fat Biking

fat biking in the Finnish Lapland

Fat biking is a good option for those who want to work up a sweat while they’re adventuring in Lapland in winter. These bikes have been built with extra-wide tires, which makes cycling through the deep snows of Lapland actually possible (you’d slip everywhere otherwise and get nowhere).

Heading off on a bike ride through forests and along trails on one of these off-road bikes is a fun experience. Unlike the eager husky dogs or the rattling engines of snowmobiles, fat bikes provide a much quieter way to experience your surroundings at a pace faster than walking.

Trails lead into the peace and quiet of tree-scattered countryside, miles from anywhere, where you can enjoy a slice of tranquillity and stay active on your vacation.

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