The best things to do in Lapland in January – 5 nights in Rovaniemi, Finland

Reindeer in Lapland, Finland

Lapland in Finland covers a vast expanse of Arctic wilderness and is home to stunning nature and scenery. More famously its the unofficial home to Santa Claus. Rovaniemi is the capital of this region and serves as a great base to explore the area at any time of year.

I visited Lapland in January during the middle of winter and chose to spend 5 nights there with a rental car. Whilst only a short amount of time, it provided me with ample opportunity for me to have a true Lapland experience and visit all the sights I wanted to.

How to get to Lapland?

This part of Lapland is served by Rovaniemi airport, only a short drive from the city itself. It’s one of the most popular parts of Lapland and several airlines fly here. You’ll find a mixture of direct, charter flights or even low cost budget airlines so shouldn’t have any problem finding something that suits.

I chose to book through Norwegian Airlines, flying from London Gatwick via Helsinki airport. As I booked early I managed to get what I thought was a good deal at about £250 return.

Visit trip.com to search from the good range of flights available.

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Where should I stay in Lapland?

Rovaniemi is a fairly large place and has a good selection of accommodation options. However I would suggest staying outside of town for a true Arctic experience. There are various holiday homes or airbnbs located within an hour or so of the airport. And if you are able to find a place to stay away from the city lights then that will improve your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. We stayed at the wonderful Ahosen Lomamökit a short drive outside Rovaniemi and located in a beautiful spot on the shores of a frozen lake.

You can search booking.com who have a good range of options to choose from.

Is renting a car a good way to get around Lapland?

From my experience the answer is yes. Whilst you may be located within the Arctic Circle and be faced with some snowy roads, I found driving around quite manageable. Your rental car will come with winter tyres as standard which are well suited to the road conditions. But you’ll need to take sensible precautions when driving, especially if you’re not used to driving in snow. I would recommend checking out lapland.fi for a good guide to driving in the winter.

Car rental prices were slightly higher than I’ve paid in other countries, and you’ll generally find that to be the case for most things in Finland. But I managed to get a good deal by searching on discovercars.com.

Sunset in Lapland, Finland
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Are there many shops and restaurants in Rovaniemi?

Rovaniemi has plenty of shops and restaurants, however as you head further away from the city then your options become much more limited. If staying outside of town like I did and being self-catered, then I would suggest stocking up on supplies and taking all that you need with you to your accommodation.

What’s the weather like in January in Lapland?

As you’d expect the weather is cold! I was there in early January and experienced some exceptionally cold weather. Average daytime temperates for my stay were approximately -18 °C, however at times it dipped well below -20 °C. And at night the thermometer went as low as -30°C.

Typically the weather is not quite that cold, but be prepared for it. It will most likely be well below zero regardless. Weatherspark.com has some helpful climate stats for Rovaniemi.

What should you wear in Lapland?

You’ll need to gear up as if you’re heading on a ski holiday. Salopettes, ski jacket, snow boots, thermal underlayers, thick gloves and hat plus more. Wear multiple layers that can be removed easily if needed. My best tip would be to bring a balaclava or something that will cover much your face. Anything that is exposed in the most extreme temperatures will feel extremely cold. There were several occasions where my eyelids were on the verge of being frozen shut!

Walking in Lapland in winter

What time is sunrise and sunset in Lapland?

The days are short in January so this will limit how much of the day you can use. Early in the month the sunrise was around 10.30am and sunset at 2pm. Whilst this only provided a maximum of 3 to 4 hours full daylight, we still found this was enough time for what we wanted to do. If we were driving somewhere then we chose to leave in the morning darkness to arrive once the sun had risen, and vice versa on the way home. Only do this if you are comfortable driving in darkness though.

Timeanddate.com will give you the precise sunrise and sunset timings for when you are thinking of going.

How can I see the Northern Lights?

January is a great time to see the Northern Lights. As we stated outside of the city we didn’t have to worry about light pollution and we had the best possible conditions for seeing them.

Northern Lights in Lapland, Finland

You’ll probably find tour companies that offer an array of trips to see the northern lights. However my best tip is to try and see for yourself. Whether this is just spending the evenings at your holiday rental or hotel, or going for a drive to a viewpoint. Although if you’re staying in the city then perhaps an organised tour would suit you best.

What is there to do in Lapland?

There are plenty of places to check out and trips or activities to keep everyone occupied. The following summarises the places we managed to visit during our 5 days:

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Arctic Circle Hiking Area

This is a fantastic area a short drive from Rovaniemi. It’s a true winter wonderland of nature trails, frozen rivers and forests. Some trails are most suited to those with snow shoes, but we went on a few short walks on manageable trails with our regular boots on. Seeing wild Reindeer was a lovely experience, and there were some viewpoints you could climb up to see a fantastic panorama of the surrounding arctic landscape. There’s a really useful map on nationalparks.fi.

Arctic Circle Hiking Area, Lapland, Finland

Santa Claus village

Whilst not a nature or wildlife experience that we usually look for, visiting Santa Claus village was worth the visit. If you have young children then this will probably be one of the highlights of your trip. You’ll be able to meet Santa Claus, take a sled ride with Reindeer or take a snowmobile or husky tour in the surrounding area. There are various trips and entrance tickets available on viator.com.

Husky sledding

This was one of the highlights of our trip and a memory we’ll look back on for years to come. We booked a 2 hour husky sled tour with Husky Park Arctic Adventures on what was a particularly cold day of around -25 °C. You can also find various other husky trips by visiting viator.com. Whilst I have probably never been as cold as this in my entire life, it was an experience of a lifetime. On arrival we were shown around and able to meet some of the puppies, and given snacks and warm drinks prior to being shown to the sled itself. We had our own private sled and small team of huskies, and were shown the basics of driving. It was simply a case of leaning in to any turns and using the brake if you wanted to slow down. The guide went up in front with his own team, and we followed on a circuit around the forests.

Husky sledding in Lapland, Finland

Northern lights

As mentioned earlier, seeing the northern lights is best done away from the city. Our rental house was located on the shores of the frozen Lake Vikajarvi. We didn’t have to take any special tours to see them, and simply spent some time late in the evenings watching from nearby. Sometimes we ventured out on the frozen lake by foot to get a better view of the horizon. We had some great views on most evenings, although solar activity at the time was fairly low.

If you’d prefer to take a group tour and be taken to some prime viewing locations then you can book a tour with viator.com, for example this group photography focused trip.

Pyha-Luosto National Park

Around an hour and a half from Rovaniemi is Pyha-Luosto National Park. We had intentions of walking some of the trails but soon found that the snow was too deep for us to manage. If you want to explore properly then you’ll most likely need to be kitted out with snow-shoes. Although we didn’t get far, we did still have a great (slow) walk and were surrounded by beautiful forests. There’s some really helpful maps on nationalparks.fi including details of cross-country ski trails.

Pyha-Luosto National Park hiking trail

Lusoto ski resort

About an hours drive north of Rovaniemi was Lusoto ski resort. Certainly not a resort on the scale of any you’ll see in the Alps, but it’s a great place to spend a day for all ranges of abilities.

There’s plenty more to do and check out, but we had a packed 5 days and loved exploring some the places on our own and away from any organised trips. Whilst some of the activities were quite pricey, we still managed to keep within a fairly modest budget and didn’t have to break the bank. Lapland makes a fantastic destination for all ages, and we can’t wait to go back again with our young family.

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