A Guide to Holidays in Lapland
From finding Santa Claus, to seeing the Northern Lights in all their glory, Lapland has much to offer as a holiday destination. Read on to find out more.
Where is Lapland?
Lapland is not a country but a region, stretching across parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and mainly situated within the Arctic Circle. The name ‘Lapland’ comes from the fact that the region is inhabited by the Sami, who were formerly known as ‘Lapp People’, though this term is now considered derogatory.
Lapland is geographically vast and diverse. However, though it is home to several cities, among them Rovaniemi in Finland and Kiruna in northern Sweden, it is, for the most part, unspoilt wilderness and is very sparsely populated. The climate is classed as ‘subarctic’, meaning that, apart from in the southern section, much of Lapland is relatively barren, with reindeer, wolf and bears among the few animals living here.
However, Lapland is no longer inaccessible to tourists. In Norway, Sweden and Finland, regular night trains take tourists up to the region, with the winter months especially busy, particularly in and around Rovaniemi and Kiruna.
Things to Do in Lapland
The majority of Britons who travel to Lapland do so to see Santa Claus himself, with many taking advantage of the boom in ‘Santa Safari’ package deals offering return flights, accommodation and transfers to see the man himself from a number of UK airports. The best-known destination for this type of break is the Santa Claus Village, just outside of Rovaniemi . As well as its own airport with direct links to the UK, the town also offers a wide range of accommodation options, as well as restaurants and even a designer outlet village. However, it is the Santa Claus Village that is the main attraction, with families able to see Santa in person, view the thousands of letters he gets sent each year, send a postcard home from the ‘North Pole’, meet real reindeer and even enjoy dog-sledding and skidoo rides across the Arctic Circle.
To avoid the crowds heading to Rovianemi, consider the other, quieter destinations offering Santa Safaris, among them Yllas and Nellim, both of which can be easily reached from the UK during the peak Santa season.
The Northern Lights: As with all parts of northern Scandinavia, Lapland is a great place to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Head north of the Arctic Circle anytime between September and March to enjoy one of the natural wonders of the world. What’s more, according to scientists working at NASA, the winter months of 2012 and 2013 look set to provide the best Northern Lights displays seen for 50 years.
- ‘Midnight Sun’ Cultural Attractions: Just as Lapland is famed for being the home of the Northern Lights in the winter, so too is it celebrated for being the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ over the summer months. To celebrate the long summer days, visitors are invited to join in a host of special cultural events. To get a taste of traditional Lapland culture, for example, you could combine a trip to Helsinki with a visit up north to the Finnish Goldpanning Open and have a go at striking it rich yourself. The Midnight Sun Film Festival, which takes place in northern Finland each June, meanwhile, attracts some of the biggest names in European and world cinema and gives film buffs the chance to watch screenings under the midnight sun. Also, the Jutajaiset festival, which takes place through June and July each year, is designed to showcase the brightest new stars of the Sami culture, giving outsiders a fascinating insight into their way of life.
Direct flights connect Rovianemi Airport with more than a dozen UK destinations, including Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds-Bradford, London and Manchester, though flights are only available in the winter months.
Alternatively, consider flying into Helsinki and taking the train up to Lapland. The ‘Santa Claus Express’ sleeper train runs throughout the year, while special ScanRail passes offer excellent value for money, offering you the chance to explore the rest of Finland, as well as Sweden and Norway, for a fixed price.
When to Go
‘Santa Season’ begins at the start of November and runs through to the end of January. While you are free to visit the Santa Claus Village just outside of Rovaniemi at any time of the year, for the best experience, it’s best to visit in the run-up to Christmas, though, of course, it will be more expensive and more crowded. The winter is also the best time to see the Northern Lights, though again it’s best to try and see them outside of the peak Santa season.
If long days and midnight sun are more your thing, however, then it’s best to visit between April and September, with June to August offering the longest days and warmest weather.
While Lapland enjoys mild, and sun-filled summers, temperatures plummet during the winter months, making proper clothing essential for any trip. In fact, winter temperatures can fall as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, meaning that your normal winter clothes will probably not be up to the job of keeping you warm while on holiday.
On a more positive note, you probably won’t need to worry about learning a different language. Most Finns, including Sami, speak excellent English, though learning a few words of the local tongue will always go down well.