With 75% of the country being covered by woodland, an artistic capital, and the homeland of Santa Claus himself, Finland is an incredible destination for families, adventurers, and those looking to experience something truly unique.
A visit to Finland can be vastly different depending on which season you visit and so here I will talk about the best winter destinations and activities in Finland to help you enjoy this spectacular winter wonderland.
As number 2 on The Best Winter Destinations in Europe list, you won’t be disappointed by Finland, but why not check the others out as well to really enhance your winter holiday experience?
This itinerary will stretch from the south to the arctic circle and I suggest a mix of public transport and renting a car to really get the most out of your journey.
Day 1: Helsinki
Helsinki is the artsy capital of Finland and is where we begin our journey. Helsinki is perfect for tourists, having many incredible attractions packed into a fairly small area. Even the far-to-reach places are easily explored via Finland’s excellent public transport.
We have a guide on 48 hours in Helsinki which goes into more detail, but this section will be a winterized edition.
What to do and see in Helsinki?
You will be arriving in the city today, so drop your bags off at your accommodation (suggestions below) and start exploring! It will likely be very cold at this time of year, so make sure to wrap up warm before heading out to enjoy this wonderful city.
Helsinki is known for being home to some fabulous museums and if you are interested in learning about Finnish culture then I highly recommend a visit to the National Museum of Finland, a place that will teach you about Finnish history all the way back to prehistoric times.
Some incredible religious buildings to visit are Helsinki Cathedral; a beautiful white building sitting atop large stairs where people sit to unwind, Temppeliauko Church; an incredibly unique building unlike any other in the world (a must-see), and Uspenski Cathedral; the largest orthodox church in western Europe and a taste of life of Russian occupied Finland.
If you have time, visit one of Helsinki’s many art or design museums. Helsinki has fast been making a name for itself in the design world and you’d be mad to miss the opportunity to find out why.
Where to eat in Helsinki?
- Old Market Hall – for lunchtime to graze on many local delicacies and sweet treats. You have to try their famous salmiakki (salted liquorice) to see if you’re on the ‘absolutely disgusting’ or ‘I need to eat this every day’ side of the debate
- Juuri – For a Finnish take on tapas
- Good Life Coffee – Fins drink more coffee than any other nation on the planet (yes, you read that right) and this is one of the best coffees in the city
- Konstan Möljä – For a traddionnal Finnish buffet
Where to stay in Helsinki?
- $$$ – Lapland Hotels Bulevardi
- $$ – Noli Sornainen
- $ – The Yard Hostel
Day 2: Helsinki
Time to see more of the city, including a trip to a traditional Finnish sauna!
What to do and see in Helsinki?
Head onto the ferry from Kauppatori to visit Suomenlinna, an incredible fort sitting on the edge of the city.
For most people, taking a ferry in deep winter over completely frozen waters is an absurd idea, but not for the Fins! Their ferries are equipped with ice-breakers and if you are there at the right time you will actually experience the boat tearing through the ice as it traverses the frozen sea, something that is amazing to see in itself!
Suomenlinna is a giant fortress originally made by Sweden to defend their eastern lands from the Russians and it still remains relatively untouched! Spend some time exploring this vast area, remembering again to wrap up warm, and learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After getting cold toes from walking around all day, it’s time to really soak in Finnish culture by heading to the Sauna! There are many to choose from within the city, but Löyly offers the chance to take a cold dip in the baltic sea before heading back into the warm sauna! Whichever one you choose, it’s necessary to choose one with some cold pool or snow pile to dive into to really experience the soul-healing benefits.
Most saunas separate men and women and are attended naked, but there are many less traditional saunas set up for tourists if this makes you feel uncomfortable.
Finally, if you happen to be visiting Helsinki in December, head down to Helsinki Christmas Market to warm yourself with traditional hot drinks, tasty snacks and to purchase locally crafted wares.
Day 3: Rovaniemi
Travel time: A short 1-hour flight or take a sleeper train in the evening of day 2, in order to arrive on the morning of day 3. This is comfortable and is affectionately named the ‘Santa Claus Express’.
Lucky for you, the Santa Claus Express can be booked as part of an Interailing trip through Europe (or just Finland), learn more about interrailing here for big savings.
If you have more time than a week then take a day trip to Turku or Tampere from Helsinki before heading up north.
Now we are heading to the world-famous Lapland, a large area of Finland sitting in the very northernmost part of the country!
What to do and see in Rovaniemi?
As the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi is a great base for exploring the many beautiful villages of the area. In addition to this, it is a great city in itself, hosting many awesome attractions.
One of the most well-known things to do here is to visit the real-life (well, sorta) home of Santa Claus! This magical land is open year-round and is the perfect winter treat for those with little ones joining their adventure!
Not travelling with kids? Not to worry, as Santa Claus Village has many activities to be enjoyed by adults and I can promise that you won’t be the only kidless people out to soak in the magic of the place! Plus the line of the Arctic Circle runs rights through the village and you can grab a photo next to the sign marking the separation.
If you happen to be in Rovaniemi during December then also hit up Santa Park, an underground attraction with many Christmas-themed interactive activities.
Where to eat in Rovaniemi?
- Nili – Famous family-owned restaurant serving local foods
- Arctic – Traditional mix with modern foods
- Himo – Finland’s northernmost sushi restaurant!
Where to stay in Rovaniemi?
- $$$ – Arctic Treehouse Hotel
- $$ – Arctic Aurora City Suite
- $ – Wherever Mini Hostel
Day 4: Rovaniemi (morning) – Levi (afternoon)
Travel time: Around a two-hour drive or three-hour bus. I highly recommend renting a car for this part of your trip, all vehicles will be fully ready for winter and the roads are extremely well-maintained, even in the depths of winter.
You will spend your morning exploring Rovaniemi before heading further up north to one of Lapland’s most eclectic winter destinations.
What to do and see in Rovaniemi?
Continue exploring the city centre of Rovaniemi before heading to Arktikum, a science centre teaching all about the northern nature you will be experiencing in the next few days.
What to do and see in Levi?
Once you have arrived in Levi, download Aurora (or another Northern lights app) to see what the chances are to see the insanely beautiful Aurora Borealis! February – May offers the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, but they can easily be seen all winter long! I don’t suggest booking a tour to see them as there are many frozen lakes in the area you can access for free and these are the places where the tours will take you anyway.
This is also easier as you can check your app and race out of your accommodation as soon as it arrives, as opposed to standing out in the cold for hours with a pre-arranged tour.
Spend the evening wandering the town and getting a feel of the place. Enjoy the lights and atmosphere and settle in one of their many bars or restaurants, suited to all budgets. Get some rest before tomorrow’s busy day.
Where to eat in Levi?
- Saamen Kammi – More of an experience than just a restaurant. A buffet-style Sami (the indigenous people of the area) dinner situated in a warm and traditional Sami hut with shows in traditional dress
- Restaurant Panorama
- Restaurant Amilla
Where to stay in Levi?
- $$$ – Levi Iglut Glass Igloos (to sleep under the stars/northern lights)
- $$ – Hullo Poro
- $ – Levin Alppitalo Alpine Chalets
Day 5: Levi
There are literally hundreds of incredible activities to explore in this amazing village! Be warned, temperatures can reach as low as -30°C so make sure you have the right clothing!
What to do and see in Levi?
Levi is known for being the biggest ski resort in Finland but is also home to countless other activities, so instead of telling you what to do, I’m going to give you a few options and let you decide:
- SamiLand – To learn about the local Sami culture
- Ice Fishing
- IceKarting – Like go-karting…but on ice! One of the most fun/unique experiences in the village!
- Husky Sledding
- Reindeer Feeding
- Winter Laser World – Think laser tag (including bows and arrows) + high-tech features + winter wonderland. Look it up, I lived in Levi for 5 months and did this almost every week and can highly recommend it!
- See northern lights – If you’re lucky then you’ll get purples, greens and reds filling the whole sky!
- Visit Santa and his elves
- Apres Ski
- Karaoke – Sounds normal, but karaoke is an integral part of Finnish culture
Day 6: Levi (morning) – Ylläs (afternoon)
Spend the morning finishing any activities you didn’t manage to complete yesterday and head up the main gondola to see the whole valley from the highest peak! There is a cafe up there so grab a minttu hot chocolate to warm yourself up!
Then head to Ylläs, around 45 minutes away by car.
What to do and see in Ylläs?
Ylläs is home to the incredible Snow Village. This is a huge ‘indoor’ area made completely of ice and snow. Each year they tear it down and build it up again with a new theme (I was there during the Game of Thrones theme, picture huge ice dragons and White Walker sculptures). I would class this as a not-to-be-missed attraction in all of Lapland. It opens on December 19th, 2022 and the theme will be announced in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!
This village has a bar and restaurant and you will be amazed by the incredible sculptures around every corner! It also has many rooms in its Ice Hotel, where you can sleep under a reindeer blanket on a bed made of ice (actually, all the furniture is made of ice, but don’t worry, it gets cozy under the blanket and is more comfortable than you might think).
Where to eat in Ylläs?
- Ravintola Rouhe
Where to stay in Ylläs?
- $$$ – Laplands Hotel SnowVillage
- $$ – Villa Hutsula Ylläs
- $ – Silver Fox Hostel
Day 7: Ylläs (morning) – Home
Travel time: Around two hours to Rovaniemi and 40 minutes or Kittila, both have international airports with flights back down to Helsinki, or various other destinations in Europe. If you rented a car back in Rovaniemi, it’s likely best that you should return there for a cheaper car rental.
Spend the morning enjoying the many attractions of Lapland before heading home or to your next destination.
What to do and see in Ylläs?
Ylläs has many similar activities to Levi and so if there are any arctic adventures you are still waiting to do, then now is the time!
Useful tips for traveling in Finland:
Make sure you have the correct gear for traveling north, you can easily buy or rent clothes while you are here and this may be a good option if you don’t have sufficient winter clothes at home.
What is the currency of Finland?
Can you drink tap water in Finland?
Finland has some of the best tap water in the world!
The language of Finland:
Finnish. Most people speak good English, but they are often very shy to speak.
Is Finland safe?
Finland is one of the safest places to visit in the world.
On this trip, you will experience incredible scenery, welcoming and happy people, and some of the most beautiful things nature can offer. The Fins know how to do winter, and it’s time you experienced this ancient knowledge yourself!