Winter in Finland is enchanting; a land of vast skies, spellbinding scenery and incredible adventures. Families can enjoy everything from reindeer sleigh rides and husky sledding to cross country skiing and even a private meeting with Santa. After all, this is the home of Father Christmas.
There is nothing that quite compares to a holiday in Lapland and it really is a destination where the whole family is guaranteed a good time. Scratch that, an amazing time.
We visited Finnish Lapland with kids for a week in mid-December and we all quickly fell in love with the country – so much so that we decided to visit Finland again, this time for a summer road trip.
In this guide we share the best places to go in Finnish Lapland with kids as well as top tips on what to do and where to stay when you are there.
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You may also enjoy these posts on Finland:
- Don’t forget your gloves! Here’s everything you need to pack for Lapland
- All you need to know about travelling in Finland with kids
- Skiing in Finland on the best snow in the world
- How to plan the perfect Finland road trip
- All you need to know about visiting wonderful Lake Saimaa (+Itinerary)
Organising a trip to Lapland with kids
There are various ways to enjoy Finnish Lapland. The most popular destination for Lapland holidays is to fly into Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. Situated right on the arctic circle, Rovaniemi is home to both Father Christmas Village and Santa Park, two places where it’s Christmas all year round (yes, every single day!). The official Visit Rovaniemi is here.
Another way to visit this magical corner of the world is to do what we did and fly into Kittilä. From here you can travel to the village of Äkäslompolo 200km north of the arctic circle, deep in Finnish Lapland.
This peaceful town is next to Ylläs, one of Finland’s most popular downhill ski resorts, and is a wonderful way to enjoy all that Lapland has to offer.
There are lots of tour packages offering three-day, four-day or even one-day trips to Lapland where you can take a husky ride, meet reindeer and go to the Santa Claus village. Many of these tour operators will provide you with everything you need including a thermal suit to keep out the cold. These packages are a very easy way to enjoy this winter wonderland but the itineraries are jam-packed and your time in Finland is short.
The alternative is to organise it all yourself. Yes, this may require a little bit more work but I can guarantee that it is well worth it.
We created our own itinerary and spent a glorious week in Äkäslompolo just before the Christmas holidays. This allowed us to slow down and really enjoy and appreciate Lapland – this is not a destination where you want to rush things!
Things to do in Lapland with kids
Our visit to Lapland took place during the polar night, when the sun never quite makes it over the horizon. Daylight lasted from about 10.30am until 2.30pm but even then it was never bright.
What we did discover, however, was that as the sun hovers below the horizon, the sky reveals some amazing colours in shades of blue and purple. We also quickly realised that, it doesn’t matter if it’s pitch black outside, life goes on as normal.
There is lots to do in Lapland for families, in addition to spending a lot of time building snowmen and sledding. Here’s what we got up to during our week-long holiday.
Take a ride on a snowmobile
Our first adventure was a snowmobile tour with Snow Fun Safaris. We met at 3.30pm, when it was already dark outside, and were given our helmets with visors. The kids and I jumped in the sleigh that was pulled by our guide Joosef’s snowmobile and Nick hopped on to a snowmobile.
We then headed off on a tour through the ink-like forest, illuminated only by the lights of the snowmobiles. It was otherworldly; the tracks were bordered by trees, their branches drooping under the weight of snow, and above us were star-filled skies.
Half-way around the 20km track (and the youngest fast asleep), we stopped at a kota for a drink. These traditional Finnish rest points can be found everywhere throughout the country and house a central fire pit where you can warm up and even cook. We sat around the fire and drank traditional hot berry juice and hot chocolate, and snacked on cardamom bread.
On the second half of the journey, I took over the snowmobile and drove through the forest, which was the most amazing experience – and not just because of the heated handlebars to keep my hands warm.
Snow Fun Safaris organise a range of winter activities including trips to meet Santa Claus. They will also arrange a reindeer or husky safari.
Visit the Snow Village
Located half way between Äkäslompolo and Kittilä (where the airport is), the Snow Village is an ice hotel open to guests for an overnight stay or just a day trip.
Ever year, a new snow village is constructed using around 20 million kilos of snow and 350,000 kilos of crystal clear natural ice (we saw something similar when we visited the Ice Hotel in Quebec).
The design changes annually; when we visited the theme was the Game of Thrones and included some very impressive dragons and even the Iron Throne carved from ice.
The Snow Village houses a number of suites and standard rooms where you can spend the night on a bed frame made of ice, tucked into an arctic sleeping bag. There is also the Ice Restaurant, Ice Bar, Ice Chapel (a wedding was taking place when we visited) and even the Ice Cinema. Not surprisingly, my kids loved the Ice Slide the best.
A visit to the Ice hotel takes a couple of hours. You can go on an organised visit (Snow Fun Safaris can arrange them) but it is very easy to visit yourself if you have a car.
Walk in snowshoes
We enjoyed a couple of tours with Timo from Sisu Outdoor and I can’t recommend him highly enough. He’s friendly, engaging, highly knowledgeable about the area, and brilliant with kids.
He’s also a great teacher.
We had an initial snowshoe test run on a series of candlelit paths through the trees behind Timo’s shop before meeting the next day for the main event.
I’ll be honest, we did not walk for miles on our snowshoes, largely because we had to pull the youngest in a sledge behind us and because all three kids kept stopping to go sledding down hills.
Such is the nature of family travel!
Lapland is the perfect place to try snowshoeing and it’s the perfect activity to experience the complete silence and tranquility of the woods. Or, rather, I imagine that it would be the best way to soak up the silence if you didn’t have three noisy children with you!
The older children loved this activity and felt that they were authentic explorers off on their arctic expedition. Along the way, we stopped at a kota and had the best doughnuts in Finland. I’m not sure if this was their official title, but we all agreed that they were amazing.
The second activity that we enjoyed with Timo from Sisu Outdoors was a morning cross-country skiing.
If you have never tried this before, and none of us had, just remember that the Finns make it look very easy.
Almost everywhere you go in this corner of Lapland, you’ll spot locals out gliding their way around the forest tracks seemingly effortlessly. For us beginners, it was not so straightforward!
The skis are long, thin and very lightweight and there’s a lot of balance involved. Fortunately, however, Timo was a patient teacher and by the end of the lesson we were moving, albeit not terribly gracefully, along the paths.
If you are interested in trying either snowshoeing or cross-country skiing when you are in Äkäslompolo, then I highly recommend contacting Timo at Sisu Outdoors (he also helped us find a babysitter for the youngest during our cross-country ski lesson!).
Take a reindeer safari
The ride through the forest in a traditional Finnish sleigh was wonderful, but the standout performance on this outing was by Hannu, the reindeer herder.
The tour took us to a reindeer farm on the outskirts of town where we met Hannu, who charmed us all with his tales or travelling to school by reindeer and how he courted his wife, also on a reindeer ride.
After our sleigh ride we sat around the fire drinking hot berry juice and eating arctic cloudberry tarts (which sound like something out of Harry Potter) and listened as he told us stories of his life as a reindeer herder.
Go on a husky ride
There are several outfits offering husky rides where you can steer the sleigh and guide the huskies through the forest. We took a smaller, shorter, not-nearly-as-good husky ride from the town’s petting zoo but I would definitely recommend booking a ‘proper’ one instead. Try Snow Fun Safaris.
Go skiing in Ylläs
Ylläs has two separate ski resorts, Sport Resort Ylläs on the Ylläsjärvi village side and Ylläs Ski Resort on the Äkäslompolo village side. In high season (around February time) the lifts linking the two resorts are open and you can ski from one to the next.
When we visited, however, we stuck to the Ylläs Ski Resort and were grateful for the gondola lift given that it was -18C outside.
Skiing in Finland is very different to skiing somewhere like the Alps. The resorts are small and the terrain is not particularly challenging, particularly if you’re an experienced skier.
What it does offer, however, is the most incredible snow and virtually empty slopes.
I can honestly say that the few hours we spent carving tracks in the slopes were some of the best skiing I’ve ever enjoyed on some of the best snow in the world.
For something a little different, Yllas is home to the Sauna Gondola, the only ski lift that is also a sauna cabin in the world! This is one for the adults.
Meet Santa Claus
You can’t visit Lapland and not meet Santa, especially if you’re travelling with young children. There are a couple of ways that you can meet the Big Man himself, either by visiting Santa in the forest (there are tours who take you to his secret hideaway) or by arranging for him to come and visit you.
We decided upon the latter and, sure enough, on our final evening in Finland there was a knock on the door at our cabin, Yllashilla and in walked Father Christmas himself.
Dressed in traditional Finnish clothes, with a long beard and carrying a sack, he looked like the Santa of stories (rather than the Santa of shopping malls!). My kids were thrilled!
Santa sat and talked with us for almost an hour and the children – even the older kids – were held spellbound as he told legends of the Northern Lights, regaled stories of life as Father Christmas and sang traditional songs in Finnish.
Surprisingly (or not!) he knew all about the kids – their hobbies, their lives and the fact that they had been annoying one another quite a lot over the holidays. It was a truly unique experience and one that made an already amazing Lapland holiday even more incredible.
This post has more ideas on how you can meet Santa Claus.
See the Northern Lights
Winter is the perfect time to see the aurora borealis in Lapland. However, despite some enthusiastic nighttime adventures in the car, we were unsuccessful. They are best spotted late at night and in the early hours of the morning, tricky times when you’re travelling with a toddler.
You can often see the lights in the night sky over Akaslompolo itself, although sadly not when we were there.
The other option is to join a tour. The Visit Yllas website has information on tours offered.
Where to stay in Lapland with kids
Lapland is famous for its log cabins and its glass igloos.
In Akaslompolo we stayed in two different accommodations.The first was Sini Kurana, a two-bedroom cottage on the edge of town run by Escape to Lapland.
This is a lovely, cosy cottage perfect for families. Simon, the owner, could not have been more helpful in advance of our stay and even helped stock the fridge with some breakfast essentials given that we arrived so late. He owns a number of properties, many of them suitable for families.
For the remainder of our trip we stayed at Yllashilla, a wonderful wooden cottage on the outskirts of town that is ideal for families. You can read my full review of this family-friendly property here.
Near to Akaslompolo is the Arctic Skylight Lodge, which offers 10 glass cabins for sleeping under the stars. In Levi you’ll find the Northern Light Huts and as well as the Levi Glass Igloos. The latter sit on top of a fell with 360 degree panoramic views.
Many of these igloos only sleep two people so if you are a family you may have to take two igloos. The Levi Glass Igloos is also home to the Northern Lights House which can sleep four adults and two children.
If you would prefer a hotel stay then take a look at these from Booking.com.
Temperatures in Lapland in winter
It gets cold in Finnish Lapland (very cold!). The mean temperature remains below 0°C but daytime temperatures can rise above this at times.
Winter begins in mid-October in Lapland and is the longest seasons usually lasting for 200 days. Snow usually arrives early on in the season and lakes freeze over. In winter temperatures in winter can drop to -45°C to -50°C.
When we visited they were around -16°C to -20°C. We visited in early December.
As the saying goes, however, there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes. Make sure you pack everything you need with this packing guide.
Getting to Lapland
During winter months there are regular flights to Lapland from the UK. We flew with Finnair, which flies non-stop from Gatwick to Kittilä between mid-December and mid-March. At other times of year, flights transfer through Helsinki. From Kittilä it is approximately one hour to drive to Äkäslompolo.
Car hire is available at the airport and the office stay open late (we landed at around 11pm).