I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Lapland region of Finland this November with Visit Finland. To explore the Christmas capital of the world and the hometown of Santa Claus…the town of Rovaniemi, Finland. Needless to say, it blew away all of my expectations for a winter wonderland trip.
Driving a husky sled, visiting with Santa’s Elves, meeting his reindeer, and floating in an ice-filled lake under a snowy sky. These were all parts of the magic that we experienced when we were there. It’s important to share that the trip itinerary was inspired by the trip to Finland that one of America’s most famous reality TV families took last spring, which recently aired on one of their episodes. Thus, the trip was titled #KeepingUpWithFinland 😉. And let me tell you, it’s definitely a celebrity-worthy vacation destination!
I also wanted to note that the trip was generously gifted to me by Finland’s tourism agency, Visit Finland, as well as Finland’s airline, FinnAir, and the hotel where we stayed, the Arctic Treehouse Hotel. All of the activities that I describe below were also gifted. But of course, all of the descriptions and opinions that I share are my own.
But first! Let me kick off this Lapland travel diary with a few Q&As…
Who did you travel with?
Let’s start with the group who went! I worked with the unbelievable Jenn Lake, who hosted the trip on behalf of the PR agency Zapwater. And I got to know the two other influencers on the trip, Stuart Brazell and Christine Kong, who are both savvy influencers and businesswomen (and kind and hilarious, I might add!). Working the photography magic for the trip was Allie Provost, of Pret a Photo, who’s sarcasm and love of the perfect shot I immediately connected with. 😉All of the images in this post are a combination of her photos + my iPhone snaps from the trip!
How did you get there?
We all flew into Helinski, Finland (which is the capital of Finland) on Finnair from our respective home cities in from the US. Then, we all took an hour and a half Finnair flight over to Rovaniemi in the Lapland region of Finland, which is where the Arctic Treehouse Hotel is located. For a little context, Lapland is the northern countryside of Finland, that’s sparsely populated and borders Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the Baltic Sea. Rovaniemi is the gateway destination and main city within Lapland. It is where we were for the duration of our stay.
Even more importantly 😉, Rovaniemi is considered the Christmas capital of the world and the home to Santa Claus. And I’m here to tell you that I’ve been there and it’s ALL TRUE. Once we flew from Helsinki and landed in the Rovaniemi airport, we took a seven minute car ride to our hotel… but I’ll get to that soon!
What was the weather like?
If you are looking for the epitome of a dreamy winter wonderland, than Lapland, Finland is IT. We went during mid-November and it was on the “warmer” side of their winters, averaging in the low 30s (Fahrenheit). The sun rose around 8:30 am and set around 3:30 pm. So, we really took advantage of the daylight. However, about half of the activities that we did were in the dark, so the early sunset didn’t hinder us at all!
The people who worked at our hotel and at many of the activities that we experienced commented that we were experiencing warmer weather than they would normally see at that time of year, which led to some more slush than fluffy snow. We didn’t know any different so we didn’t realize it was on the “warmer” side. They did mention that the best times to visit for optimal snow conditions would be November-December. I am just thankful that I never once felt too cold outside, which I thank my many layers too…
What did you wear?
Which brings me to what I wore! I wrote a whole blog post about what I packed in my suitcase for the trip. And I linked up everything there. I would say that my top lifesaving pieces were this North Face puffer coat, these Sorel snow boats (run TTS!), these faux fur earmuffs, these extra warm gloves. My fleece-lined leggings to wear under jeans + a snowsuit. And then my Dudley Stephens fleece turtlenecks that I layered under all the things! Here are a few other items that I couldn’t recommend more for any wintery trips or activities you may have:
How would you sum up the trip?
To put it into one (okay, a few) sentences that describe my overall experience, I was amazed by all of the activity and gorgeous scenery that Lapland had to offer. From the girl who started playing Christmas music in October, I was wide-eyed and in awe the whole time I was there. If you love snow, cozy indoor spaces, and festive Christmas vibes, it really is THE place in the world to be. It was a real life Christmas capital. The cheer and kindness of everyone we met perfectly matched the spirit of Christmas. That’s my bottom line here: Finland is rumored to be (and really is!) the happiest place in the WORLD!
Now let’s get to where we stayed and all that we did…
WHERE WE STAYED
Think: the coziest wooden rooms that are tucked into the quietest parts of a snow-clad forest. Complete with fur rugs, fuzzy chairs, simple decor pieces, sweeping views of the forest, and the most comfortable bed you will ever climb into… the rooms at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel are like nowhere else I’ve ever stayed. They are the true definition of “hygge”: the Danish and Norwegian word for the mood of coziness and the feeling of contentment and well being.
The next time I visit (I already promised my boyfriend that we would go back in the future 😂), I’ll definitely want to spend more time cozied up in the rooms, because they’re such a unique aspect of the Lapland experience. They have Nespresso machines, modern bathrooms with heated floors, and iPads that you can use to call room service. Or, one of the property’s vans to come scoop you up and take you to the main lodge, which isn’t too far from the rooms, but may *feel* far when it’s below zero degrees! For reference, I stayed in room #51!
Besides the clean and cozy design of the hotel (and the hotel’s restaurant which I talk more about below!) the other major standout to me was the exceptional service. When we arrived, our bags were immediately taken to our rooms and put away. And when we returned from a day out we would be greeted by a pitcher of fresh cranberry-infused water by our beds, with everything made up in the room. If we had a question, the staff at the Arctic Treehouse had a prompt answer. They were so kind and patient during our entire stay. In my opinion, that is what truly sets a property apart from the rest!
If you’re traveling to Lapland, this is THE place to stay. It is both Instagrammable and practical (which isn’t always the case with trendy hotels!). It’s family-friendly but would also be a perfect spot for a couple’s getaway as well. In regards to the hotel’s proximity to the excursions that we did, I believe that the furthest one was about a half an hour drive from the hotel (this was the Bearhill Husky Sledding). But most of the excursions include pickups and drop offs in their packages, or the Arctic Treehouse can coordinate them for you. It’s also a seven minute drive from the airport, which is a major convenience perk in my mind. 🙌🏻
In sum, it’s the perfect blend of both experiencing the picturesque nature of the outdoors and the cozy warmth of the indoors. What more could you ask for?!
WHAT WE DID
We kicked off our trip with one of our most favorite parts of our whole time in Finland… husky rides. We visited the Bearhill Husky property where we met with the owner, who was unbelievably knowledgeable and passionate about the 150 Alaskan huskies he had on the property. We suited up in the snowsuits that the Arctic Treehouse Hotel provided for us. Toured the property, and learned all about the dogs and their love for running. Then, we were given a lesson on how to steer a dog sled (there are three rules that you have to follow for a fool-proof experience) and we paired up and were assigned sleds. Then, we were off!
We took a 45 minute ride through the winding, snowy trails of the forest and loved every single second. We switched off with our husky sled partner so that we both took turns driving the sled and then sitting as the passenger in the sled. It’s actually much easier and more comfortable than you would think and I didn’t want it to end!
I also wanted to share that all of the activities we did (including the husky tour!) really pushed me out of my normal comfort zone (for instance, I would never normally be the one to volunteer to drive a snowmobile!). But we were in the hands of the most experienced guides (all locals to the area!), who made us feel so safe, and turned something that would normally make my stomach flip into an absolute blast. Finland, did you just bring out my adventuresome side?!
Imagine an underground Santa-themed wonderland, where you can be guided around by a seasoned elf, see where all of the letters to Santa come into his post office, meet the Ice Princess and walk through her icy home, take a ride through a winter wonderland and Santa’s workshop, go through elf school to learn the best practices of being an elf, meet Mrs. Gingerbread and decorate her heart-shaped cookies, and then enjoy them while watching the elves put on a performance on the main stage. Yes, such a thing exists and it is all kinds of festive magic! This was probably the most kid-friendly activity that we did. And is absolutely adorable in every way. We also had the chance to walk “underneath” the Arctic Circle, since Santa Park is located underground, and that was a cool experience in itself!
At the end of our first full day in Finland, we enjoyed a post-dinner float in a lake. Yep, a freezing lake. We put on these huge neoprene suits and slowly submerged into the lake, laid on our back, and then floated in the night under the falling snow. It was the most unique, wonderful sensation— kind of like floating in the clouds, if you can even imagine that. You can’t even feel the cold water in the suit and you stay warm and toasty the entire time. It’s a surreal, dreamy experience that I couldn’t recommend more.
Ok, I had no idea that snowmobiling was this much fun and easy! I’m usually never the person who drives (a car, an ATV, whatever it is), but I ended up driving the snowmobile by myself at one point during our excursion. I couldn’t get enough. We bundled up in our snowsuits again for this one (they have them on-site for you to wear) and then layered on a helmet for added safety. You can double up. on the snowmobile or go alone, and we quickly were taught the ins and outs of operating a snowmobile (there were no gears and it was very easy to operate), and we were off! We toured the snowmobile paths in the forest and then came to a gorgeous snow-covered clearing. It was such a fun photo op and way to be out and about to get around the forest!
Fun fact: there are more reindeer than there are people in Finland. Most families who live in Lapland have their own reindeer and they are so treasured and watched over. We were in awe of the Finland reindeer culture as soon as we arrived. And we so enjoyed learning all about it from the reindeer experts themselves at this reindeer farm. We arrived around 2:30 and met the reindeer while it was still light out (the sun set around 3:30 pm on that day). Then, we went inside the cozy cabin on the property and ate a delicious meal of hot stew and coffee, while being educated on the reindeer’s yearly schedule and their importance to Finnish nature, food, and family.
After lunch, we went back outside where it had turned to darkness, and were greeted by a few reindeer who were pulling sleighs… which of course led to a reindeer-led sleigh ride through the forest… where we snuggled up in the sleighs and sat in awe as we were pulled all throughout the forest. This was another one of my top favorite moments of the trip!
Santa Claus’s Secret Forest entails a journey that elves take you on, to learn all of their secrets (like how to be an elf!) and get to personally meet Santa Claus himself. I’ll start off with saying that it was probably the highlight experience of the trip for me! We were greeted by elves at the entrance (they all knew us. by name as soon as we. stepped out of the car… magic). They toured us around the property of the adorable little log cabins, that were off of all of the candlelit paths.
We first went to Elf School, in the cutest fire-warmed cabin, where we learned all of the most important elf lessons. Like, how to cure grumpiness and how to make a gingerbread house! The elves told us that it usually takes around 99 years to graduate from elf school. But they let us pass with flying colors in about 20 minutes. 😉
Then we walked along the candlelit snow paths again and came upon an open fire pit and wooden shelter. There, we had hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows, while the elves told us more of their Christmas secrets. Speaking of, right after that, the elves took us to Santa’s Command Center, where the elves showed us Santa’s “reindar” that tracks where the reindeer are practicing their flying. As well as their Kindness Meter, where the elves use our kind energy to power their work.
After that we happened to be singing our favorite Christmas carol when all of a sudden a hidden door slid open… to a room where Santa was! Now, I know that Santa exists all over the world, but Finland is his home after all. So we were beyond ecstatic to meet him in real life. We sat with him for a while and asked him all about Finland and his role as the big man in charge. He was so knowledgeable, kind, and funny! We were all a little bit starstruck and enjoyed our time with him so. much.
He sent us off with a little gift (our own husky stuffed animals!) and went back to the first cabin we were in where we were served dinner. We ate hot carrot soup, fresh salmon and a baked potato, and blueberry cake for desert. It was such an idealistic way to end a dream-come-true type of evening, in Santa Claus’s enchanting forest!
WHERE WE ATE
The first night that we stayed at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel, we enjoyed dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Rakas. It has the coziest, warmest atmosphere. Complete with a fireplace, glittering Christmas trees, and reindeer furs for blankets. For dinner we enjoyed a delicious three course meal. Complete with a bear meatball, king crab soup, and beef stew that we. poured over vegetables. It was all so fun to try and delicious!
We also ate breakfast each morning at Rakas Restaurant. They had an over-the-top buffet of local meats, cheeses, fruits, berries, and granola, among other things like berry cake, fresh fruit juice, overnight oats, scrambled eggs, and yogurt! It was the perfect way to fuel up before we headed out for the day. They also had the most delicious lattes!
This was an adorable restaurant that was located in the little town of Rovaniemi. It’s a Lapish restaurant that serves traditional Lapish food like reindeer charcuterie boards, squeaky cheese (you’ll understand the name as soon as you bite into it 😉), and delicious cranberry cocktails. It has a very warm atmosphere and was the perfect spot to watch the snow fall outside. I highly recommend to try traditional Lapish food!
One note on reindeer
We did eat a lot of reindeer throughout our entire trip, and I honestly loved it (sorry Santa!!). It tastes like steak, but is softer to chew and honestly a little bit more flavorful! So if you’re a steak eater, you would really enjoy it. Also, we tried reindeer salami at the Nili Restaurant as well. It was also delicious on it’s own or paired with squeaky cheese!
A few of the excursions we went on also served either food or dinner. Everything we tried was fresh and warm, comfort food. In between activities there were always hot chocolate and hot juice stops as well. And we roasted our fair share of marshmallows!
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our #KeepingUpWithFinland trip. Of course, this Lapland travel diary was my best attempt at capturing and sharing it’s magic. But it’s really a place that you have to experience in real life to witness it for yourself!
Please reach out to me with any questions that you may have and let me know if you end up booking a trip or visiting in the future. I’d love nothing more than to help you plan your stay so you can experience the magic of Finland for yourself! xx