Honestly, I never had any desire to go to Finland before, let alone to the very north in Lapland. But as usual, I was enticed by some awesome snowy pics of this beautiful country and I knew I had to experience it for myself. Plus, I really wanted to see Santa! Can you blame me?
I had no idea there were so many awesome and unique things to do in Lapland, Finland. I was overwhelmed by all the choices as I was deciding which ones to choose! My wish list included seeing the northern lights, doing an animal safari (aka sleigh rides), and something super traditional and completely out of my comfort zone (you’ll see).
So if you’re heading that way and need help deciding, let me highlight all the kick-ass things to do in Lapland, Finland below:
Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland
Go On a Photo Expedition
Take an all day photo expedition that includes some trekking through the nature and photographing some epic views over the land. This is a must do for photography lovers. No professional experience is needed! They basically take you to all the best photo spots in a winter wonderland and help you take some awesome photos. It was really better than I expected.
I wrote a separate post on this so I won’t get into too much detail here. But honestly, this was one of my favorite things I did in Finland! You can read about my tour in more detail here.
Santa Claus Village
If you’re in Rovaniemi you kinda have to go see Santa! Ok honestly, the village won’t wow you or anything but it’s one of those things that’s cool to say you did. Where else can you visit the city Santa is from?
In Santa’s Village, you can send a postcard postmarked from Santa’s Village and get an official stamp on your passport. They also offer shorter reindeer and husky rides. Although it’s more commercial here, it’s still an option of you don’t want to fork out a huge lump of cash for the longer animal safaris.
Cross the Arctic Circle
While at Santa’s Village you can actually cross the arctic circle! How cool is that? This is one of the few places in the world where you can actually stand with one foot on each sides of the arctic circle. If you want, you can even get an official certificate proving you actually did it!
I couldn’t go to Lapland and NOT ride a reindeer! I mean, how many other places can you do that? Not many. The ride was very slow and kinda “kiddie” so definitely something for small children to enjoy, but still kinda cool to do as an adult.
The ride itself is about 25-30 minutes through the snowy forest. It’s a great opportunity for photos. We then visited the reindeer farm and got to see all the cared for reindeer, even some cute baby ones! To get warm, we huddled by the fire and roasted sausages and sipped on berry juice.
It was a nice and quick tour and the company was great, but honestly for the price I don’t think it was worth it. I say this because they off reindeer rides at Santa’s Village for a small fraction of the price. Unless you really love reindeers and want to spend a little extra time with them, I would do the ride at Santa’s Village instead!
(Disclaimer: I received a small media discount for this tour. While I greatly appreciate this, I need to be completely honest with my readers and tell it like it is).
Snowmobile to the Northern Lights
I’ts always a smart idea to book a northern lights tour that also combines another activity, just in case you don’t get to see them. Seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed and they are very unpredictable.
The perfect example of this is the Snowmobile Safari/Northern lights tour I did with Wild Nordic. The snowmobiling really got my adrenaline pumping riding out to a frozen lake to chase the lights. The ride was a bit bumpy with all the ice, so you probably shouldn’t do this is you have any spine issues or recent injuries.
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After about 45 minutes of zipping through the snow, we ended up on a frozen lake far from the city lights. Our awesome guide Raivis made a small fire and cooked us Finnish sausages and poured us the most amazing hot berry juice.
Unfortunately the conditions didn’t allow us to see the lights; however, bonding with the fellow travelers around the open fire is something I’ll never forget!
The snowmobiling experience was so fun we didn’t even care about seeing the lights (I had seen them a few days earlier in Tromsø so I was content). It was an awesome tour and something you shouldn’t miss!
This might have been the most crazy thing I did in Finland. However, it’s something very popular with the locals, mostly for the health benefits. Going from extreme hot to cold is good for your circulation and makes you feel refreshed (although caution is advised in those with a history of heart issues).
The setting at Immelkartano was absolutely perfect. It’s a small family run company (which you know I love) which operates 2 sauna houses set on a beautiful snowy frozen lake.
Set up my tripod and caught the Northern Lights faintly in the distance. This was not visible with the naked eye so an added bonus!
I was told by the attendant that going in the frozen lake up to your next cleanses you of your sins from the neck down. All sinners welcome 🙂
The ice dip was super invigorating to say the least! You start by heating up in a traditional Finnish smoke sauna in a private setting and then jump into an ice hole. You end the dip by drinking a shot of straight up Finnish vodka (trust me, you’ll need it!).
View the Northern Lights from Levi
Levi is an adorable little ski town that I had the pleasure of staying in for 2 days while in Lapland. Although I didn’t get to see the northern lights on my snowmobile safari, I was fortunate enough to catch them in the back of a restaurant I was walking to in Levi. I happened to have my tripod on me from before, so I ran behind the restaurant to catch this incredible display of Mother Nature. There is something special about seeing them when you’re least expecting them. It’s pure magic.
Visit a Snow Hotel
The Snow Village is located about a 30-40 minute drive from Levi but is worth the trip. I learned so much about ice hotels and the design and details blew me away. I didn’t know that they rebuild the ice hotel every year, and it never looks the same twice! I really wish I would have stayed one night. The place was amazing! We were able to go inside all the rooms and see what they were like. Every room has a different design with intricate carvings. The artwork is really incredible. There is also an ice bar, ice restaurant, and ice slide! It’s only for children, but I saw some adults breaking the rules (ahem, including me).
Every year, the hotel has a contest for the best designed room. Applicants submit their design online and the winner will have their room brought to life with their design! They even get to come stay in the hotel in their room! How cool?! If only I could draw past stick figures…
One of the most popular activists in Lapland is to go on a husky ride safari. This activity is a lot faster and more exciting than a reindeer ride. The adrenaline kick plus the frigid air smacking you in the face will really wake you up!
You will also have time to meet all the huskies and play with them afterwards. I’m a cat person honestly, but these cuddly creatures are so hyper and loveable that I fell in love with them. I’m not going to lie though, in the beginning when they get them all hyped up to ride, they were a bit scary and aggressive!
Look at those gorgeous blue eyes!
It wouldn’t be a true Finish activity without ending the day inside a hut roasting sausages over an open fire. God I love Finland!
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The company was called Tundra Huskies and it costs €75 for the tour. You get to visit husky farm and pet the dogs and then do a 25-30 minute ride. You can also visit some reindeer on the farm. The whole tour takes about 2-3 hours.
Other Awesome Things to Do in Lapland, Finland
Get a panorama view from a fell (a fell is basically an epic lookout point over the land).
Stay in a hotel with your own sauna (I’ll get to that in the next post).
Other cool things to do in Lapland that I didn’t get a chance to try:
Scenic flight to chase the northern lights
Stay in a glass igloo hotel (my dream)
*This post was in collaboration with Visit Levi & Wild Nordic; however, my opinions are my own and I had a kick-ass time in Lapland, as you can see!♥
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Have I Convinced You To Want to Visit Lapland? What Activities Would You Like to Do?
Last year I flew to Iceland in the frigid January weather just to see the northern lights. In 3 days there, I didn’t have any luck. On top of that, my tripod blew over and I cracked my brand new camera. #EpicFail
Why I Chose Tromsø, Norway to Chase the Northern Lights
This time, I flew all the way to the north of Norway to a town called Tromsø. Tromsø is rated one of the top 10 places to see the northern lights in the entire world. Although you’re never guaranteed to see them, I thought I had a pretty good chance. Little did I know…
Welp, I guess I’m going back to Norway! Not a bad place to return to I must say.
I thought I had my mind set on a specific company to see the northern lights. Until a few weeks before my trip, I found Tromsø Friluftsenter, a smaller family owned company who have been operating since 2004. I’m a sucker for smaller family owned tours/companies because I love supporting smaller business, because I absolutely loathe being herded around like cattle on a huge tour bus, and because a smaller company usually means more personalized attention.
So I pulled a little switcheroo and decided to go with Tromsø Friluftsenter. Best. Decision. Ever.
The First Sighting
I knew it was going to be a great night when 10 minutes into our drive, we saw a glimpse of the northern lights zig-zagging across the sky. What was to come that night was extremely unexpected.
We arrived to their base camp about 45 minutes outside the city. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by a dashing display of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky in shades of neon green, purple, and pink (which turned out to be the strongest we saw them the entire night). Stepping out of the van and looking up to see this natural phenomenon that you’ve heard about since you were little bombarding the sky above was even better than I have ever dreamed about.
It left me speechless and teary-eyed, something that has happened only a few times in my travels.
Ok, back to the base camp. The base camp consisted of a few traditional Sami tents, with the mountains and the ocean nearby. It was a gorgeous snowy setting and provided many different foreground options to photograph the northern lights. Actually, this was one big factor that helped me with my decision to choose this company (as well as the near perfect TripAdvisor reviews). I really wanted to have a nice setting with cute houses or something else to frame the shot. I didn’t just want a million pics of the sky (although the sky was phenomenal on its own I realized after I arrived).
Traditional sami tent(with a badass fire burning inside to keep you warm)
Our Sami tent had a bonfire burning and wooden seats made from tree trunks and topped with reindeer fur Surrounding the fire pit in a circle. It was so cozy and cute and I couldn’t have asked for a more arctic setting! It also meant we had somewhere to run to and warm up in between shooting the northern lights, something that all the other companies didn’t have! It was freezing and I couldn’t imagine standing outside for 4-5 hours straight so this was a huge plus!
We were served coffee or tea and cake, and later roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was absolutely perfect and reminded me of the fun times I had camping when I was young. It also provided time to get to know the others on tour. We had a blast listening to all Knut’s (the owner) reindeer stories as we warmed up our fingers and toes.
Don’t Stress About Shooting the Northern Lights
On the drive over, our awesome guide Pierre gave us some quick and easy photography tips for shooting the northern lights (which can also be applied to all night photography). This was also a big plus since I have never shot night photography before so I really needed help!
Pierre also helped us with the setting or any other questions we had while we were out shooting. He wanted to make sure we all got good shots of the lights, even if everyone didn’t have a fancy DSLR camera.
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Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips
Put camera in Manual Mode (M)
Check sensitivity of sensor (aka ISO). Recommend ISO 1200-1600. More ISO means more noise (grainy).
Shutter Speed: at least 10 seconds. 15 seconds is recommended as a starting point.
Aperture (F stop). The wider the aperture (i.e. the lower the F stop number) the better for night shots.
Put on Manual Focus (MF)-to prevent blur. Activate screen of camera and zoom in to set it. Use infinity “∞” symbol on camera if you have it.
You MUST use a tripod (night shots require the shutter to be open for longer periods of time and complete stillness is needed)
*Most of my shots were taken at 1600 ISO, F4 aperture, at 15-20 seconds. However, I was so excited when I went outside and saw the lights that I forgot to put my camera on manual focus so they aren’t as clear as they could have been. Rookie mistake!
Camera Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights
The right camera gear is KEY to shooting the northern lights. However, you don’t have to be a professional and you don’t need to spend thousands. But you’re going to need more than a camera phone or GoPro. Below is all the camera gear I used and all can be found on Amazon (my obsession).
Wide Angle Lens: a wide angle lens is a must as it allows more light in (due to a wider aperture), which is essential for night photography. I bought mine pre-used. It cost more than my camera base but it’s SO worth it as I use it to shoot ALL my landscape shots! My lens is the Sony SEL1018 10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom Lens
iPhone 6: Sorry, but you can’t get good shots of the northern lights on an iPhone. I used this ONLY for a remote through the Play Memories Mobile App. This allowed me hands-free shooting without the risk of movement from manually pushing the shutter button. My trusted iPhone: Apple iPhone 6 64GB Space Gray – (Verizon Wireless)
Disclaimer: the above links are affiliate links with Amazon. Meaning, if you make a purchase with these links I may receive a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you. It’s what helps me keep this site up and running, so a special thanks!♥
All of the Lights
We didn’t just see the northern lights, we got hammered with them the entire night! They danced, they pranced, they moved, they boogied! Incredible is an understatement. I waited so long to see them, and boy did I get a show! The lights were active the entire night, and at some points they would really blew up in the sky.
Pierre would constantly check outside and come get us when they were exploding! We immediately grabbed our tripods and dashed outside. Pierre loved shooting at the nearby beach and would hurdle over there quickly in the snow. We couldn’t keep up at times he was so enthusiastic about it! It was funny to watch and it kept our energy high, especially when it was getting late.
The best part is that Pierre took several hundred photos of us and the lights, and we were given access to them via Flickr. So even if you don’t have a camera with you. You will get some awesome shots of the lights so your memories will last forever!
We were also given a tripod and a warm jumpsuit to wear if needed. They only had size large and X-large so I was tripping on mine at some points, but hey, it kept me pretty warm!
Overall, this might have been my favorite tour I have ever taken! The crew was awesome, the base camp was unique and fun, the setting was just perfect and had a lot around to use as props for our pictures, and the light show was just out of this world!
We got lucky as Pierre said this was the strongest show he had seen all year. You’re never guaranteed to see them, but boy did we get smacked in the face with a spectacular show from Mother Nature.
I would 110% recommend you to check out this company if you come to Tromsø. I had a special night with them I will never forget. They also do whale watching tours which I would have loved to do, however, that season ended in January unfortunately.
Note: I read on their site that visiting the base camp isn’t always guaranteed. On nights when the activity is low, you will drive around to different spots and “chase” the lights. But as the activity is pretty solid in this area, I would assume you have a good chance of visiting the base camp.
Disclaimer: I was a guest ofTromsø Friluftsenter; however, my opinions are my own and as you can tell, I freakin’ loved them! I would confidently recommend them to my family, friends, and anyone else visiting Tromsø. Hell, I would take this tour again if I ever return to Tromsø!
With only 3 days to explore the entire country of Iceland, I had to pack as much into each day as humanly possible to try to see it all. When I decided a tour was the best option for me, I chose a small company called Solstice Tours, featuring a smaller group size. Because, who wants to be herded around in a grey hound bus with 100 other tourists? That sounds God awful. I chose the Golden Aurora Circle Tour, a combo of the Golden Circle Tour and Northern Lights Tour.
The Golden Circle covers approximately 300km and is the most popular day tour in Iceland. So what exactly do you see on the Golden Circle Tour? Here goes (it’s a lot!):
Golden Circle Tour
On Power Power Plant
The first stop was to the On Power power plant. Not too excited about it at first, but then I learned some very interesting facts about Iceland. Some extremely freaking cool things I learned:
the power plant is near an active volcano
magma under the ground is heating up the water (2km underground)
power plant adds sulfur to water to protect the pipes (hence the bad smell)
power plant extracts the geothermal liquid and it is separated into water and steam
steam is used for electricity (resulting in extremely low electricity bills in Iceland)
pipes run 27km to the city of Reykjavik
16,000 tons per hour can be pumped to Rekjavik at highest capacity (woah)
Reykjavik uses underground hot water to heat the streets (I was wondering why there was no snow on the streets!)
I had no idea this was part of the tour but Jon, the tour guide and owner of Soltice tours, pulled over on the side of the road near a green pasture. He hopped out and told us it was time to feed the horses. What? How exciting! He gave us some bread, and I was extremely hesitant to feed them, thinking I might lose a finger or two. But he calmly informed us that the Icelandic horses are some of the tamest horses in the world. Why? Because they have never had any known predators. I thought that was cool.
What else is really cool about Icelandic horses? They have 5 different gaits, as opposed to the average horse with 3 gaits, making them extremely unique. The more you know…
How cool is Kerid Crater?
I had never heard of this place, but this turned out to be one of the most unexpectedly awesome stops of the whole tour. I felt like I was on Mars walking around the periphery of this huge volcanic crater. I cant deny that it took me 30 minutes to walk around as I kept stopping for selfies. No shame.
Random Cherry Tomato Plant
Random stop at cherry tomato farm (aka the best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted)
On this random stop, we quickly visited a cherry tomato plant where Jon brought us endless cups of local cherry tomatoes. I’m so not a tomato person at all, but these were the best cherry tomatoes I had ever tasted! Hands-down. So sweet and juicy! Who would have thought, in Iceland?
Geyser Geothermal Area
Strokkur Geysir erupts every 5-10 minutes
Just like it sounds, it’s an area filled with geysers everywhere you turn. The most famous Strokkur Geysir is very active and erupts every 5-10 minutes, making it a popular spectacle. The famous geyser sprouts up to 30 meters! But don’t stand too close or you will most definitely get sprayed!
The Magnificent Gulfoss Waterfall
Gulfoss waterfall is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in all of Europe. Formed by 2 waterfalls smoothly cascading into the next, this is certainly the highlight of the Golden Circle. We were however, greeted by an intense hail storm upon arrival. The hail was so powerful I couldn’t even open my eyes, so I had to run like a bat out of hell back to the van for shelter. Very characteristic of Iceland’s weather, 5 minutes later the sky opened up magically with a bright blue tint, making you forget what had just happened. It was just enough time gawk at this beauty of nature, snap some pics, and be on our way!
Here I am 5 minutes earlier trying to snap a photo. Not exactly what I was expecting.
Not too thrilled about that Icelandic weather
Stop at a Glacial Spring
With a quick stop at the glacial springs, we were able to actually taste the glacier water straight from the source. It was some of the purest, freshest water I have ever tasted! I can now officially say I’ve literally tasted natural glacier spring water.
Þingvellir National Park
Fissure outlining the separation of the tectonic plates
Þingvellir National Park was one of my personal favorite stops on the tour! It is home to the Silfra fissure, where you can snorkel and dive in between the Mid-Atlantic ridge separating the 2 continents, North America and Eurasia! Where else in the world can you do that? It was January, so I decided to pass on this. I know, lame. We still were able to spot many areas where you could visibly see the fissure between the 2 continents.
GOT Season 6 was filmed steps away from here 🙂
Another huge highlight for me was getting to see some of the filming sites for the upcoming Game of Thrones season! Yes, they were filmed in Þingvellir National Park!! I felt like a giddy school girl knowing that I could be walking on the same grounds as Jon Snow. I’m a dork, I am fully aware of this fact.
Is Iceland really real? 🙂
Observatory between North America and Eurasia Tectonic Plates
This was really cool as we could visibly see the cracks in the ground separating the 2 continents. Jon took us to the North American side so we could feel “at home”.
Overlooking the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between N. America and Eurasia
Interesting fact: The plates in this Mid-Atlantic Ridge shift apart 2cm each year!
Northern Lights Tour
Ok, this is why I really decided to come to Iceland in the dead of winter. The Northern Lights are high on my bucket list, as they should be. The great thing about this tour is that Jon allows you to go along on the Northern Lights chase up to 3 TIMES, on the day of the tour, and also on the day before and day after, increasing your chances of a sighting.
Jon had a plethora of knowledge about photography and shared some of his helpful tips as we sat in the van waiting for the perfect timing. It was a windy and frigid evening and it seemed like we would go home empty handed, but Jon pepped us up to go out..
He informed us that sometimes you cant see the lights with your naked eye, yet they are still visible through the camera lens. And he was right! We were able to see a slight glimpse of the lights through the viewfinder. If only faintly, we were able to see the Northern Lights. However, I can still say that I have not seen the lights with my naked eye. So it still remains on my bucket list! I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me; although I did enjoy the chase!
Photo courtesy of Jon, owner of Solstice Tours
What I really liked about Solstice Tours?
small group size (about 8 people) allowed for getting to know other travellers
wifi on bus (huge bonus!)
knowledgable and kind tour guide (I’m talking about you Jon!)
pick up outside of the city (at my Airbnb apt)
extra stops along the tour
good lunch options
so many sites visited (bang for your buck)
What I didn’t like?
My only complaint is that I wish we could have spent more time at certain sites such as Þingvellir National Park. But with the short daylight time in winter, this wasn’t possible.
Disclaimer: special thanks to Solstice Tours for hosting me. As always, my opinions are my own. If I don’t like something, I will definitely speak my mind! No bullsh*t.
Have you done the Golden Circle Tour or Northern Lights Tour? Would you rather go on a tour or go solo? I want to hear your thoughts!
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