Lapland vacations overview
Lapland’s traditional culture is evident in every town and village, but pinning it down geographically is tricky. For the original semi-nomadic Sámi, Lapland – which they call Sápmi – extends from Norway through Sweden and Finland to the Russian Kola peninsula where they have lived a traditional life for centuries, tailing their reindeer herds from the bottom of valleys to the top of fells. Geography (and Father Christmas) aside, it’s the vast and truly awesome wilderness, and huge skies across which the Northern Lights shimmer, that make Lapland such a magical place. Find out more in our Lapland travel guide.
Our top Lapland vacations
Best time to go to Lapland
The best time to visit Lapland? Anytime. Really. January brings the crystal-clear light that you only imagine in dreams, February’s deep, crisp snow is best for winter sports, and March has optimum aurora borealis viewing conditions. Melting snow between April and August exposes the beautiful landscape beneath, before an autumnal patchwork of burnt red, orange and yellow appears in September. November to December brings big snow and a community propelled by cross country skis and snowshoes; look beyond the fly-in, fly-out Christmas crowds and there are brilliant festive trips to be had.
Map & highlightsLuosto, 90 minutes from the Arctic Circle, is the launchpad for many classic Lapland activities, from husky sledding and ice fishing to watching the Northern Lights. Rovaniemi, just south, is the capital of Finnish Lapland and home of Father Christmas, while Jokkmokk is the Sámi capital, steeped in ramshackle wooden houses, handicrafts and reindeer farms. Inari, in the far north, is an almost unpopulated wilderness for summer and winter outdoor activities. Kiruna is most famous for the nearby Icehotel that is rebuilt every winter, while the sublime Lulea archipelago is for sea kayaking, foraging and wild camping.
Despite being Finland’s largest municipality, Inari has a population of less than 7,000 – including many native Sámi. Much of the region is covered by national parks and designated wilderness areas. Winter sports include downhill and cross-country skiing, husky and reindeer sledding – while in summer the landscape is a glorious backdrop for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and fishing.
A small pocket of Sámi history, ‘development’ in Jokkmokk equates to a church, ramshackle wooden houses and shops, and the Samernas Folkhogskola, the only college in Sweden that teaches the Sámi language alongside lessons in handicrafts, reindeer husbandry and ecology. The Sámi capital, it’s steeped in traditional culture and pivotal to their parliament, but wonderfully unassuming too.
Kiruna’s considered a Swedish Lapland must-see, although there’s not that much to do or see there. Its lifeblood is the whopping great iron-ore mine that it sits on, but look past the network of sidings, slag heaps and ore-works and you’ll still find a winter wilderness ripe for exciting activities – Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise is nearby, as is the famed Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi.
4. Lulea archipelago
Stockholm may have a larger island retinue but Lulea's 'mere' 1,700 offer seclusion far from the capital's tourist throngs and R&R-ing city slickers. In summer, islands like Sandon, Junkon and Kluntarna have mainland ferry links, otherwise get paddling! Forage or fish; camp wild or cosy up in a clapboard cottage; swim or kayak; watch birds, or just hang with the fishing folk on Hinderson.
Just 90 minutes from the Arctic Circle, Luosto is the leaping-off point for all classic Lapland activities – husky and reindeer sledding, Northern Lights tours, skiing, ice fishing, and even ice swimming and climbing. The nearby Pyhä-Luosto National Park is located on a fell chain covered in ancient pine forests, offering fabulous cross-country skiing and hiking trails.
Just 5km south of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland and the home of Father Christmas, who can be visited here year-round.This lively university city gets a bad rap for its ‘Santa Village’ label, but look beyond the December crowds and it’s a gateway for activities including Northern Lights tours, reindeer sledding, skiing and ice fishing.
Winter activity vacations
Frosty snowbound landscapes provide an atmospheric backdrop for winter activity vacations in Lapland. As a measure of how well-organised these trips are, cold weather clothing is provided to minimise what you need to bring. Your days might be spent visiting Sámi reindeer farms, learning how to snowshoe, or fishing through a hole in the ice, and you’ll keep an eye out for the Northern Lights each night. Everyone has their favourite activity, but for many it’s an evening in a wilderness lodge waiting for the aurora borealis to appear, or an afternoon mushing a husky-drawn sledge along.
Honestly, we have tried, but it is really difficult to picture a more exciting place for family vacations than Lapland. Kids of all ages and parents (and grandparents!) will love the Narnia landscapes of winter. Younger children have the chance to meet Father Christmas and sleep in an ice hotel, and there are endless opportunities to toboggan or build snowmen. Older kids, meanwhile, can enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Families can tap into their inner Ray Mears in summer, tracking wildlife through the forests, kayaking on wide rivers, and learning how to forage and build fires.
The Vikings thought them dancing maidens. Finnish legend has them as sparks falling from the tail of an Arctic fox. Due to its long Arctic nights and near-zero light pollution, Lapland is one of the best places to witness the aurora borealis – better known as the Northern Lights – as they flicker across the sky. No two appearances are the same and there’s never a guarantee of seeing nature’s great light show. But if you want to maximise your chances, travel between September and March, and join a trip that sets aside an evening in the wilderness specifically for seeing them.
More vacation ideas
From £1295 to £16954 days inc UK flights
Short Northern Lights break in Finland.
Small group2021: 2 Dec, 9 Dec, 16 Dec, 23 Dec, 30 Dec, 2022: 6 Jan, 13 Jan, 20 Jan, 27 Jan, 3 Feb, 10 Feb, 17 Feb, 24 Feb, 3 Mar, 10 Mar, 17 Mar
More about Lapland
The best Finnish Lapland vacations treat Rovaniemi as just a stepping stone to the wilderness. Most trips see you joining a small group to explore pristine national parks such as Oulanka, prime Northern Lights viewing territory, or Riisitunturi, where you can meet Sámi reindeer herding families between bouts of cross country skiing and husky sledding. Yes, Father Christmas is found in these parts, but Finnish Lapland is about as far from twee as you can get. And don’t forget the best-kept secret: summer vacations, with long days for hiking, biking and canoeing your heart out.
Swedish Lapland is inextricably linked to allemansrätten: the ‘right to roam’. Taking you practically as far north as Greenland, the services of expert guides are required throughout. That’s not only to navigate the wilderness, but to change up your route and activities depending on shifts in the weather, introduce you to Sámi reindeer herders and husky mushers, show you how to pluck a fish from a hole in an icy lake, or track moose by their hoof prints. Vacations in Swedish Lapland generally run in winter, when the nights are darkest and the snow is deepest on the ground.
Types of vacations
Winter vacations are all about the packing – by which we mean packing snow together for snowball fights and packing loads of fun activities into every day including snowmobiling, ice fishing and husky sledding. But not packing lots of heavy coats and boots; these are provided for you. It doesn’t require any stretch of the imagination to picture Lapland as a favourite for family vacations, with ice hotels, reindeer farms and Father Christmas all helping to create magic memories. And whether you’re going in winter or summer, the wilderness and sense of freedom in Lapland is ideal for adventure vacations.