With its glorious, endless days of summer and its snowy wonderworld in winter, Finland is a haven for activities in the great outdoors. Between spring and autumn, walk in the pristine wilderness of Lapland and go foraging for wild food; when the landscape offers icy exhilaration, search for the Northern Lights and enjoy dog sledding.
Husky safari through frozen forests
Guided visit to Suomenlinna Fortress
Meet the locals in Finnish Lapland
Go ice fishing
Seek out the Northern Lights
Foraging & cookery expedition
Walk in Urho Kekkonen National Park
Get festive in Lapland
ENJOY A HUSKY SAFARI THROUGH FROZEN FORESTS
Glide into a beautiful white world pulled by huskies. Your background soundtrack will be of your sled hissing through the icy landscape. You’ll pass trees ghosted with snow, you’ll learn to lean in and duck under low branches and, above all, you’ll be exhilarated by the company of your pack of dogs. A husky safari in Finnish Lapland is a breathtaking winter adventure. Head to a privately run kennel near Luosto for a morning, afternoon or full day of dog sledding. After meeting your team of four to six huskies, you’ll quickly learn how to drive your own sled, perhaps with a partner so that you can take turns in mushing. Then you’ll set off into the wilderness, travelling at speeds of up to 40mph through a glittering wonderland. If you opt to take a full-day venture you will also be served a scenic lunch around a camp fire.
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VISIT SUOMENLINNA FORTRESS WITH A GUIDE
On a series of interlinked islands south of central Helsinki is a mighty granite fortress that once defended the city. It was built from the mid-18th century and it reflects Finland’s fascinating history under Swedish, Russian and, finally, independent rule. Under civilian administration since 1972 and listed by UNESCO since 1991, it still contains the Naval Academy and is inhabited by about 800 people, but it also now holds a glorious collection of museums, gardens, parks and restaurants ‒ there’s even a microbrewery here. Much loved by locals, it is a 15-minute ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square; the short journey offers magnificent views back over the city. On a guided visit here you’ll take in a wealth of sights, from tunnels and cannons to the great castle courtyard and the enormous dry dock, which in its day was one of the largest in the world.
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MEET THE LOCALS IN FINNISH LAPLAND
Enjoy Finnish Lapland in the endless days of summer, walking in the Urho Kekkonen National Park and taking in the magnificence of the natural world while perhaps foraging for berries and mushrooms. Then head even further north to get a fascinating insight into how the indigenous population has thrived in this beautiful yet challenging region. The Sami people live deeply in tune with nature, traditionally fishing, hunting and, most of all, reindeer herding. The small town of Inari is the centre of their culture in Finland, complete with a Sami parliament building, library and museum. On a visit here you’ll meet the locals and learn about all things Sami, from their colourful, embroidered clothes to their language (there are three distinct dialects in Finland), their storytelling and their craftsmanship – with artisan goods available in several shops.
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GO ICE FISHING
Try your hand at a winter pursuit much loved by Finns. Ice fishing, they say, is the ideal way to tune into nature – and you’ll experience true peace of mind as you sit, warmly wrapped up, on a frozen lake in the silent wilderness. From December until March, the lakes around Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland are iced over, providing perfect opportunities to enjoy the sport. Head out with an expert guide, who will take you to the best fishing spots and provide a warming drink. You’ll be shown traditional fishing methods, using ice traps (or ‘tip ups’) and a jigging rod, and you’ll learn some of the secrets to success in this winter activity, particularly over which lures attract different species: fish varieties caught in the area range from rainbow trout to whitefish and perch, the national fish of Finland.
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SEEK OUT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Ethereally dancing across the night sky in wondrous shades of green, pink and white, the Northern Lights have entranced people for millennia, inspiring many myths and theories. The Finnish word for the phenomenon is revontulet, the name of a mythical fox whose tail creates sparks in the heavens. The more pragmatic scientific explanation is that particles from the sun are blown to the Earth’s magnetic poles and in colliding with gases in the atmosphere they glow. The effect is most intense in belts around the poles known as auroral ovals. Happily, Finnish Lapland lies largely under the northern auroral oval, with the lights most clearly visible when the sky is darkest, between December and March. Head out with a knowledgeable guide to see them: you’ll be taken to the best viewing points in a silent snowy world, well away from light pollution.
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ENJOY A FORAGING AND COOKERY EXPEDITION
Tap into one of the Finns’ most avidly loved pastimes. Foraging is not just a foodie trend here, it’s a passion ‒ and superfoods and wild ingredients have been culinary stars for decades. During the sun-filled summer months, Finnish Lapland offers a particularly halcyon environment for such riches. With an expert forager and gourmet enthusiast to guide you, head into a forest to find mushrooms, berries (bilberries, lingonberries and cloudberries) and herbs. You’ll learn how to identify edible plants and where to seek out the most nutrient-rich. Then, with a renowned chef on hand to instruct you, you’ll prepare a delicious feast from the ingredients you have foraged, cooking your meal on a fire in the open air.
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In Finnish Lapland the number of reindeer is estimated at 200,000; that’s a figure about 20,000 greater than the resident human population. Reindeer are said to be the only mammal that can see ultraviolet light, an attribute that helps to prevent snow blindness. Although many of them wander freely, there are no wild reindeer in Finland ‒ all these animals are semi-domestic and are owned by the local Sami people. This and much more you’ll learn on a visit to a reindeer farm, where you’ll spend time meeting several of the animals. You’ll hear how this variety of the deer family has been central to Sami culture for centuries, how they can thrive in temperatures as low as -50C and how they have especially strong circulation to keep their legs warm in deep snow. If weather conditions permit, you’ll be able to take a short sleigh ride, pulled by reindeer, and you’ll then help to feed them.
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WALK IN URHO KEKKONEN NATIONAL PARK
Pristine wilderness awaits at Urho Kekkonen National Park, north of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. One of the largest of the country’s 41 parks, this spectacular reserve stretches over 980 square miles and presents a rich variety of landscapes, from majestic canyons to alpine valleys and great swathes of pine and spruce forest. Golden eagles and peregrine falcons are sometimes spotted soaring over fells, and you may see the tracks of brown bear and otter (even if they’re rarely sighted); herds of reindeer, though, are ever present and there’s also a chance you’ll see elk and foxes. With some 125 miles of marked trails, walking here is a joy, particularly in the summer and autumn, from June until October. The most accessible routes are close to the Saariselkä gate: the 1.3-mile Aurorapolku path and the 4.3-mile Iisakkipää trail are ideal for families.
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GET FESTIVE IN LAPLAND
For a particularly special Christmas head to the far north of Finnish Lapland. About six miles from Kittilä airport, the Christmas Suites are a sumptuous range of family apartments overlooking vast forests near the town of Levi. Over a few days embark on a host of activities that will add a sense of magic to family celebrations, from husky sledding and reindeer sleigh rides to snowmobiling and even a mini-snowmobile ride for children. The highlight is a visit from Santa Claus himself.