People keep asking how we survived the cold or handled the dark – especially in Lapland. It was magical every day there; as though you’d stepped into a storybook, an enchanted forest, turned pearly white and sparkling, painted by the winter fairies. It was easy to believe in such things, the snow swirling around like pixie dust, the trees groaning and creaking to each other about who carried more weight on their ice-coated limbs. So many shades of white, somehow influenced in tonality by the fleeting sun or a flickering flame or magic. In truth, all likely at work in this land so far removed from the pace of the every day, so peaceful that your soul sighs and a cozy contentment settles in your heart, hour by hour that you remain. If only I could bottle that, carry it with me and take a dram on frenetic days. Then a balance might be struck, something sustainable and sweet. But for now, I retreat to the mountains, delaying the deluge of activity, sitting with the surrounding snow for a few days more and write.
On the whole, this trip was great and well worth enduring the dark and cold. Even Bryan, who hates the cold, found joy experiencing true winter. It really is all about the gear. I have highlighted some things below and suggested what we would do differently. I also have a separate winter gear post that might help you prepare for your trip if you plan one. That wraps it up for us on Finland. Thanks so much for following along. Please let me know if you make a trip or have any questions! Up Next…we shall see…I’ll keep you posted! Happy travels, everyone!
- Private Lakeside Sauna
- Loyly Sauna
- Food in Helsinki
- Lapland Hotels Bulevardi
Things to Skip
- Booking meals at Apukka – I would have cooked all of our own meals and gotten pizza, coffee and pastries from the property.
- 1 day less in Lapland would be fine.
- Santa’s village was fairly commercial and could be worth skipping, however, it was cool to send postcards from the post office at the North Pole and stand on the line crossing the arctic circle. We were there about 3hrs and all things worth doing could have been done in under an hour unless you wanted to wait in line to see Santa. Then you could easily wait 2hrs in line alone.
Destinations & Durations:
I really liked Helsinki. From where we stayed, it was easy to walk to most things that we did. There is also a great public transportation system and the hotels or restaurants are always happy to push a button and call a cab for you. The architecture is worth pushing your hood back to observe, and I wish that we had taken some sort of walking tour of the city to learn more about the history and maybe catch something off the beaten path. When the Stirmans flew back home they had a stop over in Helsinki and Liz swam laps in the heated, outdoor, seaside pool – Allas. She said it was super cool, and I would have enjoyed that myself.
We spent 3 days in Helsinki and 4 days in Lapland – excluding travel days. Originally, when we started planning this trip, we were also trying to ski and go to the Christmas markets in Switzerland. It started to feel like too many moving parts during the holiday madness, so we shortened it to just Finland, and I’m glad that we did. I think we could have shortened it further by eliminating 1 day in Lapland. It might also be nice to add this on to another part of Scandinavia where you weren’t having to spend as much time traveling but could still see another country, but we had already done that a few years ago.
I can’t say enough good things about our hotel in Helsinki – Lapland Hotels Bulevardi. The rooms were tastefully decorated and comfortable. The Northern Comfort Twin room still had a spacious bathroom with a giant shower. Our room, The Arctic Deluxe Spa room was giant with a sitting area, queen bed, large soaking tub, separate shower room, toilet room and the piece de resistance – our own private sauna just off of the shower. The shower was amazing with the most perfect water pressure and two different shower heads. One of my most favorite showers ever!
Everywhere in Finland seemed to be lit with real candlelight or dim lighting – almost like normal lighting would be too shocking to your system compared to the absence of natural light. Our rooms had 4 different lighting settings – sunrise, full sun, sunset or darkness – and I actually used all of the settings at the appropriate times. I loved that tiny touch that seemed so thoughtful. The room also included robes and slippers.
The breakfast buffet was expansive and delicious, and something worth setting an alarm and waking in darkness to partake. Yogurt & jam, porridge & cinnamon, four types of eggs, potatoes, bacon, cook-to-order omelets, salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper, smoked salmon, cheese, ham, five types of bread or pastry, arctic berry smoothies or green juice, orange juice, coffee, lattes, teas or hot chocolate. And the breakfast room was cozy with sheepskin seats and candle lit tables and helpful staff milling about at the ready. And they served from 7a-10a without rushing you to finish. We never missed it.
We also ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, Kulta, on our first night, and it did not disappoint even with heavy eyelids and bodies aching for bed. You can see details on that meal and pictures of the hotel here.
When you are traveling with ten people, staying in resort-type setting becomes more appealing. We opted to stay at the Apukka Resort because we could walk to the restaurant or activities rather than having to hire multiple cabs or shuttles. Many of the local accommodations actually shuttle guests to the Apukka for activities as well, so it seemed like the best choice. The Apukka also had a villa that could accommodate all of us in one house with a full kitchen, so we could also prepare our own meals and play games around their large tables. Every chair, sofa or bed had deliciously plush throw blankets to curl up with. The activities were fun and came with the winter jumpsuits, boots, wool socks and mittens as part of the fee. The pizza from the on-site pizza place was really good and the place itself was interesting and cozy. The staff throughout the property was lovely and helpful and always included information about the animals or location or folktales related to the activity. They had great sleds stashed about that you could use to haul wood or luggage from place to place. And walking around the property was picturesque, serene and lovely.
There were a few draw-backs though. The food at the restaurant was buffet style and really not good at all. Even breakfast was only ok, but we only ever woke up early enough to make it once. They did have wine that we could buy and take back to our house, so that was good. If you wanted a decent coffee, then you had to purchase a latte. They did have tasty pastries at the reception lodge, but you had to purchase those as well.
I was told by the sales staff prior to arrival that you could take a shuttle into town for a small fee for grocery shopping, but once we were there they said we would need to take a cab. The cab ride to get groceries was 50e each way, so that was a hit. Then the grocery store was large and they could get almost anything there – more like a Super Walmart – but it was difficult to navigate and not set up intuitively and pretty costly. We did cook up some delicious meals though!
I thought we would be snowmobiling to Santa’s Village rather than snowmobiling and then taking a shuttle to Santa’s Village, so that was kind of a let down.
The sleeping arrangements were kind of difficult with only 3 rooms and 3 beds with pull-out beds within the rooms or living. The pull-out beds weren’t very comfortable, so the older kids just ended up sleeping on the couches. There were two bathrooms with shower stalls that were functional but by no means inviting. We had a private sauna off of the stairs shower that a few in the group used and complained of an odd smell when you threw water on the stones. And everything was complicated by the fact that the Stirman kids were sick, couldn’t participate in the activities for the most part and were far removed from a clinic. That part was a bummer.
The resort provided firewood, and the thought of a warm fire after a day in the cold was so enticing. We built a fire once because the entire house filled with smoke despite the flue being open. We did put on the Netflix fireplace for ambiance, but no extra warmth was afforded.
All (relatively minor) grievances aside, I think if the food had been better, our opinions of the experience would have been very different. As people who appreciate the value of a thoughtfully prepared meal with quality ingredients, food offerings make a difference, and the promises detailed in the website descriptions were not upheld in the actual meals.
I enjoyed everything we did in Helsinki and Lapland. I think we all would agree, the private lakeside sauna was a transformative experience that made us all euphoric and two-hour booking flew by faster than we wanted.
Dogsledding was tied for first with lakeside sauna followed by Loyly Sauna in Helsinki, reindeer and then snowmobiling and night train (mostly because we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights), but the activity was still fun.
We booked this trip through Expedia. I rarely book through a 3rd party for any big trip, but the price difference was significantly lower, so we took the leap. The downfall of 3rd party booking, the airlines frequently claim they can’t make any adjustment on your behalf if things get sticky because you didn’t book directly through them. We originally thought we were going to carry-on, so when we booked the flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi we didn’t pay for checked luggage in advance. We we tried to add checked bags, the airline wouldn’t let us because we’d booked through a 3rd party and Expedia told us we had to work directly with the airline. So, it was impossible situation and had to be added at the airport the day of travel for a higher rate. It really wasn’t that big of a deal but would have been easier taken care of ahead of time. We also ran into issues at the start of our trip because of the cancelled flight from Austin to London. Expedia didn’t register that the flight had been cancelled because it wasn’t in the booking system yet. British Airways notified all of their direct book clients first – a full 24hrs prior to notifying the rest of the bookings. It all ended up working out, but it made for long hold times and a lot of back and forth before we could get rebooked.
Side note – all of the staff on Finnair was fantastic and very accommodating
Bottom line, I think it’s best if you can book directly with the carrier you are flying with if it fits in your budget. It just affords you more flexibility in the event that there are changes needed on the fly.
Originally, I had us booked on the direct flight from Austin to London. We’ve flown that route several times, and it’s always so nice to have the long haul direct flight out of the way first. With that flight cancelled, we were redirected through Dallas first and then direct to Helsinki. This was a great option and would have been perfect if we had a more reasonable layover. I’ll likely look at routing through Dallas in the future.
I used everything I took and was pleased with my selections. Our suitcases & backpacks held up, and I’m glad we were able to pack as lightly as we did especially considering we had winter gear. There wasn’t really anything that I wished I had had other than a neck gator. I ended up using my scarf and that was fine. I will go into further details on the Winter Gear page.