For a winter wonderland getaway, Finland is hard to beat. Not only is the skiing perfect for beginners and families, but there are tons of activities that are a big part of any holiday here. Make memories with sleigh rides, ice fishing and visits to Santa – then head back to your cosy wooden cabin and stretch out in front of the fire or relax in your private sauna. Read on to find out how to make your holiday magical.
Swoosh down the slopes
Skiing here is very different to anywhere else in Europe. Instead of mountain peaks and deep valleys, the terrain is all gentle fells and rolling hills scattered with frozen trees. And the days are shorter so lots of the slopes are floodlit to make sure you can keep going after the sun sets.
If it’s your first time skiing, head to somewhere like Ruka or Pyhä. You can learn the ropes and build up your technique with help from the English-speaking ski schools. And then you’ll have lots of space to practise by yourself on the wide, quiet runs.
If you’re a confident skier already, Pyhä’s also home to FIS-approved racing slopes – and you won’t want to miss the country’s steepest mogul run, the Huttu-Ukko. Or explore 50km of piste in Ylläs, one of the biggest ski areas in Finland.
Wherever you are, one of the highlights of the ski day is lunchtime. But forget stopping in a mountain restaurant for a sandwich or burger – in Finland, you can pack some sausages and marshmallows in your rucksack and pop into one of the little huts dotted around the slopes to cook up a feast over the open fire.
Learn to drive a dog sled
Dog sledding has been part of Finnish culture for centuries, and was originally invented as a way of moving people and goods across snow. Nowadays, you can visit a husky farm to meet some furry friends and learn how to be a musher – that’s the person who communicates with the team of dogs and drives the sled. Then it’s time to put it into practice and set off for a ride through the snowy landscape. You can take turns standing on the back and driving, and sitting in the sled as a passenger, watching the scenery whoosh past.
Race around on a snowmobile
Kind of like jet skis on snow, snowmobiles are an excellent way to get out into the wilderness and explore places you can’t reach on foot. You’ll get a quick lesson to show you how to drive the snowmobile, then head off after your guide to zoom through frozen forests and open landscapes. In some resorts, you can do a night-time trip and – if you’re lucky – you might just spot the Northern Lights dancing in the sky.
Try your hand at ice fishing
Fancy a truly authentic Finnish experience? It doesn’t get more traditional than ice fishing, and the beauty of it is in the simplicity – your guide will carve a hole in the ice, then you can lower your line, sit back and wait for a bite. Success is down to luck and patience, so take the time while you’re waiting to soak up the quiet and beautiful scenery. After you’re done fishing, you can warm up with hot drinks around an open fire, and chat to your guide about this historical hunting method.
Visit Santa’s Secret Cottage
For families with kids, no trip to Finland would be complete without seeing Santa. You’ll feel the festive magic the moment you arrive and meet the elves for games in the snow. Then the man himself, Father Christmas, will invite you into his home to sit around his rocking chair and hear stories about his life – he might even let you in on the secret of how he travels around the whole world in one night. After that, join Mrs Claus to sing songs, bake gingerbread and make Christmas cards. And don’t forget to pop into the Post Office to send them before you leave.
Meet the local wildlife at a reindeer farm
There are almost as many reindeer in Finland as there are people – and every single one is owned by a herder. Visit a local farm to learn all about the animals and the history of herding, which has been a way of life here since the Middle Ages. Chat to the herder while you tuck into pastries and hot chocolate (and the reindeer feast on their favourites, carrots and lichen). Then wrap up your trip with a ride through the snowy woods in a reindeer-pulled sleigh.
Dive into the Spa Water World
Sauna culture is huge across the whole country – many people have a sauna in their home, and you’ll find them in pretty much every hotel and lots of cabins too. But if you want the full spa experience, look no further than the Spa Water World in Levi.
Here, you can splash around in the 17 indoor and outdoor pools, which are brought to life with fountains and underwater light and sound effects. Little ones will love whizzing down water slides and playing in the kids’ pools. And if you’re after some real indulgence, simply sit back in the bubbling whirlpools or savour the warmth in the saunas and steam rooms.
Explore the Snow Village
Get a guided tour through a frozen world where the rooms and galleries are carved completely from snow and ice, from the furniture to the themed sculptures – there’s even a chapel. You’ll find out how the village is rebuilt every winter, and can cap off your visit with a frosty drink in the ice bar. Or stay into the evening and enjoy a memorable meal in the ice restaurant.