The midnight sun, the Sámi peoples, the northern lights and the wandering reindeer are all part of the magic of Finnish Lapland.
More northerly than Iceland and almost all of Canada and Alaska, it is a place of awesome wildernesses, sparse tundra, dense forests and open fells.
At 1,100 sq miles, Lemmenjoki is Finland’s largest national park, with rough landscapes, remote rivers and the lure of gold panning. The Lemmenjoki Nature Centre provides maps, walking information, fishing permits and advice on boat trips (00 358 205 647793; Inari; 9am-5pm Jun-Sep).
Sampo is a retired ice-breaker built in 1960 and rehabilitated as a tour boat offering ice-swimming. You can also choose to access it by snowmobile – expensive but remarkable (00 358 16 258878; sampotours.com; Kauppakatu, Kemi; Thu, Fri & Sat late Decmid- Apr; £190-£300 per person).
Harriniva Holiday Centre’s Arktinen Rekikoirakeskus (Arctic sled-dog centre) runs a range of husky-sled safaris from a 90-minute trip to safaris of a week or longer. In summer, you can hike with a posse of them (00 358 16 5300300; harriniva.fi; 90-minute sled ride £60).
Inari is Finland’s main Sámi village and the location of the Siida museum, which showcases their history and culture. It’s also the ideal place to purchase Sámi crafts (00 358 400 898212; siida.fi; 9am-8pm Jun-Sep, 10am-5pm Tue-Sun Oct-May; £7).
The capital, Rovaniemi, was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt to a plan by Alvar Aalto, with streets laid out like reindeer antlers. Its Arktikum museum tells the story of the Arctic, with stunning photography (00 358 16 3223260; arktikum.fi; Pohjoisranta 4; 10am-6pm; £10).
Eat and drink
One of the few places to eat in the Lemmenjoki National Park, Ahkun Tupa Holiday Village has wooden cabins offering rooms and food. Sit down to large plates of salmon then cinnamon buns after one of its gold-panning river cruises (00 358 16 673435; ahkuntupa.fi; lunch and dinner; mains £7-£18; cottages from £30).
Umpitunneli is a local favourite serving creamy pastas, steaks and Tex-Mex food. There are live bands, or the humppa: a fast Finnish dance between a waltz and a foxtrot (00 358 16 430360; umpitunneli.fi; Hallituskatu 15, Tornio; lunch and dinner; mains £10-£20).
Nili evokes a typical Lapland atmosphere with reindeer skins, Sámi music and cosy wooden cladding. Reindeer is on the menu and so is whitefish, char and salmon. The dishes are well presented and the service is good (00 358 400 369669; nili.fi; Valtakatu 20, Rovaniemi; dinner Tue-Sat; £12-£22).
Elegant Gaissa, at Hotel Santa Claus, has a short menu aimed at visitors. Dishes are petite and reindeer-focused but feature some real hits – try the reindeer rillettes (00 358 16 321321; hotelsantaclaus.fi; Korkalonkatu 29, Rovaniemi; dinner; £16-£22).
Hotelli Inarin Kultahovi is situated by a tributary of Lake Inari and has great river views. Wild mushrooms are in many of its dishes, alongside reindeer carpaccio and local trout (00 358 16 5117100; hotelkultahovi.fi; Saarikoskentie 2, Inari; lunch and dinner; mains £12-£24).
A few miles from the centre of Njurgulahti village, Kaija Paltto is the home of an active Sámi family. They have a felt studio selling art as well as comfortable cabin accommodation with sauna, and they offer boat trips that include visits to a reindeer farm and gold panning (00 358 16 673413; lemmenjoki.org; Lemmenjoki; cottages from £40).
Close to the Harriniva husky centre, Lomamaja Pekonen has little cabins across from the Muonionjoki river. Nordic-style interiors feature simple pine furnishings and kitchenettes, and you can hire canoes, fishing equipment and bikes (00 358 16 532237; lomamajapekonen.fi; Lahenrannantie 10, Muonio; apartments from £50).
Villa Lanca is Inari’s most characterful lodging, its rooms decorated with Asian fabrics and artistic flair. Spacious apartments come with kitchens, and the upstairs dens have lovely sloping ceilings. Downstairs, the café serves snacks and French wine (00 358 40 7480984; villalanca. com; Inari; from £60). Sleep
Rantasipi Pohjanhovi is Rovaniemi’s historic hotel. The superior rooms cost only a little more than the standard and come with dark floorboards, Lapp shaman motifs and flatscreen TVs (00 358 16 33711; rantasipi.fi; Pohjanpuistikko 2, Rovaniemi; from £120).
Few things conjure the fairytale romance of Kemi’s Snow Castle. Inside it’s minus five degrees, but a woolly sheepskin and sturdy sleeping bag keep you warm(ish) atop the ice bed. Sleep on your clothes or they might snap when you put them on the next day (00 358 16 259502; snowcastle.net; Kemi; end Janmid- Apr; from £240).
Major car rental agencies, such as Budget and Europcar, are represented at Rovaniemi airport (£35 per day). Petrol stations are sparse and some are automatic, so carry cash. Bus operators often run only one daily service (goldline. fi; eskelisen-lapinlinjat.com).
Rovaniemi airport is a major winter destination for charter flights as it’s the official airport of Father Christmas! British Airways flies from Heathrow or Manchester to Helsinki and you can then fly with Finnair to Rovaniemi (from £220). A bus to town will cost £4, a shared airport taxi, £8.
The article 'Mini guide to Finnish Lapland, Finland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.