The Finnish Lapland is like a playground for adults who never quite grew up.
Amongst the winter wonderland you can chase the northern lights, take a husky safari through the countryside and stay in a glass igloo in the middle of nowhere. So being kids at heart, that’s exactly what we did….
One of the first European adventures we took outside of Spain was to travel to Finland. Although it wasn’t a destination I had really considered before moving to Spain, Kim-Ling was obsessed with seeing the northern lights (aka the aurora borealis) and had booked cheap flights through Skyscanner for a brief weekend away. And that is how we found ourselves flying from Madrid with Finnair to Ivalo airport in Lapland in the north of Finland.
The hunt for the Northern Lights
One of the main reasons you would want to visit Finland is to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. For our bucket list, it’s right up there with standing under the Eiffel Tower, hiking Machu Picchu or walking along the Great Wall of China – one of those magical experiences that can’t be easily replicated.
For the uninitiated, the Northern Lights are caused by the mixing of gas particles from the Earth and the Sun, which results in them lighting up in different colours across the night sky. And they are spectacular!
Where can you see the Northern Lights?
The lights occur over the north and south poles of the earth and the Finnish Lapland is known the world over as one of the best places to see this natural wonder in its full glory. But the lights can be difficult to find and to get a great showing is similar to a NASA space launch – everything must be just right. The best way to view the aurora borealis is far away from any artificial lights, such as towns, streetlamps, etc. Think of a deserted, desolate forest in the middle of nowhere at night with a cloudless sky and that is the PERFECT place to watch for the lights. Which is why we decided to stay in secluded glass igloos in Kakslauttanen…
Activities to do in Kakslauttanen
While we were waiting for those perfect conditions, we kept ourselves busy with a host of other cool things to do. The two big things on our list were to ride a husky dogsled and immerse ourselves in Finland’s sauna culture.
Husky sledding in Lapland
Through a husky tour organised from our hotel, we were picked up and driven to the husky kennels to get all the necessary equipment and clothing. Fully kitted out, we very soon found ourselves getting a crash course on how to command a team of huskies (who I am kidding, they commanded us), steer the sled (you really can’t) and what to do if anything goes wrong (don’t let anything go wrong!). Easy!
Firstly, it must be said that these huskies are amazing creatures. True working dogs, they are tough, hardworking and want, no NEED, to run 10kms+ a day otherwise they start to go loony. The setup of a husky safari is sophisticated and coordinated: it can be as small as 4-6 dogs on a typical safari or up to 40 or more on endurance, or arctic expeditions. In the front are 2 smart and disciplined dogs who act as leaders, at the rear are 2 other dogs previously identified for their power and strength and the safari includes a balance of younger and more experienced dogs, as a teaching method. And the two in the middle? Well, they are known to be the dumb force. They aren’t quite smart enough to lead, nor are they strong enough to be the driving force, so they are there for the extra muscle.
When we walk towards them, they are already harnessed and the sled is tied to a pole, which rocks as the dogs collectively pull against it with their insatiable desire to begin the journey. Amid yelping, barking and in-fighting, we take our positions on the sled and nervously await being set free into the wilderness. Our guide thoroughly checks everything and then as he pulls the cord holding the sled, we launch onto the track at a million miles an hour. What a rush!
After the initial hang-on-for-dear-life beginning, the dogs settle into their groove and follow the track without any guidance from Kim-Ling or myself. Apart from the sound of the sled sliding across the pure white snow, the dogs are quiet, focused and really seem to be at their happiest. Kim-Ling and I were able to just sit back and enjoy the magical countryside, swept in gleaming snow, with the rising sun streaming through the trees. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this place was, so peaceful and perfect. It was breathtaking (it was -20C after all).
After the safari had made its way back to the kennels and secured the sleds once again, we were able to meet the dogs, sip a delicious cup of warm, steaming cider, take photos and get up close and personal with some husky puppies. Being the crazy dog lady she is, I think this could have been Kim-Ling’s highlight. Overall, it was so fun that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone visiting the Lapland, as it’s money well spent in our books.
Like what you’re reading? Join our mailing list today
The other thing we made sure to do was get some time in a Finnish sauna. Finns are obsessed with saunas and seeing as though Kakslauttanen had their very own on site, we decided to hop over and give it a try. Now there are a few customs one should know when having a Finnish sauna. Firstly, Finns go bare naked in the sauna (but this is not necessarily expected of foreigners). Secondly, they advised us to alternate the hot saunas with running out and diving into the snow – just for the thrill of it!
Northern Lights revisited
So let me paint the picture. I say goodbye to Kim-Ling and we each head off to our respective male and female saunas after the sledding finished. The sauna is going well, I’m working up a decent amount of heat and so I decide to try a naked dash into the snow. Tiptoeing out of the sauna in the buff and onto the stairs leading down to the snow, it’s pretty slippery and I begin to imagine how the scene could unfold: “30 something year-old Australian man dies of hypothermia after slipping and being knocked unconscious while attempting to roll around in the snow ‘el naturel’ (funnily enough, Kim-Ling also had a similar fear). Putting these concerns to the side, I make a dash down into the snow and take a diving leap onto – a hard, rocky embankment. Clearly this was not how it was meant to go….
I subsequently got my technique organised and enjoyed the hot/cold sensations of the sauna/ice combination. It was so refreshing, I went back for another two rounds!
Suffice to say, in between our many adventures of dog sledding and saunas, we made every effort we could to get the best views possible of the Northern Lights. Kim-Ling became a full-time meteorologist, providing up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and atmospherics (there’s actually websites and apps you can download to give you fairly accurate forecasts and provide alerts for when the aurora borealis will be best for viewing). Our weekend had some cloud cover which obscured most of the sky except for brief interludes here and there.
As we were walking back from the lodge and dinner in the Kakslauttanen snow, I looked up at the sky and remarked to Kim-Ling how weird the smoke looked. It was at that moment, that Kim-Ling pushed me aside and started running after it. It was the Northern Lights! Or at least a mildly obscured, faint and barely recognisable cousin… It still counts.
Getting to Finland and booking hotels
Just a few quick tips to make the most out of your trip to the Lapland.
- Hotels: Book well ahead, as the peak season (December to March) get’s very crowded, very quickly. Kim-Ling booked Kakslauttanen (affiliate link) almost a year in advance, and there were only a few left at that time!
- Transport: Ideally look for a hotel with transfers, etc as I would recommend you not attempt to drive on your own. There is a bus company, Matkahuolto, which can also take you around the Lapland if needed.
- Activities: There is no need to book ahead for husky sledding or even the night Northern Lights safaris, particularly during peak seasons. However, check with your accommodation/tour provider beforehand for weather updates and indications on if a tour is booking up.
- Gear: No need to buy any advanced gear or single-handedly drive up North Face’s profits for your trip – we got along just fine without mountaineering jackets, etc. Almost all activities outside (e.g. Husky, etc) will provide specific clothing for the purpose anyway. Dress as you would for any snow trip.
- Flights: Finnair or Norwegian Airlines fly into Ivalo airport, which is close to Kakslauttanen igloo village and the activities that we described. Rovaniemi airport is another option to stay in the area.