3 days in Finland: Finnish Lapland, Ivalo
Why did I choose Finland and specifically Ivalo (Finnish Lapland/Arctic Circle)?
In 2010, I went to Sweden on a school trip to the Arctic Circle. I really enjoyed certain parts of the trip and I wanted to bring Dustin to the Arctic Circle to enjoy it with him. Although I enjoyed the trip to Northern Sweden, because I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate every bit of it and I definitely wanted to experience it again. Since I had already been to Sweden, we decided upon another Nordic country. The two countries have slightly different landscapes in the Arctic Circle area, so it was nice change in scenery. Finland is the most forest covered country in Europe. We thought about going to Rovaniemi since it is at the cusp of the Arctic Circle and is the closest city in Arctic Circle to Helsinki, but we decided to go further up north to Ivalo. We wanted to make sure that we would get a snowy November and be able to participate in the winter activities. Along with that, flight prices were low for NYC to Finland round trip (that’s always a win!)
Easy, since everyone I met spoke English
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My Travel Time
Late November (US Thanksgiving)
Finnish Lapland is absolutely stunning during the winter time. It looks like a Christmas book at every angle. Snow usually starts to stick around November. On our trip, there was a lot of snow and all the winter activities were available! The difference between a Christmas book and the Finnish Lapland is that you’ll feel the insane coldness. The temperature was a little below 0 degrees Celsius my first day there, which is not that bad. The next few days it was a freezing -20 degrees Celsius. I’ve concluded that no matter how many pairs of socks I wore, my toes would still be forever cold. Dress warmly and wear layers! Make sure your shoes can safely walk on the snow.
My Flight Details
Airline: Finnair; JFK-HEL, HEL-IVL (9 hour total flight time) – we stopped in Helsinki on our way back to NYC (blog post for Helsinki coming soon!)
Flight prices vary depending on the time of the year. My flight price to Helsinki from New York City was around 425 USD and Helsinki to Ivalo was 180 USD (round trip); I booked 2-3 months in advance. I always start watching prices for my Thanksgiving trip starting July. Prices to Europe in November and after the holidays are usually lower than the summer time and during the holidays.
Airport to/from city: We took a taxi to our hotel. I suggest pre-booking a taxi if you’re hotel doesn’t offer airport transportation. During the winter time, there are a lot of tourists that visit Lapland and there may not be a taxi line available. It is 7 Euro extra if you pre-book and the meter starts at 9 Euro. The total taxi ride from the airport to the hotel I was staying at was around 35 Euro.
My Hotel Details
Aurora Village Ivalo
We stayed at Aurora Village in Ivalo which is a little deeper into the woods and more secluded. There are a couple hotels near the town center, where there are a few supermarkets, restaurants, and convenient stores (not a lot though since the town is in the Arctic Circle). It is a 30-minute walk from Aurora Village to shops and food in the town center, but we never had to walk there since Aurora Village has a small restaurant (Restaurant Loimu) available right in the village. Aurora Village is in a secluded area, which allows for a better viewing of the northern lights and stars. The village is embedded in Lapland’s beautiful forests with a lake right next to it. We were able to spot wild reindeer every day as they are constantly walking around the village (don’t worry, they’re gentle and they’re just frolicking around). They were often in front of our cabin in the morning and right outside our door. Aurora Village has reindeer of their own that all guests are able to help feed in the mornings. As I’m writing this, I feel like I’m describing Santa’s Village in the North Pole and living in a magical Christmas tale (Dustin and I would often ask ourselves if this was place was real). The cabins at Aurora Village are different from any other as they are aurora cabins. The cabins are built for guests to be able to sleep right under the northern lights, snow frosted trees, and bright stars. They have five 2-meter windows that allow guests to look up as they are lying on their beds to see the night sky. We actually spotted northern lights from our bed. I’d describe them as half-open-glassed-igloo, half-cabin. The people working at the village are very caring; they helped us book our taxi and other winter activities. Shout out to Juha and Petra, who made our experience at Finnish Lapland fun and easy going!
My Finnish Lapland Itinerary
We arrived at the Ivalo airport around 13:00 and made it to Aurora Village at around 14:00. At this time, it was already starting to get slightly dark. On our way to our cabin, we saw wild reindeer, tons of them! We explored the village a little before we headed off to the main cabin for dinner. It was a cloudy day, but it cleared up a little bit at night and we were able to see a few stars. We searched for the northern lights and used our handy Aurora app (Android & iPhone), but did not see anything.
At 10:00, we helped feed the village’s reindeer. The reindeer only liked to nibble on the food we were giving them, but would never finish the entire thing (Reindeer fact! They don’t like being pet.) Along with the village’s reindeer, there are also a lot of wild reindeer running around. After that, we grabbed a couple kick sleds provided by the village and roamed around Ivalo on them. We realized that it was easier to run than travel by kick sled if you weren’t carrying anything. If you plan to enjoy the kick sled, make sure you go downhill as that’s always that best part. At 13:00, we headed over to a husky safari with Extreme Huskies. Aurora Village Ivalo holds winter activities of their own, but if they don’t provide the tour with their own staff, they can help book the activities with other companies. Transportation to and from the husky playground was included in the price. We enjoyed dog sledding with our Alaskan huskies for 2 hours through the forests of Finland. Dustin led the dog sled first while I sat in the sled laying on reindeer hide. This was so much fun; I had dog sled before in Sweden, but it was just as fun the second time. Extreme Huskies provided heavier coats, shoes, gloves, and hats if you weren’t wearing enough. It gets colder on the dog sled because the wind is blowing so make sure to dress warmly. When we got back to husky home base, we sat in a kota (somewhat like a hut) while our guide heated up some water and coffee on a fire he created. We enjoyed sitting in the warmth with some tea and gingersnaps after our toes, hands, and faces were frozen over from the exhilarating arctic ride. We had some time left over before it was time to head out and they let us hold and cuddle with their 3 month old husky puppies.
After dinner at the main cabin, we snowshoed through a path that had already been created by staff members at the Aurora Village. Snowshoes are available with each cabin and are hung up right next to the door. Aurora Village provides head lamps and a map if you need it as well. It seems super scary to snowshoe through an unknown path in complete darkness with only your head lamps, but it was really easy and very safe. Our head lamps shined brightly on the snow, which made the snow look like it was sparkling. At night, we were always on the search for northern lights, but once again, we didn’t get to see them.
It was our last full day in Ivalo and we decided to walk around the vicinity (although it was a freezing -20 degrees Celsius) as we wanted to see more of Ivalo. We walked outside the village and down to a frozen river, which was unreal. There was absolutely no one on it. Actually, on our way there, we didn’t see anyone silly enough to not be driving. As we were heading to the main cabin for dinner, we noticed that there were really clear skies tonight; the stars were shining, which is a great opportunity to see northern lights. I turned my head to the left, just about 10 meters away from the main cabin and noticed a patch of gray, which could be easily be mistaken for clouds. I thought it could potentially be the northern lights, but was not hopeful as we had not seen for the past couple nights. We ran back to our cabin to grab a camera just in case and sure enough, it was the northern lights! The more pictures we took, the stronger it was getting; they were dancing right above our aurora cabin and we could see the green and the pink/purple. It was Dustin’s first time seeing the northern lights and I was so happy he was finally able to experience it as he had just missed the best northern lights show in Iceland a year ago, where they even turned off the city lights in Reykjavik because they were going to be amazing. We were satisfied with our show, but we decided to join in on a northern light chase after dinner, where we drove an hour north. We stopped at a few frozen lakes and on the side whenever we saw a glimpse of the lights.
It was our last day and our flight was a little before 19:00. We took advantage of our morning by taking a snowmobile tour through the forests with Abe, our wonderful guide from the Aurora Village team. Dustin and I shared a snowmobile and took turns riding it; we got to speed up when we snowmobiled through the main road. After snowmobiling, we went back to our snowshoe path from two nights ago to see what it looked like in daylight.
Aurora Village Ivalo has breakfast, lunch, and dinner available on site. Dustin and I brought tons of healthy snacks as well (always good to be prepared). The small city center is around a 30-minute walk away; there are a few restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets.
Price of Trip
To be completely honest, a trip to the Arctic Circle can be slightly costly especially if you’re participating in several winter activities. Flight prices are on the cheaper side. Although the stay is on the more expensive side, it more or less evens out because the flight prices are cheaper (if you’re traveling in November). This is definitely something to keep in mind when you decide you want to visit Lapland. In my opinion, the trip is absolutely worth it and it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lives!