Fancy something different this winter? Why not see what a winter in Finland has to offer!
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What to expect from a Finnish winter
- Pros and cons of visiting Finland in winter
- Recommended things to do and see during winter in Finland
- How to prepare for subzero temperatures
- What to pack for a winter in Finland
- Where to stay to get the most out of your Finnish winter escape
What to expect from a Finnish winter
Long, slow winters
It takes around two months for winter to reach every part of Finland.
In Lapland in the north, winter begins in mid-October. In the southwestern archipelago, winter doesn’t start until December. While winter starts in November everywhere in between.
Although Finland’s winter months differ across the country, it’s still the longest season wherever you go; lasting for 100 days in the south and 200 days in the north.
Curious as to when does it snow in Lapland? Head here between November and mid-March and you should see a heavy blanket of snow. You may also see snow flurries in October and April as well.
Although we knew it would be cold in Finland, nothing could have prepared us for subzero Finland winter temperatures day after day!
The average temperature in Finland’s capital, Helsinki during winter is -1°C. But once you head north and into areas like Lapland, the cold becomes something else entirely.
We visited Ruka, Finland in the first week of January and average temperatures throughout the week were -26°C.
Being from the UK, snow is a very rare occasion for us and our winters are mostly mild, so this was certainly a shock to the system, although a truly wonderful experience. We enjoyed wrapping up in many layers and playing about in the snow – especially just after Christmas!
However, be prepared to wear thermal gloves at all times, thermal underwear, plenty of layers and snow boots. More on how to prepare for subzero temperatures below.
As Finland is so far north of the equator, Finland’s winter daylight hours are likely to be much shorter than you’re used to, and thus, the days will also be darker.
In Ruka in January, the sun was rising at about 10am and setting between 2-2.30pm. If you’re anything like us, the daylight dictates your sleeping patterns. We found ourselves having to set our alarms at 8am everyday.
I must confess that the darker days did help to offer a magical atmosphere during our stay in Finland though. Imagine the setting: fresh, crunchy snow; sparkling snowflakes falling; deep, dark sky; cosy log cabins and evergreen fir trees all around.
If that doesn’t inspire you to visit Finland in winter, then I don’t know what will!
The Northern Lights
As Finland winter daylight hours are short, you’ll have a greater chance of seeing the Northern Lights if you venture up to Lapland (with March being the best month for it).
Check out our guide to learn how best to photograph the Northern Lights if and when you do see them.
If, like us Brits, you don’t see deep snow very often, then be prepared to act like a big kid in Finland in winter.
We took to the slopes as can be expected, however, we also found ourselves sledding hills onto frozen lakes, throwing snowballs at one another and going for reindeer sleigh rides.
Now, I must tell you – the Finnish take their sledding very seriously indeed. Our snowmobile instructor taught us “how to sled properly” to quote him.
According to his instruction, you must keep your arms in the air throughout the ride and use your lower body to shift left and right whilst whooping very loudly all the way down! That was his advice and I’m sticking to it!
As Lapland in northern Finland is said to be the home of Father Christmas himself, it should come as no surprise that a Finnish Christmas is full of tradition, folklore and intrigue.
Some top Finnish Christmas traditions include:
- Sometimes, Father Christmas is referred to as Joulupukki, which means Christmas Goat.
- Finnish Christmas folklore dictates that a scary yule goat would ask people for presents. Over time, the goat became a gift giver instead and then Father Christmas took over but the name of Joulupukki was still kept. Now, it’s said that Joulupukki rides with Santa’s reindeer.
- Christmas Eve is the most important day to celebrate.
- It’s traditional to eat rice porridge and plum juice for breakfast.
- The Christmas tree is bought and decorated.
- At 12 noon, the ‘Peace of Christmas’ is broadcast on radio and TV by the City Major of Turku, which is in southern Finland.
- The main Christmas meal is eaten in the early evening, which includes lutefisk (salt fish) for a starter, slow-cooked leg of pork and mashed potato for the main and baked rice pudding or porridge with spiced plum jam for dessert, which also contains a hidden almond. Whoever finds it will be lucky for the next year.
There are many extraordinary traditions in Finland, which will help you to have unique experiences that you won’t forget for life!
Fancy a relaxing reindeer sleigh ride? How about hopping onto a snowmobile and whizzing across frozen lakes? Or try a spot of husky sledding!
Expensive alcohol and food in supermarkets
When eating out, the food is moderately priced (depending on where you go of course).
We found ourselves paying around €25 for a reindeer steak (a Finnish delicacy) and about €3 per drink. This was within the small ski resort of Ruka in northern Finland.
However, be prepared to pay much more in supermarkets! Average prices of local cheese can be around €7 and expect to pay close to €1.20 for a litre of milk.
During our travel planning, we found this really helpful website to help put costs into perspective (based on Helsinki as an example).
We were pleasantly surprised at how cheap Glögi was to buy in Finland though. We paid about €3 for a litre and it was delicious whilst sat in front of our log fire.
For those of you who don’t know, Glögi is a type of mulled wine and is very popular in Finland – especially in winter. Safe to say that we kept coming back for more!
Pros and cons of visiting Finland in winter
In case you’re still in two minds whether a trip to Finland in winter is right for you, we’ve listed some key pros and cons of visiting Finland in winter below.
- The snow means you can try all kinds of epic winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and even husky sledding!
- Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are greatly increased
- You have even more reason to drink delicious Glögi
- The snow turns Finland into a magical winter wonderland
- The subzero temperatures are perfect for Finnish sauna experiences to help warm you up
- Don’t be surprised if roads and attractions are closed due to icy conditions; even the ski lifts shut down for a couple of days during our trip to Finland
- If you’re not wearing the right gear, you will be very miserable
Recommended Finland winter activities
Some of the most sought after activities during a Finnish winter are also the most traditional ones, such as husky sledding, ice fishing and taking part in the complete Finnish sauna experience.
Here are our top recommendations of what to see and do during a winter in Finland:
- Skiing or snowboarding in one of 75 ski resorts; here are Visit Finland’s top ten
- Husky sledding; the ultimate bucket list activity!
- Snowmobiling; how else will you cross frozen lakes out in the countryside?
- Try out the complete Finnish sauna experience
- Ice fishing; when meditation trumps purpose
- Ice hotel or igloo overnight stay; because where else if not in Finland?
- Hunt for the Northern Lights; either self-guided or as a tour
- Go and see Father Christmas (because Lapland is his home, right?!)
How to prepare for subzero temperatures
In winter, Finland frequently reaches temperatures as low as -20°C or even -25°C… that’s some serious cold!
When we travelled to Finland in January last year, it was between -23°C and -26°C every single day – and it was so cold that the ski lifts closed on a couple of the days.
I learned a lot about technology and my body during that week and so while I’m now tucked up in bed with my laptop and pyjamas on in the safety of a mild British winter, I want to share all the things I learned about travelling in subzero temperatures.
Bring spare batteries for electronic equipment
When out in subzero temperatures, expect your batteries to last half as long as they would normally.
Carry spare batteries around inside an insulated pocket to keep them warm and efficient… especially if you’re after some epic shots of the Northern Lights or other snowy scenes.
Another tip from the pros is to carry around disposable hand warmers to use on your photography equipment to help warm things up a bit when urgently needed.
Don’t worry if your phone stops working suddenly
Phones (especially modern smartphones) are not used to these sorts of temperatures, so expect them to shut off if kept outside in the cold air for too long (i.e. if you’re using one to take photos).
Keeping it in an insulated pocket is fine, but if you keep it out in the cold air for longer than 30 seconds, expect it to turn off until you get it inside again.
It’s almost like your phone is having a tantrum about being asked to come out into the cold!!
Remember to listen to your body
So we’ve all heard about pins and needles haven’t we? You know, when you’ve been sat still for too long and your body’s gone to sleep in places.
Well if you experience a sensation like this when in subzero temperatures, then this is your body warning you that if you don’t get inside soon, you may experience hypothermia.
I’m afraid there’s no way of saying this without scaring you but cold temperatures like this are no laughing matter if your body isn’t used to it.
So listen to your body, and if you do start getting tingling sensations, just head inside to warm up! See this as a great point in the day to head inside for a well deserved rest by the fire with a warming hot chocolate in hand.
Eating also keeps you warm so use this as a great excuse to have reindeer steak, cheese fries, mince pies and ALL the trimmings.
Look after your rental car especially well in winter
Countries that are used to subzero temperatures such as Finland are ahead of the pack in terms of prepping for cold weather when driving.
Residents of these countries usually keep heaters under the hood of their cars overnight but there’s another thing you have to get used to: square tyres.
Basically, cold weather causes tyres to contract and decrease in air pressure, but this happens unevenly, so the result is a bumpy ride as cars turn their not-quite-round wheels. There’s nothing that can be done about this so practice makes perfect when driving!
Another tip if you’re hiring a car in these sorts of temperatures is to remove any snow from the exhaust pipe when you’re finished with it for the day and to always keep the tank at least half full. This will prevent your car from freezing over and blocking important mechanics.
Don’t worry about looking like a Marshmallow man or woman
For any tour you do in these types of temperatures – anything from hunting for the Northern Lights to snowmobiling and husky sledding – expect your tour operator to make you wear a full body suit over your ski clothes that makes you look like the Marshmallow (Wo)Man.
You’ll be nice and toasty… but may just find your movement is difficult and more constricted than usual!
Try not to be disappointed if attractions are shut
One last thing I’ve learned is that even countries used to these sorts of temperatures can sometimes shut down.
Now I’m not talking about public transport failing to run or shops closing; that’s probably just us in the UK as soon as we get the first signs of any kind of snow!
No… what I’m talking about is things people have no control over such as electronic equipment failing, which includes ski lifts.
If you happen to head out somewhere extremely cold for snowsports, know that sometimes, things will have to temporarily close through no fault of anyone’s except nature vs electronics.
What to pack for a winter in Finland
Winter temperatures in Helsinki generally hover just below freezing, but in the north, you should expect temperatures as low as -20°C, or colder. Either way, you’ll need to pack sensibly for a winter trip to Finland.
Here’s what we recommend you pack for a winter in Finland.
- Windproof and waterproof jacket (ski jackets are often the best option)
- Waterproof walking trousers
- Thermal tops and leggings (merino wool are the best)
- Merino wool or fleece jumpers
- Thermal socks
- Gloves, scarf and winter hat
- Decent hiking or snow boots
- Crampons for your boots
- Skiing essentials if you’re taking to the slopes
- Swimsuit or bikini and towel (for trips to your backyard sauna)
- Lip balm or chapstick
Where to stay to get the most out of your Finnish winter escape
Helsinki is Finland’s capital, known for its flair for design, Art Nouveau architecture, vibrant culture and buzzing nightclubs.
It’s also a great place for nature travel too as more than a third of Helsinki is covered in parks and forests.
Not to mention islands like Suomenlinna and Pihlajasaari in the southwestern archipelago can be reached by ferry as a day trip.
Recommended hotels in Helsinki:
- Original Sokos Hotel Presidentti: 4 star hotel with indoor pool and breakfast included
- Marski by Scandic: 4 star hotel perfect for families
- Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna Helsinki: Eco-friendly hotel with two restaurants onsite
Ruka is home to one of Finland’s 75 ski resorts and is great for beginners and intermediates as the slopes are often quiet.
The village is simply charming in the wintertime and there are an abundance of other winter activities to do nearby including husky sledding and snowmobiling.
Plus you can easily find a quaint log cabin, complete with private sauna, for the ultimate winter escape.
No wonder Ruka was voted Finnish Ski Resort of the Year in 2019!
Recommended hotels in Ruka:
- Scandic Rukahovi: Charming ski-in/ski-out hotel with ski storage area
- Kelokoto Chalets: 4 star wooden chalets with kitchens; just a one minute walk to Ruka ski slopes
- Arctic Boutique Hotel Rukan Kaarna: 4 star beachfront hotel overlooking Lake Talvijärvi
If an escape into the deep depths of Lapland sounds good to you, then look no further than Saariselkä.
It’s the gateway to the trails and ski slopes of Urho Kekkonen National Park and is chock full of interesting places to stay including igloos and glass walled apartments… all the better to see the Northern Lights with.
Recommended hotels in Saariselkä:
- Star Arctic Hotel: Spacious 4 star cabins and suites with large windows
- Northern Lights Village Saariselkä: 4 star cabins with roof windows; perfect for gazing at the Northern Lights
- Fell Centre Kiilopää, Hotel Niilanpää: Cosy cabins with saunas and outdoor hot tubs
Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus and is the capital of Lapland… need we say more?
Recommended hotels in Rovaniemi:
- Santa Claus Holiday Village: It’s like stepping into a Christmas fairytale – enough said
- Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara: Ultra modern 4 star ski-in/ski-out hotel
- Santa’s Hotel Santa Claus: 4 star plush hotel in the heart of Rovaniemi
Well, there you have it… all of our tips, truths and Christmas tidings for winter in Finland. Now tell us, when will YOU visit?
Visiting Finland at another time of year? Check out our tips here!
Visiting Finland for the first time? Here are 15 practical tips for Finland travel from Travel See Write!
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