A few curious travelers might decide on a vacation near, or even above, the Arctic Circle. In one Arctic region, though, more and more tourists are not only choosing to visit, they're opting to come during the coldest months of the year.
Finnish Lapland, a region in the northernmost portion of Finland, has recently seen a significant uptick in the number of tourism arrivals. Many of these travelers chose to visit during the winter.
What is there to do in this chilly land when the mercury dips well below freezing (and often below 0 degrees Fahrenheit)?
More people are coming, and they're paying more
Finnish Lapland’s tourism sector had a record-breaking 2016. The region saw an 18 percent increase in the number of international arrivals (as well as a nine percent increase in the number of domestic tourists). Many of these people came around the Christmas holiday. Early winter arrivals were up 20 percent compared to the previous year.
Tour companies are offering more package vacations to Finland in December to meet demand that is still increasing this holiday season. This rise in interest comes despite the fact that a night in Lapland costs about €30 ($35) more than a stay in other parts of Finland.
This travel trend has even reached the Far East. Thanks to Finnair’s flights from Beijing and Hong Kong, among other East Asian hubs, the number of visitors from the Asia Pacific, particularly China, has doubled over the past year.
What's the attraction?
It starts with Santa Claus
The snowfalls in Riisitunturi, Posio, Finland, are something out of a fairy tale. (Photo: Tero Laakso/flickr)
Lapland has a kind of “winter wonderland” allure thanks to its landscapes and accessible-but-rustic atmosphere. A lot of the traditions and stories surrounding the European and American version of Santa Claus started in this region of the world, and the jolly, red-clad Christmas figure is still widely celebrated in Lapland. He makes appearances at tourist spots throughout the region, and activities like reindeer-drawn sleigh rides are also on the agenda for many visiting families.
The month or so before the holidays is “peak season” for the tourism industry in Lapland, but a lot of growth has taken place outside of this period as well.
What is there in Lapland besides Santa? It turns out that, despite its rustic image, this region has become a hotspot for luxury travel.
Warming up to luxury
Arctic camping? The two-dozen “igloos” at Lapland’s Levin Iglut Golden Crown resort are certainly more enticing than a canvas tent. The igloos are made of glass, and they're located on the side of a valley. This means that guests who book in here (at a rate of roughly $370 to $470 per night) will get unobstructed views of the northern lights. And they also will get to enjoy panoramas of the snow-covered valley below during the brief daylight hours.
The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort offers a similar glass-roof, Aurora Borealis-focused setup (and it has a similar price tag). The Arctic Treehouse Hotel, with individual pod-style suites, is another unique accommodation option, and there are also more-standard four- and five-star accommodations throughout Lapland.
A lot of these properties operate under the same idea that has worked for safari lodges in Africa, desert resorts on the Arabian Peninsula and eco-hotels in the Costa Rican rainforests: People will visit remote areas if they don't have to give up comfort while doing so.
The best of these venues help people enjoy the surroundings rather than distracting guests from them. Some hotels offer “aurora alarms” that will go off when the northern lights are visible. Others offer packages that include snowmobile rides, ski excursions or other outdoor activities that showcase the region’s snowy landscapes.
Traditional and unconventional experiences
The temperatures might be chilly, but the guarantee of snow through March means a long season for popular wintertime activities like snowmobiling, skiing, dog sled safaris and sleigh riding. March could actually be the best time to come because visitors can experience all the wintertime activities but also enjoy the longer daylight hours, warmer temperatures and a lack of crowds.
Then there are saunas; a traditional Finnish practice that has an almost universal allure for tourists. A stay in these sweat-inducing rooms is supposed to support health, while a plunge into the snow in between perspiration sessions is meant to be invigorating (or it will at least give you a story to tell after you return home).
Some Lapland experiences fit somewhere between odd and adventurous. One of the most interesting of the activities in this category involves viewing the northern lights from the water, not in a boat, but bobbing up and down in an inflatable life suit.
Wild without roughing it
Great sunsets and ice sculpting are two things to see on a northern Finland vacation. (Photo: Timo Newton-Syms/flickr)
Lapland seems to be reaping the rewards of creating a diverse list of attractions and giving guests access to the adventure of the Arctic wilds without forcing them to sacrifice comfort.