The Arctic and Northern Finland (Lapland)
Cold, cold, cold...not so cold
Visited, February 2, 2008 (why would I go in the summer?)
I had the pleasure of visiting Lapland and the Arctic in northern Finland during the winter of 2008. It was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it.
My launching point is the town of Rovaniemi, most easily accessed from Helsinki. The town is a major tourist destination for people visiting the Arctic and lays claim as being the home of Santa and the world's most northerly McDonalds. The town is overrun with tens of thousands of visitors during December (to visit Santa, of course), so it is best to avoid coming during this time unless you want to absolutely convince your skeptical 7 year old that Santa is real!
The airport and town have a welcoming vibe and the Finnish people are gracious and friendly. I came to Rovaniemi to take part in a team building event with my staff including snow-mobiling and dogsledding. The outfitter was Arctic Safaris (based in the town), which I highly recommend. The logistics were flawless and the equipment and service was first-rate. The guide met us at the airport gate and we were outfitted with survival gear right in the airport. The town itself is a 5 minute drive from the airport and has a small shopping area, several decent hotels, and about a dozen restaurants.
A cute tourist attraction was Santa's Village, a tourist destination with several shops and the home of "the big guy" himself. A cute touch is that the arctic circle passes directly through the middle of Santa's house. I met Santa with my European management team and was impressed that he was able to greet them in each of their native tongues (I kept thinking of Miracle on 34th Street and the Seinfeld episode with Kramer playing Santa).
The next day we set out on a great trip into the wilderness. All of the rivers in northern Finland freeze solid during the winter months and this becomes a critical highway system, complete with street signs drilled into the ice. We traveled about 40 miles by snow mobile at speeds over 50 MPH. We then went dog sledding into some of the wilderness area. Temperatures ranged between -15 and +20 (F) during the trip, but we were quite comfortable with the winter survival gear. The final night was topped off with a visit to the ice-cave restaurant, with beautiful ice sculptures, brilliantly lit with colored lights.