Winter magic: My Lapland experience with Timetravels

by Fizz

So I’ve just returned from a four-day trip to Levi, in Finnish Lapland (not including travel time!) and what an amazing experience it was! Lapland is a must-visit for many of us international students in Sweden, and as a result there are numerous group trips to choose from throughout the semester – even our professor, when we told him we’d be absent for a week, was more than happy to let us go, insisting that Lapland is simply something we have to do. I was intending to plan my own trip up there, so that I could customise the itinerary and destination to my liking, but eventually, time got the better of me and I settled for a group trip which I signed up for with some friends. This meant a full 24 hours or more spent on a bus to get there, but it was (just about) worth it.

Between travel details, information about the destination, my own reflections, and some information about the town, this post will become a long one! Feel free to use the contents list below to skip to the section that most interests you, and see the section at the bottom for other pages that will be useful for planning your trip.

Contents

Where is Lapland?

Lapland is an area of land covering thenorthernmost regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland, mostly within the arctic circle, and also extending onto the Kola Peninsula in Russia. It is the historical home of the nomadic Sami people, and the history of their movements in the area, as well as the influence of various other people, such as Kola people, and attempted assimilation from Finns and Swedes, is very complex. More on that later!

Map from Miss Tourist

It’s a popular tourist destination for those looking for incredible scenery, as it’s home to incredible lakes as well as icy scenes. It’s also an ideal location for viewing the aurora borealis, taking part in winter sports, or enjoying some Christmassy activities. I actually visited the same town with my family as a child and remember the trip fairly well, so I can definitely see that it would be a great destination for kids.

In my opinion, the main appeal for visiting Lapland specifically is to learn about Sami culture, as the only indigenous people living in the EU. All of Scandinavia has incredible scenery which make them well worth a visit, but the views up in Lapland are so stunning that it’s really worth going up that far. Between the polar night, midnight sun, northern lights, and harsh but beautiful snowy landscapes, it’s really incredible to take in.

Destinations in Lapland

Popular Lapland destinations in Finland include Levi, a ski town and the exact place I visited, and Rovaniemi, the “home of Santa Claus”, as well as Saariselkä and Kilpisjärvi. In Sweden, it’s common to visit Kiruna and Abisko, which are part of the Abisko national park. But there are countless ways to visit the region, including road trips, guided tours, and the arctic circle train, and many different appeals. Perhaps the buzz and action of a ski resort is your cup of tea, or perhaps you’d prefer the peaceful solitude of a small, remote town. It’s for you to decide!

Visiting Lapland with Timetravels

Group travel isn’t something I’ve done since school trips, but we chose to go with Timetravels, a tour operator based in Finland who work with international student groups (such as the Erasmus Student Network) to put together travel experiences. As such, they’re kind of the “go to” company that people use for trips up here, as they’ ve got local knowledge, local guides, and close ties with our universities.

It was quite bizarre to be back on a bus of forty students. At first, I was slightly bugged by not having full independence, but it was the best and easiest way to get a great experience, with guided tours, transport between activities, and the perfect balance between a touristy holiday and an educational experience. Our guide, Uuno, oozed enthusiasm and was endlessly energetic (I have no idea how). He really enhanced our trip with his “Radio Uuno” commentary while we were in the bus, giving us information, stories, and a taste of Finnish music!

I see no reason why you should necessarily book a guided trip; you could of course plan your own itinerary and just use tour companies for any individual experiences you want to try. And, of course, if it’s just skiing you’re interested in, that’s easy enough to organise on your own. The benefit of a guided trip was having one person look after our whole itinerary, hostel check-in, kit allocation, and transport. All we had to do was be in the right pick up location at the right time, and everything else was taken care of. In an area as vast and harsh as Lapland, that was quite the bonus. At the same time though, some more freedom over my plans wouldn’t have hurt.

Our itinerary

Booking with Timetravels, you got travel and accommodation sorted, and could add on as many experiences as you wanted. Some people did everything, some chose none, and (I assume) spent the week skiing or just exploring the area on their own time. Our itinerary wouldn’t suit everyone, between the long journey and short trip duration – I certainly wouldn’t do it in this way again. But, I’m really glad I did it: without an introduction to the area, I couldn’t have planned a better trip alone, and I was thankful for our guide’s knowledge and help. Here’s what our itinerary would have looked like if you did everything:

Travel day 1: Depart Linköping 18:45, start the journey north, via Stockholm for another pickup at 21:15. We got a Flixbus to Linköping, where we met the group bus.

Travel day 2: We crossed the border and stopped for a rest in Tornio at around 14:00, before arriving in Levi at 18:00. We were introduced to our guide, got a brief driven tour of the town, and checked into our accommodation.

Trip day 1: Arctic Ocean Tour – all day. An early 07:00 start and not arriving home until around 20:00.

Trip day 2: Mid morning – Husky safari. Evening – snowshoe hike

Trip day 3: Morning – Reindeer herding. Afternoon – cross country skiing

Trip day 4: Visit Santa’s village (included in basic package, as it was incorporated with the journey home)

Days 4/5: Travel home. Depart Santa’s village at 14:30, arrive in Linkoping 09:00 day 6

Trip recap

Travelling

Enough of the pre-amble – here’s what I got up to! On our first night, exhausted from the long and sleepless journey, we settled in and explored our new digs. Our accommodation, Lost in Levi, was exceptional; a corridor of self-catered apartments, with a well-stocked kitchen, and a sauna and drying cabinet in the bathroom! Ours had a double bedroom, a twin room, and a sofa bed in the open plan kitchen and living room. There was a cupboard of cleaning supplies, spare blankets and pillows, and a large TV. We were only a short walk from the town centre, with a supermarket directly opposite, and a small Thai restaurant just downstairs for those days where you’re too tired to go out.

We then headed into town to unwind. We ended up in Old Mates “British” pub, enjoying some beer and games, before heading to the frozen over lake for our first glimpse of the northern lights. I was not expecting to see them, keeping myself pesimistic to avoid disappointment! But lo and behold, one started blossoming directly above our heads, and they did not calm down until the early hours of the morning. Even so close to the town, they were quite bright. My highlight was disappearing down a dark path, lying in the snow, and watching one dance directly above our heads.

Day 1

The next day, after only a few hours sleep, we were on the bus by 7, bleary eyed but excited, for even more driving. We took a trip up to Lyngen fjord, in Norway, for some arctic swimming and a proper wood fired sauna. It was an absolute white-out, but the drive over snow capped mountains to get there was sublime. Cabins and cars almost disappeared under piles of snow. I’ve discovered a bit of a love for ice swimming – as much as I think is possible, considering it’s actually not that pleasant – so it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I swam in the ocean at the top of Norway. The wind was brutal, with hail as an added insult, but with the sauna to warm us up, and a warm bus waiting for us afterwards, I managed three or four dips into the water of a couple of minutes each. This was all located at a campsite, which you can find here.

On the way back, we stopped at Lapintyttö restaurant, which is attached to a series of guesthouses, for a buffet of homecooked Finnish food, where I had my first taste of reindeer meat, traditionally eaten with mashed potato, lingonberry jam, and pickled cucumber. But there was also soup, pasta, various vegetables, and a huge display of desserts. We ate and we ate until we could barely bring ourselves to bundle up and venture back into the storm.

On our various journeys, our guide Uuno treated us to his own “Radio Uuno” broadcast, featuring jokes, anecdotes, information about Finnish life and Sámi culture, and a selection of songs to break up the journey. These included joiks – traditional Sámi songs – right through to Finnish heavy metal. You can find a few of them embedded throughout this post! He really emphasised the importance of making memories, which is a mindset I personally resonate with. The aurora followed us home on the bus that evening, and we watched out of the window as he talked.

Later that night, we found one of the many fire pits in Levi, where they leave free firewood! So we toasted some marshmallows until we were far too cold to enjoy it anymore, and then – the best part – slid back down the bank to get home! We were incredibly lucky with the weather that week, between the mild temperatures, and the perfectly-timed solar wind. It wasn’t half as cold as I was expecting, but the wind was brutal most days, cutting into your face and hands at every opportunity.

Day 2

My next morning was relaxed – some people hit the slopes, some went on a husky safari, but I enjoyed climbing several hundred very slippery steps to a cafe on one of the slopes. It boasted a panoramic view, but I also wanted to go there because downstairs was the Samiland exhibition. It was located in the Levi Summit conference centre, so if you’re interested, do be sure to check it’s still there – I think they rotate various exhibitions. Tickets were eleven euros, which was more than I anticipated, but I’m glad I went for it anyway. It was incredibly informative, with information about the various communities, their practices and their reindeer. There were also some reindeer in the outdoor exhibition, if that persuades you!

That evening, the group tried their collective hands at showshoe hiking, which was all kinds of hilarity. The walk was only a few kilometres, but even with plenty of breaks, I was dripping with sweat. It was so much fun, even though I think we fell more than we walked. But Uuno was smart enough to get us to race a small section without the shoes on, to make it obvious how much they help. Later that evening, after refueling with some food, we made use of the sauna in our apartment, Finnish style, with some lagers! I’m not sure squeezing seven people in there was its intended use, but it certainly was cosy! We went to bed super happy and cosy, ready for an action packed next day.

Day 3

On day three, we headed straight to a nearby reindeer farm to have a go at “reindeer herding” – learning the correct way to capture a reindeer’s antlers (with a lasso-style rope, the name of which has completely escaped me) – before listening to a talk all about Sámi reindeer herding practices. This was particularly interesting, as reindeer herding has long been a source of income for Sámi communities, and in many places is legally reserved to be carried out by them. As the only indigenous people in the EU, there are all sorts of ongoing debates about Sámi rights, and for a while their languages and culture were completely outlawed, with children being sent to schools to assimilate them with Finnish culture. Now, they have much more protection, although battles for rights are still ongoing. When state borders separated Finland, Russia, Norway, and Sweden, for example, the Sámi could no longer follow with the normal seasonal movements of the reindeer like they had done for hundreds of years. Furthermore, various development on land, such as new farms being built, or windfarms, affect the land that reindeer can inhabit. It was a fascinating talk, and I’m glad I attended – “reindeer herding” sounded a bit too “touristy”, so I almost didn’t go for it.

Then, as a bonus, we got to feed said reindeer!

That afternoon was a much different activity which really got the blood pumping – cross country skiing. I’ll be honest – I discovered something of a talent! (Not really, but it was fun). Our guides were great instructors, and the location was perfect for beginners to give it a go. We learned that ski tracks are almost sacred to Finns, so be careful not to ruin them! There’s also a word for “track rage” in Finnish, which really goes to illustrate the cultural importance! That said, whilst it was great fun, there’s something of a knack to it, and I worked up quite a sweat. We also had quite sore legs the next day, in muscles I really wasn’t expecting.

So after such a long day, and as this was our last night in Levi, we headed home for a much needed shower and started to pack up our cases, before heading into town for some drinks and dinner. We ate in Kota bar, which served delicious and affordable food. We then ended up in Lift bar, which was a cool, grungy sort of place with great music and some games. I imagine in peak time it’s the perfect place for après-ski! We couldn’t find the energy to stay for too long though, so we soon headed out to fall into bed.

Day 4

On our final morning, we checked out at a very civilised 10am, congregated on the bus, and said out final goodbye to our guide Uuno. He had a final gift for us in the form of a fabric patch to commemorate our trip. From there, we headed to Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi, where you can find festive decoration, souvenir shops, cafes, and the big man himself! Santa is working every day of the year and you can send postcards with the Arctic Circle postage stamp, so this would be the perfect destination for children.

That said, it really wasn’t the most worthwhile stop on our trip! I could have left it out happily, but, I suppose it was on our way. I wouldn’t recommend adding it to your itinerary unless you’re passing, or, like I said, unless you’re bringing children.

From there, we continued the loooooong drive home. This one went much more smoothly than the outbound journey, but it was still farily horrific, to be honest! We were very lucky to have made some lovely new friends who let us hang around in their flat in between buses for a few hours, but we were all incredibly relieved to finally arrive home.

All in all, it was a terrific trip. To say we booked it only a couple of weeks in advance, and considering the cost, I thought it was very well organised and brilliant value for money. Time and budget dependent, I’d be very happy to plan myself another trip – independently this time – up north, perhaps to Abisko, for some summer hiking, but nothing will compare to the wonderland that is Lapland in winter! It’s both fed – and strengthened – a love for winter and snow, and I’ve decided I need some more active winter trips in my life!

Things to do in Levi

There’s a wealth of information out there about the various destinations in Lapland, so there’s no point in me reiterating those articles here. And, since I was in the hands of a guide for most of this trip, my knowledge of the town isn’t quite what I usually come away with! That said, I think I did a pretty good job of exploring in the short amount of time I spent there, so, without further ado, here are some things you can get up to in Levi, Finland.

Winter sports

Most famously, Levi is a ski resort, so if you’re the skiing or boarding type, it’s a great place to hit the slopes, perhaps with a change of scenery from your usual ski trips. Hill kit hire is (or was, when I was there) the cheapest in the town, although lift passes have to be bought from Zero Point.

Not the skiing type, or fancying a change of scenery? In Levi, you can test your skills at snowshoe hiking and cross country skiing, both of which are lots of fun but more challenging than they look.

Tourist experiences

Travelling to the arctil circle is a huge selling point for various trips and tour companies, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of this by trying out some unusual experiences! You could get a ride in a sled pulled by huskies, or visit a reindeer farm and learn about Sámi practices, both of which are fun and very informative.

Food and drink

It wouldn’t be a ski town without plenty of opportunities for the “après” part. That means that in Levi, you’ve got bars and restaurants galore to choose from. I enjoyed Old Mates for a relaxed drink, Lift for good music and games, and Kota for some delicious food. But it doesn’t stop there. You’ve also got tons of souvenir shops, tour shops, and even fast food including Burger King and Subway.

Also – various tour companies might have agreements which entitle you to discounts at some businesses – remember to ask!

Other experiences

There are various outdoor huts and fireplaces around Levi, and you’ll usually find free firewood nearby, so you can watch the northern lights next to a cracking bonfire. Our guide shared this “Suna Bar” with us, but we never got to check it out, so go at your own risk!

Ultimately, Lapland can be whatever you make of it. A cosy, relaxing getaway, to a quiet and isolated destination, or an action-packed trip filled with new experiences. Whichever suits you best, I would recommend taking some time to learn about the history and significance of the region first, but apart from that, travel in whichever style you want.

Would you ever visit the arctic circle, or is a chilly holiday not your stlye? Let me know in a comment, and feel free to ask any questions you may have!

Where to stay



Booking.com


Pin this post

Timetravels – the company I travelled with and the only one on this list I can vouch for as being absolutely incredible! For all the others, make sure to do your research

Routes North – a Scandinavia travel guide

Wild Nordic – Arctic expeditions in Levi and beyond

King Crab Safari from Levi – not quite the Arctic Ocean tour I did, but I wanted to include some kind of Norway experience in the list!

Nordic Visitor – Lapland tours

90 Degrees North – another tour company popular with students here in Gothenburg

Luleå Travel and Jokkmokk Guiderna – Swedish Lapland

Information about the Sámi people, their culture and their history

Sápmi – The Land of the Sámi

The Saami in Lapland

2 comments

Reflecting on my year abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden – On The Fly 21/08/2023 - 20:12

[…] February I was in Finnish Lapland for a magical few days of snow and the northern lights; in March, I found myself in Spain, Belgium […]

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Cosy fika spots: the 10 best cafes in Gothenburg - On The Fly 22/08/2023 - 08:26

[…] Winter Magic: My Lapland Experience with Timetravels […]

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