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There are two types of people: those who embrace the winter months by traveling to even more dramatic winter locations, and those who really need to embrace the seasonal nature of the bathing suit. (Just kidding! We love you, beach bunnies!) For those ready to take the coldest season up a notch, consider visiting Finnish Lapland. Part of the Arctic Circle, the area is a goldmine for winter sports enthusiasts, Buddy the Elf impersonators, and anyone who appreciates a surreal landscape. (Oh yes…and there will be snow.) Read on to learn how to chill, Nordic style.

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Visit Santa’s helpers

Elf Village

Elf Village | Photo: Laura Studarus

It’s well known that Santa’s real home is in Rovaniemi, Lapland. So, if you want to hand-deliver your wish list, be sure to start there. But it’s also well known that while the big-guy gets all the credit, it’s really the elves that do all the work. Wanna see where they stay while Santa plays? Pay a visit to Elves Village, located 8 kilometers outside of Levi. There, it’s Christmas all-year around, and the elves will lead you on a series of seasonal activities, including decorating and cookie baking. Everything from caroling to storytelling is taken incredibly seriously here (read: the elves never break character), so feel free to ask them all your burning Christmas questions.


Escape the cold in a sauna

People in Finland sauna like it’s a sport. With good reason, not is it the only Finnish word to make it into the English language, it’s one of the most common things in the country period, with an estimated two million saunas servicing five million Finns. It’s traditional to go in (gender segregated) saunas in nothing but the skin the good lord gave you—so if you’re not quite ready to show the Nordics your full Monty, consider an evening at Levi Foxfires, a traditional Finnish spa available for private rental. Soak in a barrel turned hot tub, steam it out in a sauna and beat yourself with birch branches. (More invigorating than weird.) If you don’t catch the northern lights (they’re finicky!) comfort yourself with a round of fireside snacks and mulled wine.


Go dog sledding

Sled dogs

Sled dogs | Photo: Laura Studarus

You may think you love your job, life and friends—but you have not seen true passion until you’ve experienced a sled dog doing what it was born to do. These lean Tamaskans (which look like a cross between a husky and wolf) run like the wind, and wag their tails like they’re expecting a treat. (Don’t worry, they’re taken care of like heroes.) Visit your newfound buddies at the Levi Husky Park, where in addition to the ride of a lifetime, you can also get a kiss from a reindeer, and meet the elusive Arctic fox.

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Get to know reindeer

Lapland reindeer

Lapland reindeer | Photo: Laura Studarus

A word on reindeer in Lapland—there’s a lot of them. (Why do you think Santa chose them to pull his sleigh?) They’re all owned, and roam free—so there’s rarely a roadside forest where you won’t see them hanging out. (Fun fact: It’s rude to ask a rancher how many reindeer they have. The cagey answer you’ll get is, “My herd is on both sides of the forest.”)  But while reindeer are plentiful, they’re also fairly shy. Which means if you want to get that Instagram opp, you’ll need professional help. At the Aurora Village, a trained reindeer wrangler will assist you with a basket full of lichen and a lot of patience. ‘Cause when it comes to meeting Rudolph, pics or it didn’t happen.


Eat a lifetime’s supply of vitamin C

So many berries | Photo: Laura Studarus

A note on Lapland’s food: it’s very berry heavy. The lingonberry, a tiny red tart berry that’s sweeter than the average cranberry, is hearty enough to sustain some of the region’s coldest temperatures. Which means from soup to dessert, you’re likely to find this low sugar, high-in-vitamins super fruit everywhere. Other local staples you’re likely to encounter include barley flatbread, almond-infused potatoes, fish and reindeer (which reportedly is lean and tangy). Eat up—that super-heavy snowsuit you’re wearing won’t lug itself around.


Hug a tree

The Hugging Forest

The Hugging Forest

Need a moment of zen? Try hugging a tree. The Halipuu, or “Hugging Trees,” located 10 kilometers north of Levi, is a protected forest where fans of foliage around the world can adopt a tree. In-person visitors are welcomed by a family, and are offered a nap in their cocooning hammocks (a Finnish childhood staple), a fireside coffee made by the on-site “Campfire Barista,” and of course, plenty of chances to hug a tree or ten. Stressed out? There’s a special tree where written worries are taken and burned—making Halipuu a one-stop shop for all your good vibes.


Sleep in an igloo

Aurora Village

Aurora Village | Photo: Laura Studarus

With all due respect to Santa, the real star of Lapland is the Northern Lights, which are tear-inducingly beautiful, as well as incredibly finicky. Your best bet for catching them is to stay several nights, and your best bet for all-hours viewing is a glass igloo. The huts at Aurora Village are heated, and contain real walls, so you won’t have to worry about performing a Scandinavian-striptease. During the short winter days, you can also busy yourself with a slate of other outdoor activities, including snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and sauna. Finish your Finnish experience by jumping into their ice cut wading pool. Don’t worry—shrieking in shock is the same in every language.

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Laura Studarus

Laura Studarus

Laura is a writer/vagabond with bylines in Marie Claire, Vice, Bandcamp and Lenny Letter. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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