6 Northern Light Adventures in the Land of a Thousand Lakes: Finland

Ignacio Luque
Ignacio Luque

For the ones who are unfamiliar with this country, Finland is a sauna, cold weather and vodka; but Finland is also nature, virgin territories, extensive taiga forests and wildlife. In fact, Finland is the country of Europe with the most wooded area, almost 65% of the total of its area is covered in green.

An interesting fact is that every citizen of Finland has the right to walk on any surface of forest that he wishes. This shows that the forest is an important part of the life of its inhabitants.

Paisaje nevado en Finlandia

Summer is the season of the speed of light, beautiful but short. Although the absence of ice and snow makes life easier, winter transforms the country and everything seems still, although only in appearance.

In the country of a thousand lakes, the cold season and the short days squander magic, enigma and harshness in equal parts and despite this, winter is still the greatest season. When the cold weather imposes, nature acquires a beauty that leaves visitors speechless.

Nattule offers you a unique tour to discover the special characteristics of the Finnish winter:

1. Hunting for the Northern Lights

For a night skies photographer, the Northern Lights is the jackpot.

This spectacle of nature can only be seen in a few places on this planet, and always under exceptional conditions; those who have seen it all say that it is a unique life experience. Therefore, there are more and more experts who give themselves to an authentic “search and rescue” of the dancing lights, and one of the best places to do it is Finland.

The magic of the Northern Lights

The key is to go north. In Lapland, the northernmost region of the Nordic countries, the Northern Lights occur every two nights between November and March, but only when the sky is clear. To avoid unnecessary out in the open nights, you can register on the Meteorological Institute of Finland website and receive warnings of when the weather conditions are more favorable to see the Northern Lights.

Once you know the right moment, you only have to decide the place. The Finnish town of Utsjoki is where you can see the most Northern Lights, as it is the one located the furthest up north, right on the border of Norway. It is only possible to get there by car or bus, which you can take from Ivalo, the largest city in these latitudes.

View over Utsjoki © Milja Laakso

Another good watching point is the Kaunispää hill, near Saariselkä, a small town that despite its size, is a famous tourist destination, since it is right outside the Urho Kekkonen National Park, where you can practice dog sledding.

Despite the number of legends surrounding this phenomenon, the origin of the Northern Lights is nothing mystical. They are produced simply by the collision of solar particles against the Earth’s magnetic field. Beauty in this case, as in so many others, is in the eye of the beholder, or in the camera, if you want to cherish this moment forever.

In any case, bundle up and be patient, because night hunting for the Northern Lights, above all, is cold.

Enjoying the show

2. Wildlife Photography

If the winter in Finland is wild, its fauna could not be less than that. Among the animals that inhabit this Nordic country, the ones that stand out are the reindeer, moose, brown bears, wolves, eurasian lynx and arctic foxes, among many others.

All these species find shelter in the more than 30 National Parks distributed throughout the country, and one of the best memories you can bring home with you is the picture of some of them, although it is not an easy task.

Arctic fox

To help you capture them with your camera, photographic safaris are organized in the eastern regions of the country in search of the brown bear, wolf and eurasian lynx, species that are seen almost exclusively in these areas.

Close to the border of Russia, we find Kuhmo, the departure point for many of these expeditions. Most of the population of the area is concentrated around the city, the rest of the region remains virtually wild, with more than 600 lakes and numerous forests.

A wolf in the forests of Finland

Being the closest city to the Hiidenportti National Park, it brings together a number of lovers of nature photography and you can certainly find guides to accompany you on your outings, as it is not convenient to do them alone.

In addition to its impressive fauna, this National Park is famous for hosting the Hiidenportti canyon, the most important natural attraction in the region.

Hiidernportti National Park © Marisa Metsälä

Despite its remote location, Kuhmo is relatively close to Kajaani where you can arrive by plane. From there, you can take a bus to get to your destination.

3. Sauna Session and Icy Water Baths

Oddly enough, bathing in ice is one of the preferred activities of the Finnish during winter.

It probably would not be your first choice but if you are offered to do so, do not dismiss it immediately. After the initial shock, you will discover that bathing in icy water has some benefits, such as the immediate recharge of energy, which is why many Finnish people begin the day this way.

It is ideal to combine this bath right after using the sauna. In Finland, the sauna is practically a national symbol; in fact, there are more or less one sauna for every three inhabitants.

A typical Finnish sauna

Kiilopaa’s sauna can be a good choice. Kiilopaa is located next to the Urho Kekkonen National Park. Being such a small and secluded place, it has very little light pollution, so you will have the perfect evening, if you also get to see some Northern Lights. The sauna does not open every day, so it is important to check the schedule in advance.

The ritual is always the same. You start by tapping yourself with some birch branches, which they say stimulates blood circulation and provides a pleasant aroma, and then you get into the sauna. The cold will go away quickly: the temperature inside the sauna is around 80°F.

Then comes the hard part. When leaving the sauna, which is usually located on the edge of a lake, you must quickly get into the the hole drilled in the ice. You may notice that you lose sensation in your legs but as soon as you leave, the circulation will start to activate and you will feel more alive than ever. However, it is very important to never dip your head in the water.

Ice hole © Lassi Matero

To get to Kiilopaa, you can take a plane to Ivalo, and from there, take the same bus that goes to Saariselka.

4. Cross-Country Ski Paradise

In Finland, skiing and more specifically, cross-country skiing, is considered the national sport. It is deeply rooted in the culture, due to the flat relief of the country and the long snowy seasons. It has been used as a means of transportation to travel the forests for millenniums. In fact, to this day, there are communities that still practice it daily to get around. From an early age, without even having finished learning how to walk, Finnish children begin to practice cross-country skiing.

Children skiing in Finland

Putting on your skis and crossing the white natural landscapes with no hurry in the world, should be one of your goals if you decide to visit the north of the country. There is no better way to experience the peace and tranquility of the nature in winter in the Sami region.

Another of the peculiarities of skiing in this Nordic country is the possibility to visit the innumerable islets of its coast, since during the winter, most of the coast of Finland remains frozen and it is quite easy to get to one of them. If you manage to reach one of these islets, a pleasant feeling of privilege will invade you.

Cross-country skiing

One of the most emblematic places to practice this sport is the Lemmenjoki National Park, located in the north of Finland, in the heart of Lapland and very close to the Norwegian border. In the triangle formed by the villages of Inari, Kittila and Enontekio we find this National Park, the largest one in Finland with almost 3,000 square kilometers.

With a little luck, along your journey you will see some moose in the most wooded areas. You can even see traces of wolverines, a relative of the weasel, except much more robust and patrols tirelessly in search of food.

A wolverine during winter

5. Winter Birding

Although birdwatchers often prefer spring or summer to organize their outings, the winter in Finland can give you the opportunity to photograph some birds in a spectacular setting. Because of its location on the edge of the extensive Siberian taiga, many species of birds can be found there that can not be seen in other parts of Europe.

One of the most characteristic birds are the owls. Throughout the year, up to ten species can be found in Finland. Although most are seen between March and April, in winter you can see the great grey owl, the northern hawk-owl and the snowy owl. The last one is the rarest of Finland, and during this season you can find it on the west coast, for example in the region of Oulu.

Snowy owl

In the north of Oulu, you can see the grey-headed chickadee or the siberian jay, species that can be seen close to human settlements in search of food. In the south, it is easier to see the grey-headed woodpecker and the white-backed woodpecker.

But probably the most popular area to watch birds in Finland is Kuusamo. Nearby is the Oulanka National Park, where you can see the two most emblematic species of raptors in the country, such as the golden eagle and the white-tailed eagle. Capercaillie, black grouse, hazel grouse, siberian jays, grey-headed chickadee and black woodpecker are among other species that you can capture with your lens here.

White-tailed eagle

This is one of the most visited National Parks in Finland, mainly because of the 80-kilometer trail that runs through it, known as the Ring of the Bear. If you have three or four days to walk, you will walk along cliffs, gorges and hanging bridges.

The easiest way to get to Kuusamo is by plane, since the city has its own airport, where daily flights arrive from Helsinki. From Kuusamo, you can reach the National Park by car.

Oulanka National Park

6. Skating and Trekking in Saimaa Lake

In the south of the country, in the Savonia region we find Lake Saimaa, the largest of the country’s nearly 190,000 lakes, and Finland’s most precious jewel of nature. This majestic inland sea surrounded by extensive coniferous forests is an area that exudes nature from every edge.

During the summer, this immense lake invites to be explored on foot or in kayak or even to swim in its calm and cold waters. This labyrinth of islets, forests and water is also home to species of freshwater seal endemic of this area of ​​Finland, called the ringed seal of Saimaa. It is one of the strangest seals on the planet and that can easily be seen.

However, during winter everything changes: Finland is a country of contrasts. With the arrival of the intense cold, ice wins the game and guided skating routes on the frozen waters of the lake can be done.

Skating on ice

From the villages of Onari or Rantasalmi you can also take routes in the National Park of Linnansaari. There are routes for all the different tastes and levels of exigency, since you will find established routes of more than 30 kilometers long. You should not forget to carry in your backpack, some hot beverages and something to eat. Being hydrated is crucial in these latitudes.

To regain strength at the end of the day, you can have a hot chocolate in one of the cafes of the beautiful and historic town of Savonlinna, a watchtower over this part of the lake.

Linnansaari National Park

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The queen of England does not welcome visitors in tracksuit for the same reason that Finland does not welcome the traveler with an anticyclone: ​​she knows how to behave. If winter is the most elegant of seasons it is because Finland of its governess. In the country of snow, everything is so in order that even the storm seems to have studied protocol.

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