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Chasing Winter In Finland

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The best things to do in Finland during the winter!

Welcome to Finland’s “White Hell” 

How can something you can’t feel hurt this much? That was the question that ran through my mind as my frozen fingers tried to adjust the settings on my camera. After a few more seconds of fumbling I gave up, shoving them back into my pockets in a futile attempt to get the blood flowing to my numb fingers again. The sun was setting, and the entire world looked like it was on fire. The atmosphere around me sparkled with the brilliant golden hue of a billion little ice crystals reflecting the sun’s light. Normally I’d panic at this point, knowing that I was missing the shot. But not now, not in this place. This particular sunset would last all day. Or at least all three hours of it. 

Days are short in the arctic circle during January. The sun only makes a brief appearance, barely making it up above the horizon before retreating back to its winter slumber. The result is a perpetual sunset during those few hours of light – and sub-freezing temperatures. About -28C to be exact. To an outsider it can be hard to believe that people choose to live in these harsh conditions. And yet, Nordic countries are known to be some of the happiest on earth. Which got me thinking, perhaps they understand something the rest of us don’t. 

There are a number of theories behind the region’s somewhat counterintuitive happiness, but most attribute it to a combination of socialist politics, beautiful scenery, and an active interest in well-being. This particular combination of distinctly Nordic features also makes Finland one of the more eco-conscious cultures on the planet. Sustainability is built into the fabric of the north. 

As the sky turned an even more impossible shade of pink, and the glow around me expanded to envelope the entire sky, I felt a wave of clarity – the cold, the colors, the contentedness. It was all connected. I understood the desire to protect this beautiful place—this feeling—now, and well into the future. The thought made me happy. Perhaps the inhospitable conditions make the truth easier to see—in order to survive, we all must learn not just to work with each other, but for each other.


One of the testing tracks at the Nokian Tyres “White Hell.”

One of the testing tracks at the Nokian Tyres “White Hell.”

The Best Ways To Enjoy Finland In The Winter

Despite its obvious beauty, before Nokian Tyres reached out to me, I had never given a trip to Finland much thought as a travel destination. Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a cold weather fan. But their invitation to visit Finland was full of photographs with frozen landscapes so surreal it hardly looked real. On top of that, it contained something unusual – it promised a beautiful journey. 

Sweat It Out At A Finnish Sauna

Numbers don’t lie, and in this sparsely populated country of 5.4 million people, there are 3 million saunas and counting! That’s a lot of saunas, and a good indication of their importance in Finish culture. Used to cleanse the body and mind, Saunas are a way of life in Finland, and an integral part of the national identity. In fact, many Finns believe that you can’t truly understand the culture until you have experienced a traditional wood burning sauna.

If you’re in the capitol when temperatures drop into the negatives, and darkness envelopes most hours of the day, head to the sauna at Löyly. This modern architectural masterpiece is powered entirely by solar and wind power. When the sea freezes there’s even an avant (ice hole) you can plunge into to jump-start the nervous system!


One of the saunas at   Löyly Helsinki

One of the saunas at Löyly Helsinki


Yoga at Löyly Helsinki

Yoga at Löyly Helsinki

Take A Polar Bear Plunge At An Ice Pool

Finns believe that regular cold water swimming increases both life expectancy and overall quality of life—among a myriad of other health benefits. It also gives you a pretty nice endorphin high! The best way to try ice swimming is in conjunction with a sauna. The two go hand and hand, and rotating back and forth between the freezing cold water, and the warm sauna will leave you feeling like a new person! 


Polar plunge at a suana in Finland.

Polar plunge at a suana in Finland.

Visit A World Heritage Site

Suomenlinna fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site located a short ferry ride from the center of Helsinki. Over its history this important cultural treasure has served in the defense of Sweden, Russia and Finland. Today, the fortress and its museums, restaurants, and events make for a lovely day trip from Helsinki. Take the ferry, and enjoy views of the city the entire way!


Ferry to Suomenlinna in Finland during the winter.

Ferry to Suomenlinna in Finland during the winter.

Sleep Under The Northern Lights 

The “northern lights” are caused by collisions between fast-moving particles (electrons) from space and the oxygen and nitrogen gas in our atmosphere. There is no guarantee that you’ll get to see this spectacular display, but you can increase your chances by staying in one of the many accommodations in the Finnish Lapland offering glass ceiling rooms. Perhaps the most famous are the glass igloos at Kakslauttanen. But there are tons of other fantastic options, including the brand new Star Arctic Hotel – where I stayed. The best part is, even if the aurora doesn’t come out to play, you can enjoy the beautiful arctic sky from the comfort of your bed!


Watching for the northern lights from my cozy room at the Star Arctic Hotel in Finland.

Watching for the northern lights from my cozy room at the Star Arctic Hotel in Finland.


Star Arctic Hotel in Finland.

Star Arctic Hotel in Finland.

Get Up Close And Personal With A Real Life Reindeer 

I have a confession to make – up until a few years ago I actually didn’t realize that reindeer existed outside of Santa Claus lore. Not only are they real, but in Lapland there are more reindeer than people. They may not be the mythical flying creatures from my childhood, but an encounter with a real life reindeer is nothing short of magical. 


Walking a reindeer in Finish Lapland.

Walking a reindeer in Finish Lapland.

Learn About The Sami People 

Sami are the indigenous people of Lapland, and live throughout northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Their rich culture is intimately tied with reindeer herding, and the nomadic lifestyle that herding traditionally required. Although the Sami are no longer nomadic, reindeer still play an important role in the Sami’s day to day lives. The opportunity to learn more about their culture is one of the best parts of any reindeer encounter. If you’re lucky you might even get to here a “joik,” one of the oldest song traditions in Europe!


Enjoying tea around the fire with the Sami people.

Enjoying tea around the fire with the Sami people.

Go Dog Sledding 

The Finnish wilderness is an incredible place to escape civilization and truly get away from it all. But in the dead of winter, when there’s snow everywhere, it’s not all that easy to go anywhere! Unless you happen to have a bunch of dogs anxiously waiting to enthusiastically pull you through the snow on a sled. And that’s exactly what you get on a husky safari. That, and a really good time! 

Like any activity involving animals, it’s important to do your research beforehand, ask questions, and make sure the animals appear happy and healthy.


Dog sledding is a traditional part of Finnish culture.

Dog sledding is a traditional part of Finnish culture.


Wearing Back Country’s  Cirque Insulated Jacket ,  Sundial Tight , & The North Face  Shellista Boot .

Wearing Back Country’s Cirque Insulated Jacket, Sundial Tight, & The North Face Shellista Boot.

Packing For Warmth In The Arctic Circle 

It’s essential to pack appropriate gear for a winter trip to a destination with extreme weather. Being freezing cold is no fun, and if you’re not prepared it can put a major damper on your experience. Luckily, it’s not hard to protect yourself against even the gnarliest of conditions, as long as you pack a few key items. The best way to stay warm, is to dress in layers – a base layer worn against the skin, a middle insulating layer, and an outer layer. 

Base Layer – My favorite base layers are generally soft to the touch, form fitting, and made with wool (or a wool blend fabric). This top from Backcountry, and this one from Smartwool are my favorites.

Insulated Layer – For the middle insulated layer you want something that will keep you warm on its own, but can comfortably fit under your outer layer when the temperatures really start to dip. For Finland I brought my Patagonia Quilt Snap-T Pullover and Backcountry’s Cirque Insulated Jacket.

Outer Layer – For most cold weather trips I’d recommend bring two different outer layers. A heavy down parka like this one from Fjallraven was my go-to for most activities in Finland. But I also brought a hard shell jacket for more strenuous activities. Backcountry’s Pfeifferhorn Jacket is the shell I use for winter hikes, snowshoeing, and skiing. 

Fleece Lined Leggings – As long as my core is warm, my legs also stay pretty warm. Because my legs generally don’t get too cold, I like to forgo bulky snow pants for most cold weather travel. Instead, I wear fleece lined leggings. Lately I’ve been using these pants from Backcountry as well as The North Face Winter Warm Tight. Both are great on their own, but could easily fit under heavier pants if needed. 

Gloves – My hands and feet get cold very easily. To combat this, I like to bring a thinner pair of gloves, and layer them with a heavier set of mittens. When that’s still not enough, I stuff a hand warmer between the two layers to help out! 

Warm Socks – My hands and feet are the first things to get cold, so good warm socks are an absolute must. I prefer wool because of it’s inherent breathability and moisture wicking properties. This pair is super cozy! 

Boots – It’s also really important to have a solid pair of insulated snow boots that will keep your feet warm and dry. I’ve owned these classic snow boots from Sorel for years and really like them. But for travel I prefer these boots from The North Face because they’re lighter, and less bulky to pack – but still super warm (and cute)! 

Beanie – A warm beanie is a must! In extreme cold-weather conditions you lose a lot of body heat through your head. This can trigger blood vessel constriction throughout the body, making your hands and feet feel cold even if you’re wearing gloves and warm socks and shoes.

I hope this list will help you stay warm and comfy if you ever have the opportunity to visit Finland! It’s a truly beautiful journey that I wish everyone could experience at least once in their life. Special thanks to Nokian Tyres for organizing a trip that was not only beautiful, but also taught me a thing or two about nordic culture, sustainability, and happiness!

Photos created in collaboration with the one and only Quin Schrock.

Please note that some of the links on my website may be affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. As always, I would never recommend anything I wouldn’t use myself, and all ideas and opinions expressed are entirely my own. Thank you for your support! – jess

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  1. Kim says:

    Spectacular content and photos. I especially like the one that is “looking through the snowy keyhole” so magical.

  2. David says:

    OMG this is the best blog I have read for a long time! Even being in the warm bed under a thick blanket I could still feel those -28C and I need one more blanket now

    Incredible! Photos are fantastic too!

    Thank you Jess!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks David! Really appreciate the feedback, and for taking the time to read it! Finland was such an amazing trip. I’ve honestly never been anywhere quite like it.

  3. Mark Dales says:

    What a beautiful and unique place. I hope to spend some time there, and the rest of the Scandinavian countries in the future. A trip in the summer would undoubtedly be amazing as well. Fantastic settings for the photos, really gave a feel for things. Looking forward to your next blog!

  4. Kirtan P. says:

    What a cool post, pun intended! Always think of Norway when I think of Scandinavia, never knew Finland had similar beauty! Learned so many new things, especially the values of sustainable safety and ec0-friendliness. Thanks for sharing, Jess!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Haha it was cool! Thanks Kirtan. I also always used to think of Norway! I think Norway is more mountainous, so there are a lot more photos of it on Instagram. I would still love to go there someday. But Finland was such a beautiful and crazy winter experience. Hope you are doing well!

  5. Tony says:

    Great Blog! It made me feel as if I was there.

  6. Tom Berek says:

    Not only are you a fantastic photographer, You were also in incredible writer. So vivid, it was like I was there!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much Tom! Seriously means a lot. The blog is such a great outlet to share more than just the photos – and I really enjoy that aspect of it. Have a great day!

  7. Val says:

    where did you get that cream colored pompon knit hat?

  8. Oreste says:

    Amazing as always!

  9. Sarah Jane says:

    I don’t know that I ever would have thought to travel to Finland..thank you for your beautiful “post and prose”. Finland is now officially on the bucket list. Happy travels!!

  10. Mats says:

    Hi 🙂
    Thank you for the nice article and photos.
    You should visit Norway and check out Sunnmøre and Lofoten. Very nice places for skiing, hiking and surfing.
    Regards,
    Mats

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Mats! Thank you for checking out my Finland blog. Norway is definitely on my bucket list, and I would love to visit someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

  11. Hamza says:

    Great Blog, perfect layout, beautifully and honestly explained everything Finland has to offer, enjoyed reading every bits of information. 🙂

  12. Aryan Buttoswki says:

    Finland is quite like an Ideal country.
    Best Education System
    Cleanest Country
    Beautiful Places
    and so on….
    I am so Jealous.

  13. peter says:

    Photos are stunning Jess – thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. Karim says:

    Always be happy jess

  15. Monika says:

    My husband and I were thinking of going to Finland this January but when we heard there is about 3 hrs of daylight we were deterred would you recommend going in January or waiting until March?

    • Hi Monika! I think it depends a lot on what you are hoping to do/see while you are there. A lot of people go to Lapland in January to see the Northern Lights, because that is the darkest time of year. If the Northern Lights are not a priority for you then March might be a better fit.

      • Emma says:

        You can see northern lights pretty much to the end of April (or whenever before the summer comes and the sun doesn’t set at all). March is a beautiful time to be in Finland, more sunlight during the day (mid March sun rises around 7am and sets 6pm) and it is less crowded than during December and January! I’m from Finnish Lapland and I think February/beginning of March would be the best time to come, there is a ton of snow and the darkness won’t tire you down 🙂

      • Monika says:

        The Northern lights are the main priority but are there other things to do in the dark there or did u find yourself in wishing you had more daylight for the activities?

  16. Evelyn Benedicta says:

    Hi Jess, first of all, i love the photos that you shared! It’s stunning as always!

    I will visit Finland this December. I live in Indonesia, so the winter and freezing temperatures in Finland is totally new for me.

    If you don’t mind, i have several questions 🙂
    Would you recommend if i need any heat pack/heat warmer to bring to Finland? I don’t know if i can faced the temperature there haha.
    How do you keep your skin moist? Because the cold temperature can make your skin dry and cracking. Any recommendation for this?
    And last, could you share how to take a picture in those temperature?

    Many thanks!

    • Thanks Evelyn!

      I took some heat packs with me, and kept them in my jacket pocket. It was really nice to be able to keep my hands warm that way. For keeping your skin moisturized I would just suggest bringing some lotion and applying it in the morning and at night. I’d also bring chapstick.
      As far as photography goes, the biggest issue is that batteries tend to die really fast in the cold air. So just make sure you bring extra batteries, and when you’re not using your camera you can keep your battery in your pocket with your heat packets. Of course that’s only if it’s really really cold out. Have a great trip!

  17. Marcia lopes says:

    Hi, what turism agency you booked all the tours? (Raindeer, sauna…) all one are in the same city? Tks

    • Hi Marcia. I did not use an agency to book the tours in this blog post. I visited Finland on a job, and all the activities were organized for me. You can do most of the activities in this blog in the Finnish Laplands, which is up north.

Learn More >

Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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