8 Things You Didn’t Know About Northern Lapland

Well, I’m back from the cold white Arctic Circle! It was an amazing, weird and very exhausting week, and I’ve got some great stories to tell.

Aside from a bit of Wikipedia-ing, I knew basically nothing about Lapland when I arrived in Finland. I knew even less about far northern Lapland and the Inari region where I spent most of last week. So I thought I’d kick off the next couple weeks of posts about Finland by illuminating a few surprising facts about the very tip-top of Finland:

It’s Not Always (That) Cold

But I mean it’s still pretty cold.

I’m starting to think that you all wanted me to freeze, because the first question anyone has asked me about the trip is “how cold was it? The surprising/ semi-disappointing answer is: not really all that cold. The week I spent in Inari was freakishly warm for February, with temperatures hovering around 28F (-2C). I think the coldest it may have gotten was around 15 degrees.

Don’t get me wrong, it certainly CAN get cold up there. The week before I arrived it was -13F (-25C). The locals were quick to tell me proud tales of -22, -40 and even the odd year with -60 degree weather, when buses needed to stay constantly on and moving less their engines freeze.

In the summer time temperatures rise, sometimes as high as 85 (30) degrees! Basically, Laplanders need to be ready for anything.

The Trees are Really Old

Summer in lapland if a fleeting thing- the snow melts here in May and starts falling again in October, which means that the growing season is rather abbreviated. The trees here make up for their lack of stature it longevity: many of the snowy pine trees in the region are two or three hundred years old! The oldest known pine tree in Inari is 529 years old.

They Have Berries You’ve Never Even Heard Of

Crowberry Pie- yumm

Aside from trees, berries are what grow best in this harsh land of little light. There are your typically blueberries, raspberries and cranberries, then there are some really obscure berries like lingonberries, cloudberries and crowberries.

They are all delicious. And, thanks to Finland’s “Everyman’s Right” you are allowed to pick any and all berries, wherever you find them!

Santa Lives Here (Actually a Couple of Em)

Finland has laid claim as the home of Santa Claus (I know we in the US always say Santa lives at the North Pole, but arctic circle is close enough I guess?). They’ve got the reindeer and the Christmas trees so why not right?

You can visit Santa at home in Rovaniemi, but I actually visited a second, competing Santa Claus in Saariselka. I was able to meet his reindeer, chat with the elves and actually step inside Santa’s home (very cozy, natch). Which Santa is real? Well my guy seemed pretty legit…

The Indigenous People are Called Sami

Sami Handiwork

My mother was so excited that I was going to Lapland to meet the Lapps, which she had learned about in elementary school. Well, they aren’t called Lapps anymore, the correct term is the Sami people.

The Sami have inhabited the Arctic for at least 5000 years and can be found in Norway, Sweden, Finland and in Russia. A large amount of Finland’s Sami population lives in Inari, including the unique cultural group of the Inari Sami.

Today the Sami are mostly integrated with society and no longer live nomadically. They still maintain their unique language and culture, and even have their own parliament and radio stations. In Inari all the street signs are written in both Finnish and Sami.

It’s One of the Last Places You Can (Successfully) Pan For Gold

Can you spot the gold I found?

When I was a kid I attempted to pan for gold out in California and succeeded only in getting my shoes wet. Finland is the last country in Europe where there are actual professional gold prospectors (not miners) still working.

Not only is Inari home to the world’s only international gold panning museum you can attend the Gold Panning Finnish Open in July. Even better, they museum brings the sand indoors so you can practice panning without freezing your fingers off. I actualy found a fair bit!

Northern Lights Aren’t a Sure Thing

Northern lights viewing igloo

It’s on everybody’s mind, a major focus of winter tourism in the area, “Have you seen the Northern Lights yet?”

Inari is in the perfect position for the aurora borealis, and the locals tell me they seem them often. February is a good month for them too. However, even in the dead of winter, when the nights are long, there is no guarantee. You need clear skies, no clouds and even then you have to hit the electromagnetic jackpot just right.

Well you know me and the weather. Clouds all four nights I was in Lapland, which meant no hopes of seeing the magnificent light displays. I was oddly not as disappointed as I thought I would be. I still got to do a lot of really awesome stuff (more on this to come), and now I just have a good excuse to come back!

I visited Inari as a guest of Visit Finland and Northern Lapland Tourism.

28 Responses to 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Northern Lapland

  1. Amanda February 21, 2013 at 11:51 AM #

    Bummer about missing the Northern Lights, but I’m glad you got to do some other awesome stuff!

    So cool about all the berries – what did the cloudberries taste like??

    • Steph February 21, 2013 at 12:11 PM #

      like tart, citrusy raspberries sort of. They are chock full of Vitamin C, more than oranges. They even have cloudberry icecream here.

      • SG February 21, 2013 at 7:22 PM #

        Can you get cloudberries anywhere else in the world?

        • Steph February 22, 2013 at 3:08 AM #

          Someone told me they might exist in Northern Canada but I’m not sure….

  2. Another Travel Blog February 21, 2013 at 1:30 PM #

    I think this place ice cool. where feel dangerous weather for all time.

  3. Sherry Ott February 21, 2013 at 2:01 PM #

    I love those trees filled with snow!

    • Steph February 21, 2013 at 3:15 PM #

      I swear: I took 1000 photos in Finland and 700 of them are of the trees/

      • A Finn November 16, 2013 at 5:41 AM #

        About 70% of Finland is forest, so that’s a representative sample.

  4. Colleen Brynn February 21, 2013 at 2:56 PM #

    Looks like you had a nice time up there… love the shot with Santa.
    I loved Finland when I was there in June/July of 2005, and I can totally relate to those cold cold temperatures being from Winnipeg. We love to brag about surviving our sometimes -55C winters!

    • Steph February 21, 2013 at 3:15 PM #

      Pretty sure that’s a made up number. I can not conceive of it.

  5. Allison February 21, 2013 at 7:09 PM #

    Looking forward to these updates – mini-trips down memory lane for me. I miss Cloudberries and lingonberries (jams made out of them can sometimes be found at scandinavian shops), never got to try crowberries though.
    And the only time I got to see the Northern Lights, after three trips to Finland, was flying into Bradley airport (Hartford CT) around Spring break!
    Glad the weather was “warm” for you!

  6. Audrey | That Backpacker February 21, 2013 at 9:30 PM #

    Mmm, that berry pie looks good. I’d be willing to try all the varieties of berry pie solely for documenting purposes… 😉

  7. cosmoHallitan February 21, 2013 at 10:42 PM #

    I’m moving to Latvia next year and can’t wait to explore this fascinating part of the world (and eat lots of strange berry pies!)

  8. Dalene February 22, 2013 at 2:31 AM #

    The varieties of the berries really surprised us too. I would have thought that nothing surprising would grow on the tundra. 🙂

  9. Erica February 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM #

    That pie looks delicious! I didn’t know you don’t have lingonberries in the US. Here in Sweden it’s very common with lingonberry jam to mashed potatoes and meatballs.

    • Steph February 23, 2013 at 1:56 AM #

      The only place you can get lingonberries in the US is at IKEA!

  10. Julika of Sateless Suitcase February 22, 2013 at 1:22 PM #

    I can’t even decide what I like best about your Lapland experience – meeting Santa, seeing reindeer, exploring Narnia-woods, or the delicious looking cake!? Lapland sounds like such a magical place!

  11. Alouise February 22, 2013 at 3:50 PM #

    I’ll be honest I didn’t really know anything about Lapland. Looks like a fascinating place.

  12. Stephen February 23, 2013 at 2:37 AM #

    I know there are some really different berries in Finland! I like cloud berries…

  13. Megan February 23, 2013 at 3:01 AM #

    i definitely agree that the temperatures are not that cold if you really put it into perspective. living in oslo, the temperatures here are often colder than up in lapland! and in reality, if you have the right parka and shoes…the -25C temperatures we get in the winter here arent really that bad. i think what sets lapland apart is the beauty and remoteness of the place. it is stunning!

    i also love some arctic berries… especially cloudberries 🙂

    i seriously had no idea you could pan for gold in finland. time to schedule myself a trip that way!

  14. Carolyn February 23, 2013 at 10:54 PM #

    Great photos! I’m currently living in the Northwest Territories, Canada and the picture of snow-covered trees looks like it could have been taken down the road from my house! Seeing the aurora is very hit and miss here too and this year hasn’t really been great yet. After living in Canada’s north, I’d love to head to Europe’s north because it looks fascinating!

  15. Sara February 24, 2013 at 7:30 AM #

    One of the coolest foreign Christmas films I’ve seen was a Finnish one called Rare Exports, which was a Santa story…but with a definite twist!

    I’d love to make it all the way up north, if just to see how cold -15 is! 🙂

  16. Tom @ Waegook Tom February 25, 2013 at 9:42 AM #

    Like many others commenting here, I’m enraptured by the sound of cloudberries…pick a few barrels and FedEx them over to England for me? I’ll like…totally pay you back. You accept Tweets as a form of payment, right?

  17. Gayla February 28, 2013 at 2:52 PM #

    Lapland looks like such magical place. I would love to visit just to try that Crowberry Pie! Well, I would want to meet the locals and learn more about the Sami culture, too 🙂
    Have you seen the British show called ‘Lapland’? Serious, but funny plot. The characters have interesting experiences with Santa, the reindeer (even at mealtime) and the northern lights. Beautiful scenery, too.

  18. Jenna March 1, 2013 at 5:42 PM #

    Lovely photos! I know nothing about Finland or this area, so thank you for the glimpse of what it’s like there and what makes it special. A great reminder of how much there is to see in this world!

  19. Jennifer March 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM #

    I loved all the berries too! Did you know they also make wine from the Finnish berries?

  20. Laarikka May 30, 2014 at 1:26 PM #

    Im from Finland. I was first time in real lappland last summer,and I also was very happy about it. What I really suggest of you visitors of Lappland is; Go to the forest! walk there and if
    possible, sleep there in the middle of the wilderness. That´s something you will never forget.
    If you just drive there with car or just go to placeses where all tourists are,you do not see real lappland( in my opinion.)
    But if you go to the forest, make sure you dont get lost!

  21. louis November 22, 2015 at 7:57 AM #

    interesting facts but expected more

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