Lapland (or Sápmi) is a vast and sparsely populated area that stretches across the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia. It is home to the Sami people.
Many Sami people continue to practice reindeer herding, while other have adopted a more settled lifestyle or work in other areas of agriculture. Fishing, farming, hunting, and herding are traditional occupations for many Sami people. In many Sami communities the reindeer is closely connected with the culture, as it has been for hundreds of years. There are a growing number of ecotourism ventures managed by the Sami people, which help to preserve Sami culture, crafts, and traditions.
In Lapland (Sápmi ) visitors can stay the night with a Sami family, perhaps in a lavvu hut (typical temporary dwelling of the Sami people) and they can appreciate the vast undeveloped wilderness of the area. Winter sports such as ice fishing, ice diving, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and trekking are just some of the popular activities that can be done in the region.
The majority of the region sits north of the Arctic Circle. It includes a few large cities and many fjords, mountains, and glaciers. There are many national parks in the region with ample opportunities for hiking as well as other outdoor activities in both winter and summer.
Mostly Norwegians, Swedes, Finnish, and Russian people inhabit the area, as well as the native Sami people who have lived in the region for centuries.
Sami people have a close relationship with the land, living off of it as much as they can. Traditional Sami food includes what can be gathered from the land and in nature such as berries, fish, game, and reindeer. Berries grow wild across Lapland and include the cloudberry, crowberry, lingonberry, and bilberry.
Though a number of ethnic groups inhabit Lapland, across these cultures the cuisine is usually centered on fresh local ingredients, meats, and locally produced dairy products. There are plenty of restaurants and dining establishments in the main towns of the region.
Finland – Euro
Sweden – Swedish krona
Norway – Norwegian krone
Since Lapland is very large and extends across the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, several languages are spoken. These include Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Sami, and regional dialects.
Some of the Sami dialects spoken include Northern Sami, Southern Sami, Lule Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami.
Many people also speak English, particularly in areas where tourists visit.
When to Go
When to go depends on what seasonal activities the traveler wants to experience. The most popular time for hiking in Lapland is the ‘Ruska’ period or ‘autumn leaf color’ in the fall, when for about two weeks the landscape turns incredible hues of green, amber, red and gold.
Ideal timing for viewing the famous Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) is from August to October and from February to April. There are many local organizations that can arrange viewing excursions or make suggestions for where the lights can be best viewed.
In June and July one can experience the ‘midnight sun,’ particularly spectacular when viewed from a mountaintop. During this time of year the weather is somewhat milder than during the colder months, and arrangements for river cruises and hiking can be arranged.
December to March is the most popular time to visit Lapland, and is an ideal time to enjoy many winter activities the region is known for.
Bring many layers, including warm under layers, as well as a good waterproof and windproof jacket. Gloves, mittens, hats and wool socks are recommended. Depending on where you go and what season it is, different dress will be required. During the winter travelers need to be equipped for cold or very cold temperatures and unpredictable weather. In the summer the weather is generally milder, though this depends largely on where you are.
The traditional clothing of the Sami people, which is worn both for special celebrations and for daily activities, is called the gákti. The dress varies from region to region.
It is possible to reach Lapland by plane, train, bus, or car. By air, visitors can fly into a major airport in Sweden, Finland or Norway and from there take a short flight north into one of several smaller airports in Lapland. Airports in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Oslo all offer regular connections to Lapland.
There are several train routes from Sweden and southern Finland into Lapland. It is also possible to travel by train from Norway through Sweden and on to Swedish Lapland.
There is also a ship that travels from Bergen to Kirkenes (Norwegian Lapland).
Getting around in Lapland can be somewhat of a challenge due to the great distances, limited roads, and extreme weather. There are some buses and trains that travel in the region, and it is possible to fly from one destination to another within Lapland, though generally this is only possible within a country.
In some areas there are many huts and tents scattered around the National Parks and wilderness areas where hikers can stop for a rest, escape a blizzard, or even stay overnight.
Many parts of Lapland are uninhabited or very sparsely populated. The rugged wilderness and extreme temperatures and conditions can pose risk for some who are not used to the conditions. Be sure to travel with a guide when necessary, and only travel deep in the wilderness or on remote roads if you have taken appropriate precautions and/or are adequately experienced.
Drivers must watch out for moose and reindeer, which can cause serious accidents. Driving conditions in Lapland in the winter can be very dangerous due to the cold weather, snow, and ice.
Visitors must be adequately prepared for the extreme climates with proper dress, and should be prepared for long hours of darkness or semi-darkness if traveling in the winter to very northern areas, particularly during the months of December through January when certain areas experience days on end without a sunrise. Naturally most major cities in these regions are fully functioning and lit up during periods of daytime darkness, though the circumstances could potentially have an effect on one’s mood.
Norway, Sweden and Finland are members of the Schengen convention. Citizens of countries that are not part of the Schengen convention may need to obtain a visa before traveling to Lapland, which lies mainly within the borders of these countries. A valid passport is required.
Top 5 Sites
1. Ice Hotel (Jukkasjärvi, Sweden)
2. Rock Art of Alta (near Alta Fjord, northern Norway)
3. Laponia Area (Sweden)
4. The Riddu Duottar Museum (Norwegian Lapland)
5. Lainio Snow Village (Finland)
Top 5 Things to Do
1. View the northern lights
2. Attend a Sámi wedding, an elaborate affair attended by hundreds of guests
3. Explore Lemmenjoki National Park (Finland) or one of many other national parks
4. Go dog sledding or reindeer sledding
5. Enjoy a true Sami experience – learn about reindeer herding, Sámi crafts, cuisine, and culture in Swedish Lapland with Nutti Sámi Siida ecotourism organization in northern Sweden (Jukkasjärvi)
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