One of the most notable Finnish tradition is the sauna experience. It is the norm to have one in every household, almost mandatory. Finnish people hop in the sauna before work, after work and whenever; like a ritual. Typically, you are seated butt to butt next to someone else (usually of the same gender and in a completely non-sexual way) and do not utter a single word throughout the sauna session. I think it makes sense that this is a large part of their culture due to the long cold winters, especially in the Finnish Lapland. I had the opportunity to experience different saunas throughout Finland and I found them addictive to a point (something about the intense sweating and the deep cleansing of my pores) where I wanted to go almost every other day. Luckily for me, most accommodations in Finland including the glass igloos in Lapland have saunas (both private and public).
Photo credit: Julia Kivelä, Visit Finland
Going naked in the sauna (my experiences)
Being naked in the sauna feels different from going skinny dipping or walking in the wild since everyone around you are naked and in close proximity. There are some saunas in Helsinki (Allas Sea Pool and Löyly) which require all to wear a swimsuit if you enter the mixed gender room, otherwise strip away! Being with a group of other naked people, it felt almost primitive and ‘back to the beginning’ – we are created by God and born without clothes anyway. Everyone has a different heat tolerance level, making it difficult to determine how often to pour the water over the hot stones to steam up the sauna. I have came across where someone threw water onto the stones every 30 seconds, making the heat unbearable and I had to end my session prematurely.
The hot stones in the sauna (Photo credit: Elina Sirparanta, Visit Finland)
Photo credit: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki
My Löyly experience was one of the best sauna experiences especially jumping into the icy Baltic Sea right after sauna. It was a dip to cool down after the intense steam session, any time spent longer in the water felt like my hands and toes were freezing up.
The top part of the photo with 2 stairs is where you take the Baltic dip! (Photo credit: Joel Pallaskorpi, My Helsinki)
Going naked in the nature and skinny dipping
Taking that aspect of nudity in Finland, I took a step further to experience being away from my own clothes. It is a huge taboo in Asia and whoever is naked in public would most likely end up at the police station for an act of indecency. In Singapore, it is a crime to be naked even in your private homes so long as your nakedness becomes visible to the public. Skinny dipping in Lake Menesjärvi was an idea that came to mind so as to try how it feels like being naked in the wild. I felt more comfortable after my naked sauna experiences. It felt liberating and surprisingly fun. Despite getting some curious onlookers, it was probably due to seeing an Asian rather than a Finn without clothes.
Going in the lake with only the fishes in there – no other humans
Here, it reminded me of the episodes of Man vs Wild series. I should have joined Bear Grylls on his adventure!
I am not a nudist by any means, neither do I walk around naked in the eyes of the public but this was truly an invigorating experience if you dare to give it a try. Would love to hear about your experiences! Have any of you tried going back to the beginning sans clothing?
Road trips in Lapland are almost unheard of compared to popular ones like on the Highway 1 in California, South Island of New Zealand or Icefields Parkway in Alberta. My experience has been absolutely perfect to the point where I thought: “why is no one else doing it?” Other than the five other cars we saw on the Lappish roads, I have only seen hordes of Chinese tourists on large tour buses – and that’s it!
Which Season is Best?
For a road trip, I recommend to do it outside of the winter period, which runs from November to April unless you have experience driving with icy road conditions. Instead, do it in autumn because of the ‘ruska‘ scene which is truly therapeutic. To top it off, autumn is the best season to see the northern lights in comparison to winter because of the increase in geomagnetic activities during autumn and spring equinox. Alternatively, doing it in summer will bring you the midnight sun for plenty of outdoor activities but the downside is that there will not be an opportunity to see the northern lights. This itinerary is autumn-focused and authentically from my own experience.
Northern lights caught right above us in Saariselka @ Northern Lights Village
The road trip started in Rovaniemi going clockwise, clocking in 678km on google maps without any detours. Eventually, we finished the trip with 823km clocked and that includes detours and side trips along the way.
Finnair and Norwegian are your safest bet because they have plenty of flights if you are connecting from other countries via Helsinki. So if you miss one, they should be able to put you on the next flight to Rovaniemi. For such flights within Finland, I recommend to book 3-6 months out to capture some good deals, at least from my own experience.
We went with Europcar for a 9-day rental with the smallest automatic car available at EUR245, and ended up with hybrid Toyota Yaris, which was a very fuel-efficient car for a couple and luggages! It was a relatively new car with about 17,000 km on the mileage meter. Cost of gasoline ranges from EUR 1.56 – 1.61 per litre for grade 95. We ended up spending a total of EUR 67.43 for 823km mileage clocked. An impressive fuel consumption of almost 20km/litre!
Day 1: Rovaniemi
Fly or take the train into Rovaniemi. Collect the car at the airport and this will be the start and end point of your road trip. Drive up north to Levi and enjoy the ‘ruska’ sights along the way. Be mindful of reindeer crossing because they are often seen crossing, albeit slowly, the roads in Lapland.
Spend the next 2 nights at Levi Iglut (recommended) or other accommodations in Levi.
Premium Igloo at Levin Iglut, with a clear view of the valley
Day 2: Levi
You can consider going on a day hike and/or horse-riding if the weather permits. There are a few supermarket outlets nearby in the main town of Levi if you are looking to get some groceries. During September, the sky becomes completely dark after 11pm and this is your best chance to go aurora hunting. If you are staying at Levin Iglut, you have the luxury of turning off your igloo’s lights and simply lay back, and enjoy the beautiful lights just above your heads! It is located on high ground and has an unobstructed view of the valley.
The northern lights danced across the skies, and we watched it from the comfort of our temperature controlled igloo
Try their 3-course dinner at Restaurant Aurora Sky for a great feel of Finnish cuisine
Day 3 and 4: Inari
Continue up north towards Inari. You can choose to go by route 955 which is a semi-dirt road or you can choose to head backwards to Kittila and instead, take the highway E75. Although a slightly bumpy ride, we passed by some beautiful farmhouses and residences, which were located quite a fair distance from each other, making it a pretty scenic drive. Choose to stay near a lake to get double auroras; both on the water and the actual one in the sky. Lake Menesjärvi is a good choice and it is close to Lemmenjoki National Park. Visit Ravadas Falls via a river boat trip and finish it with a hike to a nearby cabin. The boat trip was a good scenic experience, at some point it felt like a scene from National Geographic. Feel free to pick the berries in Lapland, namely blueberries and lingonberry. Lingonberry is native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. Located further inside the national park, there is a reindeer farm run by a Sami family. It is a great way to explore learn more about the Sami history and culture.
Free berries for all!
In Inari city centre, check out Sajos which is a Sami cultural and administrative centre, Siida the Sami Museum and Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church if you have time for a hike.
Spend 2 nights at Hotel Korpikartano (recommended) or other accommodations in Inari.
Lake Menesjärvi right next to Hotel Korpikartano
Enjoy in the comfortable home-like lounge of Hotel Korpikartano
Day 5 and 6: Saariselka
Drive down south via the E75 and head to Saariselka. It is a resort village that springs into life when winter comes, another good place to learn about the Sami culture due to it being located far north in Lapland. There is a good husky safari called Extreme Huskies and you should definitely check it out if you are looking for some fun with the dogs. Check out the gold mining town at Tankavaara and watching the northern lights by the lake at Nellim (very close to the old Russian border).
Husky sledding (autumn version) with Extreme Huskies
Spend 2 nights at Northern Lights Village or other accommodations in Saariselka. I highly recommend Northern Lights Village because of their expertise in the winter experience such as husky sledding and northern lights hunting. The famous Kakslauttanen igloos and resort are located nearby too.
On a clear night in Saariseka, the lights were dancing for a good 2-3 hours!
Day 7 and 8: Rovaniemi
Continue south back to Rovaniemi, it is about a 2-3 hrs scenic drive. I recommend to spend about a minimum of 2 full days here, with your time divided between Rovaniemi city centre and Santa Claus village. There are plenty to do in Santa Claus village, be sure to visit both the Husky and Reindeer park. If you are looking for activities, Bearhill Husky is a good place to check out their kernel tour in autumn and Beyond Artic runs photography tours (not just northern lights). Don’t leave without meeting Santa Claus and crossing the Artic Circle line!
Santa can be found inside this building!
Husky Park at Santa Claus Village
Take a walk and feed Santa Claus’s reindeer!
Join the kernel tour with Bearhill Husky, you get plenty of chances to play with the dogs
In the city centre, check out Artikum, Korundi and Pilke for the history and artsy aspects of Rovaniemi and Lapland. There are also nice restaurants in the city centre, check out Pure Burger, Pure Pizza and Torikeidas (kebab) as recommended by my Finnish friend.
Spend 2 nights at Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle or other accommodations in Santa Claus Village or Rovaniemi. Airbnbs are plentiful in Rovaniemi.
Santa Igloos’s Artic Circle
Northern Lights experience outside Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle
Road trip in Lapland is not just a wonderful experience, it is a magical one. Feel free to share your ideas or alternatives to the itinerary!
#MyHelsinkiResidence is aimed at digital professional/influencers in creating authentic content without any schedule! I was super excited when I got the opportunity to visit Helsinki for a week in the middle of September. What even more amazing is that I get to bring a +1 – just when I was thinking about going Finland for honeymoon. Helsinki Marketing (aka Visit Helsinki) partners with a few other well-known names in the hospitality industry such as Marimekko, Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments (can’t wait to stay in the apartments with beautifully designed Nordic interiors), Visit Finland and Finnair for this amazing media program.
Photo credits: Jussi Hellsten, My Helsinki
Helsinki in Autumn
They called it “ruska“, predominantly in Lapland but I hope to witness more of it in Helsinki. It will be a phenomenal blend of tree colours that sends photographers scrambling for their gears. Being there in September also means that there will be less tourists than the summer months. The International Grand Market and International Film Festival will be going on during the visit, good time to check it out too.
First-hand Finnish local experience!
Experiencing Helsinki from a local experience might be attractive, but I am more intrigued about the Finnish joke: ‘An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you; an extroverted Finn looks at your shoes’. The social perception of the Finns is one interesting area to watch if it matches the stereotype. You can read more about the Finns here. In this trip, I wish to explore the local places to go – not to bring the influx of tourism there but to experience it. Be it biking in the city with vintage looking bicycles or checking out some coffee shop down the street, it feels very dreamy to me. A week is just the right amount of time to explore Helsinki, rather than 3 days or so which can be pretty rushed.
Photo credits: Lauri Rotko, My Helsinki
Nude sauna is the Finns’ way of life, maybe that is how they do their leisure time rather than going on Facebook. Jumping into a cold pool after a good session of sauna is like dipping nachos in cheese – not sure if I will like it. Wild sauna or electric sauna, I want to try it all. Hello Sinki indeed, I got some kiasu-ness (A Singaporean slang/dialect that means afraid to lose out).
Photo credits: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki
They have seasonal food, so here I am in autumn to try those speciality according to this guide. Getting ready for a ‘foodplosion’, just like the explosion of leaves colours ‘ruska’.
Photo credits: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki
The last but not least, a Helsinki Survival Kit will be given to us. It will contain local tips, suggestions on what to see and do and hand-picked local design, food & urban nature experiences and items that are essential for city-dwelling. How exciting is this! Though this travel concept has been commercialised to provide that excitement of not knowing your itinerary, it is still working very well on human’s nature – curiosity.
In a nutshell, I am flying to Helsinki real soon, as soon as good times fly.