Saariselka: a Winter Playground in the Finnish Lapland

With a population of only 350 individuals year round Saariselka is a small town in the Finnish Lapland well known for its huge array of activities to enjoy mainly during the winter months, but also in summer. From ice fishing to mushing, snowmobile safaris, downhill skiing, cross country skiing or watching the Northern Lights there is no lack of things to do in Saariselka.

I made my way to Saariselka after I visited Inari, an also small town besides a lake with the same name just 20 minutes North. It was here that I would hopefully be able to photograph the Northern Lights as I was not able to do so when I had visited the area 5 years before because my camera froze, and I was hoping to enjoy most if not all of the activities this area has to offer.  Unfortunately I soon learned that I would not be able to do several of them because I was arriving just one week later after high season, and almost all tour operators were closed despite there still being plenty of snow.

Reindeer near Saariselka

Reindeer near Saariselka

One of the things I was really looking forward to do was dog sledding, but alas this was among the first I would not. Operators were closed and all I could do was head to a dog farm where I was able to see and hear the huskies yelp, probably thinking they were about to go for a run. It was there that I learned that many huskies have heterochromia, a trait by which doges have each eye of a different color.

Local Attractions and Things to Do in Saariselka

I then continued to my hotel in Saariselka, one of the many there are because despite there being such a small population there are more than 3,500 hotel rooms here. I spent my first night at the Holiday Club Resort, with comfortable rooms, a fantastic buffet breakfast…and an Angry Birds theme park! Built for the younger members of families this indoor park will sure keep them busy for hours, and is free for hotel guests.

angry birds saariselka

The Angry Birds theme park in Saariselka

I then visited Santa’s Resort Kakslauttanen, a winter theme park (open in summer too) where families can visit Santa’s house as well as those of some of the elves, watch reindeer walk freely, try gold panning, enjoy dog, reindeer and even downhill sledding and simply enjoy great family time.

Santas Village Saariselka

Sitting on Santa’s very own chair at Santa Claus Village.

The night I grabbed all my photography gear and made my way to a nearby bridge, the darkest spot with a good view from which I hoped I would be able to photograph the Northern Lights. I was out of my room by 11 pm as I was realizing that it would not get completely dark, and with some water and socks as improvised gloves I waited for almost four hours. The best time to see Aurora Borealis is usually between 10 pm and 2 am, and even though I waited until 3 am I was not lucky. Frustrated I went back to my room and checked for reasons ( I am aware that they don’t always happen) and apparently that night there had been very low magnetic activity (for those know, Aurora Borealis appear when radiation from the sun collide with the electromagnetic fields of our planet). Bad luck again.

things to do in Saariselka

Spending a night in a glass igloo is one of the special things to do in Saariselka

Not too far from the resort is the Igloo Hotel and Resort Kakslauttanen. Unlike Santa’s resort this one is ideal for couples who want to experience something unique: spend a night (or several) at one of the glass igloos the hotel has, allowing you to enjoy the nature around you from all angles and, even better, see the northern lights from the comfort of your bed. The igloos are only open during the winter months though because as soon as the days become longer temperatures in the igloos can reach 60ºC.  I was there during this time of the year, so I spent a night instead in one of the wonderful wood cabins the hotel also has. Surrounded by snow covered trees I has a wonderful evening relaxing in such an environment, and enjoyed a great dinner which included my favorite Finnish dish so far: reindeer stew with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.

kakslauttanen cabin- things to do in saariselka

My wonderful cabin in Kakslauttanen hotel.

Skiing in Saariselka

Without a doubt this is the most popular sport and activity in the area, and I had a chance to try cross country skiing for the first time and slide down the alpine skiing slopes a few times.

There are more than 100 marked km of cross country skiing trails, but as I had limited time I set myself to skiing to a nearby restaurant and back, about 7 km which I hoped to cover in one hour. I thought I would get bored soon, but after getting some pointers from a local lady I was well on my way and enjoying the beautiful scenery while skiing. Unlike the downhill version cross country skiing requires some endurance, but fortunately  I did well and had good fun.

From there I walked to the downhill resort which is just about 30 minutes away and had a blast skiing down the slopes of the two hills there are, which I had pretty much for myself. The snow was in very good condition and there were no queues at the lifts, a skiers dream!

cross country skiing Saariselka

My first time cross country skiing


Are there enough things to do in Saariselka that make this town worth visiting despite its small size? You bet. Unlike what most people would think I recommend visiting this part of Lapland in winter, when you can enjoy all the outdoor activities there are. You can also visit Inari which I highly recommend, and if lucky you’ll  be able to see the Northern Lights. Getting here from Helsinki and abroad is easy, as you can fly to Ivalo and then grab a bus to Saariselka, get the overnight train to Rovaniemi (Lapland’s capital city) and continue by bus, or drive. I have been here two times, and consider Lapland my favorite frozen playground in the world!


My visit to Saariselka was possible thanks to VisitFinland, but I was not told to write a possible review of my stay. All opinions in this articles are, as always, my own.

Have you visited Saariselka? How about Lapland? Did you like it? Is this a kind of place you’d like to visit? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you think others might find it useful!


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