Just 250km north of the Arctic Circle and so many things to do Saariselka has become a major winter destination for Christmassy experiences, dogsled safaris, ice-fishing, skiing and northern lights sighting.
The fun doesn’t end is summer, when it serves as the main base for trekkers heading into the vast Northern Lapland wilderness.
I've come to consider this part of the world my favorite frozen playground anywhere (Inari is one perhaps my favorite town, just 25 minutes from Saariselka), and I'll tell you how to get to Saariselka Finland and share a few tips to make the most of your travel to this winter playground.
Where is Saariselka?
Saariselka is a small village located in the Inari municipality of Finnish Lapland, 30km from Finland’s northernmost airport, Ivalo, and nearly 1000km away from the capital city of Helsinki.
It lies in a valley and is essentially a collection of pretty hotels and holiday cottages, but is also a great spot for experiencing unique and all-year-round activities in the great outdoors.
Weather in Saariselka
Temperature in Saariselka can change drastically so the best advice I could give is to prepare for all types of weather. It is definitely much more pleasant compared to other parts of the world at the same latitude, but dressing with the right materials for each season is imperative.
As it is situated north of the Arctic Circle it does get cold in Saariselka during winter, but not in the way you might think. This is because winters are dry and don’t feel piercing thanks to the lack of high winds.
That being said, there’s no reason to stay indoors; simply layering with warm winter gear will be enough.
Between December and mid-January may seem like an idyllically festive time to be in Saariselka and Northern Lapland, but with the sun nudging above the horizon for just a few hours each day, you’ll be limited on the number of things you can actually do.
If you want to get the most of the fresh white season, I’d recommend you to coming between February and March, when the weather will warm up nicely, even though there’s still plenty of snow. There are long hours of sunshine and the light effect is magnified by the white snow.
During summer, the sun doesn’t set at all and temperatures are regularly around 64°F (18°C) and 49°F (9°C) at night.
Summertime ends in early September, when the Ruska period of changing colours commences. This is also a marvelous season for hiking and observing the Northern Lights, which can be seen from late August until the end of April.
Things to do in Saariselka
As small as Saariselka may be, activities in Saariselka are plenty and for everyone. Most of them are of course outdoor related, but perhaps surprisingly some of them are indoor too.
Skiing in Saariselka Finland
Saariselka is considered one of the most popular ski resorts in Finland, and for good reason. It boasts 200km of well-maintained, partly illuminated cross-country ski tracks suiting all skill levels, fun sledging hills, guided treks, and 15 beautiful slopes of varying difficulty.
The ski season in this part of Santa’s Lapland is guaranteed to last from November to May. The natural snow in Saariselka is of excellent quality, but if your travel is all about the winter activities, I’d recommend you come after the polar night, when there’s enough light to have longer day tours.
During our visit I had the chance of try cross-country skiing for the first time and slide down the alpine slopes. My time there was limited so I set myself to skiing about 7km.
The Saariselka Ski Resort has 7 km of slopes, 5 lifts, and plenty more km for cross country skiing. You can buy lift tickets and get more details of the resort in Saariselka's Skiing official website.
I thought I’d get bored soon, but after getting some pointers from a local lady I was well on my way and enjoying an exhilarating ride in one of Europe’s most picturesque regions.
Ice fishing Saariselka
Scandinavians (really) love ice-fishing, and with the north of Finland filled with big, beautiful lakes it's a great and pleasant activity for the winter months.
I had the opportunity to try ice fishing while here, and have to admit it was a lot more fun than what I expected. It wasn't in Saariselka, but just a few minutes away. If this is something that might interest you make sure you read about my Finland ice fishing experience.
Ice-fishing tours usually last between 3-5 hours and cost around 50 euros.
After the snowmobile ride to the lake you'll have a great chance of catching some local fish while you learn about Finnish culture. I highly recommend you to take this tour as it makes for a memorable experience.
Northern Lights Saariselka
This is the reason why most people travel so far north, me included. During my first night in Saariselka I was very excited and hoping to be able to photograph the idyllic Northern Lights, since I couldn't do so when I had visited the area 5 years before because my camera froze.
Around 11pm I made my way to a nearby bridge and waited for the lights to do their thing. The best time to catch the aurora is usually between 10pm and 2am, and even though I waited until 3am I wasn't lucky.
It was a real shame but I learned a few things that might be helpful in your aurora hunting:
- Stick around for at least 3 nights to maximize your chances of seeing the lights.
- If you don't fancy chasing the aurora by your own or are unsure about how to do it, joining an organized northern lights tour Saariselka is the best option.
Saarilseka is also home of Finnish Lapland's most recognized igloo hotels (more on accommodation here), which give you the chance of watching the aurora from the comfort of your own bed:
- The Northern Lights Village Saariselka has cozy glass-roofed cabins and its own reindeer park- Check rates
- The Igloo Village in Saariselka Finland's Kakslauttanen Artic Resort has glass igloos and can also arrange husky safaris and snowmobile trips - Check rates
Unfortunately, we went just one week later after high season, when the glass-roofed igloos were not open. But spent a night instead in one of the wonderful wood cabins the Igloo Hotel also has.
What to do in Saariselka Finland with Kids
Toboggan Saariselka – it 's for grownups too!
If you're still wandering what to do in Saariselka during your visit, you should think on slide down the longest toboggan run in Northern Europe, seriously. It starts from the summit of Kuanispaa fell and is one of the most popular activities in Saariselka, especially when travelling with kids.
If you can find your way to the top, the ride would be free of charge. But if you're going with young kids, the convenience of using the chairlift might be the best option.
The winter park ticket costs 25 euros, which includes a two hours pass for the chairlift and toboggans.
The 1,800m long toboggan run has three tracks to choose from:
The red track has a couple of turns of moderate difficulty. The blue track is gentler but you can still achieve decent speeds on it. Finally, the green track is the easiest and more suitable for small children. Get more details here.
Holiday Club's Angry Birds Theme Park
I spent one night at the Holiday Club Resort, one of the many hotels in Saariselka. Apart from comfortable rooms and a fantastic buffet breakfast, there's an Angry Birds Theme Park!
Built for the younger members of the family, this indoor park will sure keep your little ones busy for hours, and is free for hotel guests.
Visit Santa in Saariselka - Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
We also visited Santa Resort Saariselka, a winter theme park where families can meet Santa Claus in person and get a chance to take pictures with him.
You'll be greeted by his elves, who will guide you to Santa's cozy and beautiful crafted home.
Here you can watch reindeer walk freely, try gold panning, drink a cup of hot chocolate or simply enjoy great family time.
How to go to Saariselka
Saariselka does not have an airport, so visitors usually come here after visiting one of the nearby towns. You can also fly into Ivalo and make your way here by bus or car.
Ivalo to Saariselka
Getting to Saariselka from Ivalo is very easy. The village of Ivalo is the region’s administrative and commercial hub, therefore, it counts with reliable transportation and several bus connections to most of Lapland’s towns.
But if you’re flying to Ivalo airport, which is located 11km southwest from the village, you’ll find bus services and taxis upon arriving. You can also reserve a hire car to pick you up on arrival or ask you accommodation representative to greet you at the airport.
Airport buses leave after each scheduled flight and cost approximately 10 euros per passenger (kids under 11 years pay the half) – no pre-booking is needed.
The short journey takes around 25 minutes and gives you a great opportunity to spot the local wildlife along the way.
Helsinki to Saariselka
There’s no direct bus from Helsinki to Saariselka, so you’ll only have the following options:
Helsinki to Saariselka Train:
This is the cheapest way of travelling from the southern capital of Helsinki to Northern Lapland. The nearest railway station is located in Rovaniemi, Santa Claus’ home town. Upon arriving you can choose from several bus connections or even rent a car to continue your way to Saariselka.
The entire journey takes about 15 hours. However, if you’re looking to save money and the time is not a concern to you, this train + bus combination will be a great option.
I’d recommend you to buy your tickets well in advance from VR’s (Finnish Railways) international sales. Children aged 10 and younger travel free of charge with a parent in the same sleeping compartment.
You must inform if you’ll be travelling with a child when buying your tickets.
Helsinki to Saariselka by Plane:
Taking just 1h 30m, this is definitely the quickest way to reach Saariselka from southern Finland, but not the most affordable one. There are numerous flights from Helsinki to Saariselka’s nearest airport, Ivalo.
Each domestic flight includes a reliable bus connection to Saariselka and there’s no pre-booking needed. If you’re travelling with young kids or simply want to make the most of your time in Saariselka you should take the plane instead of the overnight train.
Helsinki to Saariselka by Car:
You can easily drive to Saariselka by following the National Road Four (E75), which travels through Finland and connect southern cities with the vast area of Northern Lapland.
Again, you’ll have to stand long periods in a car seat, but if you want to manage things by your own and enjoy long trips this is the best option for you.
Inari to Saariselka
The village of Inari is located 56km away from Saariselka, consequently there’s a direct bus departing from Hotel Inari and arriving at Saariselka bus station. Services depart twice daily and the journey takes about 1h 30m. You can also drive through the E75 roadway or catch a taxi, which cost around $140 - $160 and takes 1h.
Rovaniemi to Saariselka
There’s a few ways of getting to Saariselka from the arctic village of Rovaniemi:
Bus Rovaniemi Saariselka:
There are several daily connections departing from Rovaniemi’s Bus Terminal Station to Saariselka. The cost is about $45 - $50 and the journey takes 3h 30m.
There’s no need to book in advance. Buses don’t get full most of the time and there are no online discounts on buses going to north. But you can do it if you wish.
To see prices and timetables visit the English version of the official bus website
Rovaniemi to Saariselka by Car:
You can rent a car or bring your own to Rovaniemi in a car-carrier train, and then drive the 270km to Saariselka. Lapland’s roads are in good condition and there’s virtually no traffic.
However, you should be aware of reindeer and moose crossing at any time of the year as there are few thousand collisions because of them on a yearly basis.
Kittila to Saariselka
Kittila locates about 135km away from Saariselka. Unfortunately, there’s no direct bus between them. You could go either via Sodankyla or Rovaniemi, and then take a final bus connection to Suoponkitie station in Saariselka.
The journey -including transfers- is approx. 8h 30m.
The quickest way to reach Saariselka from Kittila is by taxi, which costs roughly $270, but you may be able to bargain a bit and get a better price. For that kind of cost, you might as well hire a car and drive for 2h 45m.
Accommodation in Saariselka
Whether you prefer to sleep under a duvet or a star-filled sky, you're spoiled for choice when looking for accommodation in Saariselkä. These are our top recommendations depending on the type of trip you're doing:
Best luxury experience
Best for romantic getaway and couples
Muotka Wilderness Lodge Saariselka has both cozy room and glass igloos where to enjoy the views and auroras.
Santa's Hotel Tunturi is also a great option with intimate rooms and tons of year round tours.
Best for families with kids
It's also very close to Santa Claus Village, a mandatory stop for anyone visitni Saariselka with kids. Not only will they get to see Santa and hiw house up here in the North of Finland, but also reindeer and other animals.
Holiday Club Saariselka is less adventurous but perhaps more practical and convenient, it all depends on what you want. It offers rooms in the spa hotel, fully furnished modern apartments and timeshares. I also spent a night here. Check rates
Remember that there’s no such thing like “the best hotel in Saariselka”. No matter if you're staying on an all-inclusive hotel or a basic vacation rental from airbnb Saariselka, it all depends on how well it adapts to your needs and budget!
Are there enough things to do in Saariselka that make this town worth visiting despite its small size? You bet.
I recommend you to visit this part of Santas Lapland in winter, when you can enjoy all the outdoor activities there are available. I've been here two times, and consider Lapland my favorite frozen playground in the world!
Most Saariselka attractions are within short walking distance, but if you want to get around in the comfort and privacy of a car seat, there are several car rental companies available.
Yes, it is absolutely possible. Being close to Finland’s second-largest National Park, it has less light pollution and a great aurora-spotting potential.
Yes, Saariselka is a major winter destination and Finland’s northernmost ski resort, located approx. 250km north of the Arctic Circle.
Visit Santa’s house, play in Angry Birds Activity Park, go dog or reindeer sledding and tobogganing at Saariselka Ski & Sports Resort.
There's a wide selection of shops where you can buy for the necessary winter clothing in Saariselka Finland. Most hotels also offer a comprehensive selection of rental apparel so you can protect against the extreme weather.
Plan Your Saariselka Trip
Accommodation in Saariselka
Flights to Saariselka
Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Rental Cars in Saariselka
RV Rentals Saariselka:
Outdoorsy is the largest RV rental marketplace on the planet. They offer ease, flexibility and some unique and cool campervans for your Saariselka road trip. Find your RV rentals for Saariselka here.
Tours in Saariselka
Viator offers small group tours and activities in Saariselka including tickets to the popular Saariselka attractions.