What is the Best Place to Visit in Lapland in Winter?

Levi or Rovaniemi?

When I excitedly scanned my DNA results, my eyes stopped when I saw Finland. I had daydreamed about this winter wonderland. Visions of snowy adventures, Santa Claus, and cozy fireplaces flooded my mind. Could it be that a small piece of my DNA is from this place that I’ve dreamed about?

That was it, I knew I had to go. 

As I planned my Finland itinerary, I had the hardest time deciding what the best place to visit in Lapland in winter would be for me. Sure, I’d make a stop in Helsinki, but my heart was drawing me to the clean crisp air of the Arctic. 

Here’s what I learned.

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Looking out over a frozen land frozen a snowy forest lined with trees on a sunny day in Levi Finland.
Breathing in the crisp clean air while winter hiking near Levi, Finland.

Disclaimer: I have chosen to use the term “Lapland” as it is more widely recognized, however it’s important to note that some native Sami people find this term offensive and prefer the name “Sapmi”. 

Why visit Lapland?

For years, I thought that Lapland referred to the northernmost region of Finland located in and above the Arctic Circle. That’s only half true, though. Lapland technically spans across the northern areas of Sweden, Norway, Finland and even a small part of Russia. 

The people indigenous to this area are called Sami and have lived in the region for several thousand years. The traditional Sami lifestyle is centered around reindeer herding and a deep connection to nature in the harsh conditions of the region. Visiting “Lapland”, or “Sapmi”, without learning about the Sami people would be a huge mistake!

Aside from the culture, why would anyone venture into these harsh winter conditions for fun? There are so many reasons! 

For starters, from September to March this region is an excellent place to view and photograph the Northern Lights. At times you can even see them as early in the year as August, offering the unique experience to see them reflected in the many lakes in this region.

Pro Tip: Many sources say that Finnish Lapland is a better place to view the Northern Lights compared to Iceland due to Iceland’s cloudy conditions.

The area is also an incredible place for all sorts of winter adventures including dogsledding, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, winter hiking and reindeer rides! Sounds amazing, right?

Where to visit in Lapland? 

Levi and Rovaniemi are both excellent winter destinations for any outdoor lover. But, the two cities offer quite different experiences.

Levi is located in the Arctic Circle, about 2-½ hours north of Rovaniemi by car. Rovaniemi is located on the line which delineates the Arctic Circle.

While there are trains and buses to travel from Helsinki to either Levi or Rovaniemi, flights tend to be quite affordable and save half a day or more in travel time.

A map of Finland shows Helsinki at the very southern tip of the country and Levi in the northern part of the country. Rovaniemi is just a short distance south of Levi.
Levi is located about 2-1/2 hours north of Rovaniemi in northern Finland.

Both Rovaniemi and Levi have Northern Lights tours, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, hiking, reindeer tours, and those drool-worthy glass igloo hotels. But, let’s talk about the differences between Levi and Rovaniemi.

Levi is a quaint ski town surrounded by mountains.

Close your eyes and imagine an adorable ski town clustered at the base of a mountain, surrounded by frozen lakes and fells. This is Levi.

Whether or not you enjoy downhill skiing (there are 43 slopes if you do!), there is SO much to do in Levi in winter. There are more than 700 lakes in the surrounding area, 143 miles (230 km) of cross-country ski trails, and 550 miles (886 km) of snowmobile trails. 

Close up shot of me, a woman with bright red hair, a gray winter hat and green puffy coat with a fur around the hood. Behind me is a frozen lake with sun hitting a the snow covered fell lined with pine and fir trees.
A sunrise hike on a frozen lake in Levi, Finland in early March.

Expect snow from late October or early November through mid-May. However, if you want to enjoy sports that involve getting out onto the frozen lakes, it’s best to wait and visit in early Spring (starting in late February). 

The town itself is compact, just a 10 minute walk from end to end with loads of places to stay, groceries, restaurants, shops and bars for all budgets. Also, the ski school and several gear rental shops are located right in the center of the town.

One unique thing about the Levi area is that it’s known to have the purest air in the inhabited world (according to the World Health Organization). Enjoy that truly fresh Arctic air!

Levi is the best place to visit in Lapland for:

  • Downhill skiing
  • Small town feel
  • Easy access to trails and activities
  • No rental car needed

Getting to Levi

Kittila Airport is about 20 minutes away by car or shuttle. The shuttle from Kittila Airport to Levi costs 14,00 Euro (return ticket) and departs regularly throughout the day with several convenient dropoff and pickup locations in the city centre. There’s no need to pre-purchase tickets as they can be easily purchased onboard the shuttle.

Flights primarily fly through Helsinki. There are very few direct flights from Europe. Finnair operates several flights per day at an affordable price.

Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the official hometown of Santa Claus.

If you’re looking for a lively, more established city, Rovaniemi is the best place to visit in Lapland in winter! With nearly ten times the population of Levi, Rovaniemi offers more extensive shopping and dining options. 

Although the city is more expansive than Levi, the majority of tour companies, shops and restaurants are located in the easily walkable city centre. However, to really enjoy the outdoors you need to get out of the city. So, I recommend you either rent a car so you can explore on your own or book tours that either depart from the city centre or pick you up where you’re staying.

Sunshine hits the tips of trees when looking up to the rim of Korouoma Canyon. A frozen waterfall has a bluish yellow tint, making it stick out among the snow covered rock wall of the canyon.
Enjoying the sunshine while hiking in Korouoma Canyon on a photography expedition with Beyond Arctic, near Rovaniemi.

Similar to Levi, Rovaniemi is surrounded by water but instead of lakes, it is located right where the rivers Ounasjoki and Kemijoki meet. Also, about 90 minutes away you can visit the Korouoma Canyon with frozen waterfalls (which are also one of the top ice climbing destinations in the world!). Other unique winter adventures in Rovaniemi are ice floating in a nearby lake and ice breaker boat tours in the Bothnian Sea. 

What Rovaniemi is really known for is being the official hometown of Santa Claus. Visitors can meet Santa himself, explore his village and even send a letter to Santa from the Post Office. 

Rovaniemi is the best place to visit in Lapland for:

  • Bigger city feel
  • All things Santa Claus and Christmas
  • Less expensive accommodation options (compared to Levi)

Getting to Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi Airport is about 15 minutes away by car, or bus. The Airportbus offers convenient service to the bus station in the city centre as well as specific addresses in the city centre. It’s recommended to book a seat in advance when traveling from the city centre to the airport. However, when traveling from the airport to the city centre there’s no need to prebook a seat. The Airportbus departs conveniently after each Finnair and Norwegian Air flight’s arrival.

Direct flights to Rovaniemi are available from some European cities, including frequent daily flights from Helsinki. Again, I recommend Finnair for affordable prices and frequent daily flights.

Why not visit both? Rovaniemi to Levi Finland Drive

As I researched these two cities, I simply couldn’t decide between the two so I went to both! Because accommodation was cheaper (but equally as nice!) in Rovaniemi, I used the money I saved to rent a car and drove the two and a half hours from Levi to Rovaniemi.

The sky is bright pink and yellow on the horizon in an other bright blue and dark sky as the sunrises as I drove from Levi to Rovaniemi in a rental car.  The horizon is lined with a silhouette of tall pine and fir trees.
Pulled over to enjoy the colorful sunrise while driving from Levi to Rovaniemi, Finland.

The rental car was equipped with great winter tires that wouldn’t slip and slide on the icy roads. Plus, this was an awesome way to see some of the countryside! 

Pro Tip: Purchase a Solis (previously Skyroam) portable wifi device to help you navigate while driving between Levi and Rovaniemi. Use code THISBIGWILDWORLD for 10% off!

In Levi, rental cars are available at Kittila Airport which is about 15 minutes from the city centre. Alternatively, Europcar offers rental cars for drop off and pick up at Lapland Hotel Sirkantahti which is right in the city centre. This saves you the cost of the shuttle back and forth to the airport unless you decide to rent a car for the entire time you’re in Levi (which is really not necessary).

In Rovaniemi, rental cars are available at the airport and throughout the city centre. 

So which is the best place to visit in Lapland in winter for you?

Rovaniemi and Levi are such different cities, choosing the right one really depends on what you’re looking for. If you have the time and don’t mind driving, visit both! Out of my five days in Lapland, I spent three and half in Levi and one and a half in Rovaniemi. That was the perfect split for me!

Plan your visit with my destination guides for both Rovaniemi and Levi (coming soon)!

Read my DNA Travel Journal: Finland Edition with reflections on what I learned on this first leg of my journey.

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Lapland in northern Finland is one of THE best winter destinations for outdoor adventurers! But, how do you choose which place in Lapland is best for you? This comparison of Levi and Rovaniemi will help you decide! Chase the Northern Lights, go dogsledding, cross-country skiing, ice floating, snowmobiling and more! #Lapland #Finland #Arctic #NorthernLights | Lapland Finland | Arctic Circle
Planning a winter trip to Lapland Finland? This guide compares two popular cities in Lapland, Levi and Rovaniemi, so you can choose which one is best for you! Visit the official hometown of Santa Claus, chase the Northern Lights, snowmobile, dogsled and so much more! #Lapland #Finland #ArcticCircle #NorthernLights #AuroraBorealis

22 thoughts on “What is the Best Place to Visit in Lapland in Winter?

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    Hi Gemma! That’s exciting! Yes, given that Levi is a bit further north, it is a safer bet for snow that early in the season. You can get the Christmas feel in Levi with reindeer safaris and other activities, even though Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus 🙂 I have driven on both sides of the road so understand your hesitance. The drive between these two cities is pretty straightforward – on long stretches of country road without a lot of traffic or turns. So, as far as driving on the other side of the road goes, this is pretty simple. Like I mentioned, I would make sure you either have cell phone data to navigate or a portable wifi device just in case. There’s loads more to do in Levi other than just skiing so there will truly be something for all of your family members! Have an amazing time and feel free to email me if you have other questions 🙂

  2. Gemma says:

    Hi, we booked to fly early December. We were going to stay in Rovaniemi but have been told that we may not get the snow and for that reason Levi would be a safer option. What do you think? Also, I’ve never drove a car on that side of the road before so I’m unsure if it would be safe for me to hire a car. I have no problem in driving in the snow tho ☺.
    We are going with a 9 yr old, 14 + 15. We have never skied before, we are really only after the magic of the snow and that truly magical Christmas feel. Really would appreciate your opinion. Thanks ?

  3. This Big Wild World says:

    Yes, it can be pricey but there are some great budget options! I found Rovaniemi to have more affordable accommodation options and I bought a lot of my food at grocery stores to save money as well. Hope you get to experience Finland someday!

  4. Krystianna says:

    I would LOVE to go to Finland one day, it just always seems to expensive! Glad to see that there are some great places to visit there. 🙂 I had heard of Rovaniemi but never Levi!

  5. This Big Wild World says:

    What perfect timing, Brittany! Glad I could help you in planning your trip. Sounds like a fun adventure. If you haven’t been there yet, you’ll love it. Keep in mind though that in November the lakes probably won’t be frozen yet so not all of the activities I mentioned may be available. But, regardless it’ll be wonderful!

  6. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks so much, Taylor! Oh my gosh, I bet Rovaniemi was magical at Christmastime 🙂 I would love to go back and spend more time in both Levi and Rovaniemi too.

  7. Brittany says:

    I’m so happy I came across your post! I’m taking a group of teachers to Finland this coming November, so it was nice to see some more suggestions – and to get excited about it!!

    And I completely agree. It’s a must to learn about the culture and people who call a region home when you’re visiting.

  8. Taylor says:

    Ah I miss Lapland so much! I visited Rovaniemi during Christmastime in December 2017 and it was so magical! I definitely want to go back and visit Levi! Your photos are so beautiful! 🙂

  9. This Big Wild World says:

    Ooh I bet it was incredible to be there around the Christmas holiday! I could definitely go back to Finland and explore more too 🙂

  10. This Big Wild World says:

    Levi is a great pick! Working on that destination guide right now and I just wanna go back!! I absolutely have fallen in love with Scandinavia in winter 🙂

  11. Emma says:

    I was in Helsinki in December and had a great time but would like to spend more time in Finland. This looks so much fun, a Christmas dream come true

  12. Lynne Nieman says:

    I can’t wait to read your destination guides. I think I’d like Levi for the small town feel. But I love that you were able to do both. This part of the world is high on my list.

  13. This Big Wild World says:

    It truly is a little slice of heaven! I didn’t know about the uber-clean air either, but I sure felt it once I started exploring. Maybe your next Northern Lights adventure will have to be in Finland 😉

  14. Josy A says:

    They both look fab, but count me in for team Levi too! Skiing, small town vibes and snowshoe trails sounds like winter heaven!!

    I didn’t know Finland has such uber-clean air, or that it has fewer clouds so you might see the Northern lights! We tried to see them in Iceland, but we were foiled by the clouds. I’d still looove to see them!

  15. This Big Wild World says:

    Hey Karen! Yes, you would love the skiing in Levi. Literally miles and miles of places to explore on cross-country skis and so many downhill slopes as well! Santa Claus Village was cool to see, but definitely not for everyone 🙂

  16. This Big Wild World says:

    There really isn’t a bad option! Levi is a great choice. It has so many incredible outdoorsy things to do balanced with a good selection of places to eat and stay to warm up after a day of adventures 🙂

  17. Karen Warren says:

    I choose Levi. Lapland is an area I’ve always wanted to visit. This post certainly helps in choosing where to go. So even if I risk missing Santa Claus, the skiing sounds wonderful in Levi.

  18. Tara says:

    Both of these places seem like dream destinations for winter lovers. I’m all about small towns, so if I had to choose, I think Levi would be the town for me. Awesome resource!

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