A 4 days getaway in Saariselkä, the northernmost ski resort in Finland is an utmost relaxing experience. Saariselkä is known especially for Urho Kekkonen National Park and the skiing tracks in the breathtaking scenery of Finland Lapland. The location is 250 km / 155 mi […]
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Are you looking for Lapland holidays with a wide variety or activities and unique experiences for the whole family? Prefer a place accessible by public transportation? Ylläs, located about 200 km/125 mi north from the Arctic Circle, is a fantastic base for Lapland family holidays thanks to the wide variety of activities as well as tracks and slopes for all levels. It is ideally located at the southern corner of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. You can choose either Ylläs Ski Resort in Äkäslompolo or Sport resort Ylläs on the Ylläsjärvi side of the fell. Since I had earlier visited the first one, we headed this time the latter one to get a new perspective to the amazing winter wonderland.
Visiting Lapland – especially if traveling with kids – gets a lot easier if you do a bit of research and plan ahead. Other excellent options in Lapland include Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park, Pallas and Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park, Salla, and Ruka (great skiing though just south of Lapland and the Arctic Circle). Read further for to discover how to design your perfect Lapland experience in Ylläs!
Snow Village Lainio Ice Hotel
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? In that case you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting Lainio Snow Village, that’s an ice castle offering snow accommodation about 20 km from Sport Resort Ylläs. Even if you’ve never watched an episode (like us) it’s certainly worth the visit. I’m not sure how I’d missed this and learned about it only towards the end of our stay in Ylläs. If you can manage the distance (around 14km from Sport Resort Ylläs), it’s possible to ski to Lainio Snow Village from Ylläs making it a great day trip. Alternatively, you can either join a tour or take a taxi if you don’t have a car. If you’re looking for a truly unique Snow Village Finland experience you could have dinner at the ice restaurant or stay overnight in the amazing ice castle rooms made of snow and ice (reservations required for both restaurant and hotel).
This is the 18th time when Lainio Snow Village has been built and every year the Lapland ice hotel has grown bigger and more impressive. Game of Thrones is the theme for a second year in a row and it’s also the last chance to visit it as we heard that a new theme is planned for next winter! We learned that the ice is from the nearby lake and actually from last winter and has been kept frozen over the summer as the construction starts in November and it’s too early to get enough ice.
I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise but it’s cold in the ice hotel, so dress warm. Especially fingers are frozen easily when taking photos so smart phone compatible gloves would be very useful! We toured the ice castle in about half an hour, but we’d recommend to allow at least 1 hour for your visit to have plenty of time to fully enjoy Lainio Snow Village and enjoy a nice warm cuppa in the café to warm up your cold fingers afterwards.
Opening times: 10 am to 10 pm
Fees: Adult 17,50 eur, Child 10 eur (4-14-year-old). Pre-booking is possible for a private tour for 65 eur. Taxi from Sport Resort Ylläs – Snow Village Lainio – Yllärjärvi cost us 72 eur (we asked the driver to wait with our luggage in the car while we toured the ice hotel).
Ylläs is one of the best places in the world for cross-country skiing even for beginners. There are plenty of easy tracks and maintenance is usually excellent. There’s a good network of cafés and skiing huts along the tracks so it’s easy to plan even long routes. There are 330km / 205mi of illuminated ski trails where it’s easy to ski even after sunset. Here’s examples of two routes that are easy and suitable for kids with some skiing experience.
Route 1: Sport Resort Ylläs to Latvamaja (via Kahvikeidas) ~15km / 9,3mi
This route offers pleasant skiing on mostly flat ground. Kahvikeidas unfortunately is no longer maintained by Metsahallitus and in private ownership there are now fees for the use of the premises which is understandable but makes the place feel considerably less welcoming.
Route 2: Sport Resort Ylläs to Aurinkotupa (circular route) ~10km / 6,2mi
The first 4 km are very easy, mostly downhill or flat till Aurinkotupa café. We had the opportunity to watch reindeer feeding in the yard. There’s also an outdoor fireplace where it’s possible to barbecue for example sausages on the open fire. We also spotted a reindeer in the yard and had the chance to watch it’s feeding. The second part of the route is more challenging with uphill climb – you could consider going in the opposite direction if you prefer.
How to plan your skiing route?
It’s a good idea to start your route plan by identifying places for breaks: cafes, wilderness huts, etc where to stop on your route to rest, have some snacks, and use restrooms. Ideally you can find a circular route so that you don’t need to return the same way. Double-check: are the distances reasonable considering your experience and fitness level as well as the weather conditions? You and especially the kids might also need some shorter breaks along the way for example to have a sip of water. It depends on your experience and fitness level how far you can go before a break is needed. What’s working well for us at the moment is to take a shorter break about every half hour and a longer break every 1-2 hours.
Check the weather the night before and plan your route and what to wear based on the forecast. Check again in the morning to make sure there’s no big changes and your plan is still valid. It’s a good idea to try to get to the tracks reasonably early in the day for a number of reasons but especially because the daylight time is limited (with the exception of late spring), the tracks are in better shape (especially later in the spring they may start getting softer in the afternoon). On the other hand, at sunrise the temperature may still be extremely cold so a bit later in the morning might be ideal. Check also the time of sunset – darkness falls maybe 30-60 minutes after and you wouldn’t want to get caught in the non-illuminated tracks later (unless everyone would happen to be equipped with a headlamp flashlight!)
The skiing routes are divided to thee maintenance classes: I, II and III. Number I is maintained throughout the season on a daily basis so it’s the safe choice early in the season or if there’s been heavy snowfall or wind. Trails in classes II and III are open only from February/mid-February till end of April and to our experience these tracks often have the most naturally beautiful sceneries.
Ylläs boasts to be home to the longest slopes in Finland (3000 meters) and it’s easy to reach the top with the gondola that’s quite a rare in Finland ski resorts. However, the gondola may be closed due to strong winds (during our visit it was closed on 2 out of 5 days) but it’s possible to check online the status of open lifts and slopes. There’s a good variety of easy and moderate slopes as well as some more challenging ones including the world cup racing slope for the fearless! It’s good to be aware that the wind and cold temperature can make the conditions quite challenging – on our first descent we could barely see anything due to heavy snowfall and goggles freezing before halfway down the slope!
After sunset at the top of Ylläs it felt eerily almost like we could have been on the surface of the moon – surrounded by utter darkness except for the blinding headlights from the huge maintenance vehicle, blazing wind and viciously flying snow. I’ve rarely been as happy as when we opened the door and entered Ylläskammio café at 718 meters above sea level and could warm up by the fireplace with hot chocolate! If you happen to visit there close to the closing time of the slopes I’d warmly recommend to take the slope 28 “Koulurinne” on the left-hand-side to get downhill since on the right side only the black slope was illuminated – luckily we realized at the last minute although it was quite a heavy climb to get to the other side from that point.
Opening times: 10 am to 5pm (open till 7pm during high season, Christmas holidays and from mid-February to late April)
Fees for 3 hours ski pass: Adult 39 eur, child 22,30 eur (6-11 years-old) + rechargeable key cards 7 eur
Check out all the skiing pass prices here: https://www.yllas.fi/en/activities/skiing-2/ski-tickets-and-prices.html
Super ski pass 3/4 or 4/5 offers the opportunity to ski at Levi, Olos, and Pallas in addition to Ylläs (either on 3 out of 4 days or 4 out of 5 days) and sounds like a perfect solution for avid downhill skiers especially if you have a car to make it easy to transit between the four Lapland skiing resorts.
Fees for equipment rental at Head Ski Rent: set (alpine skis, poles and boots) for 3 hours Adults 28 eur / Kids 19 eur (11 and under) + helmets 5 eur
Have you ever felt like learning something challenging although it feels painfully difficult? That describes my feelings towards snowboarding. About every ten years I’ve given it a go and I have to admit it doesn’t get any easier with age… I’m super slow at learning it yet enjoy challenging myself. In 90 minutes the 9-year-old had pretty much learned the basic technique while I was still basically not much beyond the starting point but happy to have survived without injuries 🙂 Just kidding, it was great exercise in perfect winter weather.
Fee for 90 min private class: 111 eur, 2h snowboarding set rent 25 eur / person
Swimming and chilling in the spa
After a long day on the skiing tracks or slopes it feels awesome to go for a swim and we were lucky to have Ylläs Hotel Saaga’s spa accessible through the indoor walkway from our Ylläs Chalet building. The spa is quite compact with a swimming pool and a couple of whirlpools. The water in the bigger pool felt a bit cool for us and the whirlpool with warmer water was fully occupied all the time. It was a bit crowded during our visit – I’d recommend checking the time table for aquabic classes and maybe visit at another time if you prefer a more peaceful spa experience. It was nice that there were plenty of water toys that could be borrowed. We especially enjoyed playing catch with a ball. There are Turkish and Finnish saunas (separate for women and men, access from the shower area).
Opening times: 1 pm to 9 pm
Fees: The entrance is included for those staying in Ylläs Hotel Saaga. If staying at the Chalets as well as others the prices are 14 euros for adults and 7 euros for children under 12 years old.
We rented fatbikes for one hour to test this way of moving on snow. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than it looks like. The terrain, weather, the quality of the bike seem to have quite a big impact on how light or heavy fatbiking feels. We started off on a uphill trail which soon proved to be a bit too much for the nine-year-old. We ended up walking the bikes quite a bit but reached a nice spot to see the views. The way down on the other hand was fast and fun. We’d recommend fatbiking to those who can go for the adults bikes which are suitable for people over 160cm/5ft 2in.
Fees: We rented our fatbikes from Jerissport that gave -20% discount for kids under 12. In total it was 35 euros for one hour, including the bikes and helmets.
In addition to skis and snowboards, it’s also possible to rent snowshoes or fatbikes from the equipment retal shops. The wintertrails where it’s possible to walk, snowshoe or bicycle are clearly marked on the skiing route map as well as signs on the tracks. We went snowshoeing in Pallas-Ylläs National Park last year, read more here.
Aurora Borealis watching
The northern lights are maybe one of the most amazing spectacles nature has to offer and there are good chance to see them in Ylläs – this is where I had the opportunity to marvel them for the first time in my life a few years ago. The most likely time of the day to see auroras is often from around 10 pm to 1am. There are some ways to forecast the probabilities of northern lights, for more information see here. One night I looked out of the window and got lucky to see a glimpse of the northern lights – so exciting that I could barely hold myself from rushing outdoors 🙂
One of Finland’s best ice swimming places I’ve experienced is located in the Äkäslompolo side of Ylläs. It’s possible to rent the private wood-heated sauna with plenty of space for 15 persons, for more details see here.
Sledding and playing with the snow
There’s an outdoor play area next to the slopes that especially around 2-7 year-olds will enjoy and there’s also a sledding hill next to the playground but you need to bring your own sled/toboggan (or rent it from one of the rental shops). My nine-year-old took a quick look and decided that she preferred climbing and jumping down the huge snow piles.
Music and entertainment
A bonus about Ylläs is that although it’s far from big cities it has a lively bar scene offering entertainment from nightly après ski to live music with front-line Finnish artists often in much more intimate setting than in larger cities. A few years ago I had the opportunity to see Maija Vilkkumaa at Taiga Restaurant and this time Sanni had a concert at the same place.
Snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris
A wide variety of snow tours and safaris are available in Ylläs. If snowmobiles, reindeer rides or husky safaris are of interest to you this is the place to go for those adventures! See more details on safaris and other possible activities here.
Indulge in Lapland Cuisine
Ylläskammi 718 is at the top of the Ylläs ski resort, accessible by the gondola lift. The big fireplace felt like a life savior after entering from the freezing cold outdoors. A special feature and giving the place a special personal touch was the wooden cups “kuksa” from different owners hung up on the walls. The burger was tasty and the prices weren’t insanely expensive despite the special location.
Latvamaja is a traditional wilderness café in the Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We loved the decoration and above all the big fireplace at the heart of the café: it’s possible to hang your clothes to dry in the warmth of the fireplace and let them dry while enjoying some refreshments. The pancakes with jam and cream were yummy and the crowberry juice delicious. They even had oat milk available with coffee which seems to be still quite rare in these surroundings.
Aurikotupa is also a traditional café with wooden tables and benches. “Mokkapalat” and hot juice did the trick to get us re-energized to take the more challenging route back. The café also advertised home-made gluten free doghnuts which weren’t too bad at all. Indoor restrooms are a big bonus!
Restaurant Kota is located just next to the slopes. Don’t let the exterior scare you – at first sight I thought I wouldn’t enter such a touristy looking place. However, after reading the reviews online it sounded worth checking out. In addition to the looks from outside, also the initial impression of the service inside was a bit puzzling: no one seemed to take any note of us let alone guide us to a table. I was already thinking of leaving when my smart daughter urged to go ahead to the counter to make our order. Self-service was the way to go: we paid in advance for the meal, they handed us soda cans and told the glasses are on the table. The reindeer burger turned out to be very tasty with some added blackpepper. Later the staff was very friendly though: asking if everything was well, filling up the water jug, asking if we would like dessert.
On our final day we had lunch at the Yllas Saaga Restaurant at the hotel to keep things simple. I couldn’t find information about the lunch online but found some recommendations on Tripadvisor and we didn’t need to be disappointed. Especially the salad buffet was fantastic after eating way too much burgers and other fast food. The buffet included a wide selection of starters, mains and dessert as well as coffee, tea or hot chocolate. If we would have discovered this earlier we would have returned for another lunch for sure.
Fees: Adult 15 eur, Child 7,50 eur
We usually had lunch at the cafes and restaurants while breakfast and dinner we enjoyed preparing at our apartment. We bought groceries at Eelin Kauppa K-market in Ylläsjärvi at arrival (and later by skiing the 5 km there) and replenished supplies from the minimarket downstairs at the Ylläs Chalets. The prices were a bit higher than in larger markets but still less expensive than eating at restaurants, and it was the most practical way to ensure eating relatively healthy during our Lapland winter holidays.
Where to stay?
Since we were traveling by public transport our key criteria was close proximity to resort services and walking distance to ski tracks and slopes. A lot of options had already sold out when we were making our reservations only about a month in advance. I was delighted to find a modern 1 bedroom apartment available Ylläs Chalets apartments, adjacent to Ylläs Saaga Hotel.
The apartment was located on the 2nd floor with views towards the forest and slopes. It had a well-equipped kitchen where it was easy and fun to prepare meals. Sauna was a must for us and indeed it was in use almost daily. The drying cabinet was very handy for drying clothes and towels. The apartment didn’t have wifi but internet access with LAN cable. We found the storage lockers downstairs for skiing equipment convenient.
There was indoor access from the next floor to the hotel and spa via a walking tunnel. It was a big help that on the day of departure as we could move the suitcases to the hotel lobby via the indoor pathway and leave them in the luggage storage at the lobby till it was our time for departure.
What to wear?
Layers, layers and layers is the best advice to follow so that it’s easy to remove or add a layer in case you get hot or cold. Warmest possible gloves are a must. Neck warmer tube scarfs are very useful as you can pull the scarf easily up to warm your face from the freezing wind. I also recommend high quality sports socks and ski boot overboots – they’ve been a savior to my cold feet!
What to pack in your back-pack: snacks and other essentials
The freezing temperatures have their pros and cons for packing snacks. On the positive side, there’s no risk of food going bad because of heat but it can freeze! Pack along for example water, hot juice / tea, muesli bars, sandwiches, chocolate.
Pack also a skiing route map, fully charged mobile phone with maps app, power pack and charging cable (the cold temperature might use up the phone’s battery quicker than you’d expect), tissues, matches, cash, possibly some additional clothes, room keys, sun glasses, lip balm/chapstick, sunscreen (especially in the spring and if the weather is sunny).
How to get there and move around?
See the location of Ylläs and the places we visited on the map:
Bus: Onnibus overnight double-decker bus from Helsinki Kamppi to Ylläsjärvi, duration aprox. 15 hours (the bus stop is in the parking lot of Eelin kauppa store). It’s about 5km/3mi from Ylläsjärvi to Sport Resort Ylläs. There is skibus service multiple times a day, connecting Sports Resport Ylläs, Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo as well as other stops on the way but the timetables weren’t a perfect match for us. See Skibus schedule and ticket informaiton here. We decided to take a taxi as we had quite a bit of luggage, skis and equipment with us. The taxi numbers can be found at the entrance of Eelin kauppa.
Train overnight (approx. 15 hours) from Helsinki to Kolari and bus from the station to Ylläs. This is a convenient option as the train and bus schedules are synced to support smooth transitions. You can select either a seat or a cabin with bunk beds for 1-3 persons. There’s even an option to take your car onboard the train but beware that there’s limited availability and at winter holidays these spots get sold out early. This is maybe the most comfortable option to travel especially if you don’t mind the sound of the railway tracks through the night.
Airplane to Kittilä and bus from the airport to Ylläs. The flight is only about 1,5 hours and there’s always a bus connection leaving shortly to Ylläs. This is the quickest option but at high season especially if you haven’t booked early the flight tickets tend to be very expensive and there’s the usual luggage limitations (check your carrier’s policy on sports equipment if you plan to bring your skis or snow boards). Finnair and Norwegian fly from Helsinki to Kittliä.
Car – it’s about 14 to 15-hour drive from Helsinki which means that in the winter it’s not possible to reach the destination before sunset. Note that although there are good roads all the way to Ylläs, in the winter the driving conditions can become very challenging, and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have experience of winter driving. Stopping on the way for a night in about half way for example in Oulu could make the drive a bit easier.
What has been your most memorable Lapland experience? We’d love to hear from you!
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It was raining in Helsinki after Christmas and I decided to go on a search for winter. I found last minute flight and hotel deals and less than 12 hours later I was on the plane from Helsinki to Kuusamo. Already before noon I was enjoying the perfect winter wonderland experience. If you don’t mind travelling a bit further up north, other excellent skiing destinations in Northern Finland include Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park,Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park with Pallas in the north and Ylläs in the south, and Salla – in the Middle of Nowhere in Eastern Lapland.
My top 5 tips to experiencing Ruka in 72 hours:
- Easy access
- Plenty of options for accomodation and restaurants
- Lovely cafes – maybe see some reindeer and huskys too!
- Cross-country skiing
- Ice swimming & sauna
1. Easy access
Why I chose Ruka for this mini break? Traveling from Helsinki to Ruka is super easy: the flight from Helsinki to Kuusamo airport takes just over an hour.
The airport bus is conveniently waiting to take you to the Ruka ski resort (10€ fee one way). Ruka village is really small, so everything – restaurants, shops, slopes, skiing tracks – is nicely within walking distance and you can practically ski almost directly from the hotel door.
Ruka is too south to be considered Lapland but you can get pretty much the same experiences there as well. The benefit in the winter time is that there’s a couple of hours daylight whereas in the very north the sun may not appear at all.
2. Plenty of options for accommodation and restaurants
There’s plenty of options for accommodation. If travelling with friends or family I’d recommend a cabin for the flexibility it offers. You can check out possible options for example from Ruka.fi. However, this time I chose to stay in a hotel including breakfast to make my 3 night stay as convenient as possible. I stayed at Rukahovi which has been renovated after my visit. Even at the time of my visit the rooms weren’t too bad (after one freezing night I figured out to turn on the radiator), the room was even equipped with a convenient drying cabinet. The only thing I missed was a kettle and a fridge would have been nice too. The breakfast at the hotel was superb, one of my all time favorites! The hotel restaurant Kaltiokivi was an easy choice after a long and tiring day of skiing but there are a number of options close by too. If you’re into sushi I would recommend Mura Sushi.
3. Cross-country skiing
Ruka is maybe more famous about the down hill skiing but it’s one of the top destinations in Finland for cross country skiing too. The tracks close to the village are maybe not ideal for very beginners (but you can drive or take the SkiBus to the easier tracks a bit further away from the village such as “Vuosselin reitti”), but for a average skier it’s easy to do day trips of at least 20-25 kilometers.
4. Lovely cafes – maybe see some reindeer and huskys too!
There’s some very nice cafes to stop by for refueling breaks. I would warmly recommend Lammintupa café where I had a very tasty salmon soup and some freshly baked bread. Lammintupa also offers husky and reindeer rides so it’s a perfect place to visit even with kids.
After the energy consuming skiing day there’s nothing better than going to sauna and having a nice dinner. The sauna at Rukahovi hotel was quite basic but very easy access. And it was a great way to meet some other talkative and friendly skiers so the big benefit was in getting some valuable tips and recommendations.
5. Ice swimming & sauna
The absolute highlight of my mini break was the sauna and ice swimming at Rukatonttu. It’s a hidden gem and I would never have found it without a local’s recommendation and guidance. It’s just about half kilometer walk from Ruka village – look for the stairway to the ski jumping tower (or you could even ski there directly).
It’s one of the most luxurious ice swimming experiences I’ve had and a real bargain (just 6€ if you bring your own towel). You can even buy refreshments from the reception. The sauna was huge with views to the lake and even though it’s in the use of the hotel guests and public, I had the place all to myself almost the whole time. The interesting thing is that there’s loudspeakers and music even inside the sauna, not very typical Finnish style! Luckily it wasn’t too disturbing.
I recommend to have good swimming shoes as the pathway to the swimming place is icy (and of course remember to take along your swimming suit). Two rounds of dips in the ice cold water was the ultimate relaxing and refreshing experience.
The added bonus: you can stay for dinner in the restaurant upstairs. The only minus is a big TV screen but if you get lucky like I did it is turned off when the live music starts. I recommend to book a table (ask for a window seat) in advance.
In total, I had less than 72 hours in Ruka but I was amazed how much could be experienced in such a short time in this winter wonderland. And it’s just one hour flight to get back to Helsinki. Finland and it’s capital city can be expensive but I recommend to read this post on Helsinki on a budget for brilliant ideas on how to enjoy your visit without breaking the bank!
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