By Henrietta Hautala and Peter Marten, July 2010, updated March 2012
Lapland forms one of Finland's biggest tourist draws all year long. It's the home of Santa Claus, but the northern region also offers vast unspoiled wilderness, unique local culture and a rich history. We look at a few of the many places where you can get into Lapland.
In the language of the indigenous Sámi people of Lapland, siida means a traditional Sámi society or village. In the town of Inari – located at 68.5 degrees north latitude, almost at the top of Finland – Siida also refers to the building that houses the Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre.
The Sámi territory covers the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a corner of Russia. You can still hear Sámi spoken on the streets of Inari, and inside Siida you'll find an appealing, modern set-up describing the Sámi culture and depicting its connection to the land, the seasons and the reindeer.
In back of Siida, an open-air museum shows original Sámi buildings, relocated piece by piece from villages around the region, preserving the traditional constructions for all to admire in a forested setting in a lovely area of the country. –PM
Siida, home of the Sámi Museum, Inari
Finland's largest news magazine, Suomen Kuvalehti, reported in July 2010 that a new gold rush is developing in Lapland – the first one took place in 1868 on the Ivalo River. A bit farther south, Tankavaara became another productive Lapland gold site and, later, the location of the Gold Prospector Museum.
The museum offers a view of the various gold rushes and gold-finding expeditions in Lapland and the rest of the world. Legend has it that gold was discovered at Tankavaara after a local man took a nap in a haystack and dreamed that a strange man with a white beard (ring any bells, anyone?) told him where to find the precious metal.
The Gold Museum Association organises the annual Finnish Gold Panning Championships every summer if you want to see the "pros" in action. If you want to try your own hand at panning for gold, go to the nearby Tankavaara Gold Village, a visitor centre with restaurant and accommodation facilities. –PM
In spring 2010, a group of adventurous entrepreneurs brought something unique to life: a piece of frozen Lapland winter in Helsinki, open even in the middle of summer! Creating winter indoors might sound a bit like a cheap way of attracting tourists but development director Jarkko Leinonen assures us that Unique Lapland – as the winter wonderland is called – merely endeavours to promote Lapland and awaken visitors' interest in the northern region.
Unique Lapland provides access to winter activities including sledging, snowmobiling and tubing, as well as husky sledding and reindeer riding. Lightly dressed summer visitors don't have to worry about the cold temperature inside, as heavy winter gear is provided. You can stay overnight at the winter wonderland's igloo hotel and dine at Europe's largest ice restaurant. On top of all that, visitors get a chance to peek into Santa Claus's cottage. –HH
Unique Lapland, Helsinki
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