Lapland tour: arriving in Sweden and crossing the border to Finland

Kemi, Finland

As I haven’t travelled much lately (except for Ibiza in September and the Christmas holidays back home on Lake Como, Italy) I want to keep writing about past travels. I hope you don’t mind, but don’t worry, I remember my travels well and I also have all the hotels’ and restaurants’ names available, as well as the agencies’.

Lapland, considered from many countries the home of Santa Claus, has been the first Scandinavian destination where my boyfriend and I travelled to, and the northernmost point. Before Lapland the northernmost country we had been to was Scotland. After all the classic summer holidays which are quite common for Italian couples (Egypt, Tunisia, Greece and Spain), both for geographical convenience and for economic reasons, we decided to do something different. Moreover, my boyfriend still didn’t have a passport at the time, he had made it six months later to fly to Bali.

Lulea, Sweden

We travelled to Swedish and Finnish lapland in December 2017, after Christmas (which we love to spend at home with our families) but before New Year’s Eve, which we’re less interested in and we don’t mind spending abroad. We were both interested in Scandinavia, because we have always been fascinated by the snow and by a different kind of landscape, moreover we were of course dreaming of seeing reindeers, doing saunas everyday, going to Santa Claus Village and seeing the northern lights which (SPOILER ALERT) we didn’t see. Bad luck! But it’s a reason to go back.

Lulea’s Airport

After doing research for weeks about Lapland, I decided to book the flights from Milan Malpensa to Lulea, Sweden, with a stopover in Stockholm Arlanda, because the direct flight to Rovaniemi, Finland (our final destination) was extremely expensive, around 600 Euro per person. With that money we could have flown to NYC or Asia! Of course, the journey has been longer and more stressful, but at least we got the chance to visit Lulea, in Sweden, and Kemi, in Finland, which we wouldn’t have if we had flown directly to Rovaniemi (even if I’ll leave you my honest advice regarding this point at the end of this blogpost). We bought way cheaper tickets from SAS Scandinavian airlines and after a 2 hour stop in Stockholm we arrived in Lulea in the late afternoon.

Just outside Lulea’s airport

As soon as we got out of the airport we found a taxi which drove us to our hotel, 20 minutes from there. The landscape was magical. Of course, it was dark already. Our hotel, called Park hotell, was very cheap and in a central position. I chose a simple one as we were staying only a night, but nothing was missing. Actually, we had everything we could want and it was so cosy and hyggeligt to warm up after suffering the cold. Most importantly, the hotel was near the bus station where our bus to Kemi, our mid-stop before Rovaniemi, would leave.

Hunting for dinner

On our first night in Scandinavia we left the hotel to have dinner but the restaurants were about to close (something to keep in mind, they close early). The atmosphere was incredibly still and quiet, we were the only ones around and we felt that we were in another world. As there was no trace of restaurants, we looked for a small supermarket, where we bought bread, cheese and a bit of comforting junk food and we went back to our super tiny hotel room to wrap up in the warm covers. We had dinner in bed while watching Love Actually on the satellite TV…in English! It was a dream come true (well, Gabriele was a little less enthusiastic about the movie choice, but there you go! It was cosy 😛 ).

Our hotel room in Lulea, Sweden

The following morning we woke up very early, around 6am, to catch the first bus to Kemi (which would cross the border between Sweden and Finland at the station of Haparanda Tornio RC, beside a huge Ikea. That’s where we also had to change bus – and the clock, as there is one-hour difference between Sweden and Finland). We had a quiet self-service buffet breakfast on the last floor of the hotel (nobody was around) and then we left with our heavy luggage, walking 10 minutes to the bus station. That’s when we started realising that perhaps we were backpackers…and the heavy trolleys didn’t suit us anymore!

The bus journey between Lulea and Kemi would last around three hours, and it actually seemed longer to us. Even if it was dark and we could have slept, I didn’t manage to, because I was too excited and wanted to look out for reindeers!

We arrived in Kemi at around three o’clock and checked into Hotel Palomestari (https://www.hotellipalomestari.com), which was around 5 minutes from Kemi Bus Station and Kemi train station (where trains to Rovaniemi leave). Of course it took more because dragging our heavy trolleys in the deep snow! Our room had two single beds and was huge, with a view of the main street of the town.

Looking for the Snow Castle in Kemi

In Kemi we felt the lowest temperature of our lives, -22°C. We were walking without a destination, looking for the Snow Castle (which we found out with great disappointment was being built in that moment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SnowCastle_of_Kemi), when the sun suddenly disappeared and the temperature decreased dramatically, reaching -22°C. At that point my eyelashes were frozen and we couldn’t feel our faces so we got in the first open restaurant that we could find, to look for comfort and warmth, and we found the pizzeria, where my boyfriend ordered pizza with reindeer (the nightmare of every vegetarian and animal-lover girl. But he was curious… Well, it disappointed him! u.u ).

I had booked another cheap hotel to stay in, which had a sauna, and this was more than enough for me. Moreover we were staying only one night this time, too. Just like in Lulea, also here finding a restaurant was a “mission impossible”. We did have a pizza for our late lunch, which unfortunately was bad, but then when we wanted to have dinner at 7pm everything was closed… or didn’t exist, actually. So that we ended up in a fast-food. Oh well, we couldn’t wait to arrive in Rovaniemi, where we knew there was a broad choice of restaurants.

Amazing

If I could go back in time I think I would skip Kemi because we didn’t see the Snow Castle and we couldn’t find any good restaurant. It was a simple town which we used to break down our journey but I think that “wasting” a whole day to go from Lulea to Rovaniemi would be better. Yes, it would be long (3 hours on the bus and then 2 on the train from Kemi to Rovaniemi) but at least you would reach Rovaniemi sooner to be able to enjoy the city, which I believe is nicer than Kemi and of course there’s plenty of activities to do (skiing, snow mobile, Santa Claus village, restaurants…). If you have a big budget that allows you to do the Sampo Ice Breaker experience (240 euro per person. Info at: https://www.visitfinland.com/article/the-mighty-sampo/) , and if you manage to get to Kemi when the Snow Castle is ready, then yes, it would be worth it to visit the Finnish town before continuing your journey.

But now tell me, do you feel Lapland would be a destination you would like to visit? Maybe you visited it already? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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