Hello! And welcome back to the Julia Young Photography journal!
As you know by now, our family absolutely LOVES to travel! Today, I am sharing about one of our favorite family travel trips to date; Finland. I am so happy to have you along for the ride!
When our family was stationed in Germany, we made sure to take full advantage of how simple and affordable it was to travel around Europe. We continued to check new countries off our bucket list (although that list keeps growing by the day!) 🙂 Lukas learned about the Northern Lights from watching the cartoon “Dinosaur Train”, and added Finland on the top of HIS bucket list. His frequent talks about the Aurora Borealis, convinced us to take him north to see these lights.
After doing some online research, we discovered that February/March was the best time to catch a sighting of the amazing Northern Lights. So, in February of 2017, Chris, Lukas (our oldest) and I packed up for a big adventure! Liam was only 18 months at the time, so we were worried about how he would handle the extreme cold temperatures. Because of this, he got to stay home with Oma and Opa in Germany. I’m sure they didn’t mind the extra time with sweet Liam! 😉
Our travels started by flying from Stuttgart, Germany into Helsinki, the capital of Finland. From Helsinki, we booked a cabin in an overnight train to Rovaniemi. This was a great option for those of you traveling with littles, especially ones that like trains! At the Rovaniemi train station, we rented a car and drove 2 hours north into the Arctic Circle to a small city called Ivalo. There, we stayed in an Airbnb for 5 nights, and then returned to Rovaniemi to stay at the amazing Santa Claus Village for 2 additional nights.
Finland Food Diary
Food is such an important part of any culture. When we travel, we make sure to try as much local cuisine as possible. It is always more fun to sample and taste new foods, which is exactly what we did in Finland as well!
While in Helsinki, we ate aboard an antique ship restaurant called Kuurnari Kathrina. We were not expecting much from a boat restaurant, but it was a charming little restaurant with great food. We shared a stew called Labskaus, some smoked salmon, and some garlic potatoes. It was also in Helsinki that Lukas learned to love black licorice and reindeer jerky. He is such an adventurous guy!
Our most memorable meal in Rovaniemi was in a teepee restaurant. In the middle of the teepee was a fire where they smoked salmon. The salmon was amazing, and the ambiance of the restaurant gave us such an incredible and authentic Finnish experience!
Best of Finland: Site Seeing
Being the nature lovers we are, every Young family trip we take we make sure to spend the majority of our time soaking in the fresh air and the sunshine (even in Finland!). While in Ivalo, some of our favorite activities included dog sledding, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling (it was a first for Lukas!). We also did a tour at Petri Mattus’ Reindeer Farm, which is a must see for anyone visiting Finland! After Petri dressed us in warm coveralls, we jumped in a sleigh and got pulled by his snowmobile out into the middle of a forest. There, Petri started calling his reindeer, and they all came running towards him to get fed. The reindeer were close enough to touch. It was perfect for the entire family, young and old 😉
Since one of our goals of traveling to Finland was to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), we spent many evenings outside in the countryside patiently waiting and watching for the fantastic light show. During the trip, we were able to observe the lights 5 different times!
Travel Tips with Kids: Cold weather edition!
Since we only brought Lukas along on the trip, our packing list was much lighter than normal. No stroller, diapers, or pack and play was necessary this time! Although we packed a lot of cold weather gear, each tour that we did (dog sledding and reindeer farm) also provided overalls, boots, and gloves that they made us wear. The Finnish people are more than accustomed to the cold, and we were very thankful for not only their hospitality but their expertise on cold weather adventuring.
Although it was Lukas’s dream to see the Northern Lights, this usually meant keeping him up late at night. So, he ended up sleeping quite a bit in the car while we were outside sky gazing!
Having extra pairs of gloves on hand (and even hand or foot warmers) is always a good idea for the littles. They love love love to jump around and play in the snow, but don’t always love when their hands get cold from it. 😉 Being prepared (but not overpacked) is key!
Increasing your chances to the see the Lights.
Although we generally like to go with the flow on our trips and not “over plan”, it is so important that you do a little research before taking any trip (especially to a cold climate like Finland!) We really wanted to be in Finland the perfect time to maximize our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. And, by doing our research, we found our that the days start to get longer by February/early March in Finland.
Our AirBnB host in Ivalo told us about a website that predicts how strong the solar storms that produce the Northern Lights will be. We used this website and the weather forecast to decide if and when we would go outside to look for the Aurora Borealis. Our biggest recommendation with the Northern Lights is to be patient. The storms not only differ from day to day, but from minute to minute. We also found the best place to see the lights was out in the countryside, far away from the glow of city lights.
Unfortunately, we experienced a few times when the cloud covering was so thick that if covered up the lights entirely. On these nights, we did not even venture outside into the cold. However, our patience paid off and we were finally able to see some spectacular views of the Northern Lights that we had been dreaming about while planning our trip!
The best show happened on the last night we were in Ivalo. We hiked about 10 minutes up a hill to get a better vantage point. As soon as I got my camera set on my tripod, the lights made their appearance. The solar storm was pretty strong that evening, so the show was pretty intense. But, after about 30 minutes, the lights starting twinkling and they slowly faded out. Lukas was freezing, so we decided to start heading back to the car.
The entire walk down, I continued to watch the sky. About halfway down, I noticed the lights starting to get stronger. I told Chris and Lukas that I thought the lights were coming back. All of a sudden, while we were looking up, the sky immediately filled with the most amazing colors. We all screamed out in unison “Oh my gosh!” Lukas was more than ready for bed at this point, but even he was completely mesmerized. My heart was SO full after seeing his adorable reaction to the beauty of those dancing lights! They danced for about 15 seconds and then they suddenly stopped again. But, we were totally fulfilled and headed back to the car.
All in all, we truly had a trip of a lifetime and it was so special to build these memories with Lukas. But, it is also bittersweet to think back on our trip. While I captured some amazing photographs of the Northern Lights and of Finland, I accidentally deleted all the photographs when we returned home. It still makes me sick to think of this mistake today. I totally blame it on the pregnancy brain that I had at the time from having Charlotte in my belly. We tried many data recovery techniques, but were unsuccessful. So, the only pictures we have from our trip are from our iPhones.
Because Finland is such a gorgeous country, I know we will be back one day to replace our lost photographs!
Please let me know if you have any questions or recommendations about your own travels to Finland. I would love to share with you!
As always, thanks for following along with our adventure journal, it means the world to me!