How to get to Lapland: the best way to travel

This post is all about how to get to Lapland. A dream destination for those wishing to visit some of Europe’s most remote and wild spots as well as for those trying to see the northern lights. 

How to get to Lapland sounds like an easy question. The answer is more complicated though, because Lapland is not actually a country. It’s a region above the arctic circle that spans from northern Norway over Sweden, Finland and even parts of Russia.

All together it is a pretty large area that is sparsely populated due to its extreme climate. Traditionally, the indigenous Sami people used to roam these lands freely as nomads with their reindeer herds. Nowadays borders have defined them to be citizens of a certain country. 

Lapland is home to the Sami people and their reindeers
Sami men with his reindeer in Russian Lapland

Where to go in Lapland

Lapland is thus a huge and varied region and the question of how to get to Lapland can only be answered when you know where you want to go in Lapland. 

With no direct flights to Lapland, any journey to Lapland often starts in the capitals of either Norway, Sweden, Finland or Russia. From there it is either a short flight or a long journey by train or car to reach the far northern fringes of their country that belong to Lapland.

All of them offer spectacular nature with tundra, endless forests and lakes as well as a chance to learn about Sami culture. However, there are differences in the available tourism infrastructure, the prices and how easy it is to get there. I will elaborate on these issues below.

I personally visited both Lapland in Russia during wintertime and Swedish Lapland in autumn.

Swedish Lapland in Autumn
Swedish Lapland in autumn

How to get to Lapland in Finland

When people think of Lapland they often refer to Finnish Lapland and the Santa Clause village of Rovaniemi. With its popularity come excellent tourist facilities and activities. Think a snow village, ice hotels, reindeer safari’s, dog sledding, snowmobiling, ski resorts and saunas. Finland is one of the more expensive lapland destinations though, so budget accordingly. 

Any journey to Finnish Lapland will start in Helsinki. The most popular destinations in Finnish Lapland are Rovaniemi, Ivalo and Inari. 

Torne valley in Finnish Lapland
The Torne valley in Finnish Lapland

Helsinki to Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi is known as the Santa Claus village and is about 800 kilometers from Helsinki. You can fly from Helsinki to Rovaniemi in less than 2 hours for around 100 USD or take the train.

The most convenient is the Santa Claus express night train that brings you to Rovaniemi in 12 hours with sleeper beds starting from 50 euro onwards. There are also 3 daytime trains that take between 8 and 9 hours.  

After Rovaniemi the train continues to Kemijarvi. Another beautiful destination in the forests of Lapland. 

You can check the latest train schedules and prices on the website of the Finnish railway where you can also book your tickets.

Helsinki to Ivalo and Inari

Inari is the northernmost town in Finland and is almost 1200 kilometers north of Helsinki. Therefore it is a great place to see the northern lights. It also has a scenic location on Lake Inari, one of the largest lakes in Lapland. Ivalo lies south of Inari and is close to several national parks. 

To get from Helsinki to Ivalo and Inari one can either fly to Ivalo and then take a bus to Inari or take a combination of train and bus. If you choose the train option you need to take the train to Rovaniemi. From Rovaniemi there are buses to Ivalo and Inari. 

For many dog sledding is one of the reasons to travel to Lapland
Dog sledding is a popular winter activity in Lapland

How to get to Lapland in Sweden

Swedish Lapland is in my opinion one of the best countries to explore Lapland. It’s slightly cheaper than neighbouring Finland and Norway, but with excellent facilities and a great variety of things to do. 

In summer Swedish Lapland is a hikers paradise with long distance trails such as the Kungsleden or Padjelantaleden that go through mountainous terrain or plenty of shorter well marked trails through forests and national parks. In winter you can see the northern lights, go dog sledding, snowmobiling or stay in an ice hotel. 

Sweden has it all and it’s also easily accessible from Stockholm. The most popular destinations in Swedish Lapland are Lulea, Jokkmokk, Kiruna and Abisko. 

Swedish Lapland in Jokkmokk
Forests around Jokkmokk in Swedish Lapland

Stockholm to Lulea

Lulea lies on the Bothnian coast, 900 kilometers north of Stockholm. It is a nice town with nature on its doorsteps. Nearby is the famous tree hotel in Harads and you could spend weeks exploring the islands in the Lulea Archipelago. Accessible by ferry in summer and by an ice road over the sea in winter. 

Getting from Stockholm to Lulea is easy. You can either fly directly to Lulea for around 120 usd (2 hours) or take the direct night train (14 hours, from 60 USD onwards).  There are also day time trains if you would like to see the scenery.

You can check the latest train time tables and prices on the website of the Swedish railways where you can also book your tickets.

The nighttrain from Stockholm to Lulea or Kiruna is one of the best ways to travel to Lapland
The SJ night train from Stockholm to Lulea

Stockholm to Jokkmokk

Jokkmokk is the cultural capital of the Sami people in Sweden and a great place to learn more about Sami culture. The nearest airport is Gallivare or Lulea. From there you can take a bus to Jokkmokk.

Jokkmokk doesn’t have a train station, but you can take the night train from Stockholm to Murjek where a bus to Jokkmokk connects with the train. 

Stockholm to Kiruna and Abisko.

Kiruna lies more than 1200 kilometer north of Stockholm. It is the seat of the Swedish Sami Parliament and the largest city in Swedish Lapland. It is also one of the most popular winter destinations in Sweden. Nearby is the ice hotel in Jukkasjarvi and Abisko National Park, one of the best places in Scandinavia to see the Northern lights. 

Kiruna is easy to reach by flight for around 200 USD (1.5 hours). There is a direct night train from Stockholm to Kiruna (14 hours) as well that goes on to Abisko and even Narvik in Norway. If you fly into Kiruna there are day trains and buses to Abisko (1.5 hours).  

Abisko National Park
Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland

How to get to Lapland in Norway

Norway’s Lapland is far north of the Arctic circle. The biggest city, Tromso, is more than 1800 kilometers north of Oslo and it is quite a journey to get there. It is a multiple day trip by car and there are no direct trains either. In fact, it is faster to travel through Sweden to reach the Norwegian parts of Lapland. 

What is unique to Norwegian lapland is that it borders the Barentz sea and that its coastline is characterized by the beautiful fjords that Norway is famous for. That makes the effort to get this far north more than worth it.  

The main destination is Tromso. A city that has all the facilities you would like to have and that serves as a gateway to Norwegian lapland. Tromso is at sea so, besides the usual winter activities you can also go whale watching, taking cruises into the fjords and polar fishing among others. 

Beyond Tromso there is not much, but some small towns and spectacular arctic landscapes. You might want to visit Alta, the northern lights city where you can sleep in an igloo or  Honningsvag to visit the nordkapp.

Norwegian Lapland has lots to offer, but it is also the most expensive place to see Lapland, 

Oslo to Tromso

The easiest and fastest way to reach Tromso is by flight. Prices vary a lot, but there are some pretty good deals out there. Tromso is also an international airport so there might be direct flights from your home country. 

By train, bus or car from Oslo you are looking at a multiple day journey that is much faster through Sweden. Norwegian trains do not go further north than Bodo. This is an 18 hour journey with a change in Trondheim.

Bodo is still more than 500 kilometers south of Tromso. From Bodo there are no direct buses. You will have to take a bus to Narvik (6 hours) and then a bus to Tromso (4 hours).

If opting to travel by train it is actually much faster and cheaper to travel from Sweden by taking the direct SJ nighttrain from Malmo or Stockholm to Narvik (19 hours, 70 USD onwards).

If money is no problem, you can also take the famous hurtigruten cruise that goes along the fjords up north. This is one of the most scenic ways to travel up to Lapland.    

Tromso to Alta and the Nordkapp

If you want to travel to Alta or the Nordkapp it’s best to do so from Tromso. Alta does have an airport, but flights are more expensive. From Tromso you can travel by bus to Alta and Honningsvag (gateway to the Nordkapp). 

The touristic bus company Arctic route connects Tromso with Alta and other destinations in Lapland including Kiruna, Lulea and Rovaniemi making stops along the way that are of interest to tourists.

Husky farm
Husky at a husky farm in Lapland

How to get to Lapland in Russia 

Few people know that Lapland even stretches into Russia. Russia’s remote Kola Peninsula has few tourist facilities, but it is one of the cheapest places to explore Lapland. Once you get your Russian visa it isn’t even that difficult to get there. 

Murmansk is the biggest city in the Kola peninsula and the only place where you find facilities like hotels, restaurants and tour agencies that can organize all kinds of arctic activities for you. 

Murmansk is the gateway to Russian Lapland
Murmansk in winter

Moscow or St Petersburg to Murmansk

If you are planning a trip to Russian lapland it is best to start your journey in St Petersburg or Moscow. From both places you can fly directly to Murmansk for around 50 USD or take the train to Murmansk. 

If you take the train it makes more sense to start in St Petersburg. The Arktika express train brings you from St Petersburg to Murmansk in 24 hours. This sounds like a long time, but it is a very scenic journey.

It’s easy to book your train tickets online through the Russian Railways where you can also check the latest time tables and prices. If this doesn’t work out you can also use a travel agency like tutu travel or Realrussia, but the fares might be slightly higher.

Train is the best way to get to Lapland
The Arktika express in Murmansk station

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