Saunas in January: The Joys of Finnish Winter Travel


There are many place of which we wish to escape during the cold winter months of the year, but while warm equatorial locations seem to be the frequented norm, some of us gravitate toward the cold dark climate of the Arctic Circle. Scandinavia is a beautiful area of the world, and while I have never been there during the warmer months of the year, I have spent time during the bleak winter months. Although this sounds like it could be drab and depressing, this is far from the truth. There is a simplicity about this part of the world, a beauty which is staggering and ethereal. You just have to be willing to stay layered up most of the time. But it is worth every penny you will spend, to be part of such an experience.


Finland, the land of my ancestors, is not part of the Scandinavian peninsula. Instead, it is one of five that make up the Nordic countries. These consist of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Scandinavia technically is comprised of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Ok, so now that is out of the way, lets get on with it. Why should you visit these countries during the winter months, instead of the warm blue waters of the Caribbean, gently lapping away at soft sand shores? How about for a life changing experience. For the raw beauty of nature. To have an adventure that few will ever be able to understand, only those who have explored the cold north.


People that live in Nordic countries embrace winter. Instead of counting down the days until the snow melts, and always looking ahead for something better, they appreciate what they have. There is a serenity amongst the people I have met on my travels through the Nordic areas of the world during the winter, and a happiness that I cannot explain. By embracing winter as a normal existence, as a part of their lives, they seem to live with happiness.


Suomaleinen–Finn’s–embrace the idea of the winter. The summer in Finland only lasts three months, and because of this, Finn’s make the most of it with outside events, festivals, and communing with nature. While they take full advantage of summer, they do not hide indoors when the snows fall. Instead they embrace it with a warm enthusiasm. The Finn’s are a people of contrasts, and this can be seen in their ritual use of the sauna.


We checked in to a small cabin in Kilpisjärvi at 6 p.m. The sky was already black, and the lake was obscured by the veil of a stygian darkness. The world was white and cold, seeming to be in a permanent freeze. It had been -19 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the trip, but we became used to it. This area is known for its outdoor recreation during the summer, with a mountain on one side, and lake on the other. Here, after much hiking, you can find the marker where Norway, Sweden, and Finland all meet, so high above the Arctic Circle. There was another thing it was well known for, the coldest temperatures in Finland.


We were an oddity as we checked into our cabin. Technically the lodge was closed during the winter. If you booked online with enough notice, they would open a cabin for travelers. As the proprietor of the cabins left, she noted she was going for a hiking up Saana to see the Northern Lights, on that frigid night. We took advantage of the sauna, and the negative temperatures. The three of us crammed into that small, cedar lined room. After temperatures reached well above one hundred, we began pouring water on hot volcanic rock, and embraced the humid air.


The room steamed, as the rocks sizzled and popped, every time we ladled water atop the heater. The room was tropic, equatorial, yet we were in the coldest place in Finland, eight hours above the Arctic Circle. Two days ago we had left Rovaniemi in a small white Peugeot. We stayed in Kiruna Sweden one night, and now were relaxing in a small Cabin at the far reaches of the earth, in a steamy little room the size of a closet. After considerable amount of time, we decided to practice how the Finn’s did it. Although the lake was too far away, and we did not know of any hole cut in the ice, we decided it was cold enough out to improvise.


We rolled around the snow in that -19 degree Fahrenheit night. The stars were brilliant in the onyx sky, but no Northern Lights to be seen. The moisture stuck to our skin, and melted from the temperatures our bodies radiated. Sweat trickled down our reddened skin, along with the purest of water which formed as small droplets. Individual flakes dissolved from crystalline to the cool moisture that ran as rivulets down the valleys of backs.


We hiked Lake Kilpisjärvi the next few days. The snow was deep on the lake, and we did not make it to our destination. We were hoping to reach the three country border point, which is a monument dedicating the intersection of these three nations, but the hike was too much, as the sun set across the lake, descending us into darkness. It was beautiful on that walk back across the frozen body of water. We waded shin deep through the snow, and the temperatures began to drop precipitously, but the sky opened up a brilliant light show of twinkling stars.


We never were able to see the Northern lights while we were there–strange since we were there for over two weeks–but nonetheless, the unobstructed night sky was brilliant in its unfettered natural state. Traveling to Finland made me appreciate the seasons for what they are. If we keep looking ahead, we will always miss the present. We can learn a lot from the Finn’s. If we learn to embrace their love of nature and the cold months, maybe we would find a little more happiness in something we tend to detest and curse. So, if you are ever feeling adventurous, visit Finland in winter, it is an exciting time.






David Jester

About David Jester

David Jester lives in the Midcoast region of Maine. He received a masters degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Maine. David is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and writer, who maintains another blog He travels the world, but chooses locales that many would never consider for vacation. The world is full of many different and unique places, why not see them all?