6 Reasons to Spend This Winter in Lapland, Finland

Winter in Lapland, Finland

This winter set your travel sights high, all the way to the Northern sky, by experiencing the wintry wonders of Lapland, Finland. In the northernmost part of Finland lies Lapland, a region surrounded by Norway, Russia, Sweden and the Baltic Sea. From the indigenous people known as the Sami to reindeer safaris, Lapland is a world away from the US. In fact, the only notable similarity the US shares with Lapland is the winter season, which stretches from December 21 to March 20 for these Northern Hemisphere countries. This winter season get outside of your cozy comfort zone and go for these unique experiences in Lapland, Finland.

Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights

Northern Lights over Finland

In Lapland in the wintertime the sky above Lapland stays dark for most of the day and night. In fact, the region gets only six hours of sunlight a day. Talk about a perfect place to hibernate! You’ll want to sleep in and cozy up by the fire. The lack of sunlight and close proximity to the Arctic Circle also provides Laplanders with one of the most awe inspiring night skies. In fact, rather than tucking in early, since you are on vacation you’d better catch a glimpse or two of those uber famous Northern Lights.

The sparse population and lack of industry also helps you to see the Northern Lights, otherwise known as Aurora borealis. This phenomenon transforms the night’s sky into a blur of colors ranging from pale green to pink with splashes of blue, violet, yellow and red. The colors are created by a collision of gas particles within the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are totally harmless and quite surreal. Insider’s tip: the best time to watch the Northern Lights in Lapland is midnight, local time.

Northern Lights from inside a glass igloo

There’s more than one way to experience this natural phenomena but it’s up to you to choose your experience!  You could snuggle up under a warm blanket as you glide through the forest on a Reindeer sleigh. You’ll be pulled behind these incredible creatures as you hunt for the Northern Lights. Looking for something a little more adventurous? Hop on the sled pulled by 6-8 of man’s best friend… huskies! These dogs love to pull and they want to take you to find the best views of the Norther Light, while giving you a little adventure along the way. After your tour return to your hotel and snuggle up under the glass ceiling of your igloo where you can fall asleep to the breath-taking views as the lights dance across the sky.

Capital City of Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi church in Northern Finland - Winter in Lapland

For a more bustling view of Lapland culture, explore the capital city of Rovaniemi. Located four miles south of the Arctic Circle, the city is situated on the Kemijoki River and between two hills called Ounasvaara and Korkalovaara. The total population of the city is 62,000 people. While several famous people have come from Rovaniemi including snowcross world champion Janne Tapio and Finnish’s famous author Jari Tervo, the most famous resident of all is Santa Claus. Rovaniemi was originally cultivated around 750 to 530 BC by the Sami, but it wasn’t until 1453 that the city became official. At that time Rovaniemi provided a centralized place for logging and gold mining.

Step forward a few centuries and Rovaniemi is a modernized as a tourism capital. More than 481,000 tourists visited the capital city in 2013 alone. While visiting top sites include the Jatkankynttila bridge, which is the city’s most recognizable landmark. The bridge is home to the eternal flame symbolizing a lumberjack candle. Finnish architecture is highlighted in a concert hall, library and congress centre, while many restaurants and hotels dot the landscape. The Santa Claus Village and adjoining Santa Park are also located in Rovaniemi, as well as the Arktikum, which is a massive museum showcasing Finland’s history.

Visit Santa Claus

Visit Santa while you're in Finland

Speaking of the Santa Claus Village, one of the most treasured experiences of a visit to Lapland, Finland is a trip to see Santa. Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa, and you can visit the jolly man yourself in his village. The Santa Claus Village is an amusement park that was first opened in 1985. While there you can stand at the very center of the Arctic Circle, the perfect place to snap a photo.

Stop in to the post office while in the village to get a letter or package mailed with a Santa’s Village postmark. The post office sells a variety of souvenirs including Christmas cards and gifts that you can have sent to your favorite recipients for the upcoming Christmas holiday. If you are extra lucky you may even catch St. Nick himself. When Santa is in town he hangs out in his office where you can stop in for a chat or photo.

Located next to the Santa Claus Village is Santa Park, another amusement park that was opened in 1998. The park was constructed in a cave underneath the Arctic Circle. While there experience treats from Mrs. Gingerbread’s Kitchen, ride the Magic Train and watch a Magical Christmas show.

Go on a Reindeer Safari

Go on a Reindeer Sleigh ride for your winter in Lapland holiday

Once you have met Santa it’s time to venture over and meet Rudolph’s not-so-distant kin. In Lapland you have the unique opportunity to go on a reindeer safari. Ride along a traditional horse-pulled sleigh through the Finnish forest where you will encounter reindeer at a local farm. You even have the opportunity to feed the reindeer. While on a reindeer safari you can meet traditional reindeer herders for a cultural lesson in Lapland history. Maybe even enjoy a cup of soup while you embrace the experience of being in the midst of one of Lapland’s authentic way of life.

Winter Sporting Activities

Husky Safari ride in Lapland

Snowshoeing, cross country skiing and sledding are just some of the winter activities that keep Finns moving all year long. In addition to being a great form of exercise, these winter sports were once the primary mode of transportation for those living in Lapland. You can also experience a truly Lapland experience by taking a husky safari. This involves riding a sled pulled by a team of huskies steering you through the winter wonderland. Learn what it takes to be a musher as you are taught the basic commands of driving the sledge. Choose to go alone or with a partner as you fly across the frozen ground of Finland with a team of huskies at your lead.

Sweat It Out in a Sauna

Relax in the unique Finland saunas

Perhaps the most important tradition of Lapland, Finland is the sauna. Taking a Finnish sauna can be overwhelming with the nudity component combined with sitting in a steaming hot box. However, when you experience this relaxing retreat you come away mentally and physically rejuvenated. After a few days of reindeer safaris, mushing huskies and touring Rovaniemi you will be ready to relax in a sauna. And while Finns prefer to go in the buff, it’s perfectly ok for tourists and visitors to wear a towel or swimsuit. The goal is for you to be comfortable so you can truly enjoy this one of a kind Finland experience.

Enjoy Unique Experiences in Lapland, Finland

If your goal is to go on a winter adventure that you’ll never forget, consider the many unique experiences in Lapland, Finland. Your horizons will expand as you explore sites and sounds not available to you in the US. Start planning your winter retreat to Lapland today for your upcoming holiday. Whether you want to spend Christmas in Santa Claus’s village or your New Year’s Eve staring at the Northern Lights, it’s all possible when you go to Lapland, Finland in the winter season.

 

Ready to plan your winter in Lapland? Talk to the experts at go-today and we’ll help you design your dream getaway. Contact us today.

Make the Most of Your 3 Days in London

Make the most of 3 days in London

If you’re spending 3 days in London, you’ve got plenty of time to hit the highlights of this historic city. But if you’re not careful, you could end up missing out on some of the top things to do and see. That’s why we’ve created this itinerary to help you hit the highlights.

Day 1

Morning

The first day of your trip will likely include some adjustment to the realities of jetlag. One way to make sure you make the most out of your time while making this adjustment is to plan some exciting options for the first day. Since some of this day will be devoted to travel, you’ll want to pick shorter adventures for the day. Just remember to keep the adventures exciting so you don’t fall victim to tiredness after your travel.

Lunch

Plan to start your day with lunch, as this will help you acclimate to the local time zone and get a feel for the city. The Hyde Park area has many restaurants, including some budget-friendly options. Pick up pizza or a sandwich at the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen right in the park and enjoy a picnic on the grounds. Meander through the park after eating to see the sights, and you’ll be well positioned to visit some of the top attractions afterwards.

Afternoon

Hyde Park in London - 3 Days in London Itinerary

After lunch, you’re going to want to see some of the sights of the city. There are a number of places to visit but check out the free attractions in London to help kick off your vacation. Buckingham Palace isn’t far from Hyde Park, so if you’re dying to see it go ahead and walk over, but you may want to wait and enjoy this particular sight on a guided tour. If you want to get a feel for the culture and cuisine of London, take a walk thought Borough Market. This market sits along the Thames not far from Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, so you can see the theater and then grab a snack or even dinner at the market before walking along London’s most famous waterway.

If you’re facing a rainy weather situation, head to the Natural History Museum. The architecture will take your breath away, but once you enter you’ll get lost among the 70 million exhibited items on display. As an added bonus, there’s no charge for admission to this popular attraction. The British Museum is another option if you’re more into Euorpean history than natural history, and it’s also free. See mummies and the Rosetta Stone at this impressive location.

Your first day in London is also your chance to visit Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. Located on the actual Kings Cross Station platform in Central London, Platform 9 3/4 is a car that looks like it came straight out of the book. Grab a selfie pretending you’re on your way to Hogwarts.

Dinner

If you didn’t pick up dinner at the Borough Market, this is a great day to check out a pub, which is quintessential London dining. Even if you did eat, you can grab drinks at a place like Bradley’s Spanish Bar, Bricklayer’s Arms or Carpenter’s Arms, some of the more popular local pubs.

Before heading back to your hotel, take a stroll along Oxford Street. You may not want to shop, but you an enjoy the glitz and glamour of the shops here. Right next to Oxford Street is the Soho District which is known for its thriving nightlife. But don’t stay out too late! Another day of exploration awaits!

Day 2

This is your second day but also your only full day in London, so this is the time to take a day-long excursion out of the city if there are some nearby sights you want to see. Here are some options for ways to spend your day.

Morning

Option 1: Tour Nearby Sites

3 Days in London - Visit Stonehenge

London has much to see and do within the city, but if you’re having the trip of a lifetime you may want to get out of the city limits and see some of the nearby attractions as well. Consider the Windsor, Stonehenge & Bath tour which will take you to some of these. This 12-hour tour will take most of your day and includes a stop at a historic pub for lunch, which isn’t included in the tour. Start your tour at Windsor Castle, just outside of London, where for over 900 years monarchs have lived. Then, travel on to Stonehenge, one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the country. Finally, end your tour at the Georgian city of Bath, including entrance to the Roman Baths, which is something you won’t soon forget.

Option 2: Go Museum Hopping

3 Days in London - explore the museums

If you’re not interested in leaving the city, spend your second day touring the many museums of London. Before you go pick up a handy London Pass which will grant you access to many of the museums around London. It’s gives you the freedom to select which museums you want to visit.  The British Museum, Tate Modern and Natural History Museum are all free. Pick one you didn’t see on the first day, and enjoy getting lost in art and history all over again.

Lunch

For lunch, you may find the restaurants near the museums a bit over-priced, but there are a few affordable and tasty gems. Consider Caffe Forum or Raison D’Etre for a modestly-priced lunch that you can grab and go as you explore the city.

Afternoon

Your afternoon is open for another museum if you wish, or you can take the time to explore some of the architectural wonders of London. Westminster Abbey, with Big Ben in the background, is something you won’t want to miss while exploring the city. In the evening a chorale service is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and it’s free! Arrive early to ensure a seat and be amazed at the acoustics of this impressive historic church.

Take in a play on your 3 days in London

Anyone who loves the theater should make time to catch a play while they are in London. There are a variety of shows including Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Stomp, Lion King, Wicked, etc. Book tickets in advance for best seats and pricing.

Day 3

On your final day, you’ll want to get an early start to pack in as much sightseeing as possible before you leave town. Here are a couple of options to make the most of your final day.

All Day

Experience all of London - 3 days in London

If you start early enough, you can see most of the hot spots in London before you have to leave. The Total London Tour is a great choice. This tour will take you to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace for the famous hanging of the Guard and a panoramic drive through the countryside around London. A cruise on the River Thames, pub lunch and guided tour of the Tower of London round out your activities, then you will end the tour with a flight on the London Eye. It’s the best way to see it all with limited time.

Dinner

For you last night in London head to Belgel Bake on Brick Lane for an authentic London belgel.

When planning your adventures, be sure to check before you head out to ensure the destination is open. Consider having a backup plan, especially for outdoor adventures, because London can be quite rainy. Your stay may be short, but your 3 days in London can be amazing if you plan ahead! Do you need help planning? Contact the go-today travel experts for help!

Best Fairytale Castles in Europe

A vacation should take you away, both physically and emotionally. Truly great travel experiences inspire creativity and dreams, bringing you both relaxation and excitement. If you’ve been dreaming of a magical vacation, fill your itinerary with a few of these fantasy fairytale castles in Europe!  Walk the halls where kings and queens of the past trod and connect with the magic of the living past. You’ll find that fairytale magic still exists–it’s still present in these rarified, mysterious European castles.

Our Top 10 Fairytale Castles in Europe:

Mont Saint-Michel

Location: Normandy, France

A shining example of medieval architecture, the impressive (and very fairytale-worthy) Mont Saint-Michel sits on its own fortified island on the north coast of France. Viewing this castle, it’s easy to see why Disney artists were inspired by it. Especially when seeing this castle at night, it appears to glow, floating on the water less than 1,000 feet from shore. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually a monastery established in the 8th century. The castle island, in the bay at the mouth of the River Couesnon, features a hodgepodge of buildings, once tiny homes and great halls, that surround and lead up to the abbey and monastery. The shallow bay has become filled with silt, but efforts are underway to preserve its island character so that water stills flows around it. The awesome structure is topped with a tall, thin pinnacle pointing up into the sky.

The Palace of Pena

Location: Lisbon, Portugal

Step into the heart of romanticism from Portugal’s late Gothic period, circa 200 years in the past, at this grand palace in the Sintra hills of Lisbon. You’ll be surrounded by grand Moorish architectural touches, complete with a large dome. The palace architecture is Portugal’s unique Manueline style at this palace commissioned by King Ferdinand. Getting there is half the adventure, as visitors approach the palace on its steep, winding road, often in a quaint carriage-for-hire available on the grounds. Visitors pass through the verdant gardens and forest (with more than 500 tree species represented) that make up the Parque das Merendas grounds, viewing the palace from different angles throughout the ascent.

Alcazar Castle

Location: Segovia, Spain

Shaped like the bow of a ship, this imposing stone castle inspired Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Segovia Castle, originally a Roman fort, sits on a rocky outcropping, looking down on the strategic spot where two Spanish rivers meet: the Clamores and the Eresma. Starting out as a fortified town, the location has also had other incarnations, such as a prison, a military college and a palace for Castilian monarchy. Located about 50 miles outside of Madrid, the cathedral was built during the Roman era and was burned in the mid 19th century. Fortunately, the magnificent interior has been rebuilt. Scenes from the 1967 musical film “Camelot” were shot at the castle.

Hohenzollern Castle

Location: Stuttgart (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

A castle on this site dates back to the beginning of the 11th century and was recognized as the most well defended, strongly built and imposing structure in the country. Still, that “indestructible” early castle was to be demolished in the 15th century. The neo-Gothic castle seen today, about 30 miles from Stuttgart, was constructed in the mid-19th century at the behest of Prussian King Frederick William IV. The castle often appears to rest atop clouds and fog, with dark gray or greenish roofs rising above walls that look golden in sunlight. Multiple thin spires top towers throughout the walled grounds, which is located atop a prominent, heavily forested hill. Its fairytale silhouette makes this castle truly spectacular, when viewed from near or far.

Highclere Castle

Location: Hampshire, England

This site has been the location of prominent houses since the 8th century, when it housed the Bishops of Winchester in a medieval palace. Modern visitors know this castle as the site of the popular TV drama, Downton Abbey.  The current structure was built in the Jacobethan style with Italianate influences, in the mid-19th century. Since the 17th century, the castle has been the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon—today owned by the 8th Earl. Visiting this large rectangular structure, this many-windowed castle, will allow you to step into the sumptuous and complex world of Downton Abbey for one lovely afternoon.

Culzean Castle

Location: Maybole, Scotland

One of the most amazing fairytale castles to visit in Europe is the Georgian, neo-Classical Culzean Castle. This romantically brooding castle sits atop the prominent Ayrshire cliffs and is comprised of over 40 buildings. It is an L-plan structure that was built for the 10th Earl of Cassilis. The centerpiece of the castle is the oval staircase designed by Robert Adam.  A wonderfully varied experience for the traveler, the grounds feature a Swan Pond, cliffside park, formal gardens, woods and beaches.  Today you’ll find an illustration of the fairytale worthy castle on the back of Scottish five pound notes.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Location: Wales

The Welsh countryside features the most castles per square kilometer in the world, a legacy of the area’s warrior-like history. This eerily romantic structure sits on an isolated, often thickly misted, hilltop in Brecon Beacons National Park near the larger, and perhaps better-known Caerphilly Castle. Carreg Cennen sits close to the River Cennen in Trapp village, north of Swansea. As with most castle grounds, the site has been strategic (and built upon) since antiquity, in this case back to Roman times. The current buildings date to King Edward I during his spate of castle-construction throughout the area. While you are here, explore a curious limestone cave, with torch in hand, descending deep into the castle bowels. There is evidence that the cave once housed homing pigeons and birds, as a food source in winter.

Chenonceau Castle

Location: Chenonceaux, France

This strikingly lovely white French chateau, once a royal residence, completely spans the river Cher in the Loire Valley. Often reflected in the clear water surrounding the building’s foundation, you may see the castle’s image duplicated in amazing detail. The chateau was loved and cared for by several women throughout its history. Henry II gifted the château to his mistress, who had the arched bridge constructed, joining the castle to the opposite riverbank. She also added amazing, triangular, riverside gardens. Next, Catherine de’ Medici took over and enlarged the structure. The property then went to her daughter-in-law (wife to Henry III), then later was gifted to the mistress of Henri IV. Ravaged by the bombs of WWII and a flood in 1940, the storied, storybook castle has since been restored for you to visit.

Lichtenstein Castle

Location: Lichtenstein, Germany

Schloss Lichtenstein (shining stone palace) is situated high on a cliff in Southern Germany’s Baden-Württemberg, overlooking the valley of Echaz. A Gothic Revival castle erected in the mid-19th century, the castle building is uniquely dwarfed by a large white tower rising well above its spires. Fittingly called the “fairy tale castle of Württemberg”, the structure was inspired by a then-contemporary novel by Wilhelm Hauff. Inside, you’ll find a collection of armor and weaponry, along with ornate romantic decor and furnishings.

Predjama Castle

Location: Slovenia

The Renaissance castle of Predjama hugs the side of a steep cliff, located in the mouth of a large cave. Construction began in the 13th century. The fairytale aspect of this castle takes a slightly dark turn. As you enter look up to see the holes in the tower’s ceiling, handy for dousing trespassers with boiling oil. While you are here take a look at its dark, damp dungeon. You’ll also find once-buried treasure on display and a lofty hideout (Erazem’s Nook) named after a 15th-century, Robin-Hood-like figure from local lore. (Erazem Lueger was known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.)

Make Your Dreams Come True… With a Visit to These Fairytale Castles in Europe!

If any of these fairytale castles in Europe have peaked your curiosity let us help you plan your vacation. The travel experts at go-today travel are ready to create a fairytale trip for you. We’ll help you plan the best European tour of your life. Contact us today!