In collaboration with Visit Ylläs & local companies.
I’ll tell you a little secret. For us Finns, Ylläs is one of the places in Finland to experience outdoors, Lapland and nature sports. Say to any Finn that you will visit Ylläs and you’ll get an approbative nod. Great choice.
This guide tells you what things to do and see in Ylläs Ski Resort to enjoy a true Lapland holiday. I’ll explain with five reasons why you should visit Ylläs in the first place, the winter activities you can do there, what are the best food adventures in the area and wrap up with some practical information about the destination.
Table of Contents
Five Reasons Why You Should Visit Ylläs
- The cleanest air in the world. Many parts of this destination actually belong to the Pallas-Yllästunturi National park, which is the most popular national park in Finland. According to WHO, the region has the cleanest air in the world. Wouldn’t you want to know what that feels like?
2. Seven fells. Most places have hills or mountains, but fells are rare. In Ylläs, there are seven of them, and they are yours to conquer. Just choose how. The bald softly rounded giants are a magical and strangely soothing sight. Or maybe I just have a soft spot for these ancient mountains nowadays so gentle and pleasant.
3. Genuine Lappish villages. Ylläs in not just a tourist destination. Does it bother you when you visit a place, that you all see is built only for visitors? Ylläs region is home to many Finns. The two villages Äkäslompolo and Ylläsjärvi (oh boy, we do have long and very exotic place names in Finnish) have municipal services such as schools. Oh, and did I mention that we saw Northern Lights in the village? How cool is that!
4. Food. Food is on this list for two reasons. Firstly, because of delicious Lappish meals. Free-range meat and fish, local berries, mushrooms and veggies cooked with love. That is my dream diet. Ylläs is a big arctic hub, so there are several excellent restaurants to try. The second reason is the Finnish concept of wilderness cafés. Many Finns plan their daily skiing according to the wilderness cafés scattered all over Ylläs trails. Have lunch at one and coffee with a donut at the next. That’s the holiday life!
5. Nature experiences all year around. Back in the day, Lappish and Sami people paced their lives according to eight, not four, seasons. So intertwined their life was with nature. First snow comes in October – November. The Polar night swallows December. January and February are the months of midwinter. March and April bask in the sun as early spring arrives. May is spring. The white nightless nights are next and with us in June and July. August is harvest season. The colors of the fall mesmerize us in September. If you visit Ylläs during winter and like it, you’ll fall in love with the region when you see it on another season.
Winter Things to Do in Ylläs Ski Resort
The things to do in Ylläs seem endless! I can think of 15 winter activities in a heartbeat: cross-country skiing, downhill skiing (groomed and off-piste), kite-skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, winter biking, backcountry skiing, winter walking, ice fishing, riding, winter swimming, husky rides, visiting a reindeer farm and hunting for the Northern lights.
#1 Altai skiing aka Backcountry skiing
As a sporty Finn, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that this was a totally new sport for me. Our awesome guide smiled forgivingly and said that the skis had only been available for a couple of years.
Five minutes of trying and I’m sold. “This is the best winter innovation ever!” echoes on top of the Kellostapuli fell as we reach the peak. The short steady skis are wider than traditional skis and super easy to control. The bottom skin makes climbing effortless and coming down gracefully slow.
Feels like a mix of gliding and walking. Imagine that you are ready to do something challenging, but it turns out to be easy. I’m already dreaming of winter hikes with Altai-skis.
You’ll love it if you are a hiker enjoying the silence, making your own trail in the snow and interacting with nature. We saw many willow grouses on our tour.
Pro tips This sport is at its best in the morning as the snow is the crispiest then. If you just rent equipment, ask route recommendations and always have a map with you. Lapland Safaris both rents skis and makes guided tours.
A motor sled is a common vehicle in Finland, used for fun and work. There are a lot of snowmobile operators to choose from, and many offer multiple route options.
Snowmobiling is the perfect activity if you wish to see many different Lappish landscapes in little time. Our guide gives a thorough introduction to the vehicle and makes sure that we are comfortable using it.
Feels like ATV’s winter cousin. Just add sleds. Gasoline smells but electronic snowmobiles are arriving in few years. Maybe surprisingly, it’s quite a romantic couple activity, as you get to be close to your sweetie and adrenaline flows.
You’ll love it if the thrill of speed and motor vehicles are your thing.
Pro tips Clothing is taken care of, no need to worry! Lapland Safaris had great clothes: very warm, clean, easy to get in and out. You could have walked there in bikinis as they had everything. I loved their attention to detail: there’s a super warm phone pocket so that your battery doesn’t die within the first five minutes.
Snowshoeing is a form of hiking. A larger plate-like shoe is attached to your boot so that you float better on top of the snow. Always have poles too, it makes the walking a lot easier. Breaking trail is heavier work than walking on a designated path. Try making your own track and see if your legs disappear into the snow like a submarine. That’s part of the charm of this activity!
Snowshoes work wonders when there’s a steep icy ascent like the one of Kuertunturi fell in Ylläs. The view from Kuertunturi fell is gorgeous at sunset. Sisu Outdoor has a guided tour to see it.
Feels like walking in oversized but sturdy shoes.
You’ll love it if If you don’t feel comfortable on the ski but want to enjoy the snowy nature up close and personal. In Ylläs, many snowshoe trails lead to wilderness cafés. It’s also a great activity for families!
Pro tip Even though it might feel odd, always use the snowshoe straight (the same direction as your nose). That’s how the spikes create the best stability.
#4 Winter biking
A fat tire bike is a perfect fit for the terrain in Ylläs. The robust bike is surprisingly easy to operate. There are over 100 kilometers of winter biking trails in Ylläs taking you over swamps, lakes, forests, and fells. Winter biking is often a fun sport for teenagers.
Feels like Cycling on the winter biking trail is as easy as on a normal dirt road.
You’ll love it if you like cycling and who doesn’t?! It’s fast and light way to enjoy the fells.
Pro tip If you rent equipment only, have the newest map with you. Follow both bike signs and place name signs close to ski tracks to navigate. Sisu Outdoor rents normal fat bikes and e-bikes. You can choose how heavy work you want the ascents to be!
#5 Cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiing is a part of Finnish heritage. It has a reputation for being difficult to master but don’t feel intimidated. Once you get the hang of it, it comes second nature. Many operators offer a short ski taster which is the perfect way to get to know cross-country skiing with a professional teacher.
Indeed, cross-country skiing is one of those sports in which I really recommend having a teacher. Skiing is easy when you have the right technique but arduous job otherwise.
Feels like The classic style is simple gliding on the designated two tracks so start with that! Skiing is enjoying the nature and weather too. Remember that you can go as slow as you want and always walk a hill if it is too steep.
You’ll love it if you like to challenge yourself and enjoy a versatile sport with speed and sweat.
Pro tip Skate skiing is a more advanced, faster skiing style. I had the pleasure of trying a skiing lesson by Sisu Outdoor, and it did wonders for my technique. Three things make a great teacher. A sense of humor to keep the good mood. Discretion when to give more tips and when to stick with the ones already given. And finally, colorful mental images which the pupil can use later in her training. So thanks to Sisu Outdoor’s inspiring lesson I’m thinking of straitjackets and frogs and my skiing is much better.
Hunting for the Northern Lights in Ylläs
In my Aurora post, I have told my best tips for catching the Northern Lights. I followed my own advice and checked the sites mentioned in the post. They promised a high chance of seeing Auroras. So a bit before midnight we walked outside. We could see only the stars on the terrace of our centrally located cabin. It’s important to remember to avoid streetlamps because they make Auroras disappear.
What surprised me was how little we had to walk from Äkäslompolo center! We merely walked to the ice of Äkäslompomo lake in the village center. Suddenly the sky was ablaze. There they were.
So my short advice: if it’s clear weather, I recommend going outside and away from artificial light. Even if the Aurora forecast wasn’t that promising, because you never know! Lake ice is particularly great for seeing Auroras because you can see the full sky and horizon.
Restaurants in Ylläs
It’s official, a foodie’s paradise is in Ylläs! Excellent restaurants are scattered to both villages and the region nearby. Don’t be afraid to drive your way or to take a taxi to a restaurant – it’s worth the trip. I’ll share my three best eats in Ylläs.
#1 Lappish dinner in Ravintola Rouhe
This cozy kid-friendly restaurant combines hearty cooking with superb ingredients. It is what Lappish food tastes at its best.
The roasted reindeer fillet melts in my mouth. The ultimate Lappish classic – sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes, gherkins and lingonberries – is so delicious that you would like to lick the plate.
As it often happens at family dinner in Finland, when the food is divine, a happy silence arrives at the table as everybody enjoys their dish.
For the finale, the baked Alaska is one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. Another favorite is the chocolate cake. Both the presentation and taste are heavenly.
#2 Finnish pancakes in the wilderness café Kesängin Keidas
Nothing tastes better than a hot Finnish pancake with jam and whipped cream after a couple of hours in the snow! Kesängin Keidas is a big wilderness café attracting skiers, winter bikers and walkers all over Ylläs region.
#3 Donuts in the wilderness café Navettagalleria
The Finnish concept of wilderness cafés is definitely something to be experienced! Back in the day, the only way was to ski your way to a café but now there are several options. There are trails suitable for walking (even with a pram!), snowshoeing, winter biking and skiing. Some cafes you can even visit by car, such as Navettagalleria which had the best donuts we ate during our Ylläs holiday.
The Best Way to Get to Ylläs and Move Around
Flying is the fastest way to reach Ylläs. Kittilä airport is the closest airport only 40 minutes away. For winter season 2018-2019, direct flights take you to Kittilä airport from London, Paris, Zürich, Munich, and Düsseldorf.
Another option is to fly to Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi airport is 2,5 hours away from Ylläs. There is a variety of flights from Helsinki airport to Kittilä and Rovaniemi, so connecting flights are easy to arrange. Whichever airport you arrive, a bus will take you directly to Ylläs.
For the last two Lapland trips, we have arrived by train. It’s a fantastic option if you are in southern Finland, have a ton of sports gear and/or are traveling with kids. Train traveling is smooth in Finland. It’s a great feeling to wake up in the destination in the morning!
Naturally, it’s also possible to travel by bus or car to Ylläs.
Ylläs has good shuttle bus service in the region. If your accommodation is near a bus stop (or at the center of one of the two villages: Äkäslompolo or Ylläsjärvi) you really don’t need a car. Ski tracks leave practically from your doorstep, many activities are within walking distance, and operators provide pick-up services.
Ylläs Accommodation and Services
Ylläs has a variety of different accommodation services. From hotels to Airbnb and rental log cabins. The easiest way is to check availability on Visit Ylläs. Both villages have a grocery store, and many places sell warm clothes, sport and trekking gear.
Ylläs is a great family-travel destination. The options for outdoor fun are versatile and you can do almost everything with kids. In fact, you can spot little kids and baby gliders on ski tracks as Finns take their offspring to learn skiing from an early age. Shops have everything for kids and babies. All restaurants and wilderness cafés (there are 13, see below) are kid-friendly.
Ylläs is the best of both worlds. Never-ending terrains of wild nature but on the other hand, it is accessible without a car. Auroras on a week-long sweaty-socks-kinda hike or after a fine-dining experience. You decide.
I love the phrase “You can have anything, but not everything.” It’s so appropriate to many situations in life. It seems, however, that my time in Ylläs has rewritten the motto: “You can have anything, but not everything. Unless you are in Ylläs.”