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Arctic circle - Where is it & What to do Here?

What is the Arctic Circle, the border to the north? How do you get here & what do you do here? Read on for all you need on the polar circle & the adventures that await you.

Since antiquity, the Arctic has been seen as the last frontier, its extreme climate and tendency toward polar bears great barriers that kept most people away. So it’s not surprising there are a lot of questions, concerns, myths and magic swirling around the Arctic, and that special line that separates the northernmost region of the Earth from everywhere else.

What & Where exactly is the Arctic Circle?

In the simplest terms, the Arctic Circle is a line that runs around the top of the world like a sweatband. While the technical definitions, linguistic and cultural definitions vary a little, there are a few common ways to describe it. On this polar circle, there is one day every year when the sun does not rise (winter solstice), and one day that it does not set (summer solstice). The Arctic Circle is often thought of as the boundary of the Arctic, creating the Arctic region and sub-Arctic regions.

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What countries are in the Arctic?

While no country lies entirely above the Arctic Circle, there are eight countries that have Arctic territory. There’s Finland, of course, as well as her sister Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden, Denmark (via Greenland), and Iceland. Russia, Canada and the US (via Alaska) are also marked with the Arctic Circle.

Which Lapland destinations lie on or above the Arctic Circle?

Almost all of Lapland lies above the polar circle. That means the tundra lands of Utsjoki, the mountains of Kilpisjärvi, the enormous national parks of Inari, the border river in Muonio, and the stony fells of Sompio are all firmly Arctic. Not to mention the nature lovers’ paradise Ylläs, the luxurious Levi, the salmon rivers of Pello, the rocky trails between Pyhä and Luosto, the grand rolling fells of Salla, the villages of Kemijärvi, and the forests around Santa’s hometown Rovaniemi.

Discover Lapland destinations on or above the Arctic circle

Utsjoki - Slow Down
Quiet bundle of Sámi villages amid Arctic wilderness is the perfect place to explore the beauty and culture of Lapland.
Enontekiö & Kilpisjärvi - True Lapland
Enontekiö is the ultimate destination for adventurers craving purity in nature and the authentic Arctic experience.
Inari-Saariselkä - Explore Authentic Lapland
Travelers experience the mystery of Lapland culture amidst the beauty and awe of sweeping Arctic landscapes.
Muonio, Olos & Pallas - the Heart of Fell Lapland
Muonio has the longest snow season in all of Finland, a true winter wonderland.
Sodankylä & Sompio - Call of the Living Backwoods
From rocky fells to the Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä & Sompio offer unforgettable sights and memories.
Levi - Spark Your Soul, All Year Round
Whether it's blasting down slopes or melting in saunas, Levi offers the excitement & comforts needed for a fun holiday.
Ylläs - First by Nature
The two villages of Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo are as authentic as they are wonderful.
Pyhä & Luosto – Authentic Adventures in Idyllic Lapland
Experience it all, from the peaceful village of Luosto, across the fells of a national park, to the bustling resort of Pyhä.
Salla - In the Middle of Nowhere
The peace and silence of mother nature waits at your doorstep, as 90% of Salla is uninhabited.
Pello - the Fishing Capital of Finland
Pello fisherman’s paradise. Here you can try trapping, fly-fishing, boat fishing... the list goes on and on.
Kemijärvi & Suomu - Happy Lakeside Villages
Kemijärvi features a wonderful collection of idyllic villages, rich with history, and boundless nature.
Rovaniemi - Capital of Finnish Lapland & Hometown of Santa Claus
Rovaniemi is the perfect destination for children, but it also features romantic vistas, wilderness and authentic culture.

Which city is closest to the Arctic Circle?

In Finnish Lapland (and perhaps the world), the only true city that lies on the Arctic Circle is Rovaniemi. Though the actual line itself shuffles northward a few meters every year due to the inner workings of the Earth, the geographic polar circle passes through Santa Claus Village, only a few kilometers north of downtown Rovaniemi.

There are also a few special sites in Finnish Lapland outside of Rovaniemi that mark the Arctic Circle, (Napapiiri in Finnish) such as the Tuomaan Tupa café-restaurant in Pello, and the Hotel Suomutunturi in Kemijärvi. There are also signs that often mark road and highway crossings.

How can I get to the Arctic Circle?

Do you have shoes on? Good, because it’s quite a hike from just about everywhere … just kidding. Finnish Lapland holds the distinction of being the most accessible Arctic destination in the world. With five airports inside Lapland, and four more nearby, as well as two train terminus stations and a comprehensive network of highways and well-kept roads, it’s very easy to travel to Lapland and seek out the Arctic Circle yourself.

For more info, check out our articles on traveling to Lapland.

Where can I cross the Arctic Circle?

Without a doubt, the best place to cross the Arctic Circle with all the pomp and ceremony such an undertaking deserves is at Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. You can’t miss the markers that bisect the park and even go through some of the buildings! At Santa Claus Village, crossing the polar circle can be as simple as a selfie atop the latitude marker, stamping your passport with a special stamp, or picking up an certificate at the Travel Info desk, or as ornate as an Arctic Circle Crossing Ceremony.

And SantaPark deserves a special mention, as the only place in the world where you can cross the Arctic Circle … underground!

Why is the Arctic Circle important? 

Yule logs, Easter Eggs, Bel Tine bonfires and countless harvest festivals … these are just some of the ways people celebrate the sun, the seasons and the effect that axial tilt has on us all. And nowhere on Earth are those effects more marked than on the Arctic Circle. Around June 20th, the sun rises one day and just skips the horizon until the next night. On the other side of the year, just before Christmas, the sun doesn’t bother to get out of bed for a whole day. 

The Arctic is also important for research. Only in the century has transportation and communication technology made possible detailed and comprehensive research in the far north. In Finland alone, there are over a dozen different universities and institutes that study all kinds of things, from the behavior of sea ice to geoeconomy to alternative energy to global warming … the list goes on and on. 

And of course, the Arctic is very important to those who live here, and whose families have lived here for generations. Speaking of which … 

Does anyone live in the Arctic?

For over 10,000 years, people have lived in the Arctic. In that time, the population has grown from the small indigenous populations that first explored and settled the regions to roughly four million people as of 2020. About half that population lives in north Russia. Finnish Lapland is home to just over 200,000 people (and one jolly old elf.)

How cold is the Arctic Circle?

As the Arctic spans the globe, conditions vary according to any number of factors. But in Finnish Lapland, the Arctic Circle sees temperatures as low as -40 °C, usually in the middle of winter. But most winters see a range of temperatures from around zero to -20 °C. In summer, temperatures are usually mild, usually somewhere between 10 °C and 25 °C. However, as global warming wreaks havoc on weather systems and climate, especially in the Arctic regions, it’s become harder to forecast temperatures, especially at the extremes.

If you’re looking for sustainable travel in the Arctic, check out our page on responsible tourism in Finnish Lapland.

Things to do in the Arctic Circle

In Lapland, the polar circle is almost entirely characterized by unspoiled nature. In Rovaniemi, the Arctic Circle Hiking Area is a low-intensity protected nature area where you can wander to your heart’s content among the papery birches, sentinel pines and giggling waterways. In Kemijärvi, the Suomu Ski Resort sits atop the Arctic Circle, the perfect place to continue the area’s millenia-old tradition of sliding across snow with wood strapped to your feet. In Pello, you can snowmobile across Lake Miekojärvi in search of the perfect ice-fishing spot.

No matter where you are in Finnish Lapland, you’re never far from the boundless beauty and stunning spectacle of Arctic nature. Check out some more Arctic adventures on our winter bucket list. Or if you’re looking for Midnight Sunshine, check out the best ways to enjoy summer in Finnish Lapland.