After visiting Finland in summer, Nick went back to explore this beautiful country in winter! Here’s his first post from the trip, about things to do in Mikkeli in winter. 8 fun activities on a frozen lake!

Finland is actually two countries in one. It changes so much between summer and winter, that your travel experience will be completely different. In summer, Finland is green and lush, berries grow from brambles in the forests and the days never end. In winter, the country is possibly even more magical. Covered in snow, with a few precious hours of sunlight a day, and brief blue twilights, before long nights under a star-studded sky. Yes, it is cold – but it’s a small price to pay for such a wonderful atmosphere.

Twilight Clouds mikkeli winter

Wonderful winter scenery at twilight

Why visit Mikkeli in winter

The area around the town of Mikkeli and Lake Saimaa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Finland. In summer, Finnish families flock to the area for their July holidays, to enjoy the lakes and outdoor life. Finland has over 188,000 lakes – the Mikkeli region is called ‘The World of a Thousand Lakes’ and if you look at a map of the area, it looks like there is more water than land.

The countryside around the town of Mikkeli is full of summer cabins, and with tons of nature activities, from sailing to hiking and spotting the rare ringed Saimaa seal, it’s easy to see why Finns love this area so much.

mikkeli cathedral frozen road

Mikkeli cathedral and the iced road (with heated footpaths!)

Come winter, and it all changes. The tourists are few and far between – meaning everything is more affordable. The countryside is covered in ice, and the thousand lakes freeze over. If you love nature and silence, this is the time to visit. Outside of the city, you’ll only meet a handful of locals out for a stroll.

If you’ve come to Finland in winter to enjoy the magical frozen scenery, Mikkeli is the perfect choice. It’s easily accessible from Helsinki (only 2.5 hours on a train) and has much warmer temperatures than Lapland – a balmy -15° as opposed to -35° or colder. If you’re lucky, you can even see the Northern Lights in Mikkeli, even though sightings are much rarer compared to Northern Finland.

Snow and Reeds frozen lake saimaa

In winter, you’ll have the place to yourself!

The main advantage of visiting Mikkeli in winter is enjoying the beautiful countryside, the peaceful atmosphere and the frozen lakes. How many activities can you do on a frozen lake? We thought two or three at the most, but we’ve actually come up with 8. Here they are!

ps. If you’re looking for another winter destination in Finland, you can head to North Karelia, visit Kemi for the famous Snow Castle or explore Salla in Lapland!

8 things to do on a frozen lake

1) Snowshoeing

Host from Okkolan Lomamokit with traditional snow shoes

Old style snowshoes…

Have you ever tried snowshoeing? If you haven’t you should, it’s awesome fun. In the Mikkeli area, part of the snow on the frozen lakes is cleared over to make ‘roads’ for people and sleds (and even cars, when the ice is thick enough). The rest remains covered with a fluffy, snowy blanket. As snow can get thick indeed, snowshoes is the way to go if you don’t want.

things to do in mikkeli in winter Snow Shoes

…and a more modern version

We took a snowshoe walk around Niinivesi, a small island in lake Saimaa. The terrain is mostly flat, making it ideal for novices – snowshoes are hard work if you’re not used to them! After a short hike we entered the forest, where we all separated and without cameras or mobile phones we spent some time in solitude, listening to birdsong and the sounds of the forest.

snowshoes frozen lake saimaa

That’s how you do it!

2) Ice Skating

We didn’t actually go ice-skating, but you can do it. As a child, growing up in Australia, I was convinced that European children lived in quaint, snow-blanketed villages and went to school skating on frozen rivers. Imagine my disappointment. Well, near Mikkeli you can ice-skate on the frozen lakes, but whether children actually ice-skate to school, I have no idea.

things to do in Mikkeli in Winter horse sledge

A horse sled ride on a frozen lake in Mikkeli!

3) Horse Sled

Horse sled mikkeli frozen lake

The horse ready to go

Frozen fans and sweethearts, this one is for you! Gliding across the crystal expanse of a frozen lake must be everyone’s romantic dream. Snow and ice all around you, no sound except for the skates and horses’ hooves crunching the ice, huddled with your sweetheart under a thick blanket… head over to Mikkeli, and that’s what’s in for you. Add the post-sunset blue twilight and a warm sauna waiting back at your lodge – what else can you ask for?

Behind the Horse sled mikkeli finland

And our view from the back of the sled

4) Kick Sled

Kick Sleds on frozen lake

Kick sleds lined up

If you’re up for something more active, you can opt for a kick-sled. Just hold onto the back, stand on the skates and kick as if you were on a skateboard… and try not to fall over. Actually, it’s not as hard as it sounds. Kick sleds are quite stable – perfect for an uncoordinated person like me.

things to do in Mikkeli in Winter kick sled

Kick-sledding in style

We used our kick-sleds to travel a short distance across the ice in Niinvesi island, from a restaurant to a blacksmith’s house where we made our own key rings (mine was awful). The terrain was very smooth and flat, and perhaps this helped manoeuvring the sleds – I can’t vouch for how it would be up or downhill, but I can imagine spectacular crashes happening.

5) Ice Fishing

ice fishing mikkeli winter

Local fishermen laying nets

This is quite a complicated endeavour. It involves drilling holes into the ice, inserting a net under the iced surface by way of a rope attached to a sort of pulley, and leaving the net in place until a fish is caught. Another method involves using big traps, similar to lobster pots in how they work – this method is used to catch burbot, an eel-like long, skinny fish.

drilling holes frozen lake mikkeli finland

Drilling holes – can’t vouch for the result!

We spent one morning drilling holes and laying the nets with local fishermen, and the following day we returned to collect the catch. Then, we brought our catch to the restaurant, and had some lovely fish soup for lunch!

6) Ice swimming after a sauna

If you know Finland, you’ll be familiar with the Finns’ love affair with saunas. Sweating away with your mates is the national hobby, best followed by a dip in cold waters. In summer, you just jump in the closest lake. In winter you do too. Where there is no lake, the sea will do.

after sauna snow night finland

If you don’t feel like ice swimming, you can always run around in the snow!

I love the cold and compared to Margherita and my friends, I always feel warm. When everyone around me is freezing and putting on one layer after another, I’m fine in my t-shirt. So, I expected the icy dip to be a walk in the park. But boy, was it cold! I felt like I was being stabbed all over. Needless to say, I jumped out super quick and went back to the sauna.

7) Watching the sky

frozen road mikkeli sunshine

Mikkeli morning – even the roads are pretty

Day or night, the sky over Mikkeli is a wonder. Deep blue during the day, multicoloured at sunset, streaked by a thousand stars at night, green and purple when the Northern Lights dance all around.

frozen lake twilight mikkeli finland

Twilight on the lake

 

If it’s clear, that is.

We were unlucky with the weather during our stay near lake Saimaa, and it was cloudy most days. Then, on our last evening, the sky cleared and we saw the most amazing sunset over a rare unfrozen section of the lake (if you’re asking yourself why, it was because of currents and a ferry running 24-7).

Sunset From Ferry Niinisaari island

Sunset on the unfrozen lake

And then, at night, this happened.

star trails frozen lake mikkeli

Just the starry sky

8) Walking and enjoying the silence

Frozen snow forest mikkeli winter

Frozen lake and forest, the perfect recipe for total peace

This may not be much in terms of activity, but it’s perhaps the best thing to do on a frozen lake. On lake Saimaa, everything was silent. The green, berry-rich forests of summer were all around the lake, dusted with snow and sparkling with ice. Everything was still. Occasionally, I spied a bird flying across the sky. I heard nothing, except my footsteps, muted by the snow.

Frozen Ships mikkeli winter

These ships won’t go anywhere any time soon, so let’s just rest

The sun shone on the snow-covered lake, and lit the black-blue expanse where the snow had been brushed off – it was beautiful and scary at times, only a thin layer separating me from treacherous, freezing waters. I could hear the crunch of my footsteps, every now and then, and see the difference in colour where the lake had melted and then frozen over, with bubbles trapper underwater and the abyss, beyond.

frozen glass mikkeli

Even the glass is frozen

An amazing place to stay

Located about 7 km from Puumala, on the shores of lake Saimaa, Sahanlahti Resort is a wonderful place to base yourself during your visit. The resort is wonderfully quiet and surrounded by forest, and offers individual cabins as well as rooms in the main building, the latter available year-round. Phone ahead though, as it only opens on request in winter. Owner Jaana is friendly and helpful, and will be happy to arrange any of the experiences listed above for you.

I was a guest of Visit Mikkeli as part of a post-NBE Finland blog trip. As always, all opinions are my own. But I did indeed love the place, and I have no doubts I will return soon! 

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16 Responses

  1. Janna

    Thank you for your post:)

    Hahaa, I am sorry to break your childhood dreams, but I think no one skates to the schools 🙂 Usually the frozen lakes and the seas are covered of the snow 🙂 So you can´t really skate… (Except there are some ice rinks, but just small areas). But… if this makes you happy: it´s pretty common to go to school by those kick sledds during the wintertime! Or sometimes we used to ski to school, when I was a kid. But it was a little bit slow and hard.

    I think the snow shoes are just for the tourists, because I have never heard that any finnish has done that 😉 But maybe I should try too, it looks fun 🙂 Do you think, is there some kind of “touristy thing” in your country?

    • Margherita

      Hey Hanna! Thanks for your comment! My heart is broken now and my childhood dreams are shattered… just kidding! Really is snowshoeing a touristy thing to do in Finland? Here in Italy it’s quite common for locals to go snowshoeing, it’s a way to get to really unspoilt places without skis!
      Hope you liked the post – can’t wait to visit beautiful Finland again!

  2. Ryan Biddulph

    Margherita wow! -15 to -35? Does make a difference between the 2 towns, but both are a wee bit chilly for my tastes 😉 Still though, it’s worth the trip for the beauty alone and hey it’s about 5 degrees F here in NJ today so that’s getting down there in the Finland temperate range of things. But in 3 days we’ll be Bali bound, so that temp will rise 🙂

    What a fab list! I’d pick the last one because I so enjoy walking in silence. Creativity hits me and my peace of mind expands.

    Thanks for the fab stories, images and post Margherita! Keep on inspiring!

    Ryan

    • Margherita

      Thanks Ryan! I wasn’t actually there, it was my husband Nick, and he loves the cold (weirdo lol). Hope you have fun in Bali!

  3. Corinne

    Nick, I can’t believe how many memories this post brought back to me from my time living in Alaska. I loved snowshoeing, especially at night, and all the other winter activities as well. Your photos, as always, are stunning. This is such an inspirational post!

    • Margherita

      What? You lived in Alaska? It’s my dream (together with Antarctica) – I’d love to see the big frozen north (or south)! Thanks for your comment – have you blogged about Alaska?

    • Margherita

      Thanks Rachel! I’m sure Finland must be a shock for someone used to balmy Kenya!

  4. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    You are doing a great job selling Mikkeli. I love the idea of going to a blacksmith via kicksled and then making a key ring. That photo of the starry sky is fabulous. It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Finland.

    • Margherita

      Thank you so much Michele! I wasn’t there unfortunately, my husband Nick went and he loved it so much!

  5. Rhonda Albom

    I’ll admit it looks amazing, and magical, however I am not a fan of winter, so I can’t imagine myself ever getting to Finland in the snow. Despite saying that, I have gone snow shoeing in Colorado and enjoyed it.

    I am glad to have your photos to enjoy, and see what I am missing. And that first photo is really amazing, but I can’t figure it out.

    • Margherita

      Hey Rhonda! I’m like you, I prefer warmth to cold, so I guess that’s good my husband Nick got to go to Mikkeli and I stayed at home! The first pic was taken underwater looking up, using a gopro and a stick! Nick wanted to show ‘a fish perspective of people’! Thanks for your comment!

  6. Paula McInerney

    Mikkeli looks an amazing place and I do love winter and anything to do with winter, says she who is in Bali and lapping up the sunshine. Great post and it does inspire me

    • Margherita

      Bali, wow! I think I’d love to be there just now! I prefer warm places to the cold, but Nick is the opposite! So in Finland he was in his element! Thanks for your comment 🙂