Whether you’re seeking aurora-filled nights, close encounters with Arctic wildlife, thrilling outdoor activities, or a mix of them all, Ruka is a very good place to start.
In fact, we reckon that this pretty resort town is Finland’s best-kept secret.
Located around 700km north of Helsinki (that’s almost 500 miles!), this is one of the best places to visit if you want a proper wintry experience in Finnish Lapland.
And there’s more to Ruka than its picturesque trails and abundance of white fluffy snow.
Finns visit this little-known gem to enjoy serene surroundings without the crowds of more popular winter hubs like Levi and Rovaniemi.
With multiple daily flights from Helsinki to Kuusamo Airport, a short drive south of Ruka, it’s no wonder the town’s popularity is also surging with international travellers.
Here are our favourite winter activities to check out in Ruka – from skiing and snowmobiling to sizzling in the sauna.
Skiing and snowboarding
There’s a reason why skiiers and snowboarders return to Ruka year after year.
It snows a lot – this is Lapland, after all – and the impeccably groomed ski areas are surrounded by thick forest.
Another thing that we love about Ruka is that there’s no sign of the big crowds you might expect in more famous European ski destinations.
Ruka has 39 slopes catering to skiers of all levels, from apprehensive beginners to off-piste thrill-seekers.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or an enthusiastic newbie, Ruka Ski School has you covered. Professional instructors can show you the ropes of alpine or cross-country skiing or help you master the most complicated snowboarding tricks.
Don’t have your own gear? Rental shops at the ski resort (like Valley Rental Shop and Hill Ski Rent) have everything you need. If you go to Hill Ski Rent, ask for Janne. He knows the area like the back of his hands and can let you in on the best trails.
For cross-country skiing, try this fun two-hour tour that introduces you to the basics and provides all the gear you need to get started.
If you already know how to drive a snowmobile, you can rent one from local companies like Stella Polaris and then tear through glistening snow.
If you’ve never ridden before we would definitely recommend joining a tour – some of them take place in day, with the whole group whizzing take you past ice-covered lakes in a convoy of snowmobiles, while others, like this starlit sledging safari, happen once it’s dark.
Highlights include a stop to light a fire and feast on snacks and hot drinks while (fingers crossed!) northern lights dance overhead.
All you’ll need to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery while an expert guide drives a snowmobile, pulling you and your sledge through the deep, dark forest.
Dog sledding and reindeer tours
For a lot of visitors, going on a husky or reindeer safari is a must when visiting Ruka.
With the dog sledding tours, professional mushers will show you how to steer the dogs and manage your sled, and then you’ll get a chance to ‘drive’ the sled yourself.
We talk a lot about whether husky tours are ethical in this guide.
Some people would rather avoid any tours that involve animals, but you might see the sport with a new perspective as you see the dogs springing up and down in the harnesses, desperate to start running through miles of unspoilt wilderness!
Visiting a reindeer farm is another touristy but fun activity to check out in Ruka. There are different tours and farms to choose from, each with their own attractions to keep things interesting. Local company Ruka Adventures has a few different options to choose from.
At the Palosaari Reindeer Farm in Kuusamo, for example, Satu (a sixth-generation reindeer herder) will tell you all about the region’s history and the Sami people.
Northern lights excursions
Let’s be honest: you don’t need to join a tour to see the northern lights in Ruka.
If it’s dark enough, and the skies are clear, and there’s enough solar activity you might be able to see them.
However, if you want to increase your chances of seeing the lights and try some other fun activities at the same time, joining a tour is a safe bet.
Not only do experienced guides know the best areas, but they’ll take you to a few different locations on the same night to try and spot them.
Get Your Guide offers several tours to bring you the most spectacular aurora displays. This minibus tour takes in various vantage points and concludes with hot drinks and pastries around a campfire, while this snowshoe tour takes you deep into the forest.
Opt for the snowshoe walk to immerse yourself in nature, breathe in crisp forest air and examine animal tracks in the snow.
Although it is possible to go ice fishing alone, we wouldn’t recommend it. Easiest way to try ice fishing, a typically Finnish pastime, is by joining a tour.
This way, you’ll have all the gear you’ll need to catch a fish – and you’ll be with someone who knows how to step onto the ice safely.
During this tour, you’ll get expert guidance on drilling a hole and using a specialist ice fishing rod. All that’s left for you to do is cross your mittened fingers to catch a whitefish, pike or grayling so you can feast on fresh fish for supper.
Another quintessential Finnish experience is spending time in a wood-fired sauna.
You’ll find electric or wood-burning saunas in almost every type of accommodation in Ruka, from sleek hotels to quaint log cabins.
For something special you can take the experience to another level by visiting a smoke sauna, an exotic tent sauna, an ice sauna, or even a sauna bus!
Will you have to get naked? Erm. Probably. Check out our guide to Finnish sauna etiquette for tips on how to cope.
If you want to go all in and sauna like a true Finn, then this authentic Finnish sauna experience ticks a lot of boxes. During the tour you’ll spend time in a traditional sauna, soak in an outdoor Jacuzzi and – brace yourself – go for a dip in icy water.
Imagine nothing aside from your breathing and the dampened crunch of your snowshoes on the trail.
Easier than cross-country skiing, but with some of the same benefits, snowshoeing is a fun and relatively easy way to commune with nature in winter.
Visit the main resort’s website for info on Ruka’s other trails, but you’ll need your own snowshoes for those.
Eating and drinking
While the outdoor adventures are probably the main reasons for visiting Ruka, you don’t want to miss out on the town’s surprisingly goodfood scene.
Pop by Rukan Kuksa or Restaurant Peak for unique dining experiences using local ingredients, such as reindeer, fish and mushrooms.
Special places to stay
From luxurious hotels to charming log cabins, there’s an option for every budget and preference in Ruka.
Opt for the convenience of a room at the Ski-Inn Ruka Valley, a stone’s throw from the slopes, or stay in a quaint log cabin to cook your own dinner.
For something completely different, consider staying in a glass igloo, adding a touch of magic to your winter wonderland adventure. The Magical Pond igloos are in the heart of the Kuusamo forest, just eight minutes’ drive from the main ski resort.