Ruka-Kuusamo is a famous destination for skiers in Finland – but it is so much more than that. It is a magical winter wonderland, with snow-covered marshmallow-trees and countless opportunities to experience the Finnish winter in all its facets. With everything in walking distance, it is the ideal destination for those who don’t feel comfortable with winter driving, without having to compromise on any nature or services. I can highly recommend it as the place to visit in Finnish winter, where you can have it all.
This post and trip is a collaboration with Ruka-Kuusamo. All opinions are my own. Thank you!
What comes to mind when we think of Finnish winter? It’s the snow-covered trees, it’s huskies and reindeer, it’s the Northern Lights. It’s a burning fire in the woods, it’s cozy beanies and endless sunrises. Ruka-Kuusamo is technically just very slightly below the official area of Lapland, but the landscape and heritage are considered Lappish.
There are many things to Finnish winter, and many experiences and things to do that connect us with nature, than give us a bit of a thrill or challenge us. The best part of all these: you can get all of this in Ruka-Kuusamo.
After my first ever visit to Finland brought me to Ruka-Kuusamo in 2005, I knew I wanted to live in this country some day. Since then, I had been back here for work some years ago, but this winter trip was really something special. It was the most stunningly beautiful winter week that showed off the region at its best.
So, here are 3 reasons why you should visit Ruka-Kuusamo in the winter:
1. It is easy to reach & to get around: from Helsinki, the flight to Kuusamo takes about 1h15 minutes, and you are in a different world. Ruka village is about 30 minutes by bus from there. If you don’t want to drive or are not comfortable with winter driving, or just want to save the money for a rental car, you can easily get around Ruka without. There are convenient bus routes from the airport to the main parts of the area. Most activities either don’t need other transport, or the transfer is included in the booking.
2. You can have it all in one spot: from lovely accommodation to great meals, a variety of all kinds of activities – Ruka-Kuusamo combines the best of all things in one place. As one of the main winter destinations in Finland, Ruka-Kuusamo has all access and services you might need, while you still have the feeling of being close to the wilderness.
3. Trying all the new things or the classics: Ruka-Kuusamo is a great spot for trying something different that tickles your sense of adventure, while it is also wonderful for a “classic Finnish winter”-beginner-experience. You can try something you never heard of every day or tick off all the Finnish winter bucket list items you always dreamt about. Or a bit of both.
By plane: Finnair has regular flights to Kuusamo, the frequency depends on the season. They are often fully booked as the planes are fairly small, so it is recommended to book well in advance! Alternatively, you can fly to Rovaniemi and continue by car or bus from there. The flight to Kuusamo from Helsinki takes about 1,5 hours.
By car: a drive to Ruka-Kuusamo from within Finland is a beautiful scenic drive. The streets and motorways are maintained well in every season. You can read up on my Roadtrip Guide to Finland here.
Getting around: in winter, it is absolutely possible to travel without a car. Bus connections between airport and accommodations are well organised, bus schedules between skiing areas and destinations as well, and the majority of activities have any necessary transfers included in their offer. If you stay within Ruka village especially, you can be entirely independent without a car.
The winter trail to Valtavaara hilltop is not the easiest hike as it is quite steep and demanding at times and depending on the conditions. But: the views and the scenery are worth everything. Take some coffee and snacks with you for a break at the “Kota” hut after visiting the fire watchkeeper’s hut on the top of the hill. If you ever saw the photos of the snow-covered trees bending under their load, in wild nature and surrounded by an endless snowy view – this is it. The trial begins on the Ruka valley side, and you can easily get to the start by walking. Depending on where you stay, you might have to take the Skibus or the Gondola to the other side of the hill to reach it.
Choose a day with clear skies, it’s especially popular during sunrise- or sunset. It takes a couple of hours, so it easily fills a day with a nice meal afterwards!
Have you heard of OAC-skinbased Skis? It’s okay, neither had I. A late night skiing tour sounded really demanding for beginners, but in the end this was my favourite activitiy of the whole week. The skis are fairly wide and short, and have a skin underneath them which prevents you from sliding backwards. They are basically designed for you to glide through flat, deep snow. No need for prior experience or much extra gear, you just strap them to your own shoes and are good to go.
Equipped with headlamps and hot juice, our hosts from Outdoorpassion drove us to the other side of the Valtavaara hill, and from there we ventured out into the deep forest. The moon was shining proudly in the nightly sky and the snow reflected it all, turning the forest into an eerily bright, shimmering land of magic – that most of the time we didn’t even need to use our headlamps.
I found this experience so calming and meditative, which I didn’t expect at all. It was quiet and bright, and I rarely felt so connected with the wild nature, as we went off the paths and also didn’t encounter a single other person all evening. On our journey back, the moon surprised us with a rare display of a double halo – what a sight! We didn’t see any Northern Lights that night, but this almost felt more special.
Price for the 4-hour tour: 85 €/person
Whereas in some parts of the world, like Finland, skiing is a very normal part of culture and very accessible, it is not the case for many others. I had skied as a teenager but not in the longest time, and my partner had never been on skis. At the Ruka ski school there are adult classes offered, both private as well as public group courses. It’s a very rewarding experience to try something new as a grown-up, and we had a great time with all the kids on the teaching slopes.
Thanks to our private teacher, we both made it down some of the official slopes at the end of the day! And even if you don’t: it is never to late to learn something new, and you don’t have to be good at everything either. If you have never tried it, Ruka is probably one of the best places as an adult beginner for skiing. The highlight of the day for me: the Rudolph adventure route, on which you can visit some reindeer while you ski down. The. Best.
Also, for the advanced skiers there are courses available, to take your skills to the next level.
Adult ski course 3 half days: 108€ / 5 half days: 180€
Ski pass: ca. 45€/day
Equipment rental: from 25€/day
Okay, so I am not a climber at all, nor very sporty altogether. My partner is into bouldering, so ice-climbing seemed like his jam – and I am always curious to try new things. I’m glad we had calm and collected Jussi from Outdoor Passion with us, because the 30m ice wall was incredibly daunting. It was a windy day with a lot of snow on the wall, and the gear – ice-picks and crampons (the spikey bits on your boots) seemed so intimidating. But let me say: I’m so glad I tried it. Jussi talked each of us through the experience with just enough support to push us in moments of panic and understanding. On my second try, I made it about half-way up the wall and that felt like a huge achievement for me, especially in the conditions we dealt with.
Even this activity is beginner-friendly, it’s absolutely doable even for those without any connection to climbing whatsoever. You get all the gear you need from your hosts, and there’s nothing better after a day of ice-climbing than a hot chocolate and a sauna. Just be prepared for some sore muscles the next days!
Guided ice-climb including all equipment: 105 €/person
Snowshoeing is an easy way to start getting into wintery outdoor activities – they strap to your shoes and you can wander through deep snow with ease, helping you get to amazing spots you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise! Rukantunturi stands 490m above Ruka village, and the snowshoeing trail to the top rewards you with stunning views of the scenery. It’s a low-intensity trail, and the guided experience with the lovely guys from Tailored Adventures, with some hot juice included, takes about 2 hours.
Guided tour: 45€/person – just the rental: 27€
As a foodie, I am always curious to visit all the local restaurants and try specialities or oddities that you usually wouldn’t come across in your home town. Ruka-Kuusamo has some lovely food spots to offer, and also vegetarians and vegans will always find something on the menu – maybe not a whole lot of variety, but all very delicious. Here are some spots and dishes you should not miss out on when visiting Ruka-Kuusamo. My favourite meals of the week below – see the Ruka map overview for some additional spots!
Rukan Kuksa – Fried Whitefish with Mushroom barley risotto: right in the heart of Ruka, Rukan Kuksa serves local and modern wild food. Highlights were the vegetarian dish and the local whitefish. Another highlight here was no doubt the cloudberry crème brûlée – don’t leave without this one.
Ruka Tonttu – Elk Schnitzel & Bolete Cappucchino: combining game and schnitzel definitely drew my attention, even though the combination felt a bit weird. However, this really surprised me and the giant portion was really needed after a long day out! The Bolete (cep mushroom) cappucchino was probably the best soup we had all week, and I wish this came as a main dish size!
Pizzeria Ruka – Reindeer & Chanterelle pizza with squeaky cheese and Cloudberry jam: local ingredients, traditional Italian recipes and modern, Finnish topping combinations make this one of the top spots you should visit when in Ruka!
Riipisen Ravintola – Reindeer filet and mushroom soup: this wild game restaurant should also be on the top list for everyone visiting Ruka. The menu selection is wonderful (also for the vegetarians), the mushroom soup was just a delight and the reindeer filet something you definitely don’t get everywhere. And cooked to perfection.
Hanki Baari – Minttukaakao / Hot chocolate with mint schnaps: a not-to-miss classic after a day out in the cold!
Ruka has a lot of different accommodation types to offer, but the majority of them are holiday flats, as a lot of people come for a self-catered holiday. There are also a bunch of hotels in the village, or then the option to stay in a cabin or villa nearby. One of the best things of traveling to Ruka, is that it has something to offer for every budget and preference. From luxury cabins to low-budget apartments, there is the right choice for every visitor. Most importantly: all of these have access to a sauna. I highly recommend checking out the accommodation search on the official Ruka website, which is very comprehensive!
Kelokaltiokylä cabins: We opted for a cabin stay for the duration of our trip, just about 10-15 minutes from the centre of Ruka village. Yet it still felt like we were in the nature, with great views over the valley from the porch.
Ruka Tonttu: not only does Ruka Tonttu have lovely hotel rooms, but also special accommodation on offer such as the Aurora huts where you can watch the Northern Lights from your bed.
Scandic Hotel: the Ruka Scandic is as central as it gets, so if you want to be super close to the slopes and services.
Aurinkorinne & Rukahovi Apartments: within walking distance of everything, but still quiet – these apartments are a good option for families or groups.
Looking for more Finnish winter inspiration?