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Where can I see a reindeer? And what do I do when I encounter one?
2 minute read
Two reindeer on a fell looking for lichen underneath snow

Credits:: Thomas Kast

Reindeer are a common sight in Lapland, and these creatures are truly one of a kind. Here’s how to meet and greet them.

Despite there being plenty of room to roam in Finnish Lapland – the space around you can seem infinite – you’ll more than likely bump into a herd of reindeer grazing freely in the fells, forests or roadsides. That’s because the number of reindeer in Lapland is roughly equal to the number people.

Here are three spots where you can find the antlered icon of Lapland and some advice on what to do – and what not to do – when you meet them.

A huge herd of dozens of reindeer on a snow covered fell

Reindeer in the wild

Throughout the year in Lapland, NOT spotting a reindeer is close to a miracle, as these animals often feed close to roads and dwellings. Spotting reindeer while skiing is not unusual, either. Even though they roam free, reindeer are semi-domesticated: half tame, half wild. Every animal you see in a Finnish forest is owned by a herder.

In the wild, reindeer are always on the move. They change their location – a grazing area that can be over a 1,000 sq km – according to the seasons and weather conditions. Their diet consists of more than 350 different types of plants. In winter, they mainly eat lichens.

Reindeer can be curious and might try to approach you, it’s better not to return the favour. According to the Finnish law, one is not allowed to disturb or frighten the reindeer in any way. For example, approaching an animal to take a photograph might startle it.

Keeping your distance can also keep you safe. During rutting season in autumn, lovesick stags may act in unpredictable ways. And be cautious while driving – especially if you see a reindeer warning sign – a herd of reindeer in the middle of the road is not an unusual sight for Lapland. But don’t worry, they’re not hitching a ride to their next location.

A reindeer standing on a road while staring into a forest
Credits: Julia Kivelä

Reindeer on farms

Reindeer and people have a connection that is thousands of years old, first through hunting, then through domestication and herding. The Sámi are known for reindeer husbandry, and in Northern Lapland, it is still a major source of income for many.

The real-life reindeer might not fly but there’s something magical about these creatures. Visiting a Finnish reindeer farm is often at the top of travellers’ bucket lists and there are plenty of options to choose from. At these farms, you’ll learn more about reindeer and the lives of their herders. Many farms provide short reindeer sleigh rides on site – an eco-friendly holiday activity at its finest.

You may also have a chance to feed the animals. Please remember to treat the animals respectfully: they do not like loud noises, sudden movements or petting.

A woman feeding a pure white reindeer with mouth in a reindeer farm
Credits: Jason Charles Hill

Reindeer safaris in Finland

A reindeer ride is something not to miss; gliding through a snowy forest in a wooden sleigh is a magical experience, one you’re probably aware of thanks to travel agents. Yet, a sleigh ride is not a tourism industry innovation, but an ancient Sámi way of getting around.

Reindeer safaris are longer sleigh rides that take you across the frozen landscape. The safaris can take anything from half an hour to an entire day with meals and coffee breaks by the campfire. They are a great way to connect with the arctic nature and the local people. Speeds stay moderate, which makes the rides suitable for all ages. It’s a great animal watch experience: you don’t just see them but you get to spend time with them, too.

The training of the reindeer takes 2–4 years. The individuals to be trained are selected mainly from reindeer grazing in the herds. Reindeer herders monitor the calves and assesses their suitability for sleigh use. They prefer large calves that are bold, calm and curious.

A reindeer safari expedition under northern lights
Credits: : Antti Pietikäinen
A reindeer pulling a sledge in a snow covered forest
Credits:: Vastavalo / Matti Koutonen