Santa Holidays: A Winter Wonderland Lapland Vacation
Lapland, Finland is a delight for everyone, including families. The Santa Claus Village is located in Rovaniemi, Finland steps from the Arctic Circle. It delights with a magical Santa Claus Holiday Village where you can mail letters to your family, ride in a reindeer sleigh through the Finnish forests and visit the jolly fellow himself.
A Santa Claus visit complete with a photo opportunity and time to tell him all of your wishes. This guide will cover everything from where we stayed, to where we ate and what winter activities you should try for you visit to Lapland with kids. I’ll also give you tips on what to wear in the winter weather to stay nice and warm!
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When is the best time to visit Lapland?
If you want to enjoy a bit of Christmas magic, then I suggest booking your trip for early to mid-December. You’ll get slightly cheaper rates compared to Christmas/New Year’s, but it will be in perfect time for the holiday season. Be sure to book early! The Santa Claus Holiday Village is quite popular and often sells out almost a year in advance.
Note: If you choose to go earlier in the season, such as Thanksgiving, snow is not guaranteed and winter activities may be limited.
How do I get to Lapland?
Unless you plan to arrive from Europe, you’ll need to fly into the capital city of Helsinki. From there you can book a smaller commuter flight or take the Santa Claus Express Train (read more about our experience on the train using the link).
We flew from Munich, Germany (which meant we were able to enjoy the Munich Christmas markets) to Helsinki and then onto Rovaniemi on Finnair. For our return, it was cheaper (and more fun) to take the Santa Claus Express Train from Rovaniemi to Helsinki, spend the day in Helsinki and then fly out back to Munich. We finished the drive back to Stuttgart where we lived.
If you are headed to Rovaniemi from the US and worried about jet lag ruining the first day or two of your trip, read these great tips for adjusting your child to a new time zone and dealing with jet lag.
To Rent a Car or Not to Rent a Car….
We decided to rent a car from Hertz at the airport. You don’t have to rent a car because the Santa Claus Holiday Village offers free pick up from the airport (a 10-15 minute drive). However, we wanted to do a bit of Northern Lights chasing and be able to visit an Arctic zoo. Since my husband is from Alaska, we knew driving in the snow wouldn’t be an issue.
If you want to rent a car, check out Save up to 30% on Car Rentals Worldwide Europcar for the best deals. We’ve used this company many times of the years and they are wonderful. We always get great deals and support.
What to pack for your Lapland Vacation?
Finland is cold! It’s up by the Arctic circle and temperatures can range from above freezing to below freezing. Honestly, the temperature doesn’t feel that much different once you pass the freezing level. You’ll need to pack lots of layers. Quality snow gear is essential. If you aren’t sure how to dress for winter weather, I’ve got a whole blog post to help you out.
If you’re not sure how to mash all the winter gear into a few bags, I can also help you out with using packing cubes and more on this blog post: Travel Packing List Tips.
What is the Best Place to Stay in Lapland?
We decided to stay at the Santa Claus Holiday Village.
They have two options: a classic cottage, and a superior cottage. The superior cottage includes daily cleaning, luggage handling, and slippers. You can also select to have a cottage with a separate bedroom instead of a studio style. We picked the classic cottage because the extras weren’t worth the cost for us.
The price is based on two adults, you’ll pay extra for children or adults using the sofa bed.
They also required half board during the Christmas season (which starts at the end of November). More on this later….
It was around 350 euro per night for Christmas season with half board for our family in 2017.
You can also book via booking for the Santa Claus Holiday Village. Great if you are a frequent traveler and have received a discount voucher. It is also nice to check the pricing compared to the offer that the reception desk makes directly.
Santa Claus Holiday Village Review
We really loved the location! We were right next to the Santa Claus attractions and we could walk back to our cozy cottage after playing in the snow. It was a studio style with two twin sized bed for my husband and I and a pull out sofa for our son. There was also a little kitchenette with basic supplies and a table for 3. There are plenty of cabinets to store your gear and the bathroom has a sauna! Perfect for warming up and combating any cold.
It is a duplex style, so you walk into the front door into an entryway, then there is a door to the left and a door to the right. It’s nice to be able to keep your winter gear and wet boots just outside the door in the entry. They also leave a broom and shovel for clearing off the snow.
Next to each cottage is a parking space with a plug to keep your car battery from dying in the bitter cold. We rented a car, so this was much appreciated.
What we DIDN’T like….. the food. Is was awful! The Santa Claus holiday village breakfast was fake eggs that tasted like watery rubber, fruit from a can and thin waffles that you have to wait in line to make. The early bird gets the better of the options, but honestly, it was packed and not great quality. I wish they wouldn’t force you to pay for 1/2 board. The dinner wasn’t much better. There was a salad bar and then you could order from the 3-4 items on their fixed menu. My husband and I would always order something different. It was hit or miss. Nothing was amazing.
The food is really the only negative for the whole trip. I hope that they read the Santa Claus Holiday Village TripAdvisor reviews and make some changes.
*There was an option to upgrade our meal plan and eat in the restaurant, but when I looked at the price increase, it was a lot. If you have the budget and want to stay in the cottages, I would upgrade. You can order off a traditional menu in a sit down restaurant and the quality looked much nicer.
Santa Claus Holiday Village
SLEDS: Since we were staying in the village, we had free use of the sleds. There are often sleds scattered throughout the village. For elderly visitors, tour buses and guests can arrange for a sit style sled.
SLED HILL: The sledding and snow hills are easy to find throughout the village since the snowplow frequently clears the village roads and piles the snow up at the ends of the streets and in the large field. Gear up in your snow clothing, grab a sled and have some winter fun!
It was peaceful in the village, especially if you walked just beyond the cottages. We visited in early December to avoid the higher Christmas season rates, but all the cottages were still booked. Nonetheless, we typically had an entire sled hill to ourselves.
Santa Claus Village Opening Hours
The Santa Claus office is open 365 days a year! I highly recommend going first thing in the morning or waiting until 1 hour before closing for the shortest wait times. Bonus: Santa Claus is FREE to visit!
|26TH AUG – 30TH NOV||MON – SUN 10 A.M. – 5 P.M.|
|1ST DEC – 6TH JAN||MON – SUN 9 A.M. – 7 P.M.|
|7TH JAN – 31ST MAY||MON – SUN 10 A.M. – 5 P.M.|
|1ST JUN – 25TH AUG||MON – SUN 9.00 A.M. – 6 P.M.|
Santa Claus Holiday Village Activities
The majority of the things to do and see are located off the Central Square at the heart of the Santa Claus Village, Finland
Santa Claus Main Post Office: This is where you can buy postcards, write your letters, buy stamps and mail them to friends and family with a special seal from the Arctic Circle. Be sure to bring a list with everyone’s address.
You can see my pile of postcards for family and friends. Don’t forget to mail yourself and the kids some as well! (Tip: bring your own postcards pre-filled and then just mail them here).
Then when you are done writing them and you’ve purchased your international stamps, pop them into the mailbox!
PS: Did you know that Santa Claus get over 1/2 a million letters to his mailbox in the Arctic Circe? That is a lot of mail to read!
Santa Claus Office: Finally, it’s time to visit the big man himself….SANTA!
This is where you want to visit the jolly fellow! There is a bit of confusion because there is also a Santa located near the road in the “Christmas House”. It’s often confusing for smaller kids, so skip that one and head to the Santa Claus Office.
When you look at the map, Santa is located in the Santa Claus Office. There is a large steeple roof and no parking nearby. When you enter, go straight and you’ll find the line and entrance just on your left. You’ll walk through a fun little path, up the stairs and up to a balcony. Before you enter you’ll see a little desk. This is where you can buy a little something for Santa to give to your little one. I did this on the sly while my husband entertained my son. I ordered him a little bell.
You’ll pass a ticket to the elf in charge before you enter and she will make sure everything is all set for you. Then they open the door and in you go!
Santa really takes the time to talk to you and talk to your child. Sure, I was disappointed that it isn’t his real beard, but everything else is very nicely done.
You will take a family photo for a quick minute and then continue on with your visit. Santa presented my son with his gift (that we purchased earlier) and he even explained a bit about the magic of the reindeer bell. My son was certainly smiling from ear to ear!
I loved how much time Santa spent with our family and how friendly he was. He is an amazingly patient man to meet with so many children each day.
You can purchase a video and photo package at the end of your visit. We thought the family photo turned out really nicely.
TIP: Go early or go late to see Santa. Otherwise, the line can get long and that’s never fun. It’s easy to circle back and check the line often throughout the day. We ended up visiting an hour before it closed and waited maybe 15-20 minutes.
If you want to see the quality of the video, check ours out below.
Arctic Circle: Part of the fun of traveling this far north is standing on the Arctic Circle. We found a line inside the shops (across from Santa’s Office). There is also a fun digital sign with the temperatures.
Playground: If the kids need a bit of time to play, head to the left of the Santa Claus Office to play on the playground. Watch for the ice at the end of the slide!
Santa Claus Reindeer Park: There are so many options, but since we knew we would be at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, we picked the Santa Claus Reindeer Park. They have 3 different options and a nighttime tour (Northern Lights Tour), so you can pick what works best for you. Read more in-depth about our Reindeer Sleigh ride here.
We showed up a few minutes early, check in at the little hut and waited near the fire for our group. The best part about having reservations was skipping the line and getting a longer ride. The reindeer sleigh was so peaceful through the beautiful Finnish forest.
If you want to experience what is it like, view our short video below.
Snowman World is a separate paid attraction located in the Santa Claus Village. They also have additional accommodations including a glass resort and snowmobile rides. If you have kids that love ice and snow, then this is another wonderful place to enjoy and experience. A winter ticket will cost 25 euros (free for children under 3) and will get you access to snow tubing, ice skating, the ice restaurant and bar with ice sculptures from 11 am-5 pm mid December till the end of March.
Moomin Snowcastle Finland: A snow and ice sculpture play area for the whole family is located just outside the main village area.
What is there to do? Check out the ice and snow sculptures, see if you can escape the snow maze and squeal with delight on the 50-meter long slide. They also offer mini snowmobiles and husky rides just outside the 10,000 square meter snow fun zone. In addition, there is an ice bar for cold drinks!
Cost to enter is 30 euros for adults, 18 euros for children 4-11 years old, children 0-3 are free of charge. They are open from 9 am – 7 pm throughout the Winter (Mid-December-March).
Elf’s Farm Yard and Petting Zoo: Visit with some furry and cuddle animals at the Petting Zoo. Meet the sheep, goats, rabbits, roosters and hens. In the Winter, try out some skiing or slide down the small snow slides. In the summer, climb on the equipment and swing in the trees. A campfire is always available for s’mores or lunch.
Tour Operators: There are a plethora of options for different tours inside the Santa Claus Village. You can do any winter activity you can dream of! From multiple snowmobiling options, reindeer sleigh rides, northern lights tours, skiing, husky dog sled rides and helicopter tours. If you can think of it, it is probably offered.
We only used the reindeer sleigh ride tour operator. For our husky sled dog ride, we used Lapland Safaris, more on that later.
Where to eat in Santa’s Village?
Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi: Dine on traditional food in a Lappish-style hut within the village. The hut is located across the wooden bridge over the reindeer sleigh track. Be sure to arrive early or make a reservation since the hut only seats 50 at a time.
Santa’s Salmon Place: This is a must visit restaurant if you like Salmon! It is smoked on an open fire in the traditional style with sides of your choice.
Santa Claus Office Coffee Shop: If you are looking to warm up and enjoy a small bite to eat, the Santa Claus Office Coffee shop is perfect. We were frequent visitors to enjoy some hot chocolate.
What to do in Finland in Winter?
Finland is a winter wonderland full of activities and adventures in the snow! There are many Lapland tours and I’ll share a few of the tours that we took with various companies.
Ranua Arctic Zoo:
Located an hour outside Rovaniemi is the arctic zoo or wildlife park. It features over 50 specifies of animals in a woodland setting. The enclosures are large and the wildlife park works hard to ensure the survival of many endangered species.
If you are interested in visiting, click the link below to read all the details about a day trip to the Ranua Zoo.
Lapland Safaris-Dog Sledding:
There are many options for dog sled rides in the Rovaniemi area. You’ll see them offered at the wildlife park I mentioned above, in the Santa Village and many tour operators that base themselves in Rovaniemi. So how do you choose?
We picked Lapland Safaris because the dog sled area was located close to the town of Rovaniemi, limiting the amount of time spent on the coach bus. They also offered a variety of options and length for their dog sledding tours. Lapland Safaris also offers free winter gear if you did not bring your own.
Read more about our dog sledding experience by clicking the link below.
– Things to do in Rovaniemi –
Rovaniemi City Centre:
Rovaniemi is a wonderful city and it is a great location if you are looking at renting an Airbnb or you prefer hotel stays. You can eat where ever you choose and a rental car isn’t needed with easy public transportation as well as many tour operators at your doorstep.
You can book all of your tours including transportation. Pickups from Rovaniemi are frequent or you can walk to the office of the tour operator. Also, a great option if you are on a budget and want to eat in. There are grocery stores as well as public transportation.
Pilke Science Centre:
Our next stop was the Pilke Science Centre. Parking was plentiful and free and the entrance is not too far of a walk. We brought our stroller but were told we had to park it and couldn’t take it into the exhibits, so I wouldn’t recommend bringing one unless you are walking from town.
The Science Centre is super kid-friendly. The whole bottom floor is full of exhibits are interactive and fun. We enjoyed the train table, logging vehicle that you can climb into and the ATV. There is also a log house building zone and information about Finland’s trade and sustainability.
At the end of our visit, we went out to dinner at Ravintola Roka Street Bistro. The food was amazing and I highly recommend it as a great place to eat. We were even able to sneak in our sleeping toddler in the stroller, major plus!
Santa Claus Express Train
Finally, our time in Lapland, Finland was coming to an end. Instead of flying back home, we found a cheaper flight out of Helsinki and that gave us the opportunity to take the overnight Santa Claus Express train from Rovaniemi to Helskini. It was another favorite part of the trip, so check that post out HERE.
Our Lapland trip was absolutely amazing! I’m so glad that we took the trip, even with a young child. The whole atmosphere was magical and we were able to do many activities that are unique to Lapland. It was easy to book the trip on my own, saving us hundreds of dollars and allowing us to be flexible with what we wanted to do.
Not sure how to dress to stay warm? Checking out my guide to dressing your children for the winter weather HERE.
Looking for more destination guides and travel tips? Head back to my homepage HERE.
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