CHRISTMAS IN LAPLAND FIRST TIME TIPS
We visited Santa Claus Holiday Village in Finnish Lapland back in December 2016, and in all honesty, it was one of the most magical holiday experiences we have ever had. Having done a lot (and I do mean…a lot) of research before we travelled, we opted to book and organise the entire trip ourselves; flights, accommodation, excursions…the whole shabbang. Although we saved ourselves a lot of money this way, there are many reputable companies who will get you the best package deals possible without ripping you off, but, be warned…Lapland holidays are not cheap.
In this post we are going to cover what we learnt from our research prior to travelling, tips that we picked up during our time in Lapland and useful information that we have found out since returning home. If you’re thinking about visiting Lapland, and in particular, Santa Claus Holiday Village, then do read on!
1. BOOK EARLY
We can’t stress this enough…BOOK EARLY! If you are planning on taking a Christmas trip to Lapland, whether you are going to Do-It-Yourself or book with a reputable Travel Company, book as early as physically possible to guarantee the best prices. Travel companies, such as Inghams and Canterbury Travel, allow you to book Lapland holidays a year or more in advance. Booking in advance normally gives you the best pricing and availability; especially if you plan on visiting over the busy Christmas period.
The same goes for booking flights if you are opting for the D-I-Y holiday, you will need to be on the ball. Flights get booked very quickly once they are released. The majority of airlines allow you to book flights up to 10 months in advance. To stay ahead of the game we recommend that you sign up to Airline newsletters and follow them on social media. Always check Skyscanner, hopefully, by doing these things, you will get the best flights at the best prices. We don’t recommend booking a Lapland holiday last minute…but, and we know this contradicts the ‘BOOK EARLY’ rule; you may very well pick up a package deal at a greatly reduced rate if you do.
2. WHEN DOES IT SNOW?
You can visit Lapland at any time of the year, so when you travel basically depends on where you are going or what you want to do when you get there. Of course, Lapland is the home of Santa Claus and he is there 365 days of the year, but if you’re like us, a visit to the Big man in the red suit wouldn’t feel the same if there was no snow on the ground. Winter season in Finland commences December through to March, but snowfall may begin as early as October in the mountains and fall until mid May. We travelled to Lapland the first week of December, and whilst it didn’t snow once during our 3 day stay, there was already a great covering of snow on the ground.
So, with that in mind, to be absolutely guaranteed (but don’t quote us on that) of snow, visit mid December through to March. There are many sites online where you can find historical weather information for the area you are travelling to. Of the many weather sites we’ve visited, we found Holiday Weather to be extremely reliable and informative.
3. PACKAGE VS D-I-Y
Is there really a huge cost difference when you book a trip to Lapland with a Travel Agent or Do-It-Yourself? In a word…yes! When people think of visiting Santa they normally associate Lapland with a day trip and huge costs. Day Trips never crossed Mummy’s mind when we started planning our trip in back in 2016. Now, don’t get us wrong, there is definitely a place for days trips and package holidays to Lapland. Not everyone is comfortable with booking everything separately, but if you do; you could save a huge amount of money.
Our 3 day D-I-Y trip cost a little over £1400, which incidentally was over half of the cost of a 3 day package trip which currently costs £3252.40 with Inghams. As well as the cost savings, the advantage of D-I-Y is that we can plan everything ourselves and take everything at our own pace. For us, it’s a no-brainer and D-I-Y wins every time.
4. WHICH RESORT
If Santa isn’t your thing (how dare you) there is more than one resort to visit in Lapland. This section is just a run down of our experience and knowledge gained from the countless hours of research that has been done late at night in our house.
There are 5 main resorts in Finnish Lapland: Rovaniemi, Levi, Saariselka, Yllás and Luosto.
Rovaniemi is known as the official home of Santa Claus and the place we chose for our DEAR SANTA trip in 2016. For short 1, 2 or 3 day trips and also if you have young children, Rovaniemi definitely has great appeal. Should you choose to fly direct to Rovaniemi, you will land at Santa’s very own airport. Just a short 5 minute drive from the airport is the Santa Claus Holiday Village. Once in the village everything is there, so there really isn’t any reason to leave. Everything in the village is a short walk or sleigh ride away, absolutely perfect for getting to and from the activities. For us, short journeys are vitally important, more so when it’s -15°C and there’s a two year old in tow.
Levi is Lapland’s largest ski resort and is a short 15 minute drive from Kittilia Airport, so if you are looking for a ski or snowboard holiday then this 43 piste resort will be a good option for you. Pistes are well maintained and do not have the same crowds that you would see in Europe, and there’s also a much better chance of decent snowfall in the early part of the ski season. The resort village has a host of restaurants, shops and bars and the Snow Village is a mere 15 minute drive away.
Saareselka is the gateway to the mountainous region of the Urho Kekkonen National Park and boasts over 200km of ski trails. Ivalo is the closest airport and the resort is almost 150 miles north of Rovaniemi. If history is your thing, the lakefront Sámi Cultural Center Sajos includes a craft shop and a library devoted to Finland’s indigenous Sámi people. On offer are reindeer and husky sleigh rides, snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
Ylläs is the highest fell in the municipality of Kolari, it stands at 2,356ft and has over 60 ski slopes. As well as having huge appeal in winter for skiers and snowboarders, Ylläs offers summer visitors the chance to try activities like fishing, canoeing, walking and cycling.
Luosto is part of the Pyhä-Luosto National Park, and many of Lapland’s ski resorts rely on constant weather updates from the weather radar that is situated at the very top of the 1,670ft fell. As you’d expect, Luosto is a ski resort and close by is a large amethyst mine. Not quite as busy and doesn’t have as many ski runs as some of the other resorts.
Yllas and Luosto are not as commercialised as Rovaniemi, Levi or Saariselka.
READ ALL ABOUT OUR MAGICAL TRIP TO SANTA CLAUS HOLIDAY VILLAGE
5. WHO FLIES AND WHERE FROM
There are a number of airlines who fly to Lapland from the UK and Ireland. Here is a short break down of the destination airports.
You can fly direct to Rovaniemi from the UK and Ireland with Norwegian Air and just recently Easyjet have begun to offer direct fights. These airlines offer extremely good value flights especially when booking early. Sign up to airline newsletters and keep an eye out on social media from early January if you want to be one of the first in the line to book.
Kittilia & Ivalo
For both of these airports you will have a 1 stop flight which is usually in Helsinki. Norwegian Air, British Airways, and Finnair all fly to Kittilia and Ivalo.
An excellent option is to fly direct to Helsinki and catch the Santa Express Train to the heart of Lapland. Norwegian Air, British Airways and Finnair all fly to Helsinki as well as Lufthansa, Air France, KLM and a few more. Our advice is to utilise Skyscanner to get the best flight times and prices. It is possible to take a day or night train from Helsinki which we’ve covered in Section 8 further down the page.
6. WHAT AGE IS A GOOD AGE
That depends on the month you visit. Taking a bouncing baby in the warm summer months can be an enjoyable experience for all, but taking them in winter when it’s -15°C outside is a different experience entirely, and one the little nipper probably won’t appreciate, or remember in years to come for that matter. Now don’t get us wrong, we took our two children, at the time of the trip they were age 2 and 7, and both enjoyed every minute of the trip. As mentioned previously, we travelled to Lapland in December and yes, it was cold, but dress your little angels in the right clothing, take regular indoor breaks to use the loo and warm up, and the experience should be pleasurable and memorable for all the right reasons.
7. WHAT TO WEAR
Ok, so you look uber-cool in bermuda shorts, ripped t’s and flip-flops, but trust us, you wouldn’t last long in the frozen wilderness of Lapland dressed in your stylish summer clobber. Rather than detail what each of us wore, we’ll cover layering, and more importantly; how to do it right. Too many layers and you’ll overheat, too little and you’ll freeze!
Probably the most important item(s) of clothing you’ll wear. Base layers are in direct contact with your skin, and should be tight, not restricting, just snug; for them to work efficiently. They are designed to ‘wick’ moisture away from the body and on to the next layer.
Mummy and Daddy use merino wool as they are super warm and keep us dry all day long no matter what activity we’re doing. Be warned, merino wool takes longer to dry than synthetic materials and the material can be quite scratchy…best to avoid if you have sensitive skin.
For the girls, we use Sondico Base Layers from SportsDirect. They are reasonably cheap, fit well and do exactly what they’re supposed to, plus they come in lots of different colours.
First mid layer
To work well this layer must sit right up against the base layer, it’s job is to gather any moisture drawn out by the base layer, it should also be an insulating layer to help keep you warm. The best materials are wool and fleece and you should choose the latter if you plan on being more active (skiing, snowboarding etc).
Second mid layer (extreme cold)
For us this layer has to be fleece, an excellent fabric which will keep the body well insulated.
Do you really need a softshell and what is it? Well, that’s entirely up to you. A softshell is basically a water repellent layer which is breathable, thus allowing it to let sweat escape, they also have a soft fleecy layer which means that you can dispose of the second mid layer if you desire. In extreme conditions you can wear the softshell directly underneath your hardshell (outer jacket).
This is your final layer and should be both waterproof and windproof. There are cheaper jackets on the market but we highly recommend Windstopper and Goretex, they are a little more expensive but never fail. If money is tight, opt for a jacket filled with down (goose, duck etc). Provided you get the base and mid layers right, then you shouldn’t go wrong with any waterproof outer jacket.
A lined woolly hat (or use a skull cap if the hat isn’t lined) that has long ear flaps is perfect, and we always accompany with a fleece snood or a cowl. Helps to keep a chill off the neck and chest and in extremes can be pulled up over the mouth and nose for extra warmth. Of course, for children a balaclava is always a great option, but not wool…far too itchy!
Cold fingers don’t function very well. Always layer up with gloves, a snug pair (base layer) made from silk or synthetic materials, and a good pair of insulated gloves or mittens. Mittens are much warmer than gloves, plus far easier to put on and off the squirming children. On the coldest of days we place a HotHands air-activated hand warmer between base and outer to give extra heat for hours and hours.
Thick, warm and extremely comfortable socks. Mummy and Daddy have used Bridgedale socks for as long as we care to remember. We first used them back in 2002 for a snowboarding trip to Banff, Canada, and we haven’t looked back since. You honestly won’t go wrong with Bridgedale’s superb MerinoFusion (or WoolFusion) range. Available for all the family, but not the dog.
You may need to go up a size when buying boots, after all, you’ll have a thick pair of socks on. If your boots feel tight then your feet will get cold quick. For the last couple of years we have used Campri lined boots purchased from SportsDirect. The boots are extremely cheap but seriously comfy and luxuriously warm (when paired with good socks). Highly recommended for the price.
Here’s a heads up…visit the likes of SportsDirect, M & M Direct, Millets, Trespass, TKMaxx and other outlet stores in February-March and you can grab end of season clothing bargains for your trip later that year.
tip: if you don’t ski regularly you don’t want to pay a fortune on clothing that might only get used once. You may want to hire clothing from the resort where you’re staying. Lots of resorts offer this option for clothing essentials.
8. THE REAL POLAR EXPRESS
Yes, there really is a Polar Express, well…it’s officially called the Santa Claus Express, but we’re quite happy to say it’s the Polar Express for our post. This super-speedy double-decker sleeper train travels from Helsinki in southern Finland right the way up to Kemijärviin the north. The train stops at several locations on route including Rovaniemi in Lapland (Helsinki to Rovaniemi is around 12 hours). In 2016 we flew direct to Rovaniemi Airport to begin our holiday, we wanted to try a different experience and decided to take the overnight ‘Polar Express’ from Rovaniemi to Helsinki on our way home.
There are two train options:
Taking the Day Train will allow you to see the beautiful Finnish countryside as you whizz by. Family cabins are available instead of standard seating and may be reserved (free) at the time of booking online.
If you take the Night Train it’s pitch black outside and therefore you see nothing, so a sleeper cabin is always worthwhile. The cabins, although quite small, are comfortable and ours came with a small toilet/shower…and we do mean small!
On board there is a well stocked cafe* and it is operational throughout the night. The cafe can get a bit busy at breakfast time and it was manned by just one person. WiFi is available and free of charge, there are also a number of in-seat power sockets for you to use your mains power leads but (remember to take an EU adapter on board). For us, the Santa Claus Express is a great way to begin or end your holiday.
*since April 2017 VR, who is the train operating company, has been piloting a Restaurant Car Renewal Scheme on their trains. This new Restaurant Car is a place where you can enjoy a convenient breakfast with your family, have a working lunch or partake in a drink or two with friends.
note: not all VR trains have a Restaurant Car, there are a number of trains which only operate with either a small cafe or trolley service. For further info visit VR Trains.
tip: children under the age of 10 travel free on the night train provided the child is sleeping in the same cabin as a paid parent. You must inform VR, the transport company, at the time of ticket purchasing if a child is travelling with you. Children under the age of 4 do not need tickets. Christmas season tickets generally go on sale from the middle of August. If you are planning on booking a trip on the train, you should set a reminder in your phone.
9. NORTHERN LIGHTS
The Northern Lights can often be seen in Lapland but depends on the weather. Between September and March, if you look out and the night sky is clear with an abundance of stars, then chances are the wonderful Aurora Borealis will come out to play. There are a few companies who offer excursions and we highly recommend Aurora Hunting Rovaniemi, check out their page on facebook to see amazing Northern Lights pictures taken by photographer Mikko Lantto. Mikko is also a guide and can take you on an Aurora Hunt. Please do book in advance as he is extremely popular during the winter months.
10. THE CHRISTMAS GOAT
This one isn’t really a tip, just a little bit of history. Of course Lapland is famous for being the home of Santa Claus, but did you know, in Finland Santa Claus is called Joulupukki, which translates to Christmas Goat. Traditionally the Christmas Goat (sometimes called Yule Goat) would knock on homes and scare the occupiers into handing over gifts. The Christmas Goat certainly never gave any gifts out which has become the tradition today.
St Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Pelznickel and Joulupokki are just some of the names given to Santa Claus. One thing’s for sure, whatever you call him, if you’re not on the NICE LIST you won’t get any presents, just a piece of coal…children, you’ve been warned!
Winter in Lapland offers visitors the chance to try out many snow related activities. On our last trip in 2016, we booked a Reindeer Sleigh Ride which took us through the beautiful snow-covered pine trees, and later on in the day we took a Husky Sled ride just as the evening air changed. It was quite strange as the moisture in the air began to crystalise, but wasn’t quite snow, really beautiful to see. Daddy also took a Snowmobile Tour which was one of the highlights, boys and toys and speed!
Excursion slots can get booked up quite quickly in peak season so book in advance when you know:
- the dates you’ll be on holiday
- what excursions you want to do
A quick search on Google will tell you what excursions are available in the area you’ll be staying.
12. SANTA…SHHHHH, THERE’S MORE THAN ONE YOU KNOW
There’s only one Santa right? Sorry, but we’re going to let out a little secret here, so please JUMP TO SECTION 13 if you don’t want a spoiler!
One Santa……wrong, there’s actually two, and both are the ‘real deal’. In Santa Claus Holiday Village there’s a Santa and in Santa Claus Village there’s a Santa. After arriving home we somehow got tagged in a post on Facebook, the person in the photo was a tall man, quite stout, a bald head and certainly no big white fluffy beard! Confused? After a little investigating we found out that said man was actually the real Santa Claus without his clobber.
Santa Claus lives at the Santa Claus Holiday Village in Rovaniemi and he is there 365 days of the year. It’s always nice to see Santa before Christmas Eve but visiting Lapland in February is much cheaper and less busy. We were extremely lucky to have zero queues when we visited Santa in 2016, we just marched right up to the door and knocked…voila, Santa let us in.
13. HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY FOR
In all honesty, that really depends on what you want to do. If all you want to do is pay a visit to Santa Claus then a 48 hour trip is sufficient and there are many reputable companies who offer 24, 48 or 72 hour packages…but it’s expensive, on the plus side it takes all the hassle of planning away. However, if you are on a budget, plan ahead (a year or more in advance) and book everything yourself, it’ll save you money.
If you want to do excursions, sightseeing and winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, we recommend a minimum of 5 days and stretch this to 7 or 10 if you can afford it. You will be able to fit lots more in, plus enjoy your time without feeling rushed to get in, get things done, and get out again.
14. ELECTRICALS AND BATTERIES
Tricky one this. We found that our phones and cameras would switch of if they got cold. Apparently it’s only a certain type of battery that works well in extreme cold. A local informed us that Sony phones and cameras work well due to the battery type they use, we can’t vouch for this, sorry. Daddy had an iphone 5s, and although fully charged at night, would switch off almost as soon as it was exposed to the cold air. Mummy had a Samsung Galaxy S6 and this fared a little better, but not much. Our Samsung MV900f camera probably worked the best out of all three devices but wasn’t perfect.
Fear not, provided you keep your smart phones somewhere warm, they should work well. We tucked the phones into our deepest crevices to keep them warm.
- be warned, if you’ve been outside for a while and your phones have switched off, once inside, allow them to come to room temperature before turning them on or you’ll risk frying the phone.
- use a small sock with a HotHands warmer inside to keep smartphones warm. Take pictures with the phone then place it back inside the sock to keep it warm. Be careful that the phone doesn’t overheat.
Remember to take phone chargers, power leads, memory cards etc and do not forget to take a 2pin European adapter. We normally take 4 2pin European adapters when travelling to Europe. Asda sell a UK to European Adapter complete with 2 USB ports and it costs just £9. Great for charging two phones at once and it only takes up one socket.
15. FORGET THESE ITEMS AT YOUR PERIL
Moisturiser, chap stick (lip salve), and we know we’ve said this before but do not forget your EU travel adapters. How do you think you would feel getting all the way to Lapland and not having any way of charging your phones or cameras for pics…you’d feel gutted! This happened to us in Paris one year. We spent all day taking photos and at night when we got to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the phones died…both of them. We had to plead our case and ask strangers to use their phone to take our photo and then email it on…disaster!
tip: take a portable power pack, something small with two usb points. Very handy way of ensuring your mobile devices don’t run out of juice.
Skin and lips dry out very easily in the cold. Use a moisturiser at night and a chap stick through the day. This will help to stop skin and lips from cracking. Cracked skin and cracked lips + extreme cold = pain!
16. JOIN CHRISTMAS AND LAPLAND GROUPS
If you’re still researching whether or not to go to Lapland, or if you have a question that remains unanswered, forums and online groups can be your place of saving grace. We are active members of many groups, including Lapland Holiday Chat on Facebook. It’s a great site, really informative and members are extremely helpful.
17. TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL
You’ve kept the visit to Lapland and Santa secret from your cuties for almost a year, so, do you:
- keep it a complete secret until you get there?
- tell them and share the magic?
This one is entirely up to you, we can’t decide this for you. This is how we broke the news…we put our girls to bed the night before our travel, then woke them around 3am with a note from Jingles – Elf on the Shelf. The note said that all of the Elves were sick and Jingles had to stay in Lapland to help Santa wrap pesents. At the end of the children’s beds we had two suitcases with the girls passports on top, the letter from Jingles sat directly in front. Once our little ladies read the letter, they realised we were all going to the North Pole to see Santa and bring Jingles home for the Christmas Holidays. The girls were so tired, it didn’t really sink in until we got to the airport…bless!
tip: are you rubbish at keeping secrets? Tell the little one’s about the trip and add a countdown calendar to the fridge. That way, as they tick of each day, you can see their excitement build throughout the year.
18. AS NIKE WOULD SAY…JUST DO IT (other sports brands are available)
Well, what are you waiting for…get it booked! Hopefully this post has given you a few tips to help you set the wheels, or wings, in motion. Have fun and if you have any questions, please leave a comment or GET IN TOUCH, we will do our utmost to help.
READ ALL ABOUT OUR MAGICAL TRIP TO SANTA CLAUS HOLIDAY VILLAGE
LILY-BELLE (age 9) SAYS
Remember to go to the toilet BEFORE you put your snow clothes on. Don’t worry about taking your Santa Letter with you, there’s an Elf Workshop near the Post Office where you can write a letter and post it straight to Santa. I seriously can’t believe I got to see the real Santa.
MATILDA (age 4) SAYS
Blah blah, I’m playing in my toy kitchen.
Daddy: After a little coaxing, and bribery with an ice-pop, Matilda finally said that everyone should use the sledges to get around. Something tells me that the ‘Matilda Says’ section isn’t going to work too well!
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