Here comes old St. Nicholas. It’s that time of the year again, Christmas trees are tied to car roofs and ‘Jingle Bells’ is playing on every radio station. You’re looking for a place to go. Whether you’re traveling alone or with your whole family, a Christmas as classic as the movies is your ideal. So, if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, we suggest you head to Lapland.
In the northernmost part of Finland lies Lapland, a region known for its distinct Sami culture, as being a go-to spot for seeing the northern lights, and as a destination for exploration of the arctic circle. The capital city, Rovaniemi, happens to be the hometown of none other than St. Nick himself. Inside this cold, snowy region, you are sure to find a holiday experience like no other before. For tips on this ultimate Christmas vacation, check out our guide to spending Christmas with Santa.
Santa Claus Village
Just hear those sleigh bells jingling. Santa Claus Village, the official home of Saint Nicholas, began when former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited after World War II. Rovaniemi had been completely destroyed by the war and Mrs. Roosevelt went to observe the reconstruction efforts as a representative from the UN. While there, she decided to take a trip to see the arctic circle, and thus the first cabin of what would become Santa Claus Village was built.
Take a trip to the Santa Claus Main Post Office, where elves will help you send a letter back home to your friends and family – complete with a special Arctic Circle stamp, available only here. After that, head to the main building, called the Christmas House, your go-to spot for all things Christmas.
Take your photos with Kris Kringle in his own house and stay to check out the exhibits happening. One exhibit on Finnish Christmas traditions lets you learn how your hosts in Lapland celebrate joulu, as the holiday is called in Finnish. The other exhibit lets you see how people in different cultures and countries across the globe will be spending their Christmas holiday.
You’re never done learning. Head to Elf School at SantaPark to learn how to become one of Santa’s elves. Use your new knowledge to help the elves in the workshop make toys for Christmas. Learn to bake the perfect Christmas cookies with Mrs. Gingerbread, check out the ice sculptures at the Ice Gallery, and watch as the elves put on an annual show for your enjoyment.
Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen. Off you go to meet the reindeer themselves. Reindeer are said to be incredibly gentle and friendly animals, but sadly, you can’t meet the ones that do fly, as those are reserved for Father Christmas himself. Farms in Rovaniemi, both in the Santa Claus Village and around it, provide tours and meet-and-greet opportunities with these sweet creatures.
Want to see more than just reindeer? Head to Ranua Wildlife Park to see all the animals the arctic has to offer. The arctic foxes, brown bears, golden eagles, grey wolves, lynxes, moose, and polar bears, can all be seen in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible. The park is designed to protect and preserve these species and also gives you tips on how you can live a more sustainable life, helping these animals survive as well.
Stay at night for what may be the world’s most spectacular view. Rovaniemi is one of the best places in the world to watch the greens, blues, and purples of the northern lights. The lights appear in this city from August through April, but not every night. If they’re predicted to show up, find a quiet spot away from the lights of the city and watch the magic with your own two eyes.
Mush! Husky rides aren’t just a thing of the movies. These hardworking dogs will pull your sled for four hours on a guided tour over the hills, and through the woods, as you venture deeper into the Finnish tundra. Go with Sunny Safari, and you can even have your own self-guided tour. Back at the entrance hut, warm snacks and stories will be awaiting your return.
Is this too old fashioned for you? Modernize your day trip and head out on a snowmobile tour and safari to Sierijarvi, a nearby lake. The guided tour takes you out for a day around the Arctic to explore the endless white snow, meet reindeer herders around a remote, frozen lake and enjoy a delicious, authentic farm-cooked lunch. The trip is a peek into the culture of rural Finnish farmers, and the traditional culture they’ve preserved.
If you want something a little different than a full day trek, check out the fishing. Ice fishing, that is. For many Finnish people, ice fishing is a traditional way of life, and historically, it was the main source of food for the Sami people. Learn how to use the traditional tools to pierce through the frozen lake’s thick surface and see if you can catch anything.
While Santa’s home and the extreme, unique outdoor adventures are obvious draws to Rovaniemi, the city is also host to several must-see museums. The Arktikum Science Center sits right on the water and the building’s glass wall exterior gives you a breathtaking view of the Arctic. Learn about Lappish culture, native flora and fauna, the changing climates, and the history of the country. The Pilke House is another Rovaniemi can’t-miss. The museum is famous for its focus on forestry and sustainability and is located in the basement of the Finnish Forest and Park Services building.
Where to Eat
Hungry? Try Nili Restaurant for fresh Finnish food. This unique experience lets you watch your chef prepare your food through the kitchen window, giving you your glimpse into how classic Finnish dishes are made. The special Christmas menu features a dish of two different fishes paired with a beetroot salad, Lappish cheese, and boiled potatoes, a dish consisting of reindeer (no, not Santa’s special reindeer) cooked in an almond sauce with veggies, cloudberries, and a carrot puree.
Santa’s Salmon Place is another must-go for fresh salmon coming in straight from the river. The food is cooked in a traditional Lappish teepee, making it an authentic experience you can’t miss. The restaurant also recommends trying the hot chocolate and hot juices, the Lappish cheese with cloudberry jam, and the Scandinavian cheesecake. For a more casual bistro-style place, head to Roka. The lunch menu is best for street food and its fusion food.
Where to Stay
Santa’s Hideaway AirBnB rental is right in the heart of Rovaniemi. This option has one bedroom with two beds available for rent and provides free wifi and access to the full kitchen. The apartment is close to bus stops to any part of the city.
Kotareitti Apartments are clean, sleek apartments on the banks of the Kemijoki River in Rovaniemi. The apartments come with free wifi, terrace access, a sauna, and a kitchen. This spot is ideal for you to share with your family.
Reindeer City Apartment is a centrally located apartment right next to the Arktikum Science Center. The house is just four miles from the post office in Santa’s Village and is close to all that downtown Rovaniemi has to offer. The one bedroom, one bathroom apartment can hold up to five guests.
Read more about the Holiday season on ATR