7 Reasons to go to Lapland and visit Santa Claus – if you can’t avoid it.
1) The drive by car
Diving 4400 km from Moscow to the north of Finland can be fun in the winter. Fuel prices in Russia are still one third of the price in European countries so fill the tank before crossing into Europe. You might also add some penalties for speeding to your travel budget as cameras check that you stay within the 80 km or sometimes 100 km limit that ensure they don’t have to dig you out of a ditch in winter. That’s for Finland driving. Drive in Russia anyway you want – the others do the same and worse. Otherwise a nice drive through winter wonderland.
2) The cottage
Best - once you cross the Arctic Circle - is to rent a nice cottage near a river or a lake. There are hardly any hotels worth mentioning. Check first before you book a cottage as some come with toilets the traditional romantic style – outside! With temperatures dropping to minus – 30 Celsius in Winter you might consider the ones that have them in the main house. Otherwise you will learn to plan each visit carefully and maximize efficiency.
The price range is wide between 50 Euros to 200 Euros per day but for this amount you can accommodate up to 8 people in one cottage. For convenience take one cottage advertised for 8 persons for maximum 4 persons and you have luxury. A fireplace inside is guaranteed, a sauna – very important - in the cottage is provided in most and often also a grill outside which is fun even in winter temperature. A well equipped kitchen and also a coffee machine is included in all the good ones. No internet – no phone picked up ( no signal and do you want to pay roaming?) so it is a really peaceful holidays with a lot of snow.
3) It’s a winter wonderland
We went an hour drive north of Rovaniemi a small city at the border of the Arctic Circle. Directly on the border north of the city you will pass Santa Claus Village. That’s the place where Santa Claus supposed to live and work and as we had small child with us we had to visit in the next days too. Inside the Arctic Circle where our cottage was located temperature drop sometimes within 12 hours from minus – 8 Celsius to minus -29 Celsius. The places are well heated and the nice thing is that you hardly see any other person around. Just make sure you like the people you are travelling with.
4) Meet Santa Claus
Visiting Santa Claus Village is a Finish experience. I was surprised of the amount of people and of course the Japanese and Chinese Tour busses were not missing. You wish yourself back into your cottage. A lot of different houses in that village which at the end turned out to be all shops. I followed into the main building where we had to wait in line in front of what I thought was another shop. It had also a separate entrance for groups which I found strange but I am anyway not the type who likes to line and especially not for shops. Here I had to follow the family so I obeyed. A Japanese group were let in by one of the Elves (all Girls are dressed as elves) and 3 Russian Babushkas managed to put their hat down and slip in with the Japanese to skip the line. Santa’s Elves are not that stupid and picked out the Russian looking Japanese and put them back at the end of the line. Only mild protest as they really didn’t look very Japanese.
Don't step on the elves
When it was finally our turn we passed by the shop and entered a kind of long stretched cave and after 5 meters ended at the end of another line. How long that line was I couldn’t figure out as it was too dark. Besides some strange looking objects nothing to look at so we waited with a lot of other people and many children. I still couldn’t figure out which kind of shop I ended up in this time. Slowly the line moved. Some elves always appeared to press the people a little closer together and the line brought us on the second floor where we ended up in another line of people. I always had a bad feeling when I stepped on something hoping it was not an elf or one of the children moving in the dark.
Here on the second floor they had more light and in the far distance I could see some pictures at the wall that showed Santa Claus with some Celebrities. It dawned on me that I was in the line to have Photo opportunity with Santa himself. Nothing I ever dreamed of but there was no chance to escape. The elves made sure of that. The whole long line now made even less sense to me. Why not decorate the bloody cave like Christmas? Put some pictures up – let the people look at something and entertain the children at least a bit. Some of the children looked already like me. Ready to escape. But no chance! With all this Japanese groups, bored adults and desperate children it would have made sense at least to put up some shops. Nothing. The expectation to see finally Santa himself had to be good enough.
5) The shopping
When it was finally our turn – I guess after an hour of cave time – we were brought in by an elf – put on the bench with Santa, three photos were made – and out the elves escorted us. Max 3 minutes was the result of cave lining! I was relieved and finally ended up in the shop I have seen at the start of the lining business. The photo cost 32 Euros and the electronic version 45 Euros. Another Finish dwarf was added for 12 euros. Santa needs to live too and has to feed elves and reindeer! I paid because I was afraid an elf would appear and put me back in line.
6) Additional attractions
Out we went and passed by some shops all able to enter without line. Just a little pushing as the Japanese had to make good of the missed opportunities during their cave time. Besides the shops you can visit a snow castle village which takes you 15 minutes to tour and cost 30 Euros per adult and 18 Euros per child. Four adults and one child put you back 138 Euros for 15 minutes but I believe it was made by some famous Ice Artists. At least that’s what I told myself to justify my empty wallet.
You can also have a Husky Sledge run and a sign indicated that you get that already for 40 Euros for 2 km per person. We decided to just check the dogs and could hardly find any husky on the five sledges that were waiting. It seems that in winter time they collected all household dogs in the vicinity to work as a husky. At least they had minimum size so they could got run over by the sledge. I am sure the locals made good money borrowing their dogs – whatever breed – to Santa’s Villages for the winter.
7) The Nordic lights
They are fascinating but unfortunately unpredictable. In Lapland there is a good chance to see them. For sure a reason to come. To be honest – I didn’t see any this time.
I have been often in Finland in the winter. The summer doesn’t appeal to me even though it’s a country full of Lakes and Rivers but here the other Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden have in my opinion more to offer. The strange thing in Finland is that all cities small or big ( if there are any besides Helsinki) are depressing, lacking life, colours or any sign of creativity. So go to Finland in the winter, stay in the nature and if you have chance - speed up when passing Santa’s Villages! It worth the speeding ticket.