Visiting Lapland at Christmas with your family, is one of those trips we’d all love to take. For most of us the inflated price often stretching into the thousands of pounds makes it an unobtainable dream, and we have to make do with the odd British snowflake and the big man with a fake beard!
I’ve started this blog to share how we achieved this magical experience for a fraction of the tour operator cost. The cheapest organised tour we could find for our family of five was £5K for 3 nights and 4 days. By thinking outside the box, and booking all aspects independently we spent a magical week in Finland for under £2000, with the added bonus of our own personal wood-fired hot tub and more ( see “where to stay”).
DIY travelling is as easy as 1,2,3 if you’re prepared for a little extra planning, and the added adventure of enjoying your own bespoke traveling experience, where the schedule is up to you!
- How To Get There:
Rovaniemi, the home town of Santa Claus and capital of Lapland was our destination of choice. Alongside the obvious draw, Rovaniemi which is just on the Arctic Circle has beautiful scenery, amazing opportunities for unique accommodation, and a ski resort.
You can fly directly to Rovaniemi from Gatwick, but if you are a larger family the cost of these flights soon adds up, so if your budget doesn’t stretch, the “fly-train” approach could be the major money saving adventure for you. ( Please check out the end of this post for other flight options)
We logged on to trusty Skyscanner, using the “whole month” selection we found the cheapest flights available from Gatwick to Helsinki.
Find Flights to Helsinki
The total costs of our flights for 5 people were £504, including three checked bags, we didn’t pre-book seats, they have to sit kids with parents so not worth the extra money. We could have flown from Manchester which is much closer, but this would have cost double, so the trip down the M6 was one we were happy to make.
Top Tip: Staying at Gatwick can be cheap if you’re happy to use Gatwick Travel Lodge, This hotel is 2 miles from the airport, we all fitted fine in one family room, the kids enjoyed the free hot chocolate, and it added to our Lapland adventure. – There is a pizza express in the neighbouring town Crawley, a great way to use those TESCO vouchers.
The flight to Helsinki with Norwegian Air takes 2 1/2 hours, and once you have arrived the fun really starts, with an 800km overnight train journey on your very own ” Polar Express” to Rovaniemi.
Top Tip: If traveling with small children pick up one of the many Pushchairs in the airport, there is a train station in the airport, the journey into Helsink takes 20 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from machines just before the platform, and cost €5 for adults, € 2.50 for children, and under 7’s travel free. ( Remember to stamp your ticket in the machine when you first board the train this validates it so your journey)
Train Tickets to Rovaniemi can be booked directly with VR Trains 60 days before you travel. Please don’t be daunted, the train has sleeping cabins. Kids are free when sharing a cabin and the experience of sleeping on a train and waking up in Snowy Lapland is one your children will never forget.
Whats more the whole trip cost us £100 for our family, with VR’s annual winter special offer. Use the website to book adults tickets ( don’t book kids at this point) then either phone VR directly ( 00358 203 32033, they all speak great English) or use their Facebook page and ask them to add the kids onto your booking. It’s one free child with every adult. We travelled with my parents so only had to buy 2 adults tickets, and the kids fitted in with us. ( You can print off your tickets at home). Trains leave at 7pm or 10pm and you arrive in Rovaniemi the next morning at 7am. There is a buffet coach on the train, but we stocked up on pastries and juice before starting the journey. There is a K-Mart just outside of Helsinki Station.
Top Tip: Be sure to choose flights that don’t leave you waiting too long at the train station. Helsinki is cold, and unless you have a definitive plan, you will soon have miserable, tired children on your hands. ( If you do need to spend some time there, you can leave your luggage in the lockers downstairs for €6, and there is a Burger King by the main entrance). The same goes for your arrival in Rovaniemi, we actually booked our accommodation from the day before our arrival (it was cheap), this meant we could head straight to the cabin when we arrived. It was -10 degrees when we travelled, and it would not be good to be hanging around in those conditions. Saying that, there are some indoor activities in Rovaniemi such as Santa Park or Arktikum science museum.
Car Hire: For total indpepence on your holiday I would strongly recommend hiring a car. This works out much cheaper than taxis and lets you go shopping and explore the area in away that would be impossible with a package.
We had no problem driving in Lapland, in fact I would say it was easier than driving in Italy or France. The car has winter tyres with studs, and the roads are really quiet. Using a Car Hire Comparison site finds the car that suits you best. You can pick the car up at Rovaniemi train station, the car is waiting for you on arrival, with the heaters on! Car hire cost is approximately £250 for 5 days. We used google maps on our phones for navigation without issue.
For us the magic of Lapland was the thought of spending our days in a picturesque snow filled idyllic setting. I wanted to be able to step outside and let the kids sledge and play in the snow. As a bonus I hoped we might find some accommodation with a Sauna / Hot Tub or cooking hut… amazingly we found a beautiful cottage through Airbnb which had all this plus a lake side position and views of the Northern Lights for €100 a night ( the cottage sleeps up to 6 people). The cheapest similar accommodation via booking.com was £386 ( and it didn’t have the hot tub/ sauna etc).
The cottage was located 20 minutes from the centre of Rovaniemi. This meant we had both the solitary beauty of Finland, but with all amenities a short drive away.
This cottage exceeded all of our expectations, it was truly amazing. The outdoor and indoor Sauna were lovely, and sitting in the outdoor hot tub whilst the Northern lights shined above was more than we could have hoped for. There were a number of other cabins available when we went, so have a look on Airbnb to see what works best for you. You can also find more central accommodation, again at a fraction of hotel costs.
Food Shopping: There are a number of supermarkets in Rovaniemi, including a Lidl. The price of food is similar to the UK, apart from alcohol, which is more expensive. Wine is only available from special ‘Alco’ stores. As we were in our own cottage with a cooking hut, (traditional outdoor wood fired cooking hut!) we opted for BBQ foods, and the shopping was very reasonable for our family of 5, surprisingly they also had Veggie options.
3. Things to do When Your There
Sledging: The owners of our cabin kindly leant us a number of both sit on, and kick sledges. There were a number of good spots near by to spend many an hour sledging. Free and real fun, the kids loved it, and we enjoyed being outdoors in the magical snowy land. A top area for sledging was Ounasvaara ski resort . there was no need to buy a pass for sledging, just use the hills at the bottom of the resort. Sledges are available in the supermarkets to buy if they don’t come with your accommodation.
Top Tip: Be sure to check the bottom of the hill, we nearly sent our eldest down a slop that finished in a frozen lake..oops!
Father Christmas: The main reason for coming to Santa’s home town was obviously to see the “Big Man” himself. If you go with a tour you have the opportunity of seeing santa at a Gala meal, or you can pay for him to come to your cabin.
If your going DIY you have 3 options that I could see:
1.Visit Santa at his post office in Santa Claus Village Post Office This is free, you have to pay €30 for the photo, and can’t use your own camera.
2.Visit Santa in Santa Park this is an underground park which costs 33.00 € / adult; 27.50 € / child (3-12 years old). So €148 for a family of five, but the ticket does last for 2 days.
3. Visit Santa in Santa Dream of Jolukka ; here you travel into the forest to see Santa. It is by far the most expensive option at €179 for adults and €139 for children, a whopping €775 for a family of 5.
All options seemed to have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s tricky, because most people only want to see Santa once on their trip. After reading lots of reviews, and nearly booking Jolukka ( I only stopped myself when I realised that this 1 1/2 hour experience was going to cost more than we paid in return flights to Italy last year), we decided we would visit Santa in his post office. I don’t think my kids would have been “fooled” by Santa Park, and the grotto of fake elves in the workshop. It seemed more plausible that at certain times Santa came by the post office to check his mail… we were lucky to visit just as he had arrived!
We arrived at 10am and only waited in a small queue to see Santa, 5 minutes maximum. Whilst you wait it seems like you are standing in a giant clock. You can take a small gift with you, and hand it to the elves ( who are waiting at the end to give you your code for your photo). They will then give it to your children once they have seen Santa. We bought some small tins ( with santa on) from home bargains, and filled them with hatchimal collectables ( the plastic trend of choice this year!).
The Santa is really lovely, very realistic, you don’t feel at all rushed, he asks the children if they’ve been good, and what they would like. The only negative is he doesn’t know their names. I think in some of the other experiences you are able to give these details before. The great thing about this Santa, is that he is the same one from Portable North Pole
this really added to the ‘believability’ factor for our children, who have been receiving videos from him for years. It was a lovely experience, and the kids loved it. In honesty it would have been magical to go and find Santa in the forest, but after reading many reviews, for us that option just wasn’t worth that kind of money. ( Especially as we have already booked to go back and €775 will cover our entire week in the “cabin of dreams” ).
Top Tip: The Post Office has a selection of postcards that you can send from the official post office, they can be written to friends and sent for €1.50. These cards will have the Arctic Circle Post Stamp which is a nice touch for their recipients.
No visit to Lapland would be complete without a ride in a reindeer sleigh…and the tour operators certainly know it! I did a lot of research trying to find Reindeer farms near to Rovaneimi in the hope it would be cheaper than the local ones.. they weren’t!
After many an hour looking online and talking to locals for alternative Reindeer farms that we could drive to, it became clear that the easiest and cheapest option was Santa Claus Reindeer based at Santa Claus Village. If you were looking for a full day of riding it may still be cheaper to use one of the working farms. Our children are 5 and 7, and a 30 minute ride was more than enough for them.
Here are some alternative Reindeer Farms locally incase its useful (put my hours of searching to some use!)
Santa Claus Reindeer can be found to the right of the main entrance at Santa Claus Village . We arrived early at 10am for our Reindeer ride. It is quiet at this time and we did not have to wait for our ride. I have heard other reviews were people found it very busy from 11am onwards ( when the coach trips arrive). It is also light at this time, even on the shortest day, so you should have a nice view of the surroundings. Tickets for 400m and 1km can be bought directly from the Reindeer hut, or at the information centre in the centre of Santa’s village. The ride was lovely and peaceful, 3 people can ride in one of the home made sleighs.
We opted for the 1km ride, this was plenty for our family, I don’t think we would have got more out of the 3km journey ( but this could be because our accommodation was set in such a remote spot, we didn’t feel the need to go “deep into the forest”.)
The prices for rides are as follows:
- 400m round:
- 1000m ride:
- 3000m ride: ( This takes place at 9am before the village opens, you finish with sausages on an open fire, must be booked by email in advance)
Top Tip: There is an outdoor fire beside Santa Claus Reindeer , its a lovely spot to warm up, if you don’t have a fire in your accommodation, you could bring along some marshmallows to roast here ( we packed some in our case, but they are available in the shops also). The close by Santa Claus Post Office sells re-fillable tea and coffee for €1.50 and hot chocolate for € 2.50, and you could bring it here to drink. Its these little moments that the kids seem to remember, and they really don’t cost a lot.
Many people opt for snow fun at Snowman World at Santa Claus Village. I had heard mixed reviews about it, and it would have cost €125 ( which equates to an extra night in our lovely cabin!). Looking at the outside toboggan there seemed to be a huge queue to wait for a turn, so we decided to try a day skiing instead. I appreciate this choice wouldn’t be for everyone, but to be honest I was keen to do as many activities as possible away from he crowds.
Ounasvaara Ski Resort is located 10km from the centre of Rovaniemi and close to Santa Clause Village and Santa Park. It isn’t a huge ski resort, but was great for our needs, which was the kids. It has a children’s area called Rendi’s Ski world (not huge but ample for little skiers), which costs €12 pp or €50 for a family of 5 for the day. As this holiday was all about the kids, I didn’t ski, and instead we all spent a great afternoon at Rendi’s whilst the kids, Tobogganed / sledged and had a go at skiing.
Rendi’s has a carousel where children can practise balancing on skis, or just enjoy being pulled around on the sledges which area available. It also has a magic carpet and a rope pull to help children get back to the top of the slopes. The toboggan run, with large inflatable rings was a huge hit with our children. There is also a sledging hill located in the far left corner of Rendi’s, which is fun and fast ( as the snow is compacted).
Ski’s including helmets can be hired from the ski hire shop on site, prices can be found here: ski rental prices the daily rate for a child is €29. If, like us your children are similar ages / shoe sizes you could hire one set of ski’s for them to share throughout the day. Our children are 5 (twins) and 7, and to be honest 40 minute turns of the ski’s at a time was enough for them. ( it’s physically quite challenging and they have to really concentrate, which lets face it, is hard when you are 5!) .
My husband took two at a time to sledge / toboggan, whilst I helped the other to ski. They all loved it. No complaining about the cold, and lots of fun had for a total of €79. The best thing was that it was quiet, and we did not have to queue (we did this on a Sunday). This meant that the kids had maximum number of turns going down the slopes, without getting cold waiting around.
Top Tip: Rendi’s snow world has a heated cabin for children to spend some time playing if they need a rest. It has colouring, books, puzzles, and toys, plus toilets. Take a picnic and drinks with you and its a great spot to recharge before heading back out for some skiing ( it also means you’re not spending extra money on lunch and drinks).
I was hoping that we may find a natural ice skating rink whilst in Rovaneimi, but we travelled in December, and from what I could figure out skating wouldn’t be really safe until February. Snowman world has a very small rink by all accounts, but we wanted something bigger, so headed into central Rovaneimi and Fun on Ice. This outdoor ice skating rink based in the centre of town at Lordi’s square, was very quiet, and medium sized. Skate hire was €10pp and this included use of the ice glider. Skate hire is for the day, so if you were staying locally, you could probably go a couple of times in the day. There is also an igloo and an ice slide at Lordi’s square, you can hire a matt for €5 and slide as often as you like. There are benches with animal skins around the perimeter of the rink so you can sit here and stay warm.
My daughter said this was the favourite part of her holiday, I would recommend going if you’re looking for an extra activity. The lighting in the centre is also really useful when it gets dark so early in the day.
Santa Clause Village:
Santa Claus Village is located 10km outside of Rovaneimi. It is free to enter but you must pay for all the activities on offer. I have mentioned a number of these already, including Snowman World, Santa Claus Reindeer, and of course Santa in his Post Office, there are also mini snowmobile’s for the kids to try out priced at € 20 pp. There are a number of shops and cafes here also, and the giant snowman and twinkle lights make it a lovely place to visit when the sun has gone down. Arrive early to avoid the crowds, and take your sleigh as there are some small slopes to sledge on for free.
It is here that you can cross the arctic circle, and buy a certificate to prove it for €4.50. ( There actually quite nice an the kids loved them, despite having no real idea what the arctic circle was!)
Top Tip: Be sure to take your passport along, you can have it stamped at the information desk next to the arctic circle line for 50c… a nice addition to your passport.
Please see my latest blog, “Lapland, What to Wear, How to Stretch the Magic” for more top tips and ideas.