Visiting Santa Claus in Lapland, Finland. You’re never too old!
Whoever said there’s no such thing as Santa wasn’t searching hard enough, because I’ve been to Lapland and spoke to the main man himself. Doubtbul? Here’s the pic to prove it:
If crossing the Arctic Circle isn’t a big enough calling for any traveler to visit Lapland in Northern Finland then this should see you over the line. In a town called Rovaniemi, 14 hours north of Helsinki, you’ll make it to Lapland and for any of the ill-informed, Lapland is the home of St Nicholas himself, and all his cute, little elf friends.
You can take a train to Rovaniemi, but it was extrememly expensive, so my 2 friends and I rented a car from Helsinki and road-tripped it up North. We checked in late to our hotel and that night, I hardly slept. Our cute cottage was 20km from Santa’s village so after breakfast the following morning we made our way there.
Santa’s village is literally built ON the Arctic Circle border, in fact his grotto actually dissects the circle. Pretty cool stuff Santa, well played. There are buses running the 18km journey from Rovaniemi town so transport is easy, but we had our little rental car so off we went.
I hadn’t exactly timed my first visit to Lapland particularly well. It wasn’t Christmas, in fact it wasn’t even Winter. In fact it was May, luckily though because Rovaniemi is so North they whole place was still covered in snow, giving off the exact vibe I was hoping for. Snow covered trees, snow-covered wooden cabins, it certainly looked the business. But would Santa clause be around in May? Surely he’d be too busy in his factories churning out the toys for the kids?
When you arrive at the grotta, you force-fed a zillion gift shops, trinkets, bag patches. If you manage to get through that madness, you’ll soon arrive at Santa’s official post office. This is where all the letters addressed to “Santa, Lapland” or “Santa Claus, Finland” make it. He receives millions per year, and they’re all filed away country by country. You can organize Santa to send people Christmas cards here too ($10 a pop).
Then comes the moment of a lifetime, Santa’s grotto. Santa works 365 days a year, 24 hours a day apparently but he is only available to visit between 10am and 5pm. When you walk into his grotto, it feels like a cross between a dark Tim Burton movie and a sweet factory, it’s dark, with deep, menacing music pumping and smoke billowing out from oversized cogs. Things light up sporadically, you can see elves on screens running around, with things being produced in Santa’s factory. Kids would love it (and maybe fully grown men will be excited too, ahem, cough).
Through narrow corridors, you make it to a huge pendulum swinging laboriously. Beside it is a sign saying “The earth’s rotational speed regulator” followed by an explanation as to how it work. Basically, this is how Santa makes it to everyone’s house in one night, magical.
You carry on until you read a huge wooden door, a spritely elf pops out and greets you, he escorts you into the room, and introduces you to Santa himself. Santa is huge! About 6’4, hands like spades, a warm, inviting face with a smile ear to ear, and of course his pefect bushy, long beard. We were three grown men (26, 28 and 30 years old) and you’ve never seen such a sheepish, nervous entry by three confident guys before. All of us hanging back, not knowing where to look or where to sit, it was hilarious. Walking around so confident not 3 minutes before and now confronted by Santa, it was like being 7 years old again!
Santa, thankfully was prepared, he kindly and warmly invited us in. He legitmately speaks 10 languages and when I told him I was from Northern Ireland, he even knew the area I lived (pretty spooky actually!). You sit down with the bigman, have a chat, and after a few minutes you get a photo snapped, shake hands, give him a hug and wander off.
The photo costs an extortionate 25 Euro ($33) so of course, we planned not to buy it. Our resolve lasted all of about 30 seconds, and the pic is the one you see at the top of this post. Worth every cent.
Outside you can take a ride on the Reindeer sled, drink hot chocolate, have a snowball fight. Christmas tunes are piped through the entire village all year round. I can certainly say I felt infinitely more Christmassy here in May than in Bangkok at Christmas! If I was a kid I would have lost my mind, in fact I’m a fully-fledged adult and I pretty much lost my mind so if you get a chance to pay a visit to the ‘real’ Santa, don’t pass it up, it’s something almost magical. Happy travels!