My visit to Lapland; Visiting the ‘Real’ Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland.
Whoever said there’s no such thing as Santa wasn’t searching hard enough, because I’ve been to Finnish lapland and spoke to the main man himself. Doubtful? Here’s the pic below to prove it. So if you’re planning a visit to Lapland, I hope my guide helps you fulfill a travel bucket list item too.
Finally, if you want to know how much it would cost to visit Santa in Finnish Lapland, read all the way to the bottom.
Table of contents
- My visit to Lapland; Visiting the ‘Real’ Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland.
- The Real Santa Clause lives in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
- Visiting Rovaniemi (and Finnish Lapland)
- Where to stay in Rovaniemi
- Visit to Lapland, and to Santa in Rovaniemi; My Experience
- Is visiting Finnish Lapland Expensive?
- Best time to visit Finnish Lapland?
- How long should you spend in Finnish Lapland?
- How much does it cost to visit Santa in Rovaniemi?
- Final Thoughts on my visit to Lapland, and Rovaniemi
The Real Santa Clause lives in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
The ‘real’ Santa Claus lives in Rovaniemi, just above the Arctic Circle border, in Finnish Lapland, northern Finland.
Lapland isn’t a mythical place that you hear about in Hollywood movies and children’s books. It is, in fact, a region in the northernmost part of Finland. And it is BEAUTIFUL. And yes, Santa comes from Lapland, but we all know that already.
Rovaniemi, then, is the official Capital of Lapland. It’s just 6km north of the Arctic Circle ‘border’.
The Arctic Circle
Unless you come from Scandinavia, you probably think that the Arctic Circle is some crazy, inhospitable place that only the type of people who climb Mount Everest, or trek to the North Pole reaches. But no, the Arctic Circle, whilst being a little cold, is completely reachable by anyone, even on holiday. It’s simply marked by a northern line of latitude on a map. But there are literally millions of people who live within the Arctic Circle, and they love completely normal lives. With malls, grocery stores, pubs and sports. Just like the rest of us!
You can cross the official Arctic Circle border, marked on the ground, right at Santa Claus’s village, see below.
Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi
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. Just outside 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.
Getting from Helsinki to Rovaniemi
Anyone coming to Rovaniemi to see Santa will first have to land in Helsinki, the Capital of Finland.
From here, you have 4 choices in getting from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.
- Helsinki to Rovaniemi train; You can take either a day train, or a night-sleeper train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. This was my plan when I visited but it was crazy expensive to book last minute. It takes 9-12 hours, and costs about $100-$150 if you pre-book.
- Helsinki to Rovaniemi bus; 14 hours, overnight, $30-$50
- Helsinki to Rovaniemi flight; $100 to $300 depending how long in advance you book. In peak season, you can actually fly directly to Rovaniemi from UK, France, Turkey and a few other countries.
- Helsinki to Rovaniemi self-drive; This is what my mates and I did. $50 a day car rental, plus gas, split between 3 of us. Cool road trip too!
Visiting Rovaniemi (and Finnish Lapland)
Rovaniemi, despite being in the Arctic Circle, is very tourist-friendly. It’s ready for tourists all year round, and it goes crazy during Winter. But, it doesn’t come cheap. The main tourist attractions are of course Santa’s official village, and now ‘Santapark’ – a full Santa experience. But there are plenty of other things to do in Rovaniemi to keep you occupied for at least 3 or 4 days. So let’s have a look.
Number 1 in the things to do in Finnish Lapland is of course to visit Santa’s official village! It’s found 8km north of Rovaniemi town itself, and sits right on top of the Arctic Circle border. Which is cutely marked on the ground for a great photo opportunity.
Santa Claus’s village isn’t one attraction per se. It’s actually 40+ independent businesses, all working together to give off that magical santa vibe. There is only one ‘official’ Santa Clause though of course, so don’t expect 40+ of those guys to be dotted around. But huskeys, reindeer, restaurants, hotels, Santa’s post office etc, these are all independent entities (and independent ticket prices to boot!). So there is no ‘entry fee’ to Santa Claus’s village, but to do each activity, there is a cost.
TOP-TIP! Visiting Santa Claus himself, in his official office, is FREE!
An underground amusement park which is generally always included in everyone’s itinerary when visiting Rovaniemi in winter. It’s home to loads of Santa/Christmas-centric activities, as well as some snazzy luxury accommodation, restaurants, and bars.
Other things to do in Rovaniemi (and Finnish Lapland)
Rovaniemi isn’t only built for Santa though. Fininsh lapland is beautiful, and it’s great to visit any time of the year, not just winter. If you visit in the winter though, other things to do here include:
- Huskey Park (expct up to $200 per trip)
- Snowmobile Park (expect $100+ for a snowmobile trip)
- Elf Academy
- Lapland Safaris
- Snowman World
- Northern Lights (only available out of summer season, priced around $75 or so)
Visiting Finnish lapland in the summer
I visited Rovaniemi in the summer, and it was still very cool though. For a start, Santa was still there! But there are other things to do in Finnish lapland in the summer too, generally all ‘outdoorsy’ stuff:
- Mountain biking
- Rock climbing
Where to stay in Rovaniemi
First of all, book early! Want to visit Santa in 2022? Book now. 2023 even? Still book now! Because I personally visited in summer, we got a cool log cabin, and it still cost us $200 a night!
When visiting Rovaniemi you have a few choices. You can either stay in Rovaniemi town itself, where dorms etc. can start at $35 a night. There are lots of options here. Or you can stay in Santa Claus village, 6km north. Much cooler experience themed towards Santa and priced accordingly.
The most popular (and expensive) place to stay is Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle but prices hit $500+ per night. Serious bucket list stuff. Similar to the snow hotel in Kirkenes, Norway I stayed in.
Visit to Lapland, and to Santa in Rovaniemi; My Experience
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.
Visiting Santa in the summer
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 the 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 Santa’s official grotto, you’re 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 in the real world.
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 10 am and 5 pm. 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 works. 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 perfect 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 legitimately speaks 10 languages and when I told him I was from Northern Ireland, he even knew the area I lived in (pretty spooky actually!). You sit down with the big man, 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.
Is visiting Finnish Lapland Expensive?
In a word, yes. There’s no true ‘budget travel’ to Lapland. The top end is ridiculous, you could spend $1k a day here, honestly. But if you keep it careful, book in advance, you may get away with about $200 a day per person without missing out on too much.
Best time to visit Finnish Lapland?
You know the answer. CHRISTMAS! It’s cold all year round, and even in summer, it’s only about 15 degrees. And it’s beautiful anytime of the year, but particularly beautiful when it’s covered in snow. So aim for October to March, ideally (the 25th) December.
How long should you spend in Finnish Lapland?
Base yourself in Rovaniemi. If it’s outside of Santa Season, 2 or 3 days would be enough. But if it’s in full-blow Santa time, you’ll want at least 4 days.
How much does it cost to visit Santa in Rovaniemi?
The real question! First of all, the fake answer is that it’s free! The actual visit to see the bigman, once in Santa Claus’s village, is free. No entry fee. However, we all know that’s not strictly true. So let’s have a look imaging it is a couple plus 1 or 2 kids:
- International flights to Rovaniemi: If within Europe $200-$500. If North America, $1500 to $2k.
- 4 nights accommodation: Average choice of hotel $100 or so. $400.
- Local transport: Car rental is probably easiest, 4 days $200.
- Activities each day: For a couple plus 1 or 2 kids, 3 days of activities. $600.
- Food: $100 a day. $400.
Total cost for a 4 day visit to Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland:
If you organize it in advance, and book/pay in advance, and manage it independently it can be done for the prices below. You can do it even cheaper if you work harder.
- From Europe, it could be done for about $2kUSD.
- From North America, around $3Kish.
Final Thoughts on my visit to Lapland, and Rovaniemi
Even without kids, visiting Santa in Rovaniemi, Finland was great fun. And that was in the winter! It’s a special place. And it represents so much of the culture many of us grew up with. To visit this place around Christmas must be something truly magical. And with kids? Best holiday ever. I’ll bring my kids here one day, undoubtedly. Amazing. Thanks Santa, see you soon.
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