Christmas is coming. You were aware of that, weren’t you? So we’re heading to the Arctic Circle to the official hometown of Santa Claus.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland. There are 60,000 people living in the town, 800 km and a 75-minute flight north of Helsinki. Locals say that there are more reindeer here than people.
The moment you land you step into a winter wonderland – a snowy scene straight from a Christmas card. And Sanna Kärkkäinen from Visit Rovaniemi says Father Christmas’ home and headquarters are conveniently near the airport.
“Magic happens when you open the door,” she says. “The elves will take you for a train ride to Santa’s headquarters. And then you get to meet the man! You’ll have a chance to talk to him and if you have a letter you can hand it over to him personally too.” Sanna says everybody who meets Father Christmas has their photo taken and a short video is produced. “It’s a visit no one will forget,” she says.
You’ll certainly see reindeer during your trip because there are so many in the wild here. After meeting Father Christmas most visitors want to see Rudolph, Blitzen and the gang. “Seeing the reindeer and having a photo taken with them or even going on a reindeer sleigh ride is one of the most popular things do,” says Sanna.
There are a number of exciting activities on offer, that make the most of the snow. “You can ride on a sled pulled by huskies through the snowy forest. And if you want more thrills and speed, there are snowmobile safaris, skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and places for skating too.”
If you’d rather just sit down and take in the Arctic Circle magic, you could have a hot drink inside a restaurant made of ice or even stay overnight in the glass and snow igloos. You can pick either warm or cool temperature options. They’ll provide your sleeping bag for a memorable experience. Sanna says you will, “sleep like a baby in the igloo. If you are lucky, you could see the Northern Lights, too.”
And the trip is not just for kids. You won’t feel uncomfortable visiting as an unaccompanied adult, says Sanna. “Everyone’s a child,” she laughs. “We attract visitors from around the world and of all ages. Some people think it’s quite a romantic place and the setting is unique.”
“You can feel and almost touch the Christmassy atmosphere,” says Sanna. “You’ll hear Christmas carols and Finnish festive songs being sung. There’s plenty of Christmas music playing across the village particularly in Santa’s workshop. The scenery is beautiful with snow on the ground between November and April but you shouldn’t find it too cold – we provide thermal overalls and the gear for the weather.”
If you want some food to warm you up and fancy eating like a Lapland local, menu items include reindeer stew, ham and Lappish potatoes. Sanna told me, “They are special and only grow in the northern parts of Lapland. They require the long, bright summer nights to grow and develop the aromas they have. We have the midnight sun, which gives extra flavour to the potatoes.” You’ll also find berries on the dessert menu and plenty of hot drinks.
People in Finland celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. “It’s because we’re expecting Santa Claus,” says Sanna. You would expect some excitement about that in his hometown, wouldn’t you?
There are a number of organised tours and operators flying to Rovaniemi. Norwegian Air Service also fly direct from London Gatwick during December or you could fly using any carrier to Helsinki and catch a connecting plane.
You can listen to Sanna describing Christmas in Lapland here: