Today’s Guest Post is by Cath who blogs at Passports and Adventures. Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with young kids in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Besides her blog, Cath can also be found on Instagram, Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest.
When you think of Lapland, what springs to mind? Snow, Santa Claus, the North Pole? But, do you also think it’s only for families to visit Santa Claus with their kids? Or somewhere you can only visit if you have bags of cash? Or, do you believe it’s a place that anyone can visit? I’m here to tell you why Lapland should be in everyone’s bucket list, even yours. And also, to share our experience.
As a family, it’s been our dream to take our son to Lapland to visit Santa Claus. But for many years we thought it was out of reach. The prices quoted by some of the tour operators were eye-watering. And for such a short trip, we couldn’t justify the cost. Until we realised, we could shy away from the package holidays and get something much better for a fraction of the price. All by doing it ourselves. By booking our flights and accommodation and taking a train from Helsinki to Finnish Lapland, we saved ourselves a fortune and got a much longer holiday than we would have, had we gone with any of a number of tour operators.
And it was everything we hoped it would be and more.
Lapland, particularly in winter, is one of the most adventurous places I’ve ever visited. Where else can you combine a visit to Santa Claus with a husky safari and potentially seeing the Northern Lights as well. And it is not just a destination for families. While we were in Rovaniemi, the Official Hometown of Santa Claus, we came across travellers of all sorts. From families with babies all the way up to teenagers, to couples, solo travellers and groups of adults on the adventure of a lifetime. And there were people of all nationalities enjoying the winter wonderland. Here’s why Lapland should be on everyone’s bucket list.
It’s Not Just for Families
As I’ve already mentioned, we saw travellers of every age group, nationality and traveller-type. As well as families with young kids, there were plenty with older teenagers enjoying some of the more adventurous-types of winter activities. There were couples enjoying a romantic winter getaway and I’ve even heard of some getting engaged while in Lapland. There were solo travellers enjoying themselves, happy in their own company, and groups of people from the likes of China, Japan and even Spain.
And many of these groups were also in the queues to meet Santa Claus or Joulupukki (the Finnish word for Santa) along with us. They were also enjoying reindeer sleigh rides or having fun tobogganing on tubes in Snowman World. I know, because we were there with them. And no one batted an eyelid because everyone is there to have a good time. So, if you think Lapland is just for families, think again.
It’s not just about seeing Santa
Of course, no visit to Lapland would be complete without a visit to Santa Claus, but if you’d rather not do that, there is so much more on offer in Lapland for everyone. During our time in Lapland we enjoyed ourselves with a range of activities, ticking off what most people would have on their Lapland bucket list. We had a sleigh ride with Santa’s reindeer at the Santa Claus Village.
We enjoyed tobogganing down an ice hill on a tube, both myself and my husband taking turns going down with our son. I fell off a husky sled but once I managed to get back on, I had the time of my life mushing a team of husky dogs. I was driving with my hubby and son in the sled itself. It was a scary moment and one I wouldn’t recommend you try yourself.
At the Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, we wrote postcards and sent them home, and I also organised special letters for my son and his cousins to arrive before Christmas later this year. I was surprised how busy it was. There were so many people writing postcards to loved ones back home, and it was especially popular with the Chinese tourists.
If you fancy something cultural, there are three main museums in Rovaniemi, all with a different theme. And we got to visit each of them, although Korundi, the Contemporary Art Museum, wasn’t my favourite but only because there is whole floor dedicated to glass artworks. Not idea for families with young kids. I was so scared our son would knock something over. But for older children and adults, there are some pieces on display which are truly amazing and also truly strange.
For adults or families with older children, there is of course Northern Lights hunting tours. These guided tours happen later at night and are a chance for you to see the Aurora Borealis. Our son would never have stayed awake for one of these tours, but we weren’t too worried. My husband and I have been lucky enough to see them in Norway a few years ago.
There are other activities such as snowmobiling, ice baths (where you literally jump into a bath carved out of the ice), skiing, ice fishing and much more. If you can think of a winter activity you’d like to enjoy, you’re sure to be able to do it in Lapland. And there are plenty of activities for people of all ages to enjoy.
It’s a Magical Winter Wonderland
Lapland, once it has snowed, is one of the most picturesque, beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. While the snow was very late in winter 2018, once it arrived, it transformed the landscape. And if, like us, you choose to DIY your trip and take the overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, you will leave behind the city and make your way north into a magical winter wonderland.
The scenery changes as you whizz by snowy fields before passing forests whose trees are covered from top to bottom in snow. If you’ve ever thought about Lapland and immediately conjured up a picture of a snowy landscape, you won’t be disappointed if you visit in winter. The landscape and beauty of it was everything we imagined.
And what is better than having a snow ball fight, making a snowman or snow angels to rediscover your inner child. As soon as we stepped off the train, we enjoyed a snowball fight, right there at the train station car park. It had to be done. And during a visit to a local forest for our family winter photo shoot, we enjoyed making snow angels, even us parents, before we built a snowman.
And if you’re a family, kids will love trying to climb the snow heaps around town and if they have a sled, flying down said heaps on their sleds. Lapland, especially in winter, is a place where everyone can have fun, let loose and even be a child again. Snow balls at the ready!
A Trip to Lapland Doesn’t have to Break the Bank
There are many ways to book a trip to Lapland including many tour operators offering everything from day trips to 2/3-night holidays. And while yes, your excursions and winter oversuits are provided, the prices of these tours can be eye-watering. They are also known to be exhausting as you are on their timetable.
However, as we found, if you book everything yourself, you can actually save money and have a better holiday. We got a 10-day trip, which included 4 nights in Lapland, 3 nights in Helsinki, flights, accommodation and our train for less than we would have paid for an overnight trip with one of the tour operators in the UK. Our excursions were extra but even with these factored in, we still got a much better holiday than if we’d chosen a package holiday.
We also picked up our snow clothing in sales with some of the well-known outdoor clothing retailers in the UK, saving some money there too.
Scandinavia on whole is not known to be the cheapest of places to visit but there are other ways to watch the pennies while there. Rovaniemi has buses which go to the major tourist attractions and are much cheaper than taxis. In town, we found one family-friendly restaurant which had meals at reasonable prices and the kid’s meals were excellent value at €10 for a main meal, drink, dessert and unlimited bread and salad.
When out and about, bring snacks and also packed lunches. Or, if you choose to eat out, consider sharing meals between people. And bring your own refillable water bottles. There are free activities to enjoy and meeting Santa Claus at the Santa Claus Village is free, you just pay for pictures afterwards if you want them. A trip to Lapland doesn’t need to break the bank if you are bit savvy about things.
You Can Say you’ve Crossed the Arctic Circle
If you choose Rovaniemi as your Lapland destination, you have the chance to say you’ve crossed the Arctic Circle on foot. And there are two places you can do this. At the Santa Claus Village, the Arctic Circle is clearly marked and, as you move about the village, you will probably cross it a few times without even thinking about it. You can even pick up a certificate to confirm you’ve crossed it. Or you can get your passport stamped to mark the occasion too.
And one of the only places in the world where you can cross the Arctic Circle underground is also in Rovaniemi. Santa Park, the Home Cavern of Santa Claus, is an underground bunker, part of which lies directly on the Arctic Circle. You can cross it here and get a certificate to commemorate your crossing. There are not many other places in Finnish Lapland where you can cross the Arctic Circle outside of an airplane.
Lapland is somewhere we are blessed to have visited and ticked off our family travel bucket list. And it is a place that should be on yours. Whether you are a solo traveller, couple or family, it is a magical place that can be enjoyed by everyone. There is so much to see and do in Lapland, and there are activities to suit all age groups. If you’re not an outdoors person, there are plenty of indoor places to visit. But if you love the outdoors and the snow, then you’ll be in heaven. Is Lapland on your bucket list?