Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way… Sorry folks, the summer may have been all about the heatwave, but the Christmas countdown is already on and you need to book up fast for the hottest ticket in the coldest town in Finnish Lapland.
Izzy, 10 and Billy, seven were beyond excited as we arrived at Ivalo airport in Finland after a three-hour flight to the Arctic Circle.
It was a positively balmy -7oC (temperatures can fall to -50oC) as Santa’s cheeky elves and their reindeer greeted us at the start of our four-day Santa funfest.
We joined the red-suited throng of Christmas thrill-seekers for toboganning, husky rides, a Northern Lights tour (no, we didn’t find them) and Search for Santa (yes, we did find him.)
Our base was Santa’s Hotel Tunturi in the centre of the village Saariselkä, the most northerly resort in Finnish Lapland.
The accommodation was roomy, with a double bedroom, sofa bed for the kids, a kitchenette and our own sauna in the bathroom!
There was a drying cupboard in the hall for all your snow gear (warm socks in the morning were a definite bonus).
We stayed half-board with a buffet breakfast and dinner. Go early. The food was plentiful and tasty but the queues were crazy.
To the kids’ delight, there were chocolates with EVERY meal. There were plenty of lunch options in the village and prices were reasonable at the main restaurant in the hotel.
On arrival we were kitted out with complimentary snow gear – boots, socks, gloves and thermal overalls.
There was no time for lounging around with free toboggans everywhere – you can just pick them up on the street and head to the official toboggan run, a two-minute walk away.
Daylight was short-lived; the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon for two months in winter.
It gets light (if you can call it that) at about 11am and it’s pitch black again just after 3pm but we soon acclimatised to life in the twilight zone – hundreds of twinkly lights in the village make it magical.
Saariselkä is a small resort that you can walk around in 20 minutes. We found a great pub, Teerenpesa, for lunch: huge steaks and a free pool table. There are plenty of lovely shops too, selling all the obligatory Christmas tat and gifts.
You can book extra excursions in advance or when you arrive – including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and a snowmobile trip to hunt for the Northern Lights. We spent two hours out on skidoos searching for them (€129 per adult, €106 for children 4-11) to no avail. But it’s a lot of fun and the scenery is stunning.
The main event, Search for Santa, started with a 20-minute coach ride to the Arctic Circle Centre.
The kids bombed around a track on mini skidoos, played snow hockey and went ice fishing. Free pancakes and berry tea were on tap. Lunch was included then we opted for an exhilarating husky ride, my favourite part of the whole trip.
The kids and I snuggled up on the sleigh and dad Kevin stood at the back ‘driving’ the excited dogs, who make a huge racket before they take off through the trees. It’s pretty straightforward – you get a five-minute lesson, the dogs do the hard work and you do have a foot brake to slow them down if necessary.
Our reindeer-led sleigh ride was very sedate in comparison. Then it was the climax to the day (and the trip) – a skidoo ride through the forest in search of the big man in red himself.
And he really was all he’s cracked up to be. Elves led us into Santa’s cabin, Izzy and Billy’s letters had "arrived", he knew who they were and what they wanted for Christmas.
Awesome! They received a gift and we had pictures taken with him before our gala night at the hotel: Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and a disco!
After a morning spent building snowmen, it was time to head home.
Thank you Lapland, all our Christmases really had come at once.
Top tips if you’re going
- Wear thermal underwear and plenty of layers – you’ll need them.
- Don’t forget your driving licence if you want to drive a skidoo.
- Take a charger – the freezing weather runs down your camera and phone batteries really quickly.
- Make sure you get the correct travel insurance for the adventure activities.
- Don’t forget to write your letter to Santa!
- Cash points often run out of money but all the hotels take cards.
Book the holiday
Santa’s Lapland has three-day half-board breaks to Santa’s home in Saariselkä at the four-star Hotel Tunturi from £3,076 for two adults and two children aged 2-5 sharing. With flights, transfers, private Santa meeting, husky sledding, reindeer sleigh-ride and Igloo Fantasia experience. Thermal clothing is provided. For more information visit santaslapland.com or call 01483 791 915.
TOURIST INFO: Find out more at visitfinland.com.
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