This is how our visit to THE official Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland came to be:
Me: “Hey Erin. Did you know the official Santa Claus Village is in Finland?
Husband Erin: “WAIT, WHAT?!”
Me: “Yeah, you can meet the real Santa and it’s at the Arctic Circle! There’s even a train called the Santa Express that takes you there.”
Husband Erin: “We are going.”
Trip: booked. Our planning begins.
No exaggeration. This is how it happened. Rovaniemi in Lapland Finland would be our big December holiday trip. Our first winter trip after moving abroad to Austria. But why the sudden (and amazingly impulsive) decision?
Well, Erin husband is and always has been obsessed with Christmas. To him, Christmas is the one time of the year where people are sincerely kinder and more generous. When children’s imaginations run wild. When they are encouraged to dream and believe in magic.
At 31 years old, his imagination hasn’t been tainted by the real world (a huge reason why I love him so much!) So traveling to a Christmas world where he could truly embrace that imagination and love for the holiday was an automatic HELL YES!
The Santa Claus Express train from Helsinki
Our journey to Santa started off in Helsinki. We’d spent 4 days here before hopping on the Santa Claus Express. An overnight train that takes 13 hours. It picks you up in Helsinki, and then, almost magically, you wake up and you’re in Rovaniemi. Surrounded by a Finnish winter wonderland.
Let me just say that this was the COOLEST experience we’ve had when it comes to any means of transportation. We booked a private sleeper room with 2 bunk beds, a bathroom and a shower. There was even a little desk by the window so that we could take a peak from time to time to see where we were on our journey.
And it only cost about 100 euros aka the same cost as booking a room overnight. Save a night at a hotel, enjoy a night on a train to the Arctic. SUCCESS!
We felt like we were in our own little world. And we came prepared with tons of snacks and White Christmas, the movie, so that we could sing along and get in the proper holiday spirit for our holiday experience.
This was one of our ‘oh my goodness, I am the luckiest person in the world to be experiencing this’ kinda moments.
And to top it off, we slept comfortably AND fully. It was perfect. We set our alarm, drifted off to sleep as White Christmas played in the background and when we woke up, we were there…
Winter Magic (and a fancy sleigh) at the Arctic Circle
Right when we stepped off the train, we felt like we’d entered an entirely different world. There was nothing but a small train station and snow as far as the eye could see. Crispy, clean winter air and gray skies.
The easiest way to get around Rovaniemi is via car, so we planned to rent a car for our 3 days here. That way, we could visit Santa Claus Village on our own time AND chase the Northern Lights, which was also on the agenda.
Visiting in the winter with little daylight and a whole lotta snow, makes renting a car the easiest way to get around.
I guess it was our lucky day because Sixt rental car met us at the train station. Not with the standard automatic sedan we’d ordered, but a BRAND NEW E-class Mercedes – with only 1,000km on it… Safe, comfortable and oh so sleek. They had run out of the car we reserved and upgraded us at no extra charge.
So now we were at the Arctic Circle driving around in the nicest car we’ve ever been in, let alone driven! This trip was off to a good start and we hadn’t even left the train station yet…
We hopped in the car, headed straight to the city of Rovaniemi, ready to take on Santa Claus Village and so much more.
The Official Santa Claus Village
There’s only 1 official Santa Claus Village and it’s in Rovaniemi, Lapland Finland – right on the Arctic Circle. A place to find your inner child and get lost in the wonder of the holidays.
Here you can meet THE Santa Claus, his team of elves, and even his reindeer.
You can enjoy traditional Lapland cuisine, pick up the best Christmas souvenirs, have drinks at an ice bar, slide down a slide made of snow. Even visit Santa’s official post office and send a postcard straight from the North Pole!
The activities are plentiful, and the scenery is like nothing you’ve experienced before. Even just walking around the village will leave you in complete awe and wonder.
Santa Claus Village is just a quick 8 min drive from Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, Finland. You can also reach Santa Claus Village via the Santa’s Express bus (bus #8 from the Rovaniemi Railway Station).
With no fee to enter, you can spend (or not spend) as much as you’d like. It’s completely in your control.
Of course any extra attractions like husky rides, snowmobile safaris, and sleigh rides with real Finnish reindeer will cost you extra. There’s even Santa Park, where you can experience the holidays all year round in secret underground caves!
For a full list of Finnish fun, check out the Santa Claus Village website.
But the best part of all? (And the extra cost that’s MORE than necessary) – Meeting Santa!
That time we met Father Christmas…
I swear we both had butterflies in our stomachs. We walked into Santa’s workshop with so much anticipation and excitement.
We’d come all this way to meet Santa and it was finally time! I mean, we’d definitely been good, so there was no doubt he’d welcome us with open arms. But I’d never met Santa before, and Erin has loved him his entire life. This was no mall or temporary holiday set up, this was Santa Claus Village. The North Pole. The Arctic Circle. This was real!
His workshop looked like the most elaborate holiday movie set. You walk a path filled with pictures, sleighs, clocks, toys before you get to Santa’s elves who are the last step before your meeting. As you wait your turn, watching all the children light up as they walk into the room, you feel nothing but pure, sincere happiness.
Then, before you walk into his office, the elves casually ask for your name and the country you’re from. They secretly tell Santa their intel – so secretly that we didn’t even notice it. And when you see him, he greets you by name as if he already knows. He’ll even greet you in your native language (he greeted us in German, since we said we came from Austria!)
We took our picture with Santa and chatted for 5 minutes with the biggest smiles on our faces. You could feel his warmth and kindness. It was almost like talking to your Grandpa who’s known you your entire life. We promised to be good, he wished us well and we walked out the door with real joy in our hearts.
Tips for Visiting Santa Claus Village
Of course there are positives and negatives to any trip, but in order to avoid any negativity in this happy Christmas village, here are tips for your visit:
1. Meet Santa
I mean, you came all the way to Santa Claus Village, so you HAVE to meet Santa. That’s the very best part of the entire experience. And I don’t care what you believe in, Santa is real here. And meeting him will prove that to you!
There’s something magic about him. He embodies everything that Santa ever represented in your life. He’s kind, generous, speaks MANY different languages and makes you feel special and loved. He will give you hope and make you feel happy. Not to mention, you walk through his entire workshop to get to him. Complete with his trusty elves who have the friendliest faces and wear the biggest smiles.
There’s no entrance fee to enjoy Santa Claus Village, so pay for the photo, pay for the true experience. Nothing is more worth it.
2. …make sure that includes the REAL Santa.
Clearly, there’s only 1 Santa in the world (DUH!), but at the Arctic Circle, you’ve got a few other ‘helpers’which can be confusing.
The official Santa at Santa Claus Village is waiting for you in Santa Claus’ Office. The souvenir shop has its own Santa and so does Santa Park – both are also great. But don’t leave without meeting THE Santa too.
The man, the myth, the legend, the one you see on their website and social media is in Santa’s office, which is in the village, not at the entrance. You will know you’ve come to the right place when you see this building.
And when you walk inside and see his workshop! There is live streaming too, which is fun for friends at home who want to witness your encounter.
3. Eat Salmon in a Teepee.
There are a few options for food at Santa Claus Village, but one that completely stands out above the rest (and is actually affordable): Loimulohi Kota (Blazing Salmon Restaurant)
For 19 euros, you’ll be able to enjoy THE freshest salmon you’ll ever have. Cooked to perfection over a fire in the middle of a teepee at the Arctic Circle and served on slabs of wood.
If that doesn’t convince you to eat here, add in the fact that the owner is an entrepreneur who invented the idea of his pop-up Salmon restaurant. He travels around Lapland, serving his delicious food with his famous pup, Hessu, who starred in the movie Hanna! We spent a good hour or more talking to him and it was a highlight of our trip.
There’s another salmon restaurant at Santa Claus village, which has great reviews too, but make sure you check to see if this pop up teepee is there first. Last year (2015), he was parked next to Snowman World.
4. Create the experience that YOU want.
As I said, you pay for the extra things that you want to do. So you can go full out and even stay at Santa Claus Village overnight OR you can meet Santa, eat a delicious meal, wander, enjoy the village for a few hours and leave.
It’s completely in your control, which is actually really nice for those looking to save money or those that have limited time.
We opted for 2 shorter visits where we met Santa, did some holiday shopping, visited the post office, ate Salmon and continued on our journey. With 2 missions: Santa Claus Village and the Northern Lights, this was perfect for our trip.
5. Forget being an adult – it’s time to be a KID!
Seriously, let go and enjoy the magic!
Of course you can walk into Santa Claus Village and think, “Ugh, there’s just a ton of shops and restaurants” (because with a negative mindset, it can seem like that), but take your time, keep an open mind and enjoy it for what it is.
Visit all the buildings, send a postcard from Santa’s official Post office, admire the GIANT snowmen, the lights, the snow. When you see things through realistic adult eyes, the village can of course be looked at as a tourist trap. But who cares? ‘Tourist’ traps still attract tourists for a reason.
And remember, you’re at the Arctic Circle, visiting a village that embodies everything joyful about the holidays. Let go, embrace it all and be joyful!
And a Northern Lights Adventure.
Aside from Rovaniemi being the home of Santa Claus Village, it’s also one of the very best places in Finland to catch the Northern Lights. Another HUGE reason why visiting Lapland Finland became our priority for the holiday season.
The Northern Lights are also best seen during winter months (the lack of light increases your chances of seeing the lights.) And when you combine the Northern Lights with Rovaniemi and Santa, it becomes the ultimate addition to your winter destination bucket list.
Seeing the Northern Lights is all about luck, but we made it our mission to track them down. Christmas Village by day and chasing the Northern Lights by night ensured our 3 days in Lapland was a trip worthwhile.
Because of our determination, energy drinks and our oh so comfy Mercedes rides each night, WE FOUND THEM! And it was an experience that surpassed anything we’d ever dreamed of…
It’s actually hard to put into words. An out of this world show of nature. Colors moving in all directions. Nothing but the black of the sky, the white snow and the blue streaks of magic soaring above us.
A Trip To Remember for a Lifetime
Visiting Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland is a trip that can never be forgotten. In those 3 short days, we were able to leave our adult selves behind, embrace the season and witness and believe in magic – through Santa Claus Village and through a natural wonder in the sky.
It’s one of those places that gets better and better the longer we’ve been away. We look back on our 3 days here and can truly say that it was three of the best days of our entire lives. And that is NO exaggeration.
There’s something really special about this place. We both feel lucky to have experienced it. And we’ll be back – when we have our own family one day. I mean, if we’re grown adults and felt this amazing in Lapland, I can only imagine Santa Claus Village through the eyes of a child.