To me, nothing is more magical than Christmas time with my family, not even Disney can compare (sorry Mickey). So this year, I wanted to do something extra special for Christmas since my kids are growing up. I can’t remember how, maybe through a google search, but I stumbled upon Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland. It described itself as Santa’s home in the Arctic Circle, where you get a chance to meet the big guy himself, visit his post office, take a sleigh ride with his reindeer and maybe even see the northern lights. I was intrigued by all of this as it sounded perfect! I tried to do some research but there aren’t many in depth reviews out there. Would it be too touristy? Was it worth coming all the way from the United States for? With only three weeks until my daughter’s break in school, I didn’t have much time so I took a leap of faith and booked it. Was it worth it? You betcha!
When: Third week in November
Where: Santa Claus Village
Time Frame: 3 days, 2 nights
Weather: Cold, around 25 – 30 degrees
Wear: Pack layers! I wore a thermal under layer, sweater and jacket along with jeans and snowboots most of the time. Don’t forget your hat and gloves – very important! We were expecting snow but unfortunately their winter was starting late so we didn’t have any. If your going when there is snow, I would bring snow bibs or pants as well.
Ages: Our son was 3 and our daughter was 7
- Arrived 7am from the Santa Claus Express Train from Helsinki. Checked into our hotel (paid a small fee to get into room right away which was completely worth it. Had breakfast at the hotel. Took a small nap until noon.
- Went to Santa Park from 1pm – 4pm.
- 5pm – Santa Claus Opening Ceremony in Santa Claus Village
- Breakfast at Christmas House Restaurant (hotel restaurant)
- Arctic Circle Husky Park
- Lunch at Café-Restaurant Napatapuli
- Meeting Santa Claus
- Santa Claus Post Office
- Dinner at Three Elves Restaurant
- Breakfast at Christmas House Restaurant (hotel restaurant)
- Reindeer ride at Santa Claus Reindeer
- Elf Petting Zoo
- Lunch at Three Elves Restaurant
- Departure to Levi, Finland
Santa Claus Village is its own tiny village (not big enough to call a town) about 15 minutes north of Rovaniemi. There are a plethora of options to stay in the city of Rovaniemi, however we wanted convenience so we stayed right in Santa Claus Village at the Santa Claus Holiday Village Apartments. This was an excellent decision for several reasons.
First, everything we did over those three days was directly in Santa Claus Village so we did not need a car. We took a taxi from the train to get to the village and once there, we walked everywhere! Nothing is more than a 5 minute walk – Santa himself, restaurants, shops, the reindeer, husky park, snowmobile park and Santa’s post office too. The only time we needed a ride was to Santa Park but that was a cheap 5 minute taxi ride. Right across from Santa Claus Village is also a gas station with small grocery shop, so we were able to walk to the store to grab some necessities.
Secondly, the accommodations were wonderful. We had a nice big open space, and the couch pulled out for the kids so we have plenty of room to sleep. The bonus was in the bathroom – a Sauna! The kids loved this and used it several times a day so this was a fun surprise for them.
Third, this goes back to location + weather. Not having to get in the car and do carseats with the kids in heavy layers was a huge plus. The accommodations in Santa Claus Village are definitely more expensive than in Rovaniemi, but having the convenience was worth it to us. Plus, we didn’t need to rent a car or wait for a bus in the cold to get anywhere – we just walked! I highly recommend staying on site if you plan to do a lot of the activities right in the Village.
Santa Claus Reindeer
I never thought I would write this sentence, but we got to take a sleigh ride with Santa Claus’ reindeer! It is was awesome 🙂 Santa Claus Reindeer is right in Santa Claus Village and they offer several different options for sleigh rides. Unfortunately for us with the limited snow, we could only do the 5 minute Reindeer Path ride that was on the limited preserved snow they have left. We were hoping for one of the longer 30 minute rides, but we can’t control the weather and were grateful for the opportunity to even take a short ride!
The reindeer are gorgeous and the staff is extremely nice and informative. We got to learn all about the reindeer, how they are taken care of, what they eat, etc. The kids loved learning about them and getting to pet them before hoping aboard the gorgeous wood sleigh. We bundled under warm reindeer hides and got led around the path by our guide. It was a truly unique experience and one I will never forget.
Now having been and knowing the experience, if I were to go with young kids I would recommend choosing the 15 minute ride. While I initially thought we would have done a 30 minute ride, it is very cold out and kids might not want to sit still for that long. I think the 15 minute experience would be a perfect choice when traveling with young kids. I highly recommend taking part in this experience as it is a once in a lifetime chance!
Arctic Circle Husky Park
Another unique experience with animals located right in Santa Claus Village is the Arctic Circle Husky Park. This park is home to some 100 beautiful, genuine Siberian huskies that are loved and well taken care of in their environment. Arctic Circle Husky Park is a place for you to meet and pet these gorgeous creatures while offering the chance of a husky ride as well. Since we didn’t have snow we couldn’t go on the sled, but it was cold enough for us to get to experience the pull on the summer carriage.
It is amazing to me how much these dogs love to run! While we were boarding the summer carriage the dogs were waiting and were nipping at the bit to go! They did not want to sit still! While we would have loved to experience a traditional husky safari in the snow, it was still an incredible experience to get to be pulled by the team of dogs. You get to go really fast on the summer carriage ride, which the kids loved! Our guide also taught the kids about the makeup of the team, which was really interesting and informative. We learned how the group the dogs on the team, how the strongest dogs are in the back while the fastest dogs are in the front. The two front dogs are the smartest dogs as they have to listen to commands.
I highly recommend this experience we kids! Even though our ride was only 5 minutes or less, we spent two hours here getting to pet the huskies, learning about them, and warming up by the nice fire inside the hut after the ride! It was a wonderful way to spend a morning in Finland 🙂
Elf’s Farm & Petting Zoo
After our morning with the reindeer, we took a few steps over to Elf’s Farm and Petting Zoo for about an hour of fun. While this is a small venue, we really enjoyed getting to play on their property as it is very unique. The kids got to feed their sheep some hay, which they did over and over again until I made them stop in fear of over feeding them! They have several different play areas on their property that the kids loved – a three person swing, a sand box with toys, walking sticks, climbing walls, etc. It was great to have such a family friendly spot that the kids could run around in and let loose. Since it was cold out and their property is all outside, we spent about one hour here before heading into a restaurant for some Hot Glogii.
Meeting Santa Claus Himself
The whole reason we came – to meet the REAL Santa Claus in the Arctic Circle! We waited until the second day to do our main activity to make sure we weren’t too tired from the train ride of the first day (good thing we did this as we didn’t sleep that well on the train)! I knew this could feel touristy, but they do SUCH a good job with this experience that it didn’t really feel that touristy at all.
In November when we went, it wasn’t super busy so we only had to wait about 5 minutes to see Santa. Right before you go in, there is an elf with ‘Parent Secret’s’ to share with you. Basically, they offer you the opportunity for you to buy a gift for Santa to give your children. My husband said no, which I quickly overruled and said yes! Santa gave Emmie a reindeer bell and Easton a stuffed toy reindeer. I know its more money spent, but it was money well spent in my opinion. The kids got to interact with Santa over the gifts, and they will always remember the item that Santa Claus gave them personally. My son continues to sleep with the stuffed reindeer Santa gave him, even giving him the name Slingshot Diamond (not sure where that come from, but I love it!)
The meeting with Santa was INCREDIBLE! I, an adult in my thirties, left with goosebumps after meeting him. He was so kind, so sweet and spent more than 5 minutes just chatting with us and the kids. He took his time, asked them questions and gave them presents. It really felt like we were in the North Pole meeting Santa! My daughter was quiet for the first time ever as I could tell she was completely soaking up this experience and moment. I had a huge smile on my face because I could see the impact it was having on them. Even though it was just 5 minutes, it was 5 minutes I won’t ever forget.
You are not allowed to film or take pictures in there, which is of course because they want you to buy their pictures. However, I truly appreciated this because I was not stuck behind my camera or focusing on getting the best angle – I was in the moment with my kids and enjoying our experience with Santa. I knew they would offer pictures afterwards, but what I didn’t know was that they were filming the whole encounter too! We bought the complete package – pictures and film – which we felt like was a good deal. I uploaded our video to YouTube and was able to share the experience with all of our family. If you want to see our meeting with Santa, click here.
Located a few minutes outside of Santa Claus Village is Santa Park, a theme park for all things Christmas. We spent a few hours here soaking up the Christmas spirit one afternoon! They have a fun ride through Santa’s Workshop and the North Pole, an Elf class in which you get a certificate for, cooking decorating in Ms. Claus’ bakery, crafting with elves and a ice sculpture room complete with an ice bar. There is also a chance to meet Santa, but we skipped this since we were meeting him in Santa Claus Village. I have never seen an entire venue dedicated to Christmas like this and I loved it! The kids had a great time and it definitely got us in the Christmas spirit.
Dining in Finland is not the easiest when you have picky eaters. A lot of their meat up where is reindeer and they also love Salmon anything, which neither of my kids eat. Luckily Santa Claus Village is a tourist attraction, so they do a good job of trying to create a more accommodating menu.
We ate breakfast everyday at our hotel restaurant, The Christmas House Restaurant, as it was included. They had a good spread for breakfast, which included pancakes and donuts which my kids gravitated towards. And of course, hot chocolate was a daily must.
Across the street from Santa Claus Village is a gas station with some grocery items. We grabbed a few items from here to keep in our room. This worked for snacks throughout our stay and lunch one day. Finland restaurants are expensive, so it was nice to save a few bucks with this option.
We at lunch one day at Café-Restaurant Napatapuli. This was a great option for a good quick, casual meal. A lot of the items here are fried, which I was reaching my limit on, so we only ate here one day.
My favorite restaurant at Santa Claus Village was the Three Elves Restaurant. We ate here for dinner one night and lunch the next day. While it was a pricier option, the atmosphere was lovely and the food was fresh and delicious. For desert one night the kids got to have chocolate fondue, which they were very excited about. I highly recommend one meal here while at Santa Claus Village.
Notes for Next Time
- On our first night, it was the opening ceremony for the holiday season. They had a whole evening of entertainment, with singers, lights and Santa Claus himself. It was a magical experience to sing with Santa Claus and a whole crowd of people. Nothing to get you into the holiday spirit like Christmas music. After the ceremony was over, they had a DJ who played music into the night while my daughter got to dance her heart out. This was a fun experience that was a highlight of our trip.
- We went to Santa Claus Village over Thanksgiving, which is the third week of November. This time is supposed to be the very beginning of their winter season, with snow on the ground and winter activities beginning. However, this year was a very late start for their winter and when we went there was NO SNOW on the ground! I was so disappointed as I wanted the magical white blanket while we visited Santa I almost cancelled the trip. We decided to still go, and it was an incredible experience. While I would give our trip a 10, I think if we had snow it would have been a 15! While we still had a great time, we missed out on some activities because there was no snow (like snowmobiling, longer reindeer rides, etc). If I were to do it again, I would recommend going in December or January to try and make sure you get that snow!
- Finland is expensive, so be prepared and budget for it. The lodging seemed reasonable to us, but the activities & food was definitely pricey. It doesn’t mean you cannot do it though! You can bring food & snacks with you, which we did and we were grateful for. You can also determine ahead of time what activities you want to participate in and budget for it.