Lapland, a region of northern Finland located in the Arctic Circle, is home to more reindeer than people and the most famous Finn of all: Santa Claus. Did you know Santa was Finnish? According to the Finns, he lives in Rovaniemi—The Official Hometown of Santa Claus—and you can visit him there year-round. Our contributor Heidi Gollub did just that as a guest of Visit Finland and discovered plenty of family fun in this chilly northernmost part of the EU. Here are her recommendations for what to do when visiting Lapland Finland with kids.
Visit Lapland with Kids
Finland is a nature-lovers paradise, with more forest and water than anywhere else in Europe. Lapland, in the north of the country, is exceptionally untouched and beautiful. From summers with round-the-clock light to winter nights with the Aurora Borealis dancing in the sky, there is always something to see and do in Lapland.
What to do in Lapland Finland with Kids
I recently spent a few cold September days in Rovaniemi, just eight minutes away from the Arctic Circle in Lapland. It’s an easy flight from Helsinki to Lapland on Finnair. Rovaniemi offered a taste of arctic adventure, coupled with the comfort of luxury accommodations. From reindeer-petting to dogsledding, here are my recommendations for the best things to do with kids in Lapland.
Visit Santa Claus Village
You can’t visit Santa’s hometown of Rovaniemi without stopping by to see the big man himself! Visiting Santa Claus is free and can be done any day of the year. The only caveat is that you are not allowed to take your own pictures, as official photos are available for purchase. After sitting on Santa’s lap, be sure to stop by to feed his reindeer (5 euros per person over three years old) and stroke their super soft antlers.
Swing by Santa’s Main Post Office to see some of the 20 million letters Santa has received over the years from 199 different countries. While there, you can mail letters to good boys and girls with official Santa stamps. Or, you can pay 8.90 euros for Santa himself to write a letter to the child of your choice, and send it with a certificate of niceness.
Other fun things to do at Santa’s Village are to cross the Arctic Circle, and play on the fun playground (when it isn’t buried in snow). If you visit Rovaniemi in winter, don’t miss the Moomin Snowcastle, and the indoor shops and café to keep you warm.
What to Do if You Visit Lapland in Winter
If you’re dressed warm enough to enjoy them, there’s no shortage of winter activities in Lapland. Take the kids cross country skiing on small slopes, visit a reindeer farm, see wildlife by snowmobile, or take alpacas for a walk in the forest. Just be sure to bundle up—it can get down to -22 degrees in winter months.
Dog Sledding in Rovaniemi
Huskies don’t have a history in Lapland, but they are now the most popular tourist attraction, so be sure to give leading a team of dogs a try. The Bearhill Husky Tours Born to Run Tour is a 2.5-hour program with a four-kilometer husky cart adventure along a picturesque trail in the woods. In the winter, you’ll drive a sled behind a team of Alaskan huskies. But, when there’s no snow on the ground, a two-person cart is just as fun.
When you arrive, Bearhill will make sure you’re nice and warm. The facility offers winter gear to borrow in sizes for small children on up. Choose from winter jumpsuits, wool socks, winter boots, hats, gloves, and neck warmers. Once you’ve added extra layers, you’ll get learn how to drive the cart or sled, with a demonstration on how to stand, use the hand brakes, keep five meters of distance between the teams, and go a maximum of 16 kilometers per hour.
Finally, you’ll get to give driving a team a try, which is exhilarating. The dogs are so excited to run—you’ll really need to use those brakes! There will be a few stops along the way for the dogs to rest (and your hands to thaw), so you can alternate driving and being a passenger.
The Born to Run Tour is 129 euros per adult; 77 euros per child age four to 14. Smaller kids can ride on the lap on an adult but note that the ride may be cut short if it is too cold to keep kids out for long. Teenagers of about 16 or 17 are allowed to drive but must be strong enough to stop the cart or sled when necessary. That is harder to do than you might expect!
Ranua Arctic Wildlife Park
Another nice outdoor activity in Rovaniemi for families is taking a walk around the scenic Ranua Zoo. This outdoor wildlife park is open year-round and leads visitors on a two-kilometer loop around a boardwalk. Rent a stroller for one euro—or a sled for free—and take kids to see rescue animals from snowy owls to white tailed eagles, as well as other Arctic animals like polar bears and wild boars. In the winter, you can also stop by the ice café to enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee.
Angry Birds Activity Park
Angry Birds are Finnish, too! Children of all ages will enjoy the fun, inspired by Angry Bird figures in this activity park. The park is located on the Ounaskoski riverbank and admission is free.
Things to do when it’s too cold in Rovaniemi
Make Reindeer Art with a Local
For an experience unique to Lapland, make a reservation to visit Kangasniemi, the home and workshop of reindeer herders Irene and Ari Kangasniemi. Here, you will spend a few hours learning about the local reindeer and making your own antler souvenirs to take home.
This friendly couple invites small groups to visit their artist workshop as the animated Irene shares reindeer facts (how fast their antlers grow, how heavy they are, and what time of year they fall off) and tidbits about Sámi culture and history. Then, she will help you to craft a piece of Lappish jewelry or special memento out of antler beads. Once done, you’ll be rewarded with home-baked goods and berry juice in the Kangasniemis’ cozy Finnish home.
A trip to this science center and museum allows kids to experience northern nature, culture, and history up close. If you’d like to discover Finnish Lapland, its fascinating nature, and the people and customs of those living north of the Arctic Circle, I highly recommend hiring a tour guide to personalize your experience. Our guide, Frank, taught us everything from why it is dark all day in winter in Rovaniemi to folklore about the Northern Lights.
Pilke Science Center
Next door to Arktikum, the Pilke Science Center teaches kids about the sustainable use of the northern forest. Interactive exhibits include a dark “Get Lost in the Forest” maze, Bird Song Karaoke (where you imitate bird calls into a microphone), and Forest Karaoke where you can sing songs about the forest. As our guide here said, “We Finns are forest people.”
Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Finland
The Northern Lights season in Lapland lasts from mid-August to early April. On clear nights, the Aurora Borealis form when different atmospheric gases are agitated by solar wind. But, if it’s cloudy, foggy, or snowy you won’t be able to see the lights in the night sky. And, even some clear nights, the lights can be unpredictable.
During my visit in September, it took the use of an Aurora app and the determination to stay up until 3 a.m. light-hunting outdoors in frigid temperatures with a tripod and a camera on specific settings to see them. I did manage to get a few blurry photos of the lights in the end, but chasing them is not an experience my kids would have enjoyed. So, unless you have a kid who is an avid photographer, don’t bank on this experience working out.
If you want to try it, however, and would like the help of professionals, Beyond Arctic Adventures specializes in photographing the Northern Lights. They will take a group of up to eight people aurora hunting at two to three locations for four to five hours. They’re willing to drive up to 100 kilometers to help you find them, but still, there’s no guarantee. And the experience costs 125 euros.
Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
Another (warmer) option for watching the Northern Lights is to stay in a glass igloo. The best time to make a reservation is in March or April when there is still snow on the ground, the sun shines during the day, there might be Northern Lights at night, and rates are lower. In the high season, November to February, hotels and glass igloos sell out far in advance.
Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle
For a premium glass igloo hotel experience, Santa’s Igloos, located near Santa Claus Village, sleep up to eight people and have an aurora alarm to wake you up when the Northern Lights appear in the sky. Each room comes with eye masks to help you sleep until then.
The igloos have AC for summer and both a floor heater and roof heater, to keep the snow off the glass in winter. Some igloos also have a small sauna in the bathroom. There is a restaurant on-site and the igloos are open year-round with an airport shuttle included in the price of your stay. December is already fully booked, so booking months in advance is necessary.
Arctic Fox Igloos
If you are set on staying in one of the Finland igloo hotels, another option is Arctic Fox Igloos, which also offer Northern Lights viewing through a glass ceiling. This property is located in Ranua near the Wildlife Park, and has a campground feel, with a lake and playground. There’s even an ice swimming dock, in case jumping into frigid lakes is your thing. From the property, you can head off on snowmobile safaris or go snowshoeing.
Santa’s Hotels Santa Claus
When traveling with kids, you might appreciate more space and privacy. Hotel Santa Claus is a great option. This hotel offers visits from Santa, cookie decorating, and a Kid’s Corner. Stop by Santa’s Shop, too, where a Shop Elf sends kids on Santa’s Secret Mission.
I stayed at the Hotel Santa Claus and was delighted to have a private sauna in my room. Be sure to request one if you stay there, as only select rooms have them. I also enjoyed being centrally located so I could walk to shops, parks, playgrounds, and restaurants. And, the hotel’s breakfast buffet was delicious.
If you’ll be visiting Finland by car, read How to Plan a Road Trip to Finland in Winter.