Magic of Lapland: The Home of Santa Claus

The Northern Lights dance overhead in the snowy winter in Finnish Lapland
The Northern Lights dance overhead in the snowy winter in Finnish Lapland | © Sara Winter / Alamy
Photo of Kaja Kozak
12 November 2021
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Did you know Santa Claus is Finnish and lives in Lapland? The Lapin taika (Finnish for the Magic of Lapland) can be seen in the expansive natural beauty of the land, its cultural treasures, the legends of the Sámi people and not to mention Santa’s North Pole hideaway. Here is a guide to all the must-see, must-do and must-eat things in Lapland for the most magical winter experience.

Home of Santa Claus

Rovaniemi, the capital city of Finnish Lapland is the largest populated city near the Arctic Circle as well as the hometown of Santa Claus. However, there is much more to Lapland than being the North Pole hideaway of Santa Claus. There are many beautiful resorts, cities as well as cultural treasures to visit. If you’re looking for a magical Christmas experience, this is the place to go – and even if it’s not Christmas, you’ll still have an incredible time on Culture Trip’s five-day, action-packed Lapland adventure which departs in spring.

Along the river and around the city of Rovaniemi, you can find 70 lean-to shelters that can be freely used to roast sausages or snacks over an open fire. Firewood is even provided by the stae. Along Ounasjoki, the longest river in Finland, you can see beautiful views of the Jätkänkynttilä Bridge, especially when illuminated at night.

The Arctic Circle Post Office, located in Rovaniemi, receives more than half a million Christmas letters every year from all over the world. Each year, Santa Claus leaves the village in a reindeer-drawn sleigh to deliver presents to children, and his send-off is broadcast internationally on 23 December. All letters received with a clearly legible address are answered by Santa and receive a special stamp leaving the post office. If you want to send in your wish list for this year, you can reach Santa at: Santa Claus, Santa Claus’s Main Post Office, 96930 Napapiiri, Finland.

Send your Christmas wish list to Santa Claus’ Main Post Office in Rovaniemi | © Aliaksandr Mazurkevich / Alamy

Where to stay

Lapland has some of the most beautiful and unforgettable accommodations in the world, including camping sites, cottages, cabins, ski lodges and hotels.

Hotel Kakslauttanen

Hotel Kakslauttanen_8f7f7b0a
Courtesy of Hotel Kakslauttanen / Expedia
At Hotel Kakslauttanen, you can stay in a modern glass temperature-controlled igloo admiring the Northern Lights and stars in the night sky from the comfort of your own bed. The special thermal glass prevents the windows from frosting over.

Lapland Hotels Snow Village

Resort, Hotel
Lapland Hotels Snow Village_2ebe45ef
Courtesy of Lapland Hotels Snow Village / Expedia

This is an entire village made of ice and snow. The Snow Village is built each year in late November and includes a restaurant, bar, lobbies, hotel rooms, outdoor buildings, slides and sculptures.

Gallery Raekallio

Cottages
About 18km (11mi) from Levi, Gallery Raekallio has a beautiful selection of art. In the gallery, there is an ongoing exhibition by Reijo Raekallio. The small and cosy cottage which they rent is right near the gallery, with a small selection of rooms from which to choose.

Santa Claus Holiday Village

Santa Claus village, Rovaniemi, Finland
© Peter Adams / Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy
In the Arctic Circle (see the Arctic line in the centre of the village), Santa Claus Holiday Village is the ultimate Christmas experience in a village with restaurants, reindeer, dog sledding, shops, and cabins equipped with personal saunas. It’s also the perfect location to be near nature and the neighbourhood of Santa Claus.

SnowCastle of Kemi

SnowCastle of Kemi_8d69de2c
Courtesy of SnowCastle of Kemi / Expedia
This hotel is made entirely of snow, including the rooms where you can cosy up in beds covered in reindeer fur. There is also a wedding chapel plus a honeymoon suite for those wishing to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Levi Igloos Golden Crown

Cottages, Boutique Hotel
Levi Igloos Golden Crown_b_196498480
Courtesy of Levi Igloos Golden Crown / Booking.com

You can either stay in a glass igloo or the unique subterranean Northern Lights house at Levi Igloos Golden Crown. Partly built into the ground, the luxurious house is a personal and stunning holiday villa with large windows that allow you to have a beautiful view of the Northern Lights.

Where to eat

Lapland restaurants serve fresh local ingredients ranging from northern forest berries and wild game to fresh seafood. Local dishes will often include items such as bilberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, salmon soup, hare and, most popularly, reindeer meat.

Nili Restaurant

Restaurant, Finnish, $$$
Rovaniemi, Finland - March 1, 2017: People near traditional restaurant in winter Rovaniemi, Finland. Illuminated at night
© Roman Babakin / Alamy
In downtown Rovaniemi, Nili Restaurant has an interior that transports you into the wilderness, and the menu is full of tasty and stylish Lappish and Finnish cuisine. All year long, you can try the local favourite, sautéed reindeer, and the ‘Rovaniemi Market’ is a must-try on the menu, a selection of the best delicacies of Lapland. The interior decor is handcrafted from Lappish wood, reindeer horns and leather. The word Nili is a Finnish word for an old small Lappish food storage building built high up on a tree stump to keep food out of reach of animals. Tip: this place gets pretty crowded so book ahead.

Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara Restaurant

Restaurant, Finnish
Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara Restaurant_013459e1
Courtesy of Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara / Expedia

This is a fine-dining restaurant located at one of the highest places in Rovaniemi, Ounasvaara mountain. Along with an incredible meal, you will enjoy beautiful views of the landscape. The food, though on the pricey side, is modern Finnish and Scandinavian made from the best local ingredients.

Santamus

Restaurant, Finnish
Santamus Restaurant, Rovaniemi, Finland. Santa Claus Village_FP41TT
© Sergi Reboredo / Alamy
In the Arctic Circle, Santamus is festive in all holiday spirit. If you’re looking for a unique experience and a special atmosphere, this place is for you. The restaurant serves Lappish dishes and is known for having friendly staff and hospitality.

Arctic Restaurant, Rovaniemi

Restaurant, European, Vegan
Ice Bar at Snowman World Igloo Hotel in Rovaniemi in Lapland Finland. The merriest place on the Arctic Circle. A spectacular sno
© Sergi Reboredo / Alamy
In Rovaniemi in the Arctic Light Hotel, this restaurant has a menu filled with game from the northern forests as well as fish and seafood. Favourites include the winter hare, Finnish moose, Arctic char, Norwegian crab and mushroom soup. The atmosphere is sleek and modern with beautifully executed dishes and friendly service — this restaurant is certainly worth a visit.

Santa’s Salmon Place

Restaurant, Finnish, $$$
Dessert: Traditional Finnish cheese with cloudberry jam | Image Courtesy of Santa's Salmon Place
In the Santa Claus Village in Napapiiri, this hut-style restaurant is perfect if you love salmon. The staff prepares the salmon in a traditional way right in front of you, over an open fire. After about 20 minutes, they present it on a wooden plate with potato salad and bread — it’s simple food, prepared to perfection to honour the freshness of the ingredient. There are also desserts and drinks available in this small and cosy restaurant.

Lapland Kotahovi Restaurant

Restaurant, Finnish
The restaurant gets its name from kota, which is the Finnish name for a Lappish hut. This is another restaurant located in the Santa Claus Village in Napapiiri with excellent food and divine desserts. The dishes are beautifully presented on plates, bowls and cutlery made of birch wood. The interior is cosy with a large central fireplace to enjoy the Lappish delicacies around.

What to do

Reindeer sleigh rides can last from 10 minutes up to a few hours depending on the trail. Most accommodations will have places they will recommend. After the sleigh ride, you can pet and feed the reindeer.

A primary activity on Culture Trip’s exclusive five-day adventure to Finnish Lapland, dog sledding can last from 10 minutes to several days if you go on a dog sledding trek in the northernmost regions of Lapland. Sometimes there is a trained musher while you sit and relax for the ride. Others choose to go on a longer journey where they can command their own team of Siberian huskies. The dogs are trained, and most people only need to learn how to stop and go on the sled.

When you visit Lapland, take a dog sledding trip to travel the local way | © Sergi Reboredo / Alamy

Hiking in Lapland, especially during the spring and autumn months, is the best way to see all that nature has to offer in this scenic country. It can also be done during the winter with the aid of snowshoes.

Ice swimming, which means hopping into a man-made hole in a frozen lake or river, is preferably done right after the sauna, and when you emerge from the icey water, you will feel a surge of adrenaline and blood pumping in your veins. Locals swear by its powers for curing aches and pains. If you are not near a lake, you can also try the alternative of jumping into the snow right after the sauna.

Go skiing in one of the 75 ski resorts located in Finland. Many of the famous and largest resorts lie in Lapland and are known as the Big Four – Levi (the most popular), Ylläs (the most fabled/oldest), Pyhä-Luosto (the most picturesque) and Ruka. They rise to more than 700m (2,296ft) above sea level and have lengths of up to 3km (2mi). The season starts in October and runs until early May. And if you prefer your adventure on the gentle side, try skiing on a frozen lake instead.

Visit Lohja to ski on a frozen lake | © NordicImages / Alamy

Go ice fishing, but be sure to remember your own equipment.

Have a snowball fight. This isn’t like your regular snowball fight; here, you build fortresses, work in teams and try to get behind enemy lines. The fun is not limited to children.

At the end of January and beginning of February, celebrate the end of the polar night by going to the Skábmagovat, the Indigenous Peoples’ Film and TV Production Festival in Inari or join the Sámi for their National Day celebrations on February 6th.

In the summer, in July, you can take part in the Teno river salmon fishing championship in Utsjoki.

For fishing fun, head to Utsjoki to take part in the Teno River Salmon Fishing Championship | © Paivi Vikstrom / mauritius images GmbH / Alamy

The Music Festival of Indigenous Peoples, Ijahis idja (Nightless Night) and the Triphon procession of the Russian-Orthodox Skolt-Sámi through four villages both take place in August.

Where to visit

Siida, The Museum of the Finnish Sámi

Museum
Sami log house at the open-air section of Siida Museum in Inari, which is the national museum of the Sami People in Lapland, northern Finland.
© Wolfgang Kaehler / Alamy
Sámi, the only indigenous people in the European Union, live in the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden as well as in parts of Northeast Russia. The preservation of their endangered language and culture is governed by an autonomous parliament of Inari, Finland. A visit to the village of Inari, the heart of the Sámi homeland, and to Siida, the museum of the Finnish Sámi, is a must. At Siida, an indoor and outdoor museum, you can see changing exhibitions on culture, art and nature throughout the year.

The Rovaniemi Art Museum

Museum
Korundi, the Rovaniemi Art Museum, the northernmost regional art museum in Europe, has artist Heli Ryhänen’s Slow Motion sculpture on display inside one of the nine exhibit spaces. The focal point of the permanent collection is a series of works donated by Jenny and Antti Wihuri. The museum features Finnish modern art from the 1940s to today and collaborates with institutions such as the Finnish National Gallery.

Artikum, Museum and Arctic Science Center

Museum
Interior of the Arktikum building, a public exhibition institution in Rovaniemi for everything related to the Far North.
© Hannu Mononen / Alamy
Arktikum’s trademark glass tunnel (which stretches for 172m/564ft) leads from Ounasjoki River to the science centre and the museum’s exhibition spaces. The museum offers visitors an overview of the intricacies of arctic nature. Between December and April, its windows offer a spectacular view of long-distance skaters and skiers gliding across the frozen river. The river is especially crowded on bright late winter days.

Pilke Science Center

Museum
Next to Artikum is the Pilke Science Center. A forest sector-run project, the interactive exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to get to know what forests mean to Finnish people. Interactive exhibitions give visitors the opportunity to, for example, perform karaoke songs about the woods and hunt virtual moose while learning about sustainable use of the forests.

The Golden Village

Museum
At the shores of the Ivalojoki River lies Kultala, The Golden Village, which in 1870 was the headquarters of officials governing gold prospecting. Now it is an open-air museum with several trails leading to it through the Hammastunturi wilderness, among them the near 8km (5mi) long Golden Trail. The trail runs along old gold mines and you can get more insights into the gold mining history of the area.

Tankavaara Gold Mining Village

Museum, Historical Landmark

Every year there are international gold panning championships held in this village, which lies near the Urho Kekkonen National Park Saariselkä, a popular tourist destination. Today, Tankavaara is the only authentic European gold mining village and even looks like a 19th-century gold mining town. You can learn about gold prospecting all year-round and any found gold is yours to keep. You can also visit the Gold Museum, which traces the past and present history of the Finnish and international gold prospecting.

Things to remember

The autumn season paints the trees a beautiful ruska color.

The Saana fell, overlooking the village of Kilpisjärvi, is holy to the native Sámi people (population of about 9,000 members) and sacrificial fires to the supreme god Ukkonen were burned at the top of it.

Dead trees or (kelo in Finnish) are characteristic of Lapland’s nature.

Kaamos (or the two-month-long Polar Night), begins in November when the sun no longer rises above the horizon. The darkness then takes on a blue and violet colour.

Tthe two-month-long Polar Night begins in November and turns the sky a blue-violet colour | © Esa Paavola / Alamy

The reindeer is an icon of Lapland and outnumber the people in the province.

The Midnight Sun lasts for as long as two months during the summer when the sun is seen 24 hours per day.

Michaelmas begins on 29 September and occurs when winter’s gate creaks open and the wait for snow begins. Up north the first snow falls in October, and the region has permanent cover by November.

In Northern Finland, winter lasts around six months.

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, predict a snow storm.

Northern Lights shine every other clear night between September and March, and the further north you go the better. The lights might unexpectedly appear and just as quickly disappear just after sunset, so stay outside.

Elves, the guardians of the homes and hearths, are a real thing, and people show appreciation to them during the Christmas and winter months. Food and ale are left on the table in the darkest corner of the barn for them to eat and drink, and warm water is left in the saunas for them to be able to bathe. You will also find miniatures of elves in various places around homes and places in the region.

If you’re spending New Year in Lapland, there are a few legends. If you light the fireplace on the first try on New Year’s, you will be lucky in love. Huge drifts of snow on the yard predict wealth. If the New Year’s night is windy, it means the winter will be a harsh one.

January is the harshest month of the year. The Finnish named it tammikuu or (oak month) after the hardest trees in Finland.

In winter, the Baltic Sea takes on a magical layer of snow in Finland | © Timo Viitanen / Alamy

When the new sun comes out in the spring, the first to see it receive the strength of its beams. Children also celebrate the new season by banging plates, ringing cow bells and jingle bells.

These recommendations were updated on November 12, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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