Taking your children to Lapland is one of the most magical holidays that you could experience, and that includes visiting Disney. We have wanted to visit Santa Claus at his home in Lapland for several years (the closest we have come is our fab visit to Lapland UK last year) but with only a small window of opportunity available we felt that as Holly and Chloe are now 6 and 9 it’s the perfect age to take them.
What we have found when planning our trip to Lapland is that it needs just as much research and planning as a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. I was totally unaware of the various packages available, what activities are on offer, how long to stay, which destination in Lapland to choose and more importantly how much it costs!
Here is our guide on tips, tricks and advice on planning your Lapland holiday.
Which destination to choose.
When we started planning our trip to Lapland we were totally unaware of the amount of different destinations on offer, all of which offer their own unique Lapland experience.
The most popular destination is Rovaniemi, a city that is the capital of Finnish Lapland and the official hometown of Santa Claus. At the famous Santa Claus village you will find a post office that sorts through all the letters that children have sent to the North Pole and Santa’s grotto. There is also the Santa Park which features activities and attractions for the whole family.
If you want a quieter, less commercial destination then look at Levi or Saariselka which many tour operators now offer.
Levi is where we decided to stay, just a 15 minute drive from Kittila airport. What makes Levi such a nice destination to visit in Finnish Lapland is that its the largest ski resort in Lapland, so if you plan to ski as well as visit Santa then this is a great destination to choose. The stunning surroundings of Levi offer a perfect idyllic location for husky and reindeer safaris or snowshoe walks taking in the Northern Lights.
This small town also has plenty of restaurants, shops and bars whilst the famous snow village is around a 40 minute drive away and is rebuilt every winter with more than 15million kilos of snow.
Saariselka is located in northern Lapland, and you fly into Ivalo airport. If you are looking for an authentic Lapland experience then Saariselka is a great option, where you can combine a visit to Santa with snowmobile safaris, husky rides in the beautiful Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Other destinations include Yllas, Luosto, Karesuando and Pallas all of which offer unique and less commercial Lapland experiences.
What is the best age to take children?
You only have a relatively small window of opportunity with your kids for an authentic Santa trip. Finnish Lapland is further north than most of Alaska and young children might find it too cold with temperatures reaching -40 so it is widely recommended that the ideal age to take your children is between 5 and 9.
Which company to book with? How much will it cost? and how to get a deal!
There are lots of companies who now offer package holidays with direct flights from many UK airports to Lapland. Some of the major operators include Inghams, Tui, Thomas Cook, Transun, Newmarket Holidays, Magic of Lapland, Santa’s Lapland and Canterbury Travel.
Holidays to Lapland are not cheap. Prices fluctuate daily but on average for a family of 4 you are looking at costs of £2,000+ for a 3 night stay including flights, accommodation, breakfast and taster activities from the likes of Thomas Cook and Tui to £3000-£4000+ for all-inclusive packages from specialist companies such as Santa’s Lapland , Nordic Visitor and Canterbury Travel.
As well as checking the prices of a Lapland holiday on the websites of the companies mentioned above, it’s also worth checking the prices with the independent travel agents who specialise in Lapland holidays.
The prices offered by the independent agents can sometimes be cheaper than booking direct with the travel company for the same holiday. We used this method when booking our Lapland holiday and saved £400 with Hayes Travel by asking to beat the online price listed on the travel companies website.
Don’t rule out a 7 day ski package
If you can stay for longer we found that it can work out cheaper if you book a 7 night ski package from Crystal Ski or Inghams to resorts such as Levi, Saariselka and Yllas compared to Santa specific 3 or 4 night breaks.
When to book
If you book early you can take advantage of any early booking offers but if you can take a chance wait until the last minute where travel companies try and sell off their Lapland holidays at great discount.
Last year we saw last minute holidays for a family of 4 staying for 3 nights for just over £2,000 – compared to £3,000 a few weeks earlier.
The downside of waiting for a last minute trip is that availability to fly from your local airport or staying at your preferred hotel / resort in Lapland could be unavailable.
When to go?
The most popular time to go is in the run up to Christmas. The earlier you go the cheaper it is but if you go too early for example at the start to the middle of November there may not be enough snow on the ground to enjoy the activities especially further south in areas such as Rovaniemi.
If you are visiting before December it is worth checking with the local tourist boards to check when their winter activities start from because it’s typically from the 1st December.
Choose your Santa experience carefully
The lure of families visiting Lapland is to see Santa, and it was interesting to learn that there are lots of different Santa experiences on offer from the various travel companies. The main reason why you make this special trip is to make it as special as possible and different to what you would get in the UK.
On some of the trips Santa meets all of the children during a gala dinner at the hotel, which is not very personal, so if you want a more authentic Santa experience it’s worth checking what is on your itinerary.
On the trip we have booked with Inghams we visited Santa at his cabin on a private family visit which was amazing. However if we were visiting Lapland again I would look at booking an even more authentic experience such as visiting Santa at this cabin in an old Lappish Village – view the full range of experiences available to book in Levi here.
If you are really looking for a special Santa experience then a visit to Santa Claus Secret Forest Joulukka (16km from Rovaniemi) is regarded as the very best that you can experience when in Lapland with prices starting from 179 euro per person.
When you book a package trip to Lapland along with a visit to Santa, other winter activities are typically included in your itinerary such as reindeer and husky rides, and snowmobile safaris.
It’s worth checking what activities are on your itinerary before booking and if they are taster sessions which can be all over in 5 minutes compared to the full experience.
When we looked at the various package options available companies such as Inghams, Transun and Canterbury Travel tend to include longer experiences where as Tui and Thomas Cook just included taster sessions, with the opportunity to purchase full experiences from the reps whilst in resort.
This is something to factor into the cost of your trip as although Inghams, Canterbury etc are more expensive by the time you pay for the extra activities which for example can cost anything up to 400 euros for full husky experience, there can be very little difference in cost.
We have never been on a ski holiday but we have always wanted to, so a trip to Lapland provides the perfect opportunity to combine a Santa experience with a chance to learn to ski on the slopes at Levi, which we did and were perfect for beginners. (You can read about our ski day here)
As well as these paid experiences, children will enjoy playing in the snow or riding a toboggan which are free. Dependent on the date of your visit the Ice hotels at Kittilla and Rovaniemi look a really unique experience to visit.
Don’t forget that Lapland is a perfect location to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Staying in resorts such as Yllas, Levi or Saariselka which are located above the arctic circle are great for Aurora hunting, with organised excursions to see the lights.
If you want to book additional activities when in the resort it is recommended that you visit the local tourist information centre, who offer these at a much lower cost compared to what the reps from your travel company offer (apart from Inghams whose additional activities are typically cheaper than booking direct with the tourist information centre)
How long to go for?
To appreciate all of what Lapland has to offer you need to stay for at least 3 nights. We stayed for 4 nights and have near a full itinerary on each day including meeting Santa in his cabin in the snowy woods and making gingerbread biscuits with Mrs Claus, a husky experience, reindeer safari, learning to ski and a snowshoe walk.
What about a day trip?
On our Lapland booking experience we started off looking at day trips to Lapland lured into the guide price of just £349pp. The other benefit we thought was that we wouldn’t have to take the children out of school or take time off from work, which is why these trips are extremely popular.
However we decided against this option as it is a very long day especially with young children. Flights typically leave at around 6am for your 3.5 hour flight, you then have a few hours in the afternoon in Lapland where the activities are crammed together before flying back home 3.5 hours, returning back in the UK late at night on the same day.
If you don’t have the annual leave to have a few days in Lapland then a day trip is a good option, but with so much to see and do in Lapland you really need a few days to enjoy it and the short breaks are better value and less rushed than a day trip.
What about a DIY Trip?
You can save on the cost of your Lapland trip if you want to arrange flights, accommodation and activities separately, but it does take meticulous planning.
First of all you will need to arrange flights; luckily some airlines have started offering direct flights to Lapland, the downsides are if you are looking to fly direct from your local airport you are out of luck.
If you book with a travel company then they charter direct flights to Lapland so you can fly from local airports such as Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Bournemouth, Exeter, Doncaster, Sheffield, Stansted, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
When you arrange your own flights the only UK airports that you can fly direct to Lapland are Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham.
Norwegian Airlines has direct flights from Gatwick to Roviennini twice a week.
Alternatively you could catch an indirect flight, flying into Helsinki with BA or Finnair and catch a connecting flight to one of the airports in Lapland – Roviennini , Kittila and Ivalo (for Saariselka) .
If you do look at this option be aware that some of the flight times can be up to 9 hours because of the wait for your interconnecting flight.
When you arrive at Helsinki the other option is to catch the overnight train the “Santa Claus Express”. You can book a cabin for the family on this double decker sleeper train for your snow covered 12 hour journey north to Rovaniemi Lapland. For more information and latest pricing visit their website , children under 12 travel free if they share a cabin with a paying adult.
If you sign up for their Veturi programme for free you can also get an additional discount on your rail travel.
The other option is extending your holiday and have an overnight stay in the beautiful city of Helsinki before catching your flight to Lapland the next day.
Accommodation & Activities
Dependent on the type of accommodation you want (hotel, lodge,apartment) online travel agent (OTA) websites such as booking.com offer competitive rates. We always check the pricing with the hotel directly once we get a price from Booking.com or Trivago.
If it is showing as more expensive with the hotel directly it’s worth calling them or emailing them to beat the online booking websites price, which they typically will as they won’t have to pay any commission to the OTA.
This Finnish company also offers tailored packages of accommodation and activities.
Once you total up the cost of your flights, accommodation, activities, overnight stay if you are not flying from your local airport it’s worth comparing this to the prices offered from a package trip.
What clothes do I take?
The great thing about a package holiday from Inghams is that you don’t need to take your own ski clothes or boots as they provide it for you along with hats, gloves and socks. It’s not just Inghams that provide this, if you book with Thomson, Transun, Santa’s Lapland, Thomas Cook etc you also have these winter outfits – so check with your tour operator before booking to see what’s included.
As well as the provided outfits it is recommended to bring thermal underwear and socks, a base layer of moist wicking fabric and a warming layer of fleece tops and bottoms or woollen clothes with you.
Jeans are not recommended under your snow suit especially if you are spending a long time in the cold doing activities as you will get a lot colder quicker compared to wearing thermal leggings of tracksuit bottoms.
Another tip is bringing thin silk/thermal gloves to wear underneath your mitten gloves , a snood/balaclava and the little hand warmers. We found this great guide really helpful planning on what we need to take.
Where to purchase the clothes from?
Stores such as Decathlon, Trespass, Go Outdoors, Berghaus, Cotswold Outdoors, Boden, Blacks etc all offer a wide range of the winter clothing required for a trip to Lapland, and we tried out the new range of Berghaus clothing on our visit. As well as the specialist stores mentioned above you can also get thermals from Next, Marks and Spencer and the supermarkets including Aldi when they run their winter ski events.
Have you been to Lapland? Would you add to the list? Let me know below!