If you had told me this time two years ago that we would be preparing to visit Santa in Lapland in December, I’d have told you that you were dreaming. However, that’s exactly what we’re in the throes of. And I’m going to tell you the most affordable way to visit Santa in Lapland with kids. I’m also going to tell you how we’ve bagged a 10-day trip for less than a 1-night trip to Lapland. Interested?
Taking your children on this fantastical visit to see Santa, particularly in December on the run up to Christmas, is the sort of trip parents dream about. They imagine the delight on their children’s faces when they come face-to-face with the big man himself in his actual home. It has always been considered the trip-of-a-lifetime, a bucket list destination, one that is usually out of reach for many people. There are lots of holiday agencies that cater for parents who wish to take their children to see Father Christmas in Lapland, and who can afford it. But the cost of some of those Lapland package holidays put many people off.
There are several options when it comes to going to Finnish Lapland to visit Santa from the UK. There are travel agencies who offer a one day trip to Lapland, and families often find this is the cheapest way to visit Lapland. But for a family of three, like us, this still costs a pretty penny at an average of £1300 for December. For a Lapland day trip! And to avail of this option, you’ll be facing a 6am-ish flight from Gatwick and returning to Gatwick around midnight. I don’t know about you but that is not the sort of trip I could face with a young child. Certainly not for that price. Plus, you’ll most likely need to add an overnight stay in an airport hotel both before and after your trip. For a family of four, that cost goes up to around £1740, depending on the travel agency you book with.
So, what’s your next option? Well, you could choose to do a 2 day trip to Lapland which would include a one night stay. Again, you’d probably be facing an early morning flight, and returning the following afternoon or evening. I looked into the cost of this for a family of three and the two quotes I got back for these Lapland packages were between £1797 and £2866*, depending on your departure airport and hotel accommodation. For a family of four that increased to between £2316 and £3176. I suspect you could buy a few Christmas puds and mince pies for that money!
And Lapland 2 night breaks were coming in at between £2257 to £3052 for a family of three, a family of four would be facing costs of between £2436 to £3436, again depending on your departure airport and hotel accommodation. So, you can see how these prices could be a bit of a shock for such short Lapland family holidays. Many families wouldn’t spend that much on a summer one or two-week holiday in the sun.
Now, what if I told you that you could visit Santa in Lapland for 4 nights, and visit the Finnish capital of Helsinki for 3 nights and still not spend as much as a one-night package holiday? Would you believe me? Are you thinking there is a catch?
Let me tell you, yes you can and no, there’s no catch.
My sister-in-law managed to visit Santa in Lapland on a budget two years ago and she has been the inspiration for us, and many others, to finally be able to make this trip-of-a-lifetime in a more affordable way.
So, how can you visit Lapland in an affordable way? By booking everything yourself. It may seem like a daunting prospect but it’s actually rather easy, you just need to be a bit savvy. And I’m going to share with you how we’ve done it and how much it’s cost us.
The most affordable way to visit Santa in Lapland with kids
The cheapest way is to avoid those package holidays at all cost. Book your flights and accommodation yourself and you’ll save a pretty penny. This is how we are visiting Santa in Lapland.
As we are now living in the Algarve in Portugal, we will be flying with TAP, Air Portugal, from Faro to Helsinki via Lisbon. There was no direct flight for us, so we have a transfer in Lisbon. The cheapest flights we found involved a 45-minute transfer on the way out and a one-hour transfer on the way back. When you’re travelling with a four-year-old, that is very, very tight.
So, the next price up gave us four hours for our transfers each way, which is much more doable, considering TAP are notorious for being late or delayed. The base cost of our flights was €524 (£468, exchange rate at the time of writing this post). However, as our flight to Helsinki is an overnight flight, we booked extra leg room seats so that BattleDad can try and be comfortable enough to catch some sleep. So, the total cost of our flights was €693 (£619).
Overnight Train – Polar Express
We arrive into Helsinki early in the morning and will be leaving later that night on an overnight train with VR to Rovaniemi, dubbed the “Polar Express”, arriving early the next morning. We have booked a two-berth cabin which cost us €196 for a return trip (£176, exchange rate at the time of writing this post). This would be the same price for a family of four with two children sharing their parents’ berths.
At the time of booking our train tickets the online payment system kept timing out on me. The Christmas timetables and tickets had just been released so there was probably a lot of people trying to book tickets at the same time. So, to make sure I could avail of the Saver Berth prices of €49 per adult each way, I rang the customer services line for the online shop (+358 800 166888), choosing option 3 for English, and spoke to a very nice lady who did the booking for me over the phone. She also sorted out the additional ticket for our son, which was free of charge.
What do I mean by free? Children under 10 can travel free in the same berth as a full-paying adult provided they are sharing the berth. So, if you are booking online, don’t book a ticket for your children (one child per full paying adult). Instead call the VR Customer Services and they will add your children to your ticket. If you book online, you’ll be paying more than you need to for under 10’s. There is breakfast of porridge included but my sister-in-law reliably informs us it’s not the nicest, so we’ll stock up before we leave Helsinki
VR Customer Services number is 00358 203 32033 and they have English speaking operators.
Accommodation in Rovaniemi
While there are numerous hotels in Rovaniemi, including one at the Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi, we have opted instead for an AirBnB. Not only do we get a one-bedroom apartment, but we get the flexibility of being able to cook for ourselves as Scandinavia is not known to be the cheapest for eating out or eating in hotels. With a one-bedroom apartment, we can put BattleKid into bed and relax for the evening after what I am sure are going to be very busy days taking in all of the amazing things to do in Lapland with kids in tow.
I managed to book a centrally located AirBnB in Rovaniemi for four nights which has cost us £477. Our host and I have had some messages back and forth, and she is already very accommodating and helpful. I have also discovered that the apartment is conveniently located within walking distance to some of the museums in the city, an Angry Birds Theme park and that there are regular buses to Santa Village and Santa Park from near our accommodation. There is also a large supermarket across the road, so we can buy food for breakfasts and dinners.
Accommodation in Helsinki
Again, I booked an AirBnB in Helsinki within walking distance to the central train station where we will be arriving after Lapland. Public transport in Helsinki is supposed to be brilliant so getting around shouldn’t be a problem. We are staying in Helsinki for three nights, again in a one-bedroom apartment and this has cost us £341. We’ll probably buy food for breakfast and dinner and possibly eat out for lunch.
Cost of our Lapland Trip so far
- Flights from Faro to Helsinki (via Lisbon, with bags and extra leg room): £619
- Overnight train return trip from Helsinki to Rovaniemi: £176
- 4 nights AirBnB in Rovaniemi: £477
- 3 nights AirBnB in Helsinki: £341
- Total spend for flights, train and accommodation: £1613
So, as you can see, although we are spending more than we would have if we were visiting Lapland for the day, we are still under budget for a 1-night or 2-night package trip and we’re getting much more out of the trip.
One thing to consider when arranging a DIY holiday to Lapland, you need to remember there will be some additional costs which are covered by a package holiday. You are responsible for having the appropriate winter clothing for this trip, whereas the packages provide the outdoor gear you will need. I know these are probably cleaned but personally I wouldn’t want to wear something someone else has. I bought lots of winter and ski clothing for us in the Go Outdoors sale in February (yes, it’s been booked since then) and have since bought additional items in both the Blacks and Tiny Trolls of Norway sale. We had to buy almost everything as we have no need for warm, arctic-winter clothing here in the Algarve.
Some meals may be included with the hotel, whereas organising a visit to Santa in Lapland on a budget means you’ll either need to cook or eat out. Also, there are some excursions included in the Lapland package holidays which you will need to pay for. Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, is free to enter but you need to pay for activities and the pictures and videos of your meeting with Santa. So, research what activities you want to do before you go (see below for a list of Lapland excursions).
Lapland excursions and things to do in Rovaniemi with kids
Santa – There are two ways to see Santa in Lapland. There is Santa Village where it is free to see Santa in his office but there are additional costs such as for your photo with Santa, reindeer and husky sleigh rides and sending a letter from the North Pole to someone back home. Or you can visit the underground Santa Park where there are activities with Elves and also a visit to Santa included in the entry fee. Plus, tickets are valid for two consecutive day’s entry.
Winter Safaris – Longer husky and reindeer experiences or safaris are available but the costs of these can be quite high so shop around. We have booked a husky experience with Bear Hill Husky and are really looking forward to it.
Snowman World – Located at the Santa Claus Village, Snowman World is a place to hug a snowman, see inside an Ice bar and restaurant and where you can try your hand at ice skating and snow tubing. All of the necessary equipment for this is included in your entrance fee.
Northern Lights Tours – one of the big draws to visiting Finnish Lapland is the chance to see the Northern Lights and there are many tour operators to choose from for a Northern Lights Tour from Rovaniemi. Just be aware that these usually take place at night after 9pm so really consider whether the cost of this trip is worth it with smaller children. We really wanted to book one but know our son won’t be able to stay awake too long after a busy day. So, we’re going to wait until our next visit. Visit Rovaniemi is one of the best places to check excursions, prices and book Lapland activities and experiences.
The Most Affordable Way to Visit Santa in Lapland from the UK
So, with all of that in mind, you’re probably thinking how much it would cost you to travel from the UK. Well, I’ve investigated the cheapest way to visit Lapland from the UK and there are two options.
Direct flights to Lapland
EasyJet are now flying direct to Rovaniemi from Gatwick twice a week on a Wednesday and Sunday. The flight leaves at 6.30am and returns to the UK at 20.25pm. For a family of three, a flight with no checked bags is costing £423, rising to £550 for a family of four (prices correct at the time of writing this post in August 2018). 1 checked bag of 23kg will add £52.48 to the cost, 2 checked bags will add £104.96.
Each seat-paying person gets one cabin bag with this saver ticket, the dimensions of which should not exceed 56 x 45 x 25cm (including handles and wheels). EasyJet do not weigh cabin bags, so as long as you can carry it, and the bag fits the dimensions, it’s on. But I’m not sure a family of four could do this trip with just cabin bags, considering you are bringing winter clothing.
Visiting Lapland via a Flight to Helsinki
There are a number of airlines flying from different airports within the UK to Helsinki, including British Airways and Finnair. Departure airports in the UK flying into Helsinki include London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh.
I checked the cost of a Finnair flight from Gatwick to Helsinki for the same dates we are travelling in December and the cheapest flights, with no bags, came in at £276.50 for a family of 3 (£356 for a family of four). The cost of flights with a checked bag per person was £394.50 for a family of three (£506 for a family of four). This option saw the flight leaving Gatwick at 10.20am, so no need for an overnight stay in an airport hotel, and leaving Helsinki on a return flight at 8am.
At the time of writing this post, AirBnB’s in Rovaniemi were between £76 per night for accommodation outside the city to £150 within the city. AirBnB prices in Helsinki were between £48 and £100 per night in the city.
Cost of Visiting Santa in Lapland from the UK
So, a trip from Gatwick to Rovaniemi direct would cost a family of three approximately £1024 for 3 nights (£1162 for a family of four), with one checked bag, staying within the city in a mid-priced AirBnB.
If you wanted to combine Rovaniemi and Helsinki, using the overnight train to get to and from Lapland, a family of three would cost approximately £1438 (£1550 for a family of four), all with checked bags, 4 nights in Rovaniemi and 3 nights in Helsinki in mid-priced AirBnB’s, and the return overnight train in a two-berth standard cabin, with children under 10 sharing the berth with their parents.
Trips to Lapland need not be the thing of dreams. There are more affordable ways of visiting Santa in Lapland than the package holidays. By booking a DIY trip to Lapland, you can not only save money, you can also stay for longer, visit two cities if you want and take things at your own pace. Remember, when going on a package holiday, you are at the mercy of their timetable and may not get enough time to really experience the best of Lapland.
You will also be with a whole host of other families trying to jostle for a spot at the front of the queue to see Santa or trying to get the same Instagram-worthy photograph in the same limited time frame as you. By DIY-ing your trip, you decide how long you want to spend on each activity and how long you want to stay at each destination. You can try beat the crowds by getting to each place at opening time, or you can wait until later in the day when the tour buses have left. You have more flexibility in so many areas and that to me is a no-brainer!
By combining Rovaniemi with Helsinki, you will also get to experience the overnight train, fondly nicknamed “The Polar Express” and while it is certainly not express at 12 hours, it will only add to the whole experience, particularly if you have a train fan among you.
I hope I’ve shown you that it really is possible to visit Santa in Lapland on a budget as a family.
So, what are you waiting for? Book a trip to Lapland using this post as a guide and make all your family’s dreams come true.
*Comparison of three of the top travel agencies who offer Santa Lapland Trips.
**All prices were correct at the time of writing this post (August 2018), and using the exchange rate on the same day (€1 = 0.8969 approximately).