Wednesday 21 November 2018

How to see Santa in Lapland (without spending a fortune)

A trip to Lapland can cost the earth, but with these tips it doesn't have to, writes Nicola Brady

Santa Claus in his official hometown of Rovaniemi
Santa Claus in his official hometown of Rovaniemi
Santa with Rudolph. The magic only works when you believe...
Northern Lights in Lapland. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Husky sledding in Lapland. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Annu-Roosa, one of Lapland's enthusiastic guides. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Lapland
Photo: Visit Rovaniemi
Santa Claus Village. Photo: Visit Rovaniemi
Santa Claus waves in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland (Stock picture)

Nicola Brady

There’s no question that seeing Santa in his natural habitat makes for the holiday of a lifetime. But it can also come with a hefty price tag – a family of four can easily spend the guts of five grand on a three-night holiday.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done on a budget, though.

If you plan right, are flexible with dates, and skip some of the big-ticket activities, a trip might be more accessible than you would expect. Here are five tips that’ll help you get to Lapland, without blowing the entire Christmas fund…

1. Skip the charter flights

The official homeplace of Santa is Rovaniemi, in Northern Finland.

You have a couple of options when it comes to flights, the pricier of these being a direct charter route to the North Pole, operated by Aer Lingus and bookable through travel agents.

To save money, you can book a package with flights via Helsinki – the transfer is manageable and takes less than an hour (always check transfer times though – you don’t want to end up with a six-hour layover). All of the packages from ClickAndGo.com, for example, include these indirect flights, which is why they are priced more keenly.

Rovaniemi Airport is 10km from the city, with a shuttle bus to hotels for €7 per person.

2. Don’t go in December

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Santa Claus waves in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland (Stock picture)

For the best value, book a trip in November, January or February. But, really, who would want to see Santa after Christmas? Book a trip in November and you’ll kick off the Christmas cheer early (and knock a good few hundred off the bill).

If you really want to save the pennies, you can actually visit Santa’s village throughout the entire year (but, really, nothing says ‘miserly’ like a July visit to the North Pole).

More: Lapland: What's it really like to visit Santa's hometown?

3. Pack your own gear

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Santa Claus Village. Photo: Visit Rovaniemi

Book a more inclusive package, and all of your winter gear will be included (think Arctic snow suits, thermal kit and winter boots). But if you can borrow a bit of kit, or pick up a bargain before you head off, you’ll save yourself some cash. Aldi and Lidl both stock decent ski gear in the run up to the season and, let’s be honest, it’ll usually come in handy during the Irish winter, too.

That said, this is an area you don’t want to skimp on. Temperatures fall well below zero in the Finnish winter, and small kids feel the chill far more than we do. If you don’t have any gear of your own, and none to borrow from friends, then renting will often make more sense. A warm kid is a happy kid (and a cold kid is… well, not much fun).

More: Lapland: 'The most wonderful time of her life' in Santa's hometown

4. Make your own way to Santa

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Photo: Visit Rovaniemi

Surprisingly, it won’t cost you a penny to get into the Santa Claus Village (take that, €15 shopping mall Santa). Once you’re in, you can meet the man himself in Santa House, post your letter in the main post office, cross the Arctic Circle and see all of the exhibitions in Christmas House. All of which is completely free.

But be warned – you’ll be faced with a whole rake of sparkly souvenirs that the kids will likely be begging you for. Set a budget or give them an allotted amount of pocket money to spend.

More: 15 best Christmas Markets in Europe - your seasonal city break sorted

5. Consider the extra excursions

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Husky sledding in Lapland. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

It’s not all about Santa, ya know. While you’re in Lapland, you’ll want to partake in all the winter wonderland activities that are on your doorstep. And they mightn’t cost as much as you’d expect… a visit to the Husky Park within Santa Claus Village is €10 for adults, or €5 for kids (a ride will cost you more). You can visit Santa’s reindeers and take a sleigh ride with them for €18 (€14 for kids), or have a play on the icy wonderland of Snowman World.

But that all adds up. Decide what excursions the kids will really love, and which may leave them chilly and a bit miserable. Snowball fights in the park are free, after all, and when it gets dark early in the afternoon you might be as happy snuggling up with hot chocolate and a movie back at the hotel.

6. Do a day trip

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Northern Lights in Lapland. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Yes, it's hectic. But is is doable. TUI, for example, has day trips to Lapland departing Dublin Airport on December 8 and 15 this year, from €679/€589pp (adult/child). You can save €50 if you book online at tuiholidays.ie using the code WINTER.

3 packages for every budget

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Annu-Roosa, one of Lapland's enthusiastic guides. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
 

1. The DIY option

A quick look on finnair.com showed return flights to Rovaniemi for €409pp, from November 17 – 19 (there was a return available for €315pp, but that included a hefty layover in Helsinki, so be careful what you’re booking). I found a central apartment on lastminute.com for €376 for those two nights, based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing. Airbnb will also be an option. Total cost? €503pp.

2. The budget package

Clickandgo.com has a good variety of packages on offer, particularly if there’s only one adult travelling with a child. They have a three-night package for a grand total of €860, including flights and accommodation in the 4-star (aptly named) Santa Claus hotel, departing on Friday, November 2.

The blowout

Ah, feck it. They’re only young once, and they’ll be so well behaved in the New Year (…right?). Sunway.ie comes up trumps in the Santa department, and their two night package includes a whole rake of activities, like snowmobile safaris, husky sledging, elf school, winter weather gear and a lot of meals, as well as those direct festive flights from Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Knock and Shannon. The damage? Prices start at €1,329 per adult and €1,119 per child, for departure in December. sunway.ie.

Q&A: What should you pack (and not pack) for Lapland?

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Santa with Rudolph. The magic only works when you believe...

By Pól Ó Conghaile

What should we pack?

Think in layers. Start with thermals (long-johns or tights and long-sleeved tops), and bring good hats, warm socks and decent gloves for everyone. Arctic jackets and ski pants are an essential outer layer, but those travelling as part of an all-inclusive package will have snowsuits, boots, socks and fur-lined mittens provided.

Should we borrow or buy?

Unless you ski, as Nicola writes above, borrow wherever possible. We spent a small fortune on gloves and thermals, but saved elsewhere by borrowing gloves, hats and tops from friends who ski. Check Lidl and Aldi for ski sales before paying top dollar at outdoor adventure stores.

Any other small items to remember?

Lip balm or moisturiser helps with the dry air, and don't forget your driver's licence if you plan on driving a snowmobile.

Do we need hot water bottles?

No. Finnish interiors are super warm and cosy (in fact, some Irish visitors find the chalets a little too warm). In the evening, make sure to dry any wet gloves and hats.

Any tips for kids?

Bring hats with bright or unusual colours and/or patterns for children. Everyone looks the same milling around in identical snowsuits; different hats make it easier to keep track of your own.

Any morning tips?

Yes! It takes ages getting the kids suited and booted, so allow extra time to ensure you don't miss brekkie. Take showers in the evening - to warm up, and to avoid wet hair outside.

Any photo tips?

In December, daylight hours are scarce and the sun stays low to the horizon. Step out of any tree cover into full light to avoid shadowy, grey faces. If you have a GoPro, bring it for the activities, and don't forget chargers and adapters (continental, with two round pins).

Do I need travel insurance?

Always. If you travel a few times a year, annual, multi-trip family policies are better value than the once-offs offered by tour operators. Consider including winter sports.

Read more:

How to see the Northern Lights

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