The character of Santa Claus has always enchanted young and old ones and his magic has been handed down from generation to generation. The legend tells of this gentleman dressed in red who lives in the woods of Lapland and gives gifts to the most deserving children. Few people know that in Lapland you can really meet it. Although no one knows where he lives, for the rest of the year, when he does not have to bring presents to children, Santa Claus receives in his office near Rovaniemi the visitors who come to see him from all over the world. A real thematic village has grown around it, including a post office where the mails of children from all over the world are delivered. It is not difficult to imagine the great coming and going during the Christmas holidays.
How is it to meet Santa and what can you see and do in his village? In this article we will tell you about our experience.
The office of Santa Claus stands exactly on the line of the Arctic Circle (Napapiiri in Finnish), a few kilometers north of Rovaniemi, along the 66th parallel of north latitude. Inside the houses of the village you will find on the floor the line with the exact coordinates written, take the opportunity to take a souvenir photo (in fact, in winter, the outside line is not visible because covered by snow). Since 2010 Rovaniemi has been named the hometown of Santa Claus and being also the capital of Lapland, can be reached without difficulty from any part of Finland, whether by train, car, bus or plane; as a consequence the nearby village of Santa Claus is also easily accessible. We reached Rovaniemi with a 3 and a half hour bus trip from Ivalo (for further information you can read our article on how to travel in Lapland here); in fact, there is a bus stop (shaped like a wooden hut) right in front of the village.
Just we arrive, the emotion is so great, we do not know from where to start the visit, we imagine it as an enchanted place, out of time and the world, in which every day seems to be Christmas. Finally the frenzy of exploiting the few hours of light pushes us to explore the outside of the village first.
On a first visit we walk across resorts, restaurants, a farm in which you can play the sleigh ride with dogs. We note that the prices are half of what we paid (here only 60 euros per person) and after a small survey we find out that the sleds are conducted exclusively by the staff of the farm, it is not given to the guest the possibility to drive independently the dogs, a characteristic which in our opinion causes lose of half of the charm of this activity. We play in the snowy mountains like children, take a few photos, visit the farm and walking through the sledges we become friends with the dogs and dedicate some cuddles to them. There is not much else to do.
So we think it’s time to enter the village. Meanwhile, the blue lights of the polar night contrast with the yellow lanterns of the village and create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. We proceed towards what looks like the main building, a large wooden house, with the roof that seems an elf’s hat. Given the “Santa Claus” sign written on the front tympanum we realize that Santa Claus is here.
A few steps inside and our walking is blocked by the elves: to have an audience with Santa you have to book your access, or at least this is what happens in a very popular period as can be during Christmas time. So they give us a piece of paper on which is indicated the time of access, with which we must come back as indicated (in our case one hour later).
Finally our turn comes and we are ready to enter, but after that threshold is not yet done. After a few steps we find ourselves in queue with a lot of other people; inside, the location is rather artefaced in the awkward attempt to create an enchanted atmosphere, but in reality it seems almost being in a haunted house like those you can find in the lunaparks. The line runs slowly, in the meanwhile you can see the rolls of letters of children from all over the world, or the photos of Santa Claus with the famous people who came to know him; then there is a small desk to buy some souvenirs from the elves. At a certain point, the elves give each person a Ikea style bag, to carry with oneself and in which is mandatory to store own belongings: the jackets, the bags and anything you have in your hands, to be more practical and comfortable when meeting with Santa, thus reducing waiting times between one hearing and another.
Finally after about an hour in the row is our turn. A pretty elf asks us where we come from, goes to report it to Santa and a moment later lets us to pass: here the magic comes true, we are excited, the joy is read on our faces, for a while we believe to return children, until the spell is broken by what we see in front our eyes. The office of Santa Claus, represented as his welcoming home where he receives, entertains and talks with people, gives gifts to children and sings songs for them, is nothing more than a mere photographic set! Argh! A lot of expectation, a lot of enthusiasm and then banally a handshake with Santa, sitting next to him, greeting in our language and taking a picture…all this in no more than one minute time. Obviously it is very forbidden to have your own electronic devices because the picture can only be taken by the official photographer, from his fitted station. Leaving the office, or rather photographic set, we are led by the elves involved in selling the photos. For the modest sum of 40 euros they offer a photo, plus a zoomed photo and a mini video of the meeting, all in digital format (but you can alternatively buy only the printed version, saving 10 euros). Obviously we buy the photos because it is the only way to prove to the world that once in our lives we shake hands with the real Santa Claus. However, what we have bought must be downloaded directly from the Santa Claus Office website, where the purchase will be available within the next 24 hours. So not only do we leave disappointed, but still without having the coveted proof in our hands.
Once you have passed what was the most important stage of the day, we decide to visit the rest of the village. In our imaginary, in the official village of Santa Claus we would have expected to find giant Christmas shops with inside the most remote and unfindable Christmas decorations, a place where people come to bring home the most exclusive pieces to hang to the Christmas tree and things like that. Instead, even here we were disappointed. The village of Santa Claus is in fact full of other wooden houses with…souvenir shops inside, the one identical to the other, so if you have seen 2 or 3 of them is as you had seen them all.
What else is there in the village of Santa Claus? A series of attractions that make it almost a Christmas themed playground.
You will find several farms to play the sleigh ride with dogs or reindeer, unfortunately there is no way to approach the reindeer to stroke them and take a picture, but you can see them only from a distance. So the notorious Santa Claus reindeer, exploited to increase what is the expectation of the visitor, there are, but only available to who pay the (expensive) ticket for the sleigh ride. Then there is the Snowman World, a complex in which we have not gone too far to investigate because from the outside it seemed only a hill of snow from which to launch with the rafts; in a second time we discovered to be a hotel, activity center, restaurant and ice bar. Maybe the ice bar would have raised our mood a bit, but it was not so well marked. In fact the unclear signs were a further point against this place. Walking around, we found the Santa Claus Post Office. From the outside it seemed like another gift shop and tobacconist: there is nothing to see inside, just to make the kids happy you can request the postcard from Santa Claus directly delivered to your home or you can send the mails. If you want to impress your children with the history of the mail, the address to write is: Santa Claus, Santa Claus Post Office, 96930 Arctic Circle, Finland. They will receive it exactly here. Finally, it can be exciting to cross the Arctic Circle demarcation line, but you can not locate it on the outside because of snow, unless you know that all the lanterns outside Santa’s office are lined up along it. If you look up you will notice a thin wire made of lights that crosses the village and “enters” the main house…follow it and you will also find the famous parallel indoor. Obviously this thing has been exploited to make money and you can ask for a diploma as Arctic Circle visitor. For the rest, only other shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and activity centers. For more information, see the Santa Claus village website. We underline that there is not an entrance ticket to the village, you only pay for the activities that you decide to do. For example, if you refuse to buy the photo with Santa, you simply have met him with no expense.
Here we are at the end of our day at the Santa Claus Village. Honestly, it left us disappointed because we came with a very high expectation and instead we realized almost immediately that it is pure business mounted around the figure of Santa Claus. Obviously we do not want in any way with this article to dissuade our readers from visiting the village, indeed, it is one of the stops not to be missed in a trip to Lapland! Simply be disillusioned and go with the knowledge that everything is very commercial and exploited for tourism. If you have young children, they will love it and they will have a lot of fun, so, even more, do not skip this stage.
See you soon