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How I Spent $480 In 48 Hours In Lapland, Finland (Aka The North Pole)

Because you’re never too old to live out your Frozen dreams.

Northern Lights, reindeer, and the home of Santa Claus — there’s something magical about Lapland that makes you want to “Let It Go.” The real-life North Pole — the sparsely populated northern region around the Arctic Circle that encompasses Finland, Sweden, Norway, and parts of Russia — is a rural wilderness, but Lapland’s festive capital, Rovaniemi, has developed a bustling tourism scene. Not only do families visit hoping to meet Mr. Claus, but adventure experiences like snowmobiling, ice fishing, and husky rides also make this trip one to remember.

I love Rovaniemi so much that I’ve visited this area three times, and I am planning a fourth trip. Winter in New York City is dark, slushy, and cold, but in Finland, somehow, cold feels different. Sure, it’s dark as you head to breakfast at 9 a.m. and the sun starts setting at 2 p.m., but those hours of daylight feel surreal. You’ll catch the sun glinting on the snow in a certain way, or you’ll see the beautiful orange streaks of a sunrise or sunset, and it just makes you happy. There’s also something so cozy about it being pitch black at 5 p.m. It makes you want to snuggle up, drink a warm beverage, and sit by the fire.

Visiting Lapland is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that can be $$$, but it’s so worth it. It’s also a different kind of vacation than other weekend getaways. For one, don’t worry about your wardrobe. What you need are layers — plenty of them. The first time I went, the trip made me realize the value of dressing appropriately for the weather. (Life is so much better when you’re not shivering in a barely there moto jacket.) Another thing to note: The food scene in Rovaniemi isn’t exactly bustling. (According to TripAdvisor, one of the recommended restaurants near Santa Claus Village is the gas station.) You’re going more for the vibes. So buckle up, pack some snacks, put on a (super toasty) wool hat, and let’s head north to Rovaniemi for a weekend.

Kaisa Siren/Shutterstock

Day 1: Friday

7 a.m.: Arrive in Rovaniemi

You can fly into Rovaniemi from the Finland capital of Helsinki, but IMO, it’s more fun — and cheaper — to take the sleeper train there. (Rates begin around $55 per person, one way.) The train cars have the option of a private cabin, including showers, and have fast WiFi; meal delivery; and a chance to kick back, watch the scenery, and sleep. By the time you wake up, you’ll be in a winter wonderland.

Cost: $55

8 a.m.: Check into your hotel in Santa Claus Village

There are a lot of hotels in Santa Claus Village, and staying on property can be the best way to experience everything Rovaniemi has to offer (plus you can walk to everything). The last two times, I sprang for a glass roof igloo accommodation within Santa’s Village. It was expensive, but the igloo came with an in-room sauna, plus an alarm system that would go off when the Northern Lights came out. Seeing the Northern Lights from your bed was next level.

You likely won’t be able to check in to your hotel yet, but you can drop your bags. Once you’re luggage-free, get in line to meet Santa at the Santa Claus office. Forget about all your other Santa experiences, forget about your age — this guy is legit. Lines get long, so do this early. You can DIY your photos for a free experience.

Cost: Uber one way to Santa Claus Village: $15

Igloo Hotel in Rovaniemi

Take some photos crossing the Arctic Circle, which is right in the center of Santa’s Village. It’s a line on the map, and the actual sign is NBD, but entering the land of the midnight sun is something cool to check off your bucket list. You can also head to the nearby Christmas House, where there’s another Santa Claus (don’t overthink it), and take some photos there.

Cost: $0

10 a.m.: Get an authentic Finnish breakfast

You’re probably starving. Walk back to the Christmas House breakfast buffet, which is at the entrance to Santa Claus Village. Finnish breakfasts are hearty and offer plenty of savory options, including salmon, meatballs, and cheese plates.

Cost: $25

Anna Davies

11 a.m.: Cozy up to some reindeer with s’mores

After breakfast, walk to the Elf’s Farmyard in Santa Claus Village. Pet alpacas, say hi to reindeer, and warm up in the authentic kota (Finnish hut) around the fire. If you’re craving something sweet, buy some marshmallows at the Elf Farmyard store and have s’mores.

Cost: $20

12 p.m.: Try out the sauna at your hotel and nap

Head back to your hotel. Most hotel rooms in Finland have a sauna, and after the cold, there’s nothing like stripping down and getting sweaty. If you’re feeling brave, try running out into the cold (roll in the snow if you’re extra brave) and then hopping back into the sauna. This is also the perfect time to sneak in a nap before all the night activities.

Kaisa Siren/Shutterstock

4 p.m.: Head out for your Northern Lights Hunting Tour

You’ve woken up from your nap, and it’s pitch black. Welcome to Lapland. Now, it’s time to head on an excursion. From snowmobile safaris chasing the Northern Lights to authentic Lapland sauna and ice swimming experiences to midnight visits with reindeer, the easiest way to experience the Finnish wilderness is to go with a tour group. You won’t get lost, and you’ll also be able to get the best pics.

It’s a good idea to do some research before you head to Rovaniemi. There are plenty of tours that take day-of reservations, but planning can help you find the best one. The tours can get pretty pricey, so just choose one or two that sound great and fit your budget.

One option I recommend is the Northern Lights Hunting Tour. Hop in a van and head to the best locations in the area to find the Northern Lights. These tours include snacks, plus time sitting around the fire and sharing stories with your fellow travelers.

Cost: $75

Alternative 1: Take a Night Snowmobile Safari

If you don’t mind spending a bit more, you can also drive through the forests and look for the Northern Lights. You need a valid driver’s license, and prices are for two adults to share a snowmobile.

Cost: $100

Alternative 2: Do a Lapland sauna, swimming, and Northern Lights adventure

Anna Davies

This option is a bit more expensive, but it’s one I recommend for anyone who wants something different. This experience drives you to a remote forest cottage. (I know, it sounds like the start of a horror movie, but hear me out.) There’s an authentic Finnish sauna onsite, alongside a pristine Arctic lake. They teach you the right way to sauna (warm up in the dry sauna before pouring water on rocks to create steam), and the juxtaposition of the warm sauna and the freezing lake feels amazing. Looking up at the stars and glimpsing the Northern Lights as you dunk yourself in water surrounded by ice is surreal. Plus, the experience comes with an authentic and delicious salmon dinner.

Cost: $175

Total for Day 1: $190

Day 2: Saturday

7 a.m.: Fuel up with a Finnish pastry

Take the free shuttle bus to the Rovaniemi town center. Head to Espresso House (the Starbucks of Lapland), and get a Christmas latte with a frosty winterbun as well as some snacks for later.

Cost: $18

8 a.m.: Hit the road

Santa Claus Village and its offerings are great, but the best way to experience Lapland is to DIY. In other words, it’s time to rent a car. While conditions can be snowy, the roads are relatively straight and kept clear, and all cars have four-wheel drive. Watch out for reindeer, and you’re good to go.

Cost: Rental car from Sixt, Rovaniemi City Center, $60


11 a.m.: Grab some snacks and explore Lapland by going on a winter wonderland hike

There are plenty of trails, hikes, and national parks in Lapland, ranging from gentle walks to intense all-day cardiofests. Many protected forest areas have kotas — Lappish huts — complete with firewood. One good destination to check out is Pyhä-Luosto National Park. You can rent snowshoes if you’re feeling adventurous, or just wander around and enjoy the scenery.

Cost: $20 for snacks

Alternative: Dig for gems

If you’re looking for something a little different and you’re willing to spend a bit more, drive to Luosto (about an hour and a half) to get to the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine. The Amethyst Mine gives you a chance to mine your own authentic Finnish amethyst. You also get a ton of photo opps along the way, as well as a ride in a special XXL snow vehicle. Hungry after your adventure? There’s a cafe connected to the mine, with doughnuts, coffee, fresh pastries, and a roaring outdoor fire to keep you cozy.

Cost: $100 per person

4 p.m.: Head on an afternoon tour to visit a reindeer farm

Anna Davies

Drive to Jaakkola reindeer farm and visit with authentic Lapland reindeer. Visits start at $30, but you can add on activities, including a reindeer safari, dinner, and even ice fishing.

Cost: $30

Alternative 1: Eat at the ice restaurant

Another option (if you don’t mind paying a bit more) is eating inside a restaurant made of ice (keep your coat on!) at the Arctic Snow Hotel. The prix fixe menu includes roast elk, salmon, chicken, or tofu. After, head to the Ice Bar and have a drink. Once you’re done, smash your glass against the wall. Why can’t you do that at more bars?

Cost: Entrance to ice hotel $20 + prix fixe dinner $80 + drink $20 = $120

Alternative 2: Do a Northern Lights reindeer hunt


Didn’t see the Northern Lights last night? No worries. Another option is trying to find them while on the back of a reindeer-pulled sleigh. This Northern Lights tour includes a Finnish barbeque, reindeer petting, and feeding reindeer their favorite snack — moss.

Cost: $100 per person

8 p.m.: Grab a quick meal and go to bed — because it’s dark

Sure, it’s 8 p.m., but it’s been dark for five hours. Drop off the rental car, grab an Uber or the free shuttle back to your hotel, and chill. Make sure you’ve downloaded a Northern Lights app so you can be alerted if any Aurora activity happens while you’re inside.

Cost: $15 for snacks

Total for Day 2: $143


9 a.m.: Visit Santa, Round 2

It’s your last day in Lapland, so it’s a great day to do one final walk through Santa Claus Village, grab photos with reindeer, grab a quick breakfast, and stock up on souvenirs.

Cost: $20 for breakfast pastries and coffee

Kaisa Siren/Shutterstock

10 a.m.: Live out your Frozen fantasies in an ice-filled wonderland

Hit Snowman World. An attraction within Santa Claus Village, this winter wonderland features ice skating, sledding, and a DJ spinning tunes at an ice bar. It’ll make you feel like you’re visiting Arendelle IRL.

Cost: $32 per person

1 p.m.: Explore and shop Rovaniemi

Grab your bags and head into Rovaniemi town via the complimentary shuttle bus from Santa’s Village. You have a train to catch back to Helsinki in the evening, and these are your final hours to explore. Grab lunch in the Sampoketus Shopping Center in the center of town. It’s also a great place to warm up and grab souvenirs that are less expensive than anything you’ll find in Santa Claus Village.

One souvenir hit for all ages: Anything Moomin. This cute little creature is beloved in Finland, and you’ll find him and his friends everywhere, and on everything, from T-shirts to wine glasses.

Cost: $0

3 p.m.: Visit the Arktikum Museum

This small, well-maintained museum highlights the life and environment of Lapland. My favorite exhibit is a nine-minute video called Polar Opposites, which is projected on the ceiling, with cushions angled on the floor for viewing. Take a nap; we won’t tell.

Cost: $20 per person

5 p.m.: Stock up on snacks

Head to the grocery store — any one will do — and stock up on Finnish snacks for your train ride home. Fun fact: Finnish grocery stores often have an entire wall of pick-your-own candy. Other Finnish treats to look for include nyhtökaura, a vegan oats and beans high protein combo; leipäjuusto, a squeaky cheese that tastes amazing with cloudberry jam; and korvapuusti, cinnamon buns.

Cost: $20

7 p.m.: Head to the train station

Make your way to the train station, which is walkable from the center of the city. You’ll want to get there in plenty of time, so you can charge your electronics, buy any last-minute snacks, and get ready for your overnight train back to Helsinki.

Cost: $55 per person

Total for Day 3: $147

Total for the weekend: $480