Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus – and, even in summer, you're guaranteed a festive atmosphere! By Penny Bunting
Santa's busiest time of year may be December, but he works all year round. In his Lapland home he takes care of his reindeer, supervises the elves as they prepare millions of presents – and finds time in his busy schedule to meet with children (and adults!) to find out what they'd like for Christmas.
Near the Lapland town of Rovaniemi – the official home of Father Christmas – you can visit Santa, post a letter from his Post Office, cross over the Arctic Circle and soak up the Christmassy atmosphere whatever time of year you choose to visit.
The best way to arrive in this year-round festive wonderland – and the most environmentally friendly – is by train. There's something magical about setting off from central Helsinki, in the far south of Finland, being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train carriage, and waking up in Lapland the following morning.
Above: the "Santa Claus Express" overnight train offers comfortable, ensuite cabins
The cabins on the Santa Claus Express – as the Helsinki to Rovaniemi route is affectionately known – are compact but very comfortable, with bunk beds and a window to admire the extensive views of the forested Finnish countryside as you travel north. The advantage of taking this route in summer is that the long hours of daylight – in August, when we travelled, it never really got dark – allow you to enjoy these views late into the night.
In the train cabins, soft pillows and duvets, fluffy towels and drinking water are provided. There's also an en-suite shower and toilet. It took a bit of detective work to find the shower, which was accessed by pushing a lever that caused the sink unit to rotate – just like a revolving bookcase in a spy movie – revealing the shower.
When we stepped off the train at Rovaniemi we were instantly struck by a wonderful smell. The air quality in Finland is well known to be one of the best in the world – and after breathing in a few lungfuls of this lightly pine-scented, fresh air, we headed to SantaPark.
This Christmas-themed attraction, just a few miles out of Rovaniemi, is open year round and is a must-see, especially if you're travelling with children. One of the advantages of visiting in summer is that SantaPark is relatively uncrowded, so you can enjoy the festive atmosphere at your own pace.
SantaPark is housed in a vast cavern, directly underneath the Arctic Circle (and it's the only place in the world where you can cross the Arctic Circle underground).
A 200m-long illuminated rocky tunnel leads downhill from the entrance gates to the central hall – a huge space (which doubles as an emergency population shelter for up to 3,600 people) housing a café and stage. From here, further tunnels lead to various activities, rides and experiences.
Our favourite area was the ice sculpture gallery. Here, temperatures plummet to minus 10 degrees – but we were provided with warm, fleece-lined overcoats to keep off the chill. Alongside the impressive sculptures of Arctic foxes and polar bears were huge ice thrones to climb up onto – a great photo opportunity – and a vodka bar serving drinks in shot glasses made of ice.
Another popular area – especially with young children – is the Magic Train ride, featuring animated festive figures in a colourful trip through a snowy forest and into Santa's workshop.
There's also a bakery producing gingerbread, and craft rooms where you can create your own Christmas decorations.
Throughout SantaPark we were greeted by friendly elves. Some of these take to the stage in regular performances – a fantastic combination of magic and acrobatics – that can be watched while enjoying a hot chocolate and cinnamon bun from the café.
Above: a festive welcome all year at SantaPark
Above: impressive sculptures in sub-zero temperatures in the Ice Gallery
Above: magical scenes on the Magic Train
Above: friendly elves; ice bear sculpture; the big man himself
A visit with the big man himself is a must. “Visiting in summer means we have more time for a long chat and to take lots of photos,” said Santa Claus, when we met him. Taking a selfie with Santa was great fun, although we were persuaded to buy the official photo too – after all, it's not every day you get to meet someone so famous!
Letters to Santa
A few miles from SantaPark, Santa Claus Village is directly on the Arctic Circle and features a shopping centre with lots of shops selling gifts, Christmas decorations and Finnish souvenirs.
At Santa Claus Village you'll also find Santa's official Post Office. It's here that letters addressed to Santa Claus end up – he has so far received more than 18 million letters from 199 different countries. Some of these letters are on display – one is a 413m long letter written by more than 2,000 children from eight different schools in Romania.
At the Post Office you can send a postcard, with a beautiful Christmas stamp and official postmark – stamped by cheerful elves! Whatever time of year you visit you can choose to have your mail delivered just before Christmas by posting it into the special red post box.
Above: Letters to Santa at the Post Office
At Santa Claus Village you can also step over the line that marks the Arctic Circle – latitude 66°33′46.9″ N. North of this line, the midnight sun stays above the horizon and can be seen for 24 hours a day during mid-summer.
Above: cross the Arctic Circle
Lapland is a magical region of Finland, and Rovaniemi is the perfect place to start your Arctic Circle explorations – and enjoy a festive atmosphere, even in August!
Way to go
The overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi takes around 12 hours – check prices and book tickets on the VR website.
Where to stay
A few miles from Rovaniemi, and very close to the Arctic Circle, the Arctic Treehouse Hotel is a mix of luxury wooden lodges on stilts and larger Glass House cabins, all beautifully situated in a forest setting.
The Arctic Treehouse Hotel is just a short walk from SantaPark, so is an excellent place to base yourself if you want to explore the nearby Christmas attractions.
Green Adventures December 2017