Conde Nast Traveller (November 2010)

Father Christmas in Lapland

Conde Nast Traveller (November 2010)

Elf-Help Tips

Taking the family to see Father Christmas in Lapland? You should all have a happy holiday if you follow these guidelines, says Nick Trend.

It’s an odd thing for children to go to see Father Christmas. He is, after all, the one who is supposed to visit us. But that certainly won’t deflect your offspring when they are pressuring you to take them to see the man in red. If you have already cracked, you need to start thinking about the trip soon. The season is a short one, and although last year – at the height of the recession – demand plummeted, this year the level of bookings is high.

But before you shell out at least £ 400 a head for the privilege of entering the grotto, it’s worth considering a few points. They could make the difference between a wonderful family holiday in an extraordinary winter landscape and an outing from which the children may return starry-eyed but which leaves you exhausted and exploited. These are the guiding principles.

1, Be Wary of Day Trips

The £ 400 I mentioned before is the typical cost of an itinerary which will require you and the children to check in at 5.30 am, take a three-hour flight to Finnish Lapland, be bussed around with 40 other people, queue for a 10-minute ride on a husky sled or reindeer sleigh, then gather around Father Christmas as his ‘post office’ which elves hand out tacky presents. After six or seven hours in all, you’ll fly home and land at 9pm or 10pm. That’s perhaps a rather harsh summary and 99 percent of children may well be delighted by the trip. But it can be so much better.

2, Make A Real Holiday Of It.

Finnish Lapland (nearly all Father Christmas trips go there) has a dubious claim to be Santa’s homeland: St Nicholas was probably born in Turkey. But it is a stunning destination in winter.  Once you get away from the towns, you enter a pristine landscape of snow laden forests peppered with log cabins and farmsteads. North of the Arctic Circle in December there are only a few hours of twilight per day as the sun scarcely skims the horizon; but a luminous glow fills the deep-blue skies and reflects off the snow fields. In this magical setting, heading off for a substantial trip on a husky sled or a reindeer sleigh really is a special experience. My own children remember driving the huskies more vividly than meeting Father Christmas.

There is also a good chance, given clear weather and a less-than-full moon, that you will see the Northern Lights, if you are lucky you get colourful displays which fills the whole night sky.

To do all this, you really need to spend three nights in Lapland, which will cost about £ 1,000 a head. But for that you will get a proper holiday for both you and the children.

3, Pick Your Destination Carefully

Another advantage of a three or four-day trip is that it allows time for a relatively long transfer from the airport to an authentic Lapland town, where you can be well away from the day-trippers. Yllas, which doubles as a small ski resort, is an excellent choice; but Harriniva, Yllashumina and Kakslauttanen are also good.

4, Ask About The Visit……

Exact arrangements for visiting Father Christmas vary. Sometimes he grants an audience to groups of children; sometimes they see him privately in his grotto; sometimes there is a sleigh ride through the snow to this log cabin. If you are really lucky he might even drop in at your cabin. You may have your own preferences. In any case, you should check with the tour operator before you book.

5, And The Presents

An integral part of the visit is the present, of course. These are not usually terribly inspiring; Barbie Dolls and Action Men perhaps. But some operators (Nordic Experience, for example) allow you to supply your own and slip it to an elf at the appropriate moment.

6, Watch The Budget

Before booking anything, be sure to check which activities and extras (such as thermal suits; see 7) are included in the price, Find out how much the things that aren’t included will cost. You won’t want to have to tell the children they can’t have a reindeer ride because you have run out of Euros or exceeded your credit card limit.

7, Wrap Up Well

Temperatures can vary enormously. I have experienced a temperature of -25C on a visit to Finnish Lapland. But more typically it is around -8C or -12C with little wind and clear skies. For outdoor activities you will need thermal suites, usually supplied by the operator or the organiser of the activity. But you must also bring good hats and gloves, and warm clothes.   

8, Choose a Quality Tour Operator

For good, not-too-commercial Father Christmas holidays, check out Nordic Experience ( ........ 

(Nick Trend , Conde Nast Traveller November 2010)