Christmas Bucket List: Santa celebrates mid-winter
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi

Santa & Snowmen - Your Lapland Christmas Bucket List

Looking for some inspiration for your holiday bucket list? A trip to Lapland at Christmas has all the fairy tale magic of the year’s best holiday amidst true Arctic wilderness.

Traveling to Finnish Lapland at Christmas tops a lot of bucket lists. And for good reason. The holiday spirit in Santa’s hometown reaches a fever pitch. The long dark nights in the north are perfect for adventures by lamplight, and the peace and silence of never-ending nature acts a counter-balance for all the stress–good and bad–that the holiday season can create. Here’s our bucket list of can’t-miss and can’t-forget Christmas experiences you can only have in Lapland.

1. Santa Knocking On Your Door

The windows of your cozy cabin in the heart of Santa Claus Village are foggy on one side, with ice flowers creeping up the other. Regardless, you can see colorful movement beyond, and you hear the heavy boots climb your steps. “Get ready! Get ready!” you tell everyone, casting one final look over the cabin. There’s a knock at the door, and you hear a deep voice give a jubilant laugh. You always expected him to come down your chimney, but here he is, at your front door, for an intimate meeting. You open it and Santa’s eyes twinkle. “Merry Christmas,” he booms, bigger and better than you ever imagined.

Christmas Bucket List: Santa knocking at your door
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi | Lapland Material Bank

2. Grab the Reins (of Excitement)

The dark forest breaks, the tall snow-crowned pines giving way to a frozen river, blanketed with snow. Santa’s helper pulls the sledge easily, and the local guide points to the western horizon, where the setting sun is turning the world incredibly pink. You take a deep breath of the cold, clean air and it brings a smile to your face. Northern Finland in December is so charming, more peaceful and relaxing than you imagined, bigger and wilder than you ever imagined. And here’s this antlered creature, happily pulling you through the forest, across the snowy river, and back into the thick pines.

Christmas Bucket List: reindeer sledge ride in Salla
Photo by: Visit Salla

3. A Steamy Finnish Tradition

Now you’re starting to see why Finns are the happiest people on Earth. As you throw another ladle of water on the dark sauna stove, you hear the others hiss in anticipation. The heat rolls over your head, and your ears glow. The warmth prickles your shoulders and works its way inside. After all the shopping, the wrapping, the gifts and phone calls and cards and driving, flying, bussing and walking around the ski village, there’s nowhere you’d rather spend Christmas evening than here among the pale wood, hot rocks and soothing steam of the sauna. “Throw some more,” you hear someone say among the steam.

Christmas Bucket List: sauna in Ruka-Kuusamo
Photo by: Ruka-Kuusamo

4. Stamped & Delivered

A post card is a simple thing. On one side, there’s the picture of auroras waltzing over a midnight snowscape, a reminder that you traveled here in Lapland. On the other are the words that say “Even here, I’m thinking of you.” The stamp on the post card is unique—you can only get it at Santa Claus Main Post Office on the Arctic Circle, another token of how special the recipient is. “Merry Christmas,” you write, dropping the card in the special mailbox—Christmas delivery only—looking forward to seeing their face next year when the card arrives.

Psst! Looking for how to write a letter to Santa Claus?

Christmas Bucket List: Northern Lights over Inari, Finland
Photo by: Jouni Männistö | Inari-Saariselkä

5. Meet the Elves of Lapland

Finnish Lapland is home to 180,00 people, 200,000 reindeer, one jolly St. Nick, and an unknown number of elves. Some of these elves are shy, and they spend their time trolling the forest, hiding behind thick trees and snoozing under snowbanks. But a select few are more than happy to welcome you to magical Lapland and to spend their Christmas alongside you, wandering the snowy trails, searching for fairy folk, or introducing you to the Finnish method of de-stressing by dipping yourself in ice-cold water after a long steamy sauna.

Christmas Bucket List: Meet the elves of Lapland
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi

6. Journey to Santa’s Magic Mountain

In the distance, you see the pointed ears of the fell rise, the location of Santa’s secret workshop. You want to press on, to feel the snowmobile rear beneath you, to feel the sharp air on your cheeks, but you know this is the end of the road. Santa’s elves need peace, quiet and solitude to do their magic work, the guide explains with a twinkle in his eye. Instead, you’ll spend the morning breathing the crisp clean air, enjoying the dark blue skies and a winter landscape from a child’s fairytale book. Good thing those are top items on your winter bucket list.

Christmas Bucket List: landscapes of northern Finland in winter
Photo by: Savukoski-Korvatunturi

7. An Enchanting Dinner

The exquisite ice sculpture in the center of restaurant watches over your dinner table like a guardian angel. In fact, she even has wings of transparent ice. Every breath rolls out in a cloud, which would normally be negative–but in a building made entirely of hard-packed snow and ice, it’s hardly surprising. Your meal comes, the warmth radiating from the grilled salmon, the smell of the roasted vegetables intoxicating. Across the table, he lifts his ice shotglass, and says, “To us. To Christmas. To Lapland.”

Christmas Bucket List: Ice restaurant in Rovaniemi, Finland
Photo by: Visit Finland

8. Sip Cocoa Among the Trees

The fire crackles, sending precious warmth to your face and your outstretched fingers. Beyond the fire lies a vast frozen lake, the wind whipping up little snow devils. You sip hot chocolate, admitting to yourself that you’ve never wanted a hot drink more in your life. Sitting beside you in the laavu, the guide tells you about the warm porridge you’ll have when you return to your cabin. The thought of the wind caressing your cheeks atop the snowmobile sends a little shiver down your back. Not for the first time, you feel like you understand Christmas a little better. More than smiling elves and brightly-wrapped gifts, this is a more primal holiday. The victory of warmth and light against the darkest days of the year.

Christmas Bucket List: winter campfire in Sodankylä, FInland
Photo by: Kota Collective | Visit Sodankylä

9. A Christmas Gift Like No Other

They say it’s the thought that counts. And after visiting Siida, the Sámi Museum and Nature Center, you want to choose Christmas gifts that reflect not only your visit to northernmost Finland, but the way your mind has expanded on this journey. You want to give books on lively Arctic cultures, stunning Sámi artwork and indigenous jewelry, gifts that evoke wonder, surprise, curiosity and inspiration.

Christmas Bucket List: display at Siida, in Inari, Finland
Photo by: Rauno Koivunen | Inari-Saariselkä

Christmas comes only one day a year, but winter lasts almost 200 days in Lapland! Check out some other great reasons to visit Finnish Lapland in the winter.