Having spent the last five Christmases abroad, family travel expert Erin of Explore with Erin knows her Christmas bucket-list destinations. From snowy Romania to churches in Bethlehem, Finland tops the cake. 

The queue of excited families wrapped around a giant, shiny wrapped presents and oversized candy canes like a snake hoarding sweets. The kids didn’t seem to mind since the warmth of the building was matched only by the warmth of the season. Christmas music filled the air, children squealed in excitement, and the queue inched steadily forward.

It wasn’t long before we stood before the giant wooden door. Nervous, shaking, sweaty palms. An elf whispered excitedly in the kids’ ears.

The time had finally arrived.

The door swung open, and as we stepped through we were blinded by spotlights. A few magical blinks revealed behind the lights the fattest, jolliest Santa we’ve ever seen. As a welcoming gesture, he extended plump, smooth hands. Cheeky, twinkling eyes, set behind white hair that for all intents and purposes was both real and snowy, met ours. His jolly laugh filled us with cheer as the kids ran to greet him. Of the 20 languages Santa spoke fluently, he instinctively communicated the right one directly to my children. And that’s when they knew.

He was the real Santa.

Far north of Helsinki, Finland is a magical place. Sure, it’s dark most of the day and cold all winter, but the Arctic ambiance only adds to the magic and wonder of Santa’s homeland, Lapland.

Celebrating Christmas is easy in Rovaniemi with our three favorite activities.

All Things Santa

As our experience proved, Santa is real, and his office resides just outside of Rovaniemi, a city just along the Arctic Circle, at Santa Claus Village. There is no cost to enter Santa Claus Village, a large open park area with a variety of attractions, each set at its own price. Options include a reindeer ride, a kid-friendly snowmobile drive, snow tubing, a large outdoor playground (free), and so much more.

It’s well known that Santa’s home is much further north and pretty much inaccessible to us regular humans. So Santa established his office here in Rovaniemi. Alongside his office (where you can meet and greet Santa) is his official post office, where you can gape at the numerous pigeonholes, each dedicated to a particular country where any child’s Santa-intended mail gets deposited. Take your time to fill in your own letter to Santa, or send a Christmas card to friends and family anywhere around the world.

If you are still pining for more Santa, then head to Santa’s Park, where you cross the Arctic Circle underground via a brightly colored tunnel. This indoor attraction also has its own Santa Claus to meet, plus an elf school, a gingerbread-making workshop, and an Angry Birds-themed playground. After a day out in the cold exploring Santa Claus Village, it’s nice to be inside for a little while.

How Many Reindeer Can You Spot?

With over 200,000 reindeer calling Lapland home, your chances of spotting one are pretty good. Better yet, visit one of the reindeer farms for your Christmas sleigh ride through the magical Finnish forest.

You might even like to feed a sweet, pure white reindeer . . . or if eating reindeer is more your style, check out the restaurant Nili for some of the best reindeer dishes in town.

Spend an Evening With the Elves

Joulukka’s Traditions of Christmas is the perfect way to spend Christmas—an evening you will never forget. You are whisked away deep into the Finnish forest to learn how to become one of Santa’s elves. An elf team will reveal the trade secrets of being the perfect Santa helper, including peeking through windows, cooking special treats, decorating gingerbread cookies, and crafting Christmas decorations. Then afterwards, head outside to search for the perfect Christmas tree and decorate it with tinsel and baubles.

The elves never break character. They are enchanting, magical, and everything Christmas should be.

If you want a bucket-list Christmas destination, Rovaniemi is it.

Erin Bender of Explore With Erin is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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