Think what you might about a tourist attraction based around the delights of meeting a child-loving old man with a long white beard dressed in a red suit, the Santa Claus Village is one of Finnish Lapland’s most visited sites.
Located smack bang on the Arctic Circle, an imaginary line drawn around the globe at latitude 66° 32’ 35”N, it is easily accessible from Rovaniemi along Route 4 or by daily bus 8 (€3.50 one-way; 30mins; every 45mins), which leaves from the railway station and then calls at several stops in town, each emblazoned with an Arctic Circle/Santa Claus logo.
The first thing most people want to do when they arrive here is pose beside the Arctic Circle sign, which is located between the car park and the main entrance, and take lots of photographs. Give yourself over to this indulgence and snap away – it is one of the few signs marking The Circle, which is labelled in six different languages, though tellingly, not one of them is Sámi.
From here it is a short walk to the main building, Lahjatalo, which also goes by the name of the Santa Claus Gift House. Inside, on two floors, you will find a number of souvenir shops selling everything from T-shirts to reindeer skins in addition to a couple of cafés serving coffee, cakes and light snacks. It’s also here that you will find an information desk with helpful staff who can help you out with any queries you might have.
The low building with a central tower immediately behind the gift house is where Father Christmas himself hangs out inside the Santa Claus Office. Here, if you form an orderly queue, you can enter Santa’s grotto and come face to face with the big guy with the beard. Whether you have children in tow or not, it is actually quite a fun thing to do – even if it is only to marvel at how the Finns have pulled off this masterpiece of self-promotion. Hidden among the trees behind the Santa Claus Office, you will find a reindeer enclosure where, if you’ve just jetted in, you are likely to get your first sighting of Lapland’s best-known animal – though only between early December and early January.
Having placed your order for a new Ferrari next Christmas, head out the door of the Santa Claus Office to your left and cross the courtyard to the other building with a tower, the Santa Claus Post Office, where you can leave your name and address for the dubious pleasure of receiving a Christmas letter from Santa. If you still haven’t had your fill of Santa, you can head off to the Christmas Exhibition in the building immediately behind the post office, where there’s more information than you could ever hope to digest about Christmas traditions as well as centuries-old Christmas customs in Finland and elsewhere in the world – though, to be honest, you’ll probably be suffering from Santa-fatigue by this stage.