Lapland was the epitome of Christmas for me as a child. The most enchanting, magical, joyful place... that I would never get to visit.
I was your typical Christmas lover – the type who woke up at 5am and didn’t want to go to bed on Christmas night because it meant the day was over. I pretended I saw Santa, refused to search for presents so I didn’t ruin the surprise, and begged my mum to get the tree up ever earlier each year.
In fact, my mum said she’d looked into taking me to Lapland when I was younger but that the costs meant it wasn’t feasible. So when, last month, at the age of 28 and with my feelings towards Christmas pretty much unchanged, I got the opportunity to go, I had to squash the urge to jump up and down and squeal.
This ultimate winter wonderland is known for its endless subarctic wilderness, ski resorts and, of course, for being the home of Santa Claus. Families swarm there every year to revel in the festive mood, hoping to bring that merry feeling back to the UK for their own Christmases at home.
Lapland itself is pretty far away – in the north of Finland. I left London, giddy as a child, at 7.30am. We flew three hours to Helsinki, then took an internal flight to Ivalo (Rovaniemi is the most popular airport for Lapland; Ivalo is slightly further north) before we were bustled on to a coach, arriving at our hotel around 8pm. Despite widespread reports of a lack of Lapland snow in the days leading up to my getaway, I can confirm there most definitely was snow. And lots of it.
I’ll tell you one thing about Lapland in November: you think you’ve packed enough layers to keep yourself toasty warm (thermal leggings layered upon thermal leggings, under trousers, with three thermal tops and two pairs of socks, plus a scarf, gloves and fluffy ear muffs) – and then you step outside. We’d been warned about the arctic temperatures, but it didn’t soften the shock of just how cold it was (minus 16 degrees the night we arrived).
But let’s get to the crux of things – Lapland is as idyllic as you’d imagine. I’m talking views for daaaaays, Christmas trees dusted with snow, and sparkling fairy lights wherever you look. It genuinely felt like I was in a movie set – that picturesque winter scene you see in all the Christmas books and films.
Nestled in northern Finland is the village of Saariselka, home to Santa’s “office” and the Star Arctic Hotel where I was staying, a cluster of cosy wooden lodges – some with glass roofs so you can look out for the Northern Lights while lying in bed. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that I might see the Northern Lights on my trip. I’d been to Iceland a few years before, thinking that was *the* place to see them, but had no luck.
The pretty spectacular natural lights are visible roughly 200 nights a year in Finland, and the first night we arrived was one of them. Shortly after dinner (and while choosing our arctic suits for the next day), someone yelled they could see them outside the hotel. With my arctic suit under my arm rather than actually on me, I ran outside and saw the striking green lights peeping behind the clouds.
I felt overwhelmed if I’m honest – not just at its abstract beauty, unlike anything I’d seen before, but also because I was in Lapland (!) witnessing one of the natural wonders of the world, completely unexpectedly.
Another experience that’s weird yet wonderful: daylight or rather the lack of it.
A foggy dark mist surrounded my window when I woke up the next morning at 7.30am. I ate and went back to my room – it was still dark. I got ready for the day and went back to reception – still dark. That’s the thing with Lapland in winter: the sun rises around 10.30am and sets about 1.30pm, meaning you only get three hours of daylight each day.
You can’t go to Lapland without heading on a hike to take in the breathtaking views. We trekked across the village of Saariselka in our arctic suits, arctic boots, winter gloves and thermal mittens (I was, dare I say it, actually warm).
Every direction I looked, the panorama was as beautiful as the last – so much so that I had to pinch myself, as much as I could through my layers, to check I wasn’t looking at a picture I’d seen in on the TV thousands of times.
When I saw the sun reflecting on the snow an hour into the walk, I couldn’t work out if it was rising or setting. I was soon told it was getting ready to set – at 12.30pm. It made for some beautiful pictures, and at one point we even saw the sun setting on our left and the moon rising on our right before lunch.
The food in Lapland, Finland, is... interesting. During my three day stay, I tried air-dried bear, reindeer and goose liver terrine. Finnish meals are typically drawn out over a few hours with multiple courses of small dishes – and with food that sounds rather odd but tastes pretty good. I embraced it and liked (most of) it.
Europe’s longest toboggan run happens to be situated right in the heart of the village we were staying, so of course sledging was on the agenda. Trudging up a slope with heavy arctic boots in deep snow is exhausting and I even got a sweat-on, but the sledging was fast, fun, and a must-do – even if you do end up falling out half-way down and rolling down instead.
We ventured into the centre of Saariselka for dinner – a small, toy-like village with a selection of shops and supermarkets. We didn’t make it to Santa’s dedicated village, but seeing as we were close to him that evening he paid us a visit at the restaurant.
I don’t know about you but I believe and Santa – the most Santa-like Santa I’ve ever seen – got a room full of adults totally sucked into his festive spell. I’m talking long queues of people waiting to give them their wishes, including me.
Wrapped up in Christmas traditions, I reverted back to my eight-year-old self. Time in Lapland is time to treasure – the place spreads cheer on everyone who visits and it felt almost impossible not to be excited for the month ahead.
It’s a place where you’ll see reindeer wandering the roads, idyllic trees sprinkled with snow and friendly faces wherever you look. People in thick fur coats zoom past you on snowmobiles, there are endless conversations about the cold weather and, best of all, the feeling that it’s okay to grab a drink and sit in front of the fire at 4pm because it’s dark outside so it’s totally allowed, right?
This piece was written as part of a trip to Lapland, Finland, with Huawei for its Mate 20 Pro.