Santa Claus sights and attractions in Lapland

Christmas in Finland is more than a tradition: Since it is the place where Santa Claus lives, Finnish people take Christmas pretty seriously. Today we talk about three sights and attractions that feature Santa Claus in Lapland, the north of Finland. All of these sights can be found in the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Santa Claus Village

The first attraction is situated 8 kilometers north-east of Rovaniemi, and close to the airport. It is the Santa Claus Village (official website). You can get there from the city center as well, taking the bus number 8 from the train station.

Outside Santa Claus village in Lapland
Santa Claus Village, seen from outside. Source (CC: by).

It is open the whole year and offers different attractions:

  • Visit the Arctic Circle line. A line on the ground marks this geographic line of the Earth. Above this line, there is at least a night a year that lasts 24 hours, and a day per year where the sun doesn’t set for 24 hours.
  • The Santa Claus post office in Finland: a shop with Christmas products and Christmas cards. You can send your mail from there with a stamp of Santa Claus, and you can specify the day that you want the mail to arrive (for instance: next Christmas), independently from the day you were there.
  • Santa Claus’ office in Finland, where he receives guests and chats with them in different languages, since he speaks many languages (English, of course, included). You can take a picture with him and take it with you as a great memory.
  • Other attractions: in the village you can find several shops, restaurants, and even “Miss Roosevelt’s cabin“, since the wife of the former president of the USA Franklin Roosevelt was the first tourist to the region of Lapland. There is also a Christmas exhibit that shows how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world, with movies and objects.

The line of the Arctic Circle
The line of the Polar Arctic Circle. Source (by-sa).

Joulukka: Fairytale of Christmas

Joulukka (official page) is located in the middle of a forest 16km from Rovaniemi. It is said to be one of Santa’s best kept secrets in Finland. Out of the three places where you can see Santa Claus sights and attractions in Lapland, this is the newest and the one with the highest prices. Up to now the elfs – Tonttu in Finnish language – made sure that nobody was able to find it, because it’s the place where the Command Center of Santa is located: The place where he carefully plans his trip on December 24th.

Another sight and attraction of Santa Claus in Lapland: Joulukka

In this Santa Claus attraction in Rovaniemi you can do different activities depending on the program you choose. Each of these programs are suitable for different group sizes and focus on a subset of the whole Joulukka. For instance, some of these programs – that last between 1 and 4 hours and that almost all end up with some traditional meal in Joulukka – are:

  • Joulukka Christmas Special: A route with the elfs through the forest, where you can find different magic animals and creatures.
  • Santa Claus Safari “Dream of Joulukka”, where you can learn how to make Christmas decorations and gingerbread cookies. At the end of the activity you’ll get a certification from the Santa Claus school.
  • Exclusive Private Meeting with Santa Claus, where you can find out how elfs live. They will guide you through the forest to the Santa Command Center where he monitors how good people have been, and you can meet him.

The Santa Park

The Santa Park (official page) is another popular attraction about Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. The park is designed to look like his cave residence. The visitors of the Santa Park descend through an impressive portal that leads them through a cave into the mountain.

Santa Park's entrance
The entrance to the Santa Park. Source (CC: by-sa).

Going through Santa's cave
Getting inside the cave. Anything to meet Santa Claus in his Lapland home! Source (CC: by-sa).

What you can find inside this sight of Santa Claus in Finland is:

  • The Elf Show, the Elf School and the Elf Workshop: different workshops to learn about the life of the Tonttu, the elf helpers of Santa. You, as an apprentice elf of any age, will learn how to make Christmas decorations, behave like a good elf, or simply relax watching their show.
  • Santa’s Workshop: We should not forget to pause a moment to say hello to Santa Claus and personally hand him our list of wishes.
  • The Ice Bar and the Ice Gallery: Like many other ice bars in the world (many of them inside ice hotels in Finland), this is a place to rest and enjoy some pretty cold drinks. You can also meet the Ice Princess and enjoy all the ice sculptures that are on display.
  • The Gingerbread Kitchen: The kids can decorate gingerbread cookies made by Miss Noel, and in the meantime the parents can have a glass of glögi, the Finnish Christmas drink.
  • The Sleigh Attraction: Riding a sleigh, you go through the four seasons of Finland, and you also visit the elf workshop, where you’ll see them working because everything has to be ready for December 24th.
  • The post office: Similar to the one in Santa Claus Village, you can also send your best wishes from this office, and leave your wish list to Santa.

Santa Park is located 9km north of Rovaniemi, and you get to it with the bus number 8 too (this bus is known as Santa’s Express). The Santa Park was named “Best Adventure Destination in Finland” in 2007 and 2008.

Sending your letter to Santa Claus

We did a post about sending a letter to Santa Claus, with the right address and some tips, but it is always good to remember the address: Santa Claus, 96930 Arctic Circle, Finland.

Post office at  Santa Park
The official post office of the Santa Park. Source (CC: by-sa).

Have you visited some of these sights and attractions of Santa Claus in Lapland, the north of Finland? What did you think of them?

Kaamos: the Polar Night in Finland

24 hours of darkness. Something that is impossible to imagine for most people in the world. But it happens every year in Finland, and people that go traveling to Finland during the winter will experience it. I never really had to face Kaamos, the Polar Night of Finland, but I did have to face lots of nighttime per day, which was very unusual for me.

Plants under the Polar Night
Finnish flora during the moment with most light of the Kaamos. Source (CC: by).

Polar Night: the longest night

The weeks around the winter solstice, 21st of December, are objectively the darkest time of the year. The days – the time with daylight – are short. Furthermore, before Christmas time, it is quite possible that the snow didn’t fall yet: The streets don’t reflect the light, which makes everything seem even darker.

I remember my first days with only a few hour of daylight in Finland, when I used to count the hours of light per day. I woke up and it was dark. I took my bike to go to the center and the sun started to rise slowly. Later on, at 15h or so, it was night again. 5 hours of daylight per day in the Joensuu winter.

Anyway, we were lucky: We were in Central Finland and, being Spanish as I am, 24 hours of nighttime would have been too much. Pretty nice as an experience of a couple of days, but bad to live it like that for a whole winter or more.

But that’s business as usual in the North of Finland: They have the Polar Night and the Kaamos if they live above the Arctic Circle line. And a lot of nighttime if they live below.

Kaamos in Finland
The Kaamos – the Polar Night – seen from a Finnish cottage (a mökki). Source (CC: by).

The Kaamos

The Kaamos, also known as the Polar Night, is the time of the year where there are at least 24 consecutive hours of darkness. Kaamos can be long in the North of Finland (up to two months), and brief – just a day – when staying on the Arctic Circle line.

Why is the Arctic Circle so important for the duration of the Kaamos? Because this imaginary line marks the place where the sun won’t rise at least one day a year, and won’t set at least for one day a year. In summer this phenomena is called Midnight Sun (24 consecutive hours seeing the sun), and the Polar Night is just its opposite.

Kaamos in the North of Finlandia
A Finnish road during the Kaamos time of the year. Source (CC: by-sa).

But the fact that it is dark for at least 24 hours doesn’t mean that the sky is always black. Around noon there is a twilight – the clarity in the sky before the sun rises – with the particularity that the sun never actually rises. In this moment a magical shade of blue takes over, and – especially if everything is covered in snow – everything seems to glow with a blue color. A brief, true blue world.

Also, during the Kaamos and the cold weather, in the North of Finland you get to see a lot of Northern Lights. It truly is a great time to visit Finland.

Finnish village during the Polar Night time
This Finnish village doesn’t see more clarity than this during the Polar Nights of the winter. Source (CC: by).

Have you been so lucky to see the Polar Night? What did you feel during the brief moment of clarity of the Kaamos?

What to do in Helsinki – 4 low-cost activities

Flying to Finland – depending on where from, of course – can sometimes be pricy. That’s why it’s always a good idea to know what to do, in Helsinki especially, that won’t need us to spend a fortune once we’re there.

In this list, we present to you 4 big ideas of what to do in Helsinki on the cheap:

Visiting parks and churches

Helsinki’s surface is one third green parks, and if you have driven in Finland you’ve surely noticed that the country is almost entirely a forest. There are 11 big parks just within in the city of Helsinki, and these parks were built at different times over the past centuries. Each one follows the park-building canons of the times when it was built, which makes visiting them a history lesson on its own.

With so many parks, you know that there will always be one nearby to have a seat, relax and admire. These are the parks within the city: Helsinki Central Park, Eläintarha, Esplanadi, Helsinki University’s Botanic Garden Kaisaniemi, Kaivopuisto, Korkeasaari, Kumpula Allotment, Linnanmäki, Tuhkimo, and finally Uutela. Also, don’t forget to check out the Winter Garden (address – Hammarskjöldintie 1), the botanical garden of Helsinki, which has no entry fee.

What to do in Helsinki: walk the Esplanadi park
The Esplanadi park, a popular spot in the center of Helsinki. Source (CC: by).

If you are into this particular kind of park, the amusement park of Helsinki also has no entry fee. It has 11 free rides and the rest have a small additional charge. Nonetheless, even without taking a ride on any of the attraction, it’s a great place to hang and meet locals.

Another thing that could answer the question of what to do in Helsinki includes a visit to one the city’s famous churches and cathedrals. For example, there’s the überdesigned Chapel of Silence. It has free entry as well and its design – as well as the materials it was built with – is spectacular. In addition, there are three more iconic churches in the city: Temppeliaukio (Lutherinkatu 3) – also known as the Church of the Rock – the white Helsinki Cathedral in the Senate Square, and the reddish Uspenski Cathedral, located near the market square. The last two of these churches lie in the main center of Helsinki.

What to do in Helsinki: visiting churches
The Temppeliaukio church. Source.

Helsinki museums are free

Helsinki has 7 big museums (the city Museums website has addresses and opening times), all of which are free of charge.

Other kinds of museums that don’t belong to the city museum network also have free entry at certain times. For instance, the Kiasma contemporary art museum, located at Mannerheimplatsen 2 can be visited for free on the first Friday of every month, between 5 and 8:30 p.m. The Museum of Cultures is also free.

And if you ask yourself what to do in Helsinki with the kids, there’s always the “Children’s Town”, where they can run free in a historical setting. It has shops decorated in the stlye of the XVII century, schools from the last century and much more to discover. It is inside one of the 7 museums in Helsinki, at Aleksanterinkatu 16–18.

What to do in Helsinki: Museums
Children’s Town is here. Perfect for visiting Helsinki with the family. Source.

What to do in Helsinki: free music

If the answer to the question of what to do in Helsinki has for you the word “Music” written all over it, the El Espa Stage is a good place to start. It’s in the Esplanadi park and is a space where each year between May and August, around 200 groups from Finland and abroad gather to play their music. With plenty of different music styles on offer, artists that are just getting started as well as some more established ones play in this relaxed and green scenario. On its website, you can check out all of the related events.

On the other hand there’s also the Helsinki Music Centre (Mannerheimintie 13A), or the Finlandia Hall (Mannerheimintie 13E), the latter designed by Alvar Aalto. It’s true that for these, you will have to pay an entry fee for the concerts, but you can check out their impressive architecture from the outside…

And two very cheap touristic tours

What to do in Helsinki: take the tram
A tram in Helsinki. Source.

If you want to visit everything in the center of Helsinki in the easiest way, tram lines 2 and 3 let you do just that.

In 1 hour, the tram goes through the city’ most recognizable spots. It isn’t free, but almost: it costs around 2 Euro and follows the honour system of public transportation of Helsinki (meaning that there are no barriers to entry, but that your ticket can eventually be checked).

Another great tour is taking the ferry from the Market Square and going to Suomenlinna island, a world heritage site that is definitely worth your time, and features a very well kept old fortress that used to defend the city in the early XIX century. The cost is the same as the tram if you take the public transport ferry, or you can go with the HKL ferry line for €3.60 return.

Do you have another recommendation for what to do in Helsinki that is cheap, low cost or free? Help us out with your favourite Helsinki tourism tips in the comments below.

How to photograph the Northern Lights

We already spoke about the Northern Lights a couple of times here at Big in Finland. For instance, we told you about the forecast and predictions to not miss them if you are in Finland. We gave you the, statistically proven, list of best places to see them in Finland and Lapland and the best moments of the year. But once you are there and actually seeing the Northern Lights, what you probably want to do is to snap a great photo. And since now is one of the best times of the year to see them, here it comes: a guide on how to photograph the Northern Lights.

Photographing the Northern Lights

I haven’t been so lucky to see the Northern Lights yet. The only time that this phenomenon happened while I was in Finland, I was sleeping and I missed the chance. What a pity, I think every time I remember it. Since it’s one of the things I still have to do, I want to be prepared and I want to know how to photograph the Northern Lights in the best posssible way.

I am not the best photographer – in fact I am more drawn to Polaroids lately than to digital cameras. I went from having a half-decent fixed-lens camera to simply snapping photographs with my Nokia 625 (with which I am quite content). But when I finally encounter the Aurora Borealis, whatever camera is at hand, I want to be able to put the right settings to the camera in order to take the best possible picture.

Now that the Spring equinox, one of the best moments to see this phenomenon, is approaching, I thought it to be a great time to write this post. Let’s go.

This Northern Lights photograph was made with 30 seconds of exposition, f/2.8 and a 160 ISO Source (CC: by-nd).

The recommended settings: how to photograph the Northern Lights

The number one advice is of course to have a tripod. The Northern Lights are only seen at night and the light they emit, while being well visible for a human eye that is used to darkness, is not enough for a camera and any movement of the hand will make the photo shaky.

It is possible that the tripod will freeze at some point and will be hard to close, so you should take two if you can. Be careful with the moving top of the tripod, its head, which can also freeze. If you can snap the photo with a cable, do so, because it’ll reduce the camera movement even further.

The best camera, of course, is one where you can select the shutter time manually. Between 5 and 40 seconds are the best settings to photograph the Northern Lights. Try different times and check out the results.

A lens brightness of f/2.8 or faster will give you the most professional results. Regarding the film, an 800 ASA or equivalent in ISO (800 too) will provide the best results.

A photo of the Northern Lights above Ruka, Finland
6 seconds, f/3.2 and ISO 800. Source (CC: by-sa).

Northern Lights in the Oulanka national park
8 seconds, f/3.5 and ISO 400 with an Olympus E-M5 camera. Source (CC: by).

The lens focus should be adjusted to “infinite” or right before infinite. If your lens is a wide-angle lens, the photos will be even more spectacular. It is also good to include part of the landscape in the photos instead of photographing nothing but the sky. The trees or hills will provide a visual reference for the size of the Northern Lights and the photos will be better.

If your camera is digital you can choose the option of noise reduction and set the white balance to “automatic”.

Two things to pay extra attention to: The batteries last much shorter in he cold and it is recommended to take several of them. You should also be careful with the condensation on the lens: As it happens with the condensation on glasses when you go from one temperature into another, the lens will also get covered with condensation if you change temperatures. You can carry the camera in a bag to reduce the effect.

Incredible Northern Lights photography
A great photo of the Aurora Borealis. Source (CC: by-sa).

TL;DR : Summarizing

All said, the idea is to have the camera prepared beforehand at home or in the hotel. Start with an exposition time of 30 seconds. Make sure that the film is ISO 800 and with f/2.8. Put the camera in a bag to prevent condensation of the lens and have a tripod ready. Have a couple of battery sets ready, since cold drains batteries faster.

Of course, make sure you are prepared for the cold. Our post for what to wear in the Finnish winter will come in handy.

If you want to dive deeper into how to take photos of the Northern Lights, I would recommend to go to the source of the photos in this post and to click on “additional info“. You can then see the EXIF data of the pics and get an idea of how others did it.

How to photograph Northern Lights
40 seconds, f/2 and ISO 100. Thus, the light of the photo. Source (CC: by-sa).

The main source of information for this article was wikitravel. And here you can find a very comprehensive guide if you already are an expert on digital photography.

What’s your best photo of the Northern Lights? Show off in the comments! Do you have any other recommendations?

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