A magical trip to the snowy arctic circle

Visited January 2022

Looking for some sunshine in the midst of a gloomy British winter, we started scouring Google Flights for warm options close enough to home when we came across £30 flights to the Mediterranean island of Malta in January. We had always wanted to go, and with flights that cheap, there was no way we could turn it down. While peak season is the summer months, it turns out that Malta is absolutely worth a visit in the winter – although not beach weather, there was still plenty of sunshine, comfortable temperatures and smaller crowds.



Three waking hours exploring the capital in darkness

Santa Claus Village

One night and lots of activities at this self-contained town


Night two in a cozy globe under the Lapland stars


3 waking hours in the capital

We flew on a Thursday night into Helsinki on a direct flight from London Stansted, arriving pretty late in the evening. From the airport, we took a train into the city center, which only took about half an hour and cost a very reasonable €4.50 per person. Since we only planned to be in the capital for a brief period of time, we stayed central at the GLO Hotel, which – in addition to being close to the main downtown sights – was only about a 5-10 minute walk from the train station. Due to COVID regulations, all of the restaurants were closed by the time we got in, so we had local fast food takeaway from Hesburger, made a quick loop around the Esplanadi Park, and then headed to bed.

Esplanadi Park

Street outside GLO Hotel

Nighttime in Helsinki

On Friday morning, our first stop was the Market Hall, which had lots of stalls with food and crafts. We had a local XXX for breakfast, which is essentially a slightly less sweet version of a cinnamon roll. After that, we walked along the water towards the SkyWheel before walking up a small hill to see Uspenski Cathedral. The sun was barely starting to rise at this point, and we made our way over to Senate Square, trying not to slip on the icy steps as we climbed up to the Helsinki Cathedral at the top. With the sun finally “up”, we collected our bags from the hotel and headed off to the airport. Luckily the trains were running pretty frequently, because we nearly missed our airport connection due to the distance of the platform from the ticket hall – but we got there in the end! It was off to the Arctic Circle next.

Uspenski Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral

Santa Claus Village

The magic begins

On our first night in Lapland we were staying at the Santa Claus Village cottages, which had an airport transfer included, so we got picked up right after our flight and got driven directly to our cottage. Talk about door to door service! It saved us a really expensive taxi ride one way, and was even nicer considering that we would have had to drag our suitcase through the snow otherwise because a taxi would have dropped us at the front. The cottage was very roomy and had a porch with a table, chairs, and a festive Christmas tree. Each unit also had a sled out front that was free to use, which we did later in the stay.

Although we arrived before 2pm, the sun was already starting to set. But this was actually perfect, because the sunset lasted for over an hour and it really was “golden hour” the whole time. Santa Claus Village is almost like its own self-contained little town, with accommodations, safari activities (reindeer rides, husky rides, snowmobiling, etc.), shops, restaurants, and of course the opportunity to meet Santa Claus & Mrs. Claus! Everything is walkable, and you can even cross the Arctic Circle line on foot because it runs through the park, or you can stand on both sides at once. We couldn’t wait to explore.

Our cottage

Accommodation at Santa Claus Village

Reindeer rides and Mrs. Claus

After dropping our bags and grabbing our warm gear, we headed to the reindeer park to do our first activity, a reindeer ride. There are several different options and we didn’t have to book ahead of time – we walked right up and bought a ticket at the counter with no wait at all. This might be different after COVID, but we were there in the phase where travel was still touch-and-go, so for us it was extremely convenient. We opted for the forest ride, which was the middle option, and it was 29 EUR per person for 15 minutes through the trees. Although this sounds quick, and we do wish it was longer, it was very relaxing and beautiful riding through the snowy landscapes under the warmth of a reindeer hide at dusk. Afterwards, we warmed ourselves up at a nice little fire pit right outside of the reindeer park.

We then stumbled upon Mrs. Claus’s cottage after crossing a bridge over the reindeer park, where an elf came out to greet us and asked if we’d like to go meet her. It was 5 EUR per person, so we almost took a pass, but we are glad that we decided to go for it. To Adrian’s surprise, she knew a lot about London football and we had a lovely chat! It was such a nice experience that we even purchased the photo that they took of us when we were chatting (you can’t take your own). It was a really random but really nice time.

Our first activity

Warming up

Impromptu Mrs. Claus visit

Exploring the village at night

After meeting Mrs. Claus, the next stop was Santa’s Post Office. At this point the sun was pretty much completely down, even though it was early, but exploring the village at night was festive and special. The Post Office was cute, especially for kids, because it had letters to Santa from kids all around the world, and you can even request a letter from Santa for the upcoming Christmas. It also had tons of post cards to choose from that you can mail from the post office from one of two post boxes: one for “normal” mail and one for “Christmas” mail (which gets sent closer to Christmastime). Anything mailed from that location gets a special Arctic Circle postmark that isn’t used anywhere else in the world!

With our cards sent, we warmed up with a drink at the Salmon Cafe, which is a tiny little circular cabin around a fire that had a cozy, cabin vibe. When we finished our drink it was right around dinner time, so we headed over to the Glass Restaurant, which was still on the property, but tucked away back by the premium glass igloos. We can’t overstate how much we would recommend this restaurant – from the vibe to the food to the service, everything was absolutely excellent! We tried reindeer tongue for our appetizer, followed by the reindeer fillet and sautéed elk for our mains, and the baked Lappish cheese for dessert. Every dish was incredible, and we had a table by the window. Book in advance so you don’t miss out!

« Arctic Circle | Not »

Local beer at Salmon Cafe

Reindeer filet

Northern Lights!

It would have been hard to pick a highlight from our first day between the reindeer ride, Mrs. Claus, the Post Office, and an amazing dinner, but somehow we still topped it off at the end of the night. After dozing off for about an hour, we happened to catch a glimpse of something out the window, and sure enough the northern lights were out! We immediately went outside to watch them and take some photos. They lasted from about 8:30pm-9:15pm from what we could see, but we heard they were going all night and that it was one of the best Auroras they’ve seen in a while! We got very lucky. 

Our cottage on the left

Our tripod came in handy

Northern Lights

A few more activities

On Saturday, we woke up for the breakfast buffet at the Christmas House Restaurant (breakfast was included with our room).
It happened to be connected to the place where you can meet Santa Claus (for free), so we waited to meet him. No photo purchase this time, though. Then it was on to the Husky Park for our next activity – a husky ride! Again, this was something we booked on the day, not in advance, and there was only one couple in front of us. We opted for the 5KM ride, which was the longest option for 75 EUR per person. The price includes the 10 EUR entrance fee into Husky Park, which you would have had to pay anyway for any of the shorter rides of 2KM and 500M, so it actually was a pretty good deal. Our ride lasted around 25 minutes and was much faster than the reindeer ride, but was equally beautiful as we whizzed through snow-covered trees one minute and open tundra the next. Afterwards, you can walk around the park and pet the huskies (they are in cages but you can see them and put your hand through).

A little further east of the Husky Park was the Arctic Circle Snowmobile Park, which is still part of Santa Claus Village (the place has everything). This is the only activity that had a wait; they couldn’t take us immediately so we booked a 30 minute tour for an hour later at 13:30. This gave us enough time for a hot chocolate at the cozy reception bar before returning in time for sunset. The tour cost 55 EUR per person, which included a helmet, a lesson and a winter clothing rental. We’re glad we took the clothing, because they told us that our clothes would smell like gasoline otherwise. We ended up having a private tour of just us (sharing one snowmobile) and the guide, who was amazing. We survived Amanda’s turn at the wheel, and then it was sadly time to say goodbye to Santa Claus Village. 

In the woods

In the open

First time snowmobiling


Hanging out in our igloo

We stayed in their glass igloo type cabin called Aurora Cabin with big glass windows above to see all of the wintery surroundings and stare out into the stars. The windows have heaters so you don’t need to worry about the snow blocking your view! The rooms also have a fireplace to keep it toasty (which is fake, but light up and keeps you warm).
Dinner at Restaurant Aitta which is the only restaurant at Apukka Resort. We split reindeer pizza & a burger.
Stayed in our cabin most of the night, we did go out and get to catch a bit of the northern lights (couldn’t believe it for 2 nights in a row!)
Breakfast was also included so we had breakfast at Restaurant Aitta the following morning, got to see a beautiful sunrise (the sunrise time is closer to 10/10;30 this time of year – January), and they also have some horses on their property
We took a taxi from Apukka to Rovanmiemi airport (30 EUR, about 10-15 min drive)

Our cottage

Accommodation at Santa Claus Village

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