Girl petting reindeer in snow

Girl petting reindeer in snow (Jessica Lynn)

When we weren’t basking in our Airbnb’s backyard’s winter wonderland in Lapland, Finland, we were being tourists back in town. Santa Claus Village (not to be confused with SantaPark) is the spot for all things Christmas. Of course, you can visit any time of year, but they don’t call it the official hometown of Santa Claus for nothing. You can catch a glimpse of the big guy himself at the village, but since we saw him at SantaPark (see part one) we skipped the ginormous line and wandered around the village instead.

We embraced the festive cheer, starting by filling our bellies with the most flavorful smoked salmon we’ve ever tasted. Santa’s Salmon Place is first-come, first-seated, and you must wait in line outside for a table inside. Thankfully, the line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were enjoying the warmth of the salmon’s open-flamed grill.

The menu is as quaint as the yurt you eat in, featuring a small selection: salmon, bread, cheese, potato salad and drinks. Even my salmon-loathing kids ended up tasting the salmon and saying it was pretty good (the grown-ups thought it was fantastic), and then they filled up on bread and juice.

After lunch, we walked a few steps away and proceeded to hop, skip and jump over the Arctic Circle, as one does. Before we flew to Finland, I noticed there was a live webcam at the Arctic Circle. I arranged to have our family back home in America tune into the webcam when we’d be there so they could see us “live” on the top of the world.

As we shopped around the village, we bought postcards to send to friends and family, then we mailed them from the Santa Claus’ Main Post Office. Anything mailed from there gets stamped with an Arctic Circle postmark, making it an extra fun souvenir.

On our last official day, we climbed into our warmest snow gear and set out on an adventure: we went on a reindeer sleigh ride with Appuka Resort. There are all sorts of outdoor activities to choose from in Lapland, and this was the one that fit our schedule.

We plopped down into the sleigh (there’s really no classy way to get in and out of one of those things when you’re dressed like a marshmallow) and set off for our ride. As the snow fell around us, reindeer pulled us through a trail and out onto a frozen lake. The kids loved having an up-close-and-personal experience with reindeer, and I loved feeling like I was in an actual snow globe.

After the sleigh ride was over, they spoke with us about reindeer and life in Lapland as well as giving us a snack and warm juice. We also got to feed and pet the reindeer, which was my kids’ favorite part.

We wrapped up our last evening in Lapland with a traditional Finish meal at the rustic and cozy Restaurant Nili in Rovaniemi’s city center. When I say, “traditional,” I mean we all looked at the menu with wide eyes and almost slowly backed out of the homey restaurant.

The menu had a smattering of local Lappish delicacies including bear (yes, bear), reindeer prepared several ways, elk, local fish, varieties of soup and more. While the restaurant didn’t have a kid’s menu, they said they could cut any meal in half; they were extremely accommodating and very patient as we navigated their menu.

We opted for a few things to try, and surprisingly, the bear was the crowd favorite. It was tender and flavorful, and our middle child all but licked the plate clean. This was easily our most expensive meal, but also one of the most memorable. For what it’s worth, we also cooked pasta at our Airbnb one night, had sandwiches during the day and ate reindeer pizza at Santa Claus Village another night — it’s all about balance when traveling.

Could we have spent more time in Lapland? Absolutely. But was a long weekend enough? One hundred percent. The days may be shorter up there, but we created so many core memories during this once-in-a-lifetime weekend trip; I’m so glad we took a chance and made this trip happen.

For more of Jessica’s travels with her family, check out her blog where you can find “everything from travel guides fit for families, tips on navigating military life, meals our family actually eats (aka kid-approved food!), and so much more:”

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Tamala Malerk is a writer and editor with Stars and Stripes Europe. She has been with SSE since April 2022 writing articles all about travel, lifestyle, community news, military life and more. In May 2022, she earned her Ph.D. in History and promises it is much more relevant to this job than one might think.

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