I grew up in winters covered by snow, I remember building snow men and doing countless snow angels, I remember getting on my wooden sled and riding down the small hill while mum was looking out the kitchen window 3 floors up, I remember walking to school, with the sun just rising in my purple one piece snowsuit and 4 other layers, stepping inside the warm school corridors and removing 3 layers before going to class.
Then to walk home 6 hours later with the sun setting. I remember the warmth and hygge all through town in the months leading up to Christmas.
These are the memories I cherish and miss the most of my childhood.
We have always wanted to go and see snow with the kids so we thought no better time to see snow than in December leading up to Christmas.
We chose Finland to do just that, why Finland might you ask?
Because Finland is the home of Santa Claus and nothing pairs better than Snow and Santa.
I decided to write this blog of our holiday because when I was researching and planning it, which I had been for a year. There were some things I couldn’t find much about, plus I love sharing our adventure and any tips on travelling as a family of four to the other side of the world to see snow.
Flights to Helsinki
Flying from Perth we flew with Qatar Airways from Perth to Doha on the 1050 pm flight which lands into Doha at 0545 am. This time we decided to go straight through to our next destination Helsinki, which departed from Doha at 0850 am. Just enough time to stretch our legs, find our gate and grab a bite to eat. The second flight was also Qatar Airways on behalf of Finnair. It’s our second time flying to Europe with Qatar Airways and I cannot say a bad word about them, such a pleasure to fly with.
All crew are super friendly and both flights were very smooth flights including the landings.
Last time we stopped in Doha for a couple of days, which was good to break up the flight but after going straight through this time, I would recommend just keep going while your going! Unless of course you want to explore some new places then definitely stop.
Tip: Last time we travelled long haul I packed a heap of toys and bits and pieces in some busy bags but found both kids hardly used them, so this time I tried to travel as light as possible with our hand luggage. Luca is too young to play with anything for longer than a minute and Liana is happy watching movies and TV shows on the in-flight entertainment. Just a colouring book and some pencils for Liana, a teddy and a heap of snacks for them both. I had 2 sets of spare clothes for them both in a little zip up bag to make them easy the find and access if needed. This unfortunately I didn’t do on the way home for Liana and learnt the hard way after she vomited all over herself and us!!
We spent a few days in Helsinki to get ourselves onto the Finland time frame and get over the jet lag. Both the kids and us needed it as we hardly got any sleep on the flight. We learnt this from our last trip to Europe only 4 months earlier. It took us all a couple of days to get over the flight. Every parent knows there is nothing worse than tired children and especially while travelling.
Once we arrived and collected our bags we caught a bus from the airport straight to our hotel, the Scandic Park Helsinki except we missed the stop and had to walk 10 mins back to our hotel, yes 10 mins is not far but all of a sudden a 10 min walk with 2 kids and 3 suitcases plus 4 backpacks after 28 hours of travelling seemed like eternity.
Tip. Once landing into an airport always have a plan on where and how you will get to your next destination. It’s the worst feeling getting off a plane after many hours of travel with four tired humans, frustrations can easily escalate. Research if there is public transport going to your hotel and how far away the stop is from the hotel, because remember you will have all your kids and your luggage. This is usually your cheapest option and usually what we try to use. A lot of European countries have banned Uber and then keep in mind if using Uber you will need your phone, will your phone work in a different country or do you need a sim card first? There is usually always the Taxi option but I find this is usually the most expensive but sometime the easiest though. Ask the hotel you have booked accommodation with what the easiest way to get to and from their hotel is, some may even do transfers.
We chose to stay at the Scandic Park Helsinki mainly because it is close to the Helsinki Central Railway Station (15 min walk or 2/3 stops with the tram) which was how we were getting to our next destination. It is however 30 mins from the airport but there are buses that go every 30 mins.
It is a kid friendly hotel and provided a cot for Luca which is a big tick for us travelling with children because it means we can contain him when needed! It also has a play room in the eating area where breakfast is served which meant we were able to take our time and relax a little at breakfast. It has a pool and sauna which was great for some indoor activities during winter. There are also strollers available to borrow while staying and directly across the road is a park with a playground too.
We stayed 3 nights in Helsinki and had 2 full days there, we hadn’t planned anything as it was purely to recover and we just wanted to go with the flow and see how we all felt. However we still needed some warm clothes for the freezing weather. We did have most before we left but were told that clothes would be of better quality rated for the weather here in Finland. It was a little expensive, which is to be expected, but well worth it for the quality.
Winter gear tip: A lot of people recommended buying/hiring winter gear in Finland or where ever you are travelling to but I really wanted to be prepared and have the basics before we left home. I bought all our Merino Wool thermals from Australia, we also bought our boots. I was too worried that we would get there and we wouldn’t be able to find the kids sizes and only have a day or two to shop around for some. A lot of the shops had already started selling out of winter gear getting ready for the summer clothes.
North of Finland is freezing, like an average of -25-30 degrees Celsius. So the only problem when you are buying clothing for the snow from Australia it is usually not rated for this cold weather. The highest rated snow boots I found were rated to -20 with constant movement, when standing still they were rated at -10. Although while we were travelling it was actually a really mild winter last year and it only got to a max of -18 while we were there. Once we arrived we did buy good quality hats/beanies, socks and pants and snow mittens for the kids.
A lot of the ski resorts and places do hire the full snow gear but as we were travelling around and not staying in the one spot we wanted to buy it so we had it even for when we were in Helsinki and Denmark.
Day 1 – Helsinki
There was no snow when we arrived in Helsinki with a fresh -1°. We arrived late at our hotel so we just had a sandwich for dinner and settled in for a good night sleep. I find our body clocks are not too bad going over as long as you get that first night sleep and then our body clock wakes us pretty early which means we are normally the first to breakfast (not such a bad thing to beat the crowds).
Breakfast Tip. We always try to get breakfast included with our accommodation because if your kids are anything like ours and wake hungry hungry and by the time you all get up, get dressed and ready and then find somewhere that does breakfast, they have eaten whatever you have left with you and then refuse to eat what you order them breakfast because they have filled up on your emergency snacks. Breakfast included means you just get up get dressed and walk down stairs to a full buffet breakfast which means there is a higher chance to find something that your children will actually eat.
After breakfast we set off to the shops to find a few last pieces of clothing for the snow and -20° which was a short walk down the road. (One thing I love about travelling in Scandinavia is that everyone walks or rides their bicycle everywhere and in every season too sunny, rain, hail, snow or -10 they are walking/riding).
We then walked to see the Helsinki Cathedral which was a stunning building. At the bottom of the stairs next to the Cathedral the Christmas markets were set up but unfortunately were not open on a Monday! But we did find some other Christmas markets near the harbour, where we stopped for a hot cup of Gløgg (mulled wine). We then spotted the Sky Wheel and thought it be a great opportunity to see Helsinki from above, and what a beautiful view it was. Both kids really enjoyed it too, we spotted a few locals swimming in the outdoor swimming pools next door in the freezing cold! Then finished the day with a hot dog and chips on our way back to the hotel.
Later that night around 2 am we woke to snow falling softly from the skies, it felt like a fairy tale and little miss Liana was SO excited!
Day 2 – Helsinki
We started the day having breakfast by the restaurant windows watching the snow still falling. Liana just wanted to run out and feel it, which she did and brought some in for Luca to feel too. We quickly got all our snow clothes on and went out to play right at the front of the hotel. We spent most the day in the snow and then walked into the city, enjoyed the Christmas lights and markets and finished the day off with a swim in the hotel pool.
Day 3 – Helsinki
The thin layer of snow was quickly disappearing, so we were excited to be heading up north for some more snow. Check out was at 12 and we were able to store our luggage at the hotel until it was time to head to the Central Train Station. By the time we had a bit more of a look around and some lunch and back to pick up our luggage it was time to go.
Santa Claus Express Train
There are a few ways to get to Rovaniemi (the official home town of Santa Claus) The easiest and fastest is by plane, but we chose the overnight train to arrive in Rovaniemi and then we would fly back.
The reason we chose the overnight train was to add to the whole experience of getting to Santa, help build up the anticipation and the train ride really did that, it added a whole new part to our journey. I would definitely do it again but I was also glad we chose to fly home.
There is not much room in the cabins which is to be expected so we put all our clothes and toiletries that we needed for the journey into our back packs, this way we did not need to open our big suitcases. Most of the cabins have space to store them under the beds but ours didn’t. I think because we had the cabin above the public toilet down stairs.
The train ride takes around 12 hours, leaving Helsinki at 6:49pm and arriving in Rovaniemi at 7:13am. The cabins have a tiny little en suite with toilet and shower. We had a double cabin which has 2 single beds on top of each other. Liana and I had the top bunk and Jarrod and Luca had the bottom (see tips below for booking with children).
There is also a restaurant on the carriage where we had dinner and a drink before going back to the cabin to sleep. The train ride was overall good but as expected the kids especially Luca (1 year) thought it was a jungle gym and it was hard to get him settled for the night but once he was down he slept till our arrival.
TIPS when booking Santa Clause Express overnight train
I almost fell into the trap of paying through the roof prices for our overnight train tickets with the Santa Claus Express. I just googled Santa Claus Express and the first site that showed up was a rail.ninja site, which looks really good and easy to navigate through but it is a company that sells tickets for all different train companies and charge double if not more of the price you would pay than through the actual train company itself. After a little research I found VR.FI which is the actual rail company that you travel with. I highly recommend booking through them and they were the best price too.
Also if travelling with kids, they travel for free under the age of 10 as long as they are sharing the bunk with you. When booking just book for 2 adults and then call VR.FI to add the child/children to your ticket.
Rovaniemi – Santa Claus Village
Day 4 – Santa’s Village
Arriving and getting off the train in Rovaniemi was awesome. Stepping straight out into the snow, both kids excited to be playing in it,
feeling it and eating it haha.
The bus stop is right in front of where you get off the train, we caught the Santa Express Bus which leaves often and does a circle around the city to the different hotels, activities and also the main city Rovaniemi.
There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in Rovaniemi, We chose the Santa Claus Holiday Village because after a bit of research I found that a lot of people staying in the city would spend most of their time at the village but would have to get there and back each time so I thought the best thing to do is to stay at the actual village and I’m so glad we did. It meant once we arrived by bus we did not have to worry about leaving again. We did plan on spending a day in Rovaniemi city itself but there was so much to see and do in the village itself that we never made it there.
We booked the Classic Cottage with the sofa as an extra bed for the kids.
The cottages are cute and cozy and each one has their own Christmas tree out the front with gorgeous fairy lights, they have a self contained little kitchenette which meant we could do little snacks and easy dinners in the room. Sometimes that’s easier with young kids.
The cottage also has a sauna which was great and felt like a real luxury.
Keep in mind when arriving via the overnight train you get to the hotel around 8am but check in is not till 4pm. A lot of people had booked their room the night before so they didn’t have to wait but we chose to drop our luggage off and spent the day walking around which went quick enough. Then once we got our room we had an early dinner and went to bed ready to explore more in the morning.
Day 5 & 6 – Santa’s Village
There are so many things to see and do in the village itself that you really don’t need to leave. Here is a list of the things we did and enjoyed but there are so many more things we wanted to do, some things Liana was still a little too young to do and we probably could have fitted more in but we really enjoyed just walking around and taking in the moments of being there rather then rushing around constantly to fit as much in as possible.
A must and the reason you are there is to see Santa Claus himself. I recommend going to Santa Claus Office to meet him as there are a couple of different ones in the village. I won’t say too much because you will want to enjoy it yourself for the first time but what I will say is that the journey in is wonderful and take your time don’t be rushed.
Standing right on the Arctic Circle is a bit surreal feeling.
Santa Claus Main Post Office – While there don’t forget to send your loved ones a post card.
Build a Snowman – Do it anywhere but I recommend right outside your cottage so you get to look at it everyday. You can’t quite compete with the giant snowmen on display at Santa’s Village but I think ours is perfect.
Grab a sled each for the kids, it will be the easiest and the most fun way to get around or collect snow!
Husky Sled Ride, this was so much fun and a real highlight of our trip. Highly recommend.
Just walk around and take in the music, lights and listen to all the different languages from all around the world.
Live in the moment.
Elf’s Farm Yard Petting Zoo was quite cute and you can go in and pet the reindeer, feed the sheep and goat, do a little skiing and even cook some sausages and marshmallows on the fire (you can buy the sausages and marshmallows there).
Northern Lights Ranch
Day 7 & 8 – Once we had breakfast and checked out of Santa’s Holiday Village we walked straight to the bus stop which is behind the information centre to catch the Santa Express Bus to the Rovaniemi Bus Station and jump on the 1140 bus to go North to Levi, which is around 2 hours 20 mins. I booked this bus in advance because apparently it does sell out especially this time of year. I think there was about 3/4 different times per day the bus goes, so work out what fits best for your accommodation. The bus tickets went on sale 2 months before the departure day, here is the link where I purchased them from.
We departed the bus in Levi next to Levi Hotel Spa and I had organised a taxi through our accommodation to pick us up and take us straight to Northern Lights Ranch which was about an 18 min car ride and felt really remote getting there.
The Northern Lights Ranch is like no other place I’ve ever been, truly magical surrounded by knee deep fresh white fluffy snow. We booked the Sky View Cabin Deluxe with outdoor Jacuzzi, which also has an extra little sitting room with a couch which can be made into another bed that Liana slept on and then we had a cot for Luca. The rooms are simple and basic but feel like luxury at the same time.
The views are out of this world. It’s actually really hard to describe the place to others, it’s like a real life dream.
We had dinner at the Northern Lights Ranch Restaurant both nights and breakfast both mornings too (half board), it is not a cheap outing but the dinners were so delicious, the wine was great and the atmosphere was cozy, the view looking out to the reindeer enclosure with snow falling softly, it was worth every euro eating at this 5 star restaurant. Full compliments to the chef.
Feeding the reindeer before and after each meal was the kids highlight, Liana treated them like her own pets, each day she had to make sure they were fed.
There is also an ice rink and ice skates free to borrow,
next to a cozy log fire to keep warm at.
We were so glad we got the Deluxe Cabin with an outdoor Jacuzzi it was such a fun experience for us all to be in a spa surrounded by deep snow and snowing on us. Magic
We stayed at the Ranch for 2 nights, it’s the kind of place you go to relax and reset. There were mostly couples there which is to be expected, but we did see a few other families with children. All the cabins have a heated glass roof which means you can see straight through to the sky, the stars and fingers crossed the northern lights. Unfortunately the skies were not clear and it was snowing the whole time for our stay, but that didn’t dampen our time in this magical place.
You can not go to Finland in December with out either a knitted Christmas jumper or like we did some family matching Christmas Pyjamas. It just has to be done and trust me you will not be the only one. A Finland Christmas.
The hotel does offer transfers into Levi at 11 am and returns at 4 pm to do activities such as skiing and snowmobiling but I would recommend that once you check in to this beautiful place, don’t leave till check out. In winter you only get a small window of light around 3 hours and you should just make the most of that and explore this beautiful place both in the little window of daylight and in the dark.
Levi Hotel Spa
Day 9 – As much as we didn’t want to leave this place it was time to feed the reindeer one last time before check out. We traveled with the hotel transfer bus which leaves everyday at 11 am to Levi and also returns everyday at 4 pm. Do ensure you book this with the hotel as it was a full bus when we were in it.
The transfer bus dropped us off at our next accommodation which was
Levi Hotel Spa in Levi.
Check in was at 4 pm but we were able to leave your luggage
in the luggage room.
The hotel is a close walk to the ski slopes and the main part of town. There are a lot of activities as part of the hotel. There is a Spa Water World which is very impressive, with lots of different pools, spas, a slide and plenty more. It’s a nice escape from the cold and a great way to entertain the kids. Talking about entertaining the kids just underneath the pool area is a whole area dedicated to kids of all ages including a large play area, play station games, tin pin bowling, indoor soccer and so much more.
We stayed in the Moss Suite and it was such a great room, the most practical room we had for the kids during our travel. It was a huge space including a sauna. We used the fold out couch for Liana and cot for Luca. It also had a balcony which we saw the northern lights from, and a self contained kitchen. Once again we had breakfast included which had a huge selection to choose from and there were plenty of choices for dinner too.
There are a few different types of accommodation available at this hotel, something to suit everyone and there is also another hotel, part of the same reception called Design Hotel Levi.
Being a ski resort there are a lot of families and groups of friends all travelling together. I would definitely come back to a place like this with a group of friends and once the kids are a little older so you can all go skiing together or at least take turns on the slopes. We could have gone individually but I think this kind of activity would be a little more fun sharing it with someone else! But there are plenty of other activities and places to explore as a young family, here are just a few below.
Christmas Markets are on during December at the bottom of the slopes and there is a man with his #coffeesled selling delicious hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows he goes by the name @campfirebarista follow him to see where he will be set up. A real Finland Christmas feeling.
KidsLand is also to the left but up the hill a fair bit. We had heard from a few people that it was really good for kids, so we decided to walk up but not sure if it was the timing but it didn’t do much for us and the best thing was probably the hill to toboggan on but there was another hill down the bottom of the slopes. It was snowing heavily at the time so it felt like a big walk up the hill to not much at all.
Toboggan Ride is a must for kids and adults, it brings out the child in anyone. Grab yourself a sled, toboggan, sleigh whatever you want to call it from your hotel or buy one from the local supermarket which we did. Make sure you write your name loud and clear on it because apparently no one takes them if they have a name on them although, that didn’t stop ours going missing a few times but with the big AUSTRALIA on the back of it, it was easy to spot to quickly get it back!
Anyway…. once you’ve got one there is a hill to the left of the bottom of the slopes where you can have some real laughs, don’t let your guard down though as it can get dangerous!
Cafe on the top of the mountain, we heard other tourists talking about this cafe so we decided to go find it ourselves and we are so glad we did because it was like walking into some sort of real life snow wonderland.
To get there we caught the enclosed gondola to the top (you buy tickets for this at Point Zero located at the bottom of the slopes).
Once we got to the top we walked around the back of the restaurant and found a little path with a sign saying Cafe Open.
This path was magical, the snow was so deep and heavy on the trees. The trees looked like something out of Frozen when deep in the forest. There are a couple of look out points on the way and then you finally end up at this little wooden cabin.
Inside is an open wood fire where you can buy a yummy cup of hot chocolate or if hungry there are sausages or marshmallows available to buy and cook yourself on the fire all whilst taking in the most breathtaking views.
Snow Mobile. Hubby and I treated ourselves to some time away from the kids, Hubby chose the snowmobile tour called the Leviloop with Kino Safaris in Levi. He returned 3 hours later with a huge grin on his face. He highly recommends it for anyone who loves an adventure.
Day Spa. While I chose a spa package from the Levi Spa Hotel Day Spa and walked out feeling rejuvenated ready to start our next part of our journey.
We were so lucky that the solar winds were in our favour and appeared right in front of our own eyes while we were staying at the Levi Hotel Spa.
This was a truly special moment to see the lights dancing right above you is a moment I will never forget, it even brought me to tears. As much as I’ve also wanted to see the Northern Lights I didn’t actually think I would be that lucky to see them in real life. It made me want to see more, there are lots of different tours which go hunting for the lights and the tour guides know the best places to go to see them clearly. I would definitely go on a tour to hunt them next time if the conditions are right, that would be amazing.
I recommend downloading the Aurora App on your phone, this will show you a Aurora Map where they are likely to appear, it can also send you notifications when there is a chance that you can see the lights. There is also a Long Exposure App that works great to capture the northern lights by phone, this app we could not find on Google Play Store for Android, but there are lots of other similar apps.
Bye Bye Lapland
We flew back down to Helsinki with Norwegian Air from Kittila Airport. The flight I had originally booked was for a midday flight but it got changed to a midnight flight! It departed Kittila at 9.55 pm and arrived into Helsinki at 11.25 pm and by the time we got our bags and found our way to our hotel it was well past midnight.
Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport
Because our flights got changed to such a late flight we decided to stay 2 nights again in Helsinki before hopping over to our next stop Copenhagen for Christmas. I chose the Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport because we have previously stayed the the Clarion Hotel Copenhagen Airport and it was such a great stay, you could walk from the arrival terminal to your hotel all within the same roof. The atmosphere in the lobby and the bar was really welcoming, and the rooms had great views looking out to the airport.
When arriving at Helsinki Airport I just assumed because of the previous Clarion and by the word Airport in the title that it would be walking distance to the hotel but it was far from it (note to self you should never just assume). It is 2 km away and at 1 am we did not have the patience to figure out trains or buses we ended up catching a taxi which cost us 25 Euro for 2 km!
The hotel room was nice but once the sun came up and we looked out the window we were looking at a big rubbish dump area.
The staff were all friendly and helpful and the breakfast was delicious.
Next time though I would probably choose a hotel that is apart of the airport or at least walking distance to it. The Hilton or the Scandic are both very close and walking distance.
Once we were recharged and ready to go again we left Finland and flew to Denmark, Copenhagen to spend Christmas with family and friends. From Copenhagen we flew to Netherlands, Amsterdam to spend some quality time with some great friends who opened their home and their excellent cooking skills for the four of us before heading back home with Qatar Airways again via Doha.
This truly was a dream holiday and these memories will last for a lifetime. It was sad once it was over and took us a good week to get over the jet lag coming home but I can confidently say that it won’t be the last time we visit this beautiful country, Finland.
Thank you so much for reading, I really enjoyed writing this because it gave me some time to reflect back on our holiday and take it all in again as when you are there it seems to just be go go go a lot of the time, so it was lovely to relive it again.