How we booked our ultimate white Christmas in Europe, from Australia
After COVID hit in early Twenty-Twenty, we didn’t know when or whether we could ever get our dream European white Christmas. We’d planned since the boys were young, to take them to Rovaniemi, Finland, to experience all that the winter wonderland of Santa’s hometown had to offer. Our dreams of a white Christmas in Europe were crushed as lockdown began and we given no choice but to cancel all our bookings – flights, accommodation, activities and a tour. Fortunately, we were able to get full refunds for most of our bookings and a credit for the Baltic Capitals tour we had booked.
Fast forward 24 months, we’re in the year Twenty-Twenty Two and we have taken the plunge to rebook our dream trip.
In this (first) article I have outlined the steps (and order of) we have taken in booking our trip to Europe, as well as highlighted considerations you might need to make when booking your own trip to the white winter wonderland.
Planning a family holiday in Europe
We consulted with Emma from Eat Pray Love Travel, in the lead up to making the ultimate decision to go ahead. She was a fabulous help to us and talked through her thoughts and considerations with travelling overseas in the current climate. Emma took off on a trip to America and this instilled the confidence we needed to proceed with our booking.
Although our original plan was to have Emma book our trip, I realised while I was researching, that the planning, researching and booking of our travel, was actually part of the adventure, for me. I love that part of it and cautiously decided to go ahead and do it myself. I am not suggesting that everyone should book their own travel, in fact, I would encourage people to use a travel agent, like Emma from Eat Pray Love Travel, especially if this is not something that they’ve done much of before. There are lots of things that can go wrong and we have knowingly taken the risk. If you’re looking for a great agent to work with in your upcoming trip, I urge you to get in touch with Emma.
Where to have the best European White Christmas
Firstly, you need to decide where you want to spend Christmas. If the purpose of the trip is to have a white Christmas, be sure to consider the location based on the probability of having exactly that – snow, to make your Christmas white! There are lots of places that you can go in Europe to have a white Christmas – you’ve just got to choose what is right for you and/or your family.
If you are looking for additional factors, such as snow skiing or attending specific Christmas markets, this will impact the exact location of where you will go. For us, we were looking to meet Santa Claus; and of course, there was no better place to do that, than Rovaniemi, Finland.
The trip we have rebooked in Twenty-Twenty Two is different to our original plans. Our circumstances have changed, our kids are older and well, COVID happened reminding us that we just never really know what is around the corner. We decided this time that we would have no regrets at the end of this once in a lifetime trip to Finland.
Accommodation in Rovaniemi and Ranua
There are such a wide range of accommodation options in Rovaniemi, in town, just outside and of course in Santa’s Village, too. We are spending a significant amount of time in and around Rovaniemi, so we are spreading our stay to (hopefully) be able to accommodate all of the activities and experiences we want to have. We’re arriving in Rovaniemi on December 20th and are in the area until December 31st.
Securing accommodation in Rovaniemi had to be the priority as it is booked up quickly and we didn’t want to miss out on being able to stay where we wanted. We opted to book an apartment in the township of Rovaniemi, through Airbnb. We’ve had really good experiences staying in Airbnb so we didn’t hesitate in doing this. We like having the ability to self-cater, wash our clothes (especially when we are travelling for an extended period), have a separate sleeping area for the kids and living space that we can enjoy once the kids are in bed. In this instance, we also wanted to be in main part of town, be able to walk to and from the train station, shops and bus stops for easy access to Santa’s Village. We have booked to stay at Rovaniemi Toripuistikko Apartment for six nights.
Following our stay in Rovaniemi, we are hiring a car (booked through Car Rentals) and driving to Ranua for four nights. Ranua is not far from Rovaniemi, so many people may not see the point of this, however, when we travel we like to take our time and experience as much as we can, take in our surrounds and explore without being rushed. We don’t always have this luxury but because of the nature of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, we are choosing to have time on our side.
In Ranua we are spending three nights at Holiday Gulo Gulo, the accommodation onsite at Ranua Wildlife Park. The boys absolutely love visiting animal parks so we thought this would be a pretty exciting and unique experience. With this we can visit the Arctic Wildlife Park as many times as we want during our stay, while just paying entry once. We also can have morning feeding experiences with the arctic foxes and polar bears. All of this we are very much looking forward to.
Our final night in Ranua will be spent in an Arctic Fox Igloo. We decided this was one of those things we would regret if we didn’t do it, so we bit the bullet and just booked it. Of course, we hope to see the Northern Lights fly across the sky while we’re lying-in bed, but, regardless this will be another awesome experience for all of us.
On our final night in Finnish Lapland, we are going back to Rovaniemi and will be staying at the Snow Hotel in a family room. I’m not sure whether we will regret booking this or not, the idea of sleeping in a room and on a bed made of ice is somewhat disturbing if I’m honest; however, again, it is an experience I think we will regret not having if we don’t.
Of this accommodation, we were able to have free cancellation available right up to a week of our stay, except for the glass igloo, which was non-refundable. Given the world climate, I felt it was really important to ensure that we had a ‘get out of jail free card’ on our accommodation in case we needed it. Fingers crossed we won’t!
With our Rovaniemi and Ranua accommodation booked, we were ready to start planning activities for our stay there and accommodation either side of this part of the trip.
Winter activities in Rovaniemi
There are so many tour companies, excursion offerings and activities to partake in, in Rovaniemi, it really did become quite overwhelming and difficult to decide what to do and who to go with. I contacted a number of companies to get an idea of what activities they offered, the cost, the group size and based on customer reviews, their customer service and attitude to taking families on tours. Once I’d done my research, I approached Wild About Lapland and asked for a bit more information about their business. Their slogan of ‘the smaller the group, the bigger the experience’ immediately gave me a great feeling. They were so easy to communicate with and very supportive in answering my many questions!
Wild About Lapland offer an extensive Winter Tours Rovaniemi list and ultimately everything we were really wanting to do. They also offer Holiday Packages which are a great option for families (or individuals) who want to partake in a number of activities. While there are holiday packages on their website, I would recommend discussing with them the activities you want to do as they were very good at creating an individualised program for us. We started having discussions with Wild About Lapland in February and made final decisions and booked by mid-July.
BONUS!! WILD ABOUT LAPLAND are offering our readers a 10% discount on their winter tours: Northern Lights Wilderness Tour, Ice Fishing, Snowshoeing, Ski Trekking Safari, Visit to Korouoma Canyon Frozen Waterfalls and Winter Wilderness Survival Tour. To take advantage of this offer, use the PROMO code is ERININLAPLAND10.
I would recommend booking winter tours and activities early with whichever company you choose, simply to guarantee your place on the tour. Plenty of people say you can book upon arrival, however, I couldn’t take that risk. There was no way I was travelling that far to miss out on doing the activities we wanted to do. Get Your Guide offer a range of winter activities and include transport from your accommodation included in most cases. At the very least, looking at Get Your Guide Rovaniemi will give you a good idea of the range of activities that are available.
We have not yet bought tickets to Kotatieva Winter Leisure Park, however, we would love to go. The idea of ice skating along the 500m forest trail sounds absolutely magical! I am conscious of not over-committing on our trip, so we may wait until closer to the time and book this one.
What to do for Christmas in Rovaniemi
Deciding how to actually spend Christmas in Rovaniemi was actually really difficult! In Europe, Christmas is really celebrated on Christmas Eve and Santa does his delivery Christmas Eve as well, this made our planning somewhat more challenging. We knew we wanted to have the boys meet Santa at some stage and in an ideal world, this would coincide with either December 24th or 25th.
In the spirit of this ‘once in a lifetime trip’, we decided to lash out and book Joulukka Christmas Special lunch on Christmas Eve with Santa Claus Secret Forest and Wild About Lapland’s Authentic Reindeer Safari on Christmas Day. We figured with these two activities booked we would be celebrating Christmas the European way and doing something special on Christmas Day, as we would in Australia – the best of both worlds!
Christmas in Rovaniemi itinerary
|Date||Accommodation||Company/ Independent travel||Activity|
|20th December||Airbnb||Ninja Rail||Overnight Polar Express train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi – arrive 7am, settle in, look around.|
|21st December||Airbnb||Wild About Lapland||Long Husky Safari (am)|
Chasing auroras by reindeer safari (pm)
|22nd December||Airbnb||Wild About Lapland||Snowshoeing and ice fishing tour|
|23rd December||Airbnb||Independent travel||Free day to explore Santa’s Village|
|24th December||Airbnb||Santa Claus Secret Forest||Joulukka Christmas Special|
|25th December||Airbnb||Wild About Lapland||Authentic Reindeer Safari|
Northern Lights Tour
|26th December||Holiday Gulo Gulo||Independent travel||Collect rental car and travel to Ranua|
|27th December||Holiday Gulo Gulo||Independent travel||Arctic Wildlife Park and explore Ranua|
|28th December||Holiday Gulo Gulo||Independent travel||Arctic Wildlife Park and explore Ranua|
|29th December||Arctic Fox Igloo||Independent travel||Free enjoy our igloo experience and surrounds|
|30th December||Snow Hotel||Independent travel||Lunch at Kota Restaurant|
Dinner at Ice Restaurant
|31st December||Kivijarvi, Finland||Independent travel||Travel to Kivijarvi by rental car.|
Where to next…
The next stage in our planning was re-booking our tour with Europamundo using our tour credit from our original booking in 2020, booking flights and accommodation in and around our already booked activities.