There really is no trip more magical than visiting Lapland – the snowy landscapes, the chance to meet Santa, to go husky sledding. But that means most of us have never taken a trip quite like it – which is why I’ve pulled together my top tips for visiting Lapland with kids.
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I’m all prepared for beach breaks but have spent fewer holidays in the snow, and this was my first with my daughter. And while packing lists for Lapland holidays are always handy, there’s more to it than simply remembering your thermals, as I discovered on our four-night break in Levi.
Tips for visiting Lapland with kids: before you go
Choose your dates carefully
The earlier you go, the more light you get and the warmer it’s likely to be. 2018’s unexpectedly high temperatures meant there was much less snow than usual in November, and while that’s rare, the weather will always fluctuate during the six week season.
Travel later and you might fit it into school holidays (we had to request a leave of absence to get away earlier) and you could even travel over Christmas Day itself, but it will be darker and probably colder.
Check what’s provided
If you’re travelling on a Santa break package, as we did, you’ll get a thermal suit included which makes a huge difference.
We also had boots included – but bear in mind that you’ll be walking down snowy steps from the plane to the airport and onto a transfer before you get the boots, so you’ll need something to cope with snow (the same goes for having gloves, hat, ski jacket and warm layers on the plane).
My own pair were also warmer and a better fit, although my daughter wore her two pairs interchangeably.
Consider what’s included
With a few main activity and tour providers in locations like Levi, you may find that the excursions are similar whether you’re travelling on a package or independently.
For our Santa Break with Inghams, we had a visit to Santa’s Workshop and a gala dinner with Santa at the end; you can book any other excursions separately, although our husky and reindeer sledding, and snowmobiling were both booked through the company too.
Other companies include more excursions. And if you arrange any independently, don’t forget you may also be responsible for your own transfers (either at an extra cost or hiring a car to drive in the snow).
Read more about our activities on our Levi Santa Break here
What age is best?
Lapland is magical at any age (I was in my 30s when I first visited) but when the focus is on visiting Santa in Lapland, it pays to time it right if you can.
Most companies advise you travel with kids aged 4+ and thermal suits and boots aren’t usually included for under-threes. But wait too long and the Santa magic is probably gone once they’re too old.
Age 6-7 is ideal although having said that, we saw families with toddlers and teens too.
How long to go for?
It depends partly on how much you want to fit in – there’s anything from one day trips to Lapland to week-long breaks.
Most tend to fall somewhere in the middle: shorter is cheaper but you’ll need to be prepared for busy days or fewer excursions and any flight delays will have a bigger impact.
We went for four nights, which felt perfect – it gave time for an excursion every day as well as time for ourselves, and we never felt rushed (plus we got back on Sunday rather than midweek), although you could still have fitted everything into a three-night break.
Personally I think a one-day trip would be very full-on with young kids and risks tired meltdowns as you finally arrive and get to meet Santa – flights to Lapland are three and a half hours, so you’ll have an early start and a long day.
If you’re planning to ski as well as the excursions, or you wanted to venture further afield or try a Northern Lights tour, you might want longer.
Tips for Lapland with kids: what to pack
Choose merino wool
It goes without saying that you’ll need thermal layers to keep out the chill in the Arctic Circle.
We took two sets of long-sleeved tops and leggings each, mostly of merino wool, which was fantastic – it’s thin and lightweight, dries quickly but also keeps you beautifully warm.
Pack lots of layers
Take lots of layers to stay warm rather than one thick layer, as it’s easier to adapt to the different temperature.
On our first day, the temperature was around -6C, by the end of the trip it was down to -15C and friends who visited the year before were met with -32C, so this way you can layer up or down depending what awaits you.
Click here to see what we packed and to get my downloadable packing list
Pack different weight layers
There’s a limit to just how much can fit underneath a thermal suit (and choosing a bigger size would have swamped my daughter entirely), so I quickly realised that there was no chance that we could zip it up over both her ski jacket and thicker hoody (plus thermals).
Instead, we had some thinner jumpers which went under the ski jacket and could put the thermal suit over the top (again with thermals underneath).
The same went for my own suit, so having a variety meant there was always something which worked.
Double layer your gloves
But the original thermal gloves we got were too thick to fit inside, and the replacements still needed some tugging to squeeze the second pair over.
As my daughter’s fingers barely came up half-way, a bigger size wouldn’t have worked though.
One of my own top buys for Lapland was some silk glove liners to go under my own thermal gloves – I was constantly having to pull my right glove off, to take photos, to fish tickets out of a pocket, to pull my daughter’s gloves back on (again!) and simply could not do any of it with the thermal layer.
Having the glove liner meant my hand wasn’t constantly in the freezing air but it was thin enough that I could (mostly) even use the touchscreen on my phone.
Pack spare gloves
Having carefully thought through the different glove layers, I managed to forget that my daughter has a talent for losing gloves.
Setting out the first morning to explore, we realised her thermal ones were already missing…
Thankfully they’d just been dropped in the hotel lobby at check-in and scooped into lost property, but I was kicking myself for not having multiple back-ups!
Double layer your socks
Surprisingly, the low temperatures don’t always feel that low, especially when you’re bundled up in layers and thermals, as the air is so dry and we had no or very little wind.
So it’s your toes and fingers which feel the cold first. I layered ordinary socks with thermal socks for both of us, within warm ski boots, but still wished for thicker socks myself several times.
Buy more handwarmers
We had two sets of reusable handwarmers with us, which worked beautifully the first time we used them (just bend to snap the metal disc and they heat up instantly).
I then managed to drop one in a snowdrift where it vanished entirely, and when trying to heat them in boiling water to reuse them, one popped, and the other two flatly refused to go squashy again.
Next time I’d take a lot more and go for disposable air activated ones instead like these.
Get a gaiter
I’ve also heard them called buffs and snoods, but whatever name you fancy giving this useful piece of clothing, make sure you’ve got one!
The circle of cosy material is a lot less faff than a scarf, easier to snuggle under a jacket and easy to pull up over your face and nose, especially if you’re husky sledding when we felt the chill of the air far more.
My daughter’s was fleecy and frankly I was jealous enough to try it on to see if it fitted (it did, just – click here to check out the fluffiness) so I have my eye on a similar one like this next time.
Make sure your hat covers your ears
Or consider a balaclava (although when I wore one under my helmet for snowmobiling, I thought my daughter would explode with laughter).
And if your kids are like my daughter, who can lose hats as easily as gloves, take at least two. Tassels can come in useful to tie it under their chin too, although it’s worth knowing huskies like to play with longer tassels…!
Slip in some slippers
Or comfy shoes. I had my own ski boots and was also provided with another set but there’s nothing like pulling on a comfy pair of slippers after a day clomping around in heavy boots.
Thermal socks can be warm but often tight so I was glad to peel those off and this kept me warm without underfloor heating.
Have a hot water bottle
The apparently thin duvets on our beds were impressively warm, so we could certainly have managed without our hot water bottles.
But there’s nothing quite so comforting as curling up with one when you’ve been cold – I packed this 1 litre hot water bottle with a fleecy cover for me, and a dinky 0.5 litre version for my daughter.
I also threw in this fleece travel blanket just in case: in the end we never needed it, but for a fiver it was great as a back-up.
Pack portable snacks
Chocolate biscuits, fruit leather, cereal bars… I came armed with plenty of snacks for both of us which could easily be slipped into a bag when we were out for the day, whenever my six-year-old needed a high-energy boost.
Playing in snow is huge fun, as were all our activities, but it can be tiring so a few treats were ideal to keep her going and Finland is not the cheapest place to buy food.
Stick with your own favourites, although the fruit Bear Nibbles and Cadbury Animal Biscuits worked wonders.
You can never have too much hot chocolate
Ticking the high energy box and perfect to warm us up as we relaxed after a day in the snow, I think I lost count of the number of hot chocolates we had between us.
As we were in a hotel rather than self-catering, I grabbed a handful of different sachets which only needed boiling water – Cadbury, Galaxy, Wispa – and sipped through them all. Yum.
For a bit of extra luxury, a lot of fancy hot chocolates need to be made with hot milk but these Charbonnel & Walker Drinking Chocolate flakes and the Classic hot chocolate from Hotel Chocolat can be made with boiling water.
The bottle of red wine I picked up in Duty Free at Gatwick was only a few pounds more than a small glass in one Levi restaurant (and slightly less than a large glass in our hotel).
You can buy wines at the Alko shop but the one in Levi is a little walk from the centre of town and you can’t simply pick up a bottle in a supermarket.
Take a rucksack
You probably won’t have a huge amount to carry but once you’re in a thermal suit, you have limited accessible pockets, so something to stash the essentials in and keep your hands free to mess around in the snow is useful.
I took my Osprey daylite backpack which had plenty of room for everything, enough pockets to keep it all separate, and a handy compartment at the back to stuff gloves and hats in when we went inside.
Consider how to carry your phone
Even with my glove liners on, my cold fingers managed to fumble my phone and drop it into a snowdrift on day one.
Thankfully the powdery snow meant it emerged unscathed (although the battery level dropped instantly to 3%) but I regretted not taking the waterproof case I own, which hangs around my neck.
Using the phone with glove liners through the thin case might have been tricky but it would also have made me feel safer holding it on our husky sled.
Bulk buy batteries
Even if you manage not to drop your phone into a snowdrift (highly advised!), the cold temperatures drain batteries much faster.
Plus you’ll be snapping away at the gorgeous scenery a lot, as well as capturing some fantastic family memories.
So if you’re using a camera, it’s worth having a second battery charged and ready. If you’re using a phone, keep a charged portable battery to hand.
This slimline Anker power bank is ideal as it’s not too bulky but can quickly and completely charge a phone (with power leftover)..
Or keep your phone in the same pocket as handwarmers if it’s starting to get chilled.
Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise
The dry air might mean you don’t feel the cold as much as you expect, but your skin certainly will.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of lip balm too: my Elizabeth Arden eight-hour cream was also great for any particularly sore spots on my hands from pulling stiff zips.
Lapland tips: where to stay with kids
Hotel or self-catering?
There are self-catering apartments and chalets as well as hotels in destinations like Levi, so you can choose which suits you best (as well as both half-board and full-board options in the hotels).
It’s worth bearing in mind that food in Finland isn’t cheap, so self-catering may not be as low-cost as other destinations – and that while I’ve had some perfectly nice meals there, you don’t really go to Lapland for the cuisine!
With chips and child favourites like chicken nuggets on the buffet at our hotel, Levi Panorama, there was something for my daughter every evening, plus a couple of stand-out adult options including salmon with dill and a melting beef stew.
If you’re planning to eat out, two big pizzas with drinks at Classic Pizza in Levi cost us around 40 Euros. You can eat more cheaply or easily spend more though.
How far is it to the restaurant?
One thing that’s worth considering is how close your rooms are to the restaurant – some will be in a separate building in the hotel so on cold evenings or if it’s more than a few minutes walk, you might need thermal suits on the way.
The same goes if you’re planning to eat out and will be walking from your hotel. After a fun day out in the snow, I was very pleased to take off some layers and just hop into the lift to get to ours.
Central or secluded?
Levi itself isn’t huge – and the same goes for many of the other main Santa break destinations – but with snow, thermal suits and cold weather, if you’ve got a 15-minute walk to get anywhere, you’ll quickly get fed up of that with tired kids.
On the plus side, if you’re a little way out of the main town, you get unspoiled snow to explore.
Levi Panorama is linked to the town by a gondola, and I was in two minds whether I’d love it or whether it would be an added faff.
Happily, it was the former – we had snowy woods to wander through, the gondola was only a minute or so away and left us right in the heart of Levi, and my daughter and I loved the views as we were carried up and down the mountain.
We never had to wait more than about a minute for it to arrive and never failed to get a seat either (and tickets are free if you stay in the hotel).
It runs from 9.30am to 9pm which worked well, as we weren’t out exploring earlier or later.
Look for the extras
There are a few bonuses for Lapland hotels which you won’t find in most accommodation – for starters, a drying cupboard is fantastic when you’ve found yourself covered in snow.
Inside a thermal suit, you’ll stay relatively dry but as well as soggy gloves, hats and socks, we ended up with wet cuffs and hems at various points, which this sorted out superfast.
Some hotels even have a mini sauna in the room (not advised for children under 12) as well as communal saunas – men and women’s are separated but you’ll be expected to go in naked in Finland.
After a freezing day, it can be blissful (especially if you’ve got someone else to look after the kids as you gently toast).
Even in freezing temperatures a swimming pool can go down well, especially when it’s too cold to go outside for long or if you’re unlucky enough not to get much snow – although my pool-obsessed daughter managed quite happily without a swim on this trip.
Tips for visiting Lapland with kids: when you’re there
Take it slow
Allow extra time for everything here. There’s no question of simply grabbing a coat and popping out (not that there usually is with kids!)
In Lapland, you need to factor in extra time to get into thermal suits, to pull gloves over gloves, then to walk through the snow.
Factor in downtime
Having a thermal suit to wear is a huge bonus, keeping the snow out and keeping everyone warm, but they’re not lightweight.
Wearing one can be surprisingly tiring, even for adults, let alone kids, especially when you’re clambering over the snow and fitting in all kinds of fun activities.
At the end of the day, as we got back to the hotel, I was glad to unzip mine, take off my boots and just chill out. (This is where the hot chocolate and slippers comes in too).
This Lapland children’s activity book and journal is great for when you’re kicking back after your day out, and makes a fun memento too.
Remember the dark
When we visited in early December, there’s only about two hours between sunrise and sunset. By mid December, it’s the polar night and officially dark all day.
On the plus side, we had the most beautiful light in the middle of the day, a pinkish gold shade, and the slow dawn and dusk means you do get some daylight before the official sunrise and sunset.
There are also plenty of streetlights and the snow reflects to give a half-light later than you might expect. However, if you are heading off the beaten track, take a torch.
Waking up in the dark and it being full dark by mid afternoon definitely confuses your body clock though, especially on the first day with a two-hour time difference and a very early start for the flight. Be prepared to think it’s bedtime by 5pm!
You might not need all your layers
I was so geared up for the low temperatures and determined the cold wouldn’t stop us that it came as a surprise to discover we didn’t need our thermal suit every day.
On our first day, the temperatures hovered around -6C – not exactly tropical, but thermal layers, a thick hoody, ski jacket and ski trousers, plus ski boots (and hat, gloves etc) kept us toasty warm.
My daughter’s thermal suit was too warm for the heated pods when we went snowmobiling too!
Download an Aurora app
I’ve visited the Arctic Circle three times and have still yet to see those amazing swirling green Northern Lights.
Unfortunately the cloud cover meant I was no luckier this time, but to save hours spent outside staring hopefully at the sky, I downloaded My Aurora Forecast app (click here for Android) which lets you know your chances and the best times to spot them.
*First published 2018, updated 2021*
PIN FOR LATER: TIPS FOR VISITING LAPLAND WITH KIDS
Disclosure: My Santa Break was courtesy of Inghams. All opinions are my own, based on our experiences from our trip, including endless faffing with gloves and fumbling with phones. This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission
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