Our pick of the best children's Christmas and winter holidays, from visiting Father Christmas to sleeping in a real igloo.
If we believe our grandparents, the British weather just doesn’t do Christmas like it used to. A white Christmas is a rarity these days, meaning that millions of kids grow up without ever waking on Christmas morning to the sparkle of snow-reflected light on the ceiling. Fortunately, the legendary Christmas of snowball fights, tinkling reindeer bells and snowflake-patterned jumpers can be experienced by children today – you just have to travel a bit further afield for it.
For North American kids, Santa Claus lives in the North Pole; Danish children are told he lives in Greenland; while British kids believe Father Christmas has a home (complete with elves and toy factory) in Lapland (an area of Scandinavia far more accessible than the North Pole or Greenland). And even if your kids are too old to believe in Father Christmas, there’s plenty of snow, reindeer and sparkle to satisfy even the most cynical of offspring.
Here’s our pick of the best children’s holidays to meet Father Christmas, stay in a winter wonderland, get active in the snow or make the most of the UK’s own Christmassy facilities.
Meet Father Christmas
Every young kid dreams of meeting the big man himself but long queues for a turn on the lap of a grouchy and over-worked Santa stand-in rarely live up to expectations. Good thing, then, that there are entire, snow-covered resorts in or near the Arctic Circle dedicated to creating the perfect visit to Santa’s grotto.
Savalen, which claims to be the home of the Norwegian Father Christmas, lets you visit his farm (with miniature ponies, lama and, of course, reindeer), workshop and toy laboratory as well as take part in a number of activities including horse and sleigh rides, snowmobile safaris, dog sledding and ice fishing. All this in a compact snowy mountain resort complete with cute log cabins, Santa Street and a spa for the grown ups. Activities Abroad still has places left for its 19 December departure and every family gets a private audience with Santa in his home.
Slip over to Sweden and you’ll find Laponia, a family-owned hotel in Arvidsjaur, home to the Sami people. Arctic Discovery runs special four-day, three-night Christmas trips to the hotel (places are still available on their 19 December departure), which arranges trips to Father Christmas’s home where the children’s wish lists are attentively listened to, photos taken and presents given out. There are also plenty of activities to choose from, including sleigh rides, snowmobile safaris and ice driving.
If your children are slightly older but still enraptured by snowy scenes (this applies to adults too) there are plenty of options for a slightly more grown-up Christmas trip.ICEHOTEL, usually the reserve of glowing newlyweds and couples, opens its icy doors to children at Christmas time. Christmas Eve sees a visit from Father Christmas, a torch-lit procession and a concert of Christmas carols. Arctic Experience still has places for its four-night package leaving on 23 December. There are plenty of activities but the highlight is the night in the unique ICEHOTEL. (Due to the accommodation, Arctic Experience advises against bringing children under eight years old, but understands that parents know best how their kids will cope.) You’ll sleep on an ice bed in an ice room – you can even drink from ice glasses in an ice bar.
Another option is to stay in an igloo. Emagine Travel organises holidays to the rustic Hotel Kakslauttanen in Finland, which has an igloo village with real igloos varying in size from two to eight berths. There are also warm, glass igloos – perfect for gazing up at the magical northern lights from the comfort and warmth of your own bed. If staying in an igloo for your entire holiday nips a bit too close to frostbite, then consider one of their individual unpretentious log cabins which are nestled in snow-covered forest and come with fireplaces and saunas but no TV or phone. As well as offering all the usual activities, Hotel Kakslauttanen is right on the edge of Urho Kekkonen National Park, which has a superb network of cross-country skiing trails.
Post-Christmas winter activities
If your children are a bit older then meeting Father Christmas probably isn’t their number one holiday priority. Still in Lapland, but with less focus on FC, are a number of family-oriented adventure holidays, specially designed to prevent those post-Christmas blues.
Arctic Discovery‘s five-day, four-night Snowy North trip runs from January to April and is suitable for ages five and up. There’s no Santa element and the emphasis is on family fun. Based in Boden, Swedish Lapland, the trip includes an Arctic train journey, dog sledding, guided tour of the famous ice hotel, horse riding through a snowy alpine forest and a trip to Sweden’s best water park.
Specifically created to fill the gap between Christmas and New Year, Canterbury Travel runs four-day trips to Luosto resort in Finnish Lapland. The holiday lets kids drive their own snowmobile (assessed on ability) and involves reindeer and huskies, ice skating, tobogganing and mini snow games (such as tug of war).
Activities Abroad has a seven-night family winter adventure holiday based in Kittila, Finnish Lapland. The holiday includes a trip to a reindeer farm, husky and reindeer safaris, cross-country skiing and a snowmobile safari to Lainio Snow Village, a village full of snow sculptures, an ice bar, restaurant and snow hotel. Places are available from December to April.
Christmas in the UK
Notice that none of the holidays mentioned here are day trips to meet Father Christmas in Lapland, which are rather rushed, relatively expensive and extremely bad for the environment. If, for financial or environmental reasons, you’d rather not leave the UK at all over the Christmas break there are plenty of options right here.
It’s Santa’s little secret, but his real home is in Kent. (Really, why would you want to live somewhere frozen and dark for half of the year?) Lapland UK recreates Father Christmas’s home, deep in snowy woodland, for children to visit for a day. The snow isn’t real but it is created by the best snow-makers around (they also did the snow for James Bond). There are all the usual husky dog and reindeer encounters, plus an apprenticeship with elves in Father Christmas’s factory, but the best bit is the personalisation of the whole experience. Each kid gets an invitation through the post from Santa himself and the parents are asked to fill out a form with family details so ‘Father Christmas’ knows all kinds of facts about your child when they meet him. It’s very convincing.
For a longer UK Christmas break, Centre Parcs (www.centerparcs.co.uk) transforms its Whinfell, Sherwood, Elveden and Longleat forest villages into a Lapland fairy tale. In addition to all the usual activities (such as horse riding, tennis, pampering, birds of prey experiences), there are Santa’s Grottoes, horse and carriage rides, street theatres and pantomimes.