15 tips to do Lapland on a budget
For many, visiting Father Christmas's 'home' in Lapland is a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. Yet costs can often run into £1,000s per person, so we’ve a host of tips to ensure you feel the crunch of snow underfoot, not a crunch on your cash.
Whether you plan to go or have already booked, this rundown includes how to save money on everything from hotels and husky rides to flights and Santa visits.
North of the Arctic Circle, Lapland is a region that covers parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. We've focused on Finland and Sweden in this blog, as they're much cheaper.
If you're a Lapland pro, we’d love to hear your tips – please add them to the forum thread or comments below.
Our Twitter poll showed taking kids to Lapland was on 37% of people's wishlists (7% had already been). Yet don't plan the perfect Lapland trip with snowmobiles, husky rides and posh snow gear for all, then only afterwards consider: "How will I pay for it?" That's a recipe to end up broke.
Instead, first calculate your budget (see our free Budget Planner), and ask: "Can I afford it and, if so, how much can I afford to spend?" Kids don't need a Lapland trip to create memories - our Free Christmas Magic blog has 16 free or very cheap ways to sprinkle some magic.
Now, without further ado, here are our 15 tips to do Lapland on the cheap.
1. Lapland packages can undercut DIY web bookings – especially for late deals, eg, seven nights for £299pp
Package holidays to Lapland – a bundle of flights, hotels and transfers under one booking – can beat DIY web bookings.
And we're now well into the 2019 Lapland 'lates' period, where there's less choice but more discounts as tour operators try to flog unsold seats on flights and hotel rooms going spare. The later you leave it, the less choice, but the cheaper it is.
The late deals usually start about eight weeks ahead. For the very best, you often have to fly the next day, though not always.
For example, we found a week's trip to Levi, Finland, for three nights' four-star self-catering at £299 per person, leaving 1 December. We also saw a trip to Yllas in Finland, for four nights in a four-star B&B, for £471 per person (including meeting Santa and tasters of snowmobiling and husky riding), leaving 4 December.
So if you want to bag a cheap Lapland getaway, it’s all about flexibility and trial and error. Check deals pages from tour operators such as Crystal, Inghams, Tui, Transun and Santa's Lapland.
2. Bizarrely, it could be cheaper to book a week-long 'ski' trip than a four-night 'Santa' break
Specialist holidays marketed as 'Santa tours' or 'northern lights' holidays typically last three or four nights. However, booking a week-long 'ski' trip to the same town is often cheaper.
To show how this works, when we checked in October, Inghams had a four-night self-catering holiday in the first week of December in Villa Armas Cabins in Ylläs, Finland, marketed as a 'Santa' holiday. It came to £4,002 for a family of four, flying from Gatwick.
However, the same company sold a seven-night holiday in the same cabins at £1,492 for a family of four, leaving three days earlier, also from Gatwick. Marketed as a 'ski' holiday (though lift passes and ski gear rental were extra), it was a whopping £2,510 cheaper.
The shorter 'Santa break' package included thermal suits and boots and a meeting with St Nick. You could organise your own Santa visit, eg, we saw trips to meet Father Christmas in the woods for €145pp (£125pp), and you could take your own suits and boots or hire them from the tour operator (we were quoted £120 for a family of four). Factoring these in, you'd still save over £2,250.
It's also worth checking ski tour operator Crystal for deals.
3. Land bargain flights to Lapland for DIY holidays from £296pp
For scheduled flights, don't wait till the last minute as flight costs soar. This means DIY Lapland trips might not be that competitive for 2019, but should be for 2020 – especially if you book cheap self-catering accommodation. Flights for late 2020 should be released from early next year, while early 2020's are already on sale.
That said, it's worth checking for this year – we did manage to find a Manchester to Rovaniemi £155pp return flight, leaving Thursday 12 December, returning a week later. Add a studio apartment at £906 for seven nights, and that's a total of £1,526 for a family of four (£382pp), knocking the Christmas stockings off many packages we saw.
For mid January 2020, we found return London-to-Kittilä flights for £209pp with Finnair. Add a self-catering cottage at £173 for four nights, and that works out at £296pp for a couple.
How to find cheap flights
A number of airlines fly from the UK to Lapland in Finland (Kuusamo, Kittilä, Rovaniemi and Ivalo Airports) and Sweden (Kiruna Airport). Another popular option is flying to Helsinki in Finland and catching the train north to Lapland – see The Man in Seat 61 for tips.
To find a flight, use comparison sites such as Kayak*, Momondo* and Skyscanner*. They all offer email alerts for when your chosen flights drop in price. For more, see our Cheap Flights guide, which is chock-full of tricks to slash prices.
Easyjet flies to Rovaniemi from Gatwick and Manchester. The airline releases its seats in waves throughout the year; its prices are fluid and move based on demand, so if you can pounce when they're launched, you're often getting the cheapest deal. See our Easyjet Tricks for more on this and other ways to save.
My friend, Geeta, (see photo, right) just got back from a five-night DIY trip to Lapland – her flights and hotel came to just £378 in total...
I went to Rovaniemi – my flight was £98 with Norwegian and I booked a gorgeous apartment (with its own sauna!) at £280 for five nights. I went for long walks, met huskies, saw the 'real' Father Christmas for free at Santa's Village (all organised myself). It was such an awesome trip.
Also check the supermarkets for souvenirs – the ornament I wanted was £7.99 there, but they were asking for £25 for the same thing at Santa's Village!
4. Look away from tour operators to save on activities such as husky rides
Lapland is a place that encourages activity binges, be it snowmobiling, husky sledding or reindeer sleigh rides. Clocking these off can easily run into £100s, so don't feel pressured. If you've kids, most will be happy just to play in the snow.
When we tried booking extras on a Tui packagem to Levi, we were quoted £132 per adult for a reindeer 'safari' ride (£102 for a child) and £135 for a husky ride (£102 for a child).
Yet many local tour providers offer packages at vastly reduced rates, often with fantastic TripAdvisor reviews too.
The tour to pick obviously depends on where you're staying, but in Levi in Finland, Tundra Huskies runs five-km husky rides at €95 (£80-ish) for adults or €70 (£60ish) for kids. In Saariselkä, Top Safaris offers reindeer sleigh rides at €94 for adults (£81).
So if you're travelling with a tour operator, first check its prices for excursions. Then head over to TripAdvisor to find local tour companies and see if their prices win.
5. Cabins, chalets and apartments often undercut hotels
Finding a place to lay your head in Lapland can be an expensive business. But self-catering cabins, chalets and apartments can be less than half the cost of similar hotels – especially if you're travelling as a family.
We found a two-bed apartment in Rovaniemi at £319 for four nights on Airbnb, compared with £1,140/week for two rooms in a similar-quality three-star hotel nearby. (Prices were for early December.) Our Holiday Rentals guide shows how to find them, what to watch for and how to cut costs.
If you're going for a hotel, never assume prices are fixed. We've 25 tips for bagging cheap hotel accommodation.
6. Have your 'Christmas' holiday in January or February
A quick way to shave £100s off your Lapland holiday is to jet off after Christmas. While it will be less about elves and grottos, you'll still experience the same magical frozen landscape and have a chance to see the northern lights.
To show the savings, when we searched, we found a week-long four-star self-catering holiday in Ylläs, Finland, which was £450pp in the first week of January 2021. This compares with £699pp in the first week of December 2020.
Die-hard Christmas fan? It's worth noting you can meet Santa year-round at certain attractions such as the free Santa Claus Village.
7. See Santa for FREE
If you want to see Father Christmas himself, he and his elves visit various spots around Lapland. Now, of course Santa would never accept payment, but sometimes the venues he's staying at do charge to help with upkeep, so, as always, it's worth comparing prices.
Tour operators can charge £60 a child to meet the big fella. It depends where you're staying, but, as above, entry to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi is free, including the visit to see the big man himself. You can pay for extras such as photos, and there can be queues in busy periods.
Alternatively, Rovaniemi's Santa Park costs €35 (£30) for adults and €29 (£25) for kids, including a visit to Santa for the little ones.
8. Keep toasty with cheap snow gear from Aldi and Lidl
With typical temperatures of -5°C to -15°C in December, you'll need to pile on the padding. An essential part of any Lapland holiday is jackets, trousers and boots, as well as thermal base layers.
Specialist ski-wear is included in some packages, so check if you're going on one; if not you'll need to find your own. Aldi has ski-wear in store from Sunday 17 November, but you can order online now. Deals include kids' salopettes at £9.99 and adult snow jackets £19.99.
Lidl's ski-gear event started on Sunday 10 November (in-store). You can pick up ski tops from £6.99, snow boots £16.99 and ski gloves £5.99.
You can also pick up reasonable snow gear from Decathlon, Mountain Warehouse and Trespass – look out for sales throughout the year. (Decathlon's also been known to reduce items on Black Friday.) eBay and Facebook Marketplace can be a treasure trove of quality second-hand gear.
9. Join fellow Lapland-lovers for tips and deals
While not exclusively about bargains, Lapland Facebook groups often feature deals from major tour operators, as well as advice on everything from snowmobiling to northern-light spotting. For example, the Lapland Holiday Chat group has over 10,000 members. There's also the Lapland Budget DIY Trips for flights and hotels, with 3,000 members.
10. Boost your chances of seeing the northern lights
Lapland is a northern-lights hot spot and many hope to catch a glimpse of this stunning natural wonder while they're there.
Some people spend £1,000s on posh glass igloo stays for unobstructed views of the multi-coloured displays, also known as the aurora borealis.
However, an igloo stay doesn't guarantee the lights will come out to play. It's more about luck and how cloudy the sky is. According to Visit Finland, the further north you stay, the more likely you are to spot them. Darkness is your friend, so get away from bright lights and buildings.
If the sky's clear and starry, you're more likely to see them, but stay outside as much as possible – the lights can appear and suddenly vanish anytime. See Visit Finland's full list of tips.
It's also worth signing up for aurora alerts on the Finnish Meteorological Institute's Auroras Now site. It sends an email or text whenever conditions in the skies over Finland make the incredible natural display likely.
11. Are one-day trips worth it?
A few tour operators run one-day trips to Lapland, usually with packed itineraries. Depending on other deals available, they can work out cheapest overall.
For example, we saw a Tui one-day trip to Kittilä at £381pp for a family of four, including meeting Santa in a log cabin in the woods, arctic storytelling, and husky and reindeer rides.
However, on the downside, you'll only get a few hours in Lapland, younger kids may find the day trying and £1,524 for a family day out is hardly a bargain.
Tour operators that run one-day trips include Tui, Transun and Canterbury Travel.
12. Pay the right way for extra protection
Thomas Cook's collapse in September was tragic for staff and worrisome for customers, some of whom had booked Lapland trips. Yet while debit and credit card-payers without ATOL or ABTA cover had some protections, those who paid by cash, cheque or BACS sadly were unlikely to get any money back, so here's how to protect your booking.
- Package holidays (including many DIY bookings) are protected by law, so if something goes wrong you get your money back (or help coming home). See Holiday Rights for full info.
- A booking costing £100+ on a credit card may have 'Section 75' protection. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you pay on your credit card for an individual item costing more than £100, the card company's equally liable if something goes wrong, eg, you've paid for a service that isn't provided – though booking via a travel agent may mean this doesn't work. See Section 75.
- Booking on a debit card, or paying less than £100 on a credit card, means you're likely to be protected by chargeback. Unlike Section 75, the chargeback scheme isn't a legal requirement, it's just a customer service promise. But it has given valuable protection when holiday firms have collapsed previously. See Chargeback.
13. A warning... don't book your snow holiday naked
Brrrrr. OK, 'naked' is hyperbole, but it got you reading. The point is, don't wait to get travel insurance. Without an active policy from the day you book, in the event of cancellation, injury or illness, or death in the family, you're uncovered and have no recourse.
It's these eventualities that cheap travel insurance is there to protect you from – and you can often massively undercut holiday firms' policies. Annual European policies start from £9 (Norway's usually included under Europe, but do check with the insurer.)
Plus, if you're husky sledging, snowmobiling etc, for full cover you'll NEED a winter sports add-on that includes that activity. This pays out for medical costs from accidents. Check if your current policy includes that activity – if not, get a quote to extend it, then see if you can beat it buying new cover that includes the relevant winter sport(s).
14. Check tour operators' 'no snow' policies
Many activities and of course the festive atmosphere rely on a snowy climate. The best time to visit for snow is November to March. Snow Forecast gives snow updates and tips.
So what happens if you head away on your Lapland getaway and there's no snow?
If you're planning to book a package, it's worth checking the terms beforehand. For example, under Tui's No Snow, You Don't Have to Go policy, if it thinks there's not enough snow to run the itinerary on your package, you can cancel or change the trip.
If you booked a flight and hotel separately, it's unlikely you will get money back on these unless you booked a flexible deal.