If there’s one thing you must do when you visit Finland in the winter it’s to book a reindeer safari in Lapland. In traditional Sami culture, there are few things as important as the reindeer. Sami people (known in English as Laplanders) have relied on reindeer for food, clothing and shelter since time began. Experiencing the life of a reindeer herder is a completely unique experience.
Updated for 2020
Although the importance of reindeer to Sami people has changed little over thousands of years, the role of the reindeer in traditional Finnish society has changed with modern life. Today, most of Europe’s two million reindeer live in Russia with a further 600,000 divided across Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Reindeers in Lapland
We visited Akaslompolo, a Finnish village high up above the arctic circle. It’s just one of the options for families wishing to visit Lapland with kids.
I’d love to say that we decided to take a reindeer sleigh ride to learn more about the importance of this animal in traditional Finnish culture.
But really, we were travelling with three young children and all anyone was interested in was meeting the some reindeer – and maybe even Father Christmas!
Snow Fun Safaris
We booked a reindeer safari experience with Snow Fun Safaris. This local tour operator can arrange a husky safari and trips to see the Santa Claus Village.
We met at their office on a chilly afternoon for the bus ride to Hyyverova. Here, we met Hannu and his reindeer. A tall and imposing man, Hannu greeted us with a warm smile and lots of Finnish greetings. Fortunately we had our guide, Katja, on hand to translate. Hannu has spent his entire life reindeer herding and quickly turned out to be the start of the afternoon.
The sleigh ride
First, however, we were taken to our sleighs and covered with reindeer skins before heading off into the snowy forest.
This could have been a serene, peaceful experience; gliding through a silent, pine forest with only the sounds of the reindeer to accompany us. Instead, however, my youngest decided he did not like the idea of being pulled by a reindeer in a traditional Sami sleigh and so ensued a rather tortuous 20-minute tantrum.
When he finally calmed down, however, it was a wonderful experience winding through what felt like the middle of nowhere in our very own sleigh. When we had finished the 4km loop among the trees, the kids were allowed to feed the reindeer their favourite snack, lichen.
What really made this experience special, however, spending time with Hannu.
Dressed in a blue boiler suit and a reindeer skin tunic, Hannu invited us into his traditional Lappish teepee where he told us about his life. Our guide, Katja, translated his jovial stories into English for us although, he was such an animated storyteller that it almost didn’t matter if we couldn’t understand him!
Hannu has led a life so very different from anything we have experienced; from travelling to school by reindeer and a household where TVs were non-existent (the horror on my children’s face!) to becoming a reindeer herder himself,
Hannu’s stories entertained and charmed every one of us. We were give a cup of hot, homemade berry juice and an arctic cloudberry tart handmade by his wife as we sat around the fire and listened to his tales.
Much to the children’s delight, Hannu answered all of our questions and even revealed that he does lend some of his reindeer to Santa if the Big Man needs them.
Given that we were just a week away from Christmas when we met Hannu, the kids were thrilled by this idea!
Having arrived for our reindeer experience more interested in the reindeer than anything else, we left enchanted by our time with Hannu. This was a truly unique experience and a wonderful way to learn more about traditional Finnish culture… as well as Santa’s reindeer!