With young kids there’s probably nothing more appealing than to spend Christmas in Lapland. Not just home to Santa and skiing, but activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and horse riding. We spent a week in Finland over Christmas, read this review of Ruka family adventure holiday to find out how we got on.
Ruka is one of the largest ski resorts in Finland. At the world snow awards it has won best ski resort in Finland every year from 2013-2016. Ruka has also been awarded numerous accolades by the likes of National Geographic, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor.
Ruka is located in Finnish Lapland in the north of the country. At around 35 km from the edge of the Arctic circle, the average annual temperature is zero degrees. The ski season lasts over 200 days from October to May. Winter can be bitterly cold, but with that comes the truly unique and magical experience of Christmas in Lapland.
Conveniently, Ruka is just 25 km from Kuusamo Airport, meaning transfers take under half an hour. Throughout the winter, Crystal Ski fly direct from Gatwick and Manchester every Sunday, taking around three and a half hours. They are the only major tour operator offering trips from the UK.
This far north the sun doesn’t properly rise in the middle of winter, it just grazes the horizon from around 10am to 2pm. This is a little strange, but the whole ski area is floodlit, plus there is good lighting around the town. The advantage of such long night is the chance to see the Northern Lights.
At the time of visiting our kids were four and six, so Christmas is still a magical experience. Santa – or Father Christmas as he is called in our house – is still very much believed in. So to to spend Christmas in Lapland was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
We flew out very early on Christmas Eve. So set off to the airport at around 3am. Fortunately we’d booked I Love Meet and Greet airport parking, which makes arrival at the airport so much easier.
With sleepy kids, groggy parents and lots of bags – including a huge snowboard bag – dealing with airport buses would have been horrific. But being met at airport drop off by I Love Meet and Greet got Christmas in Lapland off to a good start.
The advantage of an early flight meant we landed in Kuusamo around 11:30. And with just a 30 minute Crystal Ski transfer we were in resort in time for lunch. This meant the kids had plenty of time to play in the snow on Christmas Eve – their excitement levels were through the roof.
In Finland Christmas Eve is the main celebration, so the ski area and most of the shops and facilities closed earlier than usual at around 3pm. Restaurants, were still open and we headed to the Restaurant Royal Ruka for a traditional Finnish Christmas Dinner (more about that in the food section below).
Unfortunately the free ski buses had stopped running, so when our booked taxi did not turn up we were left hanging around in -20°C. But Father Christmas came to the rescue. Much to the kids delight ‘Santa’ had finished visiting one of the hotels and gave us a lift to the Royal Ruka – only in Christmas in Lapland!
On Christmas Day everything was open as normal. So after opening presents the kids headed to their ski lessons and the adults hit the slopes. I had always wanted to snowboard on Christmas day, so I could tick that off the list during this Ruka family adventure holiday .
We would have liked to have visited Santa’s house, but unfortunately he was all booked up. You make cookies with Mrs Christmas, meet the Reindeer, work with the Elves and spend plenty of time with Father Christmas. Just be sure to book way in advance.
However, we did meet Santa on Christmas afternoon when he visited Ruka village. The kids (both big and small!) were thrilled to meet him and have pictures taken.
We did so much during Christmas in Lapland that the best way to write this review of Ruka family adventure holiday is to cover it activity by activity:
Ruka is pretty small by Alpine standards. There are 35 groomed runs totalling 20 km of piste, and just over 200m of vertical. The longest run is 1.3km long and overall there is a good balance of pistes for different abilities: 41 % blue, 43 % red and 16 % black.
As everything is relatively small scale it makes the area perfect for beginners. You can fit in many runs without ever getting too tired, and as runs are short it’s always easy to fit in ‘just one more’. The pistes are immaculately groomed and there was plenty of natural snow – and snow cannons are on standby just in case.
As my youngest was too young for ski school – it is for 5+ – we booked the boys private lessons for 5 days. Although they never made it out of the beginner area it was clear they were having a lot of fun and they progressed quickly. The instructor Chris, said that our eldest was ready for his first chairlift.
I was very impressed with the instruction by Ruka Ski School, it was done in a fun and holistic way. Compared to other ski schools I have experienced, this was more about enjoyment led rather than being all about technique.
Overall I was very pleased with the progress this boys made. The main thing for me was that they had a great time, and they clearly did as they both wanted to go our skiing again after the ski lessons ended. They also both took great pleasure in falling over!
I had previously spent a week snowboarding in Ruka in around 2006 or 2007. So I knew that despite its small size Ruka punches well above its weight in terms of enjoyment, even for advanced skiers and snowboarders.
The main reason I really enjoyed it the first time was a combination of the parks and off-piste. Since 2006 the ski area has grown with additional runs, the good snowpark has become amazing and there are better facilities.
There is an FIS rated Superpipe, Snow Park and Boardercross course. Plus thee are snow parks aimed at beginner and intermediate freestylers. With short runs, accessed by fast lifts you can easily session the parks and massively improve your freestyle riding.
On my first visit we were blessed with lots of fresh snow. It is a lot lighter and more powdery than in the Alps, so we spent a lot of time through the trees getting fresh lines. The previous visit was in March so the light was a lot better, meaning we could explore the entire hill.
It snowed again on this trip so I spent time in the trees again in the excellent powder. But the natural light was only strong enough to go off piste for a couple of hours a day. Outside that you had to stay near the piste where the floodlights still shone through the trees. This was quite strange – be sure to pack a yellow lens.
My wife is a intermediate skier, and enjoyed her first powder turns during this review of Ruka family adventure holiday. The beauty of Ruka is that with such a compact ski area, intermediate and advanced skiers/snowboarders can easily enjoy the slopes together.
Most runs lead to the same few places and they are short enough that you don’t have long to wait for slower members of your party. Also runs are so short – in around six minutes I could loop one lift and piste – meaning you can easily squeeze in a few extra runs.
And the pistes are good. Although the runs are short the blacks are a decent steepness and the reds challenging for intermediates. The blue runs are often wide so there is plenty of space for everyone.
On boxing day we got up bright and early to feed breakfast to reindeer at Kujala Reindeer farm. The Reindeer experience starts with a walk through the forest – or a sledge ride for the kids. You then arrive at the pens where hundreds of Reindeer are waiting for breakfast.
Reindeer in Finland are all semi-wild. So in the summer they are free to roam and returning to live on the farm is voluntary. They spend at least half the year completely wild, and depending on conditions only return to the farm in the coldest months when the snow is deep and food difficult to get.
Being in a field with hundreds of reindeer was a little daunting. But they never got too close – after all they are semi wild. Having them mill around is was a magical experience that the kids loved. We also met some young tamer reindeer that had been hand reared after their mothers had died.
Unlike livestock farms in the UK the reindeer are not purely bred for meat, and as with Sami traditions the old reindeer are killed when their life starts to fade, and only ever enough to sustain. Every part of the reindeer is used by the farm, they even collect as many of the the antlers that are shed each year as possible.
Temperatures were in the minus twenties and despite having many layers on we all ended up feeling the cold. So it was nice when we arrived at a hut with a fire pit to warm up. Kujala Reindeer farm make lots of souvenirs from reindeer, have artwork for sale, and rugs – we got a fridge magnet to remind us of Christmas in Lapland.
I had always wanted to try dogsledding, so during this review of Ruka family adventure holiday I got to tick another wish off my list. What I didn’t expect was to be driving dogs myself with my kids as passengers. Which made it an absolute highlight of Christmas in Lapland.
As the dogs set off at a breakneck speed both the kids burst into spontaneous laughter. They laughed, squealed, giggled and screamed for the first five minutes. To be honest, I joined in with the laughing and squealing as it was an incredible experience.
We had been given a briefing on how to steer, slow and stop the dogs and then were set off on our own on a track at Lammintupa Winter Village. The trail is not that long, but it is not that easy either and is a fast and bouncy ride. Standing on the back you have to lean at corners to help it turn and use the foot brake during the downhills.
When one of the dogs did a poo the kids thought it was the funniest thing in the world, and started squealing with laughter again. Dogsledding was one of the most purely enjoyable things I have ever done and the kids absolutely loved it.
While at Lammintupa Winter Village we also had a reindeer sleigh ride. It is not as fast as the dogsledding but is still a unique experience that the kids loved, and a must during Christmas in Lapland.
Unlike the dogs who work as a team there is just one reindeer pulling. You go around a track and have to do a little steering to ensure the reindeer does not go off course, which is wanted to do at every corner.
At the village there is a nice cafe with tasty cakes and hot drinks. While there the kids could have tried snowmobiling on a mini snowmobile. It was for six and overs, however our son was more interested in playing with the sledges on a small slope and using toy trucks and diggers to make a big pile of snow.
Another thing I had always wanted to try snowmobiling. So when the chance to search for the Northern Lights on a snowmobile came up as part of this review of Ruka family adventure holiday I jumped at the chance.
As it was a family trip the kids were to be towed behind the Ruka Adventures guide in a special trailer. My wife went with them, partly because the kids were nervous and partly because she didn’t trust my driving!
We were kitted out head to toe in warm gear and after a safety briefing set off the explore the surrounding area. Much of the time was spent on lakes where you could really let loose. At points I hit 80-90kph, which I know my wife would have hated.
Unfortunately it was snowing most of the time so there was no chance of seeing Aurora Borealis. However the snowmobiling was so much fun I didn’t really care! I was amazed that the handle bar grips are heated to ensure your fingers don’t get cold – they are incredible machines.
It was late by the time we finished and both the boys had fallen asleep. They looked very cute tucked up in blankets but were not happy about being woken, undressed out of the warm clothing and then walked back to the apartment.
The surprise highlight of the Christmas in Lapland was riding icelandic horses at Wanha Raatesalmi. It had been snowing fairly heavily overnight so everywhere was covered in fresh snow making the woodland appear untouched and magical.
Again it was very cold – around minus 25 – so we all wrapped up in multiple layers looking like Michelin men. As we were all new to horse riding we had a quick lesson on how to control them, then we set off lead by our guide Mirva.
We followed a path that meandered through the snow blanketed forest. The trail went up and down some short steep sections and occasionally had to duck under trees which added to the adventure. The kids each had their own horse and despite being nervous and cold towards the end they both clearly enjoyed it.
The Icelandic horses are stocky and sure footed. Even when one or two hoofs suddenly sink into the snow they keep their balance, and somehow don’t rock the boat too much for the riders.
Afterwards we went into a Lavvu (traditional Finnish Teepee) to warm up by the fire. Having coffee, hot chocolate and pancakes cooked over a real fire was a unique experience. Something else that we loved during this Ruka family adventure holiday!
No review of Ruka family adventure holiday would be complete without talking about the food. Christmas dinner is a highlight of Christmas day at home. We accepted we wouldn’t get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and instead went for a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner.
Being in a self-catered apartment we also cooked for ourselves. There is a fairly well stocked supermarket in Ruka and prices are not much more expensive than UK supermarket prices. We cooked up a good spag bol, chicken stir fry and spanish omelette for not much more than at home.
We also ate out quite a bit, overall I would say prices are slightly lower than you would spend in French ski resorts – but still fairly expensive. Here is a summary of the meals we had on this Ruka family adventure holiday:
In Finland they have their main Christmas dinner on the 24th. So on the night of arrival we went to the Royal Ruka for a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner. We were surprised to find both turkey and ham on the menu, and many other similarities to a British Christmas dinner.
Starters included smoked salmon, pickled herring (smells bad but tastes amazing), ham and various salads including a fair bit of beetroot. The main was roast turkey and pork, with boiled potatoes that had been lightly roasted plus vegetables. There were also a selection of ‘casseroles’, although not like casseroles I know.
It was explained to me that the ‘casseroles’ are very traditional and most people only make them at Christmas. I think the reason is that like brussel sprouts the casseroles are the kind of thing it takes a year to forget you don’t like it. Although that is being unfair, I at least ate three of the four ‘casseroles’ but still can’t stomach sprouts.
Pudding was a selection of cakes, pastries, ice cream and chocolates. All was very tasty and the kids loved it – by this stage I was too full to fit in many sweets. Overall it was great to experience a traditional element to Christmas in Lapland. It was also very interesting to have a different Christmas dinner that in many ways resembled our own.
For dinner on Christmas Day we went to Kaltiokivi. Upstairs from the main bar and restaurant is a huge dining area. The meal was a self service buffet with everything from traditional Finnish food, to internationally inspired dishes.
It was all very tasty and everyone found dishes they really enjoyed for starter, main and desert. One of the traditional dishes was a reindeer stew which was exceptionally nice.
The Villisika is located at the bottom of the pistes between the two main chairlifts out of Ruka. We ate lunch here twice as it offers great value, both times I went for the unlimited soup. They have three different soups on each day and you just help yourself to as many bowels as you like.
The Thai inspired chicken soup and beef goulash soup where my favourites. There are a range of breads, croutons, sour cream, chives and crispy onions which you also help yourself to.
When the kids did not fancy soup they ordered meatballs and a burger from the childrens menu. The portions were huge and our kids (who are only four and six) ate less than a third each. So if you have younger children there is easily enough for them to share one kids meal between two.
As a burger lover a trip to RU OK Burger was always going to be a food highlight of this review of Ruka family adventure holiday. We popped in for lunch one day and had one of the best burgers I have had anywhere.
They have a traditional burger, blue cheese burger, Korean burger and veggie burger. Unable to decide which, I had half of a traditional burger and half a Korean – which is made with the meat from spare ribs in a special Korean sauce.
Everything was very tasty from the burgers to the fries and the sweet potato chips to the Jack Daniels dips. Prices here are fairly reasonable and in the evening it was always rammed. It’s a fairly small place, but if there is not a table don’t worry as the turnaround is pretty quick.
One evening we decided to get take away pizza and ordered from Koti Pizza downstairs from our apartment. When looking at the menu prices seemed quite high for pizza, however a large pizza is big enough for two people meaning you eat for around €10 each. The pizzas were really good.
On the last night we treated ourselves to a Tex Mex dinner at Colorado Bar and Grill in the centre of Ruka. It is one of those places we walked past everyday and it looked lovely. Prices were certainly not cheap, but if you fancy a Tex Mex style meal it is well worth it and it’s very child friendly.
A review of Ruka family adventure holiday would not be complete without talking about the accommodation. For Christmas in Lapland we stayed in Ruka Suites 43 booked with Crystal Ski.
Based in the main village and in the same complex as the supermarket, bowling, Koti Pizza, Subway and the soft play, Ruka Suites are in a great location. We had stayed in Ruka Suites around 12 years before when it had just opened.
In the time between the village of Ruka and the ski area itself has grown, but fortunately the Ruka suites have not been left behind. Although the building and inside was clearly not brand new, it was all still in very good condition and had been decorated recently.
During our Ruka family adventure holiday we had a couple of light bulbs go. After a call to maintenance bulbs were replaced within a few hours. I suspect if you had any serious problems it would be even quicker.
The accommodation included one double bedroom, a room with bunk beds and a sofa bed in the main living area. There was also a well equipped kitchen, large kitchen table, a lovely shower room with in built sauna and a separate toilet.
All in all Ruka Suites 43 are fairly small, but the space is used really well and five of us were very comfortable for a week. I have stayed in much larger apartments that worked less well, so don’t be put off by overall floorspace. Ruka Suites is also very good for kids, with nothing to break or hurt themselves on.
Downstairs is a boot room with a ski locker for every apartment, so you don’t have to take your equipment to your room. Plus they have even squeezed an outdoor gear dryer into each apartment, this was amazing chuck your wet or frozen clothing in and an hour later it’s warm, dry and ready to be worn again.
We had very high hopes for Christmas in Finland, and were not disappointed. It was a fabulous holiday with amazing activities in a beautiful place.
The only downside was the cold. We were OK with the low temperatures, but it gets tiring taking all the layers on and off yourself and the kids. I have never known a holiday with so much dressing and undressing! And with young kids getting gloves and boots on was often an ordeal!
But that is only a minor annoyance, and without the cold the magical Lapland experience would not be as good. So to conclude this review of Ruka family adventure holiday, I’d say it is by far the the best winter holiday we have taken the kids on.
We will cherish the memories from Christmas in Lapland as we had so many unique experiences. Yes it was cold, and it was sometimes a faff, but it was also fun, beautiful and exciting for all members of the family. A Ruka family adventure holiday is something I thoroughly recommend.
Crystal Ski Holidays offers a week’s self-catering at the four-star Ruka Suites from £1290 (price for 13 January 2019) for a family of four (inc. free child place) includes flights from Gatwick to Kuusamo and transfers. Direct flights also available from Manchester: www.crystalski.co.uk Tel: 020 8610 3123