Festive fun: baking at Santa's Cottage in Vuotunki

Combine a visit to Father Christmas with a trip to Europe's frozen north, or find festive fun closer to home. Sarah Barrell reports

The trick is to find a Christmas-themed trip that keeps children entertained without causing parents to reach for the sherry. There are plenty of supersize grotto experiences, from Finland (bit.ly/FinlandSanta) to Lapland UK in Berkshire (laplanduk.co.uk) which go easy on the plastic snowmen and exits through the gift shop.

To avoid a Bad Santa experience, go straight to the source, which the travel industry has largely decided is Finnish Lapland. The World Santa Claus Congress (worldsantaclauscongress.com) might decree Greenland but unless you've got a troop of reindeer, travelling to the North Pole with a young child just isn't practical.

The big news this winter is that Santa is getting better airlift. New Finnish charter airline Snowbird (snowbird.fi) has twice-weekly flights from Gatwick to two destinations in Lapland: Enontekio and Ivalo, both a couple of hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, within reach of the Santa sights. Single fares start at £182 in December. Lapland specialist ScanAdventures (020 7529 8759; scanadventures.co.uk) is taking advantage of the new flights with some action-packed four- and five-day trips to Ivalo.

Lap it up

The ho-ho-ho hub is the Lapland village of Rovaniemi. It is undoubtedly touristy, but Christmas-obsessed kids will be kept more than happy. There are two theme parks: Santa Park (santapark.com; two-day admission €31 for adults, €26 for children), home to his office and an Elf School, and Santa Claus Village, right on the Arctic Circle (santaclausvillage.info; free).

Thomson (020 3451 2688; thomson.co.uk) has a five-night package that will let you spend Christmas with the man himself. It includes flights from Gatwick departing on 24 December and B&B accommodation at the Hotel Santa Claus in Rovaniemi for £605 per person, based on two adults and two children under 12 travelling.

The Forest Hotel

Have a real adventure

It may be in the "other" Lapland, over the border in Sweden, but Discover the World's adventure-packed Family Fun at Forest Hotel break (01737 214 250; discover-the-world.co.uk) lets you combine a Santa meeting with exploring the region's genuine wilderness.

Take a snowmobile ride (children are pulled behind on a sled) and go cross-country skiing before hanging out with Father Christmas at his home. The four-night break, departing 23 December, costs £1,833 for adults and £1,516 for children, including flights, transfers, full-board accommodation and outdoor clothing.

Take a day-trip

Spend the day in Lapland and be back home in time for bed. The Winter Wonderland day-trip from Transun (01865 567 178; transun.co.uk) includes snowmobile and reindeer sleigh rides, husky sledding and a private meeting with Santa in his secret hideaway. Thermal kit and lunch are provided. Children also get a gift, a souvenir Lapland passport and the need to sleep for a week (flights leave around 7am and return around 9.30pm). From £489 per person, including flights from a range of regional UK airports to Enontekio.

Huskies in Swedish Lapland

Enjoy a silent night

An alternative to the often packed parks of Rovaniemi is the Finnish hamlet of Vuotunki. Santa's Cottage (00 358 207 551850; nordicholidays.com) is a small outfit where families can meet Father Christmas, go tobogganing and bake gingerbread during four-hour programmes running on Saturdays, from 13 December to 28 March.

It costs €70 per person, with transfers from local hotels in the gateway town of Kuusamo. At the Sokos Hotel Kuusamo (00 358 20 1234 600; sokoshotels.fi) a family room for three costs €115 in December.

Stay close to home

If taking children abroad over Christmas doesn't appeal, there are plenty of festive experiences closer to home. At London Zoo's Elfville (0844 225 1826; zsl.org/meetsanta), a seasonal pop-up in the Animal Adventure exhibit, you can make festive treats for the antlered residents, hear talks by zookeepers and meet Father Christmas. Currently open weekends, daily from 19-24 December; £10 per child, accompanying adults free. Zoo entry costs £22 per adult and £16.50 per child.

Alternatively, visit Santa in the rainforest. Or at least the Eden Project's Rainforest Biome (01726 811 911; edenproject.com), where choirs, ice-skating, reindeer, festive food and seasonal craft workshops take place on weekends from this Saturday until 14 December; and daily 15-24 December. Skating sessions cost £6, Christmas grotto entry £3 per adult, £5 per child (aged five-15); under-fives free). General admission £23.50 per adult, £13.50 per child.