Reindeer guide: top facts and where to see in the UK

Our guide to reindeer in the UK looks at where you can still see reindeer in the UK, plus interesting facts about how reindeer and how they became associated with Christmas

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) adult female, antlers in velvet, walking across upland moor, Cairngorms, Scotland, UK, August.

A popular image of reindeer is of Santa Claus’s sleigh being pulled through the snow by reindeer. However, there is a lot more to know about these interesting animals.


Our guide to reindeer in the UK looks at where you can still see reindeer in the UK, plus interesting facts about how reindeer and how they became associated with Christmas

Where can you find reindeer in the UK?

Cairngorms Reindeer Centre, Scotland

One of the UK’s most famous reindeer herds lives in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. The Cairngorm mountains offer the only sub-Arctic environment in Britain, and in the winter, this high granite plateau endures weeks of whiteouts and blizzards. Luckily, the hardy Cairngorms reindeer are able to thrive in this harsh climate.

The Cotswold Reindeer Herd, Cotswolds

Surprisingly, a large reindeer herds can be also be found in the Cotswolds. With 21 reindeer, the Cotswold Reindeer Herd opened its gates to visitors in November 2017 for the Christmas season. Booking required.

When were reindeer first introduced to the UK?

The Cairngorm reindeer are Britain’s only herd of these animals. In 1952, a Swede called Mikel Utsi introduced these velvet-antlered beasts into Scotland to show that they could live and breed in these surroundings. The herd has grown in numbers over the years and is currently held at between 130 and 150 strong through controlled breeding. They are a most unexpected sight and it’s a fantastic opportunity to encounter these animals living freely.

The 1823 illustrations popularised the idea that Santa’s sled is pulled by flying reindeer. (Getty Images)

Here are some other interesting reindeer facts


Santa’s helpers

Reindeer were first associated with Santa Claus in a poem published by New York printer William Gilley in 1821: Old Santeclaus with much delight / His reindeer drives this frosty night. / O’er chimneytops, and tracks of snow, / To bring his yearly gifts to you. Two years later, Clement Clarke Moore’s better known poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas”, featuring eight flying reindeer.

texture of the reindeer's fur closeup
A reindeer’s dense fur has about 1,300 hairs per square inch. Picture: Getty Images

Super-furry animals

Reindeer hairs are hollow – which makes their fur an excellent insulator.

Let me snuggle down in this nice warm spot. (Getty Images)

The end of an era

A millennium ago, there were wild reindeer in Scotland: the Vikings are thought to have hunted them. Reindeer became extinct in the UK about 800 years ago because of hunting – but also due to climate change. That’s a couple of hundred years after the last brown bear perished – but long before the last wolf, which is thought to have been killed in 1860.

Reindeer hooves are splayed to spread the animal’s weight. (Getty Images)


Reindeer have large hooves that act like snowshoes and stop them sinking.


Talking tendons

The tendons in reindeer feet click. This ‘clicking’ sound also allows them to locate each other in whiteout blizzard conditions.

MONGOLIA - 2012/06/27: Deer Stone with petroglyphs in Hustai National Park, Mongolia. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Ancient Deer Stones in Mongolia depict flying reindeer. (Getty Images)

Origins of a legend

Flying reindeer had long been the subject of shamanic tales amongst nomadic tribes in places like Mongolia and the Altai Mountains. Three-thousand year old standing stones placed above ancient burial grounds have carvings that depict reindeer in flight.

Rentierflechte verzweigte gabelige gruengraue Aeste an Zweig
Reindeer moss is a staple food in winter. (Getty Images)

Frozen suppers

Reindeer can feed in harsh conditions, surviving in winter by pulling up lichens from underneath the snow, such as reindeer moss, Cladona rangiferina.

A female reindeer and calf pictured in Manitoba, Canada. (Getty Images)

Female power

Reindeer cows are the only female deer to grow antlers, which they use to defend food in patches of cleared snow.

Another secret weapon in freezing environments: the nose. (Getty Images)

Not to be sniffed at

The inside of a reindeer nose is an efficient heat exchanger, warming the cold air on its way in against the hot air being breathed out. They have a similar system with the blood in their legs.

You’ll go down in history – Rudolph had an unlikely birth. Picture: Getty Images

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer – how reindeer became associated with Christmas

An advertising copyrighter named the most famous reindeer of all. In 1939, Robert L May wrote the words to Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer to promote a chain of department stores; Johnny Marks added the tune.