The first time I saw a photo of Rovaniemi, the first thing I said was “wow, where is that?”
Located in the Finish Lapland, Rovaniemi is often known as the Official Hometown of Santa Claus.
Although meeting the big man was cool and definitely a trip highlight, what I didn’t know was that there is so much more to see and do in this beautiful town!
After spending a few days taking on almost every adventure out there, I decided to compile the best things to see and do in Rovaniemi, Finland. I’ve also included a few tips on Pyhä-Luosto which is located a few hours away from Rovaniemi.
First things first… a few facts.
Rovaniemi: The Capital of the Finnish Lapland
Although Rovaniemi is more popular during the winter months, what amazed me the most is the number of other activities there are to do outside these peak months! In fact, my partner Tom and I are already trying to plan a summer visit when they have the alluring midnight sun phenomenon.
Given the number of outdoor activities this destination boasts, imagine having 24 hours of sun to do them all! They also boast of eight seasons which is derived from Sámi tradition.
In terms of geographical area, Rovaniemi is actually the largest town in Europe, something which I found fascinating.
Aside from that, people flock to this city mainly because it is situated directly on the Arctic Circle. It is also the only place in the world where you can cross the Arctic Circle from underground (you can do so from above as well!).
How to Get to Rovaniemi
The easiest way to get to Rovaniemi is by flying.
There are a few direct flights from Gatwick, Manchester, and even Istanbul. Otherwise, you can opt to stopover in Helsinki for a few days, and catch a domestic flight by either FinAir or Norwegian which runs daily.
By Train or Bus
Alternatively, if you want to travel using by land, Rovaniemi is also well-connected via trains and buses. You can check out the train schedules or bus schedules here. Do take note that if you are short on time, flying is your best option!
Best Things to Do in Rovaniemi
Visit the Arktikum Museum & Science Center
Although it is tempting to jump straight in all the fun winter activities, a trip to Arktikum Museum is actually something we really recommend. It gives you a better understanding of the history of Rovaniemi and also the science behind the Northern Lights and the other natural wonders that take place here.
Admittedly, we are not museum people as we love spending most of our time outdoors but this was something we really enjoyed. Definitely worth stopping by.
If you want more history and culture, the Korundi House of Culture is also located nearby.
Explore Rovaniemi City
When we first arrived, we decided to go on a little walking tour of the city, visiting some of its famous landmarks like the Rovaniemi Church, the library, and the Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge.
We recommend that you walk along the river bank as much as you can because you will be rewarded with stunning views.
Unfortunately, it was rainy and grey when we first went exploring which meant we didn’t stay out as long as we would have wanted. The next day, after a bit of snowfall, we did the same walk, exploring the lakeside, and were wowed by the beautiful views.
Go Hunting for the Northern Lights with Beyond Arctic
Let’s face it: the Northern Lights is a HUGE reason why people head to Rovaniemi.
Although there are times where you can see it directly from the city limits of Rovaniemi, it was a bit cloudy when we were there. With that in mind, we signed up for a Northern Lights Tour which would take us outside the city to increase our chances.
As soon as we got to the office of Beyond Arctic, our guide Juhani happily welcomed us and began explaining what we were doing for the night. It was COLD when we went (like -12 cold) which was why we kitted out in warm overalls provided by Beyond Arctic.
Although we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, we still made a campfire, roasted some sausages, went to a nearby beach, and also took photos which made for a really fun evening!
Have Brunch in Cafe 21
Whenever we are in a new destination, one of the first things I do is Google places to eat. I literally have maps of a handful of places that I want to try, even before we get there!
One of the most highly rated places in Rovaniemi is Cafe 21.
True enough, as soon as we got there, there was a line of people all waiting to be seated. I decided to have their Eggs Benedict, while Tom went for their waffles and salmon which was delicious!
Good food, great coffee, and friendly smiles — this place comes highly recommended!
Go Husky Sledding with BearHill Husky Kennel
Hands down, this was my favorite activity in the city (mainly because it’s been a childhood dream of mine!). Although there are a few husky tours and providers, I highly recommend BearHill Husky Kennel.
Now when it comes to any tours that involve animals, we are cautious about who we promote and work with which was why I really looked into BearHill Husky Kennel. As soon as we got there, we were greeted by happy employees who all seemed to love their jobs — but more importantly, love the dogs!
Being a large working kennel, there are tons of things to do. During our time there, the guides gave us insight on how they train the dogs and how to care for them. After our brief tour and basic dog sledding lessons, we headed over to our dogs and went for the ride of our lives.
Whizzing through the beautiful snow-covered Lapland forests, our dogs began running, zipping us through the set route. It was heaps of fun, and is something I recommend doing while in Lapland.
Have Dinner at Arctic Restaurant
If you want to get a taste of what Finnish food is like, head on over to the Arctic Restaurant located at the beautiful Arctic Lights Hotel. Here, they offer a reasonable tasting menu showing off local ingredients.
During our meal, we had reindeer (served two ways), a hearty soup, as well as smoked salmon. Given that Tom and I are massive foodies, this meal did not disappoint! The flavors were all so well-balanced, giving off a rustic, earthy feel.
The best part for us was the simplicity of the meals and their dedication towards making the local ingredients really shine through. If you don’t fancy a tasting menu, they also have a really good ala carte menu to choose from.
Go Aurora Ice Floating
Coming from a tropical country that essentially just has two seasons, the idea of floating in a freezing lake sounds absurd. However, the more we looked into it, we knew we had to do it!
Together with the guys from Safartica, we squeezed into dry suits (you can keep your thermals on underneath) and floated in a small lake.
Sadly, we didn’t see any Northern Lights as it was cloudy when we went but the entire experience of floating in a pitch-black lake was actually really interesting. We felt like we were in a float tank!
We were so impressed by the dry suits which pretty much kept us warm the entire time! Although this is popularly done at night to give you the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you can also opt to do it during the daytime, allowing you to float as the sun begins to set.
Have Lunch at Cafe Koti
If you’re looking for a light and simple lunch, we recommend a visit to Cafe Koti which has a lunch buffet serving homemade bread, traditional Finnish soup, and a large salad buffet!
We went right after our dog sledding activity, and it was definitely a great way to unwind and warm-up!
Cross the Arctic Circle
Now I start getting into what everyone is waiting for: the winter Christmasy stuff!
Aside from being the official hometown of Santa, Rovaniemi is also really popular because it is one of the few destinations in the world where you can cross the Arctic Circle.
The Arctic Circle is one of the two polar circles, and the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude. Similar to the Equator, this line signifies entering the Arctic Zone, which has its own set of phenomenons.
Throughout our travels, we have now been able to cross both the Equator and the Arctic Circle lines of latitude which is pretty awesome!
Explore Santa’s Village
Open all-year round, this magical place can bring anyone back to their childhood! We spent an afternoon here and had the best time meeting Santa (and his reindeers!). He’s a pretty cool guy, and obligingly made a cheeky greeting for my nieces and nephews.
We also had the chance to visit his post office where all the letters addressed to Santa go. There’s even a collection of items sent to Santa by kids all over the world by mail (including a shaving kit!).
It is home to the official post office, reindeer rides, snowmobiling tours, restaurants, igloo hotels and more.
However, amidst the beautiful attractions, the best thing about Santa’s Village is what it symbolizes. For those of you who don’t know, Rovaniemi was completely destroyed during the WWII period.
America’s First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, wanted to witness the rebuilding process which meant the city officials built a small wooden cabin which was where the entire thing began. This, for me, was very powerful as it symbolizes new beginnings and a fresh start.
A place that was literally burned to the ground is now one of the most magical places on earth, making hundreds and thousands of kids so happy.
How’s that for successful rebuilding?
Honestly, seeing all the happy faces of the kids, completely enamored by the magic of the entire place, makes it worth the visit!
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Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what to see and do, here comes the big question. Where to stay? The city of Rovaniemi has tons of great options when it comes to accommodations.
We personally stayed at the Arctic Light Hotel, and were blown away by the stylishness of the room and its location and how accessible everything was.
Located in downtown Rovaniemi, the Arctic Light is a contemporary family-owned hotel that exudes style and comfort! The hotel is situated near all the restaurants, activity providers, and main sights in town, making it the perfect place for us to stay during our trip.
Apart from having a fantastic hotel restaurant (Arctic Restaurant), their daily breakfast was designed by a famous TV chef, combining healthy breakfast dishes that you can indulge in guilt-free! (One more sugar-free raw carrot cake muffin, please.)
If you’re looking for where to stay in Rovaniemi, this place is a good option!
Known as the Jewel of Lapland, a visit to the Pyhä-Luosto National Park from Rovaniemi was one of our trip highlights. Here, we got to enjoy nature at its finest, while enjoying the many outdoor activities that the Finish Lapland is known for.
Located just a few hours from Rovaniemi, if you can squeeze a trip here to your schedule, I definitely would. It was such a magical place!
To help you plan things out, listed below are a few of the suggested things to see and do in the area.
Stay in a Glass Igloo
Although an ice igloo sounds cool, in reality, it is cold. Like really, really cold!
Instead, stay in a glass igloo like the stunning Pyhä Igloos where you can fall asleep watching the stars as little snowflakes fall down the glass roof.
Our stay was short but sweet — it’s one of our favorite accommodations ever. We honestly didn’t want to leave! In fact, even if we had a jam-packed activity-filled trip, we made it a point to wake up early just so we could have a cup of coffee while looking at the fantastic view.
It was honestly one of the best places we have ever stayed in.
Go Horseback Riding at Lucky Ranch
If you’re looking for a one-stop activity center while in Pyhä-Luosto, head on over to the lovely family-owned Lucky Ranch where Antti and Anu will show you around their little slice of paradise.
Although it was getting dark (and cold), we got to ride a few of their horses through the snow-covered forest. The horses are well trained and listen to your commands, but more importantly, they give you free rein to really get into the rhythm of horseback riding!
Aside from horseback riding, you can also stay in the snow igloos that they build during the winter months! We saw the beginnings of the first igloo and already wish we could stay for another night just to try it out.
Visit the Amethyst Mine via E-Bikes
As if visiting a working amethyst mine where you get to mine your own amethyst isn’t cool enough, try combining it with a fun activity like e-biking. Although it was freezing when we went, e-biking on snow was SO MUCH fun.
If you’ve never been on an e-bike before, do yourself a favor and book a trip now! They are really the future of biking, allowing you to cover more distance (with admittedly less effort!)
Our guide, Antti from Lucky Ranch, collaborated with the guys from Bliss Adventures to take us on an epic ride up the snowy hills. Once we reached the amethyst mine, we were given a tour on the history behind the mines and the incredibly sustainable business model behind this place.
At the end of the tour, we got to take home one amethyst stone each which I plan on having made into a ring.
While we only had two days to enjoy Pyhä-Luosto, if you have a bit more time in your schedule, I recommend getting active and making the most of all the activities. From skiing, snowboarding, trekking, to snowmobiling, you honestly won’t run out of things to do!
If you love nature and the outdoors, like we do, you have to visit!
Our Experience in Rovaniemi
Although our time in the Finnish Lapland was short, we know it is a destination that we would love to revisit!
There are just too many things to see and do-all year round! The people that we met (hi, Santa and all the wonderful elves), the tour guides, to the hotel staff were all incredibly passionate about what they do which we love.
If you are looking for a unique holiday, filled with so many epic experiences, this place goes down in our books as one of our top recommendations!
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