I first read about Rovaniemi in a magazine about five years ago, and from that moment I knew I had to venture to this Finnish fairy-tale destination to discover it for myself.
Located in the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the unofficial capital and gateway to Finnish Lapland. Depending on the season, this magical town is a hotspot for experiencing the famous Midnight Sun over summer and even getting the opportunity to discover the Northern Lights in the winter months.
Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus, with many visitors flocking to the town especially over the Christmas period, just to meet Santa in person.
I flew from New Zealand to Helsinki with Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific, and had a few hours to wait before catching a connecting flight north to Rovaniemi.
Touching down at Helsinki Airport really shocked me. I knew it was going to be cold here, but as we came through the cloud, the entire region was covered in snow! I wasn’t expecting there to be this much snow around in the city so it was such an incredible sight to discover.
There are plenty of modern cafes and bars at Helsinki Airport. I spent the afternoon catching up on some editing at the Bistrot Bar. The staff were super friendly and it was a really stylish and comfortable place to base myself for the afternoon.
After landing at Rovaniemi airport, we entered the terminal to collect our baggage. It was from this moment that the fairy-tale started to come to life, with the carousel decorated with Christmas themed lights and sculptures, drawing everyone’s eyes up towards the ceiling and inspiring them to take photos.
As I landed later at night, I decided to catch a taxi to my Airbnb apartment which was located in the heart of town. This cost about €25 which included a stop at my hosts house to collect the keys.
There is also an Airport Bus which drops you at some hotels or in the town centre, I caught this on my way back to the airport and it cost €7.
Everything else is mostly within walking distance. Rovaniemi felt very safe and I was comfortable walking the streets at night as there was plenty of lighting and many families/couples still out and about with all of the late-night Aurora tours. If you are walking, be careful of ice – we did see a few slips and tumbles along the way!
If you are wanting to visit places like Santa Claus Village there is a bus (No.8) that stops outside the Lapland Safaris office in town that costs around €7.80 return. For places further afield like Pyhatunturi, the buses depart from Rovaniemi Bus Station which is also walking distance from town and the return ticket cost €55.
There are so many extravagant and unique types of accommodation in Rovaniemi. From glass igloos to treehouse hotels, there is something for everyone!
I chose to stay in an Airbnb mostly because I didn’t want to be hopping from hotel to hotel. Most of the accommodation was already booked out when I planned my trip and I wanted to spend more than just a couple of days in Rovaniemi.
The city centre studio was the perfect place to base myself for the trip. I walked everywhere and it was super warm, clean and modern. Fitted out with Scandianvian themed décor, it was a super cosy place to spend time catching up on my blog and editing photos of an evening.
If you’re up for something a bit more unique, here are some other cool places I came across:
Things to Do
There are plenty of adventurous activities to keep you entertained on your stay in Rovaniemi. This was one of the reasons I stayed for so long – most of the travellers I met were only staying a few nights.
It all depends on your interests, although my taste for adventure went into overdrive when I saw the menu of activities on offer at Lapland Safaris. From snowmobiling, husky sledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, aurora adventures, cross-country ski tours and reindeer sleigh rides – it was hard to choose which tours I wanted to experience as they all sounded incredible.
I ended up choosing a snowmobile tour that included ice fishing, snowshoeing and lunch by a campfire – you can read more about this trip here. The husky sledding, reindeer sleigh ride and aurora adventures all made the list as well as these were quite unique to the region.
Here is a list of my top 10 unique experiences to try in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Food & Drink
While the Finns are known for drinking more coffee per captia than anywhere else in the world, there is a delicious hot berry juice that is also a Finnish tradition. They served this wherever I went and is made of berries that have been picked from the forests, combined with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, bitter orange shell, ginger, clove and nutmeg.
I was quite surprised with the amount of pubs and nightclubs in Rovaniemi, although we found ourselves drawn to the two Irish pubs in town. The hot toddies went down perfectly after a day in the wilderness.
A lot of the tours include a meal or snack which was great, although for most other meals I chose to cook in my apartment. The supermarket sold a lot of brands I was used to seeing in Australia and New Zealand which was very helpful. Groceries for a week cost just €35.
Reindeer meat was also a specialty on many menus, but after spending an awesome day with them on the farm, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
These were the best rated and most recommended restaurants in town:
I visited in the middle of winter and experienced all types of weather – from clear blue skies and magnificent sunsets, to clouds and snowfall.
The warmest it got to was about -3°C, although temperatures dropped right down to -17°C one night. I honestly didn’t feel extremely cold like I was expecting to. As long as you are well-prepared and have the right gear you will be fine. Lapland Safaris gave us winter suits, woolen socks and snow boots to wear, and most places have fires roaring to keep you nice and toasty inside.
I felt the coldest on the husky sled ride and that was mostly due to the fact that I didn’t have to do much except hold on! It was snowing at the time and I was able to pull my scarf up over my face which instantly helped.
With a population of 36,000 this relatively small town felt very quiet. You tend to meet a lot of foreigners working in a tourist hub, although it was really nice to see so many Finns working in the community. English is taught at school so most Finns are great English speakers, even if they do have a strong accent 🙂
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Finnish culture. It is commonly known that Scandinavians can be direct and quiet which could often be misconstrued for being rude by our culture. This was completely incorrect – the Finns were so lovely and everyone I met made you feel very welcome. They had a very good sense of humour which I also loved!
One lady I met painted quite a funny picture, saying that she cannot understand why Aussies / English / American’s talk for the sake of ‘filling the silence’. They will talk about the weather for 10 minutes to one person, and move on and have the same conversation with another immediately after! She said the Finnish are content with each other’s company and don’t always need to speak if there is nothing that needs to be said.
Power Adapter: European
Language: Finnish (although most people speak good English)
I had the most incredible week in Finnish Lapland and couldn’t recommend this enough as a destination for both the young and old. I wish I could have spent more time here, although I am happy to settle with a plan to return in the future!