Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, the northernmost and most remote region to be found in Finland.
This is a city that’s surrounded by wilderness, an isolated settlement that’s located just a few miles shy of the Arctic Circle, and that experiences dark, cold winters, yet endless days in summer.
But despite the extreme weather, Rovaniemi is a popular destination all year round, because this is the home of Santa Claus. You can enjoy Christmas any time of the year, in Lapland, making this one of the most unique places to visit in Finland.
This is not the cheapest country to visit though, and travelling to Finland on a budget can be a challenge, because places like Rovaniemi aren’t exactly set up for backpacking.
Accommodation options are limited and it can cost a lot to get around. But there are ways to save money though, from booking deals in advance to staying in hostels and cooking your own dinners.
We put together this budget travel guide to Rovaniemi, to help you to experience the best of Lapland, without spending a fortune.
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Table of Contents
How to get around Rovaniemi on a Budget
Rovaniemi is a relatively small city, with a population of just over 60,000 people, which means that this is actually a city that can be mostly covered on foot.
You can easily walk from one end of the city to the other, and hotels and restaurants will all be navigable on foot. There is a local bus service too, however it is irregular and doesn’t connect to most of the touristy places.
The problem with Rovaniemi though, is that many of the major attractions – including the famed Santa Claus village – are actually found outside of the city.
There is a useful shuttle bus which connects Rovaniemi centre to the Santa Claus Village, as well as a shuttle bus which connects the city to the airport. This is the most cost effective way to travel around these major points.
To explore further afield though, you will need your own vehicle or you will need to join an organised excursion. Joining group tours can be the most cost effective way to see Lapland on a budget, as you’ll often be able to hit several sights in one day.
Of course, in winter the weather can seriously affect travel arrangements, and you’ll find that during the coldest and snowiest months, transport options are further limited, and you might find that snowmobile or reindeer sleds are a more common mode of transport around Rovaniemi than buses or cars!
Budget things to do in Rovaniemi
Santa Claus Village
The most popular tourist attraction in Rovaniemi is the Santa Claus Village, where all through the year you can visit Lapland’s most legendary character, because it’s here that you can meet Santa Claus himself.
Located a few kilometres outside of the city proper, the Santa Claus Village is undoubtedly a touristy affair, but you can’t travel all this way and not at least call in to see what all the fuss is about.
It’s always Christmas in the Santa Claus Village and one of the highlights is the opportunity to visit the Santa Claus Post Office and to send home Christmas cards or postcards from Lapland.
There are a wide range of activities to enjoy here too, and you can go sledding, and learn more about the traditions behind Santa Claus.
No Finland vacation in winter is complete without seeing the Northern Lights, and Rovaniemi is one of the best places to see this natural phenomenon.
While you can join expensive tours that head out into the tundra in search of the light show in the sky, you can actually, at times, see the Northern Lights from just outside of the city – all you need to do is get away from the city lights. That can make this one of the best budget Rovaniemi activities.
To maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights though, you’ll need to be here in winter. While the lights can technically be seen from late August all the way through to April, you’ll have much more chance of a vivid light show when it’s darkest, so from November through to February.
The Midnight Sun
Another natural phenomenon that you can enjoy free of charge in Rovaniemi – just like the beautiful Aurora Borealis – is the natural phenomenon of the Midnight Sun.
Rovaniemi is just a few miles away from the Arctic Circle, and that means that while the days in winter are incredibly dark and short, in summer it’s the opposite. For several days during June, the sun never sets over Rovaniemi, making this is a wonderful summer holiday destination.
You can eat dinner under the sun, camp out in endless daylight, or hike at midnight.
To learn more about the local history and culture, then one of the best places to visit is the Arktikum Museum.
This outstanding museum is housed within the most iconic building in Rovaniemi, and you can walk through the long, glass corridor that’s partly buried in the ground and gaze up at the sky above. The architecture makes use of local materials and is meant to emulate the Arctic landscapes.
This is a science and history museum, and you’ll be taken on a journey through the science of the Arctic, with a particular focus on animal and human life within this inhospitable part of the world.
You’ll leave with a new respect for local culture – and for the local indigenous Sami people in particular – as well as a new respect for those that have carved out a life for themselves in the Arctic.
Lapland is a truly magical place, and not just in winter when it’s covered in snow and ice. Lapland is equally as beautiful in summer, when the long days are almost endless, and the outdoors is blooming with life.
One of the best ways – and of course, free ways – to experience the outdoors is by hiking. Strap on the hiking boots and load up on supplies, because there are countless hiking trails in the area.
You can even take a walk across the Arctic Circle, one of the most unique activities to do in Rovaniemi.
Another popular outdoor activity to take part in when visiting Rovaniemi, is mountain biking.
If you’re on a budget, this is actually a great way to get around, as you’ll be able to cycle to the attractions and get further out of the city than if you were on foot.
In winter, Fat Bikes have become extremely popular in Rovaniemi, as the large wheels allow you to deal with the snow and ice that covers Lapland, and you can even bike out in search of the Northern Lights at night time.
Finland is renowned for the remarkable number of saunas that are found across the country, and you’ll quickly realise that Finns take their Sauna culture very seriously indeed.
Luckily for budget travellers in Rovaniemi, a sauna session is one of the cheapest things to enjoy and you’ll even find that most hotels and homes have their own saunas on the premises.
After a hard day of exploring, get acquainted with the local way of life and relax in a steaming hot sauna.
Where to stay in Rovaniemi on a Budget
Finland is never the cheapest country to visit, and unfortunately, given Rovaniemi’s relatively isolated location, things can be even more expensive here, especially during peak season.
You’ll pay the most over Christmas, and into the New Year, when tourists stream into the city looking to experience Christmas in Lapland.
There’s an exciting range of accommodation options though, from expensive ice hotels in the countryside to value hotels in the centre of the city. Budget travellers can stay in the local hostels, but just book in advance, because budget bed space is always limited.
One of the best hostels is Hostel Cafe Koti, a vibrant place in the city centre which even has its own rooftop bar and hot tub. A dorm bed will still set you back around 40 USD per night though.
If you’re travelling in a group, then a great option is to rent out a holiday home or cabin in Rovaniemi, and you can find many listings on AirBnB. This means you’ll be able to cook your own food at home too, saving money on expensive restaurant bills during your stay.
Real budget conscious travellers can also opt to camp out in Lapland. While this might not be a feasible option in winter, given the weather, in summer, you couldn’t have more perfect conditions. Hiking and camping are totally free of charge, and as long as you have your own gear, then you can load up on supplies in Rovaniemi and then head out to hike and spend the night surrounded by nature, the same way the locals have for centuries.
Budget eats in Rovaniemi
Just like the accommodation, travel to Finland isn’t necessarily cheap when it comes to eating out either.
While Rovaniemi has a unique selection of restaurants, many of them offering visitors the chance to try unusual Arctic inspired dishes, or local Sami cuisine, these aren’t the cheapest places to eat.
If you’re on a tight budget, then the best way to save money is to cook your own food, and that means preparing sandwiches or something similar to take out with you during the day, and ensuring that you have adequate kitchen facilities at your accommodation, be it a hostel, an apartment or even a simple cooking stove if you’re camping out.
There are several cheap fast food restaurants in Rovaniemi, such as Subway or McDonalds, while you can often find great lunch time deals during the day. If you can, then you will want to save some of your budget to enjoy at least one local meal out, so you can try such Finnish classics as Reindeer meat and Lingonberry Jam.
Alcohol can also be expensive in Finland, and the cheapest place for drinks will be the local Alko shops which are run by the government.
Cheap tours to do in Rovaniemi on a budget
Northern Lights Tour
While you can head out of the city in search of the Northern Lights on your accord, if you have your own vehicle, you might want to consider joining a specialised Northern Lights Tour in order to maximise your chance of seeing the lights in the night sky.
An organised tour will get you far out of the city with guides that know the best places to travel to, places with the best terrain and the darkest skies in the area.
You’ll also learn more about the phenomenon during the tour and what causes the Aurora Borealis in the night sky. It’s an expense that even for a budget traveller, is well worth the cost, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You wouldn’t want to pay out all that hard earned cash to travel to Rovaniemi in winter and then leave without seeing the lights.
Reindeer or Husky Safaris
Locals have long been using the local wildlife to make life easier in the cold depths of the Arctic, and you’ll want to join either a reindeer or a Husky Safari – or both – while you are in Rovaniemi.
Reindeer are found in huge numbers across the Arctic and they are an important animal in local Sami traditions, providing not only meat and sustenance but also providing a means of transport. You can race alongside huge herds of reindeer, as you’re pulled along in a reindeer sleigh.
Alternatively, you can join a husky safari, as you’re pulled along by these powerful dogs on a local sled. It’s a great, local way to explore the wilderness around Rovaniemi.
In winter, there’s only one way to get around Rovaniemi quickly, and that’s on a snowmobile.
Join local guides as you set out from the city on a cross country journey, as you learn how to snowmobile across the Arctic tundra and learn more about the local culture at the same time.
Recommended budget tours in Rovaniemi (under $100)
- SantaPark Admission Ticket
- Sledge Ride Tour pulled by Snowmobile in Arctic Circle
- Aurora Hunt+Barbeque+Photos
- Return Shuttle Service to Ranua Zoo from Rovaniemi
- Excursion To Santa Claus Village
- Northern Lights Sledge Ride By Snowmobile
- Autumn Aurora Borealis Picnic in Rovaniemi
- Lapland Winter Experience
- Reindeer Farm Visit & Short Ride
- Ice fishing tour
- Lappish meat smokery visit and tasting
- Moose Safari
- Reindeer Farm Experience
- Wilderness Tour
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