Rovaniemi is found in the far northern realms of Finland right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and is best known to the world for being the purported home of Santa Claus.
This is the capital of Lapland and most visitors will find themselves travelling to this isolated and sparsely populated corner of Europe to experience the vast natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes and the unique, if remote culture of the locals.
In winter it’s a true wonderland, with blankets of snow, husky sledges roaming across the ice, northern lights in the sky and the local infatuation with Santa Claus and Christmas, everywhere,
In summer, it’s a wonderful outdoor destination too, with incredible hiking and the chance to experience the unique midnight sun, when it’s never truly dark.
Whatever the season, there’s a lot of great things to do in the heart of Lapland and to help you to plan your trip to this arctic city, here’s our ultimate guide to Rovaniemi Finland.
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How to get to Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is found in the far north of Finland, with the city centre itself located just four miles to the south of the Arctic Circle. Lapland is the most northernmost province in Finland, and being remote has quite limited transport options, although, with the ever-increasing popularity of Rovaniemi as a tourist destination, it’s getting easier and easier to travel here.
Rovaniemi’s airport is one of the busiest in Finland, but even so, it mostly only caters to domestic flights, and due to recent demand, to London Gatwick. Most travellers will arrive via Helsinki, from where you can connect to almost anywhere else in Europe and increasingly further afield to Asia and North America with the extensive Finnair or Norwegian Air networks.
It’s also possible to travel overland from Helsinki and other Finnish cities to the south, although being in the far north, you can expect a long journey. There are regular buses and trains running the Helsinki to Rovaniemi route, with the journey time taking a minimum of 9 hours.
How to get around Rovaniemi
Once you have made it to Rovaniemi it’s simple to get around the city and to the wider attractions. Rovaniemi Finland is by no means a huge place and you can easily stroll through the centre’s main attractions at leisure.
A bus connects the city to the airport, which is just a few kilometres away on the outskirts, while other buses can take you to sights such as the Santa Claus Village.
For more remote and adventurous locations you can arrange tours with local companies, which may include hiking in summer or dog sledging or snowmobiling in winter.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Rovaniemi
There are some great things to do in Rovaniemi in winter or in summer, however, the season you choose to travel here in will influence the type of activities available to you and the type of trip you will experience.
Being so close to the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi experiences challenging weather conditions, with snow present for large parts of the year. Winters are bitterly cold and icy, but this is also when you have the opportunity to experience the Christmas culture and the northern lights. Days are short and dark and travel can be unpredictable.
In summer, the days are endless and you have the chance to see Rovaniemi under the midnight sun. Summers are short, but the wildlife comes out, the hiking is excellent and there are many great festivals to enjoy.
What to Expect in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is an incredibly modern European city and being very much set up for, and to an extent reliant on tourism, you will find that it’s an easy destination to get to grips with. The main language spoken by locals is Finnish, with several other dialects including indigenous Sami languages.
You will find that a lot of people, especially those in tourism, speak excellent English and perhaps even a few other European languages too.
Finland uses the Euro, and you will find lots of ATMs in the centre of Rovaniemi which accept foreign cards.
Things to do in Rovaniemi
Santa Claus Village
It’s open all year round, but perhaps the best time to visit the Santa Claus Museum is in the depths of winter. Rovaniemi is the home of Father Christmas, and Lapland has long been associated with the Christmas legend. The locals have taken this to the extreme and have constructed a sprawling Santa Claus themed village that whilst incredibly touristy and busy, is one of the must-visit Rovaniemi attractions.
You can visit Santa’s Post Office, you can visit Santa’s home and meet with Santa himself, you can try local Finnish food and buy endless souvenirs and Christmas themed gifts. It’s quite the show and quite the festive experience.
View the Northern Lights
In winter, when the skies are dark and the days are short then Rovaniemi becomes one of the best places in the world to view the spectacular northern lights.
While you could even enjoy a Santa Claus Northern Lights experience from the village or simply from the city centre, you can also head out into the wilderness on organised tours to search out the most spectacular viewing locations.
Enjoy the Midnight Sun
In the short summer months, then the most unusual experience to have in Lapland Rovaniemi is to witness the midnight sun. For a few weeks of the year, the sun almost never sets and you can enjoy almost perpetual sunlight. Go hiking at midnight, sit out under the sun in the early hours of the morning and make the most of the long daylight hours.
Ounasvaara is a favourite outdoor spot amongst the people of Rovaniemi. Overlooking the city, this huge hill is perfect for hiking in summer and even better for skiing or other winter sports once the snow has settled.
Visit the Arctic Circle
Being so close to the Arctic Circle, it would be a shame to not even set foot within this iconic northern boundary during your stay in the city. When deciding what to do in Rovaniemi, don’t leave a trip here off the itinerary. In summer, go hiking, in winter, take on a sledging or snowmobiling tour.
Places to visit in Rovaniemi
Pilke Science Centre
The Pilke Science Centre is a marvellous example of Finnish ingenuity and sustainable construction. The building is made predominantly from local logs and inside you can learn more about the sustainable industries of Lapland and efforts made to preserve the environment.
Korundi House of Culture
Korundi House is a cultural museum that’s found in one of the oldest buildings in Rovaniemi, as most of the city was burnt to the ground during World Warr II. Inside this notable building can be found both the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland and the Rovaniemi Art Museum.
Arktikum Science Museum
The Arktikum Science Museum is perhaps the most intriguing of Rovaniemi’s museums and cultural centres. Arktikum focuses on the history and lifestyles of the people who call the Arctic Circle home, and it goes into great depth detailing the forces of nature they battle against and the unique culture that has evolved from it. The museum itself is housed in a truly unique, glass building that is a sight in itself.
Lordi’s Square is Rovaniemi’s main, central square and it’s always an interesting spot to visit for a stroll, to people watch and to enjoy the shopping found around it. In the summertime, it’s a popular event space and always packed with locals and visitors. The square was named for the Finnish rock band Lordi and their 2006 Eurovision victory.
What to eat in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi has its fair share of restaurants but deciding where’s a good place to eat can be difficult given the large number of overpriced tourist eateries. Many visitors complain of expensive costs eating in the Santa Claus Village, despite the local delicacies on offer, so you may want to avoid the dishes here and try to find a more authentic restaurant in town if you’d like to enjoy the local Lapland cuisine.
A local favourite for Finnish food is Nili, where the rustic setting and traditional decor combines with local dishes to create a wonderful atmosphere. Here, like other local restaurants, you will frequently find reindeer on the menu, as well as mushroom heavy dishes that are complemented with plenty of salmon.
Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi has a wonderful and at times eclectic selection of hotels to stay in, but most of the options available will be in the higher price end with budget accommodation being few and far between. Most of the hotels are located in the city centre, but you can also found some more adventurous and unique properties, particularly just north in the Arctic Circle. Here are a few of our favourite hotels in Finnish Lapland.
Santasport Hostel – One of the few hostels in the city, Santasport is well located, although just outside the centre. The rooms are basic, but you can make use of the extensive leisure facilities such as the swimming pool while staying here.
Arctic Lights Hotel – This five-star hotel comes at more of a mid-range price for Rovaniemi, making it excellent value. It gets rave reviews for its boutique, yet elegantly modern designs, perfect city centre location and excellent sauna facilities.
Arctic Tree House Hotel – This incredible, luxury hotel is found surrounded by forest on the outskirts of the city, and the unusually designed rooms offer huge open viewing windows out into the night sky to optimise your chance to see the Aurora Borealis, and perhaps even from the comfort of your own bed.
Tours to do in Rovaniemi
Take on an adventurous tour into the countryside as you enjoy a spot of ice fishing before heading to a Husky farm to learn how to dog sledge across the snow. End it all with a barbecue in the snow – if you catch anything when fishing of course!
When it snows in Rovaniemi, the quickest way to get around is on a snowmobile. Take a snowmobile safari from the city out into the nearby countryside to visit the local reindeer farm and to call in at the iconic Santa Claus Village.
Budding photographers will love the chance to learn how to truly capture the fiery northern lights in the night sky above Rovaniemi. Join these dedicated photography tours with expert instructors, hunt down the lights in the outdoors and learn from some of the best how to take the best pictures in difficult conditions.
The Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland, a people who have lived in these remote parts for thousands of years, with their own unique language and culture. On a Reindeer Sami Experience you can learn more about these local traditions and their reliance on reindeer, and if you are lucky you may also see the northern lights out in the wilderness too.
Day Trips From Rovaniemi
Ranua Wildlife Park is found an hour to the south of Rovaniemi, but it can claim to be one of the most northerly zoos in the world. This wildlife park is a great place to see the many diverse local species – including polar bears – without heading out into the wilderness.
Rovaniemi’s many Reindeer Farm make for great day trips outside of the city. There are several found in the surrounding countryside, and here you can try firsthand reindeer delicacies or go for sledge rides when it’s snowing. Raitola is one of the best to visit or the charming Christmas House.
Korouoma National Park is a spectacular outdoor wilderness that’s just a day trip away from Rovaniemi. Here you can find a long canyon that stretches for almost 30 kilometres and reaches depths of over a hundred metres. There’s some great hiking through the canyon and some excellent waterfalls, which during winter will be completely iced over.
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Recommend budget tours in Rovaniemi
- Rovaniemi Northern Lights Photography Small-Group Tour
- Rovaniemi Snowmobile Tour: Visit a Reindeer Farm and Meet Santa
- Lapland Aurora Borealis Picnic from Rovaniemi
- Snowmobile Safari in the Arctic Circle with Hotel Transport from Rovaniemi
- Ranua Zoo Trip from Rovaniemi
- Animal Fun Day with Zoo, Husky Farm & Reindeer Farm Visits
- Northern Lights Photography Tour from Rovaniemi
- Rovaniemi Snowmobile Safari to Reindeer Farm and Santa Claus Village
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