Best things to do in Rovaniemi, Finland
Rovaniemi in Finland is a great place to visit during the wintertime. You get the chance to experience the northern lights, go on a husky tour, and even visit Santa Claus! We had a lot of fun exploring the city and seeing everything in this small city
Rovaniemi City is located at the Arctic Circle, meaning that temperatures drop below freezing during the winter months. Our temperatures in January were between -10º and -20º Celcius! However, the city offers many activities for visitors throughout the year. During wintertime, you may even witness the Northern Lights! In the summertime, hiking, cycling, and water sports are all available to fill the day.
Rovaniemi is the perfect destination for those looking to experience nature, culture, and northern lights all in one trip. There are many outdoor activities available, so you should bring warm clothing and woolen socks. You will also need to prepare for very short days during the summer months and strong winds at night.
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Santa Claus Express
The sleek double-decker railcar that runs from Helsinki to Finland’s capital city of Rovaniemi is lovingly nicknamed the “Santa Claus Express.” It’s one of the best ways to explore Finland’s stunningly beautiful Northern European countryside during wintertime. But what makes the trip even better is getting to enjoy a night’s sleep inside the private bunk beds.
With up to two daily departures and a total travel distance of around 885 kilometers, the later evening departure is the most popular choice among Finns and tourists alike.
Since we didn’t have a long time in Finland, we ended up flying from Helsinki to Rovaniemi Airport – but it would have been so cool to take this train!
Santa Claus Village
As a self-identified “crazy-Christmas-lady”, I was a little too excited to visit here. The Santa Claus Village is located just outside of Rovaniemi, Finland, and it’s home to many different attractions. There is a Main Post Office that has a direct route to Santa Claus himself, or you can mail a postcard to be delivered in December directly from the North Pole.
We visited at the end of January and there was NO ONE – and I mean NO ONE – in line to meet Santa! It was probably the only reason why Spencer agreed to it! Now I get to tell all my nieces that I personally know Santa Claus!
If you’re a fan of Christmas or traveling with a family – then you really can’t miss Santa Claus Village!
Step over the Arctic Circle
Technically the Arctic Circle moves but generally is above the circle of latitude that runs 66°33′ north of the Equator. There are large pillars that mark the Arctic Circle – exactly 66°33’45.9″ north of the Equator. Take a few pictures since many people do not get the opportunity to cross the circle!
Visit the Reindeer & Take a Sled Ride!
Reindeer are engrained in the history and culture of Lapland. The indigenous Sami people have an intimate relationship with them. In the area, there’s roughly a one-to-one ratio of reindeer to residents!
Reindeer have been utilized in pulling sleds for generations. You can partake in this tradition. Dress warmly and get cozy in the sled. Pillows and reindeer hide blankets are also provided. Then sit back and enjoy a ride along a snowy, forested trail.
There are a number of options when it comes to visiting a local reindeer farm and enjoying a sleigh ride.
Our reindeer sled ride was a bit awkward with Spencer and me in different sleds. It wasn’t the romantic sleigh ride I had hoped. However, this tour comes with rave reviews!
Visit a Village Made of Ice
About a 40-minute drive north of Rovaniemi city center is the Arctic Snow Hotel & Glass Igloos. We spent a night in the Glass Igloo (read my review here). But even if you can’t spend the night here, it’s worth at least a walk-through. The Snow Hotel is built every year and is open from December to March.
Over 700,000 pounds of natural ice and snow make up this complex. There are hotel rooms, each decorated differently with ice sculptures throughout. There is an ice bar, ice restaurant, a snow sauna, and even an ice wedding chapel!
I’ve never seen anything like it and it was a bit surreal to walk through!
As the “gateway to the Arctic”, Rovaniemi is an idyllic winter wonderland – perfect for all of the wintertime outdoor pursuits. One of the most popular is cross-country skiing with almost 1 in 5 Finns identifying as an active skier. There is an extensive network of ski trails near highways, side roads, and in the forest. It’s all maintained by the government and is safe to ride on.
The vast majority of ski rental outlets, including those operated by hotels and tourist offices, rent out equipment. Sports shops and tour operators also sell equipment. If you want to learn how to ski, there are plenty of schools offering lessons throughout the region. Many towns also have public ski schools where you can take lessons.
If you’re like me and prefer to get your heart racing on trips, then why not try snowmobiling? Similar to cross-country skiing, there is a huge network of paths that are well-maintained. You can check out these tours for a great time in Lapland.
Enjoy a Finnish Sauna
Sauna culture is a staple in Finland. In fact, the first written record of saunas in Finland dates back to 1112. Now it’s estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland. Most houses, apartment buildings, and hotels have at least one!
The traditional Finnish sauna is a process that is more in-depth than just walking into a warm room. The wooden room should be around 230º Fahrenheit (110º Celcius), then you gently whack your skin with silver-birch branches (these are not typically in your hotel), then you get into the sauna. Once you’re finished in the sauna, then you plunge into freezing water or dive into a snowbank to cool off.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities throughout Finland and Rovaniemi to enjoy a sauna. Enjoy a snow sauna in the Snow Hotel, head to a secluded lakeside sauna, or just relax at your hotel.
Travel Tip: Be sure you know the rules for the sauna before entering. The rules about what to wear and how to manage the heat in the sauna.
Hunt for the Northern Lights
Finnish Lapland is home to one of the most beautiful natural phenomena known to man: the northern lights. In fact, it’s possible to see the lights year round, although the best months to go hunting for them are during the fall and winter seasons.
In Rovaniemi, there are several ways to experience the northern lights, including riding a horse across frozen lakes, taking a boat tour along the coast, or even skiing or snowmobiling in the region. However, the main way people experience the northern lights here is by booking a guided aurora tour.
The guides take you on a journey across the arctic tundra in search of the northern lights. You’ll likely spend anywhere from three to six hours outside, depending on how cold it is, and while some might call it “roughing it,” others find it exhilarating and adventurous. Our tour had a small cabin where we were able to warm up by the fire and enjoy hot blueberry juice (delicious). Unfortunately, we didn’t see the northern lights on either our hike or our reindeer ride, but we did see them in the glass igloos!
Travel Tip: Put more layers on than you think. While the initial walk is active, you’re often standing or sitting out in freezing conditions, for hours, in the dark.
Drive the Arctic Ocean Highway
The Arctic Ocean Highway stretches across Finland and Sweden and connects the cities of Rovaniemi and Kiruna. From the end of October to April, the route is covered with thick ice. Be sure to rent a 4×4 that is capable of driving in the snow and ice. This makes it possible to travel over frozen lakes and rivers and enjoy breathtaking views of the Arctic scenery. In summer, the road is clear enough to allow people to drive fast and safely.
The Arktikum Museum is one of the best things to do in Rovaniemi. It is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Arctic animals, including polar bears, walruses, seals, arctic foxes, reindeer, musk oxen, caribou, lemmings, birds, fish, insects, and plants. Visitors can view over 200 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fishes, and invertebrates from around the world.
The building has a 565-foot (172 meters) glass topped corridor reaching across highway 79. The impressive building is impossible to miss when driving around the city. The museum has engaging displays that run from the early days of Sami culture to modern-day climate discoveries. It was an impressive collection.
The Pilke Museum is the province museum of Lapland. This museum is a tribute to those industries that support life up north. In addition to exhibits about the local environment, there are displays about forestry, paper making, hunting, fishing, and much more. There is even a special section dedicated to children where you can learn how to make traditional crafts such as reindeer leather shoes, snowshoes, and wooden toys.
While this might seem dry, this museum is actually a fantastic destination on the family trip to Rovaniemi. Kids will love the massive timber tractors that are free for exploration. They can climb inside and pretend it’s a real tractor. Older kids can help out with the work of cutting down trees. Adults can enjoy seeing the process of making paper products like toilet tissue and napkins. This excellent museum is one of the best things to do in Rovaniemi for families.
Travel Tip: You can buy the Rovaniemi culture pass to save money if you’re planning on visiting the Arktikum museum, Pilke Museum, and Korundi House.
The Korundi House
The Korundi House of Cultural is a cultural center in Rovaniemi, Finland. It consists of the Art Museum and the Concert Hall. The building was constructed in 1942 and it is now used for concerts, exhibitions, and educational activities. It’s one of the best things to do in Rovaniemi to learn about the local history and culture. Be sure to check out the events calendar to book your tickets in advance for any musical or dramatic arts events!
The Rovaniemi Art Museum
Rovaniemi might be known for its winter activities, but it’s also home to one of Finland’s best museums dedicated to contemporary art. Located within the Korundi House Of Culture, the museum regularly hosts exhibitions featuring both local and international artists.
The annual exhibitions are usually themed around a particular theme, like Nordic Nature, or The North Wind. These themes often include a lot of works exploring the surrounding landscape and how it influences our lives.
What I find particularly interesting about the museum is how much of the work focuses on the natural world through different time periods.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, there’s bound to be something here to inspire your creativity.
Ranua Wildlife Park
The Ranua Wildlife Park is located just outside of Rovaniemi and is an outdoor ‘zoo’. The wildlife park features only animals that can be found among or near the Arctic Circle
There are 50+ species of Arctic or near Arctic animals that are housed at the park. Some of the animals that can be seen here include polar bears, reindeer, wolves, elk, moose, lynx, foxes, hares, birds, otters, and many others.
Ranua is about a one-hour drive from Rovaniemi. We did a guided tour so that we could learn more about the animals than just the small zone.
As a bonus, the Ranua Wildlife Park has a chocolate outlet for delicious souvenirs, two restaurants, and a wine store featuring Cloudberry wine (we tried it and it was not for us… but when in Finland!)
Arctic Circle Hiking In Napapijri
The Arctic Circle hiking trail is one of Finland’s most famous outdoor activities. Located in Lapland, it is the northernmost part of the European continent where the sun never sets.
Hiking in Rovaniemi is a popular activity year-round. However, the peaceful winter setting of these forests gives Rovaniemen Arctic circle hiking a special touch.
In fact, Finnish culture gives hikes and nature experiences so much importance that many Arctic circle hiking destinations have lean-tos, and sometimes even shelters provided. These rest stops give visitors the opportunity to camp and build fires. They also provide access to wood, lighters, matches, and paper.
At the top of my bucket list, and one of the best things to do in Rovaniemi, dog sledding should be your must-experience. Dog sledding is a fun way to explore the wilderness while getting a glimpse of the local culture. There are a lot of husky farms in the area including Bearhill Husky and Arctic Circle Husky Park.
Husky rides can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Ours was a content 45 minutes. The huskies LOVE sledding and you can see how excited they get in camp. Even after pulling us along (and we’re not small people) our team still had the energy to run around the camp with their friends. They are well-loved and cared for by their owners as well. When the dogs are too old to run, they are adopted to loving families that are well-vetted for busy, working dogs.
Visit Angry Birds Park
Yes, that angry bird – the world phenomenon video game. This park can bring out the child in anyone (or let some of the kids’ energy out!) It’s within walking distance of the city center, located on the riverbank. It’s a quirky park worth a visit!
Hiking and Cycling (primarily Summer)
While this is primarily done during summer, you can go hiking with snowshoes or biking with fat tires in the winter months as well.
There are lots of hiking and biking trails close to the city – just look online for maps of the area. One popular option is the Koivaisarainen Nature Trail, which is located on Koivu Island. This is an easy hike – it’s less than 3 hours round trip – and is a nice way to see a variety of birds.
Another popular hiking destination is Korousmaa National Park, roughly 160 km from Rovaniemi. It has lots of trails and plenty of waterfalls. This is a longer hike – it takes around 5 hours – but it’s still relatively short compared to many hikes out west.
If you’re looking for something closer to town, you could always take a ride up to Kuusamo National park. It’s only 20 minutes away on public transportation, and it offers beautiful views of the Lapland wilderness.
River Cruises and Fishing (Summer Only)
While hiking, biking, skiing, swimming, and even ice skating are great ways to enjoy the sun, nothing beats taking a boat ride down a beautiful Finnish river.
There are many different types of boats to choose from, including kayaks, canoes, rowing boats, sailboats, motorboats, pontoon boats, and even jet skis. Some people like to go out on a rafting adventure, where they travel along the river on inflatable tubes. Others prefer to paddle around in a traditional wooden rowboat. Still, others just like to relax in a comfortable cabin cruiser.
Whatever type of boat you choose, there are plenty of options for river cruises in Rovaniemi. From the cozy comfort of a luxury cabin cruiser to the thrill of a fast speedboat, there are several different kinds of trips to choose from. Plus, depending on what part of the river you decide to explore, you can find everything from secluded areas to bustling cities.
Sleep in a Glass Igloo (Winter Only)
If you’re planning on spending some time in Lapland during winter, why not try sleeping in a glass igloo? These structures are just what the doctor ordered for those wanting to see the Northern Lights and enjoy the beauty of the Arctic landscape. Glass Igloos have a solid bottom for privacy, but a glass roof perfect for looking at the night sky.
We had an amazing stay at Arctic Snow Hotel & Glass Igloo and it ended up being the only time we saw the Northern Lights. The hotel was literally in the middle of nowhere, so the light pollution was minimal. Cuddling in bed and watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky was magical – and the perfect way to end our stay in Lapland!
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