You may or may not have heard of Rovaniemi. It’s best known for being the home of Santa Clause! (and the edge of the Arctic Circle / Lapland in Finland). Most people visit in Winter to see Santa & the snow however it’s still worth visiting in other seasons (and when there’s no snow).
This post contains
- Things to see and do
- Northern lights tips & tour
- What time of year to visit
- Where to stay
- What flight to catch
- How to get around Rovaniemi
- The best walking route (in my opinion)
- Where I recommend you eat in Rovaniemi
- Budget / costs
Things to see and do in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is located in Lapland, (northern Finland), literally on the edge of the Arctic Circle – but that doesn’t mean it’s only a winter destination!
- Santa Clause Village (where you can feed a reindeer, cross the Arctic Circle, meet Santa and pat the huskies!)
- Reindeer farms
- Northern Lights
- Walking trails (I did a photography tour in the forest (more on that in another post).
- Ounasvaara hill viewpoint
- Walk along the river
- If you have a drone take a photo of Kotisaari Island which you may have seen photos of on the internet or Instagram (showing the difference in the 4 seasons)
- The local shopping centre is quite big for the size of the town
- Visit the town square (Lordi’s Square)
- Finnish sauna
I’d skip the Artikum Museum – you can see the Northern Lights from here in winter (supposedly) but basically it was just a very small and expensive museum (was about $20 AUD when I visited) – you have to pay to visit all of the exhibits and there isn’t much of a view from the building. After having watched YouTube videos of other people that went that I felt that was enough to get the gist of the museum.
The leaves just starting to turn in mid-September (Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge)
I’ll be doing a separate post on the Northern Lights but I just wanted to say that unless you have a DLSR and know how to use it, it’s pointless going northern lights hunting with your own camera (like I was going to do). The lights aren’t actually bright green to the human eye – it just looked like light grey cloud to me (it shows up green through the camera lens). I’d book a photography tour (so glad I did this!) – they’ll take you to the local places where you can find the Northern Lights, will take photos with their expensive camera and then send them to you afterwards for you to keep.
Not sponsored, just telling you want company I used – it was a tour through Viator – Photography Tour: Discover the Northern Lights.
Book your northern lights tour for the first night you’re in Rovaniemi. That way if the lights are a no show you have another chance the next night. Keep in mind that depending on the time of year you go, it’ll probably be a late night (when I went in September, the lights didn’t show until 10pm and we got back to the accommodation at midnight).
Northern Lights in September
Make sure you take a walk along Rovaneimi’s river
How many days do you need?
This was my itinerary which I think was the perfect amount of time to see the highlighters. Depending on the time of year you visit and the activities that are available, you may want to add an extra day.
- Day 1 – arrive lunchtime, look around Rovaniemi’s main square, Northern Lights photography tour at night
- Day 2 – Visit Santa Clause village & the huskies
- Day 3 – Walking trails through the Finnish forest (I did an Explore the Wilderness Photography Expedition)
Everyone in town seemed to own a fluffy dogs!
The town square with the temperature gage (Lordi’s Square)
Tips for visiting Rovaniemi
- There aren’t many places to eat in Rovaniemi so go early and / or reserve. My favorite restaurant was Rosso Rovaniemi (there was so much on their menu I went back there every night for dinner!)
- If you love gelato like I do there aren’t many options. The best place I found was Cafe & Bar 21
- They even have McDonald’s!
- Food (and everything else) is expensive
- The town square has a temperature Gage – make sure you get a photo with it!
- You don’t need to pre-book things before you get there… but I definitely recommend it. You can book from the tourist info centre in the main square but some tours don’t operate everyday or sell out
- Pack warm clothes even in summer. I visited in September – the temperature was 0 degrees at 7am in the morning! I wore jeans, long socks, boots, Uniqlo heattech shirt, puffer vest, zip up jacket, a puffer down jacket, scarf and gloves occasionally (especially at night)
- If you’re going Northern Lights chasing, if you do it with a company most will supply you with a big snuggly jacket. The tour I did had a log cabin with a fire you could go back inside to defrost in
- Most of the accommodation is low rise (you won’t find any skyscrapers here)
- Finland uses the Euro
- Finland is part of the Schengen Area
- The local language is Finnish but everyone I spoke to, spoke English. Not once was there confusion / a language barrier – the Finnish people at restaurants, shops, public transport etc. all spoke perfect English
- There is a supermarket if you rent an apartment and want to save money and cook your own food
I found this marked walking trail on a blog and really wish I’d saved the link to give credit. I didn’t do the entire route – just a loop between Ounaskoski Railway bridge then back across Jätkänkynttilä (Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge)
When to visit Rovaniemi
If you visit in summer, that’s when the husky puppies are born! You won’t be able to do a husky ride though as they can only run when the temperature is above 15 degrees.
Rovaniemi has the midnight sun (24hrs of sunshine)
I visited in mid-September thinking I’d time Autumn colors. Sadly I didn’t – everything was still very green however most of the guides / locals we spoke to said the leaves typically change mid-end of September – I just happened to time a year when the leaves were late turning.
If you want to see the northern lights, I saw them in mid-September. Albeit they weren’t amazing – not like those pictures you see with fully green northern lights but I still saw them. Go in winter if you want the best chance of seeing them. I do want to point out it only needs to be dark not necessarily cold / winter season for the northern lights to appear.
As autumn is off peak, there’ll be hardly any tourists, which means any tours you book could end up being private tours. I was travelling with 3 other people and everything we booked turned into a private tour with just the 4 of us in a minivan with 1 tour guide all to ourselves.
I did a half day trip walking amongst the Finnish Forest – highly recommend!
This place is in winter for basically half the year – we’re talking snow starts falling in October. Looks like a magical place for Christmas but a lot of queues and expensive. If you want to see snow I’d go in January or late November when it’s a bit quieter.
In winter, be prepared for light only a few hours a day.
Winter looks very pretty with the snow and when everything would be decked out with Christmas decorations… but I don’t think I could handle the cold and the crowds.
One of the unique things you can do in winter is float on the ice! (in a thermal wet suit of course).
For the chance of snow without it being so dark and cold, visit in Spring. According to the local tour guides I spoke to, the snow usually sticks around until mid-April.
Getting to Rovaniemi
I took an hour an a half flight (flight AY 533) on Finnair from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (departed 12:05pm, arrived at 1:20pm).
Rovaneimi is quite far from Helsinki and flights are cheap so I’d just fly not drive.
One husky photo (of about 200 photos of huskies I took…) – there are almost 100 huskies at the Santa Claus Village!
Getting to and from the airport
The locals have it all figured out. A plane load of tourists arrive.. and they make sure there aren’t enough seats on the bus that goes into town. Our bags were the last off the baggage carousel + needing to use the bathroom = the bus was just leaving when we exited the terminal. But of course there were a few taxi’s there waiting.
The bus is timed to meet the planes and doesn’t wait long. If you miss the bus, don’t bother waiting for another one – it could be 30 – 60 min before another one arrives (or not at all if you’re on the last flight of the day).
We had a group of 4 people so it actually ended up costing about the same / a little bit less to take a taxi and at least it was direct to our accommodation. If you’re travelling solo the bus is going to be much cheaper.
If you want to pre-book a taxi back to the airport, make sure you book in advance as there are very few in the town and not many that are big enough to fit 4 suitcases plus 4 hand luggage suitcases. Pre-booking a taxi was an additional 7 euro fee on top of the taxi fare.
Uber does not operate in the town.
The main drag of Rovaniemi
Getting around Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is small – no matter where you are you’ll probably end up in the town square within 15 minutes. I wouldn’t bother getting / waiting / paying for a taxi.
I did a northern lights tour – the tour company picked us up from our accommodation (there was no issue it being an apartment / Airbnb – they do pickup and drop off from non-hotels).
I also did a Finnish forest photography tour. While the company did not do accommodation pickups – the tour companies office was in the middle of town (only a 5 minute walk from accommodation). Everything is close by so it’s not really a big deal if a tour company doesn’t offer pickup / drop off.
If you’re staying in town and want to visit Santa Clause village, catch the Santa Express Bus or Local Bus Number 8 to Santa’s Claus Village (free entry).
Where to stay
If you’re visiting the Santa Clause Village you can choose to stay in huts or igloo’s at the Santa Village but it is of course, more expensive than accommodation in Rovaniemi.
I stayed at Piriko Apartment in Rovaneimi (booked through booking.com but it was a holiday rental unit you’d probably find on Airbnb). The owner (Christine) was really nice & helpful. When the bus from the airport left without us and we weren’t sure if we should wait for the next bus or get a taxi. She recommend taxi and told us the cost it should be so we didn’t get ripped off (think from memory is was about 20 – 30 euro) and gave detailed directions. She also waited for us in front of the building, gave us a tour of the apartment and helped us with our luggage. The apartment was modern and didn’t feel cramped with 4 people (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom) – definitely recommend!
If you take along the riverfront you might spot a squirrel!
Most prices aren’t listed online but these are some of the things you should factor into your budget:
- Return flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi
- Airport transfer (either via shuttle bus or taxi)
- Food (allow approx. 30 euro for a main meal – keep in mind most places in Europe charge for water)
- Husky Farm at Santa Claus Village
- Husky Ride (from memory I think this was $65 AUD)
- Reindeer Farm at Santa Claus Village (you get to feed the reindeer!)
- Elf’s Farm Yard petting zoo (if you want to see baby reindeer) (from memory I think this was 7 -10 euro)
- Atrikum Museum (15 euro)
- Day trip to the Finnish Forest (or transport there / fuel if you go on your own)
- Northern Lights Tour
- If you want to do snow shoeing or sledding
- Kayaking in summer
- Visit a Finnish Sauna
I did 2 tours – a northern lights one and one to the Finnish forest – both were about $200 AUD each per person.
A holiday to Finland (especially Rovaniemi) doesn’t come cheap but it’s definitely worth it!
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