Lapland in Finland is without a doubt the ultimate spot for a Christmas break, as the Artic Circle is a truly phenomenal corner of the world. Its surreal climate with white nights during the summer and dark days in the winter cannot be found elsewhere. Right before Xmas I decided to embark on a winter getaway to Rovaniemi – the home of Santa Claus.
Believe it or not Rovaniemi might seem like a tiny village, but in fact in terms of geographic area, Rovaniemi is one of the largest towns in Europe 8 017 km². It’s not the cheapest place to visit, but with the current Euro crisis it definitely wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be.
Winter Getaway to Rovaniemi
How to get there?
I only had a few days to spend in Finland, therefore I didn’t want to spend hours driving up north or taking a long train ride. I booked a Finnair flight to Rovaniemi via Helsinki and as annoyed as I was about having to spend the night at Helsinki airport I must say that it was surprisingly a very pleasant experience as Helsinki airport is the first airport in Europe that offers free private beds which reminded me a bit of aliens’ cocoons.
Rovaniemi airport itself welcomed me with Christmassy décor with Santa Claus signs everywhere and even the luggage belt has fluorescent reindeers on it.
Where to stay in Rovaniemi:
Santa’s Hotel – probably the most popular spot in the city. Located right in the city center within walking distance to every pick-up place for activities, this hotel can be great for families as well as single travelers.
Artic Snow Hotel – when in Finland a lot of people want to stay in an igloo hotel or one entirely made of ice. You can find both options at this hotel just a short drive from Rovaniemi. Great spot for northern lights.
Hotel Aakenus – it’s a great budget friend hotel, just a 10-minute walk away from the center. Close to a supermarket and the museum is a good alternative for a savy traveler.
Things to do in Rovaniemi
There are plenty of things to do in Rovaniemi so you definitely won’t be bored. However, do plan things in advance as a lot of activities can be overbooked during Christmas time. Here’s what you can do in this part of Lapland.
Visit Santa Claus
You can’t visit Rovaniemi without seeing Santa Claus. Santa Claus really lives in Rovaniemi (even if you send a letter to Santa to North Pole it arrives at his main post office in Rovaniemi). It might not be worth for you to buy a photo with the Santa (it costs 40 EUR) unless you’re with kids, however it’s still nice to walk around the Santa Village, get some souvenirs or hug a gigantic snowman.
When at Santa Village you shouldn’t skip the Snowman World located right next door to Santa’s hub. Snowman World includes an Ice Hotel, Ice Restaurant and bar and a huge ice slide which is actually quite scary! Be aware that the opening dates of the place might vary depending of the season. I was informed that this year the hotel wasn’t fully finished by Christmas as for Finnish weather it was way too warm in November.
Animals activities are always my favorite experiences on every trip (as long as they don’t abuse animals!) and this one also didn’t disappoint me. Reindeers were extremely cute despite the fact that they didn’t want to give me a hug. They brought us to the husky farm where I was finally able to drive 8 huskies. I highly recommend it!
Northern lights by snowmobile
Chasing the dancing lights of the aurora borealis (northern lights) tops the list of many travelers. Visible in Finland, Norway, Iceland and Alaska aren’t actually so easy to see. When in Iceland, I haven’t gotten lucky during my week there and the same thing happened in Finland. The sky was simply too cloudy.
However, if you’re told that the sky is clear enough, jump on a snowmobile tour and head to the middle of the forest to enjoy the spectacular show of the northern lights.
Take a walk in snowshoes
Strap on a pair of aluminum frames and take on the snowy forest landscapes with an adventurous stride. Stumbles and snowball fights are an essential part of the experience. I took the night tour therefore it was extremely hard to see anything what made the experience even more fun and a little bit spooky.
Ice fishing is one of these not-for-me acitivities, as I would never be a good fisherman. I always feel too bad for the fish I catch and let it go instead of keeping it for dinner. However, if you’re not a fish-lover try to catch a tiny fish in an ice hole. Patience is definitely required!
Visit Arktikum Museum
A museum and a science, also known as Arktikum, focuses on the history and culture of Lapland and Arctic life. Lapland is where the indigenous Sami people have lived for at least 5000 years up till now. The Sami are the only people of Scandinavia recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous peoples. They have their own culture, traditions and even a language.
At Arktikum you can get a better understanding the Sami culture, and the science behind the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. The centre features life-size stuffed animals: bear, moose, and seals, which are fun and engaging for youngsters as well as animal lovers like me. I was also able to make my own traditional Finnish Christmas decoration at a private workshop.
Eat a reindeer
When in Lapland you can’t forget about the culinary side of it. Food in Rovaniemi disappointed me a lot. I could mostly get french fries, pizza, Chinese and burgers. I swear in the whole town we couldn’t find a decent place to eat apart from one place – Restaurant Nili.
Nili served traditional Lapish dishes which are basically very meaty. I would suggest vegetarians to bring their own food to Finland. I got to try a reindeer served with gooseberries and mash and a Lapish river fish with local mushrooms. Reindeer was definitely one of a kind as it’s meat tastes something in between of a kangaroo and pork. Yum!
Watch my video from Winter Getaway to Rovaniemi, Finland!
(Click to watch Reindeer safari & husky sledding in Rovaniemi, Finland with Anna Everywhere on YouTube)