Since 2010 Rovaniemi, Finland was named the Official Hometown of Santa Clause! I can say without a doubt this is the ultimate destination to experience the true magic of Christmas.
Thousands of visitors take the quick 90-minute flight north from Helsinki to Rovaniemi with hopes of catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis when the sky darkens in the evening. During the day Rovaniemi, is a winter wonderland playground with activities including ice fishing, dogsledding, ice climbing, relaxing in a sauna, and of course, meeting the real Santa Clause himself.
Here are my ten “Bucket List Worthy Experiences” that you can check off all in one trip to Rovaniemi!
Grab a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoy!
Save time and fly from Helsinki, or London Gatwick (seasonal) right into Rovaniemi with Norwegian, or Finnair. The airport is around 10km from the main city center. From the airport, you can reserve the Airport Taxi shuttle service for around 7 euro a person.
Rovaniemi is a tiny town, and just about everything you need will be within walking distance from the city center! For getting out of town have a look at the transport options below.
You won’t find any rideshare services in Rovaniemi, but taxis are available. Taxis are pretty pricey so try to avoid them unless you’re in a time crunch. Two attractions that would require alternate transportation will be to Santa Claus Village and if you’re interested in visiting the Ranua Zoo.
You can hop on Bus Number 8 to Santa Claus Village that comes once every hour. With only three bus lines you won’t have too much trouble getting lost. If you want to visit the polar bears at the Rauna Zoo Matkahuolto operates daily coach services to the Rauna Zoo which is around 80km away.
WHERE TO STAY
Arctic Light Hotel; $$$ A Luxury Boutique Hotel in the Rovaniemi City Center
This family-owned hotel opened in 2015 and you’ll receive nothing but the best hospitality from their staff. They have a delicious buffet breakfast you can start your morning within their cozy lounge. Not to mention it’s right next door to my favorite Restaurant Nili!
1. Meet the Real Santa Clause at his Office in Santa Clause Village
Everyone knows Santa Clause, but did you know his office is in Finland?! The real Santa Clause (or Joulupukki as the Finns refer to him) is in Rovaniemi, Finland. The city’s most iconic resident is there to meet you at his office 365 days a year!
You’re able to meet Santa at his office in Santa Clause Village for free, but if you would like a photo to show to your friends and family back home you will have to purchase an electronic copy (40 euros), as personal photos are not allowed.
Santa receives visitors from around the world, and you’ll be impressed with how many languages he knows from Japanese to German! We chatted with Santa about where we were from and how much we enjoyed visiting Rovaniemi. After seeing his long curly white beard and rosy cheeks and hearing his deep belly laugh it’s near impossible not to walk out and be smiling from ear to ear.
Santa Claus Village is located 5 miles from Rovaniemi. The easiest way to access Santa Claus Village is by taking bus number 8 from Rovaniemi City Center. We were a little tight for time, but we ended up getting a ride from one of our tour operators before Santa Claus Village closed. Cabs from Rovaniemi City Center would be 25-30 Euros.
If you’re feeling adventurous in the winter you have the option of visiting Santa Clause Village by a reindeer sleigh ride, or snowmobile with Lapland Safaris. Talk about making an entrance!
2. Sleep Under the Stars in a Glass Igloo
Spend a night in a Glass Igloo and wake-up surrounded by nature, or if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights will be dancing above you as you sleep beneath the Polar sky.
Is staying in a glass igloo worth it though? These igloos don’t come cheap. Starting at around 549 euros for one night it’s important to have an idea of what to expect. Most guests only stay in the glass igloos one, or two nights and then combine that with a one night stay in the ice hotel.
In Rovaniemi, the most popular glass igloos are found at the Arctic Snow Hotel located 17 miles away from the city center of Rovaniemi. The draw to the Arctic Snow Hotel isn’t just for their Glass Igloos, but they also have an Ice Hotel, Ice Restaurant, and an Ice Bar on the property!
What I Loved About the Arctic Snow Hotel
- Their glass igloos were great at insulating the heat inside your igloo the entire night- so don’t worry about being cold!
- The beds have a remote that can adjust to reclining or sitting up making it easy to watch the night sky from a comfortable position
- They have an aurora alarm that you can set to go off in the middle of the night when they detect aurora activity
- The heated floors inside the igloo were so warm and cozy!
- The sauna for the guests could use was a very nice traditional Finnish style sauna
- The design of the glass igloos was beautiful
- The dinner at the Log Restaurant Lumikartano on the property was delicious
What I Should Have Done Differently at the Arctic Snow Hotel
- Arrive earlier! With the limited daylight hours that you have in the wintertime in Lapland it would have been nice to have allocated more time to fully enjoy our glass igloo by checking in earlier in order to explore the resort a little more.
- Visit when the Ice Hotel, Ice Restaurant, and Ice Bar are open. The glass igloos open earlier in the season, but the Ice Hotel doesn’t open until the end of December typically. If you’re going to make a trip out to Rovaniemi and stay at the Arctic Circle Hotel, I recommend you try to go when the Ice Hotel is open so you can tour it (a tour of the ice hotel is included in your glass igloo stay).
- Don’t fly out the next day. We had an early morning flight back to Helsinki the following day, which required us to wake up incredibly early to catch our flight. Because we were leaving at such an early hour we also had to pay for an additional cost of an airport transfer that was more expensive than the options during the day.
- Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see the Northern Lights. Even though the Aurora alarm went off in the middle of the night (that was a bit of a shock!) we still couldn’t see the lights as clearly as I’ve seen in the past.
3. Cross the Article Circle Line
I wasn’t kidding when I said Rovaniemi was very far north was I? Don’t leave Rovaniemi without crossing the Arctic Circle line, and getting the picture to prove it! In Rovaniemi, the Arctic Circle line runs directly through Santa Claus Village!
The Arctic Circle is a circle of latitude that runs 66°33′45.9″ north of the Equator. The region north of the Arctic Circle line is simply called the Arctic.
Hop, skip, or dance across the line to commemorate crossing into the Arctic. Or, if a picture isn’t proof enough you can purchase a certificate at Santa Clause Village confirming that you made the journey to cross the Arctic Line. Maybe try and ask Santa if he’ll autograph your certificate for you!
4. Try Reindeer
Lappish cuisine is about fresh ingredients of the forest, like berries, mushrooms, lichen, and game meat. Reindeer is an essential part of their cuisine, and no country prepares Reindeer as well as Finland making it a staple you have to try during your visit to Lapland. Below are my two favorite restaurants for a cozy lunch, or an authentic and unique Lappish dinner in Rovaniemi – you won’t want to miss out on.
Cafe Bar 21
Cafe Bar 21 is a must for your lunch spot in Rovaniemi. It’s a trendy cafe with delicious and affordable food.
They’re known for their waffles, more specifically their chicken salty waffle. I passed on the waffle when I saw the homemade salmon soup. With temperatures below freezing soup and a hot chocolate couldn’t have sounded better.
Walking into Restaurant Nili you instantly feel welcomed. The furnishings are genuinely handcrafted with Lappish handicraft and materials such as Lappish wood, reindeer horns and reindeer leather all together creating a cozy ambiance.
You’ll quickly be impressed by the quality and presentation of the traditional Lapish dishes you’ll find at Nili. They’re famous for their sautéed reindeer, but Nili is one of the few places that serve bear on their menu if you’re feeling brave!
This was my first time trying reindeer and I loved it. It was paired well with the home-made lingonberry jam, pickled cucumber, and a serving of buttery mashed potatoes making it the perfect dinner for a winter night.
Nili is by far the best restaurant in Rovaniemi. Definitely make reservations in advance, as they are completely booked most nights during their tourist season.
5. Send a Letter from the World’s Most Famous Post Office
Take a moment to sit in Santa’s Main Post Office and admire all the shelves filled with letters Santa receives from around the world.
The office is even a genuine part of the Finnish postal services, Posti, though it only receives letters addressed to Santa. During the months of November and December, Santa receives around 32,000 letters daily. Most letters come from the United Kingdom, Italy, Romania, Poland, Finland, and Japan.
All mail sent from Santa’s Post Office is marked with a special stamp and postmark of Santa Claus from the Arctic Circle. Sending postcards to friends and family back home was one of my favorite memories of Santa’s Village.
Popover Tip: You can write Santa at his address here: Tähtikuja 1 96930 Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi. He’s been known to write back!
6. Earn Your Reindeer Drivers License
Want a fun conversation starter at your next holiday party? Mention how you earned your reindeer drivers license in Finland and I promise you you’ll get their attention.
Reindeer might not fly but there’s something so special about the creatures. Reindeer are iconic with Finnish Lapland and reindeer sleigh rides offer a unique experience to bond with these animals. At the reindeer farms, you’ll have a chance to pet, feed, and drive your own reindeer sled.
We were greeted by two brothers who were reindeer herders whose family descended from the Sami people of Lapland thousands of years ago. They were very welcoming and introduced us to their heard of reindeer. You could tell the reindeer were very well cared for, and the brothers spoke with pride of their family farm. They gave a very detailed overview of the history of reindeer in Finland and treated us to hot coffee and traditional Finnish pastries.
We went outside to meet our reindeer and after a quick lesson on controlling the reindeer, they deemed us fit to take one of the reindeer out for a spin-by ourselves! We hopped in a wooden sled pulled by a reindeer, and with two flicks of the rope, we were off! The ride was only 1K long, but we left with cheesy grins knowing that we just successfully earned our reindeer driver’s license.
Popover Tip: To combine a couple of activities into one-afternoon checkout the “Visit a Reindeer and Husky Farm by Snowmobile Sleigh” excursion from Lapland Welcome. This is the only tour that includes a stop at the Reindeer Farm when you can also earn your “Reindeer driving license” complimentary as a memory.
7. Hop Onboard a Dog Sled
Take in the sights traversing the beautiful wilderness of Lapland being pulled by a sled dog. Bundle up really warm and tight and get ready for an experience that will leave you smiling the entire ride.
Your dog sled ride can vary depending on how long you wish to go. I couldn’t believe how fast these dogs pull you! The optimum number of dogs per sled is six – the two at the front are the lead dogs, the two in the middle are the fastest dogs and the two closest to the sled are the strongest dogs.
After your sled dog ride, you warm up with coffee and snacks by fire and learn more about the history of the animals and their training and competitions today.
Check out these great options with Lapland Welcome for Husky Safaris!
8. Snowmobile Through Forests
Feel the peacefulness of the snowy forests: heavily snow-laden trees, frozen rivers and streams all on the back of a snowmobile. Escape the “hustle” of the city and see parts of Lapland you can only see with a snowmobile.
Snowmobiling is very popular in Rovaniemi, and most of the path will be a paved trial led by your guide. If you’re lucky, you may spot some wild reindeer along the way.
You can combine the snowmobile tour with a visit to a husky or reindeer farm, the Arctic Snow Hotel or Santa Clause Village too.
9. Hunt for the Northern Lights
In Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland, you can witness Auroras dancing in the sky, but you have to hunt them down first!
Check out the wide variety of guided tours you can book with Lapland Safaris to chase down the northern lights! We enjoyed our experience with their friendly and personable guides, and your chances substantially increase to see the Northern Lights the farther you move away from the city lights.
Popover Tip: Lapland Safaris will provide jumpsuits to help you stay warm, and a large teepee with a fire when you need to take a break from aurora hunting-perfect for keeping your hands warm and toasty! Happy Aurora Hunting!
10. Sweat in a Sauna
There are over three million saunas in Finland, and around 188,000 lakes. Sauna culture is part of Finnish life. Almost everyone has one in their home, and Saturday’s are known as “Sauna Night” where friends and family members spend time together.
Most hotels will have a Sauna too! The Sauna at our hotel the, Arctic Light Hotel, was so relaxing! Make a reservation at the front desk when you check in to reserve a time to visit it.
WHAT TO EAT IN ROVANIEMI
Cafe Bar 21; $ Located right in the city center of Rovaniemi. Cafe Bar 21´s most popular menu items are their salty and sweet waffles, big tasty salads, gelato ice-creams, and some of the best cocktails in town.
Santa’s Salmon Place; $$ Makes for a cozy Lappish atmosphere. They serve fresh salmon baked in a traditional Lappish teepee with an open fire. They only serve salmon, so if salmon isn’t a favorite of yours I’d recommend passing this one up!
WHEN AND HOW LONG TO VISIT ROVANIEMI
November-March is the best time to visit Rovaniemi for their snow excursions during the day, and to hopefully catch the Northern Lights! Ideally the right amount of time to stay in Rovaniemi is 3-5 full days depending on what you want to see.
December and January are the snowy months with little daylight, but the hight of the Christmas season. In February, you’ll typically see more sun mixed with snow. March is rumored to be one of the best months to view the Northern Lights.
Average daytime temperatures in the winter:
- December: -20 to -10 degrees Celsius
- January: -30 to -15 degrees Celsius
- February: -20 to -15 degrees Celsius
- March: -15 to -5 degrees Celsius
WHAT TO WEAR FOR ROVANIEMI IN THE WINTER
My 72 hours in Rovaniemi were some of the coldest days I’ve ever spent in any city! The best tip I can give you is to pack like you’re going skiing! Ski pants and all!
Dress in warm layers: warm underwear (long-sleeved and long-legged thermals), warm clothes under your coat (e.g. wool or fleece), and external cloths made of close-woven fabrics. We saw so many people in ski pants, and ski jackets.
As for footwear, bring wool socks and thick-soled shoes. You’ll need lots of scarves, hats, and gloves. Throw in a couple of hand warmers too!
In case you forget something or want to buy more pieces (like I had to did!). Rovaniemi has stores in the city center that sell nice quality winter clothing and accessories.
Final Thoughts on Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi, Finland is the perfect destination for travelers who want to have an adventure while staying young at heart.
For more Nordic Christmas destinations checkout my Copenhagen Christmas Travel Guide. Learn about the most unique holiday experiences you should not miss during the most “hyggelig” time of the year” in Denmark’s beautiful capital of Copenhagen.
What’s your dream winter wonderland destination? Would you stay in a glass igloo? Or, would you try reindeer? I’d love to hear! Comment below!