Who has never dreamt of visiting Santa’s hometown, petting his adorable fellow reindeers and witnessing his loyal elves at work? Three years ago, as I was working in Helsinki, I seized this opportunity of living in Finland to jump on a plane to the ultimate winter wonderland: Rovaniemi, Lapland.
Day 1: Exploring Rovaniemi and Lappish Culture
Setting a foot in a city is like the first bite of a new dish: you discover a new taste – so get lost!
The Candle Bridge.
Rovaniemi is not a big city, but it has a couple of nice architectural landmarks. As I am passionate about architecture the main building I wanted to see was Jätkänkynttilä, also known as the Candle Bridge. It marks the start of my exploration. Surprisingly I wasn’t really attracted by wandering in the city center but rather in the suburbs, so I crossed the bridge towards Ounasvaara Hill. This edge of the river is quieter – less concrete, more green spaces – and offers a really nice walk – plus a view on downtown. When wandering, I always turn off the map on my phone and just go wherever my guts tell me. That is how I got lost in this lovely neighborhood where I found a gem: a pretty tiny Orthodox Church. Going back downtown, I walked on another bridge (Jormaelontie) up to the Protestant Church and then to the Angry Birds Activity Park – which is perfect if travelling with kids. Not everyone knows that Angry Birds was born in Finland.
After that nice walk, it is time to immerse yourself in Lappish culture at Arktikum – a museum and science center. Of course do not skip lunch time, or lounas in Finnish, and give Arktikum’s café a shot: the food is delicious. Arktikum is a fantastic place to discover the Arctic region from a cultural, traditional and scientific point of view: admire some of the traditional Lappish outfits, learn more about the Finnish war and how it affected the country, witness the evolution of Lapland from prehistory to nowadays, immerse yourself in the northern lights phenomenon in a stunning replica in a dark room, etc. The visit is very instructive and is also 100% suitable for kids. I personally spent hours in Arktikum and was even tempted to go back a second time before going back to Helsinki.
Traditional Lappish Sautéed Reindeer at Monte Rosa.
After that eventful day, rest at your hotel and enjoy a traditional Finnish meal! I recommend staying at the Arctic City Hotel, very well situated downtown. This hotel has great perks: comfy rooms, a sauna (the best way to relax at the end of the day), one of the biggest breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen and a nice restaurant attached to it called Monte Rosa (try the traditional Lappish sautéed reindeer, it’s delicious).
Day 2: Meet Santa!
D day has arrived; today you’ll meet Santa Claus himself! If you are not staying at Santa Claus Village, I’d advise you to go there with bus n°8 instead of Santa’s Express – it’s cheaper.
Santa Claus Village under the snow.
Santa Claus Village is, indeed, a village itself so make sure you have the whole day if front of you to explore it. Depending on what time of year you are visiting, meeting Santa should be one of your first stops since his place is crowded most of the time. During the high season you can easily wait hours in the colorful corridors of his house to see the man… so you better be ready! I went there during the low season in April and luckily had to wait around 10 minutes (yay!). You will sit next to Santa for a few minutes to chat with him (the big guy speaks lots of languages, he may just as well use your native language with you which is pretty cool) and then his elves will take a picture before letting you go. Meeting Santa is free but if you want a physical souvenir of this encounter you will have to buy that pic (30€) – keep in mind that taking your own pictures with Santa is prohibited.
Santa Claus Main Post Office and Husky babies at Husky Park.
Keep the child within you entertained by visiting the main post office. Thousands of letters are kept there and you can send some yourself that will arrive just on time for Christmas. Go meet the reindeers or the huskies in Husky Park (10€ to get in but it is worth it to meet, pet and play with the dogs), or even go on a ride with them! Or give the snowmobiles a shot! Take a stroll in the numerous shops – Marimekko and Iittala are a must for Finnish design – and cross the Arctic Circle!
Feeding the reindeers after the Safari.
At night, treat yourself with an experience of a lifetime: a reindeer safari by night (to be booked in advance). Embark on a sleigh pulled by a couple of reindeers and cross the forest up to a traditional Lappish teepee. Sit with your guide for a Finnish dinner (usually sausages and glöggi) and chat with him about the region and his hairy protégés before going back to the farm where you will feed the reindeers. If you are lucky enough, you may even see northern lights. Sweet dreams.
Day 3: Lapland’s wonder
It is time to see a bit more of Mother Nature and discover one of Lapland’s wonder: Korouoma Canyon in Posio. So let’s jump in the car for a short drive (1h30).
Korouoma Canyon is around 100 meters deep and offers stunning hiking trails. The most popular one is Koronjää trail which spreads on 5 kilometers along 3 magnificent waterfalls. I heavily recommend going during winter time because those waterfalls are frozen – and perfect for ice climbing.
I put my snowshoes on and went along that trail… I was amazed like I have rarely been. 2 or 3 hours will give you enough time to enjoy that natural wonder. Then going back to the meeting point, get a campfire site and start a barbecue, eating will feel so good after such an effort! And before another big one: making your way out of the canyon. The incline can be a bit scary if you’re not a sporty person but it is totally doable by taking your time.
Finnish Barbecue at Korouoma Canyon.
If you are going to Korouoma Canyon by yourself make sure you have proper winter equipment (snowshoes are a must), warm clothes, lots of water and snacks. When I was there I did not want to rent a car so I went on this excursion with “Lapland Welcome” who provided absolutely everything needed – a good option not to worry about anything. If you too would like to explore the Rovaniemi area, here’s my advice: – Go during winter and possibly during the low season as it will be cheaper and less crowded. – Plan and book your activities in advance: spots are often limited and that way you can manage your budget (Finland is an expensive country). – Try to book your flights and hotel as a package, you’ll save money for that kind of destination (from my own experience I saved around 200€ that way) – Compare the activities and prices offered by the local agencies: there are a couple of them so make sure you get the best price! – Enjoy!