Welcome to Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland and Official Home of Santa Claus, sits just five miles south of the Arctic Circle. This town at the confluence of the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers has a history dating back some 8,000 years, and a delightfully modern vibe. Take a journey through Rovaniemi with these 21 photos.
A city rebuilt
Retreating Nazis destroyed much of Rovaniemi in 1944, but the city bounced back. Finnish architect Alvar Aalto planned much of the modern city, including roads, in the shape of reindeer antlers. Today, the town is home to approximately 63,000 people.
Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge
Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge (Jätkänkynttilä in Finnish) spans the Kemijoki River. It opened in 1989 as the first cable-stayed road bridge in Finland and ranks among the most recognizable landmarks of Rovaniemi.
Grand Opening of Christmas
As each year approaches its end, Rovaniemi takes center stage as the “Official Home of Santa Claus.” In November, Mr. Claus opens the Christmas season with a speech, followed by more than a month of holiday festivities in Santa Claus Village.
According to local legend, Santa’s original home occupies a secret location in Finnish Lapland. His Rovaniemi office opened in 1985, and the town became the Official Hometown of Santa Claus in 2010.
Santa Claus Village
You don’t have to visit in winter to say hello to Santa. He keeps an office in Santa Claus Village, where more than half a million people visit him each year. While exploring the village, visitors can also cross the Arctic Circle, visit Santa’s reindeer or send a letter from Santa Claus’s Main Post Office (stamped with an Arctic Circle postmark).
It should come as no surprise that a city with a reindeer head-shaped street plan has a bit of an affinity for the animals. No visit to Rovaniemi would be complete without taking a reindeer sleigh ride. Many reindeer herders and farms welcome visitors to learn more about their livelihood.
Winter in Rovaniemi
Winter (December to March) in Rovaniemi can be dark and cold, with daytime temperatures below freezing and polar nights where the sun never makes it above the horizon. Thanks to Christmas and the northern lights, it’s also a popular time to visit Finnish Lapland.
The cold and dark of winter don’t stop visitors and locals from enjoying the snowy landscape. Snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, ice climbing and fat biking represent just a few of the items on the winter adventure menu.
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The aurora borealis (revontulet or “fox fire” in Finnish) are visible in Finnish Lapland for around 150 nights each year. In Rovaniemi, you can often see them from late August to early April between 10 pm and 2 am. They may last a couple minutes or several hours.
According to local Sámi legend, the phenomenon is caused by a fox running through the snow and whipping ice crystals into the northern sky with its bushy tail.
Dog mushing has long served as an important mode of transportation in Lapland. Visitors can experience dog sledding for much of the year, or visit a sled dog farm to learn more about the life and work of these high-energy huskies.
If you associate swimming with hot summer days, you’re not from Rovaniemi. Here, winter swimming ranks as a popular pastime, believed to promote good health. A quick dip in a frozen river is typically followed by a stint in a warming sauna. Many Finns start their days with a winter swim, claiming the resulting energy boost stays with them throughout the day.
The town hosted the World Winter Swimming Championships in 2014.
Dine in an igloo restaurant
You may be familiar with ice hotels, but how about igloo restaurants? Spend an evening dining on Lapland cuisine inside the Snowland Restaurant. The igloo restaurant can seat 260 people and features tables made of ice and two ice bars.
A race across the ice
Each January, brave drivers gather in Rovaniemi for the Arctic Lapland Rally, a slippery race along the ice-covered roads of Finnish Lapland. The event ranks among the most popular in town, and past participants have included current and former Formula One drivers.
Cars aren’t the only thing racing in Lapland. Another popular pastime? Reindeer racing. The racing season runs from mid-February through the beginning of April, and one of the PoroCup (reindeer racing) events takes place in Rovaniemi. During a typical race, four reindeer compete at a time. The jockeys don’t ride the reindeer but follow behind on skis.
Land of the midnight sun
Summer in Rovaniemi brings nightless nights (also called polar days) where the sun never sets. You can see the midnight sun from early June to early July. This means you have 24 hours a day for outdoor adventure (something locals definitely take advantage of).
Summer brings its own menu of adventures to Finnish Lapland. Take a quad bike ride in the Arctic Circle, spend the day kayaking, jet skiing or stand-up paddleboarding on the rivers, go horseback riding under the midnight sun, or tee off at a local golf course.
Wild berry picking
Rovaniemi in the summer is a popular season for foraging. Head out into the Lappish forests to find blueberries, cloudberries and wild mushrooms. Local guides offer foraging tours that teach visitors how to identify which types are safe to eat (and how best to enjoy them).
Autumn brings the first snow and the first aurora sightings to Rovaniemi. It’s also an excellent season for hiking and biking amid the fall foliage.
Reindeer antlers are one of the most popular materials used for handicrafts in Lapland, along with bone, wood, birch bark and leather. Stop into some of the shops in town to find cosmetics made from local berries, handmade knives, wooden cups and plywood prints.
Finnish Lapland is home to Europe’s only active amethyst mine. Take a day trip to the mine to learn more about the process of mining with no big machines, hear stories about the geological and human history of the area, and try your hand at digging for amethyst.
Korundi House of Culture
Korundi, a bus depot that survived the destruction of World War II, has been transformed into a vibrant cultural space. The Korundi House of Culture is home to the Lapland Chamber Orchestra and the Rovaniemi Art Museum, where visitors can see contemporary art of the North and the Arctic.
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