Rovaniemi, Finland: Exploring the Lapland Winter Wonderland with a Local

In my last post, I talked about what a delight Madrid can be in the winter, particularly if you’re looking to escape subzero temperatures. But for those who prefer to “lap” up the winter by traveling to snowy destinations, there are few better places to go than Finland’s Lapland. It may be 70°F/21°C here in L.A. as I write this, but it’s February, so I’m dreaming of winter wonderlands around the globe. I spoke with Katalin of Our Life, Our Travel to learn more about Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi.

The Northern Lights, seen from Rovaniemi (photo credit)

Katalin is a Hungarian expat living her dream life in Lapland. She loves Finnish sauna, hiking on the fells, and spending time outdoors with her family. I chatted with her about all of the things that make Rovaniemi, Finland magical, especially in the winter.

Thanks for joining me, Katalin! Tell me about Rovaniemi, Finland! What do you love about it?

The first three things that come to my mind are northern lights, winter, and nature. Rovaniemi is one of the must-visit cities in Finland.

The winters in Rovaniemi are special, snowy and decorated with northern lights shows. In summer the midnight sun makes the city unique, while in spring and autumn you can explore the stunning colorful nature. Rovaniemi is surrounded by forest, lakes and national parks that worth exploring in every season. Oh, and Santa lives here too!

Sounds seriously magical! What’s your all-time favorite spot in Rovaniemi?

My favorite spot in the city is the Ounasvaara Hill. The lookout tower offers a great view to Rovaniemi and its surroundings, and during the nights it’s a perfect place to watch the northern lights.

The northern lights are high on my bucket list! If a traveler only had 24 hours in the city, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?

If you have one day, make sure you visit Santa Claus and his reindeer. They live on the Arctic circle, a few kilometers outside of the city. It is free to visit Santa; however, the official photos taken during the visit are quite pricey. The other not-to-miss sight is the Arktikum Museum. You can learn about the Arctic nature and the indigenous Sami people’s life.

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Finland

Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village (photo by Katalin)

Any cool historical tidbits or important history that visitors should be aware of?

Interesting fact: the city was burnt down during the Second World War, so don’t expect to see many old, historical buildings. However, for example, the old rail station’s wooden building is one of the few remnants.

What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?

The earlier mentioned Ounasvaara Hill. It offers much more than just downhill skiing.

Tell me about your favorite restaurant in Rovaniemi. What must people try when they’re eating there?

The Restaurant Nili offers traditional Lappish food. It’s located in the city center.  The menu is filled with local specialties. My all-time favorites are reindeer meat, smoked salmon, and desserts with Lappish berries.

Ounas River, Rovaniemi, Finland

The Ounas River in warmer months (photo by Katalin)

Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting Rovaniemi?

Finland is rather an expensive country, but you can find hotels in Rovaniemi suitable for any budget. However, I’d recommend staying at least a night in one of the high-end resorts to have a chance to watch northern lights from your bed.

That definitely sounds worth the splurge. What are the most photo-worthy spots in Rovaniemi?

Walk on the riverside at the center and visit the botanic garden near the Arktikum for the best photo spots of the center. If you have more time, go up to Ounasvaara too. During autumn, the landscape is stunning across Lapland.

Arktikum Museum, Rovaniemi, Finland

Rovaniemi’s Arktikum Museum (photo by Katalin)

What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?

The busiest time of the year is December and January.  If you want lower prices and fewer people, come during early spring. The snow doesn’t melt fast, the northern lights are visible until April, and the weather is much more pleasant in those “spring” months.

What should visitors know about transportation around Rovaniemi?

In Rovaniemi, everything is within walking distance, but make sure you dress properly in winter. The temperature can be as low as -30°C. The only time that you need to rely on public transport or a car is when you visit Santa Claus. It takes about 15 minutes by bus or 10 minutes by car to reach Santa Claus Village.

Where can travelers go if they want to head out of the city?

If its winter, head to the frozen waterfalls in the Korouoma canyon! Also, Pyhä-Luosto National Park offers a variety of activities all year round. For example, you can visiting the amethyst mine, go hiking, skiing or riding a snowmobile on the fells.

Crossing the arctic circle in Rovaniemi (photo by Katalin)

Thanks so much for speaking with me, Katalin! I knew next to nothing about Rovaniemi before this interview, but I have to say, I’m now desperate to explore northern Finland. Be sure to check out Katalin’s travel blog, Our Life, Our Travel, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Where’s your favorite winter travel destination?

7 Responses

  1. What a magical place Kirstie. Special stuff. I can use some of that cold; sweating it out here by the Pacific Ocean in Panama 🙂

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