There was no question in my mind that I would make a stop in the arctic while in Finland, but I struggled to decide what the best place to visit in Lapland in winter would be for me. After much debate and research, I decided to visit both Levi and Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi is a bustling city nestled at the confluence of the Ounasjoki and Kemijoki rivers. There is no shortage of winter activities in Rovaniemi, but there are a few that make this city an incredibly unique winter destination.
Where is Rovaniemi?
About 500 miles (or 800km) north of Helsinki, situated on the line that demarcates the Arctic Circle, is the city of Rovaniemi. While you can take an 8+ hour train ride or drive the 9 hours, I recommend taking an affordable 90 minute flight. There are numerous daily flights to Rovaniemi from Helsinki and several European cities.
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What’s the Best Place to Stay in Rovaniemi?
I was blown away by the number of high quality, affordable places to stay there are in Rovaniemi for all types of travelers. Here are some of the best places to stay in Rovaniemi!
Crystal Suites 1 Apartment
Seriously, I felt like this was too good to be true when I booked the 2-bedroom apartment with in-room sauna and laundry. The apartment is every bit as cute, comfy and clean as the photos make it look. For just 60€ per night I felt like a queen! It’s located a short walk to the restaurants and tour companies in the city centre and a grocery is just across the street.
Pro Tip: Parking is available. Ask at the front desk for advice on how to use the parking wheel to avoid getting a parking ticket.
Located right in the city centre, Apartment Skylights are steps away from great restaurants and shopping. At around 60€ per night, these apartments are clean, comfy, and affordable. Free public parking is available nearby.
Scandic Rovaniemi City
If you’re looking for more of a hotel feel, Scandic Rovaniemi City Hotel is located right in the city centre and offers modern rooms. As an added bonus, you get free access to a gym, sauna, and wifi as well as bicycles and walking sticks to borrow!
Breakfast is included with the room rate. Single rooms starting at around 80€ per night.
Wherever Boutique Hostel
This might be the fanciest hostel I’ve ever seen. Book a bed in a dorm style room with shared bathroom for under 30€. Located right in the city centre steps away from the action, enjoy free wifi and a shared kitchen.
Most Unique Winter Activities in Rovaniemi
1 | Sharpen your skills on a photography expedition.
Do you love the outdoors and want to take your photography to the next level? Beyond Arctic has you covered! Join a professional photographer in a small group (maximum 8 people) to explore one of the many incredible outdoor wonders surrounding Rovaniemi. Choose from the frozen waterfalls of Korouoma Canyon, the Arctic Woodlands, a wildlife park, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and more all with hands-on photography advice from a pro.
By the end of the hike, I finally felt comfortable shooting into the light and capturing a bright white winter landscape. This is a skill that comes in handy when you live in Minnesota!
Beyond Arctic provides cold weather gear and a tripod for each person to use during the expedition, which is super helpful if you don’t have yours with you.
Pro Tip: A photography expedition is NOT a photo shoot with a pro photographer. Bring your camera and be prepared to grow your photography skills.
2 | Go ice floating.
Float like an iceberg in one of the nearby lakes on an ice floating tour. Don’t worry, you’re covered head to toe in a rescue suit that keeps your body nice and dry. All you have to do is enjoy the sensation of floating in arctic water!
Want an experience that’s a little extra? Try ice floating underneath the Aurora on a nighttime tour!
Pro Tip: You can stay fully clothed underneath the rescue suit!
3 | Hike (or ice climb) frozen waterfalls in Korouoma Canyon.
Just 90 minutes from Rovaniemi is Korouoma Canyon with its frozen waterfalls and breathtaking views. It also happens to be one of the top ice climbing destinations in the world if you wanna try your hand at that!
There are tons of tour options to choose from. Many of the tours are on large buses and they take a short route straight to the frozen waterfalls. Some companies, like Beyond Arctic, will take you on a longer (approximately 5km) and less crowded route so you can truly enjoy the beauty of the canyon.
Pro Tip: Ask if your tour company provides cold weather gear for you to use. Beyond Arctic suited me up so I stayed warm the entire time!
Did you know that some of the most pure air in the inhabited world (according to the World Health Organization) is found in this region of Finland? Because of this unique species of lichen and other plants can be seen along the trails in this area.
Pro Tip: Go early so you can capture the sun as it hits the canyon walls and peeks through the trees during the morning golden hour.
4 | Take a Ride on an Icebreaker Boat.
Feel the incredible power of an icebreaker boat as it powers through the Bothnian Sea. Not only do you get the unique experience of riding on an icebreaker boat, you also have the option to get off the boat and take a walk on the frozen sea ice.
This experience includes a guided tour of the boat, a short film about icebreaker boats around the world, and of course space to relax and enjoy the 3 hour cruise.
Pro Tip: The boat departs from just over the border in Sweden. There is no border control but it’s recommended to bring your passport. You can easily take a shuttle from Rovaniemi or hire a car and drive on your own (approximately 2 hours).
5 | Meet Santa Claus.
Did I mention that Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus? Whether you’re a believer or not, a visit to Santa Claus Village is a memorable one.
The village is open every day of the year and is a short 10 minute drive from the city centre of Rovaniemi. There are also shuttles available if you don’t have access to a vehicle.
The Arctic Circle runs right through Santa Claus Village. You can cross the well-marked line into the Arctic Circle and even get a certificate proving you did!
Pro Tip: Stop by the Post Office in the Santa Claus Village and ask Santa himself to send a letter to anyone you’d like (8.90€).
Other Winter Activities in Rovaniemi
Finnish Lapland, also called Sapmi, offers so many incredible outdoor adventures in the winter. These are other winter activities in Rovaniemi that are also available elsewhere in Lapland, such as Levi.
Chase the Northern Lights.
If you plan to visit Rovaniemi, or anywhere in Finnish Lapland, between September and April chasing the Northern Lights should be towards the top of your itinerary.
Choosing a Northern Lights tour company can be overwhelming, there’s so many to choose from. Key differentiators are group size, price, and add-on experiences. Examples of add-on experiences include photography instruction, snowmobiling, or cross-country skiing. I chose to go with Beyond Arctic again so I could work on my nighttime photography skills with their expert photographer guides.
Anytime you go on a Northern Lights tour, there’s a chance they won’t be visible. There are so many factors that contribute to whether or not they will be visible, including cloud cover, solar winds, kp Index, and light pollution to name a few.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck the night I went out to see the Northern Lights in Rovaniemi. We got a brief glimpse of them right at the beginning of the night and then the clouds came in.
Pro tip: Whether or not the Aurora Borealis is visible to you, it’s still a great chance to practice your night photography skills.
Most northern lights tours offer warm jumpsuits, boots, gloves, and tripods as well as sausages (vegan options available) and warm drinks around a fire. This was a delicious way to pass the time between photography sessions.
Shred Some Trails on a Snowmobile Safari.
If you’re looking for a bit of a thrill, hop on a snowmobile and head out to explore the Arctic countryside surrounding Rovaniemi. Personally, I love to go fast so this is right up my alley. Most tours have an option to drive alone or pair up on a snowmobile.
Worried you’ll be cold while snowmobiling? Not to worry. Tour companies like Lapland Safaris include all the cold weather gear, freshly cleaned just for you. This included a head cover, helmet, jumpsuit, mittens, wool socks, and boots! Also, the handlebars on the snowmobiles are heated to keep your hands warm.
Pro Tip: Snowmobiling is a risky activity so I strongly recommend reading the reviews of any tour company prior to booking and to inquire about the insurance options. Damage to the snowmobile may not be covered on your personal travel insurance policy but you may be able to add coverage when you book the tour.
Drive or Ride a Husky Sled.
There is something absolutely magical about seeing sled dogs in action. When I was in Tromso Norway, I went husky sledding for the first time. Prior to that I was worried that the sled dogs might be overworked or mistreated. What I learned is that these dogs love to run.
If you choose to drive the sled (as opposed to ride along), be prepared to put in some work. It’s certainly not as easy as it looks!
Pro Tip: Always do you research on tour companies to ensure the animals are treated well. Pay close attention to the reviews.
Go on a Reindeer Safari
The official hometown of Santa Claus wouldn’t be complete without reindeer, right? If you want a more relaxing way to experience Lapland, try a reindeer safari or farm visit.
Hop in a comfortable sleigh and enjoy a smooth ride as reindeer take you through the arctic forest. Whether or not you want to take a sleigh ride, visiting a reindeer farm offers the unique opportunity to learn about the importance of reindeer herding for the indigenous Sami people and Finnish culture.
Why not try all of the winter activities in Rovaniemi?
Seriously, theres’ no right or wrong choice. Rovaniemi has endless choices for winter activities in the outdoors. Which do you most want to try?!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Beyond Arctic as a guest. My opinions, however, are my own. I am under no obligation to write a positive review.