Are you looking for a perfect winter holiday destination? Need inspiration for Christmas break? Do you want to wander around in a fairy-tale-like scenery? Are you dreaming of a deep and white snow-covered landscape and have an active holiday at the same time? We recommend you book your trip to Rovaniemi, Finland, and spend time in one of the most visited Finnish cities, and also a perfect stop on your road trip across Lapland.
Winter is, without a doubt, our favorite time of the year in the city. It gives the possibility to try ice fishing, snowmobile driving, riding by a reindeer or husky sled, hunting for northern lights, and last but not least, you can meet with Santa too! Check out the best activities and things to do in Rovaniemi in winter!
Table of Contents
- How to Get to Rovaniemi
- Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
- Sign Up NOW – it is FREE
- The best activities in Rovaniemi you must try
- Walk on Lordi Square & Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge
- Visit the Arktikum
- Skiing at Ounasvaara
- Go Snowshoeing
- Be Brave and Try Ice Swimming
- Snowmobile Driving
- Husky and Reindeer Safaris
- Ice Fishing on a Frozen Lake
- Visit an Ice Hotel
- Watch a Reindeer Race (Poro Cup)
- Hunt for Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
- Ranua Arctic Zoo and Wildlife Park
- SantaPark – Arctic World
- Visit Santa Claus for Free
- Send a Christmas Postcard
- Rovaniemi with kids
- Where to Eat
- Sign Up NOW – it is FREE
- Make sure you dress correctly for the winter!
- Day trip ideas from Rovaniemi
How to Get to Rovaniemi
Traveling to Finland can be challenging, but besides Helsinki, Rovaniemi is another easily approachable destination. It has an international airport with direct (usually charter) flights from several European capitals. There are direct local flights from Helsinki, too, if you are planning to visit the Finnish capital city. Finnair and Norwegian (as of 2018) have internal flights.
By Bus or Train
Besides flights, Rovaniemi has a train and bus connection to Helsinki (and other cities). It can be reached from Stockholm too. I love traveling by train there, although it is an about 12 hours long train ride, if you book a compartment for the night, you will have a pleasant journey, and you will even save on accommodation in the city. Sleeping on Finnish trains are rather comfortable even in the standard seats as they are wide and can be declined a bit. You don’t need to worry about your belonging too much, the whole country is even safer compared to most of Europe (of course, don’t leave your wallet or phone on the table), but you can leave your ticket on it for a conductor to inspect while you’re asleep.
For more budget option, you can travel by bus. But be aware, it may take 20 hours, including a change in Oulu, sometimes in the middle of the night. Both buses and trains usually have a decent wi-fi connection and clean toilet aboard.
Getting into the City
Shuttle Bus or Taxi
Rovaniemi airport is about 10 km from downtown. You can take the Nr. 8 city bus (Santa’s Express), a shuttle bus to any address in Rovaniemi (8-12€ per person), or call a taxi (30-40€ per ride, depending on the time of the day and the number of passengers).
City Buses from Train and Bus Stations
The bus and train stations are on the side of downtown. From there, you can walk or use city buses or a taxi if you need to. Considering the prices, the budget option is the tourist bus (if you travel alone), the tickets are around 3-4 €. A taxi ride in the city is approximately 20 €, from the airport, it can be nearly double.
You can buy single tickets or, better, a 24-hour ticket! You can check but bus timetables, fares, and routes here.
Line 8 to the ARCTIC CIRCLE (Napapiiri), SANTAPARK AND THE AIRPORT (Lentoasema)
Lines 2, 4, 10 or 14 to the LAPLAND UNIVERSITY (Lapin Yliopisto) and UNIVERSITY OF APPLIED SCIENCES (Rovaniemen ammattikorkeakoulu) LAPIN AMK
Line 8 to the RAILWAY STATION (Rautatieasema)
Lines 3, 5,6 or 12 to the CENTRAL HOSPITAL (Lapin keskussaairala, LKS)
Line 1A to the OUNASVAARA DOWNHILL SKIING CENTER (Hiihtokeskus)
Rent a Car
You have various affordable options for car rental at the airport and downtown too.
Comparison site: Rentalcars
Where to Stay in Rovaniemi
Hotels and Hostels
The city has a wide variety of accommodation for all budgets and needs. For once in a lifetime experience, stay at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel, or check the other amazing accommodations for observing northern lights!
There are several 4-star hotels for more luxurious stays. The Cumulus Pohjanhovi Hotel near the River Kemijoki is one of the 4-star ones in the center. You will find everything within a short walking distance.
Another popular choice is the 3-star Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara has a great view over the city from Ounasvaara, and on clear nights you can observe auroras just right above you.
We had stayed only at Hotel Aakenus as tourists before we moved to the city. It is a budget hotel near the center, with a shared sauna turn included in the price. Check your options here.
Rent on Airbnb
Airbnb is also an option in the city and its surroundings. You can rent rooms and flats from the private market. We often rent our accommodation through the website during our trips, usually with free parking place and kitchen access (and wi-fi ofc), which helps a lot in budgeting. Click here to grab a discount on your first stay with Airbnb. If you want to stay at our place, you can find it here. Yes, we have something where you can enjoy a Finnish sauna and remain in a calm area of the city yet close to the center.
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The best activities in Rovaniemi you must try
Walk on Lordi Square & Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge
Did you watch Eurovision in 2006? Yes, Lordi’s Square is named after the Finnish band. Lordi won the contest’s final. It is right in the center of Rovaniemi. Besides renaming the former Sampo Square (named after the nearby shopping center), the band members are all honorary citizens of Rovaniemi. After the square, head to the riverbank to take a look at the Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge.
Visit the Arktikum
The Artktikum is an excellent museum just right next to the Pilke science center. The museum is a superb choice for every age visitors, located at the edge of the center. Arktikum is a must-visit place in Rovaniemi, especially for first-time visitors in Finland. You can learn the basics of life around the Arctic Circle, about Lappish nature and people who lived up north for centuries.
The displays contain detailed English descriptions. There is a separate, interactive exhibit for kids, including an ice cave and artificial northern lights viewing spot. Besides the permanent exhibitions, there are temporary ones too.
Admission fee to Arktikum: ~12€ (adult)
Admission fee to Korundi: ~ 8€ (adult)
Admission fee to Marttini: ~ 8€ (adult)
Skiing at Ounasvaara
Ounasvaara is a hill in Rovaniemi, east from the center on the Kemi River’s opposite side (Kemijoki).
The hill has few (shorter and easier) downhill skiing slopes. If you are an absolute beginner, you may find them a bit scary. The hill has several cross-country skiing tracks as well. Most of them are suitable for more experienced skiers. If you are one of them or not afraid of a hilly area, go ahead! Beginner cross-country skiing is possible on the Kemi River when it is frozen. The official tracks are signed when the ice is thick enough to go across the river – usually from January until March.
Daily ski lift ticket: ~ 40€
Equipment rental: ~ 40€
Are you up to the challenge of walking on the top of a meter deep snow? Don’t worry. Snowshoes will help you keep you above (unless you want to jump into the snow 😉 ). We love climbing the tunturis at the nearby Pyhä-Luosto National Park.
Prices start around 80€ per person.
Be Brave and Try Ice Swimming
Is it Wednesday? Go to the Ice Swimming Club at the shore of Kemijoki and sip into the freezing water and then warm io in the sauna. Just like locals do. Crazy yet refreshing. We didn’t need the ice bucket challenge. You can easily fall in love with ice swimming.
Snowmobiles offer a convenient way to pass through the snowy landscape. Locals use them for approaching their cottages, ice fishing spots, or just to have a bit of fun. As a tourist, you can try this unique activity by renting a snowmobile from one of the several tour companies that offer snowmobile safaris in and around Rovaniemi. We took an hour-long ride near Rovaniemi to explore the fantastic scenery and frozen lakes.
Prices start around 100€ per trip.
You can even combine the snowmobile ride with and possible Northern Lights observation! Check the latest prices!
We liked our driving, and we explored other parts of Lapland too. You can read more about the snowmobile adventure we had in Levi, about 170 km and 2 hours north of Rovaniemi.
Husky and Reindeer Safaris
Taking a husky safari or riding a reindeer sled is a viral winter activity in Lapland. In the case of the husky safari, you will be seated (more like in a laying position) in a sled, and the animals will be attached in front. The sled will have a driver, so don’t worry, you don’t need to control half a dozen cute animals. The sled will speed across the snowy forest, rivers, or fells. The reindeer sled is slower as you will have only one animal in front.
Personally, we were not a fan of this kind of tour, but I can imagine how important a part of life and transportation the reindeer was before motorization in Lapland.
Reindeer ride: 18€+
Husky ride: 40-50€+
Meeting with huskies at Santa Clause Village: 0-10€
Book a complete tour of visiting a reindeer farm and Santa Claus at the Santa Village.
Ice Fishing on a Frozen Lake
Another hobby, sport, and winter activity that locals (or at least some) and foreigners enjoy. Have you ever thought about catching a fish through an ice hole? Here is your opportunity to do it! Ice fishing is quite different from open water fishing.
Sometimes with friends, on our own, we also ice fish. We go to a frozen lake, drill a hole through the ice to reach the water and then set up our fishing spot and start fishing. Or more like start waiting. You only need two things: warm clothing (as you need to sit in one place for a while) and a positive approach. Usually, 1-2 hours are enough to catch some fish, which we can prepare on a campfire or just take them home for later use. The campfire on the lake is our favorite option to make the food.
If you are around and want to join one of our trips, read the tour descriptions, and contact us.
Check other tour prices here.
Visit an Ice Hotel
As a child, all of us like castles – and so do adults. In the Nordic countries, it became fashionable to build hotels and castles from snow and ice. In Finland, the two biggest ice castles are in Kemi and Lainio, but you can visit an ice hotel near Rovaniemi.
Accommodation cost: 100€+
At the Arctic SnowHotel, you can enjoy a meal and drink, or if you fancy, you can even spend a night there, among the ice walls on the ice bed. Check out the latest prices here.
Read our Rovaniemi Accommodation Guide!
Watch a Reindeer Race (Poro Cup)
Reindeer racing is popular in Lapland. During the winter, the traditional competition series, PoroCup (poro means reindeer), is held in different Lappish towns. One of the events is in Rovaniemi. The racing reindeer are semi-wild, so different from those who would pull the sled on the safari (those are domesticated). These aren’t. The racing reindeer have no antlers to ensure the safety of the participants.
But how does it look like? The reindeer is in front, and its racer is behind him on skis, attached by a leach. Usually, 4 of them compete at once. They move to their starting box, and when the start is signed, the reindeer start running while the skier navigates them from behind. In Rovaniemi, the reindeer run around a racing track, but for example, in Inari, the whole event takes part on the lake. Quite a spectacular sport.
Of course, it requires the right timing for your holidays, but I can assure you, you will like it. Alternatively, once a year, there is a ‘street’ reindeer race in the city center.
Entrance fee: ~ 5-10€
Hunt for Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
I bet one of your reasons for coming north is to see the northern lights. It was on my bucket list!
There are three conditions for a successful aurora borealis hunt. Here is our detailed guide for northern lights in Lapland. Make sure you check it out.
The first and the hardest one is to have a clear sky. During the winter, it often snows, and the thick snow clouds cover the whole sky.
The second important thing is to have northern lights activity. It is connected to the Sun’s solar activity so that it can be well predicted. There are several forecast websites, for example, this one. You are lucky because in Rovaniemi you can often see them. Based on our first winter in the city, on average, twice a week.
And here comes the third condition: a right spot, away from the street lights. There are numerous northern light hunting tours where they take you away from the city – those are the best locations. Or if you have your car, you can drive away to one of the lakes around the city, or climb a hill (vaara). Some of the auroras are smaller, only visible from spots like those, while the bigger ones that are strong and sometimes cover even the entire sky can be seen from the city. You just need to look up to the sky. Unfortunately, these powerful and big ones are only a few times in a year, so most likely, you need to get out somewhere to increase your chances.
Ounasvaara is one of the best free spots to watch the northern light in Rovaniemi. You can walk up there from the center or take a bus in the hospital’s direction and then approach the hill from closer. The second best place for a free Aurora hunt is the riverside next to the Arktikum Museum (see the photo above).
Of course, you can increase your chances by taking a tour outside of the town (less light pollution and possibly fewer clouds. How about a tasty dinner while observing the sky? Click here for the latest prices on GetYourGuide or check our tours out!
Cost: Tours’ price starts at 100€
Looking up to the sky: free
Ranua Arctic Zoo and Wildlife Park
A visit to Ranua is a must if you travel with kids, but adults can enjoy the activity as well. You will observe and learn about numerous arctic species, including reindeer, moose, owls, and cute polar bears! The latest huge attraction of the zoo is the tiny polar bear cub (as of 2017). Even the naming was a public matter: you could vote and suggest different names to the little one.
Ranua is an hour’s drive from Rovaniemi (80 km). There are bus connections to the zoo too, so no need for a car.
Zoo entrance ticket: 10-20€
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SantaPark – Arctic World
It is an interactive activity park for young kids and their families. On Saturdays it’s hectic, for a less crowded experience, visit it during weekdays.
Visit Santa Claus for Free
Don’t leave the town without saying hi to Santa! If you travel with kids, probably this will be one of your first thing to do, but I’d recommend everyone to visit his home at the Santa Claus Village.
The village is full of Xmas themed shops and activities (for example, snowmobile or reindeer tours, playground for kids, etc.). He is there all year round (where else would he be during the summer? 😉 ), but the real Christmas feeling comes when the surrounding is covered with fluffy white snow. Meeting with Santa Claus is a FREE activity. You go into the building where his elves are greeting you. They will help and guide you through the cute wooden palace and finally let you into the Office.
Santa sits in his big chair and happily greets every child and adult. You can talk with him (depends on the length of the queue) or just take a picture and then say goodbye. You cannot take pictures inside, but they will take more photos with you, and even record your whole visit. And remember, your visit is broadcasted live on the internet, so send this address to your friends in time.
After exiting, you can check the photographs and buy them in print or electronic as a souvenir. Probably you won’t leave without this fabulous Christmas themed picture(s). There is a Santa themed shop as well, everything white and red and Xmasish, in case you would like to take some little presents to your friends and family back home.
Costs: Free entrance to Santa.
Send a Christmas Postcard
The other cool place in the village is Santa’s Post Office. The Post Office is just a minute walk away. Everything is nearby to everything in the Santa Claus Village. You will find plenty of winter and Christmas themed postcards, but other unique was can be discovered as well. Our favorite was Santa picking blueberries in summer! It will be hard to choose. You will get a unique stamp (if you want to buy stamps too), and then you can post your cards. There will be two post boxes: one, a regular mailbox where you put in your letter, and it will be posted the same day. The second box is a special one. The postcards will be delivered for the upcoming Christmas. Isn’t it a super idea?
Rovaniemi with kids
Rovaniemi is a perfect destination for families with kids. The SantaPark, the Santa Claus Village, husky and reindeer farms are the favorite attractions of children. School/aged kids won’t be bored in the Arktikum Museum either.
Where to Eat
Finish and Lappish cuisine are famous for reindeer, moose, and salmon dishes served with Nordic berry-made sauces, and of course, potatoes for the side dish.
Fine Dining at Nili
Restaurant Nili is located on the walking street and serves top quality dishes mostly from local suppliers. It’s the best place to eat something special. The main courses start at 20€.
Budget Reindeer Kebab at Sirmakko
Looking for a budget option to try reindeer, and you don’t mind a busy, fast food like location, then opt for Sirmakko after you visit Santa. For 15-20€, you’ll get a decent portion of reindeer kebab, but you can have a reminder sausage or kebab as well if you just need a snack.
The Best Reindeer Burger at Kauppayhtio’s Pure Burger
Let’s get back to the center to another specialty, a burger with reindeer meat. Even locals visit this place to grab a burger from time to time. Burgers with fries are around 15€, and it’s a cozy place for a beer as well.
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Make sure you dress correctly for the winter!
Day trip ideas from Rovaniemi
You can visit several national parks and attractions in 2-3 hours of driving distance as a day trip.
- The fells and canyons of Pyhä-Luosto National Park
- The frozen waterfalls of Korouoma Canyon
- The fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park
- Canyons, rapids, and waterfalls in Oulanka National Park
- Wildlife Park in Ranua
- Or see all these on a Lapland road trip!
Disclaimer: The post may contain affiliate links.
Thanks for the additional photos to VisitRovaniemi.