Rovaniemi

by Ucman Scher
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Solo Trip Guide to Rovaniemi – the Capital of Lapland

The first time I heard this name it was a bit weird and till the last week of our departure, I couldn’t spell or pronounce it properly, my bad! But Rovaniemi has been so amazing I will never be able to forget it. The last evening we spent in the Lapland was one of the best of my entire life and getting a gift so precious and amazing at my 30th will always stay with me. Curious? Roll down to the end and you will see!

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Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the official home of Santa Clause. The city is quite small and only 10km away from the Arctic Circle. The beauty of its roads, surroundings jungles and the thrill of seeing Northern Lights just makes your feet tingle.

Fun Fact: Officially the only real Santa lives in Lapland in Santa Clause Village.

We arrived in the city on a fine Thursday morning from Helsinki and stayed for 3 days and had an amazing time. The Christmas spirit continues as long as the ice stays and we got plenty of that at the beginning of March but we also got that beautiful Arctic sun with a lot of things to do we didn’t get bored for a second.

Fun Fact: If you look from above the Rovaniemi streets looks like reindeer antlers. (Shhh! I find it a bit far fetched but I was told by a local).

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To and From Airport

Welcome to Santa’s official Airport! That was the sign and we jumped like kids on seeing all the decorations at this cue little airport with a small arrival area full of Santa stuff. It is an open airport covered in snow and you can see the planes leaving and coming from the side.
The airport is quite small is located some 6-7 km from the city centre. There are official Santa Taxis and shuttle services but we had booked our car and it took us 10 minutes to get to our apartment.

Tip: During peak times and holiday season, make sure you arrive well in advance because we almost missed our flight back on Sunday since there were only 2 security lanes and lots of people arriving with the same mindset that they will be fine by arriving 45 minutes before the flight.

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Transport

The best mode of transportation for this trip is a car. Public transport is not great and to get your freedom you definitely need a car especially looking at the price of Taxis.

Tip: You need to keep your car’s lights on at all times in Finland no matter what time of the day and which season you are travelling in.

The roads in Rovaniemi are in pristine condition and no matter what the weather you will find the roads to be open and in good condition but it pays to check the weather forecast.
We got a car through Green Motion and the guys were extremely awesome. It felt even better not to be paying to pollute this beautiful land. The staff was very nice and friendly and helped us every which way.

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Rovaniemi City

The city centre is small and cute and has two main streets with pretty much everything located on them. The tourist information centre is very helpful if you need any information about further things to do or have any specific inquiries.

Towards the end of the Koskikatu, there are a few clubs, bars and a Karaoke bar as well which are quite lively at night but not excessively loud. Next to the Tourist Information Centre, there is a 24 hours store called Sale which we used to buy our pancake stuff to celebrate International Pancake day.

Gay Rovaniemi

The gay population in Rovaniemi is almost non-existent with the nearest guy 66km away on Grindr and no gay bars or clubs but I feel like it is not a place where you come to celebrate sexuality but rather the human side of you, to revive that inner child that still gets excited about the Christmassy stuff. I probably wouldn’t head there to enjoy the gay parties as yet..

Fun Fact: Lapland is home to only 185,000 people, a mere 3% of the Finnish population where the land covers one-third of the country.

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Food

Reindeer, reindeer, reindeer and salmon, salmon and salmon! Two best things to eat on the whole planet and available in plenty in Lapland. I ate so much reindeer in 3 days I feel satisfied for the rest of my life.

Next to our apartment in the city centre, there was an amazing Pizza place called Koti and we had some amazing pizzas there. Imagine smoked reindeer with blue cheese! Okay, you can stop drooling now..

For our pancake breakfast, we got some eggs for savoury pancakes along with reindeer Salami. The meat is very good and has only 3% fat.

Fun Fact: The number of people and the number of reindeers in Lapland is almost the same but the population is strictly controlled and only a 1000 or so people are reindeer herders. They are not an endangered specie so don’t feel bad about eating them. (I can feel the wrath of some PETA people already as I was typing this but oh well the meat is D E L I C I O U S!!!

In Santa’s village, we went to get some food at Reindeer Sirmako which is run by the chattiest man in Lapland. He was funny in a very weird way but we couldn’t stop giggling. The salmon and reindeer soup were both delicious and very reasonable priced for a place where you pay €40 to take a photo with Santa. He was very good company though and I’d definitely recommend his restaurant for chilled out food with his stories about his reindeer herding.

Accommodation

We stayed in the city centre of Rovaniemi on Koskikatu which was extremely convenient. The apartment was very lovely and much cheaper compared to the hotels. The quality of life and living doesn’t suffer because Lapland is far away or there are fewer people. It had everything we could need including great internet. I definitely recommend going Airbnb in Rovaniemi versus a hotel especially if you are travelling with friends.

Check the guide to find the best accommodation in a new city.

Santa Village

Santa Village is located quite close to the Airport and some 6-7km from the city centre. It is as magical as it sounds and far from a cheap stunt just because Santa is supposed to be from here. Everything about the experience is original, amazing and Pricey. Yes it is not cheap to visit Santa at all especially if you are staying here.

On the other hand, there is no entry ticket and you can roam around the village, see some husky and reindeer parks and enjoy the atmosphere. With the snow falling so beautifully we really enjoyed playing with it and even had a snowball fight which ended in bruises and screaming because the snow was getting really hard in such low temperatures, it was fun nevertheless!)

Snowmobiling, Husky Sledding and Reindeer sleighing Safari

There are so many activities and so many choices of companies that offer than on the official VisitRovaniemi official website it was mind-boggling and needed a lot of sorting. The prices are also quite different and they are priced for different durations but you have no way to compare.

I feel very proud of my investigative skills and finally found a company that offers a safari that includes all three activities; snowmobiling, reindeer sleighing and husky sledging! *pat on the back to myself*

Snowmobile Park is located in the Santa Village and thanks to them we managed to do everything in 1 day and just for €140. You can check details and book on their website.

Our day started with some Light breakfast and heavy clothes when we arrived at the Santa Village. The company gave another layer of warm clothes and shoes, helmets and balaclavas and gloves.

Tip: if your shoes and gloves are warm and can sustain snow (which they will), don’t take theirs because the shoes I got were no way as warm as mine and I felt like my feet were frozen solid towards the end.

After layering up and doing all the paperwork we were off to snowmobiling with the cutest guide ever. Now maybe it’s just me but cute guides who are also sweet and nice make yours and safaris much better 😉

Tip: You need a Driving License to operate snowmobile so don’t forget to pack yours. Both my other friends didn’t take them and we all ended up swapping seats behind the driver, which wasn’t too bad but if you want to enjoy the thrill…

We started the 10km each way ride and soon we were in the forest surrounded by snow-covered beautiful trees and at that moment I felt the beauty of this beautiful land and how the locals treat it with so much love. My respect for Finnish people grew immensely. There were clear directions and speed limits.

We arrived at the reindeer farm and started jumping at the sight of so many reminders. The farm owner showed us around and gave us a presentation on how they raise the reindeers and the ins and outs of reindeer farming, he was quite funny and took our questions about Rudolph the red nose reindeer light-heartedly. (I’m sure he hears that joke 10 times a day)..

After some tea and warm cinnamon buns later we were out and they gave us some tree branches to feed the reindeers.

Other Activities

Visit Finland has some other activities suggested on their website which sound absolutely amazing like Ice floating. I wish we’ve had more time to try this time.

Sauna

Fun Fact: There is a sauna for every 2.5 people in Finland coming to roughly 2 million Saunas and Finns use them Au Naturale. No clothes needed!
Fun Fact: There are still people alive in Finland who were born in a sauna, it being a sterile place with hot water and obviously not when the sauna was warm.

We were quite lucky to find this amazing place some 60km from Rovaniemi and booked a chalet for us with a hot tub right next to the frozen lake in Napapijri. You can check it here. The whole experience was absolutely amazing and we complete privacy and the traditional Finnish wood-burning sauna is so magical. I did something I would never do in my wildest dream; running from the sauna to the jump into the ice and back in the sauna. My whole body felt tingly like every pore was opening up. Absolutely mind-boggling! The chalet was amazing for a great night and I would highly recommend trying it. What’s more fun than sitting outside next to a frozen lake watching the sunset in a hot tub in sub-zero temperatures?

Northern Lights Hunting in Lapland

Lapland is one of the best places on the planet to see Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights and my God they are magical. I went to Iceland last year and kept hoping to see them but came home without seeing any. This time it almost came out as a prayer and I really wanted a good sign, perhaps as a reminder that being 30 won’t be bad at all.

Tip: Sign up to the alert at Aurora Alert Service. It sends you an alert as soon as lights are visible along with a map of the area in your email.

Every single time we got the alert we sprang up and ran out to get the car and headed in the direction but after about 2 outings we were tired as hell and disappointed as f**k!

The thing with Northern lights is that they are very unpredictable and you need almost perfect conditions to see them. You need a clear sky, darkness and a lot of luck! The probability of seeing lights varies a lot but KP number system is great to gauge the chances. A higher KP number from measured in KP index with the higher the KP number (from 0-9) the higher the chance of seeing Northern lights.

For Lapland 3 or more represents a good chance but then the lights could disappear literally in seconds and sometimes they stay the whole night. The intensity also varies quite a lot. You can also check it through this app which has a good forecast but again you will need to buy alerts.

Tip: The area around the Santa Village in the North is much better for Northern lights compared to the city centre.

We finally got to see the Northern Lights when we were thoroughly disappointed on our last night after the sauna and getting ready to head back. I almost shouted and screamed when they appeared wailing and flailing my arms alerting my friends sitting 1 foot away in the same bathtub but no one cared. It was an amazing moment. After a lot of failed attempts, we finally saw the northern lights and I forgot all about turning 30 and we all stood in our swimming suits in -10 Celsius looking at these amazing lights wishing this would never end…
I have no words to express my love for Rovaniemi, Lapland and Finland for this amazing gift. A man could not have wished for a better birthday present than this on his 30th…

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