As the official capital of Lapland and unofficial gateway to the Arctic, Rovaniemi is easily one of the most popular places to visit in Finland.
It’s certainly one of the best places to stop off at in Lapland, and even a great place to base yourself for a Christmas visit to Lapland.
Well, it’s perfectly situated, close to many of the area’s best sites.
As well as a great base for tours and experiences that allow to capture the true beauty and essence of northern Finland.
We spent almost a week exploring the best things to do in Rovaniemi, and even returned for the annual Christmas opening ceremony, hosted by Santa himself.
More on that below!
But first ...
Pictured above is the landing outside the private secluded log cabin we stayed at on our third visit to Rovaniemi.
It was actually very affordable and we had the most wonderful time the three of us, curled up in the evenings watching Christmas movies by the fire.
And outside you have your own private landing. Plus it's far enough outside the city that you can see Northern Lights in full force when they are out.
Though you will need your own vehicle as it's about a 1 hour drive from the city, the hosts by the way are very friendly. Here is the listing for it.
When we visited Rovaniemi for the first time, we had our own campervan, and used that to stay just outside the city at an incredible wild camping spot for a few nights (view it here). We also stayed for 2 other nights in two local aurora cabins. I highly recommend both of them, as they were so unique and memorable; and also the coolest way to see the Northern Lights in Finland!
For a full range of hotels and other accommodation Rovaniemi, I recommend using Booking.com.
They have the biggest range of accommodation options and always tend to offer the lowest price deals.
Now, let’s get down to business! What to do in Rovaniemi ...
When you think of Lapland, one of the first things that comes to mind (at least for me) are huskies!
These cute, fluffy creatures have long been a popular presence across Scandinavia, and are a convenient way to get around the snowy tundra.
But nowadays, it’s easy for tourists to find a fun (and ethical) place to go on your own husky ride! Just like this one here.
We decided to go with Bearhill Husky, located a few minutes outside town with acres and acres of surrounding forest and trails.
The perfect place for a snowy (or not-so-snowy) husky ride.
You can read about our full experience here.
They all offer pick up from locations around Rovaniemi and offer the chance to do a ride and meet the huskies.
As well as offering different lengths of trip depending on how epic you want your visit to be.
On our second time in Rovaniemi, with our niece, we did a 1.5 hour ride across a giant frozen lake and it was magical.
It was actually so rhythmic and cosy in the sled that our niece fell asleep halfway through!
Though she did love it when awake. Even today, when she sees us she still brings up this experience.
In particular, she remembers the moment when one of the huskies licked her face, it was such a great moment to watch her surprise!
Okay, now what else do you think of when you imagine snowy Lapland?
That’s right, reindeer!
For centuries now, they have faithfully served Santa and helped to deliver gifts to billions of children all around the world.
So, it’s only fitting that you pay them a visit on your trip to Rovaniemi.
It’s possible to see wild reindeer at the side of the road all over Lapland; once you venture just a few minutes out of the city, there’s a good chance you will see them at the side of (or in the middle of) the busy roads.
Alternatively, pay a visit to Santa Village where they have reindeer on-site; even offering sleigh rides.
We did this on our third visit to Rovaniemi (yep, we love it that much!) where we took our niece with us.
The first question she asked as we starting riding away ...
"Bradley, why isn't he flying?"
Need I say more ... Take your kid here, they will love it!
For a more in-depth 5 hour trip including the chance to do a snowmobile ride, check out this awesome tour here.
The Lampivaara Amethyst Mine, located about an hour and a half outside Rovaniemi, is one of the most unique experiences we had during our 3 months in Scandinavia.
As well as being able to learn more about the amethysts in an active mine, you even get the chance to mine your own amethysts!
Afterwards, you can take home one that you find, so long as it is no bigger than the size of your fist (which is still pretty big).
From Rovaniemi, there are plenty of tours running most days, or you can instead drive yourself there if you have your own set of wheels.
Cazzy put together a pretty epic guide on the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine in Finland, so I recommend checking that out if you’re interested.
Looking for another unique thing to do in Rovaniemi?
Well, how about staying in a glass igloo hotel!
These are purpose-built glass-roofed cabins, perfect for laying back and watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
We actually stayed in 3 glass igloo hotels in Finland, each one unique and inspiring in its own way.
They are the coolest way to chill while you wait (hopefully) for the green auroras to come out.
Between the end of November and the start of March, you have the opportunity to visit, and even stay in, an ice hotel!
It’s located at, you guessed it, The Arctic Snow Hotel, just 20 minutes north of Rovaniemi.
Every year the design of the ice hotel changes, and even if you don't sleep here, you can still do a tour through it. These run all throughout the day for a few months every year when the hotel has been built.
It’s a really unique experience and well worth visiting.
I can’t comment on what it’s like staying in one but, don’t worry, they give you a well insulated sleeping bag and thermal gear to keep you warm and cosy all night!
For me, one of the most memorable parts of our 3 visits to Rovaniemi was the Elf School at Santa Park.
Santa Park is a big underground park, located just outside of the main city centre.
Though the main audience is obviously kids, there are plenty of adults who go without any children, and take part in all of the activities there (like us).
Including things like gingerbread decorating, meeting Santa and watching live performances.
The whole atmosphere is incredibly Christmassy, with the best part being Elf School, where two of Santa’s elves give you a crash course on becoming a certified elf.
I won’t give any more away, least to say that it’s hilariously entertaining, regardless of how old you are!
I recommend spending at least half a day down in Santa Park, and there are lots of gift shops, ice displays, rides, and even a fake snowball fighting arena.
Located not far from Santa Park, you have Santa Village.
And yes, they are two completely different places.
Whilst Santa Park focuses on being an underground experience, Santa Village is a larger campus-type attraction, offering everything through from husky rides to cute cabins to stay in for the night.
We have visited now on two occasions, and again you are going to want at least half a day here. Preferably a full day.
If you are staying in Rovaniemi city, you can jump one a tour like this which takes you to the Village and includes visits to many of the top sights.
Here is a rundown of just a few of the amazing things you can do at Santa Village:
Viator actually offer an amazing tour which includes a visit to the village, as well as visiting huskies and doing a reindeer ride, all bundled into one convenient tour!
If you time your visit to Rovaniemi just right, you can take part in the Christmas opening ceremony!
It’s held in November every year, and the one and only Santa Claus, walks the stage and gives a speech to declare the Christmas season officially open.
There are other live performances as well, including dancing, singing and, in 2019, even a fire display!
Be sure to check the official Santa Village website to check and see when the official date of the ceremony is for this year.
On our first visit to Rovaniemi, we were fortunate enough to be able to spend a night at the famous Arctic TreeHouse Hotel.
Though not a glass igloo, per se, this is one of the most wonderful accommodations we have stayed in anywhere in the world.
With giant glass windows floor to ceiling, and a large cosy bed right in front, you can lay in bed, staring at the trees outside and gazing out at the glorious Northern Lights (if you are lucky).
But as well as offering wonderful accommodation, we absolutely fell in love with their restaurant.
It has the most amazing vibe inside, with a large cosy fire and a truly wonderful vibe.
On our second visit to Rovaniemi, we made a point of re-visiting just to have lunch here and to experience the atmosphere again.
So even if you can't afford a night here (I don't blame you, it is very expensive) then take the time to dine in. I plan to style our future eco-home on this very decor, that's why I am so fond of it.
A wilderness tour is something that can be enjoyed from Rovaniemi all throughout the year.
We went on a Northern Lights wilderness tour with Wild About Lapland, and it was a highly memorable experience.
As you’d imagine, much of the focus here was on seeing the Northern Lights, and offering tips and tricks for how to best see and photograph them.
But it also includes a key wilderness element, where our guide taught us more about Finnish nature, and how the locals have survived here for hundreds of years using only what nature provides.
If you visit in the warmer months, you get the chance to venture deep into local forests, learning more about local berries, and picking your own tasty treats along the way.
By far one of the best and most famous things to do in Rovaniemi is to try and spot the Northern Lights!
As it’s located so far north, the Northern Lights are easily visible from around Rovaniemi many nights of the month, usually between August and April.
There are two main ways to try and spot the Northern Lights from Rovaniemi.
One is to go on your own Northern Lights tour, just like the one we did.
This is your best option if you are only in Rovaniemi for a few days and don’t know where to begin with regards to seeing them.
They will take you to the best spots outside of Rovaniemi to see them, and also help you to stay warm, by building campfires and providing warm arctic suits.
Your other option is to rent a car or camper and head out around Lapland on your own.
We also had this opportunity, and spent many incredible nights camping all over Lapland, trying our luck at seeing the Auroras.
There is a lot that goes into seeing the Northern Lights, with one of the most important being the need to get outside of the city, where light pollution spoils your chances of seeing them.
For more help, check out this awesome guide I wrote on 10 top tips for seeing the Northern Lights in Finland.
Located only about an hour south of Rovaniemi, taking a day trip to the Ranua Wildlife Park is an awesome experience!
And if you don't have your own vehicle, don;t worry. There is this tour here which picks you up and drops you off back in Rovaniemi.
We’ve been to a few wildlife parks around the world now, but most of them in Asia, where you see a similar array of animals.
On the contrary, Ranua is home to only Arctic animals (makes sense), so it’s a fantastic way to see all kinds of animals you will unlikely see elsewhere in the world; such as brown bears, wolves, wolverines and even polar bears!
Finland is famous for a number of things, but perhaps sauna is the most famous!
Finnish people absolutely love saunas, with a large number of homes even having their own private saunas built onto the sides of their homes!
A number of the best hotels in Rovaniemi have access to saunas for their guests, and it’s worth giving it a go.
From speaking to a number of locals, one thing they seem to like doing is spending 15 or 30 minutes getting really hot in the sauna, and then heading outside into the freezing cold and then heading once again back into the sauna.
Some go so far as to jump in the freezing lake or roll around in the snow, before returning to the heat.
We actually gave this a go when in Finnish Lapland, by creating our own makeshift sauna in a cabin, by getting the fire roaring hot.
We then ran outside and rolled in the snow, before returning back inside, dripping wet, with the exhilarating feeling as your body temperature slowly starts to warm up again.
Sound crazy? It was!
When you’re done rolling around in the snow like a lunatic, it’s worth heading to a local restaurant and trying some Finnish delicacies.
Two of which I highly recommend are reindeer and fire-roasted salmon.
You’ll find reindeer being served almost everywhere in Finland, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I particularly liked cold, smoked reindeer; though Cazzy couldn't bring herself to eat any of the cute fluffy animals!
The salmon was a massive shock to me as, up until that point I had never really enjoyed it.
However, I can honestly say that freshly caught and then fire-roasted salmon is amazing!
Full disclosure, this is the one thing I haven't yet done on this list.
But I desperately want to!
There are a number of tours that offer this (like this one here) where you get to lie in the ice in a fully protective cold weather suit, and just stare up at the stars.
I imagine it to be a deeply satisfying and calming experience, connecting in a truly magical way with the wonderful nature that Finland offers.
They even take place at night time, offering you the chance to see the Northern Lights in possibly the most unique way imaginable.
For more information, you can check out this listing here.
Many people seem to visit Rovaniemi and then return back home; however, I must say that if you are able to venture a little further outside of the city then you really should!
Lapland is a truly incredible and unforgettable place to visit, especially in the winter months when covered in snow.
It isn’t very highly populated, meaning you can drive for hours between the towns and cities, taking in breathtaking views on all angles.
You also get the chance to spot wild reindeer everywhere you go; a memorable experience in itself.
From Rovaniemi, we zigzagged our way north, stopping off along the way at popular regions and towns before heading into Norway.
Salla, Levi, Inari and Luosto are amongst just a few of the places I must recommend visiting if you have the chance; and having your own vehicle to drive to them is almost certainly the best way to experience Lapland to the fullest.
For a better look at what else to see, here are 3 other guides we have written that will help you plan a journey further north from Rovaniemi:
Well, that’s about it!
If you've been to Rovaniemi and have any other recommendations on where to visit, please do let me know below ...