Visit Santa Claus Post Office before meeting the king of Christmas himself, stay in an igloo, view the northern lights, feed reindeer and mush huskies. And did I mention hiking in Finnish nature and floating in ice-cold water? All this and more await you in Rovaniemi, Finland with kids.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland- the northernmost region of Finland. It’s known for so many things- but most of all it’s known as the Official Hometown of Santa Claus. This means you can actually visit the real Santa Claus, year-round, inside the Arctic Circle in Lapland. If you are headed to Finland, first check out our 15 Things To Do In Finland With Kids!
Getting To and Around Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is about a 9.5-hour drive from Helsinki, or about a 2-hour flight on Finnair (the official airline of Santa Claus!). It’s a super gorgeous area in the northern hemisphere year-round- with the eternal sun in summer and the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) in the winter, Rovaniemi definitely has a focus on nature.
Check out our Helsinki City Guide here!
You have two options for transportation in Rovaniemi- take a shuttle from the airport and navigate the town on foot and public transportation and then arrange nature tours with transportation.
Or- I think it would be better to have a car in Rovaniemi. as there is only one Uber driver, and many of the best activities in the area are quite far from each other.
Best Time To Visit Rovaniemi
I think the best time to visit Rovaniemi is… any time! Here are the pros and cons of each season:
Summer– warmer daytime temperatures, no snow, not a ton of tourist activity. Eternal sun means your internal clock might be all screwed up- and your kids might have trouble sleeping.
Fall- midlevel daytime temperatures, almost zero tourists and lower accommodation and tour rates as this is definitely low season.
You have the chance to see the Aurora Borealis, but it won’t be super strong or guaranteed. The fall is gorgeous with the trees turning gold and the sun shining in the daytime- it reminded me of Colorado Fall so much!
Winter– Winter is the high season! Picture perfect snow, tons of winter activities like sled dog running and visiting Santa Claus and his reindeer during the peak holiday season.
Prices are high, accommodations book well in advance, and there are lots and lots of people. Northern lights are almost guaranteed most nights.
Spring– Everything I said about fall except the gorgeous colors.
If you are visiting Finland with your kids- make sure you check out our guide to Finland with kids here!
Things to Do In Rovaniemi
There is an endless number of things to do in and around Rovaniemi- and I think I could stay there for a year and never hike or see everything. Here are a few of my favorites activities:
The Ranua Zoo
The Ranua zoo is an arctic zoo is located in the northern part of Finland, near the city of Rovaniemi. It’s a zoo inside the Arctic Circle! That means you need to dress warmly pretty much all the time.
Ranua Zoo has tons of fun animals to see- I loved seeing the owls, reindeer, buffalo and more. The best part, however, is seeing the polar bears and the brown bears!
Expect to walk a ton through the forest at Ranua Zoo- it’s a zoo totally set in nature and you walk on wooden boardwalks between exhibits.
There is a cozy and warm café on site serving a nice buffet lunch of traditional Finnish food (like reindeer). You can also buy Fazer chocolates at a super discount in their outlet store. For rates and more info on the Ranua Zoo Wildlife Park visit their website.
Visit A Traditional Lapish Home
Handicrafts are very popular throughout Finland, and they are a Sami tradition. The Sami are the indigenous people of Finland, and many still follow ancient traditions related to nature and foraging- their language is Suomi.
Spend time with Irene and Ari at their home just outside of Rovaniemi. They are a married couple who live off the land and run a small business creating handicrafts out of reindeer materials.
My time at their house was one of the highlights of my trip. It was a chance to meet real Finns, visit a real Finnish house, and learn a ton about Finnish handicrafts.
Irene is the sweetest woman in the world, she has a great interactive presentation about Lappish life before you are free to make a number of Finnish crafts. The couple then takes you into their home where Irene has prepared traditional baked cinnamon rolls and homemade blueberry juice for you to enjoy while spending more time with the couple.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this stop in Rovaniemi, and you can find out more information about booking at Ari and Irene’s Hornwork website.
Bearhill Husky- Mush Husky Dogs
I visited Bearhill Husky in Rovaniemi during the Fall and had the best experience running the husky dogs with a special fall weather training cart.
I was super impressed with Bearhill Husky because their main goal with their husky tours is to do right by the dogs. Huskies in their nature love to run, and they will run so fast as to injure themselves if given the chance.
We ran huskies in teams of two people- one rider and one driver, and our lead was an RTV that never went over 16 kph so as to not run the dogs too hard. What to know:
- If you are mushing in Fall, Winter or Spring be prepared to be COLD. Bearhill provides kids with arm snowsuit, and everyone has access to a protective suit, wool socks, boots, hats, gloves and a neck warmer. Parents that have done this in the winter have said it was the coldest activity they have ever done.
- All ages can participate. Young children who can sit up on their own can sit in the passenger seat. Super young children can sit on a parent’s lap. Older teens can drive the cart- aged 16 and up.
- Puppies! Bearhill works with huskies from birth to retirement. After the mushing tour, you will have the change to interact with the husky puppies (cutest thing ever!). The huskies are Bearhill are trained throughout their lives, with the goal of having them work as therapy dogs in their retirement.
For more info on rates for Bearhill Husky visit their website.
View the Northern Lights- How-To
Viewing the auroral display of the northern lights is one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced. Which kind of goes along with my entire experience in Lapland- pure magic. Lapland is a northern region of the planet that is made up by parts of Northern Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia.
If you don’t know a lot about the aurora borealis (called the aurora australis when it’s southern light) here’s a quick rundown:
Basically, the lights are tiny collisions between electrically charged particles that enter the earth’s upper atmosphere and cause light- in Lapland the lights are typically blue and green.
The Northern Lights are best viewed in Lapland from September to March, which the strongest lights happening from November to February. You can’t just show up and be guaranteed to see them, but there are some things you can do to be more successful.
1. Visit Lapland from September-March. I’d stay 2-3 nights to give yourself ample opportunity to see the lights.
2. Your best bet on viewing the Aurora Borealis is on a clear night when there is not a ton of moonlight. Try to pick a place that doesn’t have much light pollution. An especially dark sky with little or no moon is ideal. You can check the moon phases here.
3. Make sure you have an Aurora viewing app. This will tell you when you have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Without this app we wouldn’t have seen anything.
3. Dress warmly. You can’t truly see this inside, and it gets cold.
4. Have a plan. Find out in advance where the best place to see the Northern Lights is if you are staying in the city. If you want to take photos of the Northern Lights, you’ll need a lot of gear- DSLR with long exposure settings and a tripod. Here’s a great guide on how to successfully shoot Aurora Borealis photos.
Don’t expect to take photos with just a cell phone. If photos aren’t your thing, then sit back, relax and enjoy the show- it’s amazing and there are tons of photos for purchase and online.
Wondering what to pack for all of these activities? Check out our ultimate Finland packing tips.
Walk an alpaca
Ok- hear me out. A local mom in Rovaniemi, Lapland began raising alpacas on her family farm and has turned that into a tourism business.
Visit the family farm and take the alpacas for a walk through the Finnish countryside. It’s an experience you’ll never forget- for so many reasons! Interested? Visit Revontulen Alpakat on Facebook.
Float In Ice Cold Arctic Water
If you know anything about Finnish culture, you know that taking a dip in icy cold water quickly followed by a warm sauna experience is quintessential Finland. (Check out one of my favorite books on Finland here!)
If actually plunging yourself into ice-cold water is not your thing (I happen to HATE cold water!) you can check out Safartica. They have totally protective floating ice suits you can wear to float peacefully in ice water in Lapland- without freezing your buns off. Super cool winter swimming experience!
Choose from a day or night experience– and you can even float under the northern lights.
Take A Hike
There are so many amazing hiking experiences right around Rovaniemi. the time that we spend in the Finnish countryside was some of the most relaxing and gorgeous of the entire trip.
A fun family hike and nature experience is at the Devil’s Churns outside of Rovaniemi. The area is home to natural potholes that are thousands of years old.
Visit A Museum
In Rovaniemi, we visited two fun museums that would be great places to warm up in the winter and learn a ton about Finland at the same time.
The Arktikum is a super cool building and a great place to watch and photograph the Northern Lights at night. It’s also a super informative museum all about the Arctic Circle, Northern Lights, Finnish Lapland and the Suomi indigenous people. It’s the perfect first stop in Rovaniemi if you want to learn a ton about the area.
The Arktilum has a super cool gift shop, warm views of the river, and a nice little café with a reasonably priced buffet lunch. Expect to spend about an hour here. We spent time with a local guide Frank- you can book lots of his tours here.
Science Center Pilke is a super cool building right next to the Arktikum. The main exhibition area with a focus on sustainability is located in the basement, so walking into the building is a whole experience.
Upstairs there is a cute little café and a wonderful shop with some of the coolest curated wood items I saw anywhere I went in Finland.
Downstairs is a super fun play area with a huge tractor, karaoke for kids, a fun shooting game and tons more interactive exhibits. If you want to spend time in a gorgeous example of Finnish design while learning more about forestry, this is a definite must stop. Visit their website for ticket prices.
Visiting Santa Claus Post Office in Rovaniemi
Just inside the official Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus- Santa Claus Village. The expansive grounds are home to restaurants, shops, accommodations, and more.
The area is free to visit, and you can do all kinds of fun Finnish activities.
1. Feed Santa’s reindeer. They eat lichen or moss. For a small fee (less than 5 euros) you can take a handful of moss into the reindeer area and feed the animals. Reindeer are so gentle and friendly, it’s the perfect activity for every age.
Fun fact- you can’t overfeed a reindeer. When they are no longer hungry, they just don’t eat!
2. Use Santa’s postal service! The official post office is staffed by Santa’s elves, and the letters that are sent to Santa from around the world are on display by country.
You can send postcards with the official Arctic Circle postmark to friends and family back home, as well as send an official letter to Santa in various languages. (Obviously, I sent one to my bilingual girls in Spanish!)
3. Shop.- I’m not a huge shopper but I found the best stuff at Santa’s Village. I loved the souvenir shop because the prices were good. There is also a Marimekko store here. (She’s the most famous Finnish fashion designer and her stuff is adorable, if not pricey.)
4. Eat.- There are numerous dining options from buffet lunches to fine dining. I actually had a great meal at the Shell gas station across the highway from Santa Claus Village, and I met a lot of working Finns while I was there too!
5. Take cheesy photos at the Arctic Circle.– I had far too much fun bouncing back and forth in and out of the Arctic Circle line- even though it was clear to me that the entire thing was contrived for tourists. I didn’t care- it was too fun!
6. Meet Santa Claus.– You must meet the man himself. It is a totally magical experience. You will walk through his home to get to Santa himself and have a chance to speak with him. He accepts cards from children (my daughter sent him the most adorable card!) and binkies and bottles from children who are ready to give those up.
You can take a professional photo with Santa Claus, a selfie, or just a cell phone photo. I was gifted the professional photos and I love them- worth the money for sure.
I have to say that I have always had mixed feelings about the whole Santa thing, but when I met him I almost burst into tears- it was that magical. Don’t miss this experience for sure.
Where to eat in Rovaniemi
Roka Wine and Kitchen Rovaniemi– this restaurant has an extensive wine list including local wines, fun tables set around couches, and tons of small plates for sharing. I loved it- the mushroom soup was DIVINE.
Arctic Restaurant Rovaniemi -Holy cocktails Batman! This fairly upscale restaurant is adjacent to the Arctic Light Hotel and the hilariously named Plan B Bar. Service is impeccable, and the food is amazing. I ate salted reindeer jerky on a bed of fresh herbs and thought I had died and gone to heaven. A perfect last night splurge in Rovaniemi.
The grocery store– I loved hunting for food at the Finnish grocery stores, and it was a super cheap way to eat delicious food. The deli section has tons of prepared food that you can have heated up and enjoy at a fraction of the cost of eating out.
Want to make your own Finnish treat? Check out our Finnish Spoon Cookie recipe here.
Where To Stay In Rovaniemi- Accommodations
I visited three different hotels in Rovaniemi- and I stayed in one. Here’s the lowdown.
Santa’s Hotel Santa Claus Rovaniemi– Santa’s Hotels chain has a downtown Rovaniemi hotel that is cozy and comfortable if a bit unfussy. Standard rooms are comfortable and have access to a sauna. Superior rooms have their own saunas! More booking information here.
The hotel includes an excellent breakfast buffet, has a hopping bar/restaurant on-site, and is located within walking distance to the Arktikum, Pilke Science Center, riverfront, mall, and most of downtown Rovaniemi.
Arctic Fox Igloos– About an hour north of Rovaniemi center are the Arctic Fox igloos. (They are near the Ranua zoo.) These comfy igloos are along a lake, and on grounds with a kitchen, playground, rowboats and more.
These igloos are great for viewing the eternal sun or the Northern Lights, but they are also quintessentially Finnish in nature. Each igloo has a mini kitchen and a sauna. These igloos are also about half the price of the igloos mentioned below.
I loved these and so wish I could have stayed here. To book visit their website.
Santa’s Igloos- Walking distance from Santa Claus Village are Santa’s Igloos. These posh igloos can sleep up to 8 people, and have their own saunas and are gorgeous.
You can’t beat the location of these igloos- at less than 2 kilometers from the Rovaniemi airport, you could arrive here and basically book all your tours and adventures right from here without renting a car.
At high season, these igloos book more than a year in advance so make sure to plan ahead (and save your money- it’s expensive!) if you plan to stay here. For booking information visit them on their website.
Check out Trekaroo’s guide to staying in igloos throughout Finland!