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Things To Do In Rovaniemi In Winter

Rovaniemi, located right on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, is a perfect destination for a winter break. We have recently returned from a trip to this lovely city. Our primary reason for visiting was to try to see the Northern Lights. But seeing the marvellous aurora is very much dependent on both an active sun and cloud-free weather, so we weren’t planning on hanging around waiting. We wanted to visit a location where there were lots of activities to enjoy as well. Here is our guide for things to do in Rovaniemi in winter.

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How to Get To Rovaniemi

Most people fly into Rovaniemi. The city centre is located around 9km from the compact airport. It is possible to catch a bus with a not very useful timetable (which currently requires a long wait if you arrive in the afternoon and is no good if you arrive in the evening). A taxi ride will cost around €30-35, depending on where you are staying in the city. There is currently no Uber in Rovaniemi.

Where to Stay in Rovaniemi

We spent a week in Rovaniemi and rented an apartment on the edge of the centre. It’s a small city and very easy to walk around, so we were only 10 minutes away from the bars and restaurants. Our apartment, the Rovavist, also had a mini-supermarket beneath the flats, which was very handy for picking up groceries.

Things to Do In Rovaniemi in Winter

We recommend visiting the tourist information office as they have lots of information about the city, including maps and advice on things to do. They also have a weekly events listing so you can discover any concerts and sporting events that are happening during your visit. The office is open Monday to Friday.

In the town there are three interesting museums/art galleries to visit. They are open Tuesday to Sunday.

If you want to visit all three we recommend buying a Culture Pass at €25. This represents really good value as it offers a saving on the total admission price to all three venues and you can visit each of them as many times as you like within a week. All museums are closed on Mondays.

Arktikum is a fabulous museum dedicated to all aspects of life in the Arctic. The exhibits range from information about the Arctic environment, to the lives of indigenous people and local history.

Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter
Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

Pillke is a science museum which is perfect for children of all ages. It has a strong environmental and sustainability theme, there are lots of highly interactive exhibits and games to play.

There is even multi-lingual karaoke, generally children’s songs, so we belted out a great rendition of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

Korundi Culture house is Rovaniemi’s art gallery. It has a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions to enjoy. Many of the works are by local artists and the gallery displays artworks which have an Arctic theme.

Things to Do in Rovaniemi in Winter

The Santa Village

The Santa Village is a big draw for visitors, especially for those travelling with children during the months of November and December. Yes, if you are a fan of all things Christmassy, Rovaniemi is the place where Santa lives and you can visit him all year round.

Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

The village is free to enter. You can catch the bus (the same one that goes to the airport) from Rovaniemi city centre. It’s about 8km away and you can buy a return ticket to take you back into town – keep it and give it to the driver.

The village is actually located directly on the Arctic Circle so you can stop for photos. You can also buy a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle.

And you can enter Santa’s house and meet the old guy himself. To be honest, it was a bit crowded in there, even in January. It’s likely to be completely packed in December. And while it’s free to go inside and have your photo taken with Santa, you’ll have to queue for a while and Santa’s elves can later sell you a photo at a pricey price between €35-50. (You’re not obliged to make a purchase.)

And everything else in the village seems expensive. You can visit a reindeer farm and go on a reindeer sleigh ride (adult/child prices €25/€20 for 7 minutes, €40€/30 for 15 minutes) or visit Snowman World, (€29 Euros per person but you can stay all day) which has various winter activities and an ice bar. But the entry costs for these will add up, particularly for families.

We were keen to try Santa’s salmon – cooked using a traditional method baked over an open fire inside a teepee.

Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

But €25 for a salmon steak (which was mainly delicious, although the skin was burned black and not great to eat), a couple of pieces of flatbread and a blob of cream felt overpriced.

“Just hear those cash tills ringing and Euros jingling too…Ding-aling-aling-aling Ker-ching.”

While a visit to Santa Village would undoubtedly be an experience for families with children, we think, in retrospect, we’d rather have visited the Bad Santa Village! (Which doesn’t exist.)

Hike Through the Forest

The Ounasvaara Winter Trail offers a lovely forest walk. Located just outside of the city, across the Candle Bridge (the bridge with the red lights atop) cross the road under the subway and enter the forest. There are trails for hikers, bikers and skiers with maps and signposts to show the way. The forest, covered in snow, is delightful and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the area.

Things to Do in Rovaniemi in Winter
Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

Watch The Ice Hockey

Rovaniemi has its own ice hockey team, Roki, that play regular matches. The Lappi Areena is located just outside of town, close to the Ounasvaara forest. The tourist information centre will be able to let you know the match schedule.

If you’re walking to the arena it takes around 40-50 minutes to get there from the city, across the Candle Bridge. The ticket office opens an hour before the game starts and it costs €15 to watch the game. It’s exciting and full of action and Roki fans are incredibly enthusiastic. It’s great viewing for all the family.

ice hockey

Winter Activity Excursions

There are loads of companies in the city that offer all sorts of winter activities. You can go on snowmobiles, enjoy a husky sled ride, go ice-karting or even visit an amethyst mine. We recommend pre-booking as some popular activities may sell out.

We enjoyed two trips. One was a snowshoeing and ice-fishing day where we travelled to a local frozen lake. It was great to learn how to use snowshoes and then walk on deep snow in the local forest.

Then it was onto the frozen lake where we drilled holes in the ice and enjoyed a spot of ice fishing. Sadly we didn’t manage to eat sashimi for lunch that day, the fish were far too canny to fall for our attempts at enticing them to bite. But it’s not really about the fish, it’s a chance to sit quietly amongst nature and enjoy the scenery.

Things to Do in Rovaniemi in Winter
Things to Do in Rovaniemi in Winter

The other trip was a full day to see the frozen waterfalls in the Korouoma canyon. It was the coldest day of the trip, a freeeeeezing -26C, but also the most splendidly beautiful. The canyon is located around 100 km northwest of Rovaniemi and it takes around an hour and a half to drive there. As we travelled along the road, the sun had just risen above the horizon and kissed the treetops.

We walked for 5km, through the forest of spruce, pine and birch trees, all covered in glittery snow, and down into the canyon. We then trekked along the gorge admiring the frozen waterfalls, which would remain utterly static for another couple of months.

Frozen waterfall
Things to Do Rovaniemi Winter

After reaching the resting places we built a fire and cooked sausages on sticks. Then it was time to climb back up the canyon to return. The sun was just about to set and the sky was a glorious pink, the pale moon gently bathing in the light.

Things to Do Rovaniemi Winter

See the Northern Lights

This was our third attempt at seeing the Northern Lights. We had tried previously in Iceland and Norway – and had had a brilliant time in both locations – but failed to see them. So we were hoping for third time lucky.

The Aurora Borealis is one of nature’s most marvellous phenomena. It happens in northern latitudes when the solar wind emits particles from the sun which interact with the atmosphere creating strange and ethereal lights dancing in the sky.

The sun’s activity has a cycle of around 10-11 years and 2024-5 is the expected solar maximum. There are things you can plan for – an active time in the sun cycle and also possibly choose a time of the month when the moon isn’t full.

But trips are often booked months in advance so you have no knowing if the solar wind will be active and the skies clear. We planned to stay in Rovaniemi for a week, so that if the sky was cloudy on our arrival (it was) we had a few days in hand for the weather to clear.

Of course, you can see the lights on a DIY basis. There are all sorts of apps which will notify you of sun activity and weather forecast. You can hire a car and head out into the frozen wilderness.

An alternative is to book a tour. There are various options available. Some involve a snowmobile safari or husky ride into the night which means that at least you have enjoyed an activity even if you don’t see the lights. But you will have to pay again if you want to try again.

We chose a guaranteed northern lights excursion, which sounds a bit strange bearing in mind that you need all the weather and solar activity conditions to be just right. But this tour offers a guarantee of seeing the lights or they will give you your money back. It does cost more than the standard chases but we felt it was worth it.

On booking, we informed the company of our arrival date and tentatively planned a northern lights chase for the following evening. They asked how long we were staying for. This gave them an idea of when they could reschedule the trip if needed.

They monitor both the solar and atmospheric conditions daily and text an update. The first couple of days had 100% cloud cover, so they texted to postpone to the following day.

On the third day we got a call saying that they’d had their meeting and thought that the skies would clear. They predicted an 80% chance of seeing the lights and said we could either go for it or have our money back. We decided to go out and they arranged an evening pickup from our apartment.

Then you go out in a van with a small group of people and head to the clear skies and open spaces away from city lights.

There’s a lot of waiting in the cold so we advise wrapping up warm. But it was worth it – we were treated to the most magical display.

Things to Do Rovaniemi Winter
Things to Do Rovaniemi in Winter

Rovaniemi for Foodies

The city has a good food scene with a wide variety of traditional Lappish dishes to try. Eating out isn’t cheap in Lapland so we combined shopping at local supermarkets to cook in our apartment with dining out at a variety of restaurants.

Fine Dining

There are a number of fine dining restaurants offering traditional Lappish food. Some offer tasting menus. We enjoyed a five course tasting menu at the Arctic Restaurant on Valtakatu.

We enjoyed a silky-smooth crayfish soup followed by reindeer tartare with remoulade and sun-dried tomato. The next courses were white fish with hollandaise, carrot and caviar, and then rare tenderloin of beef with a port jus, potato stack and beetroot puree. A lemon sorbet cleansed the palette before we tucked into a creamy crème brûlée.

Restaurant Nili next door also offers tasting menus.

Fast food

The café at the Arkitum offers a Lappish buffet on weekdays for €15 and includes a cup of good coffee. It’s hearty and filling and tastes great.

We were highly amused by Santa’s Doner Kebab on Koskikatu. Yes, they do offer reindeer – Do(n)ner but no Blitzen or Rudolph! – and the kebab was delicious.

Pure Burger Kauppayhtiö on Valtakatu offered reindeer burgers with dirty fries and Café 21 on Rovakatu offers sweet and savoury waffles as well as a number of pastries and cakes.


Finnish people enjoy their coffee and you are guaranteed a great brew. One of the more unusual ways to serve coffee is with bread cheese. Bread cheese, or leipäjuusto, (sometimes known as cheese bread or juustoleipä), is a mild, sweet, squeaky cheese. It has the texture, but not the saltiness, of Halloumi. It can be enjoyed in slices with cloudberry or lingonberry jam.

More unusually it is enjoyed as Kaffeost. Cubes of cheese are submerged in dark black coffee. They soak up the coffee and can be eaten with a spoon. It’s a very unusual way of enjoying cheese – and coffee – but is surprisingly good.

If you enjoy a tipple Finland, like many Scandinavian countries, is pricier than most. We found it to be pricey but not eye-wateringly expensive (certainly not as expensive as Norway or Sweden). There are restrictions on when you can buy booze. No strong beer can be bought from a supermarket after 9pm but weaker beers can. Olvi Kotikalja beer is a traditional dark brown beverage made from rye and barley malt. Its alcohol content is 2.2 % and it tastes like shandy.

Lapland Brewery

If beer is your thing, Rovaniemi’s local brewery is the northernmost brewery in Finland. It has a taproom and also offers tours. They have a good range of beers, and also some alcoholic drinks made by mixing local berries, such as cloudberry, with spirits. It is located 3km outside of town and is walkable from the city centre – it takes around 50 minutes to get there.

The pub Oluthuone, on Koskikatu, is a pub predominantly frequented by local people and offers Rovaniemi and Finnish beer (as well as international brands) at reasonable prices – we’d compare them to London prices. We received a warm welcome.

What to Bring to Rovaniemi in Winter

Warm clothes are essential. The temperatures can be very cold. We visited in January and did the waterfall hike in temperatures of -26C. We recommend wearing layers. Thermals are a good idea to wear underneath your clothes to provide extra insulation. A thick, warm waterproof jacket, woolly hat and gloves are essential. Balaclavas and scarves will also be useful.

In winter you’ll be walking on snow and sometimes ice. Good footwear is essential. You might also want to invest in some rubber straps with mini-spikes which you can fit over your boots.

If you don’t have enough equipment there are plenty of shops where you can buy anything you might need. Also, some of the activity companies will be able to hire exposure suits, if you want to be really snug and warm.

If you plan to go snowmobiling you will need to bring your driving licence.

If you are on a Northern Lights tour take your passport as some of the companies may travel into Norway or Sweden if there’s a chance of clearer weather there. You will also need to be contactable by phone if you are choosing a guaranteed tour so that you can find out about local conditions, so consider an international SIM or an e-SIM if your phone needs one.

There are plenty of things to do in Rovaniemi in winter and we absolutely recommend spending time in this lovely little city and the surrounding countryside.

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VTW Go Finland and Meet Leningrad Cowboys

They’ve been to America (Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)) and they’ve met Moses (Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994)) so VTW Go Finland is perhaps an appropriate foodie film excursion. Those curious about the Leningrad Cowboys band and their work with legendary low-key Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki should check out the review here before purchasing their cinematic output, including videos, for your education and pleasure.

While the band, instantly identifiable by their outrageously long and pointy quiff hairstyles and black winkle-picker shoes, have played gigs all over the world, one of their enterprises in Helsinki involves food and it is totally in tune (or out of tune depending on the gig in play!) with their unique musical style. Among their musical and lyrical thematic tendencies there are influences of vodka and tractors, both of which are also intrinsic their food.

Many years ago there used to be a Leningrad Cowboys Restaurant which had bonkers décor and a confusion of fusion menu that clashed cuisines from all over the world – where American assimilated with Asian, Mexican merged with Moroccan and Indian integrated with Italian – a broad range of flavours that shouldn’t have worked in so many ways but really, really did. It was there that we also discovered the joys of vanilla vodka straight out of the freezer. Quaffing Finnish spirits while sitting next to quiffing statues, who needs a pudding when you can combine your dessert and digestif in a scrumptious shot? We just had to make sure we could find our way back to the hotel at the end of the evening…

Sadly, it no longer seems to be there – we looked out for it on a recent trip to Helsinki –  which is a shame.

However, the Zetor Restaurant in Helsinki has been around for many years and continues to thrive. It takes its name from the leading Czech tractor brand  – “The first zetor tractor, the Z25, was ‘baptised’ on 15 March 1946,” according to the official website – and takes the tractor-restaurant concept to a wonderful and surreal zenith. Yes, you eat your meal…. on a tractor or sitting around a tractor.

Zetor Restaurant is owned by Aki Kaurismäki and designed by one of the Leningrad Cowboys. Rural kitsch bliss. Zetor declares itself to be a “110% Finnish restaurant,” and who are we to argue? Also, as is befitting a classy restaurant, the fare on offer comprises signature dishes from their very own recipes and these are described in a highly distinctive manner: perhaps Oula’s sautéed reindeer, The Cackle of Kaivopiha, The weather may change but the vendace stays the same or Karelian glory, which they claim is ‘close to deserving a place on UNESCO’s heritage list.’

It’s worth noting that Crazy reindeer from Levi, Lapland, Mummy’s boy’s meatballs and Grilled liver all contain alcohol. The essential on offer is the drool-worthy Tractor Man’s steak: ‘Tender sirloin of beef, bacon baked on the bonnet of a Zetor tractor with honest garlic butter as fuel. As well as country potatoes with smoked garlic mayonnaise, mousse of smoked reindeer and vegetables as eye candy. That smoked reindeer is welcome as more than eye candy.’

Don’t forget the drinks, which include a wide variety of strong Finnish berry wines: Lingonberry 21 %, Cranberry 21 %, Blueberry 21 %, Blackcurrant 21 %, Sea Buckthorn 21 %, Cloudberry 15 %.

Something to take a shot at. Or two.

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