Rovaniemi has been a dream and bucket list destination for us for so long, mainly because it is Santa’s Hometown and simply a magical travel destination for winter. However, little did we expect that we would actually visit Rovaniemi for the first time in the middle of summer.
Rovaniemi in Summer, no snow, no Northern Lights, will Santa even be there? Is there even anything to do in Rovaniemi in Summer? We visited Rovaniemi in July and are completely blown away by it as a travel destination to spend your summer holiday. In this travel blog you can read all about our adventures, places to visit and things to do in Rovaniemi and in the end we will give you some tips for places to stay and lovely restaurants to eat at.
Just in case you have never heard about Rovaniemi before, Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland. The city is surrounded by arctic and Lappish nature. It’s where Lappish culture and a wide range of activities blend. It’s actually Santa’s Hometown, so it’s the place where you can visit Santa Claus every day of the year!
Not many people know that Rovaniemi got completely destroyed and burned down by the Germans during WWII. Except for a few buildings, everything in Rovaniemi was burned down to the ground. They had to start rebuilding the place from scratch. When they started rebuilding Rovaniemi, it was designed with input by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. He planned the cities footprint in the shape of a reindeer’s head, with the city roads being the antlers and the local sports stadium as the reindeer’s eye.
Nowadays, Rovaniemi is the provincial centre of Lapland, and very cool, the Arctic Circle runs through Rovaniemi. The town is located right at the confluence of two rivers, Ounasjoki and Kemijoki and therefor historically a meeting point for trade, people and cultures of the North.
It is the second-largest city of Northern Finland after Oulu, and together with the capital Helsinki, it is one of the country’s most significant tourist destinations and places to visit in Finland.
Fun Fact: Rovaniemi’s central square is called Lordi’s Square, but did you know this square used to be called the Sampo Square? It was renamed the Lordi’s Square in June 2006 in honour of Lordi’s victory in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. Rovaniemi is Lordi’s leadsinger hometown.
Getting to Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is located in Finnish Lapland, actually right on the Arctic Circle. Even though it’s located very northern, getting there is super easy, really! The best and easiest way to get to Rovaniemi is by plane via Helsinki. That’s also how we traveled to Rovaniemi, we flew with Finnair. They offer daily flights between Rovaniemi and Helsinki, offering the best connections to Lapland in Summer.
Fun Fact: When travelling by plane to Rovaniemi, you will actually be landing at Santa’s official airport, how cool is that?
You can also reach Rovaniemi by train or coach. Several trains run to and from Helsinki every day, year-round, even despite the harsh weather in Finnish winter times.
Coach services by Matkahuolto and Onnibus cover a great deal of Finland’s road network. They are a great option for reaching Rovaniemi if traveling from the south.
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Experience the Midnight Sun
We had two natural phenomena on our bucket list, the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun. For both, you have to travel as far north as possible, preferably above the Arctic Circle.
A few years back we were extremely lucky to see and experience the Northern Lights, which left our Midnight Sun dream still open.
That was until June of this year, when we were invited to be Midnight Sun Ambassadors in Finnish Lapland, in Rovaniemi. I was stoked and couldn’t be more happy. Experiencing the Midnight Sun is something special, next level.
The Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon that takes place on and above the Arctic Circle in the Summer months. On the Arctic Circle, exactly where Rovaniemi is located, the sun officially stays above the horizon for a full 24 hours on summer solstice, June 21st or 22nd. However, the Midnight Sun period in Rovaniemi lasts for a month, from 6th June to 7th July, this is due to the Earth’s slightly tilted axis and refraction of sunlight. During this month the sun doesn’t set and it is light for 24 hours a day.
In general, Summer days in Rovaniemi are long and light from late May until early August. There’s 24 hours around the clock for outdoor activities. Everything you can do during the day, you can then do at night. What about sleep you’re wondering? Do it later!
We weren’t able to sleep anyway, the Midnight Sun increases your energy levels and your body stays awake and active, you just don’t get tired. It’s even been said that the short Lappish summer wasn’t even designed for sleeping in the first place, just go outside and enjoy this amazing phenomenon!
Things to do in Rovaniemi in Summer
During our visit in Rovaniemi, we did a wide range of activities, all to experience Finnish Lappish Summer and the Midnight Sun. We want to highlight our favorite things to do in Rovaniemi to make planning your trip easier for you.
Where Winter times in Rovaniemi is all about snow, husky’s, reindeers, snow scooters and Northern Lights, summer brings a completely different range of activities. Summers in Rovaniemi are short but very pleasant and are the ultimate time to be outdoors. With literally 24 hours around the clock, you have all the time in the world to fully enjoy Summer in Lapland.
When you visit Rovaniemi in Summer, and especially when you visit to experience the Midnight Sun, you probably want to go home with the best possible photos. If you don’t know the best photo spots in Rovaniemi to experience Summer and Midnight Sun, or if you’re an unexperienced photographer, you should really consider doing a photography tour with Beyond Arctic.
We did a private photography tour with Beyond Arctic on the first evening in Rovaniemi, and it was amazing.
Our guide Ryan picked two amazing spots to show us what the Midnight Sun is, and took the most amazing photos. We would absolutely recommend booking with these guys when visiting Rovaniemi.
We love to be outdoors, and Lapland is just the perfect place. One of those great outdoor things to do in Rovaniemi in summer is canoeing. Isn’t it just the ultimate thing to do when you think about Scandinavia anyway?
Rovaniemi is located very close to two rivers, so it’s very easy to hit the waters here. We went up the river for a bit and about halfway our trip we turned around, to eventually finish at the Arktikum Museum. We had a short stop where we were provided with some drinks.
Even though my arms got pretty sore towards the end of the trip, canoeing in Lapland is just the most relaxing and peaceful thing to do in Rovaniemi.
Looking for your own canoe adventure tour in Rovaniemi? Make sure to check in with the awesome guys at Wild About Lapland.
Midnight Golf at Santa’s golf course
As you now know, Rovaniemi is Santa’s hometown. However, you might not know that Santa loves to play a game of golf every now and then. And let’s be honest, is there anything cooler and better than having your own golf course? Santa agrees and has his own Santa Claus Golf Course in Rovaniemi, where you can play golf all year round.
In Summer it’s an 18 hole golf course, in Winter it’s only a 9 hole golf course. In June and July you can even play around the clock under the Midnight Sun. You might even meet some of Santa’s reindeer that roam freely on the golf course. Fun thing, you can actually cross the Arctic Circle while playing a game of golf, as the Arctic Circle runs across the golf course.
Visit the Beach
I must admit, I was a bit surprised too when I found out that Rovaniemi has a beach. I mean, you’d expect beaches in the South of Europe, but not up in the Arctic. Well guess what? Rovaniemi has a beach, and on warm Summer days it’s a very popular and busy spot in town.
Believe it or not, but when we visited Rovaniemi we had a heatwave, with temperatures above 30 Celsius all week, so the beach was packed with people all day, and night!
It is said that Santa’s reindeer like to come to the beach to cool off, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself next to a reindeer on the beach.
Huskies and reindeers
In Winter times the huskies and reindeer are super busy with husky and reindeer sleigh rides. Obviously they are also around in Summer, and they’re less busy so pay these amazing animals a visit.
There is a husky farm at Santa Claus Village. They have about 100 huskies, which they need in Winter time for all the sleigh rides. In Summer they take it easy. You can visit the farm and be told all about what they do in both summer and winter. At the end you also get the chance to cuddle some huskies.
There are also summer rides you can do, but I bet they’re not as fun as the winter rides I think. Right next to Santa’s office you’ll find his famous reindeer. You can visit them, learn more about the animals and feed them as well.
Hiking, walking, biking in Rovaniemi
In general Rovaniemi and Lapland are amazing outdoor destinations, maybe even the best outdoor destinations to go to when it comes to Europe. There are plenty of things to do here, but often the most fun and easy things to do outdoors are the simple hiking, walking and biking. You don’t need much, just rent a bike and go out into Lappish nature and enjoy the pure nature and fresh air.
Santa Claus Village
It has always been my number one reason for wanting to visit Rovaniemi, being the Official Hometown of Santa Claus. And even though it’s probably the most magical time to visit him in Winter, with lots of snow, visiting Santa in Summer is just as special. It truly brings out your inner child. Whoever said that Santa doesn’t exist, clearly has never traveled to Rovaniemi!
You can visit Santa Claus every day of the year, 365 days, in Rovaniemi. More than 500.000 annual visitors from all around the world come to Rovaniemi to meet Santa Claus.
Santa Claus established an office in Rovaniemi in 1985. His original home lies in the mysterious Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland. The exact location is a big secret, only known to a chosen few. In 2010, Rovaniemi received the status of the Official Hometown of Santa Claus.
As we said before, Rovaniemi was almost completely destroyed in World War II. However, in 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to visit Rovaniemi to witness the rebuilding process. She wanted to visit the Arctic Circle, and Rovaniemi officials rushed to build a cabin eight kilometers north of the city. This cabin marked the birth of Santa Claus Village and still stands today next to Santa Claus Main Post Office.
Santa Claus Main Post Office
Talking about the Santa Claus Main Post Office, since 1985 Santa Claus has received 18 million letters from 197 countries. The post office is a real post office operated by Posti, Finland’s national postal service. Every year Santa receives about 500.000 letters from children and parents from around the world. Whenever the letter says ‘Santa’ on the envelope, it will end up here in Rovaniemi. You can even send home Christmas cards from here, and they will be delivered for Christmas, even if you post them in Summer. Every letter or card sent from here gets a special Arctic Circle postmark, not available anywhere else, something unique and worth trying out when visiting Rovaniemi.
One of the absolute highlights of the year in Santa Claus Village is December 23rd, when Santa departs on his mission to hand out presents to children all around the globe.
Want to know Santa’s secret how he can visit every single child around the world in time for Christmas? Right in Santa’s office there is a huge clock which Santa uses to magically slow down the time, which gives him all the time he needs to visit every single child all around the world.
The Arctic Circle is one of the two polar circles, and the most northern of the five major circles of latitude on Earth. The Arctic Circle is the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere where the sun remains continuously above the horizon in Summer (Midnight Sun), but also below the horizon in Winter (Polar Night) for 24 hours.
Many people dream about crossing the Arctic Circle by foot, literally walking into the Arctic. I have to admit, so did I! The Arctic Circle runs through Rovaniemi, through Santa Claus Village to be precisely. In the center of Santa Claus Village, in front of Santa Claus Office, the Arctic Circle is clearly marked. Crossing the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi is absolutely a must do when visiting Rovaniemi! After crossing it, you can even get an official certificate confirming that you crossed the Arctic Circle.
Lapland and the Arctic are something special, which comes to life in the Arktikum Museum. Arktikum is a science centre and museum that lets you experience northern nature, culture and history. They have permanent and temporary exhibitions to show you the Arctic stories.
The coolest feature of the museum perhaps is the 172 meters long glass corridor. It’s shaped to be a long finger pointing to the north.
Another reason to visit Rovaniemi is the Arctic garden, one of Rovaniemi’s most picturesque parks, in front on the Arktikum, along the shoreline of the Ounasjoki River.
Visiting Rovaniemi summer vs. winter
If you’re not yet convinced of Rovaniemi and Lapland as a summer destination, then the following reasons may convince you. Rovaniemi and Lapland are extremely popular and thus extremely busy in winter. Hotels get fully booked, and excursions should be booked well in advance if you want to do them. Summer however is much quieter. In summer there’s only a fraction of the visitor numbers in Winter.
There are no queues to visit Santa Claus. During the busiest times in winter, waiting times can be up to 2.5 hours to visit Santa. We visited in summer and the waiting time was 0 minutes, we could walk straight through to Santa.
Pricewise winter is the most expensive time to visit Rovaniemi. Compared to summer, winter rates can be up to three times the summer rates. Although Finland is not a cheap destination in general, it is definitely cheaper to go in summer!
Days are long in summer in Finland. Finnish Summers basically mean that you have more hours a day to be outdoors exploring and enjoying.
Recommended places to stay
We experienced Lapland and Rovaniemi to be extremely hospitable. We’d like to shortlist some of our favorite hotels and restaurants, just to make it a little easier for you.
Arctic Light Hotel
A perfect location right in the city center, that’s where you will find the Arctic Light Hotel. At just a short 2-minute walk from the main center and Lordi Square. It’s also located just a short 10-minute walk from Rovaniemi’s famous beach. The hotel features bright and ultra-modern rooms. Facilities at the hotel include a sauna, which you can book privately, a terrace and a lounge bar.
The breakfast at the Arctic Light Hotel is well known in Rovaniemi and far beyond. People come to this hotel specially to have breakfast here. Their healthy and energizing breakfast is created by Finnish – Americain TV chef Sara La Fountain.
Haawe Boutique Hotel
I think this is by far my favorite place I have ever stayed at. The HAAWE Boutique Apart Hotel is something different. Location wise it’s just a few meters down the road from the Arctic Light Hotel, so it has the same central city center location.
There is a front desk, but it is not occupied 24-7, and that is exactly how the owner wants it. When he came up with Haawe Boutique Hotel he wanted to create something unique and never seen before. Well, believe me, he succeeded!
Before arrival you get the door code and the name and number of your room in your e-mail. So checking in is as easy as it gets, just arrive, find your room and enjoy.
Haawe Boutique Hotel has 14 different rooms, each with its own backstory. The décor of the rooms is inspired by the changing seasons, nature and natural phenomena of Lapland. All rooms have a fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher. Breakfast is included in the rates and comes as a do-it-yourself breakfast. The fridge is packed with healthy and delicious ingredients, way too much for the two of us!
The rooms are one of a kind, and have to be enjoyed. So we really loved the fact that we had to cook our own breakfast, and fully enjoy our special room.
We were given the JÄÄ Room, a luxurious ice cave with a spa like bath space. Privacy is key to Haawe, so they only clean your room if you specifically request them to do so by hanging the sign at the door.
Places to eat in Rovaniemi
Roka Street Bistro
Looking for bistro-style and street food made from the finest ingredients, full of authentic and original flavors? Roka Street Bistro in the center of Rovaniemi is your place to go! Roka provides a friendly, personal and intimate setting, neighborhood restaurant where they only offer the best. Our recommendation here are the ‘flavors from the South’ and ‘flavors from the North’ platters.
A small, urban neighborhood restaurant with a strong focus on seasonality, locality and hospitality in the heart of the capital of Finnish Lapland, restaurant Nabo is our top recommendation for when visiting Rovaniemi! It’s the number one place to go for some real fine dining. They offer a 7-course dinner with the best, freshest, seasonal and local ingredients. It’s truly art on your plate, and above all, delicious!
They offer three set menus, the Fauna menu honors the locally produced fish and meat, as well as the seasons best vegetables. The Flora menu is a vegan tribute to the North. You can also go for the Nabo menu, it lets you enjoy the combination of both menus.
As we travel as a couple, we got to enjoy both the Fauna and the Flora menu, and both were simply fantastic!
Traveltomtom’s Rovaniemi summer travel tips
As far as we’re concerned, Finland has the best quality tap water in the world! It is said that the tap water is of even better quality than the bottled water from the supermarkets. Make sure you bring a refillable bottle and enjoy the delicious tap water in Finland.
Undoubtedly the only drawback to summer in Finland are mosquitoes! Be wise and bring mosquito repellent or buy it as soon as you arrive in Finland, you’ll need it. Make sure to use it every time you go out, otherwise they will get you!
The Midnight Sun might keep you up all night, in our case, sleep just didn’t kick in. We spent a week in Lapland and had no more than about 4 hours of sleep each night. If you visit Rovaniemi in summer you might want to bring some sleep masks, no luxury, just necessary.
When it comes to bucket list worthy activities and experiences then Rovaniemi really is the place to go. Meeting Santa Claus, crossing the Arctic Circle and experiencing the Midnight Sun, just to name a few. I’m sure most of you have never heard of and thought about visiting Rovaniemi, but it has so much to offer and might just be the ultimate outdoor summer destination in Europe.
One of the most common responses we got when we said we were going to visit Rovaniemi and Lapland in Summer was; ‘Lapland in summer? I know it as a winter destination, but I don’t know about summer though’. That is exactly why Rovaniemi invited us as one of their Midnight Sun Ambassadors, to show us how awesome and great Summer in Lapland actually is. No tourists, no queues, not busy, it’s the perfect off the beaten track summer destination in Europe!
A massive thank you is in order here for Visit Rovaniemi for inviting us to Rovaniemi and organizing an amazing trip in Lapland.
This blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She was invited to be one of the 2022 Midnight Sun Ambassadors on behalf of Traveltomtom and visited Rovaniemi as part of that trip. She wrote this blog about her adventures and experiences in Santa’s Hometown.