Most people know just one city in Finland and that is naturally Helsinki. When I am thinking about traveling to a new country, I find it difficult to be really interested in visiting places of which I have no prior-born idea. So let me gently plant a city worth visiting into your thoughts, by using Game of Thrones analogy.
If you would be visiting Westeros, you would never plan a trip there to see only the capital – King’s Landing. You would certainly want to visit the North. And Rovaniemi is the Winterfell of Finland. Just substitute White Walkers and constant fear with Santa Claus, reindeers and a modern civilization.
When I was in Lapland it was a no-brainer that I would spend some time also in Rovaniemi, enjoying the urban side of Lapland. In a nutshell, Rovaniemi is a friendly, unpretentious, no-fuzz city with around 60 000 inhabitants. It has the northernmost university of Europe. This adds a touch of youth, science and internationality to a city which could be otherwise quite sleepy.
When it comes to sightseeing (and I am excluding here the obvious natural wonders), there are two things that stand out, in my opinion. Firstly, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus and you can visit him. Secondly, nearby is a nature-like Ranua zoo, specialized in Arctic fauna, which has the only polar bears living in Finland.
Sweet dreams in Rovaniemi
Arctic Light Hotel and Sokos Hotel Vaakuna I can personally recommend for great customer service, delicious breakfast and lovely rooms. Lately I have also read inspired reviews about the design and quality of Hostel Koti in the Finnish magazines. All three hotels in the city centre.
Eating out in Rovaniemi
Have lunch, drinks and light snacks at Bar 21. Great homemade waffles and laid-back, trendy atmosphere.
Enjoy juicy burgers and local flair at Kauppayhtiö.
Brunch at Arctic Light Hotel. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to enjoy this delicious buffet!
Dine at Nili. What an romantic experience with a Lappish twist. This restaurant was full on that Tuesday evening, so I suggest to book a table in advance. Crazy good food with authentic arctic flavors. Another dinner restaurant worth mentioning is Monte Rosa. Lovely service and good-quality steaks.