Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland and the ultimate Winter getaway! There’s snow on the ground for approximately six months of the year, which makes this European city feel like Christmas even in the off-season. Although the Coronavirus forced us to go home early, we were still able to enjoy many winter activities in just 48 hours. Without a doubt, we will be going back for more Nordic adventure!
When to Go
The best time to travel to Rovaniemi depends on what you are after – the constantly changing seasons all have their own characteristics and activities. Rovaniemi locals think their weather conditions are in a constant state of change and say there are up to eight seasons in a year: midwinter, snowy spring, spring, summer, harvest season, autumn leaf color, first snowfall, and Christmas.
I think that you can go to a lot of other Nordic countries in Spring and Summer and get a similar experience, but the winter experience in Lapland can’t be beat! Who wouldn’t want to go meet the “real” Santa Claus, take a Reindeer sled ride, and snowmobile through the forest?!?
The one winter activity that I was bummed for being closed was SantaPark. We wouldn’t have had time anyways since we had to leave early, but next time I visit, I would like to go during a time when it is open, which is end of June to early August for summer, and beginning of November to beginning of January for winter.
I, personally, would recommend visiting Rovaniemi in the Winter season. December and January are snowy months covered in the darkness of the Polar Night. The sun comes out in February and marks the start of the snowy, light-filled spring. March is often terrific for Northern Lights viewing, although unfortunately we were only there for two nights, and both nights it was snowing.
Christmas is a special time of year to visit the Official Hometown of Santa Claus, although be warned that hotels book up a year in advance. I do feel that it would even more festive and cheery closer to Christmas, as compared to when I went in March. But even in March, you can meet Santa Claus, hear Christmas music, and see elves at work.
Typical daytime temperatures in the winter:
- December: -20 to -10 degrees Celsius (-4 to 14 F)
- January: -30 to -15 degrees Celsius (-22 to 5 F)
- February: -20 to -15 degrees Celsius (-4 to 5 F)
- March: -15 to -5 degrees Celsius (5 to 23 F)
April is still considered a snowy month in Rovaniemi and Lapland, but the snow gradually disappears as May approaches. The ice on rivers and lakes starts melting, and big chunks of ice can be seen flowing downstream. In early April, the last of the Northern Lights displays can be seen. Towards the end of April, nights are too light for the Auroras to be spotted. In May, northern nature starts getting ready to blossom once again after a harsh winter.
Typical daytime temperatures in the spring:
- April: 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (41 to 50 F)
- May: 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 F)
The Midnight Sun period officially lasts from early June until early July, but night are white throughout the summer. The warmest time of year brings people out in masses to celebrate various events until the wee hours, as the sun never goes down.
Typical daytime temperatures in the summer:
- June: 15 to 20 degrees Celsius (59 to 68 F)
- July: 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (68 to 77 F)
Early August is still considered summer by many, but by the end of the month, it’s definitely autumn in Lapland. The Northern Lights start appearing in late August, and September and October are ideal Aurora viewing months. Temperatures start dropping below zero in October, and first snow usually falls at around the same time period. A permanent snow cover is expected in late November.
Typical daytime temperatures in the autumn:
- August: 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 F)
- September: 5 to 15 degrees Celsius (41 to 59 F)
- October 0 to 10 degrees Celsius (32 to 50 F)
- November: -10 to 5 degrees Celsius (14 to 41 F)
Where to Stay
When visiting Rovaniemi, I suggest staying in one of the accommodations located within walking distance of Santa Claus Village. Majority of your time will probably be spent here, so it is worth staying at one of the three conveniently located accommodations below.
Santa Claus Holiday Village
I stayed in the cute cottages in Santa Claus Holiday Village. The hotel greeted us straight away by picking us up from the airport and transporting us for free to our cottage, where we dropped our bags off before heading to reception. When we arrived to the cottages, I felt like I was in a Hallmark Christmas movie! The cabins are designed with traditional Finnish style. Each room has its own sauna, kitchen, and lovely Christmas tree on the porch. The holiday season was over, but it still felt like a Christmas Winter Wonderland!
Santa Claus Holiday Village has 144 apartments in total. The reception is open 24/7 and has a desk just for tour bookings. You can choose between the classic or superior cottages or suites. All options include a free buffet breakfast. The location is fantastic as it is only 10 minutes from the center of Rovaniemi, 5 minutes from the airport, and a 2 minute walk to visit Santa Claus! The staff was always cheery and helpful. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and highly recommend it for everyone considering a mid-budget accommodation. It was definitely a beautiful, romantic place that was super cozy.
Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle
About a 10-minute walk from Santa’s Village, the Igloo Hotel should be considered if you are wanting a good view of the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. The igloos are essentially studios with glass windows and ceilings covering half of the building, with a bathroom and closet near the entrance. The igloos offer enough privacy with curtains that can be pulled to cover the windows, while still allowing for an excellent and unobstructed view of the sky. The great thing about this option is that you can sleep and wait for the aurora alarm to wake you up if/when the northern lights are visible.
There are 71 glass igloos that intended for year-round use, although beginning of September to Mid-April is the Aurora Borealis Season that most people book the igloos for. There is a shuttle bus that can take you to Santa Claus Village and Rovaniemi City Center. The hotel also has it’s own restaurant called Santa’s Igloos Arctic Eye Restaurant, which offers tastes of Lapland and the North, with an international twist.
The Glass Resort provides premium accommodation in Santa Claus Village. It is nestled amidst the natural beauty of the Arctic Circle and only a minutes walk away to the attractions and services of Santa Claus Village. The 24 glass apartments offer a luxurious alternative to enjoying the spectacular northern skies, while relaxing in a hot tub or snuggling in bed. Each apartment features a private hot tub, private sauna, and tremendous nature view.
Santa Claus Village
Santa Claus Village is the perfect place to go if you are in need of some Christmas Cheer! There is no cost to enter Santa Claus Village. It’s a large open area with a variety of attractions throughout the park. Almost everyone that travels to Finland wants to plan a trip to see the northern lights, cross the Arctic Circle, and meet Father Christmas. All of this, and more, can be done in Santa Claus Village!
The Arctic Circle is a circle of latitude that runs 66°33’45.9” north of the Equator. It marks the southernmost latitude where the sun can stay continuously below or above the horizon for 24 hours – known as the Midnight Sun in the summer and the Polar Night in the winter.
In Rovaniemi, the Arctic Circle runs through Santa Claus Village, located eight kilometers north of the city center, where it’s clearly marked. You can even get a certificate to confirm that you have been within the Arctic Circle.
Check out the live webcam here where you can view the main square of Santa Claus Village, crossed by the magical Arctic Circle!
It’s well known that Santa’s home in the North Pole is much further north than Lapland and pretty much inaccessible to us regular humans. So Santa established his office in Rovaniemi. It is a beautiful building that sits in the middle of the main square in Santa Claus Village. Once you enter the large doors, you will walk through a dark, lit-up room full of packages that leads to Santa’s desk. You will then walk past a monstrous swinging pendulum clock where it displays the countdown to Christmas. Up the stairs is where you will join a line to enter Santa’s office and meet Santa!
Santa’s office is a large festive studio filled with bright lights, an expert photographer elf, and of course Father Christmas himself. If you don’t want to spend any money on seeing Santa, you do not have to buy images. You are unable to take your own photos in the room though. However, at Santa Park, you can take your own photos with Santa at no extra charge.
Another place that you can meet Santa Claus is at Christmas House, which features Christmas traditions from different parts of the world. You can visit Santa Claus here every day of the year. Entrance is free, but photos must be purchased. There are a couple different photo packages that you can choose from, starting from 10 euros for just a photo print. I chose the 40 euro package, which included two postcards, a medium photo, a large photo, and two certificates (meeting Santa Claus and crossing the Arctic Circle). The Christmas House also has a large gift shop and is where you will go to eat breakfast if you are staying in a cottage at Santa Claus Holiday Village. Everyone is also welcome in the restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Santa’s Official Post Office
When children all over the world send a letter to Santa, this is where it ends up! Santa Claus receives around half a million letters to his post office at the Arctic Circle every year. The post office has a cozy atmosphere where you can sit down and write your greetings to your friends and family all over the world. The cheerful Postal Elves will post your greetings for you, whether it’s Christmas or the middle of summer!
All post will be stamped with the special Arctic Circle postmark. It is a full-service post office, so you can also leave your parcels and other mail with them to be delivered to its destination. I got to pick between four different stamps before putting my postcards in the box.
There are two different options for your letters and post cards, a red box and a yellow box. Everything that gets put in the red box will be held onto and sent to arrive for Christmas time. It will be a nice surprise when I receive the postcard in December that I sent myself in March. I also sent a couple to family as well that they will receive for Christmas.
Santa’s Gift House
Santa’s Gift House is located in the middle of the Village. This building, representing a unique architecture and crossed by the Arctic Circle line, is definitely worth visiting for your souvenir needs. Its various boutiques and restaurants are a great destination for shopping or for a lunch or coffee break.
There are surprisingly a ton of options for food and drink within Santa Claus Holiday Village. Since I was only there for less than 48 hours (due to the Coronavirus sending us home early), I only got to have three meals apart from the free breakfast buffet each morning at the Christmas House restaurant.
Mrs. Santa Claus’ Christmas Cottage
Join Mrs. Claus and her elves for a delicious lunch in her very own Christmas cottage! While enjoying the quaint atmosphere, you can have a nice talk with her and feel the spirit of Christmas all year long. Traditional Finnish dishes are served as a buffet from Monday to Friday from 11AM to 2PM (may vary depending on time of year). While you eat your lunch, you can enjoy the live music performed by the elves.
Santa’s Cuisine Restaurant
Santa’s Cuisine restaurant is located in Santa Claus Holiday Village. They offer a mixture of dishes. It is a cozy restaurant that is nicely decorated and has a rooftop that changes colors. This restaurant is not open in the off-season. We ate there on their last night of the season so it was pretty empty.
Three Elves Restaurant & Lobby Bar
The Three Elves Restaurant serves customers in the main building in Santa Claus Village. It was the most crowded out of the three restaurants. Again, it features Lappish dishes. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as drinks and coffee. They have a nice terrace that can be enjoyed in the summer time. My favorite drink that I discovered was the Christmas-politan…absolutely delicious!!
There are so many different activities to keep you busy from the time you walk up until you are super tired and need to get some sleep before doing it all again! Whatever time of year you visit, there are various activities for all ages. Take a look on Viator or Get Your Guide to get some ideas. A lot of activities should probably be booked in advance, especially during the busy season. However, there are a ton of activities that you can do without a booking or even a last-minute booking. I like Viator and Get Your Guide because it allows you to cancel for free up until 24 hours of your tour (some exceptions apply – like our Husky tour which was non-refundable).
Reindeer Sled Ride
I originally had a reindeer farm experience booked through Viator. However, when I got to Santa Claus Village, I realized that you could do Reindeer sledding right in the park. You can enjoy reindeer rides (throughout winter and in spring) right in the backyard of Santa Claus Office. They also organize reindeer Northern Lights safaris, which takes place about 20 km south of Santa Claus Village.
You have a few different options for sleigh rides with Santa Claus Reindeer:
- 400 m – Adults 18€ Children 14€
- 1000 m – Adults 29€ Children 23€
- 3 km – Min. 2 People – Ask for prices and start times for your group
We wanted to do the 3 km sled ride to get the most out of our time. It cost 70€ each and was ready to go in an hour of ask asking. This was cheaper than the Viator booking I originally had, which I was able to cancel for free more than 24 hours out. However, it didn’t include as much as the excursion would’ve. If you wish to to hear about their way of life from a guide as you eat ginger cookies and drink hot juice around a fire, then you should book through a tour company. The sled ride was still an amazing experience. It felt so magical taking in the forest scenery as our reindeer pulled us on the sleigh.
Snowmobile Aurora Safari
Arctic Circle Snowmobile Park is a Finnish family business based in the Santa Claus Village. They organize various snowmobile safari programs for individuals, families, and groups. They have an excellent individual approach and really value great customer service. I booked the Aurora Borealis Snowmobile Safari & BBQ tour on Viator and was very pleased with the experience, despite not seeing the northern lights.
The tour started at 8PM and lasted approximately 3 hours. Our guide arrived at our accommodation to pick us up and take us to the Snowmobile center. He was very kind and started off by asking us if we wanted to reschedule as it was snowing and there wasn’t a change of seeing the auroras. Unfortunately, it was our last night so we told him that we still wanted to do the snowmobiling. We went to the office to sign a waiver and present our driving license (don’t forget these!). They provide warm/waterproof clothing and a helmet.
It was really beautiful, even at night with no auroras. There were a few stopping points to give us a break from driving, as your hands will get tired. If there are two of you then you will take turns driving. One of the stopping points was in the middle of a frozen lake. This is where I took over and accidentally tipped the snowmobile while trying to turn around…whoops!! It left me with a huge bruise on my thigh to show for it, which I didn’t realize until I got back to my accommodation (probably due to the embarrassment). After flipping the snowmobile, it wouldn’t start back up and we were stranded in the middle of a frozen lake in the middle of the night. Honestly though, it was very peaceful. Thankfully we were able to get the snowmobile started again after about 20 minutes (flipping it the opposite way did the trick…who would’ve thought). I decided just to ride passenger the rest of the night – it’s not like an ATV or Jet Ski.
Halfway through the tour, we were taken to a hut for a BBQ. Sausages and corn were offered, along with hot drinks. The guide was willing to offer any information about the auroras. We finished our tour around 11PM.
After we found out that we had to return home early due to the Coronavirus, I was super devastated that I wouldn’t get to do the Husky Sledding tour that I had booked on Viator. I was determined to figure out a way to go husky sledding before our 12PM flight the next day. It was 5PM when I started the search so the husky parks were already closed for the day. However, one of the safari booking buildings in Santa Claus Village let us know that BearHill Husky would open at 10AM the next morning. I typically arrive to airports two hours in advance so didn’t think this was going to help any. I felt defeated, but decided to take a walk down to BearHill Husky, which is about a 5 minute walk from Santa Claus Village. When I arrived, we saw that there was a lady feeding the dogs. She walked up to us and we asked her if there was any way that we would be able to get on a husky sled immediately at 10AM. She said that she could make it work.
Although majority of the dogs appear to not be huskies, the dogs were still very cute and great at their job! The shortest sled ride is 2km for 40€ and takes about 7 minutes. After bargaining with our hotel to pick us up right at 10:20 from BearHill Husky (we were the only customers that needed an airport transfer), we were all set to make the husky sledding happen! We arrived at 9:45 just to ensure she hadn’t forgotten and were relieved to see her harnessing the dogs, just for us! We set off on our husky sled ride at 10:02 AM and were inside the airport by 10:23 AM…how crazy is that! We made our flight with plenty of time to spare and had such an awesome time sledding through the forest. While we were sledding, the husky musher was able to tell us a little bit about the 12 dogs that were pulling us. It takes about two years to train the dogs. I think Mila and Jet could do it if they were able to learn from experienced dogs…otherwise, no chance (SQUIRREL)!
The next time I’m in Lapland, I will definitely do another husky sledding tour. I really want to drive my own team of huskies into the wilderness, like the 10km tour I originally had booked. If you decide to go with the 3 hour tour, you will share one sled with two people. After learning how to be a musher, you will take turns driving. After husky sledding, hot drinks and cookies are provided while you listen to interesting stories about the husky and musher’s lifestyle.
What We Didn’t Get to Do
As I’ve mentioned a couple times, the Coronavirus outbreak resulted in us having to leave Finland early and return home for work restrictions. Our time was cut short, but we plan to go back and do the things we weren’t able to do on this trip 🙂
SantaPark Arctic World is only during certain months of year, and March is unfortunately not one of them. SantaPark is an indoor Christmas theme park full of lots of fun and excitement for all ages! Here you can hop on the magic train and travel through the enchanting worlds, earn your very own diploma in Elf School, cross the Arctic Circle underground and enter the cool realm of the Ice Princess, feel the crispy breath of winter in the Ice Gallery, enjoy the jolly Elf Show on the main stage, send your Christmas greetings at their own buzzing Post Office, Decorate cookies in the cozy kitchen of Mrs. Gingerbread, and sit on Santa’s lap. Summer season lasts from June 27th-August 8th and Winter Season lasts from November 7th until January 9th. Check out the website for more details.
Snow Hotel and Ice Restaurant
Another booking that we sadly had to cancel was a tour of the Snow Hotel and dinner at the Ice Restaurant, which we booked on Get Your Guide. On this tour you will take a tour through the hotel and its Actic curiosities, like the snow sauna. You will learn about the structure’s constructions, operations, and special features from a guide and have the chance to order a shot served in a glass made from ice from the ice bar. Then you will have a unique dinner in the ice restaurant. Built from snow and ice, the restaurant provides a special setting for an unforgettable dinner. You get to choose your dinner from four different main course options, which come with soup and finished off with dessert.
Snowman World Winter Zone has the best playgrounds in Santa Claus Village! You can have fun with the real snowmen and speed down the daring ice slides. We saw people doing this and it looked so fun! You can ice skate here as well! All necessary equipment is included in the entrance fee. The same ticket grants you entrance to the Ice Restaurant and Ice Bar, where you can marvel at amazing ice sculptures. We would’ve had time for it if we had known our trip was being cancelled sooner, as we originally planned on saving it for another day. Winter Zone is open from December to March.