Winter mornings in Rovaniemi can be incredibly dark and gloomy, but you can start off the day on a bright note at one of the city’s cafes. Café Koti serves breakfast from 7am for only €8 and includes porridge, yoghurt, home-made bread, eggs, local jam, and granola.
Afterwards, the first stop for most tourists will be the Santa Claus Village, which is about five miles from the town centre and can be reached by bus number eight or the Santa’s Express from the Rovaniemi bus station.
It may cater mostly to young children, but it is genuinely the best Christmas-themed tourist location in the world, with much care and attention taken to making it a truly magical experience for both children and adults. You can get a photo taken with Santa, visit the Christmas House museum, send a letter from the Post Office, or buy some locally made Christmas ornaments.
You can get some morning coffee at the Christmas House Restaurant and Coffee Bar and there are several good restaurants for lunch in the Village, including Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi, which is shaped like a Sami kota hut, and Santa’s Salmon Place, which cooks locally caught salmon on an open fire.
If you want to take things a little easier in the afternoon or try something classier, there are several museums to spend the afternoon wandering around and learning more about the local culture and environment. The Rovaniemi Art Museum in the Korundi House of Culture has a fine collection of contemporary art and international exhibits, while the Pilke Science Centre explores Rovaniemi’s natural history and logging heritage.
Architecture lovers should check out the administration and culture centre, which is comprised of the library, town hall, and Lappia Hall. Each of these buildings was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and are some of the best examples of modern Finnish architecture.
For an afternoon pick-me-up or a place to get out of the cold, try Choco Deli for delicious cakes or the Moomin Café for indulging in another Finnish childhood favourite, with pastries and drinks served with Moomin plates and mugs.
The sun sets early in Rovaniemi during the winter, as early as 2pm around midwinter, while in the summer it doesn’t set at all. Either way, this is a good time to visit the Arktikum museum. It has exhibits on Lapland’s nature and culture, and a glass ceiling that’s perfect for viewing the sky. If you’re lucky, you could get an early glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Most of Rovaniemi’s shops and attractions are closed by the evening, but the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs stay open late. Authentic Lappish food can be found at Restaurant Nili or Arctic Boulevard. For something particularly special, book a table at one of the ice restaurants, where the tables, chairs, bar, and even the drinking glasses are all carved entirely from ice.
During the winter, you’ll probably want to take the rare chance to see if the Northern Lights appear during your day in Rovaniemi. If you’re lucky enough to book a room in one of the igloo hotels, then you can take them in from the comfort of your own bed. Otherwise, there are several Northern Lights tours you can take, which usually include a dinner and stories around the campfire while waiting for the lights to appear.
In the summer, when the Midnight Sun lights up the sky all night long, you can take a night-time stroll beside the Kemijoki river or walk across the iconic ‘Lumberjack’s Candle’ bridge. It is both eerie and delightful to be able to walk around town safely in the middle of the night when the sky is still bright.