Rovaniemi in winter was the highlight of our Nordic Trip. Located just south of the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, Rovaniemi was everything we had hoped for. In mid December, there is only just over two hours of actual daylight, although twilight ran from before 7:00am until 5:30pm. Temperatures are usually well below freezing, but for our trip, only dropped as low as -10 degrees C.
We flew Finnair into Rovaniemi, arriving around 4:30pm. The baggage collection hall is a tourist attraction in itself, with its displays. We hired one of the many taxis outside the airport and were at our hotel by 5:30. We stayed at the City Hotel, in the centre of town. Hotels book out quickly in December, so get in early, we had trouble finding somewhere to stay. We were lucky though, as this hotel was OK. The rooms were small and in need refurbishment, but the breakfast was excellent as was the location. Besides, we spent very little time in the hotel.
On the first evening, we went for a walk around town. Remember to bring warm clothes as the temperature if often below minus 20 degrees C. There had recently been a snow fall, so the town was very picturesque, with fresh snow covering everything. All the streets were well-lit and we felt very safe walking around. There were a few eating options, even the northern most MacDonald’s, if you really want a Big Mac.
Our first morning was dog sledding with Bear Hill Husky. We were picked up outside the hotel and driven by bus out of town. They have a great set-up, and provide all the gear you need, even socks and boots, so that yours don’t get wet. After a thorough safety talk, you get to meet your husky team. You ride in pairs, with one driving and the other riding in the sled. At the half way point, you swap, so that everyone gets to drive. Driving is quite tiring, as you spend a lot of time running, or pushing the sled when it gets stuck.
We had a brilliant time, with all the fresh snow and the enthusiastic dogs and a great trail through the trees. The guides made sure we were all safe and doing the right thing. Several were on snow mobiles, so they could ride back and forth to check us all.
After we finished and got changed, we had hot berry juice and biscuits, before being taken back into town.
We spent lunch time and a few hours until out next activity looking around Rovaniemi. There really isn’t too much to see in town itself, as we came for the activities.
Late afternoon, we were picked up for our snow mobile trip. Again, we were driven out of town and this time to the Santa Village, where they were based. Again, we were given all the gear we would need as well as a safety brief on the snow mobiles. Unlike the dog sled, we were a little disappointed with this one. The track was along a road, and the snow was very corrugated and bumpy, to the point of being uncomfortable. We had thought we were going off-road into fresh snow. Even so, snow mobiling at night in sub-zero temperatures was an excellent experience.
Early the next morning we were picked up by a local reindeer farmer, and taken out to his property. We had a 30 minutes ride on a reindeer sled, followed by ice fishing on a frozen lake. We actually caught fish, although none of them were big enough to eat. Quite an experience, drilling through the ice with an auger and dropping a fishing line in. After the fishing, we had a bar-b-que on the lake of reindeer sausages. The owner was very friendly and very happy to talk about his lifestyle, reindeer farming and heritage and was pleased we spent so much time there.
In the afternoon, we were dropped back at the Santa Village to walk around ourselves. This place is very popular at Christmas time, and is one of the main reasons some people go to Rovaniemi. We thought it was very touristy, but still had a good look around a queued up to see Santa and had photos taken with him. Whoever plays Santa does a great job, as he asks where you’re from and asks appropriate questions about your home country. All good fun.
There is also an “official” Santa’s post office if you want to send cards or letters. In the village is an official marking of the Arctic Circle, so you can take your picture standing in the Arctic.
Our last evening was spent at Arkitkum. This museum has an excellent series of displays on the Arctic, from human exploration, pre-history, the Suomi people and wildlife. There is also a section showing how much the town suffered during World War Two, with the German occupation.