Magical is a description that’s much bandied about but in Rovaniemi’s case, it’s an apt one. The capital of Lapland and the ‘official’ terrestrial residence of Father Christmas is surrounded by haloed steppes and is lit up at night by the Aurora Borealis. Unique it most certainly is.
Santa Claus Village is 8km to the north of Rovaniemi and is a tourist trap if ever there was one, but nevertheless it’s worth a visit if it’s your first trip to the city. Along with meeting the man himself, there’s toboggan runs for the children as well as a ‘village’ packed with shops selling kitsch Santa-themed memorabilia. A short walk from the village is SantaPark (Tarvantie 1), a recently renovated underground theme park.
There’s no shortage of ways to see the steppes near Rovaniemi: reindeer, husky and snowmobile are just some of the options available. And it’s well worth leaving the city behind, for Rovaniemi is set in the heart of some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable. Fir copses pockmark rolling tundra that extends in every direction as far as the eye can see, while the River Kemijoki cuts a swathe through the hills and offers the promise of ice-fishing. If time permits, head south to Poro-Pekan Pirtti, a traditional peat sauna on the banks of the Ounasjoki River, to unwind after a long day’s exploring.
Rovaniemi’s unusual reindeer-shaped street plan is the legacy of the retreating Wehrmacht who razed the city in 1944. The rebuilt city isn’t the prettiest but it does have a wealth of excellent museums and a conveniently compact centre. Highlights include the Arktikum (Pohjoisranta 4), a brilliant museum dedicated to Lappish culture and Arctic survival through the ages, and the Rovaniemen Taidemuseo (Lapinkävijäntie 4), a gallery dedicated to contemporary Finnish art.