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Things to do in Rovaniemi in the summer

What do you think of when you hear the word “Lapland”?

Reindeer, cold, snow, huskies pulling dogsleds?

The reindeer stands in a grassy field somewhere in Finnish Lapland. It is grazing and has enormous antlers extending forward and backwards on its head.
a reindeer, somewhere in northern Finland

All of that is true, of course, though in reality the dogsleds are mostly for tourists these days; locals are more inclined to use 4x4s or snowmobiles.

If you ever venture this far north, the town of Rovaniemi, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, is, in effect, the capital of Finnish Lapland.


Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I received a media discount at the Arctic Light Hotel, as well as a free Culture Pass and a free meal at the hotel’s Arctic Restaurant. This was all part of the #visitrovaniemi #RovaniemiSummerAmbassador campaign. Nevertheless, all opinions stated here are my own and #visitrovaniemi had no influence over what I have written.

Additionally, this article contains affiliate links. If you click on one of them and make a purchase, I will get a cut of what you pay. This will not influence your price.


Things to do in Rovaniemi in winter

Rovaniemi is a popular destination for tourists in the wintertime. People go to Rovaniemi to experience the Northern Lights, dog-sledding, hiking, cross-country-skiing, and other cold weather activities. Some base their stay in Rovaniemi and make day trips into the wooded landscape, while others just pass through on their way to wilderness camps and lodges in the woods.

Things to do in Rovaniemi in summer

One of the goals of #visitrovaniemi is to attract more people during the summers as well as in the wintertime. After my husband and I finished our Hurtigruten cruise up the coast of Norway, our plan was to drive from the cruise’s endpoint, Kirkenes, Norway, straight south through Finnish Lapland and then down the east coast of Sweden. Rovaniemi was right on the way, so it seemed a good fit to take part in their #RovaniemiSummerAmbassador campaign.

While this town tends to just serve as a starting point for active travel into the wilderness, I was pleased to find that it has some other things worth seeing right in town. The three main museums are covered by the Rovaniemi Culture Pass, and we visited all three:

1. Arktikum Science Center and Museum

Arktikum is basically all about the Arctic, covering the natural world in its Science Center as well as Arctic people, their traditions and how they have changed over time in its Regional Museum of Lapland.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Arktikum. As seen from up a long staircase, the Arkticum building has an arched central entrance with a wing on either side. The building is a light pinkish brown color, and has high, multi-story windows.
Arktikum in Rovaniemi, Lapland

It is housed in a built-for-purpose structure, centered on a long, glass-covered hallway, partly below ground with doorways to the exhibit halls on either side. When we visited in early August, it was a brightly-lit space. I can imagine that in the winter it is especially atmospheric, particularly on clear nights if the northern lights are visible.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Arktikum. Ahead is a long, straight hallway with doors lining both sides. Above, the second story is an arched glass roof, the whole length of the hall. At the very end, far in the distance, a glass window is visible.
The central hall inside Arktikum. The exhibit halls are on either side.

Dramatically-lit walls and exhibits show large photos with brief explanations, interspersed with hands-on displays. As an example of these hands-on learning opportunities, in the section about the Arctic, visitors can turn a wheel to see short films about different aspects of its destruction.

In the section about Arctic wildlife, a wall case shows a series of taxidermied animals, which made me think “How old-fashioned!” at first glance. Then I noticed that a screen in front of the case lets visitors choose each animal to hear what sound it makes. Somehow this made it much more interesting than just looking at dead animals.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Arktikum. Pictured is a wall of glass-fronted cubes, each with a different small animal visible inside: a variety of birds and small animals including a hawk and a fox.
taxidermy animals in Arktikum

In a section addressing climate change, photos of glaciers can be slid right and left to compare their early 20th century form to their more recent form: a very shocking sight!

The section about nature in the Arctic includes all the major species: i.e. reindeer, both domesticated and wild; polar bears; various birds; elk; and lots of other animals, large and small.

A cultural exhibit tells all about the people of the Arctic, the politics of indigenous people, as well as alliances between the local Sami and other indigenous groups around the world. It describes the traditional as well as more modern way of life of the Sami people, including how reindeer herding works and how climate change has affected both animals and people in the far north. It covers Sami history and Arctic archeology.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Arktikum. On the right is a woman's outfit, with blue and red embroidered skirt, red tights, a white, very decorated poncho with fringes, and a conical red hat. The mans outfit next to it is in the same colors, but with dark, close-fitting pants and a shorter skirt. Instead of a poncho, a white scarf is around the neck and tucked into a highly decorated belt. The hat is also conical, but more richly embroidered than the woman's hat.
Sami clothing.

The museum gives understandable explanations of the northern lights and how they happen. An aurora borealis “show” involves a round, dark room with a slanted floor covered in cushions. Visitors lie down with their feet toward the center of the room and watch a film projected on the roof. In August, that was the closest I would get to seeing the northern lights.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Arktikum. This round image, edged by tiny pine trees, shows smears of green and orange, plus a sprinkling of stars.
A glimpse of the aurora borealis show

Rovaniemi’s recent history is also visible in the museum, with accounts of Olympic athletes raised there (ski jumping is particularly popular) and how the city was affected by World War II. Like many towns in northern Finland, it was bombed by the Germans in its “scorched earth” punishment of Finland for signing an armistice with Moscow.

In a section on the oil industry in the Arctic, a table piled with wooden blocks sets the task to create an oil pipeline, testing it using balls to roll down the “pipe” to make sure the “oil” flows properly. With activities like this, Arktikum is very child-friendly: lots of buttons to push, videos to watch and even a video game. It might be a frustrating visit for parents, who’d want to linger more over some of the exhibits. We could have spent far more time than we did; nevertheless, in the couple of hours we spent in Arktikum, we learned a lot.

2. Pilke Science Center

While Pilke is called a science center, that’s not really what it is. Arktikum covers the science pretty thoroughly. Pilke is really only about northern forests and forestry.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Pilke science center. The building is large and modern and partly built into a hill on the left. The bottom story is white, while the 4 floors above are dark brown. A piece of the top floor extends out over the entrance: a little porch, I think.
Pilke is right next to Arktikum.

The exhibits cover local trees and their varieties, the ecology of the forests (86% of Finland is forest!), but also how forestry is carried out through planting and thinning and generally controlling the forests. It moves on to how the wood is harvested, what it’s used for, new materials being developed from wood products, etc. and then to how it is recycled and reused.

Among the things to do in Rovaniemi is to visit Pilke science center. A big open space several stories tall, seen from above. Tables dot the floor and other things, not very clear from here, hang on the walls. A long, straight wood-sided stairway slants down on the right.
Looking down on the main hall of Pilke science center in Rovaniemi.

This museum leans even more toward interactive exhibits than Arktikum. Most seem aimed at children, but we found them interesting too. Arranged around one big multi-story hall, each one stands on a table or hangs on the wall. Almost everything is hands-on, so I could enjoy the feel of the different woods, wood-based products and even toilet papers.

Five toilet paper dispensers arranged in a row are labelled with how many layers they have and how strong the paper is.
toilet papers, compared.

We laughed a lot trying out a simulator, driving the machine they cut trees with, but very badly. We (and other adults visiting at the same time) got in touch with our inner child, moving from table to table and trying all the buttons, screens and dials. We stopped short of actually settling down on the floor to build a transport system with blocks or climbing into the huge tractor and pretending to drive it.

Close-up of a single gear with a handle in the middle, labelled "Engineering construction products."
In this activity, visitors can arrange gears representing parts of the whole chain of production of wood products. They form a puzzle to make the whole process work.

Clearly the place is very child-friendly. When we visited, soon after opening time, there were few people and we could enjoy the activities. I can imagine that if it was crowded with children, that big space could get pretty loud, and you’d have to wait your turn on the more popular activities.

3. Korundi House of Culture

Culture House Korundi is in a large pre-war building, a rarity in this part of Finland, since most of Rovaniemi was leveled by the Germans at the end of WWII. Built in 1933, it was a post bus depot, but has been redesigned for its current use: to house the Rovaniemi Art Museum and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra.

Both paintings show women sitting on chairs. Both are in bright colors and ordinary backgrounds. The woman on the left has long reddish-brown hair, wears a mostly black dress and black tghts, and sits, looking a bit awkward, on a red sofa. She looks to the side. In the Hiltunen painting, the woman looks very relaxed, with one foot up on the big flowered armchair she sits in, her arm leaning on her knee. She has long blond hair and wears a short bright red dress. She stares straight out of the picture, a bold but somewhat bored expression on her face.
Two large paintings in Korundi. The one on the left is by Pauliina Turakka Purhonen and is called “Kaisa.” The one on the right is “Woman on a chair,” by Jenni Hiltunen.

The museum features big, beautiful open spaces highlighting some wonderful contemporary art by Finnish artists I’d never heard of. Some of it is very powerful.

We meant to just take a quick look, but the art was of such consistently high quality and so well displayed that we ended up wandering all of the gallery rooms.

 A life-sized figure of a pig looks at its own image in a wall-sized mirror. Other artworks are visible, reflected and distorted in the mirror.
The pig and the mirror make up “What’s Life Anyway” by Jyllha Pekka.

Unlike the other museums, this museum is not child-friendly. My art-loving daughter would have enjoyed it as a child, but only as a quick walk-through, with our go-to question whenever visiting an art museum with her: “Which is your favorite artwork in this room?” A quick decision, perhaps a brief explanation of why it’s the chosen work (“Because it’s got lots of pink!”), and then move on to the next room. Your mileage may vary; we tried the same strategy with our son and it was a complete failure.

While the Culture Pass just covers these three museums, one other attraction is definitely worth mentioning, and it’s why most visitors go to Rovaniemi:

4. Santa Claus Village

Located right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi bills itself as “the official hometown of Santa Claus”. This may seem very Christmassy, but I guess Santa needs to live somewhere in the summertime too!

Santa Claus Village is a theme park of sorts, built around Santa Claus. Besides meeting the man himself, visitors can see Santa’s reindeer, stay in accommodations in Santa Claus Village, shop for souvenirs, mail a postcard from Santa Claus’s post office, and take various “safaris” into the surrounding forests.

The right-hand building has a two-story, round entrance, with a tall peaked roof. It's painted dark red. The one on the right is lower and flatter, also red, and also with a small turret on the roof.
A couple of the Santa Claus Village buildings. The one on the right is where you can visit Santa.

Santa Claus Village is open all year. We only visited briefly during the day, but we did peek into where Santa Claus was meeting guests. The man playing Santa looked the part perfectly, but I was not allowed any photos, since they charge for them. The rather old-fashioned displays leading up to Santa Claus’s room surprised me. I guess I expected something more flashy and high-tech.

Summer activities in and around Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi itself is not particularly pretty, except for a pleasant riverside walk; as I’ve mentioned, much of it was destroyed in the war. Just like in the winter, the city is a good place to use as a home base for excursions out of town.

There are plenty of things to do outside Rovaniemi. Here are some of them:

Where to stay in Rovaniemi

We stayed in the Arctic Light Hotel, a boutique hotel which I have to say was truly outstanding. Decorated to an Arctic night theme, the décor is mostly quite dark, yet the cleverly-designed indirect lighting makes it cozy. The furniture is soft and fuzzy, accentuating that warm, cozy feel. (I should warn, though, that any strict animal activist might not be comfortable with the animal pelt carpets and antlers used as decoration.)

Dark, soft-looking sofas fill the center of the room, and wooden tables on the side hold magazines and lamps. In the background a bar is visible on the left, and a fireplace and stacks of wood on the right.
Part of the Arctic Light Hotel’s lobby.

The lobby is inviting, dotted with cozy sofas and armchairs in clusters, with a fireplace and a large pile of firewood in the corner. At check-in, we were handed a coupon for a welcome drink of blueberry juice at the bar across the lobby from reception.

A glassed-in “terrace” behind the lobby provides ample comfortable seating to enjoy a drink with friends.

In the foreground, a cluster of soft brown armchairs with cushions. In the background, tables with people sitting at them. A brown shelving unit divides the two spaces, and big windows let in lots of light.
Arctic Light Hotel’s terrace.

Our room, a “magic” double room, was beautifully decorated, including a small sitting area with big comfy chairs, a desk, a large flat-screen tv, and a big bed. It was, of course, spotlessly clean as well, with good blackout curtains: a necessity during the period of midnight sun.

We especially loved the wall of stars behind our bed, echoing the Arctic night theme, and the fact that we could control the various lights from panels on both sides of the bed. Ample outlets meant no need to move furniture to keep everything charged up.

The bed is made with white sheets and a white fuzzy blanket lies diagonally across it, with a small stuffed animal (a polar bear) sitting on it. A lot of pillows are piled at the head end of the bed, and the whole wall behind it is dark brown, but with small, star-shaped lights here and there.
a “magic” room in Arctic Light Hotel

The shower has both a normal shower head and a rain shower, with high-end amenities from a good brand, Rituals. My husband made use of the sauna, which is included in the room price, though it has to be reserved at the reception desk. He used one of the bathrobes and slippers provided in the room, and reported that the sauna was entirely satisfactory.

Breakfast at Arctic Light Hotel

The room comes with breakfast included, and that was also exceptional, created by a TV chef named Sara La Fontain. Besides all of the usual breakfast foods, both hot and cold, this breakfast emphasizes superfoods and their health benefits. A wide range of small glasses with interesting concoctions were arranged temptingly, things like a mango-chia pudding, a “super bee smoothie,” and yogurt with honey and homemade granola.

In the foreground, a row of neat containers, each with a spoon and a lable. The nearest says strawberry jam, the second is peanut butter, but there are many more in the row. Behind on a series of small shelves are small glasses of green, red or yellow liquid.
many spreads, and, behind them on the left you can see small glasses with various concoctions to drink.

As for spreads, besides the expected jams and Nutella and the like, I could choose from beetroot hummus, cream cheese with lox, or cream cheese with smoked reindeer, to name a few.

A variety of sweets, including “raw” cakes tempted me as well, though I have to say the raw cakes didn’t really do it for me: beautiful looking, but I didn’t like the texture. I did love that besides the usual orange or apple juice, I could have blueberry or cranberry, which I mixed for a delicious drink. Or I could take a cup of assorted berries to eat as they were or to dump into my yogurt (I did both.).

In the foreground, small squares of cake are yellow on what looks like a cookie later. Around them are occasional almonds and redcurrants. In the background, blurry, is another tray with dark brown squares of cake and redcurrants.
raw cakes at Arctic Light Hotel’s breakfast

Dinner at the Arctic Restaurant

The #visitrovaniemi campaign was kind enough to buy us dinner at the Arctic Light Hotel’s own Arctic Restaurant and that, too, was excellent. The restaurant emphasizes local cuisine: reindeer, king crab and salmon in particular. My king crab pasta was heavenly and Albert loved his “reindeer two ways.”

On a dark brown dish, a pile of wide pasta noodles with a creamy sauce and a sprinkling of watercress on top.
King crab pasta at Arctic Restaurant.

While the prices at the Arctic Restaurant are high, they weren’t as bad as we expected. Good restaurants at home in the Netherlands have similar or higher prices and the quality of our meal compared with the best of them. Your costs could run up quite quickly, however, if you drink alcohol, which is pricey everywhere in Scandinavia.

Albert, wearing a gray sweatshirt, smiles at the camera, holding his fork in one hand. In front of him is a dark brown plate with a pile of vegetables and meat in the center. In the foreground, a white bowl with salad.
My husband, Albert, was very happy with his “reindeer two ways.”

Visiting Rovaniemi

Getting there

Rovaniemi is in Lapland, an area that extends north into the Arctic Circle as well as east and west into Norway, Sweden and Russia.

We got there by car, taking two days to drive slowly south from Kirkenes: about seven hours’ driving in all. To give you an idea of where it is, it would take about 9-10 hours to drive to Rovaniemi from Helsinki. By train it would take longer: about 15-16 hours.

Rovaniemi’s airport, “the official airport of Santa Claus,” according to its website, is very busy, especially during the winter. Lots of airlines, both full-service and budget, fly there. From Helsinki, it’ll take about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The airport is about 10 km outside of the city center. See this page for the various public transportation options from the airport to town or directly to resorts. Alternatively, rent a car from the airport; several of the major car rental agencies have offices there.

Sights information

Rovaniemi’s culture pass costs €20 and is good for seven days. It includes admission to Pilke, Arktikum and Korundi.

Arktikum: Pohjoisranta 4, Rovaniemi. Open daily 10:00-18:00 in June-August, December, and the first half of January. The rest of the year it is closed on Mondays. €13.

Pilke: Ounasjoentie 6, Rovaniemi, right next to Arktikum. Open daily June-August (Monday-Friday 9:00-18:00 and Saturday-Sunday 10:00-16:00). In September-November and January-May, the hours are the same, except it is closed on Mondays. In December and the first week of January, the open hours are Monday-Friday 9:00-18:00 and Saturday-Sunday 10:00-18:00. Adult admission €7.

Korundi: Lapinkävijäntie 4, Rovaniemi, about a 10-minute walk from the center. Open all year Tue-Sun 11:00-18:00. On Thursday evenings, it stays open until 20:00 and admission is free from 18:00-20:00, except on public holidays. Admission €9.

Santa Claus Village: Tähtikuja 1 in Napapiiri, on route E75 about 8 km north of the city center. Bus 8 and “Santa’s express” run regularly between Rovaniemi city center and Santa Claus Village. Santa’s office is open daily: June-August 9:00-18:00; September-November and January-May 10:00-17:00; December until the first week of January 9:00-19:00. Other businesses on the site may have different opening hours. It is free to enter, but activities all cost something, including pictures with Santa.

Arctic Light Hotel: Valtakatu 18 in Rovaniemi. Prices for the “magic” room that we had vary from the mid- €130’s into the €200’s: it is their most basic room. Pricing depends on time of year and day of the week, and they book up far ahead.

Arctic Restaurant: Next to the Arctic Light Hotel. Mains vary from €18.50 for chanterelle pasta to €34.50 for “reindeer cooked two ways.”

Have you ever traveled to the Arctic Circle? When would you most like to see it: in the summer or the winter?

Pinnable image Text: Rovaniemi, Finland (in the summer) Image: a reindeer with enormous antlers, grazing.

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