You know it’s funny. A few months ago when we told people we’re going to Finland, their reactions were rather mediocre. Why winter in Finland? why not Switzerland or Norway?
What most of you don’t know about us is the fact that when it comes to choosing holiday destinations we pick the most underrated locations; places that not many have been to, and try and show you the beauty of these locations through our eyes.
It’s safe to say to that most of you are convinced on making Finland your next winter destination after being a part of our journey, and we’re here to help you plan what we think would be the “trip of your lifetime”.
Where in Finland?
Definitely not the capital. Helsinki is where the city life is but that shouldn’t be your priority when you’re visiting this beautiful Nordic country. Instead, spend your days at Rovaniemi. You get to experience what it feels like to be living in the Arctic Circle, you could possibly get a chance to witness the Northern Lights and the best part – you get to live in Santa Claus’ hometown! It’s literally Christmas 365 days of the year there and honestly – if that doesn’t convince you, we don’t know what will!
Best Time to visit Rovaniemi:
If you’re going to travel all the way up north, you can’t leave without seeing the Northern Lights. And the best time to witness the magic of Lady Aurora would be during the months of October to February. Bear in mind that the temperatures will be drastically cold, especially during the nights, so you’ll need to carry a lot of thick clothing and thermals. However, if the cold isn’t your thing, then experiencing the Midnight Sun is a charm of its own and one of the most iconic of Finnish natural phenomena during Summer. Late at night, the sun briefly dips beyond the horizon before rising up again, which gives you 24 hours of sun – Imagine! We were told the last 10 days of June would be the best time to witness the Midnight Sun in Rovaniemi, with 24th June being the longest day, so you might want to plan your holiday around that time. But honestly, if it were up to us, winter triumphs summer in Lapland, hands down.
Now, this is what most of you are keen on finding out, and you’re going to be surprised. Yes, we know words like “the North” and “Arctic Circle” sound fancy and ridiculously expensive but trust us, getting there is easier than you think. The best and cheapest airline to get to Finland would be via Norwegian Air. The flights go directly to Helsinki (about a six-hour journey) and are relatively comfortable. Once you land at Helsinki, there are quite a few flights to Rovaniemi and it only takes an hour. So if you look at it, your travel time from Dubai is not that long. We caught a 5 am flight from Dubai and landed Rovaniemi at 1 pm (which included a 2-hour stopover at Helsinki). The tickets tend to get either sold out or way too expensive if you book them closer to your travel dates, which is why we recommend booking them way in advance. We booked ours in September (our holiday was in Jan) and it cost us about Dhs1,800 per person inclusive of international and domestic flights.
Staying at the Santa Claus Holiday Village:
Now the biggest mistake people make when looking for accommodation options in Rovaniemi is that they consider it be any other European city, and book their stay at the city center. If there’s one thing you need to know about Rovaniemi, it’s the fact that the beauty of this city lies beyond the city center.. way beyond. To be blunt, the city center is good for dining options and that’s about it. You’re not going to get any fabulous views, or come across any sort of architectural beauty; it’s basically very basic. HOWEVER. Staying at the Santa Claus Holiday Village a few kilometers away from the city center and only a 5-minute drive away from the airport will ultimately define your entire Arctic circle experience.
Here are a few things we absolutely ADORE about the Santa Claus Holiday Village:
– They’ve got cottages! Now we can’t stress this enough but you NEED to stay in a wooden cottage in Rovaniemi to experience true Lappish living. And no one does ‘Cottage Life’ better than Santa Claus Holiday Village. One basic cottage there is enough for a family of two kids to live in – it’s that spacious. PLUS, you get your very own sauna! WIN!
– It’s secluded and surrounded by forests. Something we yearn for, having been brought up in a city. So imagine stepping out of your cottage and going on long scenic walks. The feeling of peace and tranquility is hard to put into words. It’s just something you need to experience for yourself.
– It’s situated ON the Arctic Circle. So you can actually tell people you lived in the Arctic Circle and the village also provides you a certificate for crossing the circle. Coolest souvenir right?
– It’s where Santa Claus lives. Believe it or not, if you stay at the Santa Claus Village, Santa’s probably chilling only a couple hundred meters away. Tourists from all over Rovaniemi travel miles to meet him and luckily for you, he stays right in your vicinity.
– It’s got a husky farm, reindeer tracks and some of the best restaurants in Rovaniemi. Yep, we said Husky and yep, we know you’re sold.
With regards to costs, it varies depending on the season. If you’re planning to go during the peak season that’s between November to February (like we did), we strongly recommend booking your stay 5 to 7 months in advance since the cottages get sold out quick. Moreover, if you’d like to celebrate Christmas in Rovaniemi, which is hands down their busiest time, then booking a year in advance is definitely the way to go. It cost us close to Dhs1,000 per night for a standard cottage including breakfast for three people. Yes, it’s slightly expensive but boy is it so SO worth it.
For those of you who have followed our journey long enough, you’d realize by now that we’re not the kind of couple to go on tours and do touristy stuff, but rather lead the local life. That’s what according to us is the real essence of traveling. But Rovaniemi is an exception, especially if you’re a city kid like us. We’re listing out a few MUST TRY activities with prices and we firmly believe that you can’t leave Lapland without trying them out!
– Husky Safari:
This is definitely going to make your heart sing with joy and by the time you’re done with it, you’re probably going to hit depression and wish you never had to leave Rov. Imagine being taken to a farm filled with at least a hundred huskies, all excited to be pet by you and thrilled to take you for a sleigh ride. Nope, we’re not kidding. We booked our husky safari from the Santa Claus Village reception itself – they’ve got a lot of husky safari options to choose from, but we’d recommend the 45-minute safari for EUR 120 approx per person. Apart from the cuteness overload, the safari itself is rather breathtaking. They take you through the forest and onto a massive frozen lake providing you with a surreal experience like no other.
– Ice Fishing:
It costs about EUR 75 per person, and you get to experience chilling on a frozen lake (literally), manually drilling a hole through a one-meter layer of ice and hoping to catch some fish. There are a lot of tour companies that offer Ice Fishing packages, but we booked our trip with Beyond Arctic – one of the best expedition tours in the region. Our fishing guide Markus picked us up from Santa Claus Holiday Village and drove us to the city center where their office is. Once we arrived, we got dressed, packed our bags with all the gear we’d need, and set straight for the frozen lake. Drilling the hole wasn’t easy, but it was an experience to remember and after about 45 minutes of fishing, Markus set up a campfire and we spent our afternoon grilled sausages, drinking hot chocolate and gazing at the beauty of the frozen lake. Bliss.
– Reindeer Ride:
Now, this isn’t an absolute MUST TRY, but if you’re a 90’s kid and spent your entire childhood watching Disney cartoons and reading fairy tales, then you ought to do this for the sake of your inner-child. You can get your reindeer fix at Santa Claus Village itself and it costs about EUR 18 for a 400m ride. The reindeers are absolutely adorable and you end up with really cute pictures too. Plus the ride makes you feel like you’re transported to a scene from Frozen so yay!
– Northern Lights Hunt:
We suppose the majority of you reading this have quickly scrolled right through the entire post to end up here. Right? We don’t blame you. Witnessing the magical dance of Lady Aurora is an experience of a lifetime. Whoever’s managed to catch the beauty of the Northern Lights will agree with us when we say no amount of words or pictures will ever do justice to how magnificent the Aurora truly is. Of course, standing in the middle of a frozen lake at minus 18 degrees and gazing into the sky as you witness something this enchanting is a milestone of its own, but honestly, it’s the entire journey of chasing the lights that makes it so exhilarating. Which is precisely why you need to be super careful when it comes to picking your Northern Lights Hunter. We did a lot of research and we even sought the opinions of some locals, and all directions were pointing to Beyond Arctic. They’ve got by far the highest success rate, and are reputed for taking their customers to places up north that not many Aurora tours take you to. Basically, they’re the best of the best. And considering the fact that this is a photography expedition, you’d be rest assured to get some pretty spectacular pictures. Prepare for a lot of shuffling between different locations, extreme cold, walking through thigh-high snow and having your faces frozen. It’s an adventurous journey that will make it to the top of your life’s travel highlights. The entire experience costs EUR 125 per person and that’s a STEAL!
Where My Food At – Lappish Edition.
We’re just going to put it out there – the food at Rovaniemi is by far one of the best we’ve had in terms of quality and flavor. The ingredients are super simple, the technique isn’t complicated, but the freshness of the produce is what makes the difference. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew (literally) when it came to trying out different dishes around Rovaniemi, only to give YOU a list of the best places to try and what to order from there 🙂
TOP 4 PLACES TO EAT IN ROVANIEMI:
4. Ravintola Roka:
Located right in the middle of the city center, Ravintola Roka is one of the most popular street food eateries in Rovaniemi and serve some of the best sandwiches we’ve had in a while. Roka’s got two menus – a bistro menu and a street food menu, but the latter one is more popular. We tried the Pork and Chips (EUR 10) which is tender and juicy pork belly braised overnight and served with a side of fries and slaw, and we also tried their signature Roka Special ‘Wich (EUR 13) which is a generously filled sandwich stuffed with Finnish minced steak, fried chorizo sausage, manchego cheese, chimichurri sauce, and chili mayonnaise. So good!
3. Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi:
The restaurant is located at the Santa Claus Village, right next to the reindeer rides, and gets its name from ‘Kota’ which is the Finnish name for a Lappish hut. We love the look and feel of this restaurant, with a massive wood fire burning in the middle of the restaurant. As for the food, they serve traditional Finnish cuisine with fine dining presentations. We tried their Salmon Soup (EUR 10) that was enriched with flavor and aroma, and Overcooked Pork with herbs and garlic (EUR 24) – we came here twice just for this dish. The meat was tender and the vegetables were beautifully cooked and full of flavor. We’re drooling just thinking about it.
2. Restaurant Nili:
Ask any Finnish local where the best place to eat in Rovaniemi is for authentic Finnish food and their first suggestion is bound to be Restaurant Nili. Located in the city center, Restaurant Nili combines Lappish flavors with Arctic ingredients to present your palette with something truly remarkable. We loved the fillet of Reindeer Fawn (EUR 35) served with turnip puree, creamed false morel and root vegetables flavored with cloudberries and honey. It’s definitely priced on the higher side but there’s a reason why this dish is their most popular. You’re not going to get reindeer as tender as this anywhere else, and those flavors complement the meat so beautifully, making it absolutely worth it. We also tried the Velvety Cream of Crab soup (EUR 14) served with King Crab and chanterelle bread that was therapeutically good, perfectly creamy and balanced. We also tried the Arctic Ocean Salmon (EUR 23) which comprises of a generous serving of a beautifully fresh salmon fillet that’s lightly smoked and served with king crab sauce and horseradish potato rosti.
1. Santa’s Salmon Place:
We think we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to figure out how can something so simple like salmon taste insanely good. So good, that this place has survived for years selling just salmon on the menu. Santa’s Salmon Place is all about celebrating traditional Lappish cuisine. Their fresh and delicious salmon (EUR 22) is baked in a traditional Lappish teepee with open fire. Their salmon is served on natural wooden plates, and it comes with a side of cold potato salad and bread. We went here three times in four days. We kid you not.
Another cool thing to do would be to visit the Mc Donalds at Rovaniemi City Center. It’s the northernmost Mc Donalds in the world! HA!
Also, if you do get a chance, try going out on your own to a frozen lake and camping outside (that’s if you’re brave enough to face the cold). Set up a wood fire, roast some sausages and gaze into the clear night sky. Simple joys!
So there you have it. This is literally everything you need to know if you’re planning a trip to the Arctic for four days. It’s not a cheap holiday, that’s for sure. But if you’re proactive enough to plan way in advance, you’ll be surprised to see how much money you’ll end up saving. And we can guarantee that once you’re done with this holiday, you’ll be certain that it’s bucks well spent.