Besides regular holiday activities, what to do in Rovaniemi?
So, Rovaniemi! I guess everyone, who wanted to visit Finnish Lapland came across its capital. There are two worlds in Rovaniemi: tourists and locals. While the standard holiday/tourist stuff is very well covered on the Internet, I didn’t see anyone talking about anything else. Somehow, I liked being with locals more, than being a tourist and their recommendations with organizing the trip was priceless.
The post is primarily about Rovaniemi, but many tips can be related to the rest of Lapland.
Can Lapland be more than a place for holidays?
Rovaniemi is the most popular spot to cover all your Lapland bucket list at once, (husky/reindeer safari, snowmobiling, northern lights etc.) Most of the people just do all these things and leave, without thinking of making them a second time.
I had done all tourist stuff a long time ago, so when I was going to Rovaniemi again I had no particular plan. I just wanted to have some real winter, not the shitty wet snow that Helsinki offered. I stayed at a fellow couchsurfer’s place, who happened to be living together with tour guides. Oh. I did not expect that it would be so much fun.
The tourism industry in Rovaniemi is big, and it attracts a lot of young people for seasonal and volunteering jobs. Also, almost a fifth of the population are students, many of whom have part-time jobs in the tourist industry.
These people are fantastic! Rovaniemi is all about nature and north authenticity, and they know all the best spots, know how to get there cheaply and can save you from all tourist traps. On weekends, they gather up for a beer and discuss funny things that happened tourists, that happens during the day. To those who are new, they are happy to share their secrets.
Alternative travel tips
First of all, try getting in touch with locals, they can give priceless recommendations. Here are few pieces of advice, that a tourist guide would normally not tell you at work.
1. Activites could be rated by people from far away
Holidays in Lapland are rated high on TripAdvisor. And it is true, overall, almost all of the tourists have an amazing experience. Snowy north looks completely different from the rest of the world and all the tourist activities are something, that most people have never tried before.
I came from Russia and Lapland doesn’t look so exotic to me. Maybe that is the reason I am a little bit picky (same as tour guides). Anyway, I think a little bit of criticism wouldn’t harm. It may help someone planning a perfect holiday.
So actually the first advice. If you came from a snowy region – don’t take the TripAdvisor ratings so seriously. Many of them are made by people who see this kind of nature for the first time. The same high rating would be given for a different level or service.
2. Northern Lights
Many tour operators offer a service, where guide brings you to see the northern lights. I think it is something worth doing, they bring you a location, from where the lights look fantastic. What some of the guides don’t do – they don’t tell whether activity level is high for the day you reserve a place.
I think, getting to a good location with a guide worth it, especially if you are the first time in the area, but check the northern lights forecast before paying.
3. Snowshoe safari
Guided snowshoe safari may get a bit ridiculous. Some of the guides bring you to an interesting location, the one that actually requires you to wear snowshoes. But some are going to a park right in the city area. There would be people with dogs walking by (just walking), while you are heroicly snowshoeing up the hill.
If you want to take this kind of safari – ask about the place where you go. Alternatively, consider just renting snowshoes and go the wilderness yourself. Have a bit of adventure.
4. Guided tours
Guided tours may need you to be in shape, the routes sometimes go uphill for quite a while. The guides were telling that, there are often people, who hold the group behind, and people, who are a bit bored to walk so slow. It could happen that a tourist, who always walked on a flat surface has to go up the snowy hill for the first time.
One guide told:
“I get uphill in 5-10 minutes when I go jogging in the morning, but with a group, it turns into the whole project. It may take 40 minutes or more. They are hi-fiving each other on top of the “mountain”.
When you order the tour, check the route in advance.
5. Safaries: snowmobiles, huskies, reindeers
Snowmobile safari is really cool. But sometimes, they don’t allow you to drive to some places by yourself, only with a guide. Consider checking it in advance.
We really enjoyed our guided tour, they brought us to the places we never thought going.
Husky, reindeer safari may have better deals if you book it directly at the farm (and drive there). Check both, farms and tour operators.
Rovaniemi, a place to relax and rest?
To my personal taste, Finland is very calm. So calm that I need to leave every month to someplace with more life (St. Petersburg normally works). Occasionally happens the opposite, I get so tired of the daily routine and the shitty weather in Helsinki, that I just want to relax. Surprisingly, Rovaniemi worked very well. The pace of life is slow, but it is still a city, it is not looking dead like Aland islands. And unlike south, Rovaniemi has proper winter!
Snow makes everything look pretty. Away from city center, there are no disturbing lights and banners. After photographing things around, I have noticed that I don’t need to adjust color pallets in postprocessing. Everything is in calm, grey-whitish tones.
(I think if I have started understanding difference in calmness, I have lived in Finland for too long)
Bonus: few more photos from Finnish Lapland (not Rovaniemi)
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