Can you find a better place for a fairytale experience than the snowy Rovaniemi? Welcome to the city of Northern Lights and reindeer. Most people come here for winter activities and to visit Santa, heading right to the city outskirts. But you don't need to go far to experience Lapland as it is, the city of Rovaniemi has interesting places to visit too.
The city center of Rovaniemi is walkable on foot, so let us walk right through it. Now, besides shops and galleries, there is one interesting landmark you can discover: the Lordi Square. Remember the monsters, who rocked their way into winning Eurovision in 2006? If not, you may google, because it was quite a show. This band is from Rovaniemi, and the city did not hesitate to rename their square after the contest winners. You will find handprints of all band members on Lordi Square. Surprisingly, they look quite human; I guess the claws were left on the shelf for that ceremony.
Probably the main landmark of Rovaniemi is a museum called Arktikum. Here you can watch the installation of Northern Lights, learn about local nature and people, and see how it is to live in the arctic conditions. The building itself is a beautiful one, with a long glass hall piercing into the river. Even if you are not interested in visiting the museum, it is still a must-see building, especially in the late evening, when it becomes the best spot to catch Northern Lights in Rovaniemi city center.
Right next to Arktikum is the Science Centre Pilke. It is like all those science museums for kids, where you can twist and twirl all the things around to learn about Finnish nature. Pilke includes interactive games, and thanks to that, it does not feel like a museum. I do not know about the kids, but I am always excited to visit that place and get to sit in the tractor with pure childish excitement. The museums around Rovaniemi are not cheap, so if you plan to visit more than one, you will benefit from the combination ticket.
I do not know about you, but I never miss a chance to visit a snowy forest when I am in Lapland, it offers traditional scenery you just have to see. The good news is that you don't need to go far for this experience since there is a natural gateway in a walkable distance from the city center. Just cross the white bridge, and take a moment to look around while walking; there are some beautiful views. On the other side of the river starts the Ounasvaara trail, you will notice the signs that you can follow. Hiking through the forest for a while, you will find a woodshed, a place for a fire, and a watching tower with a nice view of the city. Think like a local and bring some sausages to grill, you can eat and get warm before going back. There is truly something authentic, eating by the campfire in the cold winter days. In case you do have proper clothing and adventurous mind, you can continue into the forest, the whole trail is around 6km long and leads you through the traditional winter landscape.
You will find many restaurants and cafes in the city center of Rovaniemi and most of them will serve local specialties, among other food. Here are some suggestions on food to try while in Lapland. First, hunt restaurants and markets for a Lappish cheese. I heard many people call it "squeaky cheese" in English, and I understand why! It makes a funny squeaky noise when eaten. We call it leipäjuusto, translated as "bread cheese." My favorite way to enjoy it is with a cloudberry jam, which, by the way, is also a Lappish specialty. Cloudberries are common in countries with cold weather since they can overwinter in very low temperatures. So finding that duo, you can have two local specialties at once.
Another must-try, in my opinion, is reindeer meat. Now, you can find tons of food options including reindeer meat, starting from meatballs, and ending with cream cheese. My personal favorite is the reindeer soup; it is creamy and hot and a perfect match for winter weather. You can accompany your bowl of soup with a barley flatbread. It is another local cuisine star and is best when served slightly warm with some butter on top.
There are many places to taste local food; you can try the atmospheric restaurant Nili for local flavors. It will give you an experience you expect: an enchanting atmosphere and pure Lappish ingredients. You can dine in the "Reindeer Room" or "Nili's nest," which is all decorated with local handicrafts, creating a genuine arctic atmosphere all year round. Or you can make it budget-friendly and buy some cheese, flatbread and reindeer sausages, and head to the wilderness to eat all these on an open fire. Or, why not spend two days in Rovaniemi, and do both? You can spice it up with countless winter activities and visit Santa Claus.
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