As I’m writing this I am sitting here in Seoul wrapped up in a blanket trying to keep warm (don’t judge, it’s a frigid 14°F), I am thinking about our trip to the Finnish Lapland and how I don’t remember it feeling THIS cold when I was there!
If you’re considering visiting Rovaniemi or have already decided to book your trip, here are some of the must do things while you’re there! Also don’t forget to view the video of our trip at the end of this post!
1. The Northern Lights
As mentioned in my previous post, the number one reason to visit Rovaniemi is to see the Northern Lights. Before I went, I knew that the Northern Lights were something beautiful, but I truly didn’t understand how amazing they were until I saw them with my own eyes.
The Northern Lights are by no means easy to come by; they are only seen between August and April and usually between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM. Not only do they occur on less than half the nights of the year, they require you to have minimal light pollution and clear skies. Also very important to know, the lights are measured on a scale from 1 to 5; a 1 or 2 may not even be visible by the naked eye, whereas a 3, 4 or 5 will provide for the best showing and brighter lights. When we first arrived to Rovaniemi, we assumed that we could just wait until nightfall and be wowed by the views of the lights, but after 2 nights with no lights in sight, we started worrying and decided to book a Northern Lights “tour.”
The tour took us about 20 minutes away from the city into the deep wilderness and boy it was cold! One nice thing was that the guides started a fire inside a nearby hut so that we could warm up as we waited for the lights. After waiting about 20 minutes the lights started to come out and we forgot about the temperatures. Seeing he lights appearing out of thing air is really magical, it looks like someone is painting the night sky with a neon paintbrush. We just sat under the stars in awe while watching the lights dance across the sky.
2. Husky Sledding
By now you should realize that I LOVE DOGGIES! So when I found out that you could drive a team of sled dogs, we HAD to go! We booked a trip through Bearhill Husky, who is a fairly new kennel. Our tour started with a pickup at our igloo and took us to their husky farm about 30 minutes outside of Rovaniemi.
As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Veronica (a human) and Lumi (a doggie!), who is a retired sled dog herself and has now taken up a position in PR! She’s doing an awesome job, don’t you think?
If you’re looking at the pictures and saying to yourself “that’s not a husky!” you’d be wrong! Veronica explained to us that their dogs are Alaskan Huskies, which differ from the stereotypical Siberian Husky that we all think of. Alaskan huskies love to run and usually run 7 to 10kms every day here at Bearhill Husky! We were able to take them out on a 5 km long ride.
After a quick introduction about Bearhill, we were fitted with some cozy ski suits and snow boots and let me tell you, I’m glad we were! We tried to dress warm and were immediately told that we were dressed like “city folks” and needed to put on the ski suit. After suiting up we were shown our trolley cart (which had wheels, there was’t enough snow for the sled yet in October) and given instructions on how to steer, brake, etc. Then we got to meet our sled team!
The doggies were super excited to meet us, there was a lot of wet nosed kisses and even the dogs that were not participating on our run almost seemed to cheer the others on as we took off! They seemed really jealous that they weren’t going with us!
About halfway through our ride we stopped and were able to change drivers and give our team some much deserved pets! Driving wasn’t too difficult and we were told that the best time to come was February or March as there is more light, plenty of snow and less tourists.
Once we got back we gave our team a well deserved meal that consisted of a high-calorie stew. The stew not only keeps them nourished but provides plenty of hydration after a good run. I loved the experience and definitely recommend going! I know that we’ll be doing this again sometime, especially since I want to try out the actual sled with some more snow!
3. Meet the Locals
One of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent with Irene and Ari on our “Reindeer Antler Secret” tour through Helios Tours. Irene and Ari are true laplandians (is that a word?) and they live in a cabin in the woods surrounded by adorable squirrels, birds and of course reindeer. Ari actually makes some pretty amazing chandeliers from the reindeer antlers and Irene makes a variety of reindeer crafts.
We had a wonderful time talking with Irene about how she uses reindeer for a variety of things (including many meals) and how she forages for different things in the forest. Just don’t ask her how many reindeer she owns. She said it is as bad as asking someone how much money they have! oops!
So here are some of the fun facts that we learned about reindeer!
First off, they are so much more than just the power source behind Santa’s magical sleigh. Reindeer in Lapland actually outnumber the people. Because of this, there is very strict reindeer population control and each year, the government publishes how many reindeers each area can keep. Knowing this, you won’t be surprised that you will find a lot of restaurants serving reindeer, from burgers to roasts and more. Other than using reindeer as a food source, it was interesting to learn how people repurpose the antlers, create leather from reindeer hide and how even the velvet from the reindeer antlers helps to support the ecosystem by feeding little squirrels.
You may think that it is cruel that Irene and Ari use reindeer antlers. But surprisingly the reindeer lose their antler naturally. Each year in August, reindeers lose their velvet and then in the beginning of October, the male reindeer actually lose their antlers! I couldn’t believe it, but apparently shedding their antlers allows them to expend less energy and allows them to survive through the winter. It was surprising to learn that reindeer grow the same pattern antler each year; Mother Nature is an incredible thing. Even though the males have no antlers in winter, the female reindeers keep their smaller antlers and use them to fight off other reindeer (just call them “boss lady” in winter).
Not only did we leave knowing a lot more about reindeers and the Suomi (People of Finland) culture, we also left with an adorable memento that we hand made. I hope you get the chance to meet Irene too, she’s pretty awesome!
4. Visit a Reindeer Farm
So after we learned so much about reindeer from Irene, we had to go to a reindeer farm and visit them up close and personal. We ended up at Sieriaarvi Safaris who has been around for about 20 years. We arrived the day after they had separated the reindeer and they only had the driving reindeer left on the farm. Reindeers are really quite large and not quite as gentle as deer, I would say their personalities are quite surly.
We had the chance to enter the pen with the reindeer and give them some moss, apparently it’s like catnip for reindeer because they were super excited about it! Look at this guy’s face!
My biggest tip if you meet the reindeer, steer clear of their antlers, they are big!
5. Meet Santa Claus
If you’ve always wanted to meet Santa Claus, then Rovaniemi is the place since it’s known as the home of Santa Claus. You can find the big guy at Santa’s Holiday Village just a little outside of city center. To get to Santa, you need to walk through the Earth’s rotational speed regulator, I mean how else do you think Santa makes it to all those houses around the world in just one day!? As you ascend the stairs, you will get into line to wait your turn. The wait wasn’t long and before we knew it, Santa’s helpers were calling us in for our face to face with the one and only Santa. Before we got started I decided to ask Santa a very important question for all of you:
Me: How do you get off the naughty list?
**Looks of shock from the elves**
Santa: If you think you might be on the naughty list, you still have time to set things right and make it on the nice list!
So bottom line….there’s hope!
After my Q&A with Santa and a few snaps of the camera, we were ushered out where one of Santa’s helpers showed us the photos we took (Large photo – €30, 5 Postcard size photos – €35, All digital files (3 photos + video) – €40). Just remember that visiting Santa is totally free, but proving you were there is definitely going to cost you!
While you’re in Santa’s Village, don’t forget to stop by Santa’s Post Office and mail some postcards or Letters from Santa to your friends and family. This post office is special, would you expect anything less from Santa Claus? Not only do they have special Artic Circle stamps, they have mailboxes that hold the mail until Christmastime; that means you can send your Christmas cards direct from the Arctic Circle! Another very cool thing is for only €7.90, you can send your favorite little one a letter from the big man himself. That would definitely make for a very special surprise.
We had a wonderful time in Rovaniemi and hope you will too! Just a word of warning though, you will most likely get tired of being offered reindeer at every meal. It was fun experiencing some different cuisine, but I don’t think I’ll be adding reindeer to my repertoire of dishes anytime soon.
Here’s a video of our trip, enjoy!