The best way to describe Finland is Winter Wonderland. Although, any time of the year is good to visit, I strongly recommend going there during winter (November – March). We decided to celebrate Christmas in Santa’s own village – Rovaniemi and that got us to do planning for this trip. Not only we had fun with Santa, but we ticked off so many items from our bucket list; be it a polar night, reindeer safari, husky ride, driving snowmobile, staying in glass igloo, or jumping in the freezing Baltic sea!!
There are so many things to do in Finland, it was hard to fit everything in 8 days itinerary. After intensive planning I settled on this:
Home 🚀 Helsinki (1 night) 🚀 Rovaniemi (4 nights) 🚌 Saariselkä (3 nights)
My detailed itinerary for each day:
Time to spend: 30-40 minutes
This church is considered as one of the important landmarks of the city. It was built during 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It is located in City Center and easily accessible.We had good time taking lots of pictures and admiring the architecture.
In holiday season a giant Christmas tree is decorated in front of the cathedral and Christmas market is right outside. We enjoyed our time in the market where we tried Glogg (for the first time), special holiday cookies, roasted nuts and we bought some beautifully handcrafted art pieces.
You can find detailed information on Christmas market here.
Time to spend: 30-40 minutes
Uspenski Cathedral is an Orthodox cathedral with stunning architecture. It is located on the hill with water fronts. Don’t miss this beauty. We took a nice walk around, enjoying the area.
Time to spend: 2-3 hours
This fortress is located on an island and only accessible by ferry which departs every 45 minutes, so you really need to plan your visit accordingly. Please keep in mind that it is a giant fortress with lot of walking to do, so wear a good footwear. You can purchase the tickets for the ferry on the spot. There is no entrance fee for the Fortress.
Great Market Hall
Time to spend: 1 hour
After the visit to the fortress and with all the walking we have been doing since morning we both were starving. We decided to try some local delicacies like Salmon soup and Salmon-Rye bread sandwich. We found a popular place – Story Restaurant in Great market hall. I was little skeptical about Salmon soup first; thinking it would smell fishy but trust me it had very delicate flavors and I highly recommend it. Salmon sandwich was nice too!
In Great Market Hall you will see lots of small shops selling local items.
Time to spend: 30 minutes
This church is also known as Rock Church because its built into a rock formation with the rock forming the walls and its very different than any other church you have seen. From Great Market Hall you can use public transport to go there but since we were short on time, we booked Uber.
If you are staying in City Center then most of the attractions are on walking distance but you can also buy train pass which you can choose based on zones you are travelling to.
I personally enjoy walking when visiting new places to feel the city’s vibe. 😊
Sibelius monument & Regatta cafe
Time to spend: 1 hour
The Sibelius Monument created by Eila Hiltunen is dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The monument is located at the Sibelius Park. If you are running short on time you can totally skip it but since it was on our way to the next stop which is popular “Regatta Cafe” we had a quick photo stop.
Regatta café is famous for their filter coffee and hot from the oven Cinnamon buns. Café itself is super cute with beautiful view and they have fire-pit where you can relax and enjoy coffee.
After we visited all the major attractions, we had a stroll in the city center. We saw Helsinki Music Center, National Library, Parliament house building. Enjoyed Christmas decorations and ended our day with excellent coffee and dinner in Karl Fazer Café. This café is famous for patisserie and sandwiches.
In Helsinki we stayed at Scandic Hotel Simonkenttä. This hotel is located right in the center which was very convenient. They also served complimentary breakfast.
Next day we had flight for Rovaniemi, also known as Santa’s hometown. Rovaniemi welcomed us with its magical snow showers and it was awesome. We picked up rental car at the airport and without wasting any time headed straight to museums. Arktikum Science Center and Science Centre Pilke are fun stops.Expect to spend around 2 hours here. Then we had lunch in Ravintola Roka Street Bistro. I loved their Reindeer sandwich. It’s a very popular and small restaurant so I recommend reserving a table in advance. We loved their food so much that we decided to have dinner also at the same place and I am glad that we did it. They serve outstanding food.
Since it was winter; days were short. At 2:30 PM it was all dark. We checked in to our Airbnb, relaxed, had coffee and in the evening went for northern lights hunting on Ounasvaara hill. Because of the cloud we could not spot auroras, but we had so much fun walking (and jumping) in the snow-covered landscape.
Renting a car in Rovaniemi is completely optional as you have taxi service easily available at reasonable prices. But we wanted to drive away from city center at night to try our luck for Northern Lights, so we booked a car with Europcar rental.
This day was filled with lots of excitement as we had booked a snow cave suite for the night at Arctic Snow Hotel. This hotel is tucked away from the city, giving opportunity of spotting the mystical lights. We checked in around 1:00 PM and they had a tour planned for us showing everything the resort has to offer. The temperature in the snow cave is always below -5° C. Each cave suite is decorated with different theme and equally beautiful. They provide you sleeping bags for night but if you feel uncomfortable due to cold; they have few beds in the room with heaters. In this snow hotel everything is made up of ice starting from ice bar where drinks are served in ice glasses, ice chapel, ice restaurant where you get your dessert in a beautiful ice plate. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our stay here. We had pre-booked Finnish sauna and hot tub experience. It was expensive but how could you miss Finnish sauna in Finland right?
I was little hesitant about sleeping in a sub-zero temperature but after the sauna I slept in no time 😜. Next day the hotel staff woke us up with a warm lingonberry juice. Trust me this entire experience was exceptional.
We had booked Polar Icebreaker Cruise excursion on this day. This activity take the entire day as the bus picks you up from Rovaniemi and takes you to Bothnian sea; located in Sweden. It’s a 3-hour cruise but going there takes about 3 hours with lunch break on the way.
The most exciting part of this cruise was dip in the frozen sea. Even non-swimmers can enjoy this activity as they provide survival suits. Upon arrival you will be divided in groups and each group gets it’s turn for the dip. While waiting for your turn you can go for self-guided tour of this ice-breaker ship. They do provide food and drinks on-board. You can also purchase the pictures of this unique experience. Initially I was scared to enter freezing water but once jumped (maybe pushed 😛) I didn’t want to come out of it. They give around 10-15 mins for each group to be in the water. The tour ended around 5:30 PM and we were back in Rovaniemi around 8:00 PM.
For dinner, I had already booked a table for us in famous Nilli restaurant and since it was Christmas eve; they had special menu. Everything from appetizers to dessert was as scrumptious as I expected from reading so many reviews. This place is famous for Lappish cuisine serving variety of veg and non-veg dishes. Reindeer meat is Lappish delicacy. Do give it a try.
Yayyyyy! Finally the day I was looking forward to. It was time to meet big guy. Yep, we did a meet and greet with Santa 🎅!!!
Santa’s village is located 20 minutes away from Rovaniemi city center. There is no entry ticket for this park. You can meet Santa and take pictures with him. This place has lots of shops with variety of Christmas decorations, local art and crafts, A post office where you can send gifts/letters to your loved once from Santa’s address 😊. We started our day here with Reindeer safari which lasted for about an hour.
We had amazing fish at Santa’s Salmon place; wandered in all the shops looking for souvenirs. Took lots and lots of pictures. And the most interesting part is; we crossed Arctic circle zillion times 😛 (as Santa’s village is located on the border of Arctic Circle).
Visit Santa first thing in the morning as the waiting lines gets crazy especially during peak season.
There are lots of restaurants to choose from, but I highly recommend Santa’s Salmon place. They serve fresh and delicious food. We went there at 11:00 AM and just waited for 10 minutes in the line but after some time the waiting line was long. Unfortunately, here you cannot book tables in advance.
In the evening we had booked Northern light Snowmobile safari excursion withLapland Safari. It was 3 hours activity. We drove in a deep forest, on frozen river; had warm lingonberry juice while waiting for Auroras to show up. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy night so we could not see the magical auroras but surely enjoyed our time marveling at the stars. They have limited tours every day and it does get sold quickly so book your tour in advance.
Day 6, 7, 8
From Rovaniemi we used matkahuolto bus service to go to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort located in Saariselka. Please visit this site for details on timetable and pricing. I would recommend to book tickets in advance during busy season.
In Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort we booked their cozy cabin for 2 nights and 1 night in glass igloo.
Let me tell you a secret if you want to stay in the same resort. Basically, Kakslauttanen was the first resort which came up with idea of glass igloos. Now there are plenty of such resorts all over Finland. Igloo Resort was a huge success and they expanded it. Now they have glass igloos and cabins in East Village and West Village. East village is little older with few facilities, so people often tend to go for West village but in my experience East village is more secluded and less touristy means more privacy. Not only it is very well maintained but staff here is extremely nice.
Days in Kakslauttanen were packed with different experiences, fun and excitement. We loved their Husky Safari in the forest full of snow-covered trees. They take great care of these fur buddies who can’t wait to join you on an adventure. We also took some cross-country ski lessons from their super friendly ski trainer. Their cabins are cozy, accommodated with fireplace and a small kitchen.
I will advise on pre-booking all these experiences as number of slot per day are limited and it gets sold out fast. You can book your activities here.
The closest airport to Kakslauttanen is Ivalo Airport and the resort has shuttle service to take you there. From Ivalo we took flight back to Helsinki and from there came back home. 😊
This was my fun-adventure filled 8 days itinerary.
Don’t come back without having these experiences of Finland: