Snow-clad pine trees, Arctic Circle, Santa Claus, reindeer sleds, festive cheer; Rovianemi – the capital of Finnish Lapland – has all the ingredients for a quintessential Christmas holiday
Utter the word “Christmas” and you can instantly sketch a convivial winter scene with a pine tree bedecked in baubles! Add to it a man with twinkling eyes, snow-white beard, round jelly-like belly and a bundle of toys flung on his back! If there’s a place where this picture truly comes alive, it’s none other than Rovaniemi, the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus” in Lapland. This holiday season, connect with your inner child by planning an authentic Christmas experience in the Arctic circle!
NOSTALGIC IN THE ARCTIC
In this age of instant coffee, emails and deliveries, there is a small part of you that still believes in letters and gifts from Santa; courtesy the element of magic and enchantment he brought to your childhood. And what if you get to meet the handsome old man in person?
As per what Finns believe, Santa Claus’ original home lies in the mysterious Korvatunturi “Ear Fell” in Finnish Lapland. However, since the exact location must be kept secret, he operates from an office at the picturesque Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. Today, millions of people from around the world come here to soak up the festive spirit!
Your exhilarating jaunt begins as soon as the elves lead you through to the dimly-lit passageway which is lined with presents.
Don’t miss the giant pendulum called “Earth’s Rotational Speed Regulator” swinging at the entrance and carefully listen to the sounds of chiming bells and water running underfoot.
Ascend a few stairs, turn the corner and you spot the bearded man sitting on a large wooden chair, surrounded by books, a world map and a trunk full of letters from his fans. With a big smile, he welcomes you saying “Ho, ho, ho! Welcome to the Arctic Circle”! When here, satiate your curiosity regarding Santa’s daily chores, ask him how he slides down the chimney with his sack full of gifts or simply give him a tight hug!
Next door, inside the Santa Claus Village post office, you can write postcards to your friends and loved ones back home. Your mail is stamped with the special Arctic Circle postmark, and you can have it delivered right away or just before Christmas.
Since 1985, Santa Claus has received more than 15 million letters from over 200 countries. During the festive months, he receives around 30,000 letters a day.
With a population of around 60,000 people, Rovaniemi makes for the largest population hub in direct proximity to the Arctic Circle and it is almost impossible not to cross the Arctic Circle when here. Tick it off your bucket list in Santa Claus Village where the coordinates 66°34´N 023°51´E have been imprinted on the ground.
Santa Claus Village is open every day of the year. To get there from Rovaniemi city centre, take local bus number 8 or Santa’s Express that leaves hourly. You can also take a taxi or go walking; the distance is around eight km from the city centre and 3 km from the airport.
EXPLORING THE REINDEER TOWN
What would be more fitting than having Rovaniemi – the capital of Lapland – shaped like a reindeer, the iconic animal of the region? Towards the end of World War II, retreating German soldiers left the town destroyed. This is when Alvar Aalto – one of the top Finnish architects – designed the reconstruction plan of Rovaniemi, concealing a picture of a reindeer’s head. Though you don’t realise this at ground level, two branches of the central park are outlined as reindeer horns, two are defining reindeer’s head and one it’s back. Keskuskenttä sports stadium stands as the eye! Another architectural marvel is the 320-metre Jätkänkynttilä Bridge that runs across the Kemijoki river and connects Ounasvaara to the town centre. The cable-stayed road bridge pays hommage to the logging industry of the city. When the river is frozen, you can also walk directly beneath the stunning bridge.
With more reindeers than people in Lapland, it’s unlikely not to run into the demure creature in Rovaniemi. Plan a reindeer farm visit to know all about reindeer hunting.
Here, you can pat reindeers, feed them or go for a peaceful reindeer sleigh ride. Dog lovers can opt for a husky sledge ride and enjoy a thrilling day amid snowy forests and frozen lakes. This way, you get the chance to be a musher in control of your own team of ever-excited huskies who are also fierce runners.
For relaxing evenings, roast sausages over an open fire at one of the 70 lean-to shelters along the river. Or choose to dance the night away at one of the many pubs, clubs and sports bars in the city that regularly host gigs and karaoke.
TIP: Rovaniemi is home to many artists who create arts and handicrafts out of local materials like wood and reindeer antlers. Enrol for one of the sessions and learn to make wooden knives, jewellery and more or simply buy them as gifts and souvenirs.
FROM NATURE TO YOUR PLATE
Lappish cuisine is simple and rugged with emphasis on pure, seasonal ingredients and original flavours. From a fine-dining setting to a campfire meal, there are ample ways of savouring a delectable meal in Rovaniemi.
To dine in an icy ambiance marked by intricate ice sculptures, book a spot at the Ice Restaurant at Santa Claus village.
You can also sample some Finnish liquor and gin at their Ice Bar!
Since reindeer husbandry and hunting is an old means of livelihood in Lapland, the animal is an essential part of local cuisine. In fact, no parts of reindeer go unused! Try some of the classic dishes like reindeer stew and sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes and fresh lingonberries or lingonberry jam. Among other varieties of game meat, try elk, bear, capercaillie (a large turkey-like Eurasian grouse), willow grouse, black grouse and waterfowls that are quite popular during the hunting season.
Another Finnish experience is ice fishing. The pure waters of the region have a large amount of fish like salmon, trout, pike-perch, whitefish, arctic char, grayling and vendace, making it a popular destination among fishermen. Master the art of catching a fish, cook it with local ingredients and enjoy it for dinner!
If you’re visiting during Christmas time, don’t miss the pies and pastries prepared from forest-sourced berries. Think mouth-watering desserts made out of cloudberry, bilberry (northern blueberry), lingonberry, cranberry and more. A definite must eat is leipäjuusto (bread cheese), a type of soft cheese fried and served with fresh cloudberries or cloudberry jam. A hearty dessert, it is often called squeaky cheese due to the sound it makes when chewed. A popular sweet pastry is kampanisu that directly translates to “comb scone” due to its comb-like shape. Want to bring back some tasty, locally-produced souvenirs? Seasonal food markets and weekend markets are the places to go.
GET ACTIVE IN ROVANIEMI / GET ADVENTUROUS IN ROVANIEMI
– Forest trekking in Arctic Circle Hiking Area
– Biking (Electric fat bike or mountain bike)
– Snowboarding and Skiing
– Reindeer and husky sleigh rides
HOW TO GET THERE
Rovaniemi is situated in Finnish Lapland, right on the Arctic Circle. Finnair offers direct flights from Delhi to Helsinki Vantaa International Airport. From Helsinki, Rovaniemi can be easily reached by plane. In the winter season, many hotels offers charter flights as a part of their package.
WHERE TO STAY
For a cheerful holiday vibe, stay at the Santa Claus Holiday Village at the Arctic Circle. Their cabins are equipped with private saunas and only minute or two walk to Santa Claus Main Office. If you wish to get cosy as a couple, Arctic Fox Igloos are located on the peaceful shores of the lake Ranuanjärvi and make for an ideal retreat away from the crowds. Another great option is the Arctic Light Hotel, a contemporary boutique hotel situated in the heart of Rovaniemi. Housed in the 1950’s building and former City Hall of Rovaniemi, it is only a few steps away from major shopping and cultural areas.