Rovaniemi, “The Capital of Lapland”, is a bit like Cicely in the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure: at the same time functional and awkward, cute and crazy.


Highway 4 runs right through the town and over the river Ounasjoki towards the Arctic Ocean. Rovaniemi is situated at the confluence of two rivers. The bridge called Lumberjack's Candle (Jätkänkynttilä) crosses the river Kemijoki. Cruise services are available in the summertime.


Hotels and restaurants are concentrated along the Ounasjoki whereas the most important places to visit are on the bank of the Kemijoki. And there is the highway between.

Arktikum is a regular wonderland for anyone interested in arctic nature, culture or history. The exhibition spaces are squatting down in the slope next to the river Ounasjoki, reminding of a marmot burrow with its tunnel, although Lapland is too cold a habitat for marmot.




The interior of a charming local pub from the 60s has been preserved in Arktikum’s social and cultural history section.


Contrary to popular belief among foreigners, there are no polar bears in Finland.



It was not until 1992 that Saami language – actually three languages – was acknowledged as an official language in Finland, alongside Finnish and Swedish. North Saami is spoken by the majority of the population in the northernmost municipality, Utsjoki. The municipality of Inari by the Inari lake is the only municipality that has four official languages: Finnish, North Saami, Inari Saami and Skolt Saami.


Next door from Arktikum, the science centre Pilke (below) tells you everything you have ever wanted to know about forests.


Rovaniemi is the official domicile of Santa Claus – despite occasional claims to the contrary by Swedes, Danes or Norwegians - and the official Santa Claus airport is run in Rovaniemi.



At the airport, the steel reindeers by Urpo Kärri are decorated with pieces of Bohemian crystal.

Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle has a competitor downtown: the Angry Birds Activity Park. It’s actually just a playground whereas the Santa Claus site offers you a full blown touristic experience.


Reindeers and Northern Lights in any number of forms are a staple of Rovaniemi. Although I did miss this years’ greatest Northern Lights show because I had not subscribed to the Aurora Borealis alert service of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.



But I did find Lordi’s Square in the commercial hotspot of the town. If you ask me, the memorial could be upgraded by adding a coin operated display from which you could get a video clip of “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, the piece with which the band Lordi won – somewhat by accident – the Eurovision song contest in 2006. Why the memorial? Because Mr Lordi himself was born in Rovaniemi in 1974.



A couple of steps from the square, the Choco Deli & Bakery is the place to stop for a cup of coffee and for chocolate confectionery with tiny pieces or reindeer meat embedded. Next door is a shop where you can find casual clothing designed for the Northern Finnish brand R-Collection.

A range of bars and restaurants can be found in the streets close to Lordi’s square, such as the rockhouse Paha Kurki (the Bad Crane) and next door the no-music-bar Iloinen Ilves (the Happy Lynx). Restaurant Nili offers traditional dishes made with local ingredients, and Pub Uitto round the corner offers a traditional Northern beer drinking experience.


The atmosphere of Pub Pisto might be even more traditional. Pisto features in several novels by the prolific Rovaniemi-born author Jari Tervo. Only one of his novels appears to have been translated into English, the story of a small-time bad guy Marzipan Räikkönen, set in Rovaniemi and told from 35 perspectives.



Rovaniemen markkinoilla - at the Rovaniemi Fair - is a Finnish film from 1951, the epitome of a weird humorous musical genre termed “rillumarei”, fortunately unknown outside Finland. The modern Rovaniemi fair brings together sellers of local products – reindeer meat, honey, furs – and useful household items, such as dust bags (pölypussit).

The cityscape in Rovaniemi is mostly not too charming due to Finland choosing the wrong side in World War II. When the defeat of the German allies was inevitable Soviet Union agreed on a truce with Finland on the condition the German army is chased out of the country. On their way out via Norway, still under their control, the German army burnt down everything worth burning down in Lapland. Only 17 buildings were left standing in Rovaniemi which is why older buildings are few and far between.


The old railway station dates back to 1909.

The culture centre Korundi operates in the former mail van depot built in 1933. Bricks harvested from ruins around Rovaniemi were used in the extension built in 1986.


The functionalist 1930s factory building of the Marttiini knife factory, established in 1928, is the only industrial building to have survived the war. There is still a Marttiini knife shop in the building.


Designed by Olli Saijonmaa, the building of the regional government with its ceramic tiling once fashionable was built in 1947.


The church dating back to 1950 was designed by Bertel Liljeqvist.


Several new public buildings (below) were designed by Alvar Aalto.


The congress centre Lappia echoes the Lapland scenery, 1961.


The main library in Rovaniemi, 1968.


The Rovaniemi city hall, 1988. The granite work by Kain Tapper symbolises the post-war rise of Rovaniemi.