We woke up on our night train feeling refreshed. We were also pleasantly surprised by the snow-covered trees and mounds of ice that sped past our window. Once our train arrived at the station we took a taxi to our hotel. It was only 5 minutes away but it was so chilly (well into the negatives) it was worth the ride.
After settling into our room and staring out the window at the snow falling. We decided to brave the elements for lunch. There was a Scandinavian restaurant, ROKA, just around the corner serving salmon the chef caught himself!
M ordered a reindeer sandwich and I asked for the salmon sandwich. Both of which were delicious. There are very few restaurant options in the small town of Rovaniemi. This one was clearly a favorite among locals and tourists.
We exited the restaurant working our way back towards our hotel. The wind began to pick up, causing snow to fly straight into my eyes. This was going to take some getting used to. For the rest of the evening, we camped out in our hotel room. Staying warm and enjoying the English television. The adventure would begin the next day. So we took naps and got a few things done.
By time dinner came around, we were searching hard for another great spot. There are much more budget-friendly places in Rovaniemi but you have to search. We opted for a Chinese restaurant, it looked like there may be a buffet and the price seemed reasonable when compared to some of the other restaurants in the area.
In just a short walk we enjoyed stomping through the freshly fallen snow and “downtown” area. The restaurant was pretty good for a Chinese restaurant in northern Finland, just a couple miles from the arctic circle. After dinner, we took in some views of a large frozen river nearby, visited an igloo, (look at that cute little table and bench inside!), and stopped by a grocery store for some Finish chocolate.
Our day started with the hotel breakfast. A basic European spread with nothing too fancy. We then got ready and visited the bus stop for our next adventure. The 8 bus was scheduled to take us a bit northeast towards the Official Santa Clause Village.
A short ride later and we were greeted with some large wooden cabins welcoming us to the Santa Clause Village, where the Arctic Circle runs through. The circle is lined with light posts marking the most northern point the sun meets. We took some photos then visited Santa’s Post Office.
Postcards have become a staple souvenir for our trips so we sent a few off.
We attempted to visit Santa but the line was a bit too long, so we resorted to visiting Dancer and Prancer reindeer. This part of the village offered reindeer rides for a fee, which we passed on, but that did not stop us from taking a few photos from the barrier. These reindeer were decked out and as cute as could be.
Just a little bit farther down the walkway were some dogsledding rides. There was a fee to see the dogs and a fee to be pulled by them, again we passed. Just hoping to boop their snoots. Fortunately, there was ANOTHER dogsledding company a few minutes down the road! There we could pet the doggos for free and enjoy their company for a while. Which we totally did.
The interesting thing about these dogs is their disciplined personality. They are affectionate and can be playful, but nothing like housepets that beg for pats and just want to cuddle. These guys wanted to run!
After some pets, we visited a few of the souvenir shops while scouting a place for lunch. According to trip advisor, the number one restaurant in Rovaniemi, “Santa’s Salmon Restaurant” was located in the Santa Clause village, but the line was super long. We continued to search for quality food, until giving up and just deciding to wait for this famous salmon.
It was totally worth the wait!
It may have been the best salmon we have ever had! – Excuse me – After M’s salmon, this is the best salmon we have ever had!
We returned to our hotel after feasting on the juicy fish. Resting for the remainder of the evening, then heading back out to Roka for dinner. M got his yummy reindeer sandwich and I enjoyed a bacon pumpkin risotto.
We kicked the adventure up a notch on day 3. It began with a lovely hotel breakfast followed by a wait for our hotel pickup.
A van then drove us about 30 minutes outside the city to a husky farm! The farm held about 90 huskies all trained at various levels for dog sledding.
We got equipped with some snazzy warm suits, boots, and face masks. Then it was then time to meet the doggos! They were so cute we could hardly stand it, but they were more interested in getting ready to run. We got settled into our slay’s and they taught us how to drive. Then, take off.
It was a blast. About halfway through the ride they took some photos of us and allowed us to switch. It took me a second or two to figure out how to get the dogs to actually go…
After 30 minutes of sledding, we were back at the farm where the dogs were parked. They treated our group to some warm berry juice and gingerbread cookies. We talked with the instructors about the dogs and what it takes to become a professional dog sledder. Basically, it is A LOT of work.
We took off the special gear and got back in the van for the ride home.
Shortly later we enjoyed lunch at a local pizza joint. M then went to get our passports stamped at the Santa Village proving we have hit the arctic circle. Something we did not get to do during our visit yesterday.
He later returned with our snazzy passport stamps and Arctic Circle certificates.
We spent the rest of the night relaxing and enjoyed some dinner at the hotel bar. A decent attempt at wings and salad held us over until the next day.
Our last full day in Rovaniemi was going to start and end with adventure! After waking up and enjoying our hotel breakfast we walked a few blocks to our next tour, ice fishing!
Once arriving at the tour office we found out two exciting pieces of news. First, the tour had turned into a private tour since no one else had signed up. Sweet! Second?… Our tour guide, Juho, informed us that this was the coldest activity offered in Rovaniemi. He then followed that up with suggesting we change into the specially designed clothing to stay warm. O, boy.
We were outfitted in bodysuits and large boots for our adventure. They were quite toasty.
Juho drove us to the lake where we would be fishing, just 20 minutes outside the city center. Looking at the large prairie of snow, you would have no idea there was a lake under those meters of snow and ice.
He guided us to a spot not too far out from land. Along the way, I fell multiple times. I was completely unaware of the importance of walking in someone’s footsteps. This made me realize how the snow hid both steps and footbridges very well. Eventually, I caught up with M and Juho who had found an excellent spot to start drilling a hole.
Juho showed us the basics of ice fishing, starting with how to drill a hole. You first have to clear out a little more than a foot of snow so you can see the ice. Then you take the drill and start churning. After you drill about a meter down you should reach water. Pump the drill a few times to clear out the ice and use your little filter spoon to clear out any ice chips. Bait your fishing rod, drop it in, and wait for a bite.
We could not have had better weather, or a photographer.
Not only did we luck out with it being a private tour, but our tour guide was also a professional photographer. Double Score!
After an hour of no luck, we moved our hole farther into the lake.
Ultimately, I did not have any luck. I thought I had felt many bites but I really did not have that special touch.
About 2 hours in, my toes had begun to go numb and we were starting to lose hope. I felt terrible. Dying to go inside and get warm, but we still had not caught anything. Then, just as I felt like my feet may need to be amputated we got some luck! M had lifted the line and there, shinning on the end was my beacon of hope. He had caught a fish. Granted, it was the size of a Swedish Fish candy, but it still counts! Time to go warm up!
We returned to land and sheltered in these little wooden tee-pees they have lining the lake. Similar to bonfires you will see set up on the beach, except offering a cozy shelter. Juho set up a cozy fire for us and gave us some Finish sausages to roast. They were enjoyed accompanied by some hot berry juice. So tasty and warm.
The three of us hopped back into the van and returned to the city. At our hotel, we spent some time warming up, sleeping, and getting ready for our night adventure. We munched on Subway about an hour before we headed out, of course.
Around 7:45PM we headed back to the same tour company office for our Northen Lights Tour! A supposedly slightly warmer activity, we were outfitted in the body suits and protective shoes. We were then loaded into a van with a few other couples.
Despite this trip making us look certifiably insane, this is why we had planned the trip in the middle of winter. Rovaniemi gets an average of 3-4 hours of sunlight making it a prime time to see the northern lights. A friend had suggested we download an app called, “My Aurora Forecast” to help us track the northern lights. A few days prior to arriving in Rovaniemi we had noticed there was a storm coming in making it nearly impossible to notice the lights. After reviewing our itinerary we decided to extend out Rovaniemi stay by one day. It cost us a bit more but was fairly easy to adjust our stay. Overall, it was totally worth it.
Our tour took us to two stops. The first allowed us to adjust our cameras to the perfect setting. We also got to see the Northern lights come in a bit.
At our second stop, we got to see the northern lights from a different viewpoint.
Again, I attempted to walk through the snow, failing miserably. Whatever the opposite of talent is, I have that for walking in the snow.
As people continued to enjoy the sites and take photos, our guide set up a big fire with some Finish sausages and hot berry juice. Yum!
One thing we thought would be important to note is something we did not realize about the Northern lights. After the experience, we were under the impression, that they are not as bright as the photos and postcards make them appear. To the naked eye, they are pretty easy to miss. They can easily be mistaken for a cloud, fog, or some light pollution. Every once in a while you will see a hint of green. At first, we thought it may have been a weak storm but our guide said that it was a really fantastic night.
Later M had talked to his dad who used to live in Alaska, and it turns out they do have the potential to turn really green. So ultimately, we are really not sure what to expect when it comes to the Northern lights. They were very beautiful, and it is really an amazing phenomenon to witness, but we do wish our expectations were based on someones experience seeing the Northern Lights, rather than the stereotypical photos we often see.
Our guide drove us back into town and we quickly rushed off to bed. We had an early train ride the next day that would take us to our next location.
Hotel: Arctic City Hotel
We really loved our hotel. Its location was perfect for visiting the best restaurants and accessing all of our tours. It was super cozy and had a pretty good included breakfast. What we especially loved was when we had an early train the following morning, way before breakfast began, so they prepared a cold breakfast for us to enjoy while we waited for our taxi.
Husky Dog Sled Tour Company: Bearhill Husky
In our search for a great husky dog sled ride, we found that Bearhill Husky had the best value and offer for the price. We genuinely enjoyed our time and loved the treats. It was everything we had hoped for and then more. The staff was so nice and the experience was well worth it.
Ice Fishing & Northern Lights Tour Company: Beyond Arctic
We used Beyond Arctic for both our Ice Fishing and Northern Lights Tour. We really loved the company and felt they did a great job of making sure we were well taken care of. Our guide Juho was great at guiding us, taking photos, and making sure we enjoyed our experience. Our Northern Lights tour was great quality but seemed to focus more on the photography rather than the experience of seeing the Northern Lights. Our tour guide was helpful, but as explained earlier, we had too high expectations for the Northern Lights.