Rovaniemi is a Finnish town near the Arctic circle, known as the capital of Finnish Lapland and the official home of Santa Claus (the Santa Claus village is about 20 minutes drive out of Rovaniemi). It suffered a lot of damage during World War II and was then rebuilt into a modern town full of culture and interesting museums. I visited some of them during St. Patrick’s weekend in 2019, while studying abroad in the Swedish Lapland. During my stay in Rovaniemi I was couchsurfing with my new Finnish friend Elina, but more on that here.
One of Rovaniemi’s most distinctive features is the elegant Jätkänkynttilä bridge spanning over the Kemijoki river, which was actually the first cable-stayed road bridge in all of Finland. The name means lumberjack candle, which was used for light and warmth by Nordic lumberjacks working deep in the woods. The so called candle is actually a log cut into sections, but not completely split through, so that fire can burn safely contained in the middle of the log until it burns through the wood. The bridge design is supposed to commemorate this particular part of the Nordic heritage and was chosen as the winning entry in a design competition.
I visited in winter, so the river was mostly frozen and Rovaniemi was covered by a snow blanket, giving it a lovely sleepy vibe. Elina recommended that I visit the Rovi museum trinity (Arktikum, Pilke and Korundi) and you can get a combined ticket for all three of them, which was 15 € for students and 20 € for adults at the time of my visit (March 2019).
Impressions of Rovaniemi
Arktikum is the most classical museum of the three, as it focuses on life in the Arctic through many exhibitions and has a surprisingly affordable gift shop with many local souvenirs. It covers everything, from permanent sections about Arctic geology, wildlife, seasons and traditional living, to temporary photography and other special exhibitions. During my visit I encountered a very desperate museum guide, who was trying to convince a group of Asians that polar bears are not in fact cute and cuddly and should not be approached under any circumstance. I thought the situation was hilarious and stayed to listen in, while he looked like he was about to burst a vessel.
The Arctic life in Arktikum
The next museum, Pilke, is a fully interactive science centre dedicated to the Northern forests and the wood processing industry, with a strong emphasis on sustainability. It is basically a museum about trees and I loved it! The exhibits are designed to teach about the forests in general, as well as the wood processing procedures, recycling and forest related folklore. There’s even a section where you can compare toilet papers with different degrees of recycled paper and bleaching.
Pilke the tree museum
The last one was the art house Korundi, an art gallery focusing on the Finnish and Northern contemporary art. They also have temporary exhibitions: at the time of my visit they featured the work of Alaskan native artists. While I am not normally a modern art person, Korundi was just crazy enough to be interesting, not senseless and I liked it surprisingly a lot.
Korundi art madness
You can also see one of the art installations in the video below.
I didn’t visit any other museums while I was in Rovaniemi, as I chose to spend the rest of my time visiting the Santa Claus village, and the Ranua zoo, enjoying the sauna life and celebrating St. Patrick’s day with a night out with Elina and her awesome friends. If you don’t have a lot of time in Rovaniemi, I’d recommend you to follow a similar itinerary, as those 3 museums are really worth a visit and the Santa Claus village is a must.
There is one more thing from my Rovaniemi visit that deserves to be mentioned though: reindeer sushi.
Elina and her friend took me to Himo, an Asian fusion restaurant. It was a bit pricey, but I believe food is always worth splurging on and it was! I’d had reindeer meat before in Sweden, but never raw and definitely not in sushi form, so this was an interesting and tasty treat and I’d definitely recommend it if you visit Rovaniemi.