Having lived in Rovaniemi for 2 months last year I feel I have a great deal to say about the city. I have tried to compartmentalise different aspects so it doesn't seem like I am just blabbering on but unfortunately for you lovely readers I have rather a lot to say.
=== some general things ===
* Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland (and also where Santa Claus lives) and is in the northern part of Finland.
* The currency used here is the euro which at the time I went had an absolutely awful rate and basically Euro1 equated to £1.
* Everything seems to be shut on a Sunday so a weekend away here might not be best idea.
* The main language spoken here is of course Finnish, with Swedish also widely spoken, and the majority of people speak English too.
* I can't seem to find a statistic to give an amount of people who live here but what I will say is that this city is very sparsely populated. There are very few people compared to the area of land which I personally love as you have a huge amount of space wherever you go.
* The time difference is 2 hours ahead.
=== Weather ===
The weather in Rovaniemi (and Finland in general really) is one of extremes. In the winter the temperature can be as low as -30 with thick snow and possibly 2 hours or so of sunlight per day, whereas in the summer months there is what is known as the midnight sun. There is literally no darkness at all at any point during the day. The temperatures around this time can reach heights of +30 or so. Personally I would avoid visiting during the winter as I think it is just depressing to be freezing cold all of the time with awful weather and no sunlight. While Finland is an amazing country with low crime rates, it does have a high rate of suicides and I wonder if this is related to the weather. During the spring/ summer months the weather is far better and I personally loved the lack of darkness at any point. I felt much less tired although it is a very strange experience to feel like it is never night time. Thick black out curtains are a must if you expect to get any sleep during these times.
=== How to get there and how much it costs ===
When I went to Rovaniemi I started out in Helsinki and travelled up via an overnight train which was certainly an experience! The flight to Helsinki at the time ( April last year) was around £80 for a single, and the train I believe was around £30 - £40 which I don't think is bad when you consider this is also your accommodation for the night. You could also fly directly to Rovaniemi as there is a small airport that I believe is around 10km or so from the city centre. It is certainly not very far and you can also use the Rovaniemi airport minibus from the airport to your destination for around Euro5 to Euro10 which is incredibly cheap compared to the usual price of a taxi (which are a total rip off but I'll get onto those later). I personally preferred to have flown into Helsinki, spent a couple of days there before travelling up and the overnight train was an interesting experience with someone jumping in front of it (like I said, high suicide rates).
=== Cost of living ===
I am not going to go into massive detail about the cost of a vast array of different things but I will say that the cost of living in Rovaniemi ( or robbing-Amy as I fondly call it) is much more expensive generally than in this country. In fact I think that there were only 2 things out there that were cheaper than in this country - student hall rent costs and condoms. A pint of beer/cider will set you back generally a minimum of Euro5 - pretty steep! And almost all other drinks are more expensive than this. Transport is also much more expensive, especially taxis who charge not only from where you are to your destination but also their travel to get to you. The cost of a meal out can vary depending on where you go but there is a very wide variety of places to eat and so there should be something to fit everybody's budgets. Typical tourist excursions such as arctic safaris can also be very costly and could be as much as Euro200 depending on what this includes.
=== Getting around ===
There are a few ways to get around Rovaniemi depending on what you prefer. It is very easy to rent out a car and not too expensive depending of course on where you rent it from. We rented a car out for a few days between 5 of us and I think we paid around Euro30 each including putting in petrol as it needed to have a certain amount upon its return. I would highly recommend renting a car as it allows you to go a little further and there are some absolutely stunning places for hikes a little north of Rovaniemi. Taxis are also widely available although they don't seem to like the English much! We had one drive past us that we had ordered as we clearly stuck out like a sore thumb and he clearly didn't want our custom anymore. Where I lived was around 2km from the city centre (everything in Rovaniemi is in km) and to get a taxi from here cost Euro8 before we even got anywhere. By the time we got into the city centre it was around Euro16. I would recommend keeping transport by taxi to a minimum as I think it is just a rip off! Unless of course there is a fairly large group of you in which case it does not work out too expensive. The bus network is pretty poor within the centre with buses being infrequent and again somewhat expensive, so I tended to avoid these and only ever caught the one that went to Santa Claus village which cost around Euro7 for a return. The main and seemingly preferred method of transport in Rovaniemi is the humble bike. I was very lucky and had somebody let me borrow one, but to buy one can be very inexpensive. There are a great number of charity shops here who seem to basically always stock bikes from as little as Euro20 although of course it won't be in brilliant condition. In certain places you can buy a bike, take it back when you are finished with it and get Euro10 back which is even cheaper. If you stay in certain places you can also use a bike for free, e.g. the Scandic hotel which allow you to use a bike for free (I'm guessing this is because it is advertising the hotel as you cycle around. I personally loved going around on my bike and found it very relaxing. It was really easy to get to places as there is hardly anyone about so there is no congestion at all. There are also places in town where you can lock your bike up to which I highly recommend! There is a general attitude in Finland of ' if the bike isn't locked up, it is anyone's to have'. My friend didn't lock up her bike, and indeed somebody else must have then believed that it was theirs to take!
=== Charity shops and recycling ===
As I have previously mentioned there are a huge number of charity shops in Rovaniemi. They may seem like a strange thing to mention but they were unbelievably useful when I stayed, although admittedly probably less useful for a tourist, but in writing this review I am writing about Rovaniemi in a general manner and not just in the viewpoint of a holiday. The interesting thing I found about the charity shops here were two things. The first thing being that they seem to stock everything you can think of - cutlery, pots and pans, rugs, skis, framed pictures, clocks, clothes - all sorts really ( and bikes too). The other thing that I found rather nice was that charity shops will purchase things from you to stock in their shop (of course this will be a low fee but useful all the same).
Unlike this country where we are encouraged to recycle but not always given a huge incentive to do so (I feel this way at least), Finland ( in fact Scandinavia in general) are very big on their recycling. Most stores will get you to pay for bags, as lots of stores do here, but the main difference I found was in the recycling of bottles. On most bottles ( I guess the ones that are recyclable) there is an amount of money written on the back of each bottle, with the amount varying on the size of the bottle. For example a small bottle may have '10c' (10 cents) or '25c' for a large bottle. Outside all supermarkets are bottle recycling machines. You simply insert whatever bottles you have that can be recycled into the machine and it will tell you how much money you have collated. You then press a button which creates a voucher for this amount. When you have completed your shopping in the supermarket you simply present the voucher at the till and the amount is deducted from your bill. I thought this was an absolutely fantastic idea and I was certainly collecting my bottles! This recycling idea also explains why you may see some slightly shifty looking characters digging around in bins!
=== Shopping ===
The city centre, while fairly small compared to many other capital cities, does offer quite a variety for shopping. There are two main shopping centres - Sampokeskus and Rinteenkulma - which both contain a variety of shops and eateries. Most shops here are ones that cannot be found in this country (aside from H and M). As with most things in Rovaniemi the shops can be fairly expensive but this would probably not be a problem if you were not spending very long here and were happy to spend out on things. I personally was here for quite a long time so tried to avoid spending more money than I could help. There are some shops on the high street which offer traditional Lappish items such as snow boots made from reindeer fur, and jewellery made with parts of reindeer. Basically you can find pretty much what you find on our high streets here, just in shops that are not familiar to you.
=== Eating out ===
As I said there is a wide variety of places to eat at in Rovaniemi. There are your usual fast food places like MacDonald's and subway. There is also a Hesburger ( a kind of Finnish version of burger king). There is a fantastic place called Amarillos which I believe is not exclusive to Finland as I spotted one in Tallinn, Estonia. This is a wonderful Mexican but my memory is a bit foggy with prices. I am fairly sure that a chicken burger with chips was around Euro15 and desserts started from around Euro7. The Santa Claus hotel was also a lovely place to eat with a lovely atmosphere at similar prices. There are also some pizzerias which I highly recommend. I have to say the pizzas I had here were far superior to any I have ever had in England, and are also a cheap option. In one pizzeria I had a margarita pizza ( I'm a bit boring with my food choices) and it was just Euro6. I say just because it was absolutely huge - quite a big larger than a typical large domino's pizza. As I have said before this is a general review which is why I have tried to not go into too much detail regarding places to eat.
=== Things to do ===
Oh dear..now this could take a while to write about. I think the first thing I would say is that even without 'doing' something in particular the general experience of being in Rovaniemi is just glorious. Just going on a short bike ride lets you take in beautiful views and probably see some arctic hares which are huge! While I was in Rovaniemi I also saw the northern lights which were breath taking, although admittedly not quite up to the standards of the ones I had seen while in Oulu (about halfway down the country). To see them in the time that I did ( in April) was impressive as they were not often seen around this time. The northern lights are just beautiful as the green flickers light up the sky for a short time and I feel very lucky to have seen them not just once, but twice.
I would also highly recommend an arctic safari. There are 4 or so companies within the city centre that deal with safaris so you can easily compare prices and try to get the safari you are really looking for, some will even tailor make one so that it meets your individual needs and requirements (although this will come at a price). The safari that myself and a group of friends went on consisted of a snowmobiling session for an hour or so, a visit to a husky farm, and a short 500m or so husky sled ride (we wanted a longer one but as the snow was melting it wasn't possible as the husky's need more snow). This came at a cost of around Euro100 or so and was well worth it in my opinion. The price also included rental of the clothing needed and transport to and from these places. The safari was amazing ( see my last review for more details on the snowmobiling) especially the husky farm visit. Those dogs are just beautiful and they were clearly looked after well.
Santa's village is also well worth a visit especially if you have children. This consists of many shops that basically all sell the same things. It kind of reminds me of Disneyland where all of the shops look different from the outside but all sell the same things. There is also a café and of course the real life Santa Claus ( he is definitely real because I saw him). I have to admit it was a bit strange seeing Santa in the middle of May with Christmas music playing but definitely an experience I enjoyed. You're never too old for a bit of Santa! You can also get a photo with Santa with a hefty price of around Euro25 for just one large picture. Ouch. There is the post office where you can see all the letters from around the world that get sent to Santa, and can of course send postcards from here. You can also send one to somebody so that it specifically arrives at Christmas time - I think this would be pretty magical for children. This place is very easy to get to as you simple catch the Santa bus from the city centre.
If you are feeling historical you could visit the Arktikum which is basically a reasonably sized museum and you can even enter a chamber to watch a simulation of the northern lights should this take your fancy. I believe that entry was around Euro10 or so.
I would also highly recommend going a little outside of Rovaniemi as I had a wonderful hike a little up North from here. It was 10km or so all the way around and the views were just absolutely stunning with just a massive amount of trees, lakes and peacefulness. There were also shelters dotted about with benches around, and firewood pre-cut and an axe handy too in case there wasn't enough, ready for the fire. The Finns are big on their bonfires and love to toast their frankfurters on it and something I would definitely recommend doing!
There is also a very small ski resort in Rovaniemi called Ounasvaara which I believe has 5 or 6 slopes, but have been told by my friends who went ( I really hate skiing) that the views when you reach the top are just amazing.
=== Nightlife ===
I have to say that I had some amazing nights in Rovaniemi. I would say that the nightlife is more targeted at the younger people and some places can be very grungy. One good place to go is called Kauppa which is a coffee shop during the day ( by the way you can also buy anything you see in there, literally anything including what you are sat on) but is transformed into a bar in the evenings. There is also an Irish pub (which isn't remotely Irish) and offers karaoke, and some nightclubs which can be fairly expensive to get into. I would say generally about the nightlife that it is reasonable but that you shouldn't expect anything amazing or too sophisticated. While I am on the topic of nightlife, I will also briefly mention that should you want to buy a drink from a supermarket rather than in a bar, that this could be slightly annoying. Supermarkets will only sell alcoholic beverages up to a certain alcoholic percentage ( around 5 I think), mainly being beer and cider. To get anything stronger you need to go to a an aptly named ALKO for which you need to be 20 to purchase.
=== The language and the Finns ===
The language spoken here in Finnish and really seems to resemble no other language whatsoever. For example 'Happy Mothers Day' in Finnish is 'Hyvaa Aitienpaiva' (bit of a random example but proves my point). To say hello is simply hei (hey) and bye is heihei. Luckily almost all Finns seem to speak English, but I would avoid asking older people as they don't always seem to speak English. I have found the Finns to be immensely pleasant people. They are very friendly and will do whatever they can to help you without ever being forceful or pushy. I felt incredibly safe in this Country mainly to do with the people as I never felt on edge or like I would be taken advantage of. The Finns made me feel like Rovaniemi was like a second home.
=== A couple of other things ===
I am not going to go into massive detail about where you could stay in Rovaniemi as there are a wide range of choices, although I would recommend the Scandic as I have stayed in one of them before. There is also the Santa Claus hotel which definitely looks impressive but as I have not stayed there I cannot comment. Here is a link for any of you who would like to know more about staying here.
There is also a site where you can click on different webcams that show you various parts of the city right now. http://www.rovaniemi.fi/Kansainvalinen_sivusto/English/Webcam.iw3 - here is a link for that site. I would recommend looking at Lordi's square (which is the main square in the city), Ounasvaara which is the small ski resorts, and the bridges. The bridges are beautiful over the river and when they have been frozen and are melting make the most wonderful crackling noises.
=== Overall ===
Overall I think I have given a pretty large amount of information. The key thing I would say about Rovaniemi is that there are quite a few things to do if you are a tourist, plenty of nice places to eat and shop, and it is just generally a very beautiful place. I would say that Rovaniemi is a very laid back and peaceful place, brilliant for relaxing, and is also good for more adventurous things like safaris. I think that Rovaniemi has a little bit of something for everyone and I highly recommend it.
Thank you very much for reading.