Planning a family vacation to Finland? No trip would be complete without a visit to Lapland. From northern lights to husky racing, northern Finland has a lot to offer and these are some of our favorite family friendly things to do in Rovaniemi.
Thanks so much to Finnair and Visit Finland for hosting my trip to Finland. All opinions are 100% my own.
No trip to Finland is complete without a visit to Rovaniemi, also known as the official hometown of Santa Clause. From museums to mushing with huskies, check out some of our favorite things to do in Rovaniemi.
Family Friendly Things To Do In Rovaniemi
- Northern Lights
- Crafting With Local Ateliers
- Santa Claus Village
- Ranua Wildlife Park
- Arktikum Science Center
- Pilke Science Centre
Where Is Rovaniemi
The capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi can be found just four miles south of the Arctic Circle. It draws large number of tourists who come to see the Northern Lights and of course, Santa Claus. If you’re planning a visit, here’s what you should know before you go.
How To Get To Rovaniemi
If you’re planning to visit Finland, flying Finnair is the way to go. We flew Finnair into Helsinki, then again to Rovaniemi.
With so many direct flights, great service, roomy seats and more, it’s my favorite option. I even flew business class on this trip, something I’d never done before. Was it all that I dreamed it would be? Read about my Finnair Business Class experience to find out. Okay, I can’t keep a secret…YES, it was awesome!!! (but you’ll want to read the post to find out why).
The only thing I’d do differently? I brought WAY too much stuff! I totally should have read these Finland packing tips first.
What To Do In Rovaniemi
If you’re wondering whether there’s enough to keep the kids entertained in Rovaniemi, you have nothing to worry about. With dogsledding, crafting, wildlife tours and more, the kids will love it every bit as much as the grownups. Here are some of the highlights…
See The Northern Lights
You can’t visit the Arctic Circle without at least trying to see the Northern Lights. The best time to catch them is between September and March but even then there’s no guarantee. You’ll have a 40% chance of catching them on a clear night during peak season.
Patience is a virtue and it’s hard to predict when the lights will appear. Even when they do, you may just have a short window before they disappear again. We found the Aurora Borealis app super helpful because it forecasts the likelihood of seeing the northern lights. It makes it easy to follow along as the percentages get higher or lower.
If you get lucky though, it’s totally worth the wait. Of course, then you’ll want to take pictures and that’s the tricky part. I brought my tripod along (a must-have for shooting the northern lights) but even then my pictures turned out a bit blurry.
If you really want to take amazing pictures of the northern lights, Dotting The Map’s post on How To Photograph The Northern Lights has all the details. Their pictures turned out phenomenal and you’ll get step by step details on how to get shots like this one!
Hit The Sauna
If there’s one thing the Finnish people love, it’s hitting the sauna. It’s an age old tradition and part of their everyday culture. I would imagine it feels pretty nice to come in from the freezing cold and jump in a hot sauna.
You’ll find saunas everywhere from lakeside cabins to hotels. If you choose to visit a public one, you should know one thing ahead of time. Nudity is the norm and bathing suites are often prohibited for sanitary reasons.
To us, going nude may seem strange an uncomfortable. However in Finland it’s perfectly normal to sauna with friends and family. It’s as much a tradition for kids as well as adults, though once children hit their teens, they often prefer to sauna separately from their parents.
This may not seem like one of the more family friendly things to do in Rovaniemi but if you really want to immerse yourself in Finnish culture, you should give it a try. When in Finland…
Race With Huskies
Of all the experiences I had in Finland, mushing at Bearhill Husky may have been my favorite. Known more commonly as dogsledding, it’s a popular sport for both locals and tourists. Though traditionally done in the snow, you can take part in this activity year round. The vehicles are a little different (sleds in winter and buggies in the warmer months) but the experience is similar.
Bearhill Husky provides you with coveralls, boots, hats and mittens, along with a short lesson on how to drive the buggy (though somehow I STILL managed to end up in a ditch right out of the gate!). One person sits up front while the other stands behind them, steering and operating the brakes. Both are fun but controlling the buggy is by far the best job. It took a minute to get the hang of it but after that, it was super easy.
If you’re wondering whether the dogs like it or not, our little guys couldn’t wait to get started. It was so cute to see how excited they were and they seem to truly enjoy it.
Afterwards we not only got to hang out with our dogs but we were able to spend time with the puppies. I’ve always been a cat person but seriously, these faces! Don’t tell my kids but I kind of want a puppy now!
These little guys were so adorable and super affectionate. How can you resist puppy dog eyes like these?!
After hanging out in the kennels, we gathered in a giant yurt where we had a chance to warm up and learn more about the dogs and the history of Bearhill Husky.
The warm juice and cookies were a nice bonus. This was such a fun experience and if you only have time for one or two activities, I highly recommend it.
Tip: If you visit in winter, racing the huskies can be a very chilly adventure. Our guide recommended that groups with children take one of the shorter tours.
Craft With Reindeer Antlers
There’s no better way to learn about a destination than by hanging out with the locals. After all, they know more about it than anyone and it doesn’t get more authentic than an afternoon with Irene and Ari Kangasniemi. These local ateliers invite families or small groups into their workshop for an afternoon of crafting and fun, strong emphasis on fun!
Irene and Ari have spent years making crafts from reindeer antlers and are the best at what they do! Their workshop is filled from top to bottom with the amazing crafts that they’ve created, from elaborate antler adorned ceiling lights to simple knife handles.
They even make footwear. How cute are these soft, fuzzy booties? I need a pair!
Irene is the chatty one and Ari is the strong, silent type but they were both hilarious! Not only did we learn how they more about the fine art of crafting with antlers, we had a lot of laughs while doing so. We even made antler crafts of our own.
I chose to make a necklace with a Frozen theme. I was going to give it to my youngest but now I kind of want to keep it. Maybe we can share.
Afterwards, Irene and Ari invited into their home for coffee, tea and cinnamon rolls. We couldn’t have felt more welcome (and the cinnamon rolls were SO delish!).
While I really enjoyed the crafting and food, what I liked even more was getting to know Irene and Ari. Their warmth and hospitality are what made this experience so memorable. Kids will enjoy this experience as much as the adults and it’s a great choice when you’re looking for family friendly things to do in Rovaniemi.
Visit Santa In Santa Claus Village
You don’t have to wait until Christmas to visit Santa Claus! When you’re in Rovaniemi, you can see him all year round at Santa Claus Village. Located about five miles from central Rovaniemi, this is why it’s known as the official hometown of Santa Claus.
Cross over into the Arctic Circle and you can browse the shops for souvenirs and Christmas presents, snack on sweets and of course, visit the big guy himself.
Not only will you get to see Santa but you can feed his reindeer too. They’re very friendly, especially if they see that you’ve got lichen in your hand.
Don’t forget to visit the post office while you’re there. If you’ve ever wondered where your letter to Santa ended up, this is it. Santa’s post office receives over half a million letters a year from children, and adults, around the world and we’re told that Santa’s elves read every one.
You can even have Santa send a letter back home! Letters are stamped with a special Arctic Circle postmark, held until Christmas, then mailed to destinations around the world.
Ranua Wildlife Park
Ranua Wildlife Park is the place to go if you want to see the native wildlife up close and personal. With everything from reindeer to polar bears, this is another great excursion that will appeal to all ages.
The 1.7 mile trail takes you through the wilderness where you’ll see 50 wild animal species and over 200 different animals. They have an app that you can download to learn more about the animals as you go.
There were plenty of animals that I’d never seen but I was most excited about the polar bear. We don’t see many of those in Florida!
We also saw a brown bear, arctic fox (very cute!), a wolverine, wild boars, bison and of course it wouldn’t be Finland without reindeer.
Tip: The trails go for about 1.7 miles so you may want to bring a stroller for younger children.
Arktikum Science Center
Located walking distance from downtown Rovaniemi, the Arktikum Science Center and Museum is a must see for families.
The building alone is beautiful, with a gorgeous glass ceiling that ends with a picture perfect view overlooking the Ounas River.
The tour begins by teaching visitors about the geography and animals of Lapland.
From there, we moved on to the history and culture of the native people.
We also learned about how climate change is affecting the Arctic Circle, Finnish life throughout the years and even found out how Rovaniemi came to be known as the Official Home Of Santa Claus. The tour was informative but never boring and I definitely left knowing a lot more about Lapland than when I went in.
Pilke Science Centre
Though also focused on science, the Pilke Science Centre is a completely different type of museum than the Arktikum. In fact, they compliment each other well.
Arktikum covers Lapland as a whole, while Pilke focuses on the sustainable use of the forests and the wood based products created by Finnish scientists.
The interactive displays make this museum a lot of fun for kids. They can sing karaoke, play target games and more. Plus, what kid wouldn’t want to climb aboard this giant tractor?!
This museum could easily be done in an hour or two and the interactive aspect of it makes it a good choice for younger children.
Go Hiking/Enjoy Nature
I saved the best for last. While racing huskies and meeting Santa are certainly highlights of any trip to Finnish Lapland, nothing beats the sheer beauty of Lapland’s lakes and national parks.
The lakes are so calm that they look like glass and it’s easy to see why Finns choose to spend so much of their time outdoors.
If you have a little extra time, find a cabin on one of the lakes and just enjoy your surroundings for a few days.
Where To Stay In Rovaniemi
Hotel Santa Claus
If you’re visiting the official hometown of Santa Claus, why not stick with the them and stay at the Hotel Santa Claus. Located in the heart of Rovaniemi, you get the benefit of a great location with attractions such as Arktikum Museum and the Pilke Science Center in easy walking distance.
Hot breakfast was served every morning (included in the price of the meal) and I was impressed by the variety of food there was to choose from. This wasn’t just any hotel breakfast buffet! From meats and cheeses to eggs and croissants, even the pickiest little eater will find something they like.
If you need to keep the kids entertained for awhile, there’s a playroom designed just for the younger crowd…
and a playroom for the grownups too.
Between the prime location, the bright, spacious rooms and all the other amenities, you can’t go wrong staying at Hotel Santa Claus during your visit to Rovaniemi.
Arctic Fox Igloos
If you really want a unique Lapland experience, stay in an Arctic Fox Igloo in Ranua.
Though they may be a little pricier, what other chance will you get to watch the northern lights from the comfort of your own bed.
These igloos were surprisingly roomy and come with their own private sauna. Plus, you really can’t beat this view!
I love that this is such a one of a kind experience and would definitely love to go back and try it at some point. If you want to learn more about staying in an igloo, check out Trekaroo’s post on the best glass igloo hotels in Finland.
While these aren’t even close to being all the family friendly things to do in Finland, but they’re some of my favorites and a good place to start! Which do you think your family would enjoy most?