Rovaniemi – a Northern Culture Hub
Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is home to an eclectic – and unusual – array of museums. Some offer the opportunity to belt out a karaoke tune, others to shoot a digitised moose. Culture thrives in many mediums in the city; Rovaniemi even has its own chamber orchestra.
The Arctic Circle runs through the southern end of Lapland. Along its axis is the city of Rovaniemi, whose population of 60,000 makes it the largest population hub near the Arctic Circle. It’s no wonder that Santa Claus himself has chosen the city as the location of his post office. Beyond Mr. Claus and reindeer, Rovaniemi contains several other noteworthy cultural treasures.
Not your traditional culture
Arktikum, a museum and science centre that offers visitors an overview of the intricacies of arctic nature is located alongside Ounasjoki River. Between December and April, its windows offer a spectacular view of long-distance skaters and skiers gliding across the frozen river. The river is especially crowded on bright late winter days.
Along the river and around the city are 70 lean-to shelters that can be freely used by those who want to roast sausages over an open fire or enjoy other outdoor snacks. Firewood is even state-provided. The river landscape is dominated by Jätkänkynttilä Bridge; it’s an impressive sight, especially when illuminated at night.
Near Arktikum is one of the city’s newest draws: Pilke Science Centre. A state-run project, the museum gives visitors the opportunity to perform karaoke songs about the woods, hunt virtual moose and learn about different kinds of forests. The centre is a popular destination for school groups and nature lovers.
Korundi Cultural Centre, home to the Rovaniemi Art Museum, has become a recent regional hit. The focal point of its permanent collection is a series of works donated by Jenny and Antti Wihuri. Running the gamut of Finnish modern art from the 1940s to today, Korundi also collaborates with institutions such as the Finnish National Gallery.
Works on loan are also on display; the latest is Ferdinand von Wright’s (1822-1906) The Fighting Capercaillies. It’s the centrepiece of the “Nature Forte” exhibition, open until March 11, 2012.
Korundi also offers treats for music lovers in the form of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, formed in 1972 and conducted by John Storgårds. After four decades of a nomadic existence, they are finally playing to packed audiences in their new concert hall, a former postal bus depot.
Santa Claus is coming to town
One of the city’s most notable tourist draws is Santa Claus, whose post office and official dwellings are located in Santa Claus Village by the Arctic Circle, about a five-minute drive from the airport.
Santa Claus’s Main Post Office celebrated its 20th anniversary in the autumn of 2011 and receives about 32,000 letters a day around Christmas. Each year Mr. Claus leaves the village in a reindeer-drawn sleigh to deliver presents to children around the world. His send-off, held on December 23, is televised and broadcast internationally.
In addition to the post office, Santa Claus Village is home to Santa Park. Visitors can observe elves at work, bake gingerbread cookies and visit an ice sculpture garden. A cluster of cottages around Santa Claus Village offers visitors top-quality lodging year-round. Another Mr. Claus-branded institution in town is Hotel Santa Claus, where Restaurant Gaissa serves gourmet reindeer for adventurous diners.
Ounasvaara, a nearby winter resort, offers ski trails and slopes, and is a refreshing addition to a city break.
In just a few minutes, you can leave behind the hustle and bustle of a ski resort or a city and arrive in the peace and quiet of the wilderness. All children (and young-at-heart) know that Santa Claus lives in Finnish Lapland, where you can meet him in person.