‘My husband stumbled upon some discount tickets and we decided to go’. This is how I begin stories about the trips I’ve taken in the last few years. We even went to China for our ̶h̶o̶n̶e̶y̶m̶o̶o̶n̶ ̶ maplemoon, thanks to one of those sales.
The plane tickets to Rovaniemi we also bought in advance, in the summer, thinking it would be a great place to spend New Year’s Eve. At first, we were really excited, but then it dawned on us that we would still have to pay full price for the rented apartment. Despite that, we were still looking forward to our adventure.
About the destination
Rovaniemi is a city in Finland, the capital of Lapland. It lies right on the Arctic Circle, which makes the town a gateway to the arctic, so those who want to cross that line travel to Santa Claus Village. There is a gate, having gone through which, you can solemnly cross the Arctic Circle.
At this point in our story, my husband starts going on about how the Arctic Circle border actually moves a little bit every year, and it would be fair if the gate was also moved. But don’t let this nerdy remark spoil the fun!
Rovaniemi has a population of about 60,000, so it might give you an idea of what the city is like if you are already familiar with any city of that size. There’s not much to do except go for a walk downtown or take a stroll along the riverbank.
Expenses (2 adults)
- €200 – round-trip tickets,
- €330 – one-bedroom apartment on Airbnb for 3 nights,
- €211 – eating out,
- €109 – groceries,
- €46 – public transit,
- €26 – taxi from downtown to Santa Claus Village,
- €56 – tickets to Snowman World,
- €28 – postcards and stamps,
- €18 – souvenirs.
HEL - RVN
We live in Vantaa, close to Helsinki, so on New Year’s Eve, we got to the railway station and took a light rail to the airport. In Finland, you can buy a universal ticket, which is valid on any form of public transport. The price depends only on the zone you’re going to be traveling to.
Although there are universal fare cards and paper tickets, we prefer to use the HSL app. There are 4 transport zones in Helsinki (A, B, C, D), and the app helps not only map a route but also allows you to buy a ticket. For example, to get from our apartment to the airport, you have to buy a ticket to zones B and C, which is 2.80 euros.
At the airport, we quickly went through security and started looking for something to eat. In terminal T, there used to be a cafe that had vegan bowls on the menu, but it’s closed down (as well as lots of other airport shops and restaurants).
We got lucky at Upper Crust. It’s a chain restaurant where you can find the ‘A Better Choice’ product line that features quite a few vegan options. First, we tried ciabatta with beetroot hummus, vegan feta and avocado, and it was actually really good. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about quinoa and tofu wrap, which was too bland. Anyway, we had a great meal and were very grateful for the airport's initiative to introduce more vegan options. I even sent them a thank-you note on their website.
The flight takes a little over an hour, so we didn’t take any snacks with us. Also, there was nothing interesting in terms of vegan options on the Norwegian Airlines catalog.
Arrival in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi airport is very small, so there are only around 13 gates. Right at the exit, you can take a taxi or an express bus. We decided on the bus, and it cost us 7 euros each. Our first stop was two minutes away from the airport at Santa Claus Village. It was so beautifully illuminated with colorful holiday lights that I immediately felt like I was in a fairytale! I managed to fight the strong urge to get off the bus right there and then because our host was already waiting for us at the apartment.
We got to the city center pretty quickly and got off at the Scandic hotel, as we rented an apartment in a neighboring building. We were met by the daughter of the host, Tuulia. She quickly led us into the elevator, showed us the main exit and the back exit where we could find the trash cans. She didn’t even step into the apartment with us, just gave us the key and said goodbye. Personally, I think that approach was perfect. I am not really a fan of hosts who spread themselves or stay in the apartment for longer than needed.
Speaking of the key, it was the first thing that made me uncomfortable and the thought of which would stick with me the entire trip. Actually, the unfortunate key was one of the reasons why I decided to write these travel notes and then came up with an idea to start a blog about traveling as a vegan. Maybe it wasn’t good luck but it seemed like fate.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what was so special about the key that took me aback. Well, it was attached to a deer antler keyring. Even holding it was terribly off-putting because it was just a constant reminder of the murder of an innocent animal.
When we went out for food (we wanted to make Russian salad), the terrible attributes of the tourist Rovaniemi appeared to be waiting for us at every corner. Wow, I wonder what's in the gift shop? Deerskins. Wow, maybe it's new vegan jerky? Reindeer jerky. Wow, what are those peculiar knife handles? Deer antlers.
The image of a reindeer is constantly glamorized. There are postcards with reindeer, all sorts of souvenirs with reindeer, and even light sculptures of reindeer are installed everywhere. At the same time, people seem to be eager to tear it into small pieces: a fur coat, a skin, a key chain, a knife, a burger patty, jerky, the list goes on. They are exploited to the very end, and here, of course, among other things, you can go reindeer/dog/horse sledding.
It is unbearable to watch people not notice their hypocrisy. One second they are so touched by reindeer, and go reindeer sledding or eat reindeer steak the next. And this, probably, hurts even more than the very fact of exploiting these beautiful creatures.
Well, is there anything to do that doesn’t entail animal exploitation
Sure. Your options don’t come down to only eating steaks and going dog sledding. There are plenty of fun activities for a vegan as well.
Go for a walk downtown
It is very pretty there, so even a walk back and forth a couple of times is a good idea.
Our apartment host was very thoughtful and provided us with two sleds (they are pretty cheap and easy to find in a store). At first, we couldn’t figure out where the sledding hills were and were too embarrassed to ask the locals. However, then on one of our walks, we saw one hill from above. It was right next to the Angry Birds Playground. 15 minutes of sledding was just enough for us to realize our butts were sore and we were satisfied. It was very exciting!
Why go dog or reindeer sledding when you can go on snowmobile safari! However, you’ll have to be proactive. Plan and book everything in advance and don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions. For example, Lapland Safaris require a driver’s license. Besides, they provide you with thermal clothing and wool socks, so make sure you don’t forget both your driver’s license and warm wool-free socks. If possible, talk over the details with their representatives, too, just to make sure it won’t be an issue for you to use your own socks, for instance.
There are some places where a valid driver’s license is not a requirement, though. One of them is Arctic Circle Snowmobile Park, but you’ll have to make sure to book your safari in advance and also consider the fact that it is located in Santa Claus Village. I am not sure what their policy says about socks, so do your own research.
Traveling to Finland and not going to the sauna may be considered a crime. Nowadays, almost all modern apartments here have their personal saunas, and our rented apartment wasn’t an exception. I don’t even know what we would have done without it! It was always so nice to come home, heat up the sauna and sit there for a while.
Apartments are usually equipped with electric sauna heaters, so they are easy to manage. If there is a tub and a scoop, you can also pour some water on the stones to make it hotter. By the way, Finns enjoy drinking beer after the sauna, so you might want to consider having a beer, too, as a tribute to this tradition. A lot of common alcoholic drinks here are vegan, you can check them out for yourself on Barnivore.com. I recommend you try Karhu beer, it is a local classic.
On this map, you can find all the public fireplace spots. Usually, they are equipped with firewood but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be there. That’s why I try to always check a spot’s reviews before leaving home. I guess we could all agree that if you want to roast a sausage over a fire, walking all the way there to not find any firewood to make a fire with is simply not worth it.
Even though roasted sausages always sound like a good idea, this time we felt like bringing marshmallows. You can check out the addresses of the shops that sell vegan marshmallows here but do it beforehand since they’re not available at all locations.
It took us quite a long time to get to the cooking shelter (where the fireplace was), and sometimes my husband took seemingly the most difficult route through snow and winter woods. When we finally got to the illuminated path, we were astounded by the beauty of a winter forest! The trees were so beautifully covered with snow, they didn’t feel real but more like a painting. Everyone should see such a fairytale at least once in their life!
There were already people gathered around the fireplace so we didn’t have a choice but to join them. As soon as we sat down, we instantly realized the mistake we had made. We hadn’t brought anything to sit on. And let me tell you, it is not very enjoyable to sit on logs covered in snow, and for some of us (me), it may even be dangerous for health. We ended up finishing our marshmallows extra quickly and set off on a journey back home.
We hadn’t even gone too far when my husband suggested we climb the Observation Tower, which was near the cooking shelter. Climbing up the stairs turned out to be pretty scary as the steps were slippery, but the view we saw in the end was definitely worth it.
Santa Claus Village
Although there’s a lot of animal exploitation in terms of entertainment, vegans can still have a great time there. Go for a walk (it’s twice as beautiful in the dark!), rent a snowmobile, go shopping for souvenirs or even talk to Santa (it’s not free).
All the activities described below are located in Santa Claus Village
Santa’s Post Office
At Santa’s Post Office you can send postcards to your family and friends. There’s also a scheduled delivery option, which means you can send a postcard and the addressee will get it on Christmas Eve next year. My husband came up with an idea to send postcards to our future selves. I think it will be so interesting to see how I’ll react to receiving a letter from myself. All post is stamped with the special Arctic Circle postmark, which looks more interesting than the one you get at our Russian Father Frost’s Post Office.
At the post office, there are 6 or 7 booths selling postcards and other souvenirs. Unfortunately, there are not so many tables (I counted 2), so if you want to sign the card you’ve got, you’ll have to either wait in line or do it on the table beside the souvenirs. It’s not convenient and holds the line longer than needed, so my tip to you is: sign the cards beforehand. You can buy similar ones in the city or you can still buy them at the post office but sign them later when you are, for example, in a cafe, and then come back and skip the line to the tables.
Also, if you’re buying postcards at the post office, just ask the cashier for as many international stamps.
As for me, sending a signed card is the best souvenir you can get for someone. It doesn’t take a lot of space and will make the addressee a part of your adventure. Besides, postcards are quite cheap, prices start at 1 euro, and a stamp is €1.95.
It’s extremely overpriced but still worth visiting. Basically, it’s a space with snow and ice walls. Inside, there’s a small ice slide for children, ice sculptures, pictures made of snow, an ice bar, an ice bed (with deerskins on top), an ice rink, and a sledding hill with inflatable snow sleds. In terms of drinks, there was vodka in the bar. I have sent an email to the manufacturers asking if it was vegan but haven’t heard back from them yet. Anyway, some hot drinks are vegan, for example, glögg. We didn’t really expect to see anything vegan on the restaurant menu, so decided against going there.
The ice rink was just horrible. First of all, it was impossible to find skates in the right size as they were all scattered around the locker room. Second, it was really cold and the only space heater there wasn’t helping at all. The rink itself was ridiculously tiny, there couldn’t possibly be enough space even for children. I was unhappily surprised by the quality of ice, too. I can skate but I wasn’t able to gain any speed whatsoever because of all the bumps and holes. The only thing I liked about the rink was the fact that they provide skating aids for people learning how to skate. My husband used one and it turned out to be very helpful.
The sledding hills were amazing! It feels like you are in a waterpark but with snow. However, there are only two options, for adults and for children. On top of each of these two hills, there’s an employee who helps you go down. We went 3 times and realized we were too tired to go up again.
To sum it up, Snowman World is worth visiting if you want to go sledding or have a drink at the bar. There isn’t anything else to do. Besides, everything is very pricey.
Among other things, you can swing by the candy shop, which mainly sells sweets from the Finnish manufacturer Fazer. During our visit, there were green gumdrops, Pepparkakor Annas, and Marianne hard candy. As you can see, the vegan selection is small. But you can take a look at the charming little train, which rides in circles under the ceiling!
This is a free small exhibition where you can look at snowmobiles and read about their history. That is, you can even find out who the owner is, for what purpose the snowmobile was bought, or why this particular snowmobile has such functionality. Of course, the theme of exploitation of animals also came up here, for example, there is an exposition with a snowmobile and fishing gear. The museum is still interesting, though.
There are only three supermarket chains in Finland: S, K, and Lidl. S includes Alepa, S-Market, and Prisma. K stands for K-Market, K-Supermarket, K-Citymarket. Lidl is just Lidl. Now, listen carefully, this rule will come in handy: the larger the store, the lower the prices. So it is always better to go at least to the supermarket if you want to get a lower price on everything but don’t want to spend time commuting to a market or a hypermarket. Or you can just go to Lidl, you probably won’t buy tons of expensive things there, but at the same time, don’t expect to find many interesting vegan products there either.
Our family consists of me, my husband, and our two bunnies, so we usually spend around 50 euros a week on food essentials. Were we to go to K-Citymarket or PRISMA, we would spend at least twice as much.
While in Rovaniemi, we managed to go only to Sale (same as S-Market, they like to change the name) and to K-Supermarket. The former one was very disappointing, we didn’t even find vegan mayonnaise or tofu. The latter one, on the other hand, had a good selection of everything, not only vegan stuff, it was a nice surprise.
So my advice to you is to go shopping for essentials at Lidl and for treats at K-Supermarket.
Takeout and eating out
During our trip, we ordered as much takeaway food (we used the Wolt app) as we cooked ourselves. Once we ordered tofu from one of the Chinese restaurants but it was so bad I won’t even recommend it. We also ate at McDonald’s, they have McVegan and other vegan options.
One morning we decided to go to Espresso House because there’s always something vegan on the menu. We had focaccia with truffles and grilled peppers, and I also had a brownie. By the way, in Finland, you hardly ever have to pay extra for plant-based milk, unlike in Russia. Enjoy!
We also tried a vegan burger at Pure Burger. It had a tofu and chickpea patty and was quite simple but still tasty (the bun is worthy of the highest compliment!). Pure Pizza was also right there. Although, unfortunately, they don’t make vegan pizzas, they have vegan lager. I didn’t have time to try it, so try it for me next time you are there (if you can afford to spend €7 on a beer)!
Surprisingly, I managed to find vegan options in Santa Claus Village, too. I saw some potentially vegan dishes at Santa Burger but I hadn’t checked them beforehand, so we didn’t get to try anything. Don’t forget to check those burgers for yourself if you are going there.
At Napatapuli (it is in Santa Claus Village) we ordered vegetable soup which is served with Finnish rye bread and vegan spread. At the time we weren’t sure if the spread was vegan but later found out that it was, so you won’t have to worry about it. There was also supposed to be vegan blueberry pie but it wasn’t on the menu that day, so we didn’t check the ingredients. Oh, and be careful, their veggie noodles contain eggs!
Rovaniemi is a wonderful winter fairytale. For those who have lost their Christmas spirit, it could be a great place to regain it. Even though vegans might struggle here a bit, a trip here still has the chance to become an amazing experience.
Translated by: Anastasia Sirotkina.