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Celebrating Midsummer in Rovaniemi

In the Nordic countries, midsummer is a big deal. It’s similar to a national day, like the Fourth of July or Australia Day, but without the nationalistic overtones; simply put, it’s a huge party that celebrates the never-ending light of summer and the fact that there is no snow anywhere to be seen.

Bonfire on the Kemijoki

A bonfire burns on Ounaskoski Beach just after midnight on midsummer.

This past summer, I spent my first midsummer in the capital of Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi. Even though I was in the city — a place that many Finns vacate at that time of year to head to their lakeside summer cottages — there was no disputing that midsummer, or Juhannus, is obviously a holiday that the Finns take very seriously.

Even though I was warned beforehand about the mass exodus to the country, I found that there were more than enough ways to kick back, relax, and enjoy the summertime right in the middle of the city. So, if you find yourself in Rovaniemi for the holiday, what should you know first, and where should you go to celebrate?

Midsummer Isn’t Always on the Solstice

Midnight on Midsummer

The midnight sun reflecting on the Kemijoki River at around 12.15am on midsummer.

The midsummer holiday isn’t always on June 21 — the summer solstice — as I would have expected. Instead, midsummer itself is always on a Saturday, so it floats between June 20-26 each year. The major public holiday is actually midsummer’s eve, which is on a Friday.

It’s important to know that some countries may celebrate midsummer on different days. For instance, in 2015, the Danish celebrations were four days after Finland’s, as their celebrations always happen on St John’s Eve. So, if you’re travelling between multiple countries, you may be lucky enough to take part in two separate midsummer celebrations!

Everything (I Mean Everything) Is Closed

McDonald's Rovaniemi

The food in Lapland is so much better than this. Just don’t go looking for it on midsummer’s eve.

As you would expect on major public holidays like your country’s national day or Christmas, all retail outlets are closed on midsummer’s eve and midsummer. I made the major mistake of arriving in Rovaniemi on the Thursday evening before midsummer and departing on the Sunday morning, so most shops were closed for the entirety of my visit.

I also found out that it was very difficult to find food on the Friday. If I went back again, I would make sure to do a big grocery shop the day before midsummer’s eve so I could use the kitchen in my cottage (at Ounasvaaran Lakituvat) rather than having to eat at McDonald’s, which was the only place that I could find that was serving food. Subway wasn’t even open! And, to add salt to the wound, the McDonald’s in Rovaniemi no longer holds the special status of “the northernmost McDonald’s in the world” after one opened in Murmansk, Russia.

Find a Sauna

Chalet Hotel Sauna

The riverfront sauna at the Chalet Hotel.

Sitting in a sauna is one of the most Finnish ways that you can spend midsummer. As I mentioned previously when I wrote about the SaunaTour in Ruka, saunas are a way of life in Finland.

Many important moments are spent in the sauna, and people are even known to have business meetings there! Of course, there won’t be any business meetings happening on midsummer, but it’s an important day nonetheless, so you’ll find that many of the estimated 2 million saunas around the country will be in use.

Banks of the Kemijoki

The waterfront view just in front of the Chalet Hotel sauna.

In most hotels and holiday cottages around the country, you’ll find that you have access to a sauna, whether it is a communal sauna or one for your own personal use. While my cottage at Lakituvat had a sauna that I made use of on other days, on midsummer’s eve, I went a little further afield to the riverfront sauna at the Chalet Hotel.

This sauna is located just outside the centre of Rovaniemi, just across from the Ounasvaara ski area. Its appeal over my personal sauna was the location; jutting out over the river, it couldn’t have been better placed for a relaxing summer evening under the midnight sun. Plus, they served light meals that were more traditional — and more flavourful – than the fast food I’d had earlier in the day!

Chalet Hotel Cheese Platter

My cheese platter, which I ate on the patio while looking out across the river. So good.

The sauna itself is open to anyone that would like to visit, regardless of whether they are staying at the hotel or not. It is divided into women’s and men’s changing areas, but the sauna itself is for both sexes; therefore, while I would usually recommend that you enjoy single-sex saunas in the Finnish way (naked), it will probably be more comfortable if you bring a swimsuit or underwear so you don’t have to wrap yourself in a towel.

It was interesting sharing this sauna with other Finns, since I usually share with other tourists in hotels. The temperature difference was marked; as soon as I felt like I was comfortable, someone would pick up a ladle and toss more water on the big pit of coals in the centre of the room, filling it with steam once more. It definitely helped me to push my boundaries, although I was very thankful for the deck with a cool breeze where I took many much-needed breaks!

Kemijoki Reflections

Gorgeous colours on the river just in front of the Chalet Hotel sauna.

I highly recommend sticking around for a little while once you’ve finished with the sauna. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting on the deck and taking in the scene; the quiet and the glassy calm of the Kemijoki River were mesmerising.

Find a Riverside and a Bonfire

The Midnight Sun Watcher

The Kemijoki River: a great spot for watching the midnight sun.

I know why the local Finns escape to their lakeside cottages — who wouldn’t take a chance to get out of the city they live in on a weekend with beautiful, summery weather? — but when I stood on the banks of the Kemijoki at midnight, I still wondered why they would want to leave. In front of me, the sun was dipping down, attempting to touch the horizon but failing; behind me, music rang out of dance halls and was almost drowned out by the buzz of people.

Arktikum at Midnight

The midnight sun shines through the glass facade of the Arktikum Museum.

While I can highly recommend the banks of the Ounasjoki in front of the Arktikum Museum as a midnight sun watching location, I think the best spot in Rovaniemi to see it on midsummer is the iconic Jätkänkynttilä Bridge — or just underneath it on the banks of the river, where I was. That’s because you can watch the midnight sun just before it dips behind the hills on the horizon and then head to the biggest party in town.

Glowing Under the Midnight Sun

The Jätkänkynttilä Bridge.

That party takes place on Ounaskoski Beach, which is just to the south of the Jätkänkynttilä Bridge. I saw more people at this beach than I saw in the very dead city the whole day before. Everyone packed in to watch as a traditional bonfire (kokko) was lit on the beach, and a few minutes later, to watch as it toppled over, a burning pile of logs trying to stay alight as the river lapped at them. Hopefully the bonfire had done its job of keeping away all the evil spirits before it toppled over!

Ounaskoski Beach

Some of the crowd remains to watch the toppled-over bonfire burn on Ounaskoski Beach.

Find the Highest Vantage Point for the Midnight Sun

Another popular location in Rovaniemi during the midnight sun period is the top of Ounasvaara hill, which offers one of the highest vantage points in the city for watching the sun as it circles around the sky.

Ounasvaara

The view from the top of Ounasvaara, Rovaniemi’s ski hill.

Even without the midnight sun, Ounasvaara is one of my favourite locations in Rovaniemi. It’s barely a five minute drive from central Rovaniemi, yet it feels so much further away. You can stand in the forest at the top and hear nary a whisper while looking down on a city of 60,000 people. It’s not often you can do that!

A number of people choose to go to the Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara, which is located right at the top of the hill next to the ski lift. That’s because its roof is open to both guests and visitors alike; however, while access used to be free, now non-guests have to pay a fee to be admitted.

Lakituvat

My cottage in the woods at Ounasvaaran Lakituvat.

Personally, I prefer to stay at Ounasvaaran Lakituvat, located near the top of Ounasvaara on the other side of the hill from the ski runs. My summer visit to Rovaniemi marked my second stay at Lakituvat, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time (possibly even more, since this time I had a car for transport to and from the city).

While there were a number of things to like about the accommodation itself — the cute red cabins nestled in amongst the trees, the full kitchen, the expansive living areas, and the sauna just to name a few — my favourite part was how easy it made it to get a scenic view of the midnight sun. In other places in Lapland, it’s a challenging hike to the top of a fell to get a sweeping view stretching out below you; here, it was a five minute walk.

Ounasvaara Woods

The woods of Ounasvaara.

Since my days in Rovaniemi were quite packed, I was often very tired by the late evening when the colours of the midnight sun were at their best. That meant that I really appreciated being able to take the easy option!


I’m sure these are but a few of the options that will help you to enjoy the holiday to its fullest, but they were what made my first midsummer a memorable one. Happy midsummer, and I hope you have a relaxing, fun day on this most Finnish of holidays.

Have you ever celebrated midsummer in Finland (or any of the other Nordic countries)? What was your experience?

I stayed in Rovaniemi on midsummer courtesy of Visit Rovaniemi and Safartica, but all opinions stated in this piece are my own. Cabins at Ounasvaaran Lakituvat start at €190 during the summer season and easily fit a family of six.

Thank you to Finnair and Europcar Suomi for their sponsorship on this trip. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to explore nearly as much of Finnish Lapland as I did.

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16 Responses to Celebrating Midsummer in Rovaniemi

  1. Valen-This Way To Paradise November 28, 2015 at 6:22 am Reply

    This sounds like a wonderful Holiday, and I love the idea of finding a sauna!

    • Kristin November 30, 2015 at 7:14 pm Reply

      Thanks Valen! The sauna was definitely one of my favourite parts of midsummer 🙂

  2. Karen Warren November 28, 2015 at 6:24 am Reply

    I saw Midsummer in Denmark once – it was quite an occasion with (if I remember right) a straw witch being burnt and sent out to sea. There were fireworks and a lot of revelry. I suppose midsummer is a big occasion in the northern countries where they really get the midnight sun.

    • Kristin November 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm Reply

      That would be quite the sight to see Karen! I’ve only ever heard good things about midsummer celebrations in Denmark. I’d love to be there for it one day!

  3. Miranda November 29, 2015 at 1:48 am Reply

    I love that Midsummer’s Eve is a public holiday. I think we should celebrate the natural world more. Great tips re: finding a sauna and high place to watch the midnight sun. I did the same the first time I was in Canada’s north for solstice, we found a high point on the Yukon river bank and just basked in the sun at midnight. It was surreal.

    • Kristin December 3, 2015 at 6:09 am Reply

      That sounds fantastic Miranda! I’d love to go to the Yukon in summer as well. It looks like a stunning place.

  4. Meg Jerrard November 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm Reply

    I would love to experience Rovaniemi during summer – I went in February of 2007, and obviously I’m fairly certain that winter is a whole different experience to summer. We had much shorter days than you got to experience and there was little else to see than snow…hard packed and EVERYWHERE 😀

    We did get to experience the midnight sun in Iceland earlier in the year and it was amazing, really got so much time out of each day! Though we were eating dinners at 2am thinking it was 6pm (cooked for ourselves) so we didn’t get much sleep 😀

    • Kristin December 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm Reply

      Haha yes, you’re definitely right Meg — summer is a completely different experience to winter. I love Rovaniemi so much in winter because it is so different to home here in Australia, but it was fantastic seeing it in a completely different light in summertime too.

      That’s awesome that you got to see the midnight sun in Iceland. I’d love to see it there too, partially so I could fit even more into days there (since it felt like we never had enough time to do everything when we were there in September). And hahaha @ eating dinner at 2am — I know that feeling very well from this trip too!

  5. Leigh November 30, 2015 at 2:50 am Reply

    I’ve never been to Finland but would love to time my visit for late June to take advantage of all the light. Quite amazing the extent a country shuts down. Most stores are certainly closed in Canada on holidays but finding food would never be an issue.

    Looks like a glorious place to visit.

    • Kristin December 9, 2015 at 5:24 pm Reply

      It is definitely a glorious place to visit Leigh — I hope you get to go someday soon. I love it both in the dark of winter and the light of summer, but it’s great having those really long days to be able to do a lot of exploring (they are particularly big on their hiking there). I was quite surprised as well at how much the city shut down on midsummer’s eve as well. I never thought it would be that difficult trying to find lunch!

  6. Nathalie November 30, 2015 at 3:52 am Reply

    What an amazing experience to be in Rovaniemi for midsummer even though most everything was closed. It looks like you spent some quality time there. Your photos are beautiful! thanks for sharing.

    • Kristin December 9, 2015 at 7:16 pm Reply

      Thanks very much Nathalie — I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos! I definitely got some quality time in Rovaniemi. I would have loved to spend a bit more time there but I feel like I at least made the most of the time I had!

  7. JodyR November 30, 2015 at 8:07 am Reply

    I had no idea the date of mid-summer changes, I always thought it was on the 21. What a great tip about the shops being closed over this holiday. I wish this was something we also celebrated in Canada as we get a similar amount of light to Norway. Your post has inspired me to go!

    • Kristin December 9, 2015 at 7:18 pm Reply

      I thought the same Jody! It’s different in every country, so it stays put on some calendars and moves on others. It would be cool if Canada celebrated it — it’s nice to have a holiday that’s completely about nature. I hope you do get to go someday — it’s a magical place in both summer and winter.

  8. David June 23, 2016 at 4:10 am Reply

    Thanks Kristin for your advice. We have spent a few days in Rovaniemi this week to enjoy the midnight sun. We stayed at the chalets and they were wonderful. We plan to head to Helsinki for the official midsummer parties. Thanks again!

    • Kristin September 17, 2016 at 5:08 am Reply

      Hi David, apologies for the very delayed reply. I’m so glad to hear that you stayed at Lakituvat and enjoyed it! The midnight sun really is spectacular to see as well isn’t it? I hope you had a great time at the official midsummer parties in Helsinki as well 🙂

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