When conjuring images of Finland, we’re sure the snow-cloaked wilderness, frozen lakes, and aurora borealis skies of Lapland are first to come to mind. Finland’s northernmost region dominates a third of the country, extending to neighboring Nordic nations and comprising ski resorts, Santa Claus villages, and indigenous populations, but you might be wondering, where in Lapland should you visit?
Rovaniemi and Levi are both fantastic winter destinations, that any outdoor lover is sure to enjoy. However, these cities offer different experiences and show two sides to the Arctic circle. Whichever you choose could make all the difference to your Finnish getaway.
From the adventures to the accessibility, our guide looks at everything that makes Rovaniemi and Levi unique. Where arctic foxes dance across the sky, Lapland is just waiting to be discovered. Let’s find out which city will get your vote.
Rovaniemi or Levi: General Vibe
Overlapping into Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the Baltic Sea, Lapland is an area of wilderness around the size of Portugal and the homeland of the native Sami people. It’s a place of fairytales and where winter wonderland comes to life, but also a destination for active outdoor adventure and Christmas magic.
Rovaniemi and Levi are located 170 kilometers apart in road distance, which is around two and a half hours by car. There is no direct train to Levi, which is further north than Rovaniemi, but you can get a bus between the two destinations if you plan to visit both.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland, sitting just south of the Arctic Circle line, while Levi lies deeper into the region. The main difference between Rovaniemi and Levi is the remoteness of the latter. Both offer a host of winter activities, but Rovaniemi is a transport hub and gateway to the rest of Lapland, while Levi is a laid-back ski resort and springboard to the national parks of the northwest with their Arctic fells and indigenous populations.
It might be the biggest ski resort in Finnish Lapland, but Levi is a quiet town, nestled at the base of the Levitunturi mountain, dotted with frozen-over lakes. The town is compact and there are plenty of places to stay with restaurants, grocery stores, and even lively bars in the center. Skiing is the biggest draw factor to Levi and there is a popular ski school and plenty of gear rental shops in town.
Levi is known to have the purest air of all inhabited areas of the world. How’s that for atmosphere? Still, Rovaniemi is the most popular place in Lapland, and for good reason. It’s a more established city than Levi with ten times the population and extensive dining and shopping options.
It might be larger, but it is still walkable and you can reach most of the shops, restaurants, and tour company bases on foot – that’s if you have the appropriate footwear for the snow. Rovaniemi is also surrounded by water, like Levi, but instead of lakes, the Ounasjoki and Kemijoki Rivers meet outside the city.
You won’t need a car to get the best out of the downhill skiing and activities in Levi, but a hire car is recommended for seeing Rovaniemi and things are more spread out beyond the center, with the best adventures being a little further afield. Nevertheless, the festive and bustling atmosphere of Rovaniemi is unmatched, an exhilarating contrast to the all-surrounding wilderness.
Rovaniemi or Levi: Getting There
When we’re talking about Lapland, located at the furthest northern tip of Europe, getting there is likely your first concern. Finland is an easy-to-navigate country with some of the most celebrated public transport networks in the world. Still, these cities are remote and it will take some extra planning to reach them beyond jumping in a taxi.
If you’re coming from Helsinki, a great place to start your Finnish adventure if you don’t want to spend your whole trip in the snow, you can either get the train or fly. Norwegian Air and Finnair operate flights every day between the capital of Finland and the capital of Lapland, taking just one hour and starting from $55 return, but you can also take a train of which there is one per day. The cross-country rail is a great way to see some breathtaking scenery but it does take eight hours and costs a similar amount to flying.
Rovaniemi Airport is just 15-minutes from the center of town by car or bus. In fact, the Airportbus shuttle is a convenient service that takes passengers to the center of town as well as specific addresses in the city. You can also fly direct from some European cities to Rovaniemi, but it might cost more than flying into Helsinki first if you’re coming from further afield.
Levi is over 150 kilometers north of Rovaniemi, but you could visit both cities in one trip if you don’t mind the two-hour car journey. Otherwise, Levi is only 20-minutes from the nearby Kittila Airport and the shuttle to the center of town runs regularly every day, costing $15 per person.
It takes a bit longer to reach the more remote Levi than Rovaniemi from Helsinki, and this is likely the same if you’re coming from anywhere in Europe or North America. The flight from Helsinki takes around three hours and costs between $50 and $160, but you can also jump on a train for around $80.
The journey time is just under nine hours and is pleasantly scenic. Alternatively, you could opt for the overnight, sleeper-train option for a different kind of adventure. Finnair operates direct flights from the UK to Kittila, but only during winter and there’s usually just one flight per week.
To sum up, both cities are remote, but Rovaniemi is Lapland’s transport hub and decidedly more accessible.
Rovaniemi or Levi: Things to Do
Both Rovaniemi and Levi are brimming with exciting adventures focused around the snow and Arctic wilderness. From Northern Light tours to snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and Santa grottos, you can find just about all of it in either city, but different regions are better for different activities.
Skiing is the main attraction in Levi but there is no shortage of other wintery activities. You can visit the Christmas market, roast marshmallows on the open fires in kotas around town, take a reindeer sleigh ride, go ice karting, and chase the northern lights on a snowmobile safari. Nearby Kittila town, is home to a 19th-century wooden church and the Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park is just northwest of Levi, a remote Arctic wilderness with the remains of the Linkupalo Volcano which are too far to reach from Rovaniemi.
Levi has the best skiing in Finland and trumps Rovaniemi if it’s downhill slopes you’re after. Rovaniemi has the Artikum, a science center and museum for learning about the Sami people and their crafts, but Levi’s Samiland Exhibition is arguably more authentic, being closer to the official homeland of the Sami people in Utsjoki. Explore the culture through photos, recreated buildings, and artifacts.
You can explore Levi’s igloos and even visit Santa and his elves in Levi’s grotto hideaway, but Rovaniemi is the official home of Mr. Claus and overflowing with Christmas experiences.
The SantaPark Home Cavern and Santa Claus Village are big festive attractions in Rovaniemi. There isn’t skiing directly in the center but you can take a trip to Ounasvaara, located four kilometers from the city in the Arctic Circle. Comprising mostly cross-country tracks, Levi is better located if you’re a fan of the slopes, but there are a few downhill trails and even tobogganing and biking in the summer months in Rovaniemi.
Go on a husky ride, embark on an ice fishing adventure, attempt a Northern Lights hunt, and revel in all the restaurants and nightlife options. Rovaniemi is also great for culture with the Arkitkum and the Science Center Pilke, boasting interactive exhibitions about the northern forests. You can also book a stay in an ice hotel or visit the Korouoma Canyon with its frozen waterfalls. The canyon is around 90 minutes away but is one of the top ice-climbing destinations in the world.
Rovaniemi or Levi: Cost
They might not be too far apart, but the costs to stay in a regional capital versus a remote ski resort could be more different than you think. Firstly, Rovaniemi might have a broader variety of accommodation options, but standard room rates vary between $80 and $160 in the Lapland capital, compared to around $50 to $100 in Levi.
However, getting to and around Levi will likely set you back more with its remote location. An airport transfer costs around $65 in Levi but only around $50 for a private minibus from Rovaniemi to the airport. The shuttle bus in Levi might be just $15, but public transport from the airport to Rovaniemi can cost as little as $5 each way. Car rental is also more expensive in Levi with less variety and rental shops, but you’re less likely to need a hire car in the compact resort. On average, daily transportation costs around $40 in Levi compared to just $25 in Rovaniemi.
This is one of the only areas where Levi falls short on price though, with food and drinks costing more in the Lapland capital. Travelers spend an average of $40 a day on meals in Rovaniemi, but just $30 in Levi. If you’re looking for dining-related experiences, expect to spend around $115 for a Northern Lights hunt and dinner with a local Kota in Rovaniemi and $155 for a camped-out wilderness meal.
These experiences could cost slightly less in Levi as you can book a Northern Lights van tour with a barbecue for around $100 for the whole family. Other activities centered around the snow such as husky sledding, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and ice-hotel stays cost much the same in the two cities at around $100-250 per person.
Still, like food, alcohol is also considerably cheaper in Levi than in Rovaniemi, coming to around $10 a day, compared to $25 in Rovaniemi for the same beverages. This makes the average daily cost for a vacation to Rovaniemi around $140 per person, but just $100 in Levi. These discrepancies could make all the difference even if Levi is harder to reach.
Rovaniemi or Levi: Weather
They are only two hours apart but the weather in Rovaniemi and Levi can be quite different. At a higher altitude, Levi experiences more snowfall and colder year-round temperatures which could affect your trip.
The average minimum temperature in Rovaniemi in February, the peak of the winter season, is around 7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is usually experienced at night when your Northern Light experiences and ice hotel stays will be in full swing. February is the coldest month in Rovaniemi and the weather is considered extreme, but Levi is still much chiller, dipping to one degree Fahrenheit when the wintery cloak of darkness sweeps over Lapland.
It snows more in Levi but rains more in Rovaniemi, making Levi much better for skiing. Levi’s hottest month is July, when highs reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit and lows sit at around 50 degrees, while Rovaniemi can reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the warmest days in July. This might sound great for sun lovers, but it’s not ideal if you’re after winter wonderland activities.
Rovaniemi might be the most popular place in Finland in winter, but Levi is far better for guaranteed snow and extreme cold. If you want the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights too, one of the biggest pulls to Lapland, Levi also trumps Rovaniemi. The further north and the higher altitude you’re at, the more likely you’ll see the arctic foxes come out to play. High above the Arctic Circle, Levi is actually within the aurora zone and the glass-domed cabins located at the highest peaks of the fells experience some of the best aurora scenes.
Rovaniemi or Levi: Our Verdict
They might cater to a lot of the same experiences, but Rovaniemi and Levi are two very different cities with contrasting atmospheres, and the one you choose all depends on the holiday you’re after. Rovaniemi is vibrant and busy. It is a magical Christmas wonderland with grottos and idyllic accommodation, but with all the shopping, dining, and culture you could want.
Levi is much quieter but it’s the undoubted favorite for skiers. You’ll also get to experience the real remoteness of Lapland and have a better chance of experiencing Finland’s world-renowned weather phenomena. If you’re still stuck between the two, why not visit both? You can rent a car and make the drive or hop on the bus for a three-hour jaunt up north and experience the best of what Lapland has to offer in these two cities.