South-east Lapland is a border region between northern Finnish Lapland and inland Finland further south. It lies on the Arctic Circle and includes Lapland's capital and transport hub Rovaniemi.

Cities

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Map of South-east Lapland

  • 1 Rovaniemi – the entrance to Lapland for most. The province capital, the main transport hub, a university town, and the only city of any size. At the Arctic Circle with workshops of Santa Claus, where most people go to meet him.
  • 2 Kemijärvi – the other real town in the region, north-eastern railhead of Finnish passenger trains.
  • 3 Pelkosenniemi – with villages that survived World War II, thanks to their remoteness.
  • 4 Posio – Pentik design, Sirniö Smith Village and Riisitunturi National Park.
  • 5 Ranua – wildlife park with the only polar bears in Finland
  • 6 Salla – a ski resort, lots of wilderness, a national park and part of another.

Other destinations

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Understand

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View from Noukavaara, Posio

With forests and lakes, the region is landscape-wise a kind of border region between Lapland and inland Finland further south, though the landscape does feature some mountains, hills and ski resorts.

While only part of the region is above the Arctic Circle, this is inland at high latitudes and winters can be cold – Salla has the record with −50.4 °C (−58.7 °F) in 1985. Snow cover can be deep.

Get in

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By plane

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Flying is the fastest means to reach Lapland from abroad or from the south. The main airport, and the only one in this region, is in Rovaniemi. The coaches mostly drive via the airport. In addition to the regular flights, mostly from Helsinki, there are seasonal flights and charter flights from abroad in season.

By train

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Most of Lapland is reachable only by bus or car, but even when there is no train service to your destination, using the train for the first leg often makes sense. The transfer is usually smooth.

Trains will get you to Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi. The overnight trains from the south have sleepers and take cars (see Finnish Lapland#By train). The sleeper trains on this line are modern two-storey ones with 2-person cabins, some of which can be combined for a family, and shared or en-suite showers. There is a cabin for a wheelchair user and an accompanying person in each car, and one for those travelling with a pet. You always get the cabin for yourselves, so filling it up saves in price. The price for a journey from the south to Rovaniemi or Kemijärvi for two people in a sleeper cabin is about €150–300.

If coming from Sweden, you probably have to take a bus from Haparanda or Tornio to Kemi to catch a train (or take a coach directly to Rovaniemi).

From Russia you can get to Kandalaksha and continue by bus to Rovaniemi. The services might have been suspended in 2022.

By bus

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There are coach connections from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (15 hours), which is the hub of most connections. Northern Norway (Troms and Finnmark) has daily connections at least in summer. From Sweden, you will probably come via Haparanda/Tornio. From Russia, there used to be bus connections from Kandalaksha to Rovaniemi twice a week (check!).

Rovaniemi is the hub for connections also from towns closer by. For some destinations, there may be a coach from Kemi, Sodankylä or Kuusamo.

Matkahuolto has timetables for most connections, although you may have to try with different place names.

By car

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There are good roads to Lapland, but instead of using a day on driving, you might want to get your car on an overnight train and wake up fresh in the morning to enjoy the landscape while driving only the remaining distance – which may certainly be long enough. Alternatively, you might want to use a few days to see the length of Finland on the E75 (national road 4), or the west coast on E8 (national road 8; continue along E75 from Keminmaa). If you drive through Sweden, drive E4 to Tornio, a short leg south along E8, then E75. Mind that winter can come early and there may be slush or cold nights late in spring.

Get around

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Reindeer crossing a highway in Lapland; wait for all of the herd to pass.

Coaches are the main means to get around, unless you have a car. There is little competition in public transport in Lapland and indeed the voyage from Helsinki to Rovaniemi might be cheaper than the voyage from Rovaniemi onwards!

By bus

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Long distance coaches or minibuses cover most of even the smallest places, often with sparse schedules (typically one or a few services a day along the main roads). Express coaches usually turn into regular ones somewhere north of Rovaniemi. Matkahuolto has timetables for most of these. For some destinations you should look for school buses, postal carriers or shuttle taxis; check municipal pages or the destinations guides.

If you are waiting for a coach at the bus stop, note that the vehicle on the scheduled route may not actually be a bus, but a smaller car like a taxi. A coach ticket will still apply.

By train

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Trains are available only between Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi, and the schedules might be awkward as they are the long-distance ones.

By taxi

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Taxis are not necessarily connected to any call centres. Ask locally for phone numbers of individual taxi businesses. You don't want to have a taxi drive 100 km to fetch you, if that can be avoided; the fetching distance may show in the price (or you might want to tip generously). Often there is just one or two family businesses serving an area, other taxis may have to drive a long way.

If you use any local businesses, you could ask them about transport. They probably know all taxi drivers, might know the quirks of local public transport, and might be willing to offer a ride themselves.

By car

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If you are going to rent your car, check where you can get one. In Rovaniemi there are probably enough businesses, but elsewhere there might be none.

See Finnish Lapland for more advice.

By snowmobile

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Snowmobiles actually are a viable way of getting around; the route and track network is extensive. You might, of course, not be prepared to drive for hours, and unless you have the routine, you need to stay alert not to make mistakes at turns and bumps. See Finnish Lapland#By snowmobile.

See and do

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Ice climbing in Korouoma, Posio

See Finnish Lapland#See and do.

Rovaniemi is quite south for spotting northern lights. If you come for them, then choose a destination farther north. There is still a 20%-or-so chance to see them also here, so you might want to take a walk away from light pollution on clear nights. You will probably at least have a tremendous view of stars, compared to what you see in most cities. The polar night is short or absent, but the midnight sun can be seen from most higher peaks in Midsummer.

Otherwise you probably have access to any of the activities you expect in Lapland, including hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, canoeing, fishing, husky safaris and Father Christmas-related stuff. Especially for touristy Santa Claus stuff, you needn't leave Rovaniemi, where he has a workshop and gift shop, and often greets visitors. Backcountry areas may mostly be smaller than farther north, but there is quite some hiking territory and there are large or spectacular mires and bogs here and there, and several rivers suitable for canoeing. Kemijärvi offers a hundred kilometres or so of boating routes, on the lakes and along Kemijoki.

Special sights include the Santa Claus Village and the Arktikum Science Centre in Rovaniemi, the Korouoma canyon in Posio, with a spectacular ice fall, the crown snow-load of trees (the views in Riisitunturi national park are famous), the Oulanka river valley in the namesake national park, the Ranua Zoo, villages that survived World War II in Pelkosenniemi and the views to Russian wilderness from Salla.

Drink

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For nightlife, Rovaniemi is your best bet. Most people come to south-east Lapland for other reasons and the locals aren't many enough to maintain any real nightlife scene elsewhere.

Stay safe

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Although people from, say, Inari, might call even Sodankylä "south", there is much desolate wilderness here, with sometimes very harsh weather. Don't do anything foolish.

Winter can come early and stay late. Check weather forecasts rather than the calender. This also applies to winter driving.

  • Central Hospital of Lapland (Lapin Keskussairaala) is in Rovaniemi taking care of tourists with acute illnesses or accidents. The general emergency clinic is open 24 hr daily ( +358 16 328-2140).

Go next

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This region travel guide to South-east Lapland is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.