Travel

Rovaniemi Travel Guide

I travel for a living and it’s sadly rare that I am “wowed” by places anymore but Rovaniemi, Lapland, Arctic Circle, Finland took my breath away, not once but twice. Rovaniemi is a place where my heart is at peace and everything feels new and exciting. The nature, people, food, and culture all fascinate me. I’ve been both in June, when the region experiences “midnight sun” or 24 hours of sunlight, and in September, when it can be a bit rainy but still enjoyable. I hope to one day make it out for their famous Arctic Circle winters! Here is a write up of my absolute favorite activities to do, places to eat, and where to stay.

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FOOD:

I was really surprised by the dining options in Rovaniemi. The chefs are young and innovative, the ingredients are fresh, and the food is delicious. Here are some of my favorite places to catch a bite.

Arctic Boulevard at Arctic Light Hotel: Chef Matti Eemeli Seitamo celebrates arctic culture (think game, arctic super foods, and pickling!) and cooking from the heart here at Arctic Boulevard. Their multicourse meals are incredibly affordable.

Plan B at Arctic Light Hotel: Their kimchi in a burger makes my heart skip a beat but their arctic smoothie bowls are a delicious healthy alternative. This place is also the coolest place in town to grab a fancy cocktail!

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Hostel Cafe Koti: I know what you’re thinking: food at a hostel? The head chef does a wonderful job using local ingredients to make not only delicious but also incredibly affordable meals. I love their fresh baked bread, gnocchi, crispy broccolini, and their take on pork shoulder!

Frans & Cherie: Have you ever heard of French Finnish cuisine? They also do classic Lappish dishes! My absolute favorite version of the leipäjuusto can be found here. Also give their nonalcoholic blueberry cocktail a try!

Kauppayhtiö: Seriously one of the best burgers I’ve had. But what really took the cake were their fries! I got the loaded fries that came with mixed fries of potato and sweet potato, a generous dash of their buffalo wing sauce, green onion, peppers, and cheese. I still dream of these fries.

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Yuca: It’s incredibly hard to find good tacos in Europe. Who would have thought that I could find some of the best tacos of my life in the Arctic? Yuca is a hip taqueria that makes everything in house. They use a charcoal oven so that the meats have that distinct smokey flavor. They also have corn tortillas that they make fresh everyday! You can’t leave without trying their churros. I had them everyday that time I stayed in the city center.

Bull Bar at Arctic City Hotel: They seriously have the best ribs in town.

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Cafe & Bar 21: Famous for their Instagram worthy waffles, they make everything fresh in house. They even roast their own beans! I loved trying their waffles with a Lappish twist! Think blueberry and cloudberry.

Pure Pizza: Really damn good pizza.

McDonalds: I make it a thing to visit a McDonalds in every new country I am in. Finland was no exception. Some unique things they have on the menu are nacho cheese bites, spicy chicken wings, and the absolutely delicious McVegan (only available in Sweden and Finland). They are also open 24 hours so you can go whenever!

ACTIVITIES:

Arktikum Science & Culture Museum: What better way to learn about how the people in the region live than to take a guided tour with one of the best tour guides I know? Ask for Frank! He’s one of my favorite humans.

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Midnight Sun or Northern Lights Floating with Safartica: This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. They drive you into the most peaceful and serene forest and lake on the planet. You suit up in a neoprene suit, where you will stay nice and warm, and then you enter the lake to float away.

A day of zen with Husky & Yoga Nature! Think relaxing Yen Yoga which is not only therapeutic to the mind but also the soul and body, canoeing on a serene lake, and husky therapy with hikes if you wish. Aksana has gorgeous, true Siberian huskies! You can either hang out with them and cuddle or take them on a guided walk into the forest. I’ve done a lot of yoga in my life (hello lululemon) but I only discovered Yen Yoga with them. We did 30 minutes of transformational, life changing yoga in Aksana’s yoga room. I hear that in the summer months, they offer week long yoga retreats and in the winter, week long adventures in the snow.

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Midnight Sun or Northern Lights Photography with Beyond Arctic: As a photographer, I would like to think that I know what I am doing. But when it comes to nature photography, all bets are off especially when you’re working with conditions such as midnight sun and northern lights! Juho will take you to the best places and teach you how to use your camera to capture these magical moments.

A visit to a unique but classic Lappish home, Hornwork: Visit Irene and Ari, Lappish souls who live off the land! You can visit their workshop to learn some handicrafts. You will learn so much about life in the region through them.

Sauna: You cannot leave Finland without visiting a sauna at least once.

WHERE TO STAY:

Arctic Light Hotel: This is hands down one of my favorite hotels in the world. First of all, the rooms are beautiful and big. They offer toiletries from Rituals and they go above and beyond when it comes to hospitality. In the rooms, they have these instant coffee machines that also come with milk capsules so you can make lattes and hot chocolate in your room! Did I mention the breakfast? The chef works from the early morning until around 3 pm in the afternoon every single day to prepare the biggest and freshest hotel breakfast I have ever seen. They have the best 7 minute boiled eggs, delicious arctic specialties like berry smoothies and raw cakes, and a wide array of Finnish breads and cold cuts.

Hostel Cafe Koti: Delicious food, new and spacious (affordable) rooms! They even have a sauna!

EXTRA TIPS:

I love stocking up on special Lappish gifts. My friends love Arctic Super Foods bars (made with super foods from the Lappish forests) or Arctic Warriors medicinal/herbal goodies (try the spruce sprout powder or honey packets). These products can both easily be found at the Arctic Design Shop.

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People also love anything Marimekko or iittala. Luckily, there are two Marimekko shops in Rovaniemi, including an outlet at the Santa Claus Village, and an iittala store as well.

Rovaniemi is also one of my favorite cities to go second hand shopping/thrifting. I love looking for warm winter clothing, vintage Marimekko (most shops have a whole Marimekko section), and iittala! In the past I have found a gorgeous wool coat with a fur collar, gorgeous gold jewelry, fox fur hat, Marimekko sweaters, new iittala homeware at fraction of the original price. My favorite shops are:

  • Kontii

  • Vintikki

  • Varastotien Kirppis

  • Tuhattori: this one is in the city center and they have lots of Marimekko goodies!

For all your travel needs, visit Visit Rovaniemi. They also have an office in the city center where they can help you find activities to meet your travel needs. If you do end up going to Rovaniemi, let me know! It’s truly one of my favorite places in the whole world.

I absolutely love Rovaniemi and I hope you fall in love with the place too. You can read more about my adventures in Rovaniemi here.

Paris Je T'aime: Staycation at The Mandarin Oriental

So if you know me and you're my friend in real life and on Facebook/Instagram, you know that I am OBSESSED with contests (sorry not sorry for tagging you as my ami(e)! Looking at you--Sutanya, Piper, Anthony, Allen, and even my aunt Syndey)! I love free shit and there's this unexplainable thrill to entering the contests--what if I win this all expenses paid trip to Argentina?! I've won a lot of cool things, including a road trip to Spain that I had to unfortunately turn down, but this was truly something else. 

This time, I won a one night stay at one of the Palaces in Paris (a Palace is a status given by the French government to hotels that are better than 5 stars!), the very expensive and regal Mandarin Oriental Paris. I specifically won a night in one of their rooms with breakfast for two, valued at 1,139 EUR! I was over the moon and I literally screamed with sheer joy before Christmas dinner at Anthony's parents' home. Oops. 

Mandarin Oriental Facebook

So on Saturday, Anthony and I filled up our Longchamp x Jeremy Scott Weekender bag and made our way from our home in the 6ème to the fancy Rue Saint Honoré. We checked in at a little past 3PM to not seem too eager (hahaha). It was luckily SNOWING in March so we had an excuse to be holed up in our winnings. We were greeted with two glasses of the finest champagne and then introduced to our very own guest services representative (different from the receptionist) Sophie and I even got to meet Guillaume, the head of PR! So cool.

Then we were taken up to our room on the 4th floor where Sophie showed us all the great amenities and even showed us how to use the virtual library that's only available to Mandarin guests. To break the ice, I shared that I only stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore as a kid. I am so strange and awkward around strangers (Jesus take the wheel)! Sophie was kind enough to give us a direct number to call if we needed anything at all. Talk about superb customer service and making us feel SPECIAL. 

champagne

Once we were left to ourselves, Anthony and I spent the next hour checking out all the cool details. Waiting in our room were two plates of fresh cut berries, an edible chocolate Eiffel Tower, two different flavored bottled fruit juices valued at 15 EUR each, and a personalized card from Raphael, the marketing director (p.s. Raphaelle has the most beautiful handwriting)! The attention to detail in the room and the whole hotel was impeccable. There was a Mariage Frères teapot, Diptyque toiletries (this really killed me as I am a HUGE fan), a rotating Bang & Olufsen TV with the most beautiful remote, the Man Ray inspired artworks, and so much more. On each floor, they even have a little corner with a sofa and books you can browse through. 

After we gorged ourselves with berries, champagne, and chocolate, we decided to hit the hotel gym. The gym was super cute with towels and Evian water bottles available at every machine. There was a cool machine with clear elastic bands and a mirror so that you could check yourself out as you worked out them pecs. Downstairs, there was a gorgeous indoor pool, so you could listen to the water as you worked out, and a spa that uses Guerlain products. Talk about serene! They also provided crisp magazines, fruits, cold refreshing towels, and mint, lemon, and honey infused water.

We made our way back up to our rooms, took a shower with the provided Diptyque products (can you tell that I'm still not over this?), and then walked five minutes to one of our favorite restaurants in Paris, Ferdi! This is Kim and Kanye West's favorite place to dine in the City of Light and also where most of the Victoria's Secrets Angels came to spoil their diets after the show. The place is crazy popular during fashion weeks and it's tough to get a reservation but very much possible if you just shoot them a text a few weeks in advance. 

This time at Ferdi, we ordered the Bomba Latina assortment plate, the famous Mac Ferdi cheeseburger, the famous Mac n Cheese with freshly shaved ham, drinks, and the famous Churros with melted dipping chocolate (Bella Hadid's favorite!)! We love that the place is intimate, the service is chill, and the ambiance is fun and fancy without being pretentious. A meal for two comes out under 100 EUR which is great for Paris in my opinion.

turn down service

We made our way back to our room under the snow and rain mix (bizarre for March!) and came back to a room completely made for turn down service! They even gave us the option to order different pillows! They had unique scents, such as coconut milk, and different firmness levels. Anthony gave a quick call to housekeeping and we were promptly brought four new pillows--talk about being SPOILED! Shortly after, we passed out from our well deserved food comas, on a bed that only dreams are made of. 

In the morning, we decided to sleep in and not go to the pool as planned. We live such busy lives during the week that we really wanted to relax on our staycation. Then we went to stuff ourselves at the breakfast buffet at Thierry Marx's Camélia. I have it on my bucket list to try afternoon high tea at every Palace in Paris so this was very exciting. They had a huge buffet of freshly baked pastries, from flan to brioche to pain au chocolat, fresh fruit, hams, cheese, breads, jams, etc. The list goes on forever. You also had the option of ordering eggs from the kitchen so we both opted for an omelette! The omelette came with ham, bacon, mixed vegetables, and cheese and it was out of this world. It was accompanied by a roasted cherry tomato that really blew me away. We also ordered fresh orange juice and a latte!

After breakfast, we packed our bags and checked out, rested and full from an amazing stay at the Mandarin Oriental Paris. Our little staycation adventure went by so fast! If you have the funds and you are in Paris, I would definitely recommend staying here. 

An extra special thank you to Sophie, Raphaelle, Guillaume, and the Mandarin Oriental Paris staff for making our staycation contest win beyond perfect. We will be back!