Discovering Lappish Hospitality And Complete Acceptance in Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi might not be your mainstream gay holiday destination like Berlin, Fire Island or Bangkok – but LGBT travellers who are looking for a something a little different, will find a a lot to love here.
The cultured capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi tempts in holidaymakers with absorbing museums, magnificent hotels, cosy bars, creative dining plus more than a few sauna options. And that’s just in the town, without taking a peek into the myriad of delightful activities and attractions hidden within this dense Taiga forest landscape.
Finland is one of the most progressive countries in Europe – and the world – with a long and proud history of social, gender and sexual equality. This is the country that produced Tom of Finland after all.
So is it any wonder that LGBT travellers feel so comfortable in this serene and open-minded city?
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Finland in 2017, one of the final steps in reaching full acceptance, and Rovaniemi, like much of Finland, has embraced its queer citizens and guests as an essential part of the social fabric.
There is a design shop selling locally crafted pleasure products targeting at the rainbow community and Rovaniemi is the official home of the world’s most famous bushy-bearded bear, Santa Claus. Of course, the tremendous Arctic Pride held annually in March – with rainbow-flag reindeer and winter-ready participates from all over the queer-spectrum (and their allies) celebrating diversity and acceptance.
A nice change from the circuit parties and shirtless Adonis’s that typically dominant other Pride festivals around the world.
Gay Rovaniemi – the cultured capital of Finnish Lapland filled with intriguing museums, gorgeous hotels, quirky bars and more than a few sauna options. Not to mention all that expansive wilderness right on your doorsteps where the dense Taiga forest is only broken by the odd husky kennels, reindeer farms and rustic huts perfect for Northern Light viewing.
Naturally, in this small town “gay” means something closer to “merry and bright,” than it does “homosexual”. There is no camp nightlife nor a gay bar or raunchy saunas, but we must admit we really enjoyed the freedom of just being ourselves in all the other clubs and bars we visited in Rovaniemi – and we were not the only ones!
One important note however to be aware, however, is when a cute guy invites you to sauna – it might not mean exactly what you think.
Most saunas in Finland are separated by sex and guests will generally be naked, though there are a few exceptions. LGBT travellers should take care never to confuse gay saunas versus traditional sauna as it would be incredibly awkward to make advances in a conventional sauna in Rovaniemi – which are all about health and relaxation rather than sex.
For the best Finnish sauna experience, we love the fabulous facilities of B&B Kotitie that come complete with herbal treatments and traditional Finnish vasta (birch-tree branches tied together and used to swat skin to improve circulation). There were even home-made soaps, oils direct from Finnish nature, refreshing sauna drinks and customary sauna snacks. And, naturally, owners Aini and Pekka warmly greet all guests equally and offer impeccable hospitality – but that goes without saying with everything in Rovaniemi.
For us, this low-key inclusive vibe is an essential part of the Rovaniemi appeal. A alternative to the typical high-energy gaycation where you are promised full acceptance no matter your gender, sexual preference or race.
Instead of spending your nights in a hot-and-heavy nightclub, you can instead spend it under the midnight sun or holding your lover surrounding by the glory of the Northern Lights. By day, a visit to the adorable Bearhill Husky Park is a must or maybe you just want to relax in one of the many adorable cafes or surrounding by Finnish contemporary art at the Rovaniemi Art Museum. And a stop at Cafe & Bar 21 is a must: if only to try their divine cloudberry waffles, best paired with the signature Lapland Mojito cocktails.
For accommodation you can’t go part the Arctic Light Hotel, one of the best new hotels on the planet according to Travel + Leisure …and us, although the glass-roofed Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle offering a tempting combination of Sleeping under the starry skies while in complete luxury and surrounded by Finnish nature.
Rovaniemi is a destination for everyone, where you are welcomed as you are and it is okay just to be you. Gay, straight, or unicorn: matter where your interests lie – culture, Nordic food, expansive nature, avant-garde design, husky puppies or something more – Rovaniemi is for you!
Writer Jack Kenworthy is a Contributor For Queer In The World. A LGBT travel website obsessed with inclusivity and focussed on helping people discover and navigate diverse destinations around the globe.