Easily accessible by train or bus, ROVANIEMI is touted as the capital of Lapland. Just south of the Arctic Circle it may be, but anyone arriving with an expectation of sleighs and tents will be disappointed by a place whose administrative buildings, busy shopping streets and McDonald's (the most northerly in the world) make it a far cry from the surrounding rural hinterland. Like many places in Finnish Lapland, the elegant wooden houses of old Rovaniemi were razed to the ground by departing Germans at the close of World War II, and the town was completely rebuilt during the late 1940s.
Alvar Aalto's bold but impractical design has the roads forming the shape of reindeer antlers, though the centre of town is based on a familiar grid pattern. Although Rovaniemi can be quite dismal in summer, with its uniform greyish-white buildings and an unnerving newness to everything – even the smattering of antique shops contains nothing older than 1970s junk – during the winter the city really comes into its own, with the neutral colour of the buildings working in perfect harmony with the snow and ice that covers the streets for almost six months of the year. During the cold months, the town plays host to busloads of nervous southern Europeans swathed from head to toe in the latest cold-weather gear, heading out on snowmobile safaris or simply stumbling around the icy streets as proof that they have endured an Arctic winter. The best idea is to use Rovaniemi only as a short-term stopover, or as a base for studies in Sámi culture, before heading off to one of the north's smaller villages for a more genuine taste of Finnish Lapland.