8 epic cruises and boat tours from Rovaniemi

Right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, the Finnish town of Rovaniemi is known for being a fantastic location to see the northern lights and to go dog sledding.

Rovaniemi in Finland is surrounded by rivers and lakes and not far from the coast, so is a good place for a boat trip.

It’s also home to Finland’s Santa Claus village, and is an excellent base for winter activities like reindeer rides and snowmobile trips.

But you may not realise that Rovaniemi is also a great place to take a boat trip or tour. 

Finland has some 647 rivers, 76,000 islands and a coastline of almost 200,000 miles.

Around ten percent of the country consists of freshwater, the highest percentage in the world, so you’re never very far from a lake or river here. 

And Rovaniemi, around 75 miles inland from the Gulf of Bothnia and surrounded by lakes and rivers, is no different. 

The city sits at the meeting point of Finland’s longest river, the Kemijoki, which starts in Russia and runs to the Finnish coast at Kemi, and its tributary, the Ounasjoki.

So, whether you fancy a gentle boat trip along the river, or a unique ride on a sea-going icebreaker ship, Rovaniemi has some good boat trips to choose from. Here are some of our favourites.

Take a trip on an icebreaker

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea maybe, you can’t deny that this trip on a icebreaker ship which involves floating around in the sea surrounded by icebergs is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Go ice-floating on a boat trip from Rovaniemi

The tour picks you up from a choice of locations in Rovaniemi and takes you to Axelsvik in Sweden, where you’ll board the Polar Explorer icebreaker ship.

You can explore the ship as it cruises around the Gulf of Bothnia, then you’ll be kitted out in high-tech survival suits and get the chance to walk on the frozen sea ice.

Those who want to can then enter the icy waters and float around, for a bucket-list wild-swimming experience.

Go ice swimming from Kemi

If you want a slightly shorter transfer for your ice-swimming experience, the Sampo icebreaker leaves from Kemi in Finland, just 90 minutes’ drive from Rovaniemi.

The Sampo icebreaker takes ice floating trips from Kemi in Finland

This huge ship was originally built to keep the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Bothnia free of ice during winter, but now takes visitors on the ultimate ice-swimming experience.

This fun tour picks up passengers from Rovaniemi’s Scandic Pohjanhovi Hotel and includes a cruise on the Sampo ice breaker and a swim in the freezing sea, kitted out in survival suits. 

You’ll then visit Kemi’s SnowExperience365, to see ice sculptures, have a go on an ice slide, and enjoy a three-course meal.

This is not a cheap trip by any means, but considering it’s such a unique experience and includes food and transfers, we think it’s worth the money.

Cruise on a catamaran along the river

If ice swimming seems a bit too extreme, you may prefer this gentle catamaran trip around Rovaniemi along the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers.

You can cruise round the rivers of Rovaniemi on a catamaran

This two-hour tour provides great views of the city and its bridges as well as the wooded river banks and rural countryside surrounding the city.

You’ll also explore the pretty Kotisaari Island, formerly a lumberjack settlement when Rovaniemi was an important timber port, and get to try some local herbal tea and traditional tea bread.

It’s pretty expensive at more than 150 EUR per person, but in summer this is a lovely way to spend an afternoon floating around the waterways around Rovaniemi.

Hire a floating sauna

You can hire your own floating sauna in Rovaniemi

For something really out of the ordinary (and just totally Finnish), this private floating sauna is an amazing option.

Like a floating jetty with an actual wood-fired sauna on top, the boat lets you explore a lake near Rovaniemi in the most Finnish way possible: by cooking up a sweat and then cooling off in the clear, chilly water.

Hotel pick ups from Rovaniemi are included. We’d recommend booking between early June and late July for the best weather and round-the-clock daylight.

See the midnight sun from the river

What better way to experience the midnight sun than on a boat trip along the river? 

See the midnight sun on a boat trip from Rovaniemi

This tour starts at 9.30pm and heads out to explore the tranquil river bathed in the eerie light of the midnight sun.

The trip runs in June and July only, and includes local Lappish snacks like reindeer sausages with lingonberries and cloudberry jam with whipped cream.

Take a private boat trip

This small private boat seats five, so families or a group of friends will get the whole boat to themselves, plus an experienced skipper to do all the hard work.

Go fishing or just admire the scenery on a boat trip from Rovaniemi

And since it’s your own private boat, there’s some flexibility in the itinerary. You can bring your own rods and do some fishing, or simply sit back with a glass of bubbly and enjoy the views.

This trip is great value if you’re a group of five as you pay for the whole boat, not just per person.

Canoe on a Finnish lake

OK, so it’s not exactly a boat trip but we love this canoe trip on a peaceful lake outside Rovaniemi. 

Canoe along the rivers and lakes around Rovaniemi in Finland

You’ll spend three hours paddling around the tranquil waters looking out for wildlife on the shores of the lake and the surrounding woods.

This tour is a bargain as the canoes, paddles and all the kit you need are provided along with an experienced guide who knows the local waterways like the back of his or her hand.

Groups are limited to eight people to preserve the tranquility of the trip, and the tour is suitable for all levels from beginners upwards.

For a true backwater experience you can extend the trip on this canoe and camping tour, where you’ll paddle out in the wilderness and set up camp for a night under the stars.

Canoe to a reindeer farm

And if you like the idea of canoeing why not paddle upriver to a reindeer farm to see Lapland’s iconic native animals?  

Canoe to a reindeer farm from Rovaniemi in Finland

We really like that you can paddle up to the farm by canoe, feed the reindeer, learn all about their habits and the local culture and traditions of the native herders who look after these semi-wild animals. 

And considering that you’re getting two iconic Finnish experiences in one, this trip is pretty good value.


Do polar cruises leave from Rovaniemi? 

No, Rovaniemi is not on the coast. It’s 75 miles inland from the Gulf of Bothnia where the icebreaker ships are moored.

The Polar Explorer icebreaker ship is based at Axelsvik in Sweden, which is about 2 hours and 15 minutes drive from Rovaniemi. The Sampo icebreaker is based in Kemi in Finland, about 90 minutes from Rovaniemi, so is a better bet if you want a slightly shorter transfer.

Some tours, such as this one on the Polar Explorer, give you the option of including the journey from Rovaniemi, or just booking the boat trip if you have your own car to get to Axelsvik.

Do cruises run all year? 

The type of boat trips that are available depend on the time of year. You can’t go ice floating if there’s no ice, so the Polar Explorer only runs in winter from December to mid-April. 

Conversely, canoeing and river boat trips only tend to be available in summer, when the weather is better and the days are longer. 

The canoe trips run from June to October, while you can take a catamaran cruise from June to September.

The midnight sun boat trip is only available at the height of summer, of course, from June to mid-July.

Is it worth taking a boat tour from Rovaniemi? 

If you visit Rovaniemi in winter, there are loads of other exciting trips and tours that you can do, such as snowmobiling, reindeer sleigh rides and husky sledding. So a boat trip might not be your top priority.

And compared to a snowmobile ride or husky sledding, the winter icebreaker boat trips are pretty pricey. That said, the icebreaker tours last all day and most people say the trip has such an unusual wow-factor that it’s worth the money.

In summer, however, we definitely recommend exploring the lakes and rivers on a boat trip.

Water is such an integral part of Finnish culture that you really do need to experience the peace and tranquility of floating along surrounded by forest.

And our top tip in terms of great value for money and a truly Finnish experience, is this floating sauna trip. We love that it combines two Finnish classics – lakes and saunas – in one relaxing package.

See also
Best photography tours in Rovaniemi
Where is Lapland?
Ice floating in Finland

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