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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

How did the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi become a tourism attraction?

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

The heart of Christmas tourism in Lapland is located in the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi. The decision to designate the capital of Finnish Lapland as a Christmas destination was solidified in the 1980s, supported by its popularity as a travel hub and a convenient stopover for those venturing north. The roots of tourism in the area trace back to the late 1920s when Colonel Oiva J. Willamo erected a landmark on the Arctic Circle, transforming it into a captivating tourist stop and an ideal spot for capturing memories with the camera. At that time, the location of the Arctic Circle was determined through rough estimates, lacking precise calculations. Indeed, given the Article Circle's continuous motion, establishing an exact and permanent marker has proven elusive it is not even possible to mark an exact permanent location. (Keskitalo & Schroderus 2012)

Arctic Circle sign in Santa Claus Village (photo by JC García-Rosell)

In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the former President of the United States, arrived on a visit to Rovaniemi. The primary objective of her visit was to acquaint herself with the ongoing post-war reconstruction efforts in Lapland and specifically in Rovaniemi. The news from the high-ranking guest came as a surprise to the local authorities, and there wasn’t much to offer and no places to visit in a town just recovering from World War II. In light of these circumstances, the suggestion was made to conduct the reception ceremony at the Arctic Circle.

However, besides the Arctic Circle sign, there was little else to see at that time. As a result, it was decided to build a cottage in her honor. Finnish architect Ferdinand Salokangas, quickly designed the cottage in a single night, and astonishingly, it was built in less than two weeks. The logs used for the construction were directly sourced from the Ounasjoki River. The specifications were clear: the cottage needed to be spacious enough to host a sizable bus crowd at once. Despite the hustle and bustle, the cottage was prepared to welcome Mrs. Roosevelt on Sunday, June 11, 1950. Due to its historical significance, the cottage is nowadays well-known by two names: the "Arctic Circle Cottage" and the "Roosevelt Cottage". (Manninen 1997, 383; Mäkinen 1983)

Roosevelt Cottage in Santa Claus Village in October 2021 (photo by JC García-Rosell)

Following Eleanor Roosevelt's visit, the Arctic Circle received various dignitaries, including heads of state, and evolved into a regular stopover for ordinary tourists. The Rovaniemi City Tourist Board took charge of maintaining and developing the Arctic Circle Cottage. Initially, the cottage was kept open only during the summer months, offering tourists the opportunity to enjoy coffee, purchase souvenirs, and send postcards stamped with the special stamp of the Arctic Circle. As the number of visitors grew, a new log building was erected in 1956. (Manninen 1997)

Beyond the café, souvenir shops, and postal service, the Arctic Circle offered tourists a richer experience. Customs and traditions of the northern inhabitants were showcased, and in the early 1960s, farm buildings, reindeer, and even a "genuine Lappish family" (although not a real family) were brought to the Arctic Circle for the gaze of tourists. As the number of visitors increased and existing facilities reached their capacity, a more spacious log building was constructed in 1965. The number of visitors continued to rise through the 1970s, reaching a notable milestone by the mid-1990s when approximately 90,000 tourists were stopping in the Arctic Circle each year. (Manninen 1997) Since then, the services at the Arctic Circle have continued to evolve, particularly as the region gained prominence as a Christmas tourism destination. However, the question remains: Why Christmas? How did the Arctic Circle transform into Santa Claus Village? I'll delve into this intriguing story in the upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!

This blog post is based on the introduction chapter of the book "Joulu ainainen? Näkökulmia Rovaniemen joulumatkailuun (Always Christmas? Perspectives on Rovaniemi's Christmas tourism)"co-authored with Heli Ilola and Maria Hakkarainen and published by the Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI), University of Lapland in 2014. For more information about the Roosevelt Cottage and a virtual tour visit Santa Claus Village's website.


Keskitalo, E. & Schroderus, K. (2012). Napapiirin liikkumisilmiön hyödyntämismahdollisuudet Rovaniemen matkailussa [Possibilities of utilizing the movement phenomenon of the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi tourism]. Thesis. Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences.

Mäkinen, V. (1983). Suomen Lapin matkailun synty [Finnish Lapland tourism is born]. In Lappi 1: suuri kaunis, pohjoinen maa [Lapland 1: large beautiful, northern country] (s. 162–177). Karisto.

Manninen, T. (1997). Hallinnosta hyvinvointia – katsaus lähihistoriaan [Governance Welfare - A Review of Recent History]. In M.Enbuske, S. Runtti & T. Manninen, Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1990: jokivarsien kasvatit ja junantuomat [History of Rovaniemi until 1990: riverside raised and brought by trains] (s. 364–433). Rovaniemi History Committee, Rovaniemi City, Rovaniemi Rural Municipality, Rovaniemi Parish.


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