This is about a Christmas capital – city of changes.

One of the major challenges faced by the Arctic region is the constant struggle against the migration of young people to warmer places or places with opportunities for education, employment, and…fun. However, not many people realize that the Arctic and its cities are also promising and enjoyable places to live. The objective of the series called “Cities of the Arctic Youth” is to converse with the Mayors of Arctic cities to explore opportunities and to demonstrate to the public that cities in the Far North can be attractive places for young individuals. Today, we will discuss with Ms Ulla-Kirsikka Vainio, the Mayor of Rovaniemi and Ms Tuula Rintala-Gardin – Director of International Relations of the city of Rovaniemi administration, and answer the question: Is Rovaniemi a city of  Arctic youth?

General Information about Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi, situated on the Arctic Circle, is a city filled with dynamic life and culture, surrounded by unspoiled nature and awe-inspiring natural phenomena year-round (Discover Rovaniemi (CLICK)) The distance from Rovaniemi to the capital city, Helsinki, is 827.3 km. With a population of 65.286, Rovaniemi is the 17th most populated city in Finland and the largest city in the country’s Arctic. During the winter season, Rovaniemi becomes a central destination in Finland as it is the official hometown of Santa Claus. The Santa Village, which is located 8 km from the city centre, attracts tourists from across the globe each Christmas season, resulting in a 10% increase in the number of visitors compared to the preceding years. The total number of travellers during the winter season is typically around 300.000, generating over 400 million EUR in income. It is projected to grow by 200 million EUR in the next 5 years due to anticipated hotel investments and new flight connections for the summer season (Tourism Statistics (CLICK))


Besides tourism attractions and the surrounding nature, Rovaniemi hosts the University of Lapland, home to 4.500 students and 750 staff members, and Lapland University of Applied Sciences, hosting 5.500 students and 550 staff members. Notably, the University of Lapland is the central University in Finland, offering programs in Arctic studies.

University of Lapland. Retrieved from

Challenges of the city

The city administration in Rovaniemi has noted a major challenge involving people leaving the city, and they are looking into ways to make the city more attractive to young people.

In the discussion, the Mayor emphasized that Rovaniemi is an education city but also asked the question of what kind of city of students Rovaniemi might be in the future? – “The question is important and quite huge. We are the University city, education city; this is a very important part of my work, and I have participated in a working group aimed at defining what kind of city of students Rovaniemi might be in the future. We have had a really great discussion with young people, not only students of universities. Of course, I have had a dialogue with different Arctic leaders – for example, the Arctic Mayors Forum has been quite important in such a discussion.”

Young people in Lapland experience welfare deficits more than young people in Finland at large: they face loneliness and unemployment more often, have fewer specialized services available and have to become independent earlier because getting an education after primary school often means moving far away from home. Then again, young people in Lapland value their environment, the region’s international atmosphere and prospects for development in industries such as tourism and mining (Niemi, 2012 (CLICK)). The Mayor of Rovaniemi acknowledges the challenge of outmigration among young people from Rovaniemi. It is understood that their decisions to relocate are often influenced by the presence of family and friends in other locations. The city aims to support the personal development of young individuals and endeavours to position Rovaniemi as a welcoming place for them to return to.

Ms Mayor commented – “I think it is quite normal that young people try to find their own life and whether that is happening in Rovaniemi or the whole of Lapland, what they might plan, but of course, as a city, it is important that they can find a workplace and organize their living in this area. But also, where family and friends live is quite an important aspect. It is important to provide young people with employment here, but not less important is to give young people a reason to come back to the city; such a reason can be work or study. And of course, every young person is an individual, and they make their own decisions. 

The same as in the city of Akureyri, Iceland; a challenge observed in working with young people is the experience of social isolation, which can lead to mental health issues.

A more specific challenge that the city of Rovaniemi faces is the extensive number of Airbnb rentals, which are not affordable for young people and families not entitled to student housing provided by local student housing providers. The consequence of the extensive number of Airbnb rentals is increasing prices in the rental housing market. The Mayor of Rovaniemi remarked, “We have a special company which is trying to help with housing, especially for students, and I think that they have different kinds of possibilities to help find a suitable way to live. Still, I do not think we have anything special for families”

The young people of Rovaniemi have expressed a desire for a wider range of entertainment options in the city. Currently, the city offers three nightclubs, one cinema, one theatre, and several budget-friendly pubs that cater to students. While these options are suitable for short visits, some young residents find the long-term entertainment offerings to be limited, which can lead to a perception of the city as monotonous. The city also faces the challenge of its remote location and limited travel options, particularly outside of the winter season (October to March), when international flights are more accessible. During the summer months, the primary travel option for young people is to journey to Helsinki, which can be costly by plane or time-consuming by bus or train. However, efforts are being made to address these concerns, with the city of Rovaniemi currently working towards increasing the availability of flights to Helsinki and introducing year-round international flights. 

Attractiveness of the city

Despite the lack of diverse entertainment opportunities, many young people emphasize that nature is the main point of their attraction.

Nature trails in Rovaniemi. Retrieved from

“In many cases, young people say that nature is the most important in this area because there is such pure and wonderful nature here. It is very easy to go to nature for walking or cross-country skiing or hiking, and I think that this is the most attractive thing.” – Ms Mayor emphasizes.

The Rovaniemi area offers a wide range of outdoor activities for day hikers and nature enthusiasts. Many residents, especially the younger population, appreciate the city’s green environment and well-maintained infrastructure, which caters to activities such as hiking, biking, and skiing, as well as providing safe beach facilities for river swimming. 

Rovaniemi Rivers. Retrieved from

The city of Rovaniemi is currently experiencing a challenge in providing ample employment opportunities, particularly for its younger population. However, during the winter season, the city undergoes a significant increase in tourism, resulting in a surge of job openings in sectors such as restaurants, hotels, and guiding services. Many local companies actively recruit young individuals for seasonal employment, making Rovaniemi an appealing destination for those seeking opportunities in the tourism industry. Furthermore, the city’s international travel options are notably expanded during the winter season. For instance, during the 2023-2024 winter season, Rovaniemi Airport accommodated 24 international flights, including those operated by low-cost airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Norwegian Air. This enhanced accessibility to international travel enables young people from Rovaniemi to explore various European destinations at reasonable prices, with flights to popular locations such as Milan available for 50-150 EUR when operated by Ryanair (CLICK)

Year 2022, KLM launches direct flights from Amsterdam to Rovaniemi. Retrieved from

Rovaniemi is known for providing a wide range of reasonably priced housing options for students attending local educational institutions, such as the University of Lapland and Lapland University of Applied Sciences. DAS Arctica (DAS – Domus Arctica -säätiö) (CLICK), the local dormitory provider, offers accommodation in 31 block houses, each with its unique features and benefits. You can have various rent options: from a room for 200-350 EUR per month to a two-room apartment for 600 EUR per month. Additionally, Rovaniemi is home to budget-friendly grocery stores like Lidl, where young people can enjoy savings of 10-20% compared to standard-price grocery markets such as K-Market and Sale.

Rovaniemi and its work with local youth

The city administration’s engagement with the local youth is structured into three key areas: providing mental health support, enhancing education and employment opportunities, and addressing housing needs.

The focus on mental health support is in response to the prevalent issue of loneliness among young people. Similarly to Akureyri, the city of Rovaniemi aims to establish a “third space” for young people to socialize. In 2023, Rovaniemi introduced a Youth Centre Poppari (Youth Centre Poppari Instagram (CLICK)) in the city’s largest mall, Rinteenkulma Shopping Center, offering young people free access to activities such as table tennis, billiards, and PlayStation.

Youth Centre Poppari. Retrieved from

Furthermore, dedicated efforts are made to involve schools in the identification of mental health issues among students, and funding is allocated for programs that enable students to pursue their interests and hobbies. In Rovaniemi, the collaboration between schools and youth services facilitates the implementation of youth work in educational settings. This partnership is driven by a shared commitment to supporting families in the education of children and young individuals. Youth work is primarily available at upper comprehensive schools and primary and upper secondary schools, tailored to specific needs and available resources. The primary goal of youth work in schools is to enhance school activities, improve the overall atmosphere, and kindle students’ motivation through the application of youth work-based strategies. Additionally, youth workers are involved in organizing engaging lessons on relevant topics such as substance abuse, bullying, and social media. The presence of youth workers in schools is instrumental as they serve as trusted adult figures for the students, complementing the roles of other school professionals. Furthermore, in the flexible basic training, students complete their comprehensive school education through small group studies supported by flexible educational methods. These activities are carefully coordinated with the responsible teacher and a trained youth worker to ensure a conducive learning environment. The local schools are pleased to provide opportunities for young individuals to engage in JOPE activities. The primary objective of the JOPE activity is to furnish all students with the necessary self-motivation tools to complete their basic education and progress to further studies successfully. Another important aim is to bolster the students’ self-esteem, social skills, and life management capabilities. All students enrolled in the flexible basic training program are offered personalized study plans. JOPE encompasses a variety of learning environments, including project-based learning, work placements (lasting 7-8 weeks during the school year), as well as camps, day trips, and visits. In Rovaniemi, JOPE classes are offered at four select schools (Rovaniemi Youth Services (CLICK)).

Ms Mayor remarks on their work with young people, “I think we try to help in many ways. Of course, we have our health system, and our schools work closely with pupils. In general, school is the best place for identifying mental health problems and also providing support. And it is important that young people have different kinds of possibilities to get various kinds of hobbies and express themselves through hobbies. And we get different types of funding for that. Of course, we have a different kind of platforms to meet within our youth services and various types of situations where young people can speak about various issues, such as climate change or loneliness. Still, we need to have more specific areas for that. Again, to keep people active and involved in our society is the most important for us, to ensure that youth feel themselves alive. “

The Ohjaamo Rovaniemi office (CLICK) provides comprehensive support for mental health, as well as a range of employment and education opportunities. Situated in the Rinteenkulma Shopping Center, it serves as a professional one-stop guidance centre for individuals under 30. Here, young people can access free assistance and support concerning education, employment, housing, and various other needs. The Ohjaamo office is especially proficient in facilitating employment opportunities for young individuals. Thus, Ms Tuula Rintala-Gardin – Director of International Relations of the city of Rovaniemi administration, noted, “Ohjaamo works together with tourism companies, so, for instance, before the high season starts, there are a lot of employment campaigns launched by tourism companies because they usually do not have enough workforce, and they have a lot of young people to work in the tourism business.” The Ohjaamo office originally commenced as a project supported by local funding and the NextGenerationEU funding program. It has since transitioned into a permanent program, driven by the high satisfaction levels reported by both young people and their parents. 

In addition to the Ohjaamo office, the city of Rovaniemi is proud to offer 7 regional youth houses, each providing open evenings, group activities, and thematic clubs. These activities and their respective opening hours are thoughtfully organized by age groups, taking into consideration the engagement, ideas, and feedback of the children and youths. Notably, the youth houses are situated within the local upper secondary schools, enriching the community with their multifunctional facilities.

A noteworthy approach to youth employment involves the utilization of a voucher system for summer employment opportunities for young individuals.

Ms Tuula Rintala-Gardin explains, “The young people can reply for vouchers—it is up to 500 euros; they can give the voucher to the company, and the company hires them, so they do not work for the city at all. The city gives vouchers up to 500 euros to young people, which they should use for employment at a particular employer. For work done, the young person receives the sum of the voucher.”

Fun Fact: Until 2024, McDonald’s Rovaniemi was the Northernmost McDonalds in the world. Retrieved from

Employers such as Hesburger, Burger King, and McDonald’s frequently engage young individuals for summer voucher work, which contributes to partially addressing the challenge of low summer employment rates. However, it is important to note that the voucher system is primarily geared toward students and aims to provide them with opportunities to stay occupied during their summer holidays. In addition to the Ohjaamo office in Rovaniemi, the “Business Rovaniemi” office offers valuable assistance to young entrepreneurs, particularly in navigating the legal aspects of establishing a business in the region.

The Ohjaamo office and DAS Arctica primarily focus on assisting young people in finding housing. While these efforts have yielded a high success rate in accommodating young students, challenges persist in accommodating young families not affiliated with local educational institutions.

Rovaniemi and adaptation to its local life

The city of Rovaniemi embraces a diverse community, with residents hailing from 90 different countries. The esteemed multicultural meeting place, MoniNet (CLICK), serves as a pivotal support hub for incoming migrants. It offers a range of valuable services, including internet access, counselling, and guidance to address a variety of needs. MoniNet is committed to providing essential information and support to immigrants and organizations working with immigrants, as well as engaging employers, students, volunteers, and all those with an interest in promoting multiculturalism. Additionally, the Verso project extends support to new immigrants settling in the area, encompassing Finnish language instruction, service guidance, and assistance in honing the skills necessary for integration into society and the local community. Notably, the project also facilitates activities for those not currently in the workforce, catering to individuals such as housewives, young people, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Furthermore, the housing support network, comprising several rental companies and the esteemed Ohjaamo office, offers a range of affordable accommodation options, with rentals ranging from 400 to 500 EUR per month. While the city of Rovaniemi provides extensive support for migrants to assimilate, one of the challenges it faces is the limited availability of English-speaking employment opportunities. Consequently, many migrants in Rovaniemi find employment in fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Hesburger and in delivery services such as Foodora and Wolt.

Moninet Rovala. Retrieved from

Ms Tuula Rintala-Gardin partially explains the reason for such a tendency: “Most of the industries in Rovaniemi are services-based industries, so we do not have heavy manufacturing industries. So, private services are the main employers.”

Also, in contrast to the nearby urban centre of Oulu, Rovaniemi currently has a limited number of ICT companies that cater to English-speaking professionals. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that opportunities for employment tend to rise considerably during the winter season.

Youth in Governance: past, present, future

The Rovaniemi has the Youth Council operating under the city’s administration. The Mayor emphasizes: “It is important that young people are involved in different city bodies, and this is important that they really can get the right information about our area. We have, in many kinds, similar questions with southern parts of Finland, but we also have specific questions to answer.” The specific inquiries for young individuals are focused on the location of the city – Rovaniemi as an Arctic city with demanding weather conditions. Together, they are exploring how these weather challenges can be leveraged into advantages, particularly in the tourism sector. 

In addition to the Youth Council, the city of Rovaniemi administration has a department whose responsibility is youth and cultural services. Ms Tuula Rintala-Gardin noted, “When we think about what the city does, cultural services and youth services – they work together, it is one department, and what Ms Mayor was saying is that young people have the Youth Council, and they are involved in every decision that has been made in Rovaniemi, so, they are heard.” 

Except for administrative structures in municipal governance involving young people, the city of Rovaniemi frequently organizes ideas contests for young people.

Rovaniemi Frisbee golf area. Retrieved from

Ms Mayor explains, “One way to be involved in the planning is to provide your ideas. For example, last year, we had a special ideas contest where young people had a choice to make different kinds of ideas about what they want to do and what they want to have in specific areas. And we chose two ideas that we are implementing right now; one of them is to have a Frisbee golf area, which we have now. So, we work on an ideas-based approach; you can give your opinion, and you can give your ideas. And we are open to ideas for the urban planning department and architecture working there. Moreover, the urban planning department is interested in getting these ideas for different development projects.”

This year, the city of Rovaniemi organized a competition—”Summer Dune of Dreams”—where young people developed the content for their dream job. The competition is aimed at young people born between 2006 and 2008. The winner will travel to their dream dune in the city in the summer of 2024 (Rovaniemi Summer Dune of Dreams (CLICK)).


The city of Rovaniemi offers two distinctive living environments. During the tourism season, there are ample job opportunities for young people, the city experiences an influx of tourists, and creating a vibrant atmosphere. Outside of the tourism season, the city adopts a more serene ambience, with fewer employment opportunities and limited travel options, mainly through Helsinki. Consequently, there is a tendency for young people to seek opportunities outside of Rovaniemi during this period. Nonetheless, the city administration is actively working towards providing employment options for young people through a voucher system during the summer season and enhancing affordable travel options within Lapland and internationally. Moreover, the city boasts a variety of summer activities, including the “Simerock” music festival held annually in August.

Rovaniemi’s natural surroundings and well-established infrastructure make it an ideal location for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities such as hiking, skiing, biking, and swimming. The University of Lapland has established itself as a prominent hub for Arctic studies in Finland, drawing the interest of numerous exchange students who come to engage in research and academic pursuits at the University of Lapland and its esteemed Arctic Centre. Notably, the city of Rovaniemi serves as the proud host of the secretariat of the University of the Arctic, a network of Arctic-focused universities engaged in collaborative international research. As a result, Rovaniemi has become a magnet for both young and senior researchers from around the world.

Amidst the departure of young residents from Rovaniemi, the city administration is diligently working to build an environment that fosters their potential return. Annually, the city enhances its infrastructure, introducing new residential areas, hotels, and dining establishments. Furthermore, in spring 2024, Rovaniemi unveiled ambitious urban development plans aimed at revitalizing the city’s landscape and imbuing it with a more contemporary flair. 

The city of Rovaniemi acknowledges a common challenge faced by young people in the region – the feeling of loneliness. The city supports the idea of establishing a third place for young people to gather and underscores the importance of hobbies and engaging young people in meaningful activities. Additionally, the city recognizes the significance of youth offices such as the Ohjaamo office and the need for such offices to be operational in every city. The issue of accommodation for young people is being addressed in part by the efforts of the DAS Arctica University housing provider. Overall, living affordably in Rovaniemi is possible if young people are aware of low-cost products and service providers.

Young people are actively involved in the policymaking processes through various means, such as the Youth Council and ideas contests, and the city follows through on implementing the results. The city highly values the contributions young people make to its urban development and is committed to maintaining their involvement.

Can we say that Rovaniemi is the city of the Arctic Youth? Indeed, the city offers young people diverse opportunities for self-development, harmonious living with nature, and, most importantly, feeling safe. Recent developments indicate that the city has a promising and youthful future.

About the Author: Arctic Youth Network

The Arctic Youth Network is a youth-founded and youth-led non-profit organization supporting a global network of youth through international cooperation and capacity-building.

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