Situated in the northern-most corner of the Bay of Bothnia, just 30 minutes from the Swedish border, Kemi is known as the City of Snow and Sea, and is gaining an international reputation for tourism, thanks in no small part to the fabulous SnowCastle which has attracted millions of visitors since it was first built in 1996. However, although it is one of Finland's most popular winter destinations, it is also a fine spot for vacationing in the summer, with a wealth of attractions and activities available.
By far the most famous attraction in the city is the SnowCastle, which is rebuilt every winter and is open from the beginning of January until April. It is the biggest snow castle in the world, covering up to 20,000 square metres at times, and reaching up to 3 stories in height, with towers of up 20m. Within, you'll find a charming snow restaurant with ice tables and seats covered in reindeer fur, as well as ice sculptures. There is a SnowChapel where couples have traveled from across the globe to be married in, and a SnowHotel with double rooms and a honeymoon suite. Children will be delighted with the adventure land here, and there are numerous theatre and ice art exhibitions during the season.
Kemi is also home to the only Arctic icebreaker which serves as a cruise ship in the frozen winter seas. The Icebreaker Sampo offers some truly unique experiences, including dips into the freezing waters wrapped safely in a waterproof thermal suit, cruises under the incredible northern lights in mid winter, or through the brilliant white landscapes in the bright sunshine of early spring. There are cosy cabins, lounges, and a delightful restaurant that serves Lapp delicacies and treats. One way of reaching the Sampo is by way of a thrilling snowmobile safari over the vast expanse of ice, but there are other less terrifying ways too.
Kemi is rich in culture, and the Kemi Culture Centre houses the city's library, theatre, and museum, as well as two auditoriums used for concerts, exhibitions, and seminars. The annual Country Fair and the International Festival of Comic Books are also held here. Kemi is also home to the Gemstone Gallery, the largest collection of gems in Europe, where you'll find such treasures as the crown of the King of Finland, a necklace designed for Marie Antoinette, a copy of the crown of the Queen of England featuring the Black Prince's Ruby, the eye of a statue of a Hindu god, a British sea captain's treasure, and much more. There are plenty of other museums in Kemi, including the Kemi Art Museum, the Kemi Museum of History, and the Kemi Workers Museum.
Kemi has very strong ties to the sea, and the waterfront area of Kemi Marina offers the visitor countless different ways of exploring the waters around the town, from cruising on the Perämeren Jähti, a 19th century sailing vessel, or the myriad of other more modern boats moored in the harbour. The waterfront also provides a fine selection of storehouse restaurants and boutiques, as well as boat restaurants and an assortment of themed events, including the Pirate Festival which is just as popular with adults as it is with children. At the end of the summer season a fancy dress carnival is held called 'Venetians' which is a veritable riot of colour and sound.
There are some interesting churches in Kemi, and in particular in Keninmaa, which used to be the original town but is now a small suburb. Here you'll discover the old church of St. Michael which was built between 1519 and 1521, the most northern medieval stone church in Finland, which houses the mummified body of priest Nikolaus Rungius, and some beautiful ceiling paintings. Opposite you'll find the later church, completed in 1827, designed by C.L. Engel. Architect Josef Stenbäck designed the main church in Kemi, it was completed in 1902 and is also worth a visit, as is the Paattionlehto Chapel designed by Osmo Sipari.
Despite having a population of less than 25,000, Kemi is well represented culturally with numerous museums, galleries, theatre groups, and a permanent city orchestra, as well as Europe's largest gemstone gallery, and some of Finland's most beautiful churches, both Orthodox and Lutheran.
In addition to the excellent sailing and water based sports available, Kemi affords the visitor the opportunity to enjoy wonderful nature safaris, in winter and summer, and provides excellent tennis and bowling facilities. It is a haven for fishermen, and is growing in popularity with golfers keen to enjoy a round under the midnight sun in winter.
There are numerous restaurants along the waterfront, including some fine restaurant ships, and within the city itself the traveller will find plenty of different styles to choose from. Most source their produce locally, and Kemi is the perfect place to sample genuine Lapp cuisine like reindeer and elk, and the incredible variety of berries which abound.
In addition to the 4 main hotels in the city, Kemi has plenty of accommodation options available to the visitor, from holiday cottages and bed and breakfasts to fully serviced camping and caravan facilities and low budget hostels. Or you could choose to spend a night aboard the 19th century sailing ship!
Although Kemi has many shopping centres and department stores, the real treats to be found are in the shops of the gifted goldsmiths, mostly family businesses dating back centuries. There are also plenty of arts, crafts, and souvenir boutiques where you can find hand made items, and very reasonably priced reindeer skins and furs.
The airport at Kemi is well served by Flybe, with 4 flights a day arriving from Helsinki, all conveniently timed to serve incoming flights from international airports. There are also daily trains from Helsinki to Rovaniemi which stop in Kemi, usually these are sleeper trains which allow the 9 hours of travel to pass unnoticed.