So, you’re dreaming of coming to Finland for your holiday but not sure where to start planning. Don’t worry, we’re here to help!
First, you need to decide if you are going to come here during summer or winter – or somewhere in between. Whether you come in the winter or summer makes all the difference. The two main seasons are polar opposites: one is characterized by darkness, the other of extreme light.
Second, you need to choose where to go. Finland is a large country and to make the most of it, we recommend exploring only one or two of the four main regions: Helsinki area, Lakeland, Archipelago and Lapland. Unless, of course, you have all the time in the world.
To help you, we made a list of 10 different experiences. There is “something for all” as the list covers all of Finland and all seasons. The experiences are mainly nature-oriented. Why? Because that’s what Finland is mostly about: beautiful forests, clean lakes and amazing seaside. Culture, design, food and festivals can be found in other articles – why not see them next?
Full of interesting contrasts, such as the four seasons, the Midnight Sun and winter darkness, urban and rural, East and West.
SLEEP IN A GLASS IGLOO
Finland is a land of stark contrasts. In the summer months, the sun does not set at all in the northernmost parts of the country – hence Finland’s nickname “The Land of the Midnight Sun”.
In the winter, the opposite happens: the sun disappears for months. This time is called “kaamos”. During kaamos it is not completely dark, however. The bright snow, the moon and the stars, and, if you are lucky, the Northern Lights, create magical surroundings.
Perhaps the best way to experience these two extreme seasons is to sleep in a glass igloo or cottage, surrounded by nature.
VISIT A LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND
Finland’s coast has the largest archipelago in the world. And when there are islands, there are lighthouses. And what kind of lighthouses they are! Many are possible to visit during a day trip, some you can spend a night in.
Bengtskär on the west coast is majestic sight. It is the tallest lighthouse in the Nordic countries. It is situated on a beautiful island that is accessible by boat from beginning of June to end of August. If you wish to stay the night, the island has six lighthouse keeper’s rooms to stay in. Book early to avoid disappointment.
For Helsinki daytrippers, Söderskär lighthouse is a must-see. It is possible to visit Söderskär by boat from Helsinki. The journey takes just over an hour and the visit itself is for two hours. Just enough to climb the lighthouse and have a cup of coffee in the little lighthouse keeper’s cottage next to it.
STROLL AROUND AN OLD WOODEN TOWN
In the olden days all of Finland’s houses were built of wood. Why, of course, over 70% of our land is covered by forest – that’s more than any other country in Europe.
Today, it is still possible to see those wooden houses that date back hundred, even three hundred years. Such Helsinki districts as Käpylä and Vallila are good places to start. Old Porvoo, an hour’s drive from the capital, is another easy stop. Beautiful wooden towns can be also be found in Rauma in the West and Loviisa in the South. All of these three offer beautiful little B&B’s to stay in should you wish to stay longer.
VISIT A UNESCO SITE
Finland holds seven Unesco World Heritage sites of which six are cultural and one is natural. Perhaps the most well-known is the fortress island Suomenlinna in Helsinki.
Suomenlinna was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument of military architecture. Comprising of seven islands, Suomenlinna is full of old fortresses and dungeons. Moreover, it is also an inhabited district of the city of Helsinki and a much-loved getaway for many helsinkians.
Suomenlinna is only 15 minutes ferry ride away from the central market square Kauppatori.
HIKE IN ONE OF FINLAND’S 40 NATIONAL PARKS
There are 40 national parks in Finland. They are scattered around the country’s archipelago, lakes, forests and fells. In the winter, one can try snow shoeing or skiing and in the summer, hiking.
Finland’s “Everyman’s rights” mean that you can venture just about anywhere in the parks as long as you respect the nature and clean after yourself.
RIDE A REINDEER OR A HUSKY SLEIGH
What better way to experience the white, cold wilderness than to be wrapped tightly under a reindeer hide in a sled pulled by a pack of huskies or Santa’s number one mode of transport – Rudolph the Reindeer?
Lapland’s vast fells and guaranteed snow make it the best place to experience sledding. You can try riding with a pack of huskies from 15 minutes to excursions that last for days. Reindeer rides are usually shorter and more suitable for small children. Both husky and reindeer rides are usually available from late October till late spring, even early summer.
MEET THE REAL SANTA
Everyone knows Santa – the one and only – comes from Finland.
What some people don’t know, however, is that it is possible to meet him in person all year round. Santa’s official office, situated on the mysterious Arctic Circle, in the city of Rovaniemi is open each day of the year. There, children and adults can enjoy a private chat with him and revel in the enchanted atmosphere.
PICK BERRIES AND MUSHROOMS IN A FOREST
To truly experience the Finnish way of living and the closeness to nature that the Finns have, one should go berry or mushroom picking in the forest.
Bilberries, cloudberries and lingonberries are not called “superfood” for no reason. They are uniquely tasty and packed with high levels of vitamins and flavonoids, after ripening under the white summer nights. Best berry-picking season lasts from end of July until September. Mushrooms can be picked from late summer until the snow comes.
Everyman’s right in the country’s forests guarantees that you are allowed to pick almost anything your heart and mouth desires. Forests are everywhere you go. In the Helsinki region, the best place to go berry and mushroom picking is in Nuuksio national park. Nuuksio is less than an hour’s bus journey away. It is hard to believe such places exist so near the capital – you will feel out of this world.
SKI UNDER THE NORTHERN LIGHTS OR THE MIDNIGHT SUN
How is that possible, you may ask? In Finland, it can be.
In the northernmost parts of the country, seeing the Northern Lights is almost guaranteed every other winter night. On the other hand, the days are so long by May that sometimes the fells are still covered in snow when the sun decides to stay up all night.
These conditions, especially in places like Kilpisjärvi, make it amazing to go cross-country skiing. Imagine skiing in the middle of the night but with the sun shining over you? Or, in the middle of the darkest day of the year but with the Northern Lights guiding your way?
SWEAT IN A SAUNA AND HOP INTO THE LAKE
There are over three million saunas in Finland and around 188 000 lakes. The greatest past-time of the Finns is to go to the sauna – every week. Some go every day.
Finnish Lakeland is an area where there is most water, and most summer cottages. And perhaps the most saunas too. Winter does not prevent a Finn from jumping into a lake – on the contrary. We Finns love ice swimming. We simply make a hole in the ice and enjoy the cold. If there is no lake nearby, you can always go out of the sauna and roll in the snow. It works just as well!