Finland is a rapidly growing travel destination in Northern Europe. We are a country full of extremes with four beautiful seasons and four distinct regions that include the Helsinki capital region, Lapland, Lakeland and the Archipelago. Finland is a year-round destination where you can enjoy anything from a weekend citybreak to a longer stay in a ski resort or a cozy cottage. The things that make Finland special are closely related to nature and well-being. These include the Northern Lights, midnight sun, sauna, thousands of clean lakes, wild nature, ski resorts, Finnish design and, of course, Santa Claus to name a few.
Finland is full of interesting contrasts – summer and winter, midnight sun and polar night, city and countryside, East and West. You name it. As a country we are also credible. Traffic, service, safety, technology – everything runs like clockwork. We are also creative and quite famous for it. The unique cultural and natural surroundings have inspired Finns to compose music, create design and develop unique technical innovations. And of course Finland is cool from people and lifestyle to climate – all are one of a kind.
Finland’s capital, Helsinki, together with its neighbouring cities of Espoo and Vantaa, is the biggest urban concentration in the country, with a combined population of about a million. Located within the Helsinki region are also the historical cities of Porvoo and Tuusula.
Helsinki is a compact city easily explored on foot. Design, architecture, culture and shopping are all great exploration angles and large park areas, forests, lakes, and the coastline with numerous islands sprinkled off it make certain there’s no shortage of natural presence.
Near to Helsinki are the cities of Espoo and Vantaa. Espoo is the second largest city in Finland population-wise and it provides many interesting sights and activities from museums and shopping to the famous Nuuksio national park. Vantaa is the home to the Helsinki-Vantaa international airport. Vantaa is a travel hub and more: Finnish Science Centre Heureka is fascinating for people of all ages, and after some brain food, a visit to Jumbo shopping centre and the adjacent Flamingo spa world might be in order.
Located about an hour or so away from Helsinki are the charming and historical towns of Porvoo and Loviisa as well as Lake Tuusula. Porvoo is famous for its charming Old Town that dates back to the Middle Ages and is filled with adorable cafés, restaurants and handicraft boutiques. Nearby Loviisa is similarly beautiful with the Old Town, the Strömfors Iron Works and the Svartholma Sea Fortress being key sights. Lake Tuusula, located only half an hour from Helsinki and 15 minutes from Helsinki-Vantaa airport, is like experiencing the whole of Finland in miniature with tranquil and historical lakeside views.
Contrasts are a key factor in the allure of Finnish Lapland where 24-hour sunlight in the summer replaces the dark winter days colored by the Northern Lights.
Contrasts are a key factor in the allure of Finnish Lapland. In Lapland, you can experience not four but in fact eight distinctive seasons. From warm summers filled with around-the-clock light to frosty winter days when the sun refuses to rise above the horizon and nights lit by the magical Northern Lights.
Lapland is home to perhaps the most well-known Finn – Santa Claus himself. Originally from Korvatunturi, a remote fell in Eastern Lapland near the Russian border, Santa now lives in Rovaniemi and can be met all year round. He has received over 17 million letters from all over the world since 1985. Santa couldn't do his job without his trusty reindeer. There are as many reindeer as people in Lapland, and any drive might be often interrupted by a herd of reindeer crossing the road.
This northernmost part of the EU has a number of outdoor resorts just minutes away from the peace and quiet of the wilderness. They offer unique possibilities for any kind of skiing and cycling in addition to many other outdoor activities. Lapland's winter tempts you to try out snowmobiling or sledding, while snow-free seasons are popular among hikers. During the summer and autumn, you can pick your meal straight from the wild, as the Lappish wilderness is bursting with wild herbs, mushrooms and berries, including our famous cloudberries. These bright-orange berries, mostly found on swamps, are a true northern superfood.
One of the minority languages in Finland is Sámi, a group of languages spoken by the indigenous Sámi people. Their cultural region, Sápmi, covers the extreme north of Europe, including the municipalities of Enontekiö, Utsjoki, Inari and northern Sodankylä in the northern part of Finnish Lapland. Utsjoki is the only municipality with a Sámi majority, while the municipality of Inari has four official languages: Finnish, Skolt Sámi, Northern Sámi and Inari Sámi. Inari is also home to Sámi Cultural Center Sajos and Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi.
Finland's Lakeland region is a blue labyrinth of lakes, islands, rivers and canals, interspersed with forests and ridges.
Lakeland area has earned Finland its reputation as the land of thousands of lakes, and is an ideal holiday destination, whether you long for the peace of the countryside and a clean environment, an adventure amidst the lakes, rivers and forests, or want to get to know a different European culture, with its countryside traditions and lovely small towns.
If you looking for something new away from the stresses and strains of city life, you’ll find it in the Finnish Lakeland. In addition to the thousands of clear lakes and blue waters, the region is famous for beautiful summer cottages, lakeside saunas and inland cruises. The region is a great place for water activities, like kayaking and boating, as well as swimming and fishing.
Coast and Archipelago
Finland’s coast boasts the world’s largest archipelago filled with old wooden towns, lighthouses and historical manors.
Finland’s coast boasts the world’s largest archipelago. Old wooden towns, lighthouses, historical manors and stone churches, large national parks stretching over land and sea – this all sums up coastal Finland in a nutshell.
The laid-back islander lifestyle and a strong maritime culture are key characteristics of this fascinating area. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, has also held onto its maritime charm. Beaches, handicraft markets, small town events, cafes and village shops – Finnish coastal towns are especially alive in the summer months. Finland holds seven Unesco World Heritage sites of which three can be experienced in the coastal area.
10 Best Things to do in Finland
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?
1. 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.
2. 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 day-trippers, 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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?
10. 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!