Finland: The Soul of the North
Finland, a Nordic nation between Sweden and Russia, has awe-inspiring natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. Known as “the land of a thousand lakes,” Finland is home to over 188,000 lakes, vast forests, picturesque archipelagos, and the mesmerising Northern Lights. The Finns have a solid connection to nature, evident in their customs, design, and way of life.
From its humble beginnings as a part of the Swedish Kingdom in the 12th century to gaining independence in 1917, Finland has blossomed into a unique and welcoming destination for travellers from all corners of the globe. The Finnish people are known for their hospitality and resilience, having persevered through wars, harsh winters, and societal transformations. The combination of history, natural beauty, and the distinctive Finnish lifestyle creates a captivating destination for the discerning traveller.
Where to Stay
Helsinki, the vibrant capital of Finland, offers a range of accommodations to suit every taste and budget. For a luxurious stay, consider Hotel Kämp, a historical five-star hotel with plush amenities and top-notch service. The hotel’s rich history dates back to 1887, when it was founded by Carl Kämp. Today, it retains its original grandeur and elegance, offering guests a unique experience that combines 19th-century charm with modern-day luxury.
For travellers seeking a more affordable option, consider the popular design hostel, Myö Hostel, which combines Finnish aesthetics and comfort with affordability. Located in a renovated early 20th-century building, Myö Hostel offers private rooms and dormitory-style accommodation, making it a perfect choice for solo travellers, couples, and families alike.
Those looking for a more immersive experience might opt for the Långvik Congress Wellness Hotel near Helsinki, where you can enjoy the beauty of the Finnish archipelago and indulge in authentic Finnish sauna culture. The hotel offers various wellness and relaxation services, including spa treatments, a fitness centre, and various outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking. In addition, the Långvik Congress Wellness Hotel provides a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, allowing guests to reconnect with nature and experience the Finnish way of living.
What to do
Finland is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, and cultural vultures. In Helsinki, explore the historic Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site that once served as a vital maritime defence system. Guided tours are available, allowing visitors to delve into the fortress’s rich history and admire the stunning views of the surrounding archipelago.
Take in contemporary art at Kiasma, Finland’s leading museum of modern art. With its striking architecture and diverse exhibitions, Kiasma showcases the best of Finnish and international contemporary art, hosting thought-provoking installations, performances, and workshops.
Head north to Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus, and visit Santa Claus Village, a magical experience for visitors of all ages. Meet Santa himself, send postcards from the official Santa Claus Post Office and cross the Arctic Circle line, a unique experience that can only be achieved in this enchanting location.
Venture further north to Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, where you can witness the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, embark on a thrilling dog sledging adventure, or explore the pristine wilderness on snowshoes. Visit one of the many reindeer farms in the area, where you can learn about the importance of these majestic animals in Sami culture and even take a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride through the snow-covered forests.
If you crave a more leisurely pace, meander through the charming streets of Porvoo, one of Finland’s oldest towns. Founded in the 14th century, Porvoo is known for its well-preserved wooden houses, cobblestone streets, and iconic red shore houses along the Porvoonjoki River. Visit the Porvoo Museum to learn more about the town’s history, or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll through the picturesque streets, browsing the many artisanal shops and galleries.
Food & drink
Finnish cuisine offers a delectable fusion of traditional and modern flavours, emphasising fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Start your gastronomic adventure at Helsinki’s Old Market Hall and sample local delicacies like fresh fish, Karelian pasties, and Finnish blue cheese. Built-in 1889, the Old Market Hall continues to be a bustling hub for local vendors and hungry visitors, providing an authentic taste of Finnish food culture.
For a memorable dining experience, book a table at Grön, an award-winning restaurant that showcases seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. With a menu that frequently changes to highlight the best produce, foraged ingredients, and sustainably-sourced meats, Grön offers a modern take on Finnish cuisine that will delight your taste buds.
Don’t miss out on Finland’s signature drink, the long drink or “lonkero,” a refreshing gin-based cocktail that has been popular since it was first introduced during the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Enjoy a glass of this Finnish favourite at a cosy pub like Kallio’s Siltanen, which offers a laid-back atmosphere and a selection of local and international beverages.
How to get around
Finland boasts an efficient and reliable public transportation system that makes exploring the country a breeze. Trains operated by VR connect major cities, offering a comfortable and scenic way to travel across the country. The Finnish train network also provides convenient connections to neighbouring countries like Sweden and Russia.
Matkahuolto provides comprehensive bus services across Finland, reaching even the most remote locations. Buses are a cost-effective and flexible way to explore the country, with many routes offering comfortable, modern vehicles equipped with amenities such as Wi-Fi and power outlets.
In Helsinki, the local transportation network offers buses, trams, and a metro system, making navigating the city and its surroundings easy. In addition, the HSL mobile app allows travellers to plan their journeys, purchase tickets, and real-time access information on public transport services.
Alternatively, consider renting a car for a more flexible and personal way to explore the Finnish countryside. Driving in Finland is a pleasure, thanks to well-maintained roads, beautiful scenery, and light traffic. Be aware that during the winter, driving conditions can be challenging due to snow and ice, so be prepared and take necessary precautions.
For island-hopping in the archipelago, consider taking one of the many ferries operated by Finnlines or Viking Line. These ferry services connect Finland’s main islands and coastal cities, offering travellers the opportunity to explore the unique beauty of the archipelago and experience the tranquillity of island life.
When to visit
Finland is a year-round destination, with each season offering unique experiences. The summer months of June to August are ideal for outdoor activities, with long days and the fascinating phenomenon of the Midnight Sun. During this time, the Finnish landscape comes alive with lush greenery and abundant wildflowers. This is also the perfect time to explore the Finnish archipelago and enjoy various festivals, such as Helsinki’s Flow Festival, a celebration of music, art, and culture that attracts visitors from around the world.
Visit Finland in the autumn months of September and October to witness the spectacular fall foliage known as “ruska.” The vibrant colours of the changing leaves create a breathtaking backdrop for hiking and photography, providing a different perspective on the country’s natural beauty.
Winter in Finland, particularly in Lapland, offers a snowy wonderland ideal for skiing, dog sledging, and seeing the Northern Lights. The long, dark nights create the perfect conditions for this natural light show. A visit to a dedicated Aurora viewing location or a stay in a glass igloo will increase your chances of witnessing this magical phenomenon.
Finally, spring (April to May) brings the rebirth of nature, with blooming wildflowers and migratory birds returning to the country. As the snow melts and temperatures rise, the Finnish landscape transforms, offering a fresh, vibrant setting for outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling.
Finland is a captivating and diverse destination that offers something for every traveller. Whether you seek outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or culinary delights, this Nordic gem will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. The combination of Finland’s stunning landscapes, fascinating history, and warm-hearted people creates a truly unforgettable travel experience.
Visit the Finnish Tourist Board’s website for more information and to plan your unforgettable journey to Finland.
Main image: Piotr Krzeslak, Adobe Stock