Finland, a country that’s at the top of the world and borders Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, has a unique culture that every traveler should experience at least once. From the attractions of Helsinki to the remote regions of Lapland, this country offers a great deal to people who value an unspoiled landscape and a friendly, welcoming population. If you’re fortunate enough to plan a trip to Finland, make sure you don’t miss these three incredible destinations.
Most visitors to Finland fly into the capital city, Helsinki. It’s also a port that’s a popular stop for many Scandinavian cruises. For a city that was founded in the 16th century by a Swedish king, Helsinki is quite modern with lots of restaurants, museums, cafes, and art galleries. It’s easy to get around by tram if you don’t want to rent your own car. Many of the favorite attractions are within walking distance of the harbor. If you want to save money and enjoy greater convenience while exploring the city, consider getting a Helsinki City Card, which includes public transportation, admission to many museums, and discounts on restaurants and shopping. Here are some of the spots in Helsinki to check out:
- National Museum of Finland: If you want to learn as much as possible about Finland’s culture and history, this is the best place to come. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing Finnish art and history in the Medieval, Swedish, and Russian eras up until modern times when Finland became an independent nation in 1917.
- Old Market Hall: Vanhakauppahalli or Old Market Hall is the city’s oldest market, and has been operating continuously since the late 1800s. This is a great place to sample some of Helsinki’s delicacies such as fresh fish, mushrooms, berries, and all kinds of produce. There are also cafes, bakeries, and a store selling wine and spirits.
- Temppeliaukio Church: This church is unique in a number of ways. It has a distinctive dome with a skylight, letting in plenty of natural light during the day. It’s also known as Church of the Rock because it’s partly underground and some of the walls consist of natural rock. In addition to being an active Lutheran church, concerts and other events are held here.
- Public Saunas: While in Helsinki, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the many public saunas. One of the most popular of these is Allas Sea Pool, which is right in the heart of the city near Market Square. It has three saunas, two warm water, and one saltwater. In addition to the saunas, there are wellness activities such as yoga, a fitness center, and restaurants.
- Linnanmäki: The country’s most popular amusement park, this place has a quaint and traditional atmosphere. It opened in 1950 and many of the original rides, including the famous roller coaster, are still operating. With lots of rides, arcade games, an aquarium, and theater, this is a favorite family attraction.
In addition to these attractions, Helsinki has many scenic areas that are ideal for long walks or bike rides. A ride on one of the quaint trams is another enjoyable way to soak in the city’s atmosphere.
Lemmenjoki National Park
If you want to experience the wild and untamed parts of Finland, you must visit Lemmenjoki National Park. This is the country’s largest park, covering more than 1,000 square miles in Northern Lapland. You can hike, take a riverboat cruise, pan for gold, and explore the ancient Sámi culture. One of the more challenging aspects of visiting this amazing spot is actually getting there. Many visitors arrive from Helsinki, renting a car or taking a bus. You can also take a flight directly to one of the Lapland airports.
Lemmenjoki National Park is beautiful throughout the year. Most people, however, visit between spring and early fall. If you want to challenge yourself and experience a Lapland winter, that’s also possible if you make arrangements with local guides. Keep in mind, however, that you may find it difficult to reach the park during harsh weather. Here are some of the activities you can find at Lemmenjoki National Park:
- Hiking: The park contains hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and trekking. The breathtaking scenery includes primeval forests and waterfalls.
- Boating: There are daily cruises along the Lemmenjoki River, where you can appreciate the scenery and make a stop for a hike. Some guided river tours include panning for gold, a traditional part of the local economy.
- Cross-country Skiing: Another way to appreciate the landscape is on skis.
- Fishing: You can catch some of the region’s fresh fish, including trout, whitefish, and grayling. Ice fishing, as well as hook-and-line fishing, are available in certain areas. Make sure you get a permit first, which can be obtained online.
- Observe and Photograph Wildlife: Lemmenjoki National Park is one of the best places to appreciate the region’s wildlife, including reindeer, wolves, bears, golden eagles, and moose.
- Nature Center and Museum: To learn more about the fascinating area and the people who live here, visit the Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre.
- Northern Lights: Lapland is one of the best areas to see the spectacular Northern Lights. The best time of year to see this unforgettable sight is between September and March.
Turku is Finland’s second largest city and was actually the largest for a long time until it was surpassed by Helsinki. It’s also Finland’s oldest city, having been settled in the 13th century. Turku, located in the Southwestern part of the country, has been the center of many historical events and has long been an important port city. Many passenger and commercial ships continue to pass through here. If you visit Turku and have a little extra time, you might want to visit nearby Archipelago National Park as well. Here are a few of the top attractions in or near Turku.
- Turku Castle: Turun Linna or Turku Castle is a huge medieval castle that was built in the 13th century. Over the centuries, this impressive structure has served many functions, including a prison. You can still tour the dungeons today. There’s also a museum and daily tours.
- Turku Art Museum: This museum has one of the best collections of Finnish art in the world.
- Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova: These are two connected museums that combine history and modern art. Aboa Vetus features artifacts from streets and buildings dating back to medieval times. Ars Nova brings you back to the present with contemporary art exhibits.
- Turku City Library: This library is known for its architectural grandeur and combining old and new styles. The original structure is from the early 19th century while the new section, recently completed, has a very modern design with glass and open spaces. The library, which has an English language section, also has great views of the city and Aura River.
- Archipelago National Park: This is a vast archipelago of islands that combine Finnish, Swedish, and Russian influences. It actually has more islands than any other archipelago in the world. These islands are great destinations if you enjoy nature and water sports. They also give you a chance to explore traditional cultures. You can hike on magnificent nature trails on many islands. Since this amazing national park consists solely of islands, you have to make arrangements to visit ahead of time with a tour or renting your own boat.
Worth the Trip to the Far North
There’s no place quite like Finland. Even the language is unique, distinct from the Scandinavian and Slavic languages of its neighbors. In Finland, you can see the Northern Lights, visit the Arctic Circle in Lapland, camp in the wild and live on fish and reindeer meat, or experience the modern conveniences and culture of Helsinki. Whether you’re stopping here as part of a multi-country trip or making Finland your solo destination, you can spend days, weeks, or even months exploring this amazing Northern land.