Finland is every free-spirited explorer and nature enthusiast’s dream come true. Known for its stunning boreal forests, historic monuments, and the world famous northern lights, Finland is one of Europe’s hidden gems.
Top Highlights of Finland
The first stop in Finland for most visitors is the capital, Helsinki. From Stone Age hunter-gatherers and the Vikings to the Swedish Christian crusades and Russian Tsars, Finland has had a long, complex and rich history. This is best reflected in the Fortress of Sveaborg. A 20-minute ferry ride from Helsinki harbor, the fortress is located on the fortified islands of Suomenlinna. Originally built by the Swedes, the fortress fell into the hands of the Russians during the Swedish-Russian war. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.
Another historic structure is the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. With its characteristic deep-red brick walls and multiple spires, the cathedral has 13 green and gold colored onion domes. Representing Christ and the twelve apostles, the cupolas dominate the skyline above Helsinki harbor. The interior is even more impressive, with its vaulted ceilings, marble arches, chandeliers, and gold-embellished iconography.
The Kauppatori Market Square represents the bustling heart of Helsinki. It is home to one of northern Europe’s best outdoor markets, a place filled with traditional Finnish foods, bakeries, chocolatiers, crafted cheese, souvenirs, flowers, and fresh fish from the Baltic Sea.
Compared to other parts of Finland, Lapland is remote and sparsely populated. But the region is home to Finland’s best outdoor activities and nature’s most spectacular phenomena, the northern lights. After a morning of skiing, visitors can relax and unwind in the world’s only sauna gondola at the Ylläs Ski Resort. The resort is also home to Kivinavetta, one of Finland’s most high-quality restaurant that serves up traditional eats including reindeer stew and fresh cloudberries. For a romantic night, visitors can watch the northern lights from igloo styled Aurora Domes, snuggled in sheepskin blankets and sipping on champagne.
Things To Know Before Visiting Finland
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Finland is between September and March when the autumn leaf foliage is at its peak, and the Northern Lights shine brightly on clear nights.
Finland has a relatively mild climate courtesy the Gulf Stream and the country’s many lakes. February is the coldest month, with most of the country snowbound between November and April. Finland also comes under the Land of the Midnight Sun, which means that parts of the country experience continuous daylight during the summer.
The two official languages of Finland are Swedish and Finnish. Many residents are also fluent in English and Russian.
Finland’s official currency is the Euro. All major credit and debit cards are accepted.
The electrical sockets in Finland are type F, also known as “Schuko”. The standard voltage is 230V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If you are traveling from the US, you will need a combined power plug adapter and a voltage converter.
- Finnish customs are predominantly European. Some of them are:
- Finns are reserved on public transportation like buses, trams and even elevators.
- Cell phone etiquette is important. Using cell phones in places like hospitals, pubs, and restaurants is considered rude.
- Tipping is not the norm in Finland. It is acceptable to pay to the next rounded figure or leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the establishment.
- Finland has banned smoking completely in most public spaces.
Visiting a sauna is part of Finland’s national culture. There are only two million saunas in Finland catering to a population of 5.3 million. While there are no mixed public saunas, visitors should try not to be shy about taking off their clothes.
Don’t be shy.
Finns have a very healthy body image, and swimming naked is fairly common. The oldest swimming hall in Finland, Yrjönkatu, offers separate swimming sessions for men and women. Since 2001, visitors can choose to wear a swimming costume, but shouldn’t be surprised if others don’t.
Traveling around Finland
Finland is the 8th largest country in Europe, which means there are large distances to cover when traveling the country. However, Finland’s extensive transportation system comprising of railway lines, canal boats, ferries and the national bus company Matkahuolto, easily connect to different parts of the country. Visitors can always find local bus services in every town in Finland.
Finnish cuisine primarily consists of wholemeal bread, berries, dairy, meat, and seafood. It is becoming increasingly popular to blend traditional rustic recipes with modern contemporary cooking techniques. Some iconic Finnish foods include:
Karjalanpiirakka: Also known as Karelian pies, the pastries are made from rye flour and stuffed with potatoes, rice or carrots.
Kalakukko: Pies filled with muikku, a small herring-like fish.
Grillimakkara: Most popular during the summer, these grilled sausages are eaten with mustard and a mug of beer.
Näkkileipä: Sold internationally, this rye bread cracker is eaten with spreads like cheese and butter, or usually accompanies lunch soups.
Korvapuusti: The Finns love eating their cinnamon buns with coffee.
Mustikkapiirakka: Fresh berries like bilberries and lingonberry are often eaten with milk, or used to make homemade pies, jams and juices.
Poronkäristys: Reindeer meat is a staple from Lapland, and is usually served with mashed potatoes.
Juustoleipä: Made from cow, goat or reindeer milk, this cheese bread is best enjoyed with cloudberry jam.
The topography of Finland is largely flat, with more than 70 percent of the country covered by forestland. Moving north toward the Arctic Circle and the Norwegian border, the landscape changes to form hills and low mountains. This region is Lapland, home to the indigenous Sami people and Finland’s highest point, Haltiatunturi.
Finland has a large archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia known as the Aland Islands. Situated between Sweden and Finland, this archipelago is made up of three hundred islands (eighty of whom are inhabited) and over 6,000 smaller rock islands.
The south of Finland has more than 188,000 clearwater lakes. During the last Ice Age, most of the country was covered by ice. When the ice retreated, it left behind countless rivers, lakes, and streams. While most of them are on the smaller side, some of them like Nasijarv and Oulujarvi measure more than 200 meters wide. Many canals connect to these water bodies. The largest of them, the Saimaa Canal, connects the Gulf of Finland with Lake Saimaa.
From its jaw-dropping snow-capped landscapes and the mesmerizing northern lights, to its medieval stone buildings and maritime culture, Finland is undoubtedly the rising phoenix amongst the Nordic countries. The laid-back Nordic lifestyle combined with artistic quirkiness makes the country both unique and inviting for travelers to Europe. So, what are you waiting for? Are you ready to discover your “inner Finn”?