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Thrillseeker’s Guide to Finland

Adventure Travel Finland

Whether you’re into scenic wintery escapades or want to explore the immense green expanses Finland is known for, there are plenty of options when it comes to tackling the northern Europe standout. Look for these highlights, must-sees, and lesser-known gems as you put together a plan for a trip to Finland.

Helsinki: Cathedrals, Fortresses, and Nordic Voyages

Whether you’re coming or going to Finland, chances are you’ll end up spending a bit of time in Helsinki at the very least. The capital and most populous city in Finland, by far, Helsinki has most of the architectural landmarks in the country to go with an assortment of popular museums and markets. Helsinki’s unique collection of different cathedrals and chapels make them natural gathering points for visitors, particularly the red-bricked Uspenskin and the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral. Uspenskin also yields impeccable aerial views of downtown Helsinki – perfect for profile photos as well as getting oriented with the city at the beginning of a trip.
With its spot on the Gulf of Finland, which connects to the Baltic Sea, Helsinki has also been a strategically important location for centuries. Unsurprisingly, one of the top attractions within the city is a fortress, the Suomenlinna. Spread out of over six small islands in the gulf, Suomenlinna is definitely a hot spot for tourists but it’s also so scenic that it regularly draws locals for picnics and afternoon hangouts as well. For museum enthusiasts, the Ateneum Art Museum shows off mostly Finnish masterpieces and takes you deep through the country’s history via some of the best artists in Finland.
But Helsinki is also known for being the perfect jumping off point for other adventures, from day trips to longer excursions. While cruises that connect through Helsinki are good options for getting around, you can also take a two-hour ferry across the Gulf of Finland to the picturesque town of Tallinn, Estonia, a UNESCO World Heritage site that barely looks like it’s aged since the 14th century. Day trips out of Helsinki let you peruse an ageless town filled with cobblestoned streets and rows of restored medieval architecture. For those who can’t get enough medieval scenery, the famous old town area of Porvoo, Finland is only an hour by car or bus from Helsinki and is another photographer’s daydream.
Others to consider: Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Natural History Museum, Rock Church, Esplinadi Park.

Get Outside Early and Often in Finland

Even with quite a few architectural wonders throughout the country, chances are you’re not heading to Finland for the buildings. That’s because Finland has some of the most pristine land in the world and can be enjoyed at any time of the year, depending on your tolerance for cold weather. From August through April, the Lapland region in northern Finland is where you can find a full spectrum of outdoor activities during the day and have a great chance at catching Aurora Borealis at night. Although there are plenty of places to do activities like night snowmobiling under the Northern Lights, the central hub of Lapland is Rovaniemi, the regional capital and a thriving city about 10 hours by car north of Helsinki.
From Rovaniemi, you’re positioned to enjoy a variety of Finnish classics in the small villages spread out around Finnish Lapland. During the winter, snowshoeing and dogsledding are great ways to soak up the clean, crisp air the Arctic Circle and surrounding areas are known for. By summer, the icy paradise melts into a sensational blend of green hills, gently rolling streams, and tranquil lakeside hangouts perfect for disconnecting from the world for a few days (or weeks). You can also maximize your daylight in the northern region of Finland, as some areas get up to 24 hours of sunlight during the peak of summer and there are plenty of activities to do under the Midnight Sun. For those with families, Santa Claus’ Office in Rovaniemi can also be a great stop and operates year-round.
You also don’t have to make it all the way to Rovaniemi to experience the Finnish outdoors, as there is fantastic skiing and hiking all over the country. Nuuksio National Park is only 45 minutes down the road from Helsinki and is complete with blue lakes, thick forests, and friendly reindeer. You can even find a terrific little beach in Pori (Yyteri Beach) in western Finland, about two hours north of Turku.
For more daring adventurers: Sitting near the Russian-Finnish border, Hossa National Park is another gorgeously sprawling space that opened in 2017 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of independence from Russia. For those not afraid of a long car or bus trip, the town of Saariselka in the north has world-class winter sports and neighbors a couple of worthwhile national parks (Urho Kekkosen and Lemmenjoki).

Turku and Tampere

While it could be difficult to carve out time in Finland’s other most prominent cities, they’re certainly worth seeing if you have an opportunity. The oldest city in the country, Turku dates to the 13th century and was the Finnish capital for hundreds of years. Today, Turku is only the sixth most populous city in Finland, but remains a great place to dig into Finnish culture thanks to its peerless history and string of impressive landmarks. The Turku Castle is generally considered a must-see with its panoramic views of the Aura River and is one of the oldest buildings in Finland that still functions. Another popular hot spot is Turku Cathedral and history lovers tend to gravitate to the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, which showcases medieval ruins to go with renowned art displays.
Down the road in Tampere, it’s all about getting well above street level to see a vibrant, modern city sitting between the Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi lakes. Pyynikki Park and Observation Tower provide an unbelievable view of the Tampere cityscape, as does the Nasinneula Tower on the other side of town. At the Vapriikin Museokeskus, you can find a couple different museums in one place, covering everything from archeology and architecture to the importance of ice hockey in the region. More than just the standout sites, however, Tampere is simply a great city to get a feel for modern-day Finland.

Food and Culture

While Finland is certainly known for its outdoor activities, the Nordic country is also known for its fresh seafood, interesting cultural trends, and for being one of the best places in the world to grab a sauna. To dig into the food preferences of the country, places like the Hakaniemi Market and Old Town Hall in Helsinki will let you sample delicacies like salmon soup and are known for being particularly great during the weeks before Christmas. Though you can find plenty of terrific restaurants in the major cities and towns of Finland, perusing a thriving marketplace filled with locally caught fish and produce is the easiest way to find the pulse of the country as far as food goes.
After a long day of Finnish adventures or sightseeing, the perfect way to relax is, of course, to find a sauna and have a good steam. Saunas were originally used as a way to clean during the bleak winter months and today remain wildly popular, which is why you find them in many hotels and the president even has an official sauna. To get the full understanding of the sauna phenomenon, there isn’t a more Finnish experience than finishing a steam by literally rolling around in the snow – an old custom that cuts right to the roots of the region. Thankfully for less adventurous visitors, there isn’t a stigma on taking a shower instead.

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Don’t Leave Finland Without Seeing These 3 Amazing Places

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.

Helsinki

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

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.