Finland Travel Guide

Also called ‘the land of a thousand lakes’, Finland is best known for Nokia phones and saunas. One of the world’s most technologically developed countries, it also boasts a myriad of islands, vast forests and Europe’s largest unspoiled wilderness.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Finnish architecture, steaming saunas, Santa’s home, reindeer, Northern Lights, midnight sun, lumberjack competitions, Snow Hotel, Air Guitar World Championships, horseback trekking in the south, liquorice candy, canoeing on the lakes, Åland archipelago, Moomin World and Finnish vodka.

What’s Not: Booze prices, difficult drunks, long winters, high prices, strange toilet locks, mosquitoes in summer, souvenirs made in China, weird alcohol laws and marauding moose.

When to Go

Finland is cold with four distinct seasons.
Summer (June to September) has long nights, warm days and is the best time to visit.
Autumn (September to October) sees the temperatures drop and the first snowfalls.
Winter (November to March) is long, dark and freezing. A favorite time for suicides.
Spring (April to May) is when the ice and snow melt and people come out of their holes.

Getting There & Away

Helsinki is the main air hub, and the domestic air network is extensive but expensive. Buses are an excellent way of getting around, while trains are spacious, comfortable and clean, but routes are concentrated in the south. Inland waterways are serviced by regular waterbuses and ferries. Inner city transport, particularly in Helsinki, is extensive and efficient.

Health & Safety

Finland enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is generally a safe place to travel. Watch out for drunken youth on weekend nights. Moose may put an unexpected stop to your road travels. The main health concern for visitors is the cold in winter, which can easily lead to hypothermia for the unprepared.

Food & Hospitality

A fusion of Scandinavian and Russian styles, heavy and plain, eating out can be heavy on the wallet too. Breakfast is a good time to fill up on calories if you’re short on Euro. Most hotels and motels have a swimming pool and of course, a sauna. The Every Man’s Right allows camping for everyone on uncultivated land. Throw in free fishing and berry and mushroom picking, and you can stay forever.

Itineraries

One week is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two or three days to see the capital’s highlights and its surrounding parks, forests, shoreline and lakes.
Two or three days in Turku, an 800-year old port city and a great base for island excursions.
Two or three days in the lake region, which are great for swimming in summer.

Extra time
One or two days in Rauma, with many artisans, lace makers and goldsmiths working here in small antique studios.
Four or five days in Lapland, home to Santa Claus and the rare golden cloudberry.
A week in the autonomous Åland Islands, ideal for bicycle tours, camping and cabin holidays.

Highlights

Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress: in Helsinki is the world’s largest maritime fortress and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Turku: boasts watery charm, museums and the huge medieval Turku Castle.

The Lake Region: is a winter wonderland or a peaceful, wild and watery destination in summer.

Lapland: is a place of vast expanses and barren wilderness as you cross into the Arctic Circle to visit Santa Claus.

Åland Islands: are made up of more than 6,400 autonomous islands with a unique culture, expressed in folk dancing, maypole decorating and small-town charm.

Ostrobothnia: on the west coast with its long sandy beaches, sunny and dry climate and the Sanifani Spa.

Activities

Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the attractive castles and architecture, beautiful scenery and intriguing Sami culture.

Hiking: is easy, but look out for insect invasions in June/July. Many trails have huts available en route or equipped camping places.

Fishing: in or on the many lakes, but a local license is required. Try ice fishing for a special bone-freezing experience.

Cross-country skiing: on the many well-prepared trails, some of which are illuminated.

Saunas: for the quintessential Finnish experience. Boil, get flogged then dip into the icy water.

Air-guitar: Everyone can be a star at the annual Air Guitar World Championships, held in Oulu in late August.

Festivals & Events

Festivals in Finland are closely linked with the arrival of summer, boozing and wife carrying. These are some of the highlights.

June: Midsummer’s Day is celebrated in the countryside and features Maypole dancing, bonfires and vodka.
July: Savonlinna Opera Festival is held in the medieval castle of Olavinlinna.
July: The Wife-Carrying Championships in Sonkajärvi are dominated by Estonian iron men.
August: Helsinki Festival includes music, theater, dance, visual arts and cinema as well as city events.

Onward Travel