An overview – Finland
Lakes, forests, islands, … Finland is not a country to visit for its cities, but for its breathtaking nature. Here, the cities themselves were made and situated in the middle of nature, and the traveler will never be far from the nearest trail or river. Rather poor in historical monuments, Finland is also famous for its wooden towns like Porvoo and the beautiful buildings in Helsinki, all reminders of the Russian influence.
There's no lack of activities in Finland. Beyond traditional hiking and camping, the lakes offer plenty of opportunity for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. It's also a country famous for its ski season, open till May. Winter sports in general are very popular, and become a traditional affair as soon as you embark on a sleigh pulled by reindeers or huskies.
Finland is also one of the rare places in the world where to observe the midnight sun. Seeing the sun shining all through the night in the summer months is something unique, as well as the chance to catch an Aurora Borealis in winter, something possible in the north of the country in the Finnish Lapland, the home of the last Sami people.
There might not be anything drawing the traveler to Finland at first glance, no national monument, party town or big historic site, and not much sunshine either. But the magic in Finland holds in its majestic nature and in the way it reflects on the locals; patient, generous and independent, the Finnish people will make you feel welcome in their beautiful land immediately.
When to travel – Weather
Finland is a northern country and the temperature can easily reach -30° in winter, when the days are short with barely a few glimpses of sunshine. From June until July, summer makes the temperature go up to 20° or 30°, and gives a great opportunity of experiencing the famous midnight sun, when the sun shines without interruption for several days.
Despite its harsh winters, Finland can be magical under the snow, and the country can be visited throughout the year without danger. To ski, the best moment is February. For those seeking a warmer climate, the best moment to visit Finland is between the months of May and September.
In September, the fall gives exceptional colors to some regions of Finland and hiking in this new environment, called the Ruska, is a very popular activity. To discover more of the Finnish culture, in March and April the very popular Reindeer Races are happening, with the big finale in Inari, and are definitely worth attending if the timing is right.
Finnish Cuisine and Drinks
In Finland, menus are completely different depending on the time of day. Around noon, cheap and generous meals called lounas are served, while at night the restaurants become more expensive and chic.
Like in many cold countries, traditional food is heavy and rather greasy, to enable the body to make its own warmth. The basis of Finnish cuisine is meat or fish with potatoes, and without a lot of vegetables present on the plate. Still, in the cities it's easy to find food from all over the world, including typical fast foods and burgers, that can cater to every kind of diet, including vegetarian.
In typical specialties, we find a lot of fish, including salmon, smoked, grilled or marinated, and reindeer meat, mostly served in a stew. In some restaurants, reindeer tongue or dried or smoked reindeer meat can also be seen on the menu. Another specialty, more appreciated by tourists, is the kukko, a good bread stuffed with potatoes or fish.
Meals are usually accompanied by milk or coffee. The tap water in Finland is also drinkable and delicious, free of charge in restaurants.
Popular sights in Finland
Helsinki – The capital of Finland, Helsinki was rebuilt by Russia, and the rounded colorful tops of the buildings give her indeed the look of a miniature Saint Petersburg. Churches and museums are aplenty in the city, as well as beautiful views of the sea, but one sight not to miss is Suomenlinna, an island that used to be the greatest fortress of the Baltic sea. It's still as it was, with its cannons and catacombs.
Inari Lake – Close to the Arctic Circle, Inari Lake is a deserted and beautiful place where the midnight sun can be observed from May until July. The lake itself is in fact filled with a multitude of small islands, creating a unique landscape. Fishing and canoeing on the lake are possible, as well as horse riding or sleigh riding depending on the time of the year.
Saimaa Lake – Lakeland and its national parks hold enough beauty and wonder to fill several weeks of travel. Saimaa Lake is one of the biggest lake of the region. Its shores made of miniature beaches, rocks, forests and rolling hills make it a place to feel deeply in touch with nature. It's also a good spot for hiking or kayaking on the lake. If lucky, you might even spot a seal.
Finnish Lapland – Closer to the Arctic Circle is the Finnish Lapland, where still live the last of the Sami People and where chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis are much higher in the winter. The nature in this region is pristine and breathtakingly beautiful. Trekking, fishing and winter sports are the main draw for the travelers, along with the chance to spend time in these unbelievable landscapes.
Porvoo – One of the oldest towns of Finland, Porvoo is famous for its charming red wooden warehouses and cobblestone streets. Strolling around is the best way to discover this ancient place, but a visit to the cathedral is also not to be forgotten.
Turku – Turku is the oldest city in Finland and used to be the capital of the country. Today, it's still a very active town, with festivals, museums and markets. The main attraction in Turku is the Castle, where you can visit the renovated dungeons and dining halls.
Tallinn – One of the most refreshing cities in Finland, Tallinn embraces modernity and tourism while preserving its churches and old town. Now very appreciated by visitors, Tallinn offers a dynamic lifestyle while still offering to learn more about Finnish culture, with for example the visit of the Town Hall or the Oleviste Church.
Aland Isles – Aland Isles regroups 6700 islands ! There are many things to do there, but the best way to discover these unique landscapes is by a boat that will slowly make its way in this labyrinth, leaving all the time to the spectators to admire the view and the wildlife.
Tempere – Tempere is a big city, with less tourism than Helsinki. The museums are very interesting but the main draw is the incredible number of festivals happening in the city all year round. With a lot of students and young people, it's an opportunity to meet the Finnish population and to enjoy the excellent nightlife.
Rauma – Rauma is a historic seafaring town made of little wooden houses. The town center is indeed a UNESCO world heritage site and not to be missed. The town offers also a starting point to explore the nearest islands like Kylmapihlaja and its lighthouse. In July the Rauma Lace Week animates the town and offers a great insight into local culture.
The east – The east of Finland is the land of honey eating brown bears. It's very easy to spot some as many wildlife tours are offered in those regions. It's a truly unique opportunity to see some extraordinary wildlife!
Currency – Finland is part of the European Union and uses the Euro, with the particularity of not using coins of 1 or 2 cents. When buying in cash, the price will be rounded up. ATMs are easily available for mastercards and visas. American Express Card holders would do better to have some cash ready, as it won't be as easy to get out money.
Health – Finland is a very safe country. The only annoyance will come from the räkkä, which is the proliferation of mosquitoes and other insects during the summer months. These insects are not dangerous but very annoying. Shops in Finland sell all the products necessary to ward off these insects, and it's better to get equipped as soon as you get there, especially for those wanting to go hike or canoe.