Finland Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Finland, often referred to as the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” or “Land of the Midnight Sun,” is a captivating Nordic destination known for its pristine nature, innovative design, and unique cultural experiences. Situated in Northern Europe, Finland offers tourists a breathtaking blend of wilderness, modern cities, and traditions rooted in its Arctic heritage. Whether you’re exploring the vibrant capital of Helsinki, witnessing the mesmerizing Northern Lights, or discovering the joy of Finnish sauna culture, Finland beckons with its unspoiled landscapes, friendly locals, and a myriad of adventures waiting to be embraced. Welcome to the enchanting world of Finnish tourism.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? đź“…

The best time to visit Finland as a tourist depends on your interests and the experiences you seek, as the country offers unique attractions and activities throughout the year. Here’s a breakdown of the best times to visit Finland based on the seasons:

  1. Summer (June to August):
  • Midsummer Magic: Late June brings Midsummer, a beloved Finnish holiday celebrated with bonfires and festivities. It’s a great time to experience local traditions.
  • Midnight Sun: In northern Finland, you can witness the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, where the sun doesn’t set for an extended period. This occurs from June to early July.
  • Outdoor Activities: Summer is ideal for outdoor adventures such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, and cycling. The warm weather and extended daylight hours provide ample opportunities.
  1. Autumn (September to November):
  • Vibrant Fall Colors: September and early October showcase Finland’s stunning autumn foliage. National parks like Riisitunturi and Urho Kekkonen become a mosaic of colors.
  • Northern Lights Begin: As the nights grow darker, you may start seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in northern Finland, especially in Lapland.
  1. Winter (December to February):
  • Winter Wonderland: Finland is renowned for its winter wonderland experience. This is the best time for winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
  • Northern Lights: Winter offers excellent opportunities to witness the Northern Lights, especially in the far north. Remote locations with little light pollution provide the best viewing conditions.
  • Santa Claus Village: Rovaniemi, in Lapland, is known as the official hometown of Santa Claus. Visiting during the winter months adds a touch of magic to the experience.
  1. Late Winter to Early Spring (March to May):
  • Skiing and Snow Activities: Late winter and early spring are ideal for winter sports, with longer daylight hours and less extreme cold than midwinter.
  • Snow and Ice Experiences: Try unique activities like ice fishing, ice swimming, and visiting ice hotels.
  • Transition to Spring: As spring arrives, Finland’s wildlife awakens, and migratory birds return. It’s a good time for birdwatching and witnessing the transformation of the landscape.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Finland depends on your preferred activities and the kind of experience you desire. If you want to enjoy the Midnight Sun, visit during the summer. For winter sports and the Northern Lights, opt for the winter months. Autumn and late winter offer a mix of experiences, from fall colors to snowy adventures. Regardless of when you visit, Finland’s natural beauty and unique culture will leave a lasting impression.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Finland as a tourist is relatively straightforward, thanks to the country’s well-developed transportation infrastructure. Here are some of the best ways to get around Finland:

  1. Domestic Flights:
  • For covering long distances quickly, consider domestic flights. Finland has several airports with frequent connections between major cities like Helsinki, Rovaniemi, Oulu, and more.
  1. Trains:
  • Trains are a popular and efficient way to travel between cities. The Finnish railway system is well-maintained and connects major urban centers. The scenic train routes, like the Santa Claus Express to Rovaniemi, offer picturesque views.
  1. Buses:
  • Buses complement the train network and provide access to smaller towns and rural areas. Long-distance and regional buses are comfortable and connect many destinations.
  1. Trams and Local Buses:
  • In cities like Helsinki, Tampere, and Turku, trams and local buses offer convenient transportation within the city. Public transportation is reliable and well-integrated.
  1. Car Rentals:
  • Renting a car is a good option if you want to explore remote areas, such as the Finnish Lakeland or Lapland. Roads are well-maintained, and driving in Finland is safe. Be prepared for winter driving conditions in the colder months.
  1. Ferries:
  • Finland’s archipelago and numerous lakes make ferries a common mode of transportation between islands and coastal towns. The Ă…land Islands, for example, are reachable by ferry from mainland Finland.
  1. Cycling:
  • In the warmer months, cycling is an excellent way to explore Finnish cities and countryside. Many cities have dedicated bike lanes, and bike rentals are widely available.
  1. Taxis and Ride-Sharing:
  • Taxis are available in cities and can be hailed on the street or booked in advance. Ride-sharing services like Uber also operate in some urban areas.
  1. Sleigh Rides and Reindeer Safaris: In Lapland, you can experience traditional modes of transportation, such as reindeer sleigh rides and husky safaris, which are both fun and unique.
  2. Walking: Finnish cities are pedestrian-friendly, and exploring on foot is a great way to discover local culture, shops, and restaurants.
  3. Renting Snowmobiles: In winter, especially in Lapland, snowmobile rentals are available for those who want to explore snowy landscapes.

When traveling around Finland, it’s essential to check schedules and book transportation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Additionally, consider the time of year and weather conditions, as they can impact your choice of transportation and the overall travel experience. Finland’s efficient and well-connected transportation network ensures that you can explore the country’s diverse regions with ease.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish. While Finnish is the most widely spoken language, especially in the majority of the country, Swedish is spoken as a minority language, primarily in coastal regions.

Here are some basic Finnish phrases and words that can be useful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Hei (pronounced “HAY”)
  2. Good morning: Hyvää huomenta (pronounced “HUH-vaa HWOH-men-ta”)
  3. Good afternoon: Hyvää päivää (pronounced “HUH-vaa PAY-vaah”)
  4. Good evening: Hyvää iltaa (pronounced “HUH-vaa IHL-taah”)
  5. Goodbye: Näkemiin (pronounced “NAH-keh-meen”)
  6. Please: Ole hyvä (pronounced “OH-leh HUH-vaa”)
  7. Thank you: Kiitos (pronounced “KEE-tohs”)
  8. Yes: Kyllä (pronounced “KUUL-la”)
  9. No: Ei (pronounced “AY”)
  10. Excuse me / Sorry: Anteeksi (pronounced “AHN-tehk-see”)
  11. How much is this?: Paljonko tämä maksaa? (pronounced “PAH-lyon-koh TAH-mah MAHK-sah?”)
  12. Where is…?: Missä on…? (pronounced “MIS-sah ohn…?”)
  13. I don’t understand: En ymmärrä (pronounced “EN UHM-ma-rah”)
  14. Help: Apua (pronounced “AH-poo-ah”)
  15. Restroom: WC or vessa (pronounced “VES-sah”)
  16. Yes, please / No, thank you: Kyllä, kiitos (pronounced “KUUL-la, KEE-tohs”) / Ei, kiitos (pronounced “AY, KEE-tohs”)

Finnish pronunciation can be challenging, but locals often appreciate it when tourists make an effort to use a few basic phrases. English is widely spoken and understood, especially in tourist areas, so you can usually get by without knowing Finnish.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Finland offers a diverse range of accommodations for tourists, catering to various preferences and budgets. Here are some popular options for where to stay in Finland as a tourist:

  1. Hotels: Finland has a wide selection of hotels, ranging from budget-friendly options to luxurious boutique hotels and international chains. You can find hotels in major cities like Helsinki, Tampere, Rovaniemi, and more.
  2. Holiday Villages and Cottages: Experience the Finnish tradition of staying in a cottage or log cabin in the countryside or by a lake. These cottages often come with saunas and are perfect for a peaceful retreat.
  3. Hostels: Budget-conscious travelers will find hostels in cities and tourist areas. Hostels offer dormitory-style accommodations and private rooms, making them ideal for backpackers and solo travelers.
  4. Boutique and Design Hotels: Finland is known for its design culture, and you can stay in stylish boutique hotels that showcase Finnish design and architecture. Helsinki, in particular, has many design-focused accommodations.
  5. Ski Resorts: In winter, consider staying at ski resorts in Lapland or other northern regions. These resorts offer a range of lodging options, including hotels, cabins, and chalets.
  6. Ice Hotels: For a truly unique experience, stay at an ice hotel, like the SnowCastle in Kemi or Arctic SnowHotel in Rovaniemi. These hotels are made entirely of ice and snow and are available during the winter season.
  7. Campgrounds: Camping is a popular activity in Finland, and there are campgrounds and caravan parks throughout the country. You can enjoy the natural beauty of Finland while camping.
  8. Rural Farm Stays: Experience Finnish rural life by staying at a working farm. This allows you to immerse yourself in local culture and enjoy fresh, local produce.
  9. Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs): B&Bs offer a cozy and intimate lodging experience, often hosted by friendly locals who can provide insider tips on exploring the area.
  10. Lighthouses: Some coastal lighthouses in Finland have been converted into unique accommodations. Staying in a lighthouse provides stunning sea views and a memorable experience.
  11. Treehouses: In select regions, you can stay in treehouses amid the forest canopy. These accommodations offer a unique connection with nature.
  12. Glass Igloos: Witness the Northern Lights from the comfort of a glass igloo in Lapland. These igloos provide a one-of-a-kind Arctic experience.

When choosing where to stay in Finland, consider factors such as your travel itinerary, the time of year, and the type of experience you desire. In popular tourist destinations, it’s advisable to book accommodations well in advance, especially during peak seasons like the Northern Lights season in Lapland. Finland’s diverse range of lodging options ensures that there’s something suitable for every traveler’s needs.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Finnish cuisine is a reflection of the country’s natural landscapes and cultural traditions. While some dishes might seem unusual to newcomers, they offer a unique and authentic taste of Finland. Here are some must-try foods when visiting Finland as a tourist:

  1. Karjalanpiirakka: These Karelian pasties are made from thin rye crusts filled with rice porridge, mashed potatoes, or carrot and rice filling. They are typically served with egg butter (munavoi) and are a popular Finnish snack.
  2. Ruisleipä: Finnish rye bread is a staple of the diet. Try it with various toppings, such as cold-smoked salmon, butter, or cheese.
  3. Lohikeitto: This creamy salmon soup is a comfort food classic. It’s made with salmon, potatoes, leeks, carrots, and dill, often served with rye bread.
  4. Hernekeitto: Finnish pea soup is traditionally made with green or yellow split peas, ham, and sometimes a hint of mint. It’s often enjoyed with a dollop of mustard.
  5. Kalakukko: This traditional Finnish fish pie consists of fish, usually perch or salmon, mixed with pork and enclosed in a dense rye crust. It’s a specialty in the Savonia region.
  6. Poronkäristys: Reindeer slices are sautĂ©ed and served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. It’s a northern delicacy and a must-try in Lapland.
  7. Kaalikääryleet: Cabbage rolls filled with a mixture of minced meat and rice, typically served with lingonberry sauce and mashed potatoes.
  8. Karjalanpaisti: A hearty Finnish stew made with beef, pork, or lamb, along with root vegetables. It’s slow-cooked to perfection and served with potatoes.
  9. Salmiakki: This Finnish salty licorice candy has a strong and acquired taste. It’s a beloved Finnish treat, but be prepared for its unique flavor.
  10. Karelian Sausage (Karjalanpihvi): A type of beef steak, usually served with mashed potatoes, lingonberry sauce, and gravy.
  11. Leipäjuusto: Also known as squeaky cheese or “Finnish curd cheese,” leipäjuusto is a mild, fresh cheese often served warm with cloudberry jam.
  12. Muikku: These tiny, fried vendace fish are a popular street food in Finland, especially in markets.
  13. Sima: A sweet, homemade Finnish mead, often enjoyed during Vappu (May Day) celebrations. It has a mild alcoholic content and is flavored with lemon and raisins.
  14. Mustikkapiirakka: Blueberry pie is a favorite dessert, made with fresh or frozen blueberries and a delicious buttery crust.
  15. Korvapuusti: These Finnish cinnamon rolls are a delightful treat. They are generously spiced with cinnamon and sugar and often served with coffee.
  16. Karelian Pies (Karjalanpiirakka): These thin rye pastry pies are typically filled with rice porridge or mashed potatoes. They are a Finnish snack and a great option for a quick bite.

Don’t forget to pair these dishes with some traditional Finnish beverages like cloudberry liqueur, Tar liqueur, or a glass of cold, fresh milk. Finnish cuisine showcases a mix of hearty, rustic flavors and unique delicacies, making it an intriguing culinary experience for tourists.

What to See? 🔍

Finland offers a wide range of must-see places for tourists, from vibrant cities to pristine natural wonders. Here are some of the top destinations and attractions:

  1. Helsinki: Finland’s capital and largest city, Helsinki, is a vibrant urban center with a mix of modern architecture and neoclassical buildings. Must-see attractions include the Helsinki Cathedral, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, and the vibrant Market Square.
  2. Lapland: Located in the northern part of Finland, Lapland is a winter wonderland renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, the Northern Lights, and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. Activities include husky sledding, reindeer safaris, and cross-country skiing.
  3. Archipelago National Park: Explore the stunning archipelago off the southwestern coast of Finland, known for its thousands of islands, rocky shores, and serene landscapes. It’s a paradise for boating, kayaking, and nature enthusiasts.
  4. Rovaniemi: The capital of Lapland and the official hometown of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi offers a range of winter activities, Santa Claus Village, and the Arctic Circle.
  5. Turku: Finland’s oldest city is known for its rich history and medieval Turku Castle. It’s also a hub for cultural events, museums, and a picturesque riverside.
  6. Lakes Region (Finnish Lakeland): Explore the tranquil lakes and charming villages of central Finland. Savonlinna, with its medieval Olavinlinna Castle, and the town of Kuopio are popular destinations.
  7. Koli National Park: Located in eastern Finland, Koli is famous for its striking landscapes, including rugged hills, pristine lakes, and panoramic viewpoints. It’s a superb hiking and photography destination.
  8. Hämeenlinna: This historic town is home to Häme Castle and Aulanko Nature Reserve, offering a mix of cultural and natural attractions.
  9. Nuuksio National Park: Just outside of Helsinki, Nuuksio National Park is a nature lover’s paradise, with forests, lakes, and hiking trails.
  10. Oulanka National Park: In northern Finland, this national park is known for its rugged wilderness, rapids, and the famous Karhunkierros Trail.
  11. Kemi SnowCastle: Visit Kemi to see the impressive SnowCastle, a massive structure made entirely of snow and ice, and take a guided tour of the ice hotel.
  12. Seurasaari Open-Air Museum: Located in Helsinki, this museum showcases traditional Finnish architecture and culture in a beautiful outdoor setting.
  13. Porvoo: This charming medieval town features picturesque cobblestone streets, colorful wooden houses, and the historic Porvoo Cathedral.
  14. Korouoma Canyon: Located in Lapland, Korouoma Canyon is a stunning natural wonder with frozen waterfalls and dramatic cliffs, making it a great destination for hiking and photography.
  15. Punkaharju Ridge: This scenic ridge, often referred to as the “Finnish Lake District’s pearl,” offers beautiful vistas and opportunities for hiking and boating.
  16. Kotka: Explore this coastal town known for its maritime history, beautiful parks, and the Maretarium, an aquarium specializing in Baltic Sea species.

Finland’s diverse landscapes and cultural treasures offer a wide array of experiences for tourists, whether you’re interested in outdoor adventures, cultural exploration, or simply enjoying the country’s natural beauty.

What to Do? 📸

Finland offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists, allowing you to immerse yourself in the country’s unique culture, nature, and traditions. Here are some must-do things when visiting Finland as a tourist:

  1. Chase the Northern Lights: If you’re visiting in winter, especially in Lapland, witnessing the mesmerizing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is a must. Join a guided tour for the best chances of seeing this natural wonder.
  2. Visit Santa Claus Village: Head to Rovaniemi in Lapland to meet Santa Claus, cross the Arctic Circle, and enjoy the Christmas spirit year-round.
  3. Stay in a Glass Igloo: Experience the Arctic wilderness from the comfort of a glass igloo, allowing you to see the Northern Lights while staying warm inside.
  4. Sauna Experience: Embrace Finnish sauna culture by enjoying a traditional Finnish sauna. You can do this at public saunas, private cottages, or even on a lakeside.
  5. Try Ice Swimming: If you’re brave enough, take a dip in a frozen lake or icy sea after a sauna session. It’s an invigorating and uniquely Finnish experience.
  6. Husky Sledding: Go on a thrilling husky safari through the snow-covered landscapes of Lapland, guided by a team of eager sled dogs.
  7. Reindeer Safari: Learn about Sami culture and take a reindeer sleigh ride, especially if you’re visiting Lapland.
  8. Midsummer Festivities: Experience the magic of Finnish Midsummer (Juhannus) by joining local celebrations with bonfires, saunas, and traditional rituals.
  9. Wildlife Watching: Finland is a great place for birdwatching and wildlife enthusiasts. Visit national parks to spot rare species like the Saimaa ringed seal or go on a bear-watching tour.
  10. Cross-Country Skiing: In winter, try your hand at cross-country skiing on well-maintained tracks throughout the country.
  11. Snowshoeing: Explore the snowy wilderness on snowshoes, which allow you to access remote areas and enjoy the tranquility of nature.
  12. Canoeing or Kayaking: Paddle through Finland’s pristine lakes and rivers, including the scenic Finnish Lakeland region.
  13. Visit Local Markets: Explore local markets like Helsinki’s Market Square (Kauppatori) to sample Finnish delicacies, buy handmade crafts, and mingle with locals.
  14. Ride the Archipelago Trail: Take a scenic road trip along the Archipelago Trail to discover charming islands, fishing villages, and coastal landscapes.
  15. Attend a Traditional Finnish Music Concert: Enjoy live music performances featuring Finnish folk and contemporary music, or listen to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the kantele, a traditional Finnish instrument.
  16. Experience Midnight Sun: In northern Finland during the summer months, witness the surreal phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, where the sun doesn’t set for an extended period.
  17. Explore Snow and Ice Hotels: Stay in a unique ice or snow hotel, complete with ice sculptures, snow beds, and a memorable Arctic experience.
  18. Visit National Parks: Finland boasts numerous national parks, each offering opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, and immersion in pristine nature.
  19. Experience Local Festivals: Check out local festivals and events, like the Savonlinna Opera Festival or the Savonlinna Punkaharju Festival, to enjoy Finnish arts and culture.
  20. Try Traditional Finnish Cuisine: Savor Finnish dishes like salmon soup, Karelian pasties, and cloudberry desserts at local restaurants and markets.

These activities and experiences allow you to dive deep into Finland’s culture, nature, and traditions, ensuring a memorable and enriching journey in this Nordic wonderland.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Finland, it’s important to understand the country’s culture and take necessary safety precautions to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. Here are some key points regarding culture and safety in Finland:

Culture:

  1. Respect for Nature: Finnish culture places a strong emphasis on respect for nature. It’s customary to leave outdoor areas as you found them and follow “everyman’s rights,” which allow people to enjoy the countryside responsibly.
  2. Punctuality: Finns value punctuality. Arrive on time for appointments, tours, and meetings.
  3. Personal Space: Finns value personal space and tend to maintain a comfortable distance when interacting. Respect this cultural norm, especially in crowded places.
  4. Quietness: Silence is appreciated in public places, like public transport and libraries. Speaking loudly or creating disruptions may be considered impolite.
  5. Sauna Culture: Saunas are an integral part of Finnish culture. If invited to a sauna, it’s customary to follow the local customs and etiquette. Nudity is common in traditional saunas.
  6. Currency: The currency in Finland is the Euro (EUR). Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller purchases.
  7. Tipping: Tipping is customary but not obligatory. In restaurants, rounding up the bill or leaving a 10% tip is common.
  8. Alcohol Laws: The legal drinking age in Finland is 18. The sale of alcohol in grocery stores is limited, and alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at government-run Alko stores or licensed restaurants and bars.
  9. Language: Finnish and Swedish are the official languages. While many Finns speak English, learning a few basic Finnish phrases can be appreciated.

Safety:

  1. Low Crime Rate: Finland has a reputation for being one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crime is rare, but petty theft can occur, especially in tourist areas. Keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious in crowded places.
  2. Traffic Safety: Finland has strict traffic regulations, and road safety is a priority. If you plan to drive, obey speed limits and traffic rules, and be prepared for winter driving conditions if visiting during colder months.
  3. Emergency Numbers: The emergency number for police, fire, and medical assistance is 112.
  4. Weather Awareness: Be prepared for Finland’s weather, which can vary greatly depending on the season. Dress warmly in winter, use sun protection in summer, and be cautious of slippery conditions in icy weather.
  5. Wildlife Safety: When venturing into Finland’s wilderness areas, be aware of wildlife, such as reindeer and elk, which can sometimes appear on roads. Drive carefully and be cautious.
  6. Water Safety: Finland’s numerous lakes make it a great place for swimming and boating. Pay attention to water safety rules, especially in unfamiliar areas.
  7. Healthcare: Finland has a high standard of healthcare. European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) holders receive necessary medical care, but it’s advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance covering medical emergencies.
  8. COVID-19 Precautions: Stay informed about COVID-19 regulations and follow local guidelines regarding mask mandates, social distancing, and vaccination requirements.

Overall, Finland is a safe and welcoming destination known for its natural beauty, cultural richness, and friendly locals. By respecting local customs and taking common-sense precautions, you can enjoy a memorable and secure visit to this Nordic gem.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Finland promises an enchanting journey into the heart of the Arctic, where pristine nature, modern innovation, and authentic traditions converge. Whether you seek the tranquility of endless forests, the thrill of the Northern Lights, or the warmth of Finnish hospitality in bustling cities, Finland invites you to experience a unique and unforgettable adventure. So, pack your winter gear, embrace the midnight sun, and prepare for a remarkable journey into the captivating landscapes and culture of this Nordic gem. Welcome to Finland!