Consistently ranked among the world's best for high quality of life, Finland offers the perfect chance to get outdoors: exploring in the remote wilderness, relaxing in saunas and pretty cottages, and soaking up the wondrous scenery of its thousands of magical lakes and islands.
Where to go
In Helsinki, see the bizarre modern art of Espoo Museum, the historic buildings of Porvoo, and the ruins at Suomenlinna. Explore the harbour and the design district, Tuusulanjarvi lake, and the villas of Hanko. Go boating around the Ekenas Archipelago. Among the clear Lakeland waters, visit pretty Savonlinna castle, Valamo monastery, and the vibrant architecture of Jyvaskyla. Do a cottage stay at Lake Saimaa, and experience the world's largest smoke sauna at Kuopio.
Explore the huge Turku Cathedral, and the pretty towns of Rauma, Pori and Nantali. Revisit your childhood at Moominworld, and meander along the Archipelago Trail to Houtskar. In summer, see the giant Hiekkalina sand castle at Lappeenranta, and the astounding wood-carved Paateri Chapel. Take the scenic Poet's Way cruise from vibrant Tampere. Visit the Hameenlinna house museum, the Lahti Sibeliustalo concert hall, and the Visavuori sculptures.
Cycle the flat archipelago of Aland - rent your bikes at Eckero or Mariehamn, and explore the ramparts of Bomarsund. Visit the Pohhanmaan museum in arty Vaasa, view the Modernist architecture of Aalto Center in Seinajoki, and attend the summer Kaustinen folk music festival.
Go canoeing and hiking in the stunning wilderness of Oulanka National Park and the grand forests of Kuusamo. Experience the lively kauppatori market square of Oulu, and relax on the Hailuoto Island beaches. In Lapland of the midnight sun, wild reindeer and aurora borealis, go trekking in Saariselka and Lemmenjoki. Hike up Saana Fell near Kilpisjarvi, stay in a snow castle at Kemi, and go on a dog-sled safari in Muonio.
Domestic flights link Helsinki Airport to regional hubs, though trains are the best way to access major cities. Save by getting discounts like the Finnrail Pass. Otherwise, long-distance buses will get you around as well, especially in remote areas. Buses are extensive, comfortable, and punctual, but generally more expensive than the train.
Driving is easy, as roads are excellent and Finnish drivers are very polite. However, the cost of petrol is exorbitant. A flat country with extensive bike paths, Finland is great for cycling - you can rent a bike in almost every town. Especially in summer, lake and river cruises are scenic, but slower, alternatives to road transport. Most cities have buses (inexpensive) and taxis (expensive). Only Helsinki has a metro system.
Do's and Don'ts
Do be punctual for any appointment, because Finns consider it an insult to be late.
Do get good directions. Cities can get confusing, with lots of winding streets and similar-looking buildings.
Don't wear clothes, even swimsuits, in a public sauna. Due to this policy, men and women don't sauna together.
Don't stare at the Nordic walkers (people doing exaggerated speed-walking with ski poles). Instead, rent some poles and join in!
Did you know…?
Finland is famed for a rather quirky contest: the Wife-Carrying World Championships, held in Sonkajarvi in July every year. Men hang their wives upside-down behind them (with the women's legs wrapped around the men's heads) and carry them over a 253.5 metre obstacle course. The winner gets his wife's weight in beer!
Finns are great sauna enthusiasts. The country has 1.7 million saunas, or one for every three inhabitants. In fact, "sauna" is a Finnish word, and a traditional sauna is a wooden building where bathers throw water onto hot stones to create steam. Serious bathers then take a dip in an icy river or snow bank afterwards.
Images by Shuttlestock
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