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UK & Europe Destination Specialists 4 months ago

Finland Destination & Travel Guide

  • Helsinki in winter

Essential Facts

Currency

As with most European countries, the Euro is the only currency accepted in Finland. However, Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Diners Club credit cards are also widely used and accepted. Most local stores, hotels, and restaurants likely will accept Visa debit cards, and cards are used much more commonly than cash. That being said, Canadian and US dollars can be exchanged for Euros before departure or at the airport, and it is recommended to have some cash on hand just in case you visit locations further out in the countryside, which may not have card machines. 

Language 

The official language of the country is Finnish, but most Finnish people are fully fluent in English. The further you go outside of the main cities and towns, the more basic the knowledge of English may be so it’s always helpful to learn a few key Finnish phrases, such as “hei!” or “moi” (hello!), “anteeksi” (excuse me), or “missä on vessa?” (where is the bathroom/water closet?). “Kittos” means “thank you,” “moi moi” or “hei hei” are common ways to say “goodbye,” while “quipes!” is the all-important cry of cheers!

Best Time To Go

The best time to go to Finland depends purely on what you would like to do during your visit. For the peak time for snow fun and winter activities, December to March is ideal. To see the growth and renewal of the natural landscape (of which there is plenty in Finland) and to take part in the warm weather and local festivals, spring and summer is certainly your best bet—April to August.

One other thing that could make your visit to Finland very memorable: the beautiful skies. Specifically, in the northern Lapland area of Finland the Northern Lights dazzle the skies between August and April, whereas the Midnight Sun never fully sets between mid-May and late July.

Climate

The climate in Finland is actually quite similar to major Canadian cities and northern American states. However, the winters and snowfall periods are longer in Finland. As such, temperatures in winter can drop as low as -30°C/-22°F, but the average temps between December and April average around -10°C/14°F. In the summer the temps are very pleasant, typically around 22°C/72°F and can go as high as mid-30s°C/mid-90s°F.

Ideal Traveller

Finland is also known as “land of a thousand lakes” and with its expanses of natural beauty and charming cities and villages, the ideal travellers to Finland are nature lovers, hikers, photographers, and those seeking a quieter, calm travel experience. A stark contrast to the sometimes bustling and crowded cities of other countries in Europe, even the largest city of Finland, Helsinki, offers a lot of charm and a more placid way of life. It is also a wonderful destination for cruising, as there are some densely wooded areas and dotted islands around the mainland that are very picturesque and accessible by boat.

Getting There From North America

Helsinki after the rain

Major Airports

The largest airport in Finland is Helsinki Airport, which is located at the southern end of the country. In the northern Lapland region, however, the most commonly used is Rovaniemi Airport. This predominantly serves regional air carrier Finnair, but these flights would connect with larger carriers out of Helsinki Airport. Another popular airport is Kuusamo in Lapland, putting vacationers in close proximity to some of Finland’s most popular ski resort destinations.

Recommended flight route from the United States 

From major cities like New York (JFK to be specific), there are direct flights available through Finnair and its codeshare airlines, American Airlines and Iberia. Delta and KLM also offer connecting flights, typically with a stop in Amsterdam if departing from major cities like Chicago, Atlanta or Boston. Travellers departing from Miami and Los Angeles have the option of similar one-connection flights with British Airways or Lufthansa/Delta, connecting via either London or Frankfurt based on the airline.

Recommended flight route from Canada

The most common flights into Helsinki from Toronto or Ottawa are with United Air or through codeshare flights with Air Canada and Lufthansa. Delta and United, however, are more commonly used for guests travelling from other major cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. Based on these routings, the most common stopover airport will likely be Frankfurt, Munich or Amsterdam, meaning there is a great opportunity to include a stopover in these cities for another taste of Europe!

Essential Sights of Finland

Northern Lights in Lapland

Helsinki

Interestingly, Helsinki is the only European capital city with no medieval past. The city boasts a unique neoclassical design as its history as a large city is relatively short. Used as a port town by the Swedes originally and later conquered by Russians in the 1800s, the city is very community-oriented and is walking-friendly, with wide sidewalks and lots of open green spaces along the Grand Esplanade. It’s easy to get around the city on foot, from the beautiful Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral to the 19th-century Cafe Kappeli, which originally served only the city’s elite. Other well-known attractions in Helsinki include the waterfront, where you can find Löyly (pronounced Lolu, a seaside modern sauna) and SkyWheel Helsinki (similar to the London Eye), which offers bird’s eye views of the city. The SkyWheel even has a sauna in one of its gondola cabins! History lovers can also easily catch a ferry to Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress. 

Lapland

The northern half of Finland is called Lapland, or Lappi in Finnish, and is best described as an Arctic wonderland that embodies the wild and natural spirit of the Finns. This region is full of contrasts, from snowy white winters to bright summers where the sun never sets to vibrant colours in autumn and spring. This is an area where you can expect to see reindeers and go for a sled dog ride, and is also a great place to hike or go canoeing in the national parks during the summer.

Rovaniemi - Home of Santa Claus

Did you know that Santa Claus lives in Finland? He does! Just outside Lapland’s capital town of Rovaniemi you can visit Santa Claus year-round at Santa Claus Village, where you can also have the unique experience of crossing over the line of latitude (66.5°N) into the Arctic Circle. Here you can also meet Santa’s reindeer and other local animals during the summer, and you can even send a letter to yourself or your loved ones from the only Santa Claus Post Office in the world. A visit is highly recommended during the winter season as there are accommodations (cottages and glass igloos) right there within the village.

Other Highlights of Finland Off the Beaten Path

Quay in Helsinki

Cruising around Finland

While you’re visiting Helsinki between spring and fall, why not take a 90-minute cruise of the shoreline and Finnish islands in the area? Even if you only are able to spend a short time in Finland, this is a wonderful way to see the hundreds of beautiful islands and experience nature outside of the city. Plus, it’s a lovely way to get a view of the city from the water. Local staff and experienced captains will make this experience very enjoyable, and after your cruise you will be let off at Market Square with all its freshly cooked fish, produce and handcrafts.

Ride the Pub Tram

Besides being an environmentally-friendly way to get around Finland, the standard public transit trams are joined by a jolly bright red tram, the SparaKoff or Pub Tram! This is likely the only bar inside a tram you’ll find in Europe, so hop aboard the approximately 40-minute tour of Helsinki while sipping your favourite pint. This tram operates on several days during the week from early May to mid-September.

Finnish Art and Design

Finnish design is well-known for its contemporary and modernist style, using bold colours and forms often inspired by local nature. There is a special focus here on organic and eco-friendly materials, but is also known for being very useful and livable for daily life. The Finns are very proud of the goods and artwork designed and created here, and these timeless styles are what locals and businesses themselves use and wear. The Finlandia-Talo (Finlandia Hall) and Kamppi Chapel of Silence, as well as the Aalto House in Helsinki, are all great examples of Finnish Modernist design while always tying in the natural landscape. The Design District is also a wonderful place to find uniquely Finnish interior design shops, boutiques and museums, which will show you why this city has been considered a World Design Capital since 2012.

Experience Indigenous Sami Culture

Another very unique thing about the Baltic region is that it is home to Sami people, the only Indiginous people in the European Union. These people known for their bright clothing have made the northern Baltics their home for over 10,000 years, and have a strong identity closely tied with nature. This is shown by their traditions of celebrating the Northern Lights, reindeer herding, picking golden berries in the wild, and can even be seen woven into their traditional fluffy reindeer-skin shoes (nutukkaat) and colourful jewelry and headwear. Fun fact: Lappish folk use all parts of the reindeer as the culture frowns upon wastefulness. Each reindeer is owned by a member of the Sami community in Lapland.

Top Activities and Experiences in Finland

Glass igloo in Lapland

See The Northern Lights and Midnight Sun

Due to Finland’s northern region (much of the north is above the Arctic Circle), travellers here get to enjoy the wonders of the skies in both summer and winter. In summertime (from May to late July) you will experience the Midnight Sun phenomenon; the sun never sets fully beyond the horizon. For the rest of the year (between August and April), the Northern Lights shine brightly quite regularly (approximately every other night) and are visible to the naked eye nearly everywhere in Lapland due to extremely low light pollution and clear skies. Of course, the phenomenon is only seen in certain areas on certain nights, so this awesome display can never be guaranteed.

Glass Igloos At Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

What could be more magical than staring up at the Northern Lights or into the skies of the Midnight Sun from the comfort of your own private glass igloo? There are several hotels and resorts in Finland that offer similar accommodation, but chief among them is the family-run property of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. Open year-round, this resort is the gateway to the very northern tip of Finland and offers a variety of wonderful experiences, including safaris by huskies, reindeer or horses, panning for gold, fishing trips and skiing. Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is a treasure of the Finnish north.

Sauna Lifestyle

Fun fact: Finns own more saunas than cars! There are about two million saunas in Finland for a population of five million people. Even a Burger King located in Helsinki has the world’s first in-store sauna and spa, and you can order food while you steam. Many Finnish homes and summer cabins have saunas, either freestanding or in-house. There are also plenty of public saunas, and not just located in spas like you may experience in North America. Enjoying the sauna is a lifestyle, and is popular year-round by locals but especially during the long and cold winters. Birch twig bunches are used to increase circulation and open pores, and the benefits of such treatments are gospel for many Finns. Make sure you take the time to pause and enjoy this important cultural experience.

Hiking

Nearly 75 percent of Finland is covered by forests. Locals and visitors alike claim that the air here is the freshest you will ever breathe, and the waters are clean and clear with the bright colours of life. If you have the time during your travels, hiking in the 40 national parks will take your breath away with their waterfalls, gorges, and bridges spanning over them. Activities like hiking, canoeing, rafting, and snowshoeing are wonderful ways to pass days, if not weeks, for nature-loving travellers.

Essential Foods to Try

Colourful homes in Helsinki

Fresh Fish and Produce

Because of how pure the air and water is in Finland, in the warmer months you will find market stalls across the cities and towns overflowing with fresh produce and freshly caught fish. One of the best spots in Helsinki to experience this is Market Square, with stalls carrying locally grown produce, and fish including salmon grilled for you on the spot. Delicious specialties like rapu, a crayfish, almost a small lobster, are savoured and treasured by the Finns as well and can be found in Market Square. 

Breads 

Because the Finnish people are experts at making the most out of their surroundings, rye, a hardy and nutritious grain, is found in many local dishes. Rye bread or ruisleipa (made from sourdough, a fermented dough) can be found in practically every home and restaurant. They also make reikaleipa—think of a very dense, flat bagel—and rye bread crackers  called nakkileipa. If you’re lucky while travelling, you’ll also find bread a main feature in the Finnish voileipapoyta, which is a Finnish version of the well-known Swedish smorgasbord that includes rye breads, fish, and salted reindeer. 

Savoury Filled Pies

Another classic Finnish specialty is the savoury hand pie. Karjalanpiirakka, which is a dough made with (what else) rye bread, formed around a filling of potatoes, rice and/or carrots, often featuring an egg-butter spread on top, is simply delicious. Another popular pie is kalakukko, which are bigger than karjalanpiirakka but filled with muikku, a variety of fish that is very much like herring.

Meat and Potatoes

Getting down to the meat and potatoes of Finnish cuisine (pun intended), you’ll literally find meat and potatoes. Finland is home to a variety of potatoes, and they are used in many ways throughout the year, particularly in the winter, due to their hardiness and resilience during long, cold months. Alongside potato dishes you will typically find grillimakkara, a savoury and delicious sausage (usually served with a side mustard and a cold beer) and poronkaristys, or in English, reindeer. Typically served alongside mashed potatoes, poronkaristys, which comes from the stable and abundant population of reindeers in the Lapland, is some of the healthiest meat you can eat, full of B12, omega proteins, and low in fat.

Tips for Sustainable Travel

Reindeer herd in Lapland

Travelling within Helsinki on their green and cream-coloured trams is a scenic and environmentally-friendly way to get around this fascinating city. They are powered predominately by wind and solar power, plus Helsinki is a very pedestrian-friendly city, so it’s a great way to save energy. Respecting local Indiginous culture and the natural world is paramount here, and being wasteful or greedy with resources directly contradicts the Finnish paradigm. Bike rentals are also extremely common all over Finland, and in fact they say that the rest of Europe uses their bike rental system as a template. Ferries and trains are also great ways to get around within the country and connect Finland to other countries in an ecologically respectful way.

Where to Go Next

Helsinki is the sister city of Tallinn, Estonia, and you can take a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn—an 80-kilometer-long crossing, which runs almost hourly—any day of the week. This makes it a natural decision to combine the two cities on a trip. Similarly, the other Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania will help you see what ties these regions together, but also highlights what makes them all so very unique and special. Russia is also easily reached from Finland, and trips including Helsinki, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, and Moscow are easily accomplished and highly enjoyable.

Most Popular Itineraries for Finland

Depending on what appeals to you most, there are a variety of trip-styles to cater to your goals. If you want to experience Finland as a winter wonderland but don’t have weeks to spend, a split stay between Helsinki and Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is the perfect fit—two nights in each with sightseeing and transfers included. To experience the wonderful glass igloos (there are many different cabin and igloo options), consider extending your stay at Kakslauttanen Arctic for extra nights, as the igloos have a three-night minimum stay. To enjoy all the summertime has to offer in Lapland, including seeing the Midnight Sun that never sets, spend three nights at Kakslauttanen any time between June and October. To see Finland and Scandinavia from the water as classic Swedes, Finns, and as the Vikings would have, consider a cruise of the Baltic Sea. This is a comfortable way to see multiple countries across a vast area without having to unpack and repack, with lots of opportunities for exploring during shore time.

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