Don’t let the coldness of the north stop you from visiting this amazing country! Actually, now is the perfect time – snow, nature, lakes, fresh air, what more could one ask for? And how about spending Christmas holidays at Santa’s place? Let’s check out together what to expect in Finland!
1) Meet real Santa Claus in Rovaniemi
Don’t let anybody tell you that Santa doesn’t exist – he does and he lives in Finland! More precisely, you will find him in Rovaniemi. It’s a city in Finland’s northernmost province, Lapland, situated only 6 kilometres south of Arctic Circle. You can visit Santa any day of the year, but the best experience is, of course, during Christmas holidays. There’s even Santa’s Express shuttle bus from Rovaniemi which will take you directly to Santa’s home! Also, if you are flying into Rovaniemi, the Santa’s village is only three kilometres away from the airport so you’ll get there in no time.
2) Visit a UNESCO site
Although there are only 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Finland, they sure are worth of visit. Definitely don’t miss to visit Suomenlinna (literally meaning “fortress of Finland”), a sea fortress of star-like shape. The fortress consists of 200 buildings and 6 kilometres of defensive walls and add to that the fact that stretches over six islands and you’ll see why it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in entire country. The best-known symbol of Suomenlinna are its cannons – some of them were used in both World Wars! Also, don’t miss to take a photo in front of King’s Gate and wander through the Tunnels of Suomenlinna. You can reach Suomenlinna by a ferry from Helsinki for 2€ and it will take you around 15 minutes.
3) Ride a reindeer sleigh
Reindeers are so common in Finland that it is more likely to encounter a reindeer than a cat. However, the probability of finding them rises as you go up north. Lapland is the official home of reindeers because you know, Santa couldn’t do anything without them during holidays! Rides usually last from 10 minutes to couple of hours, depending on the route you pick and they are suitable for all ages because they are trained not to run too fast.
4) Hop into one of 188 000 Finnish lakes
Did you know that Finland has the world’s cleanest water according to the UN? That is no wonder considering the fact that Finland has more lakes than any other country in the world. Also, they actively invest in environment development that they even have the so-called Lakeland. It is a lake district which comprises the largest of the four landscape regions in Finland. Lakes occupy around 25% of Lakeland and the largest one is Lake Saimaa which covers the surface area of 4400m2. Finns love to swim in lakes so much that they even do in in the winter when lakes freeze. The procedure goes like this: first you sweat in sauna cottage and then you run fast and throw yourself into a cold lake. Would you dare?
5) Shop at kauppahalli
It would be a shame to visit Finland without checking out their famous market halls, or as they call them – “kauppahalli”. Is there a better way to learn more about someone’s culture than through food? The oldest market hall and the most visited is Hakaniemi Market Hall in Helsinki which is more than 100 years old. It has two floors and almost 70 different shops, from bakeries with traditional pastries such as pulla or Runebergin torttu to souvenir shops where you can find handmade gifts for your friends and family. You can find a lot of stuff at market halls, for example, at Kuopio Market Hall you will find products for saunas, Finnish favourite pastime!
6) Witness the beauty of the Northern Lights
Almost 200 nights a year one can see the magnificent Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. It is known that auroras occur near magnetic poles. So it is more likely you will see an aurora if you visit a place near Arctic Circle. Some Finnish agencies organise northern lights tours in Asgard and Valhalla. Asgard is located 2 hours by car from the nearest airport in Ivalo and it is not very touristy place but you will get the most magical dance of polar lights. On the other hand, Valhalla is only 20 minute drive from the airport which means that is easily accessible but still far enough from town lights. Polar lights chase usually lasts 4-5 hours while the rest of the time you can relax in a cottage with sauna. Sounds amazing, right?
7) Go back to Middle Ages in Porvoo
Porvoo is a town on the southern coast and it is also one of the six medieval towns in Finland. Interesting fact, it is actually among the oldest cities in Finland since it was established in the 13th century. Porvoo makes a great day trip from Helsinki as it is only 1 hour drive from the capital and it is considered one of the most picturesque towns in the country because of its colourful houses. If you decide to visit Porvoo, don’t miss its Old Town which is easy to explore on your own, but make sure to at least pick up a free city map at the tourist office. Looking for souvenirs? Visit the old warehouse near the railway station – it’s actually a gift shop where you can buy handcrafts and some local pastries if you’re feeling hungry. Quite popular attraction is Doll and Toy Museum which has more than 1000 dolls on display, it’s a fun activity for both the children and grown ups!
8) Rent a summer cottage
If you would like to visit Finland during summer, the majority of Finns will suggest the same thing – rent a summer cottage! Cottages are quintessential element of vacations in Finland since they provide both physical and mental relaxation. They are usually located in the woods but close enough to lakes where you can swim and sunbathe – whole day if you want (let’s not forget that summer days in Finland last 24 hours!). “Nordic zen”, as they like to call it, is popular in Kuopio in the eastern part of the country. This town has the biggest number of summer cottages, more than 10 000 of them actually! The guests have so many options to choose from – barbecue, chill by the lake, watch northern light or just simply enjoy the silence. After all, isn’t that what we all need?