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Warm, welcoming, and easily accessible, Sweden is a treasure of not just Scandinavia, but the whole world. This, the largest Nordic nation, is nonetheless a small country. Those who make Sweden part of their itinerary are often blown away by the abundance of beauty everywhere: from natural wonders to the faith evident in majestic churches, and including the people themselves, it’s as if everything here was blessed with an enchanted loveliness.
Finns are known as smart, canny citizens and they are justifiably proud of their homeland. Finland has several claims to fame: brilliant architecture, sauna as an institutional pastime, absolutely immaculate natural beauty, and exceptional winter sporting. In addition, Finnish Lapland claims itself as the traditional home of Santa Claus. This is appropriate, since Finland has much to give the curious traveler.
The best time to visit Finland is relative and depends on your reasons for visiting. Looking for heaps of pristine, powdery snow and to hit the slopes? Winter is your best bet! On the other hand, if you want to celebrate Midsummer with bonfires and dance beneath the midnight sun, the temperate summer would be the best time to fly in.
Finland Top Attractions
Saturated with culture and bursting with history, the Finnish capital is a must-visit destination. When Finland won its independence from Sweden, Russia helped rebuild Helsinki, and they turned it into St. Petersburg on a smaller scale. With curved roads and wooden houses all in bright colors, it is visually quaint and charming. You won’t want to miss the green dome of the Tuomiokirkko, the Lutheran Church of Finland, or the copper dome of Temple Square Church, which is carved into living rock! Be sure to take in the Sibelius monument, constructed in honor of Finland’s most famous and beloved composer. Or take a boat over to Suomenlinna, the old Baltic fortress that has been preserved as a World Heritage Site.
The old Finnish capital is also one of the oldest cities in Northern Europe. A center of both business and culture, it comes alive with many outdoor festivals and concerts in the summertime when the weather is pleasant. Turku Castle, located by the harbor, is one of the country’s foremost attractions. It dates from the thirteenth century and is full of preserved medieval items. Alongside the river is the Turku Cathedral, which is one of the most important in the country. The shopping, nightlife, dining, and art scene are all excellent here.
An almost spiritual air of mystery and enchantment ignites the very air in gorgeous Lapland, the country’s northernmost territory. The natural beauty omnipresent throughout Finland is on particular display here, along with a deep and abiding tranquility that will speak to your very soul. Lapland is known as the home of the real Santa Claus, and families with children won’t want to miss a visit with Father Christmas! Of course, you also can’t leave Lapland without a date with the Northern Lights. This region is one of the world’s most spectacular viewing spots for the aurora borealis, with lights appearing up to 200 nights a year! Have a close encounter with a reindeer, go dogsledding, or cozy up before a roaring fire in a log cabin.
Another of Finland’s big cities, Tampere was a major player in the country’s industrialization. Today, old factories have been repurposed into the trappings of a big city: restaurants, shops, galleries, and cinemas. At the same time, the city is rife with stunning natural beauty. Two national parks and plenty of open green space exist within its boundaries, and Tampere is bounded by two sparkling lakes. Accordingly, hiking, boating, golf, and fishing are all top-notch. Finnish residents consider Tampere one of the country’s most beautiful cities, and it’s an incredible place to visit. Plenty of art galleries and museums, shopping and dining options ensure that you’ll never tire of things to do.
Porvoo is Finland’s second-oldest town, and has been an active trading center since the Middle Ages. It isn’t yet a World Heritage Site, but its pretty wooden houses in the city center make it a contender for future designation. It is a popular day trip from Helsinki, and well-liked by holidaymakers all over the country. The Porvoo Museum and Porvoo Cathedral are of especial significance for visitors; both are located in the Old City. Kayaking and canoeing on the nearby river are perennial pastimes here.
|Primary Airports: Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL), Oulu Airport (OUL)|
|Currency: Euro (EUR)|
|Population: 5,427,000 (2012 est.)|
|Language: Finnish, Swedish|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Euro)|
|Time Zone: UTC +2|
Finland Travel Reviews
City of Light and Charm
Having traveled a great deal, I have come to expect that most large cities will inevitably be primarily dingy and gray, with the occasional bright spot near the more touristy areas. That said, I was delighted to find that Helsinki, Finland far surpassed my expectations.
Unrelentingly bright and colorful, Helsinki charmed me completely. The delightful Esplanade that borders the Baltic is the place to go if you want to sample an array of traditional Finnish foods, each one more delicious than the next. Stroll through the market past smiling shopkeepers selling handmade goods and souvenirs from knit hats to jewelry. Arguably the best view of the city can be found at the top of the ferris wheel.
If you enjoy visiting churches, Helsinki has at least two that warrant your attention. The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral with its striking green domes could easily be considered a symbol of the city. It stands in the large, open Senate Square. The Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) is unlike any church you've ever visited. While the outside seems quite ordinary, the inside will leave you awestruck. It was carved from solid rock and the walls have been left bare and rough. The acoustics are wonderful and the church is a popular concert venue.
Of all the worthwhile museum attractions available in Helsinki, the one that I would recommend visiting first if you were pressed for time would definitely be Suomenlinna. You can catch the ferry at the Esplanade terminal and be there in twenty minutes. The island itself as well as Sveaborg (Swedish Castle) is a UNESCO world heritage sight. There is a museum, a park and an arts venue on the island that are open to the public most of the year.
Endless Summer Nights in Helsinki
My wife and I spent an amazing two days in Helsinki, Finland, as part of our grand tour of the Baltics and Northern Europe. From the moment we landed at Helsinki's Vantaa airport, we were captivated with the lush forest that permeates the country. The soaring pines, clean air and twenty hours of summer sunlight were also awesome elements of our Finnish vacation. We utilized the public transportation system to get from the airport the Helsinki, and we were impressed with how efficient and easy it was to get around the entire city. The first morning that we spent in the city involved a trip down to the Esplanade where we were able to buy fresh cherries at the open air market and try the sardines that had been caught fresh that morning. The area was full of life and interesting local items for sale. Across the bay is the magnificent Fortress of Suomenlinna. The area today is home to a museum and a military academy, and it is interesting to see the ruins of this important location. The boat ride back across the bay was relaxing and it gave us a chance to plan our next expedition. The next day, we saw the Lutheran Cathedral and the Church in the Rock. The church carved into the rock is one of the more interesting churches that we saw during our three years spent in Europe. Our trip to Helsinki was a five-star experience with great sites, food and easy transportation.
A Wedding Anniversary to Remember
My husband and I wanted to make our 20th wedding anniversary super special. I was attending a conference in Germany that ended a day before our anniversary, so he joined me in Berlin and a short flight later we were in Helsinki.
We stayed in a Next Hotel in the picturesque neighborhood of Ullanlinna close to the waterfront. We only stayed two nights but managed to visit local sights such as the Meilahden Arboretum and savor a couple of Helsinki’s renowned bistros. Our favorite was Lungi where we enjoyed blinis and salmon burgers with generous sides of yellow chanterelles.
We then made a getaway to the stunning fall scenery of Lapland, which the Finns call ruska. The owner of Ukonjarvi Holiday Village picked us up at Ivalo airport. She was kind enough to make stops at the bank, pharmacy and local supermarket for us before arriving back at the village. In terms of décor, the cabins are quaint, rustic and cozily warm. Since it was off-season for Finnish tourists, we were able to indulge in any activity we chose.
We almost lived in the sauna and hot tub it seemed, but found time during our four day stay to enjoy hiking, canoeing, photography, amazingly clear, black night skies and even a little ice fishing in Lake Inari.
The only downside is that it’s going to be hard to top that anniversary celebration.
Twenty-Four Hours in Helsinki, Finland
In 2004, I visited the clean, quiet city of Helsinki, Finland as part of a Baltic Sea cruise. After leaving the cruise ship, I walked down what some people call Old Town pier and others call Snellmaninkatu Street. Along this street, there are courtyards where tourists are welcome (and even encouraged!) to listen to musicians, spend time in shops, or see exhibits. The Senate Square is a must-see landmark in Helsinki, as it is encircled by several buildings that are important to the cultural experience of Finland: the Government Palace, Helsinki University’s main building, the National Library, and the Helsinki or Upsenski Cathedral. The clean, modern lines of the Scandinavian architecture used to build the Palace, University, and Library date from the early- to mid-nineteenth century. Whether or not travelers are interested in religion, the large, white Helsinki Cathedral is at the top of a steep staircase, providing a closer view of the church’s architecture and a panoramic view of the city that is worth the long walk up the steps. Market square is also a worthwhile stop – this farmers market is more multicultural that the ones I was familiar with in Pennsylvania. The market is safe, welcoming, clean, and fascinating. Finland locals sell homemade cheeses and breads, and fresh produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts directly next to the water and ferry port. Visiting Helsinki is an opportunity to learn more about Finland’s culture and history. Go as soon as possible!