Finland holidays

Experience Finland

Best Places to Visit

However you plan to get around Finland, there are many sights to explore and experiences to enjoy. Although the country is widely regarded as the most technologically savvy in Scandinavia, it's also a place of stunning wildernesses, ancient castles, vast unspoilt ecosystems, almost 200,000 lakes, many offshore islands, the Northern Lights and the eerie midnight sun. This cornucopia of different delights offers something for tourists of all tastes and brings times past into the modern day in a way unique to this inspiring nation.

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, set in the southern region and home to the huge, still inhabited Suomenlinna Fortress. Helsinki itself is set on an archipelago of small islands, including the island Seurasaari Open Air Museum featuring authentic heritage homes, which are linked by bridges and ferries. The city boasts attractive parks, two cathedrals and a picturesque Neoclassical centre holding several museums.

Rovaniemi is the gateway to Lapland, home of the nomadic Sami peoples. Popular for Christmastime family visits to Santa Park and Santa Claus Village, the city offers a luminous summer night sky and the Northern Lights' winter glory, which draw many visitors to snowmobile safaris and dog sledding in winter and ecotourism in summer. Set 50 miles (80 km) away is Ranua Wildlife Park, home to polar bears, wolves, reindeer and lynx, just a selection of the hardy species that make their home in and around the Boreal Forest, whose trees cut a swathe across the north of Finland.

Finland's oldest city and its first capital, Turku, lies along the southwestern coastline on the River Aura. Founded in the 13th Century, the city is a favourite visitor destination for its castle which overlooks the harbour and offers stunning views along with excellent photo opportunities. Turku Cathedral dominates the cityscape and the Sibelius Museum holds over 1,400 musical instruments and music-themed exhibits in celebration of the great composer's life and work.

Nature-lovers will adore the Kvarken Archipelago, set near the historic town of Vaasa and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lovely Lappajarvi Lake is a crater lake formed by a meteorite impact 73 million years ago and is surrounded by unspoilt forests and natural beauty. In Lapland, must-sees include the Sami Museum and Nature Centre with its exhibitions of traditional cultural artefacts.

Top Landmarks

Helsinki's National Museum of Finland is the place to head for an Getting Around of the fascinating history and culture of this unique country. From prehistoric archaeology and displays of ancient artefacts to cultural objects and an art collection, it's a great start to exploring the country. The Harbourside Market Square is crammed with stalls offering everything from the day's catch to souvenirs, and is perfect for people-watching.

The magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site of Suomenlinna Fortress is set on its own island and is a complex of 18th-century heritage buildings, many of which contain museums, cafés, restaurants or theatres. For a family visit just 20kms from Helsinki, Aqua Park Serena is Europe's largest water park, featuring massive water slides, pools, a spa and a Finnish sauna.

The Old Town of Rauma is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its traditional wooden architecture and boasts a former Franciscan monastery as well as being famous for its hand-made lace. Close by is the Bronze Age burial site of Sammallahdenmaki, also on the UNESCO list. St. Olaf's Castle lies on an island just off Savonlinna town and was a royal palace for centuries. Nowadays, the beautifully-maintained moated fort is the site of the Savonlinna Opera Festival.

Fascinating Arkticum in Rovaniemi is a combination of natural science centre and Arctic museum, giving an Getting Around of human experience in the vast, freezing region and nature itself. The lives of the creatures inhabiting this snow-covered, icy world are examined along with man's effect on the pristine wildernesses and their indigenous animal and bird life.

Entertainment

Nightlife in Finland is centred on Helsinki, whose inhabitants love to party on weekends from around 22:00 to 04:00. There's a great choice of pubs, including Irish-themed watering holes, bars such as ice-bars offering warm gloves to patrons and nightclubs featuring the hottest music in town. The upscale Ateljee Baari in the Hotel Torni is a good place to start and offers great views of the cityscape.

For the latest in sounds from Europe and the US, Semifinal and Tavastia, fuse together into one massive venue for special events, including live rock from well-known bands. For a unique Finnish experience, the Arctic Ice bar has an ambient temperature of -5°C - hence the gloves on entry. Molly Malone's Irish Pub offers live music every night and a selection of Irish stouts including Guinness. ‘Don't Tell Mama’ is one of Europe's most famous gay and lesbian clubs, offering house music every night and special events on a regular basis.

Tampere's nightclubs, pubs and bars are located on the main street, Hameenkatu, and in its surrounding back alleys, making a determined pub crawl easy to achieve without getting lost. Brewery pubs are favourites in Turku, set mostly in the town centre, serving a fine selection of local ales and often including a dance club on the premises.

Rovaniemi isn't just bars, nightclubs and pubs, although there's a good choice of all three in this northern city. Its Lappia-Talo concert hall holds everything from classical music concerts to performances by the Rovaniemi Theatre Company and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra.

Dining Out

Finnish cuisine as offered in restaurants and eateries all over the country is a healthy, delicious mix of traditional country fare and contemporary international gastronomy. Regional variations exist, with western recipes relying on meat and fish, and eastern dishes using a greater proportion of vegetables, especially mushrooms.

Staples include whole meal grains such as oats, barley and rye, and cloudberries, lingonberries and blueberries feature strongly in many recipes.

Game meats are traditional and include deer, moose, hare, duck and grouse, all popular for their strong flavours. In restaurants, reindeer meat replaces moose, which is usually found only in household cooking. Salmon is served as graavllohi, salted and served raw with lemon juice, with fish in general often served smoked. A summer delicacy is fried vendace, a tiny local fish similar to whitebait, served with a garlic sauce and eaten whole, and river crayfish are another favourite late summer dish.

Mushrooms grow in abundance and are used in the preparation of mostly Russian-style stews, soups and sauces. Like berry picking, mushroom gathering is a favourite Finnish occupation in season. Reindeer hash, strips of reindeer meat and mashed potatoes served fried with lingonberry relish, is a favourite and the pieces are also rolled and stuffed with blue cheese and mushrooms.

Beach

Although lazing on a sandy beach doesn't immediately come to mind as the number one Finnish attraction, there are a few great beaches to sample if you're visiting the southern region during the short, hot summer months. Helsinki's Heitaniemi Beach boasts soft sand and swimmable summer water, and the beaches on Suomenlinna Island below the fortress are great for bathing. Yteri Beach on the western shore, close to Pori, has a naturist bathing section and is good for surfing.

Romance

For a romantic winter break, Finland's amazing Snow Village is the destination of a lifetime. Hotel suites, a restaurant, bars and ice sculptures transport visitors to a magic land created anew every winter from ice and snow. Whether you're snuggling down together in a warm, comfortable ice-bed under layers of furs after an afternoon dog-sledding in the wilderness or getting married in an ice chapel, you'll love this unique experience.  

Family

The perfect Christmas treat for families with young children is a visit to Santa Claus in Lapland's Rovienemi city. Santa Claus Village is set right on the Arctic Circle. Here, you'll find elves' workshops, Santa's reindeer and his sleigh, the workshops where the toys are made and Santa's post office, which receives around 600,000 letters from children every year. Santa's Holiday Village has wooden cabins with all the conveniences.

Adventure

Adventure holidays in Finland are at their best in winter, with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding or skating on frozen Lake Inari, just messing about in deep snow or exploring the endless forests and snow-covered hills by snowmobile all on offer. Getting away from it all and basing an activity holiday in a log cabin or even an authentic igloo gives a true taste of life in the frozen wastes, with the Northern Lights glimmering overhead every night of your stay. 

Need to know

Language

Finland has two official languages, Swedish and Finnish. Both languages are compulsory subjects in schools, but most of the population only use Finnish. In the tourist-oriented cities, English is widely spoken and in the countryside, many young people communicate in English. In the northern region of Finnish Lapland, Sami is spoken by the indigenous Sami peoples, and you may be less likely to find English speakers outside of the Santa villages up here.

Currency

Finland is a member of the Eurozone, with the Euro its official currency. Other currencies are not accepted and ATMs (known as ottos) are easily found across the country, as are banks with currency exchange facilities. All the main credit and debit cards can be used at ATMs and in shops, hotels and restaurants, although cash may be preferred in small towns for small purchases. It's usually only necessary to carry small sums in cash.

Visas

Visa-free entry to Finland for an indefinite stay is granted to citizens of the other European Union and EFTA countries including the UK on production of an identity card or current passport. Citizens of the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as well as several other states, may also enter visa-free for a stay of up to 90 days in any one 180-day period. Nationals of other non-EU/EFTA countries should check with their nearest Finnish consulate or online for visa requirements and costs.

Climate

The climate of Finland is classified as humid, cool semi-continental and differs considerably between the southern and northern halves of the country. Warm summers and freezing winters predominate, with southern winters lasting four months from December with snow coverage and below freezing temperatures usual until early April. Southern summers begin in mid-May and end by mid-September, with midsummer highs in July and August soaring to 35°C due to the region's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream. Northern Finland, including Finnish Lapland, is another story entirely due to the prevailing sub-arctic climate with its severe winters and warm, brief summers.

Main Airports

Finland's main point of air arrival is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, located 10 miles (17 km) from the centre of the city and served by around 30 international carriers. Other regional airports include Tampere and Lappeenranta, both acting as hubs for Ryanair, and Turku, a small hub for Wizz Air.

Flight Options

Travellers from the UK to Helsinki are well-served with a choice of British Airways, Finnair and Aer Lingus flights from London-Heathrow and Dublin, and Finnair and Blue 1 flights from Manchester. Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from London-Gatwick. KLM flies from Amsterdam, and Lufthansa offers routes from Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt. Visitors from the US can take a direct flight from New York with Finnair. For visitors heading to Tampere Airport, Ryanair flies from Edinburgh and London-Stansted. Flight times from London to Helsinki average 2 hours.

Travel Advice

Air travel and accommodation costs are at their highest in the full summer months, with the Christmas period also expensive due to the number of day and weekend trips to Lapland's Santa Claus attractions. In early spring and autumn, charges are lower and it's possible to bag a low-cost bargain flight by regularly checking on the budget airlines' websites.

Other Transport Options

A scenic way to travel from London to Helsinki is by train and ferry. London to Brussels by Eurostar is the first step, followed by an express train to Cologne and the overnight express to Copenhagen, then the tilting train to Stockholm for the Turku ferry. Once in Turku, there's a fast train to Helsinki.

Getting Around

Regional travel in Finland is fastest by air although flying is the most expensive option. The country's rail network is extensive and is the travel method of choice for many visitors. Long-distance buses are comfortable and are the only public transport in Lapland.

Bus

Bus travel in Finland is comfortable, with long-distance carrier Matkahuolto covering all regions at prices slightly dearer than train travel. The service is slower than by train, but is the only way to get to many attractions and sites of natural beauty. Bus is a cheaper option for long-distance travel between Helsinki/Turku, Turku/Tampere and Tampere/Pori.

Car

Car rental is easily available, but is expensive compared to public transport. Winter driving conditions are hazardous, although roads in general are in good condition. Drivers in rural regions should watch out for large animals.

Train

Finnish Railways' network links major towns and cities, but is sparse in remote areas. Major routes from Helsinki use tilting trains, intercity and night expresses with restaurant cars, family cars and Wi-Fi internet access. Long-haul sleeper trains offer cheaper fares, inter-rail passes save money, one child under 17 travels free with each fare-paying adult and pensioners over 65 get a 50 percent discount.

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FACTS

  1. Finnish Lapland is the first choice for most people when booking a Santa Claus holiday - some tour operators will even pick you up at the airport on a reindeer-driven sleigh.
  2. Many Santa tours are given an extra authentic touch by having only 'elves' as guides, and impromptu snowball fights along the way too.
  3. Finland is also famous as Monty Python's "country where I want to be" in their 1980 song.

FACTS

  1. Finnish Lapland is the first choice for most people when booking a Santa Claus holiday - some tour operators will even pick you up at the airport on a reindeer-driven sleigh.
  2. Many Santa tours are given an extra authentic touch by having only 'elves' as guides, and impromptu snowball fights along the way too.
  3. Finland is also famous as Monty Python's "country where I want to be" in their 1980 song.

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