Travel to Finland

Travel to Finland

Between its lake-dotted forests, vast seacoast, and cosmopolitan cities, Finland is one of Europe’s most alluring destinations.

Whether you’re skiing through rolling taiga, paddling a beautiful lake, or marveling at masterworks in the Finnish National Gallery, Finland offers a splendid array of attractions. Its capital, Helsinki, sumptuously set on the Gulf of Finland, is regarded as one of the world’s most livable cities and includes an incredible variety of cultural offerings. Among them is the National Museum of Finland, where you can get a sweeping sense of the country’s enthralling history and also admire the unique castle-like building itself. Other major metro areas include Tampere, Turku, and Oulu. Historical attractions abound, including the vintage wooden buildings of Old Rauma (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Helsinki Cathedral, and the island-set Saint Olafs Castle. Explore Finnish folk heritage at the unique Seurasaari open-Air Museum, a rustic getaway a stone’s throw from Helsinki’s city center. Take the time, too, to explore Finland’s wilder side: Lemmenjoki National Park, for example, protects a huge swath of gorgeous northern countryside in the historic heartland of the Sami people.

Finnish is the dominant language in Finland, but a notable minority of the population speaks Swedish. The far north of the country is the domain of the Sami, the indigenous culture of Lapland. While you’ll enjoy the most cosmopolitan of atmospheres in the big capital of Helsinki (often ranked at or near the top of the most livable cities in the world), you’ll also undoubtedly sense the strong influence that Finland’s more rural heritage—from farming to fishing to woodland foraging—continues to exert on the modern-day culture. The delightful and widespread tradition of taking a sauna (the Finnish version of which is iconic) and the lively solstice bonfires of the Midsummer celebration are only a few reminders of the strong connection the Finns have with their rustic roots. And everywhere you’ll perceive the great pride Finland’s people take in their nation, which has managed to foster a wholly distinctive society even under the powerful influence of neighboring Scandinavia and Russia.

Traditional Finnish cuisine varies regionally, but you’ll certainly find plenty of ingredients foraged from woods or sea alongside those vegetables (such as potatoes and kale) hardy enough to withstand the rigorous northern climate. Both livestock and wild game constitute important sources of meat, and the plentiful berries and mushrooms of Finland’s forests are prolifically gathered. Porridges, savory pies, and smoked fish serve as common dishes; do your best to try a reindeer concoction, too—a tip of the hat, among other things, to the reindeer-herding Sami of Lapland. You’ll often have a cup of coffee or tea to accompany your meal— or something a bit stronger in the form of native vodka, brandy, or sugar wine (kilju)!

Finland is a massive country that stretches from the Baltic coast to the high tundra and rough mountains of Lapland, with more than a third of its extent above the Arctic Circle. To the east is the Russian portion of the Kola Peninsula; to the north is the top of Norway; to the northwest is Sweden. Finland’s splendid coastline, etched with inlets and bays and sprinkled with many islands, fronts the Gulf of Bothnia to the west and the Gulf of Finland to the south. The Aland Islands, which are an autonomous region of Finland, lie at the intersection of the Gulf of Bothnia and the main reach of the Baltic Sea. Stunning, lake-speckled boreal forest (or taiga) defines much of Finland, with sylvan cottages popular as weekend and holiday retreats for city dwellers. You can get a clear sense of the majesty of Finland’s landscapes in any of its numerous national parks and preserves, which include postcardperfect Linnansaari National Park in the Finnish Lakeland to 1,100-square-mile Lemmenjoki in Lapland, the biggest national park in Finland. Ecotourists treasure the variety and visibility of Finland’s wildlife, which ranges from the imperiled Saimaa ringed seal to the noble moose and brown bears of the taiga.

Finland has been inhabited for thousands of years, originally by Stone Age hunter-gatherers flourishing in its game-rich forests and productive coastline. The Sami once roamed across much of the country, but withdrew to the north as early Finns established themselves during the Bronze and Iron ages. Finland spent centuries under the rule of Sweden and Russia (and was buffeted by wars between the two Baltic powers), achieving independence from the latter during World War I. Among Finland’s remarkable historical landmarks are the medieval Kastelholm Castle and Bomarsund Fortress (ravaged during the Crimean War) in Aland, the old wooden city of Rauma, and the grand Parliament House of Helsinki.


Helsinki Getaway