Finland is the deep north, with forests and lakes as far as the eye can see, and revitalising crisp air. Choose between summer’s endless light or winter’s eerie frozen magic.
The real bonus? The Finns, who tend to do their own thing and are much the better for it. Independent, loyal, warm and welcoming – a memorable people in an inspirational country. Make it your business to get to know some.
Don’t get the idea that the country’s just a backwoods emptiness, though. Vibrant cities stock the southern parts, headed by the capital, Helsinki, a cutting-edge urban space with world-famous design and music scenes. Embraced by the Baltic, it’s an enticing ensemble of modern and stately architecture, island restaurants, and stylish and quirky bars. And complaints about Finnish food are so last-century: the ‘new Suomi’ restaurant scene is kicking.
After the Snowfall
Winter, too, has a special charm. The best way to banish those frosty subzero temperatures is to get out and active. For starters, there’s great skiing until May. But how about chartering a team of dogs, a posse of reindeer, or a snowmobile for a trek across the snowy wastes, lit by a beautiful, pale winter sun? Catch the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) after your wood-fired sauna and you’ll feel blessed by the universe. Need to cool down? A night in an ice hotel or an ice-breaker cruise should do the trick.
Call of the Wild
The Finland you encounter will depend on the season of your visit, but whatever the month, the call of the wilderness is a siren song not to be resisted. There’s something pure in the Finnish air and spirit that’s really vital and exciting; it’s an invitation to get out and active year-round. With vast tracts of forest, speckled by picture-perfect lakes as if an artist had flicked a blue paintbrush at the map, Suomi offers some of Europe’s best hiking, kayaking and canoeing. A fabulous network of national parks has well-marked routes and regularly spaced huts for overnighting. There are bears deep in the eastern forests, where you can watch them on nature-watching trips.
Finland’s short but reliable sunny season sees the country burst into life. Finns seem to want to suck every last golden drop out of the summer in the hope that it will last them through the long dark winter months, and there’s an explosion of good cheer and optimism. It’s a time for music festivals, art exhibitions, lake cruises, midnight sunshine on convivial beer terraces, lazy days at remote waterside cottages and mouth-watering market produce.
Need to know
Helsinki is a sea-town par excellence and an exciting, dynamic place. Half the city seems to be water, and the tortured geography of the coastline includes any number of bays, inlets and a speckling of islands. The harbour is the heart of the city, and watching the giant ferries glide into port is a defining memory and essential Helsinki experience.
Extending hundreds of kilometres above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is Finland’s true wilderness. For many, this northern extreme is the classic Finland – a mysterious land of clear Arctic air where the midnight sun brings continuous daylight in the brief summer (June to August) and the long, polar nights offer the chance to view the stunning aurora borealis (October to March).