Finland moves to its own Nordic beat. This land of geographical and climatic extremes is a land of possibility. A land on the final frontiers of the imagination and a source endless fascination: whether you are flying across the frozen tundra behind a team of yapping huskies in Lapland, with the northern lights swooping overhead, paddling from island to forested island in the Lakeland, with rare Saimaa ringed seals bobbing alongside your kayak, or leaping headfirst into Helsinki’s offbeat design scene.   

There’s so much nature, so much culture, so much otherness here that you could keep returning forever more and still be surprised. Here’s our rundown of the 10 best places to visit in Finland.

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People lounge in the sun on some decking by the water in Helsinki
Helsinki is a wonderful mix of the urban and the great outdoors © Finn stock / Shutterstock

Helsinki is effortlessly cool

Dipping its toes into the brilliant blue Baltic, Helsinki has a generous pinch of everything that makes Finland so special: cutting-edge design, elegant art nouveau villas, galleries brimming with contemporary art, market halls singing of seasonal bounty, and restaurants riffing modern on foraged flavors. There are few capital cities that swing so effortlessly between the urban and the outdoors, with glorious forests, islands and beaches just a walk, pedal, paddle or ferry ride away. And if locals seem remarkably relaxed, you can thank saunas like Löyly Sauna, where you can steam before leaping into the sea (through an ice hole in winter).

You’re bound to find your own favorites, but unmissables include Unesco World Heritage Suomenlinna, a magnificent mid-18th century island fortress, the boutique and workshop-filled Design District and the picnic-perfect Esplanadi park. Put Kiasma for contemporary exhibitions and the palatial, neo-Renaissance Ateneum for Finnish art (including compelling frescoes of the national epic, Kalevala) at the top of your museum wish list. Home to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the glass-and-copper Musiikkitalo should be your first choice for high-caliber classical concerts and gigs.

As sunset bruises the sky above the Baltic, book a table at intimate, candlelit, Michelin-starred Demo, where Finnish cuisine is elevated to a new gourmet level in dishes like king crab with nettle pesto, and blackcurrant and liquorice-leaf marinated Åland lamb.

Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland

Tossing you in at the Arctic deep end, Rovaniemi, is Lapland in overdrive. Granted, you won’t have it to yourself – come Christmas time the city heaves with Santa groupies – but choose the shoulder season to visit and factor in time in the quieter surrounds and you’ll have a ball.

First up on your wish list is likely to be a visit to Santa and his gingerbread-baking elves in the blingy Santa Claus Village, atop the Arctic Circle, and Santapark. But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Outside there’s scenery straight out of a snowglobe and a million and one ways to explore it: by reindeer-drawn sleigh, snowmobile, dogsled or on snowshoes. You can float in an icy lake spellbound by the northern lights arcing and swaying above, go ice fishing, or stay in a snow hotel or glass igloo. You name the Nordic fun – it’s here.

There’s a flurry of culture too in the form of Arktikum museum, zooming in on Lapland, Sámi culture and the history of Rovaniemi, and providing a fascinating primer on Arctic wildlife.


Tampere is a scenic city with creative energy

Scenically clasped between two lakes, Tampere fizzes with life and creative energy. The Tammerkoski rapids flow through the heart of the city, past the striking red brick facades of revamped fabric mills and industrial buildings now harboring museums, shops, bars and cafes. And with hiking trails, summer cottages, lake cruises and Finland’s oldest public sauna, Rajaportin, right on its doorstep, it’s never a toss up between culture and nature.

Sight-wise, you’ll want to tick off Amurin Työläismuseokortteli, where wooden houses take an insightful peek into workers’ lives from 1882 to 1973, and glass-and-steel Vapriikki, an eclectic exhibition space in the renovated Tampella textile mill. Tampere’s cathedral, Tuomiokirkko, is a whimsical vision of National Romantic art nouveau architecture. And kids (and lovers of cult trolls) go crazy for the Moomimuseo.

Tampere has one of Finland’s hottest food and nightlife scenes, too. Hit the kauppahalli (covered market) for a feast of fish, cheese, meat and pastries. Here you can try the city’s speciality, mustamakkara, blood sausage with lingonberry jam. In summer, there’s always a festival on, but year-round you’ll find live music at artsy Telakka.

A series of red gondolas travel along a wire leading up a ski slope covered in snow in Yllas, Finland
There are quiet ski slopes in the resort of Ylläs © Jamo Images / Shutterstock

Ylläs is an uncrowded Lapland resort

Folk from more mountainous lands may scoff at the idea of skiing in Ylläs, whose eponymous fell reaches a modest 718m (2355ft), but frankly they are missing a trick. This cute little resort in Lapland, 150km (93 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, has the kind of uncrowded slopes and fresh, downy powder other countries can only dream of. Throw in rime-frosted forests, views out across frozen tundra and the northern lights dancing in night skies, and it is the full on Narnia package.

The skiing scene here is delightfully low key, with pristine snow and 63km (39 miles) of downhill slopes to pound, plus plenty of off piste and cross-country tracks to glide along. And then there’s the clincher: the world’s only sauna gondola, where you can strip off and sweat as you float above the winter wonderland.

Åland Islands is a top summer destination

Dropped into the piercing blue Baltic Sea off the country’s southwest coast, the Åland Archipelago is the summertime Finnish fantasy. Bridges and ferries skip across to one sleepy, forested island to the next (there are 6500 islands and islets in total, but some are little more than nameless specks of red granite). The islands move to their own gentle rhythm, with days spent pedaling or hiking to castle ruins, windmills and beaches, or kayaking to remote islets, where you might spot an elk family swimming from island to island, see a sea-eagle soar overhead, or paddle alongside seals.

By night, it’s back to the summer cottage (many with their own boats and saunas) or campsite for an evening around a crackling campfire under starry skies. The remoter you go to the outer isles, the more magical it gets.

Piece together your own island-hopping itinerary. RO-NO Rent in Mariehamn can sort you out with bikes, canoes and small boats that don’t require a license, or rent a kayak or paddleboard at Paddelboden.

A woman sits on a cliff at the edge of a lake looking out towards forested islets that dot the landscape
You'll be itching to get out on the lakes near Kuopio © Oleh_Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

Kuopio is a cultured Lakeland city

If you’re seeking a bit of urban buzz before dipping an oar into the waters of Finnish Lakeland, Kuopio, dreamily hugging the shores of Lake Kallavesi delivers. The views out across sapphire waters, forested islands and skerries are an uplifting prelude to this cultured little city. Get your bearings over morning coffee in the revolving restaurant at the top of Puijon Torni. From there, you can dive into Finnish art at bank-turned-gallery Kuopion Taidemuseo and local history in Kuopion Museo, lodged in a castle-like art nouveau mansion.

One look at the sun burnishing the lakes and you’ll be itching to head outdoors to hike in spruce forests, hang out in beer gardens (and, of course, sample the famous local cloudberry liqueur), or cruise and kayak the waters. A steam and lake swim at the city’s huge, fabulously rustic smoke sauna, Jätkänkämppä, is perfect for unwinding at the end of a mellow summer day.

Savonlinna is a forested gateway to national parks

All is forest and water, green and blue in pretty Savolinna, embedded in Finnish Lakeland near the Russian border. Necklaced by islands and topped off by a turreted 15th-century stunner of a castle, Olavinlinna, the town wins hearts on looks alone. But this is also one of Finland’s cultural heavyweights as the host of the country’s most revered festival, July’s Savonlinna Opera Festival, held in the castle’s covered courtyard. Book well in advance to snag tickets to see the town at its aria-singing, life-loving best.

The beauty of basing yourself here is that you are but a splash away from some of Finland’s most serene and enchanting lake escapes: Linnansaari and Kolovesi national parks. The only way to get a true sense of their loveliness is to hire a kayak or canoe and go paddle camping. As you float past cliffs, caves and pine forests, keep a sharp eye out for otters, ospreys and one of the world’s rarest seals: the mottled, big-eyed Saimaa ringed seal. If you want to coo over their fur ball pups, come in spring.

Inari is home to indigenous Sámi culture 

Whether you glimpse its forest rimmed under the glow of the midnight sun or blanketed in snow and illuminated by the northern lights, Inari makes you catch your breath. This tiny speck of a village peers out across Lapland’s largest lake, island-speckled Inarijärvi, 300km (187 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. And it’s here that the pulse of the indigenous Sámi beats strongest.

The phenomenal Siida museum immerses you in Sámi culture, lending insight into their reindeer-herding traditions and Lapland’s unique ecology. Equally riveting is the architecturally striking Sajos, Sámi parliament, with a floor plan designed on a reindeer hide. But you’ll want to go deeper: perhaps taking a snowmobile out to Petri Mattus’ reindeer farm in winter, or seeing the calving and earmarking in May. There’s a lot happening events-wise here, too: from July’s traditional Inari Weeks festivities to the grand finale of reindeer-racing season at the King’s Cup in late March.

Regardless of season, round out the day with foraged flavors and views of the Jäniskoski rapids at Aanaar, where you can dig into the likes of Arctic king crab with nettle butter, smoked reindeer heart with pine-needle vinaigrette, and cloudberry sorbet.

Inari is also a terrific springboard for forays into the remote fells, forests and gold-panning rivers of Lemmenjoki National Park and canyon-riven Kevo Strict Nature Reserve.

Turku has an exciting food and culture scene

Looking longingly out across the piercing blue Baltic, south coast Turku (in Swedish: Åbo) is an absolute knockout. This was the capital until 1812, when Tsar Alexander I of Russia decided to up sticks to Helsinki. A rich historic and cultural legacy is imprinted on the city to this day in the form of experimental art, upbeat music festivals and one of the country’s most exciting food scenes.

You’ll want to factor in time for a spin of Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, a museum that whisks you underground to Old Turku’s medieval streets, then pings you back into the present with contemporary art upstairs. Finland’s largest fortress, Turun Linna, rewinds to the 13th century with its dungeons and lavish banqueting halls. And Turun Tuomiokirkko, the "mother church" of Finland’s Lutheran faith, is a Gothic vision in red brick. Visit during the silent hour (9-10am) as the morning sun slants through the windows to see it at its most atmospheric.

Summer turns the heat up a notch with music festivals like Turku Jazz and Ruisrock, boat bars on the south bank of the Aura River and parties fuelled by local craft beers. And when you tire of the city, you can hop on a ferry or kayak across to an island of your choice.

Urho Kekkonen National Park has lots of Finnish wildlife

It’s wild out there… Snuggling up close to the Russian border in the north of Lapland, the Urho Kekkonen National Park has an extraordinary portfolio of all the landscapes you come to the Arctic to see: old-growth pine, spruce and birch forests, high fells (including Korvatunturi, sacred among Finns as the original home of Santa), aapa mires and dazzlingly clear rivers and creeks. The park reels off the "greatest hits" of Finnish wildlife. With luck, patience and a decent pair of binoculars, you might see elk, reindeer, snow grouse, Arctic foxes and golden eagles. Brown bears, wolverines, wolves and lynx are far more elusive, but just knowing they are here adds an extra level of thrill.

Hiking here takes you through some soul-stirring landscapes, and there’s always a wilderness hut with a campfire and sauna where you can rest up after a long day’s trek. The Sámi town of Saariselkä is one of the most accessible gateways to the park.

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