Finland Holiday Planning Guide
Combining vast Nordic wilderness with bustling hip cities, Finland offers something to delight and surprise all its visitors. Generally speaking, the northern region is populated by unspoiled pine forests, glistening blue lakes, and a plethora of interesting wildlife, while the south is home to the nation's thoroughly modern urban centers. Although Finland holds the title of most sparsely populated county in the European Union, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in cities like Helsinki, Espoo, and Tampere are often packed with fun-loving Finns. Do bring your dancing shoes, but don't forget your hiking boots either--you'll want to make use of the country's 37 national parks, spread throughout this "Land of a Thousand Lakes".
Places to Visit in Finland
Regions of FinlandLapland
: Finland's northernmost and largest region, Lapland is home to untouched Arctic nature, where thick forests, clear lakes, and countless hiking trails make up a wealth of outdoor attractions. Southern Finland
: Gorgeous national parks meet vibrant and bustling cities in Southern Finland, where easy access to the country's cultural life and natural beauty give you plenty of vacation ideas.Western Finland
: Countryside and coastline attract visitors to Western Finland; the former capital Turku and the popular Moomin theme park make this region a good choice for a family holiday. Eastern Finland
: Quaint cottages and picturesque scenery make Eastern Finland one of the country's most relaxing destinations, where kicking back in a sauna and feasting on local delicacies remain time-honored traditions. Aland
: This archipelago of over 6,000 islands abounds with natural beauty, where cycling and ferry-hopping are the primary forms of transportation.
Cities in FinlandHelsinki
: Sprawled across a 300-plus island peninsula and famed for its varied architectural styles, Helsinki is the star of urban life, ranking high among places to visit in Finland.Rovaniemi
: No Finland itinerary is complete without a visit to this picturesque Arctic city, home to Santa Claus and Finnish saunas.Tampere
: Often considered one of Finland's cultural and artistic centers, Tampere is packed with museums, art galleries, and live music venues. Levi
: Catch snowy slopes, lively nightlife, and a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Levi, Finland's largest and most popular ski resort.Turku
: Known as the Official Christmas City of Finland, Turku is rich with medieval architecture while maintaining a lively and charming ambiance. Porvoo
: Porvoo's cobbled streets and wooden red-and-yellow 19th-century buildings set it apart as one of Finland's most charming towns.
Things to Do in Finland
Popular Finland Tourist Attractions Fortress of Suomenlinna
: A favorite destination among tourists and locals alike, this 18th-century fortress is built across six islands. Temppeliaukion Church
: Carved from rock in the heart of Helsinki, this unique church is one of the top places to see in Finland. Helsinki Cathedral
: Located in Helsinki's Senate Square, this 19th-century neoclassical cathedral represents a product of the region's Russian occupation. The Esplanadi Park
: Stroll down Helsinki's famed green space, stop in at one of the many shops and restaurants, or catch the annual Marimekko Fashion Show. Uspenskin Cathedral (Uspenskin Katedraali)
: This imposing Orthodox cathedral has a Russian-influenced design and offers a great view of Helsinki. Santa Claus Village
: Enliven your Finland trip with a visit to Santa Claus Village, a Christmas theme park above the Arctic Circle. Senate Square
: Helsinki's central square boasts a neoclassical design and often plays host to fairs and concerts.Helsinki Zoo
: The structure of this 19th-century zoo, perched atop a rocky island, impresses visitors as much as its 150-plus animal species. Central railway station
: Plan your routes to Finland's top tourist attractions from this ornate train station and take time to admire a prime example of Helsinki's celebrated architecture.Seurasaari Island and Open-Air Museum
: This large open-air museum with 85 buildings allows adults and children alike to immerse themselves in Finnish folk traditions and regional history.
Planning a Finland Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Finland with Kids
A Finland holiday offers various options for families traveling with kids, from outdoor adventures to rich cultural experiences. The Santa Claus Village
in Rovaniemi welcomes children from around the world year-round to meet Santa and experience Christmas cheer. A similar attraction not far away, SantaPark
features many activities and entertainment options for young ones. The Helsinki Zoo
and SEA LIFE Helsinki
let kids get up close to hundreds of different land and marine animals. Children young and old can take a break from sightseeing at the nearby Linnanmaki
, famous for its large wooden roller coaster and a 19th-century carousel. Enjoy Finland's great outdoors with a visit to the Levi Ski Resort
, boasting slopes and classes for every skill level and age.
Things to Do in Finland with Kids
When it comes to family-friendly activities, Finland offers a range of vacation ideas. Major cities like Helsinki
, and Tampere
offer enough museums, monuments, and amusement parks to keep kids busy for days. All of Finland's major regions offer a different look at the country's rich history and geography. From hiking along Lapland
's Arctic trails to cycling across Aland Island
, Finland's beautiful scenery is always within reach. Don't miss the chance to explore architectural and historical landmarks, such as the 13th-century Turku Castle
and the Fortress of Suomenlinna
, a World Heritage Site.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Finland
To optimize your family vacation in Finland, be sure to plan your time evenly between urban and outdoor attractions. Consider spending three to four days in Helsinki before heading to beaches in the west or the relaxing lakes in the east. While Finns are generally relaxed and easygoing, they consider being loud or arguing in public rude behavior. With that in mind, be sure to explain to children to keep their games and quarrels at a respectable volume.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Finland
Cuisine of Finland
Finnish cuisine, like the cuisine of its Nordic neighbors, relies heavily on bread and potatoes as the staple of most meals. While dining out is less common and often more expensive than in Southern European countries, a Finland tour would be incomplete without sampling at least some of the traditional regional specialties. With its abundant bodies of water, Finland gives seafood pride of place, with smoked salmon, "gravlax" (raw salted salmon), and Baltic herring among the most popular choices. In Eastern Finland
, don't miss "kalakukko" (large fish pie), and Tampere
's famous "mustamakkara" (blood sausage) is a must-try for adventurous eaters.
Shopping in Finland
Shopping in Finland can be expensive, but those who like to collect trinkets during their travels have various options. Moomin character figurines and collectors' items are popular buys in many souvenir shops. Most of Finland's tourism destinations have gift shops selling traditional Finnish handicraft items, such as "puukko" knives and handicrafts from Lapland
(be sure to check for the "Sámi Duodji" label to ensure the product's authenticity). Other popular buys include Kalevala Koru jewelry, Arabia ceramics, and Marimekko clothing.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Finland
History of Finland
Previously a region of Sweden, Finland emerged in modern history in the 19th century, when the Finnish War of 1808-1809 left the area an autonomous grand duchy under Russia. After the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Finnish separatists took the opportunity to declare independence in December of that year. A civil war left the conservative Whites in power, who allied with Germany during World War II in opposition to the Soviet Union.
Finland remained neutral following World War II and throughout the Cold War, effectively avoiding a communist government as well as membership in the Warsaw Pact. Its democratic system allowed Finland to foster a strong trade relationship with its Nordic neighbors and eventually with the rest of Western Europe. It then rapidly grew into one of Europe's most prosperous countries and has remained a strong modern industrial economy, as evinced through the success of high-tech giant Nokia.
Swedish and Russian legacies are evident across Finland's tourist attractions. For example, the region of Aland
remains primarily Swedish speaking, while monuments such as the Uspenskin Cathedral (Uspenskin Katedraali)
display the grandeur of Russia's tsarist empire.
Today, Finland is a member of the European Union and remains the only Scandinavian country to adopt the Euro currency. It is often considered one of the most socially progressive countries in the world, ranking highly in education, quality of life, and human development.
Customs of Finland
To make the most of your Finland holiday, familiarize yourself with some of the country's customs and etiquette. Finns are famously reserved, with small talk considered unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate. When greeting a Finn, a handshake with eye contact will suffice; embracing and kissing are reserved exclusively for family members and close friends. If invited to a Finnish home, be sure to arrive punctually and remove your shoes at the entrance. Bringing a small gift to your host is not necessary, though certainly appreciated.
Holidays & Festivals in Finland
Most holidays and festivals in Finland are celebrated at home with family. With Lutheran Protestantism as the country's primary religion, typical Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas are widely observed. Finns take Christmas quite seriously, as you can see in Christmas-themed parks like Santa Claus Village
. The holiday is so popular, in fact, that most Finnish businesses celebrate "Little Christmas" throughout December, which amounts mostly to a pub crawl.
If your Finland itinerary takes you through one of the major cities on the eve of May 1, you'll have the chance to experience one of the few festivals that is widely celebrated in public: Walpurgis Night, also commonly known as Vappu. This tradition sees students in colorful overalls parading through the streets, followed by open-air picnics.
Finland Travel Tips
Climate of Finland
Most travelers plan a Finland vacation in the summer, with the mildest and warmest temperatures occurring between May and September. Temperatures through these months stay steady around 20-23 C (68-73 F). Summers in Finland are also famous for their midnight sun around the summer solstice, during which the sun sets only briefly each day. On the flipside, Finns endure very few hours of sunlight (and sometimes bitter cold) during the winter, even in the country's southern cities.
Transportation in Finland
Traveling around Finland is easy, but can quickly become expensive if not planned properly. A few major airlines offer domestic flights to various major cities and tourist destinations. Fast trains operated by VR, the Finnish Railways, offer regular service between places like Helsinki
, and Turku
. If your Finland tour is part of a wider trip across Europe, note that the country participates in the Inter Rail and Eurail programs. Other popular transportation options include bus, car, and ferry.
Language of Finland
Although Finland is officially bilingual, Finnish remains the most widely spoken language, with only 5.6 percent of the population claiming Swedish as their mother tongue. And while most Finns (especially younger ones) speak excellent English, learning a few common phrases in Finnish can go a long way--just remember that Finnish matches the population's taciturn nature, often leaving aside common English phrases like "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome."
Tipping in Finland
Tipping in restaurants is generally unnecessary, as bills include service charges. Round up fares to the nearest euro when taking cabs, and offer around 3 euros per bag to hotel porters.