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Finland Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Hameenlinna, Finland
Hameenlinna, Finland

After Iceland, Finland is the northernmost country in the world, but it doesn’t have such a harsh climate as one would think. The summer is a pleasant season for going to the beaches, and the spring and the autumn made the winter seem less harsh. The differences in the country’s south reflect a troubled history. The scenic cities with wooden house from the western coast, where Swedish is spoken and the Russian Orthodox churches in Karelia from the eastern side are a witness to the role that Finland played as a buffer zone between Sweden and Russia. In the middle you’ll find the Finnish, o loyal and friendly nation. Even the businessmen love the nature and the simple life, to cut wood or to pick mushrooms near their lakeside lodges.

In the distant Lapland the inhabitants still tend the reindeer herds through the scarcely populated wilderness, when they don’t surf the web – Finland is one of the most technological advanced countries in the world. This country is shaped by the climate and the Finnish take the most out of the short and intense summers. The country explodes in a lot of festivals and celebrations, from the Savonlinna’s Opera extravagance to the amusing world championship of imaginary guitar.

The fabulous forests and lakes that cover almost 80% of the country, as well as the national parks’ network attract the nature lovers to Finland. The southern archipelago and the country’s south-west consist of approximately 30.000 islands, being one of the most beautiful sea areas in the world. In the winter months you can ski, you can visit Santa Claus or you can take a trip with the reindeer.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

Finland's Tourist Attractions

  • The capital city, Helsinki, is surrounded by parks, forests and water. The city holds historical places and buildings that belong to the most famous Finnish architects. The sea fortress Suomenlinna is the greatest sea fortress in the world. You can visit countless museums in Helsinki and a variety of exhibits and presentations.

  • Visit the oldest city in Finland, Turku. The former capital of the country boasts with a magnificent medieval castle, a beautiful cathedral and some interesting museums and restaurants.
  • Discover the interesting Karelian culture from the eastern Finland. Here there is an important Orthodox population, with its own language, culinary customs, festivals and scenic villages, like Ilomantsi. This is the land of the national Finnish saga, Kalevala.
  • The academic city of Jyvaskyla is a pilgrimage site for those that are passionate about architecture. Here you can find many works belonging to the architect Alvar Aalto.
  • Take a boat trip to the Aland Islands, the hottest region in the country. In this scenic archipelago Swedish is spoken and here you will find some of the oldest churches and manors in the country. This is a perfect place to explore with you bicycle.
  • Admire any of the 180.000 lakes in Finland. During summer the water is easily warmed up.
  • Venture in the city of Savonlinna to visit the best preserved medieval castle from the northern countries, Olavinlinna. The castle has a scenic location near the water and hosts a great opera festival in June.
  • Listen to the Swedish language in the western areas of Pohjanmaa or Ostrobothnia, with long beaches and an agrarian area with the sunniest and driest climate. Jakobstad and Kristinestad are particularly beautiful, with old wooden houses.
  • Discover the interesting fauna on the HailuotoIsland, where you can get by taking the ferry from Oulu, the main commercial and academic center in the area.
  • Keep going to the north, until you get to the mystical Lapland, a savage territory, where there are three national parks, the biggest ones in Finland. Watch the 230.000 reindeers that are running loose. Go to the Finland’s north-west, in Kilpisjarvi and climb the Saana Fell (1.029m) or Haltia Fell (1.328m).
  • Take your backpack and wander through the forests on the classical Finnish tracks. This activity is particularly pleasant at the beginning of the autumn, when the trees’ colours explode in thousands of overtones.
  • Find out more about the harsh life in the north, in the Arktikum and Siida museums from the Lapland region.
  • Experience the contagious Finnish summer, when the sun doesn’t set and the Finnish head to the holiday lodges for sauna, camp fires, bathing in the lakes and complete relaxation.
  • Unleash yourself in one of the Finland’s quaint festivals. Sing some rock music on an imaginary guitar in Oulu, participate in a “carry your wife” contest in Sonkajarvisau or watch how the laziest inhabitant from Naantali gets thrown into the sea on Sleepers’ Day (27th July).
  • You can engage in cross-track skiing on the marked and often illuminated slopes all over Finland. There are also many resorts for slope skiing. The main ski resorts are – Pallastunturi, Saariselka, Pallas, Levi, Rovaniemi, Yllas and Luosto/Pyha (in the north), Ruka, Iso-Syote, Vuokatti, Koli si Tahko (the Finland’s center) and Himos and Lahti (in the south).
  • Keep your eyes on the sky – the northernmost point in Finland is above the Polar Circle and is enjoying a spectacular polar night (kaamos) between November and May, when the sun doesn’t rise anymore. In this period you can see the northern light or the boreal aurora.
  • Take a winter safari with a pack of husky dogs, in a memorable experience all over the Lapland’s territory.
  • Try a classic Finnish sauna. You’ll get of toxins and stress. Even though many hotels have saunas, the best ones are the classic ones near the lakes’ banks or the Kotiharjun public sauna from Helsinki and the Jatkankamppa smoke sauna near Kupio. The birch branches’ knot helps stimulating the circulation and cleansing the pits.
  • Sail with the canoe in areas like Saimaa, OulujarviLake and InariLake. Due to the strong currents it’s recommended to use guides it you’re going to more distant areas. The Kukkolankoski torrents are the biggest ones in the world.
  • Spend a night in the ice hotel in Kemi, where you check in a room at -5 degrees Celsius and sleep in the sleeping bag that the hotel provides.
  • Waterhole fishing is a very popular winter sport. Kossu consumption (Koskenkorva vodka) is almost mandatory.

Finnish Cuisine

The main dishes on the Finnish tables are potatoes, meat, fish, milk, butter and rye bread, but the Finnish cuisine has been largely influenced by the eastern and western ones. Tourists can find fishes like pike, trout, bass, salmon and Baltic herring in any period of the year. The restaurant menus contain continental dishes and some Finnish specialties. You can eat you lunch at a low price in places called kahvila and bari. The restaurants are divided in two classes – the ones that serve all kinds of alcoholic beverages and the ones that serve only beer and wine.

In the Aland province, Skargardssmak is a specialty, or the “Island of Flavors” and it’s made out of local fish. The Lapland dishes include reindeer meat, smoked or cooked otherwise, fish and puikula potatoes. Kalakukko, a dish made out of fish and pork pie, baked in a rye flour shell and Karjalan piirakat, a dessert made out of rye flour stuffed with rice pudding or potatoes. Also popular are different types of thick soups. The national beverages are koskenkorva, blackberry or blueberry liquors, Finnish vodka and different kinds of beer.

Railway bridge between Haparanda, Sweden and Tornio, Finland
Railway bridge between Haparanda, Sweden and Tornio, Finland

Finland's History

Finland’s first inhabitants were the Laponians. When the Finnish speakers migrated to Finland in the first century BC the Laponians had to move to the arctic regions in the north. The Finnish repeated raids on the Scandinavian coast forced the Swedish king, Eric the 9th, to conquer the country in 1157. Finland became part of the Swedish kingdom and was converted to Christianity.

Until 1809 the entire Finland was conquered by Alexander the first, the Russian Emperor. The Russian period (1809-1914) undermined Finland’s political power, Russian being the official language. When Russia had to confront the revolution in 1917 Finland took advantage of the situation and declared its independence, in December 1917.

USSR attacked Finland in November 1939, after it refused to give up the territories requested by the Soviets. The Finnish defended successfully for three months, but after they had to give up 41.440 square kilometers to the Soviets. Under German pressure, the Finnish joined the Nazis against Russia in 1941, but they were again defeated and had to give the Petsamo region to the USSR. In 1948 a treaty of mutual friendship and support was signed between these two countries. In 1995 Finland became a member of the European Union and in 1999 it adopted the euro currency. In 2003 a woman was appointed as prime minister, Finland becoming the first country in Europe to have the presidential and prime minister positions both occupied by women.

Useful Info

The Finnish have a rather relaxed attitude towards the clothing and behaviour, so it’s difficult to offend them by mistake. In Finnish language there are no words for “thank you” or “you’re welcome”, so they often forget to use them in English. Also, in Finnish there is no distinction between “he” or “she”, which can often lead to confusions. Talking or laughing loudly is unusual in Finland and you can get the locals annoyed. The moments of silence are considered to be part of the conversation, not a moment of hostility or embarrassing moments.

The Finnish culture cherishes honesty and punctuality. That’s why you won’t get too many compliments from a Finnish, only honest and brief words, and if you’re late even for two minutes, you should apologize, and if it was a business meeting you can consider it a failure.

A hand shake is a usual form of greeting, hugging and kissing on the cheeks is reserved only for relatives and close friends. If you’re paying someone a visit it’s mandatory to take out you shoes, even if it’s summer. A small gift for the host is appreciated, but there is no established rule for that. The local hour is GMT+2.

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