Finland is a northern European country of four seasons for the discerning traveler, not a land of mass tourism. Summer season in Helsinki, winter at the skiing centers in Lapland and few happenings all year round temp enough people to make it a crowd, otherwise you can enjoy the space and silence in the pure northern nature.
During the winter months you can have a skiing holiday or visit the Santa Claus and take a reindeer tour. Summer offers you a wide variety of activity from trekking to urban holidays, or you can simply relax at a hidden summer cottage with a sauna near a lake.
Besides the mainland with vast forests and thousands of lakes separated by few agricultural and urban areas, the Baltic Sea with widespread archipelagos offers plenty of possibilities for sailing and fishing. Helsinki and few other places are worth of visiting throughout the year.
Finland has a high standard of living, comparable to Scandinavian countries, facilities are good and especially the telecommunications are next to none in the world.
With an area of 338,000 square kilometers, Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe, located between Sweden and Russia. The Gulf of Finland separates southern Finland from Estonia and in the north Norway isolates Finland from the Barents Sea. Boreal forest cover two-thirds of Finland, one third of the country lies north of the Arctic Circle. Post-glacial lakes are a dominant feature, if marshes and bogs are also counted water covers about 10% of the country. Most of the country is relatively flat with few hills, the highest point of Finland, Halti in Lapland, rises 1328m above sea level. Finnish flora is rich and varied during the warm period between late May and September. The most common mammals in the forests include elks, foxes, lynxes, lemmings and hedgehogs, but also brown bear exists. Reindeer is a very common sight in the northern Finland, Lapland. There are over 300 species of birds including black grouse, whooper cranes and birds of prey, such as ospreys. With climate, Finland is more favored than most areas in the same latitudes, like Alaska. The average temperature in Helsinki is -3.1 °C (26.4 °F) in January and +20.5 °C (68.9 °F) in July. The summer months from July to August are generally warm, the midnight sun does its thing, but the nights can be chilly, and during the winter you should always take warm clothing with you.
Finnish language is different from the Indo-European languages; it belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages together with Estonian and Hungarian. Language is not much of a problem in Finland, however, because most Finns know some foreign language and many of them speak several. English is the most widespread foreign language and Swedish has the special status of being the country’s second official language, German, French and Russian are not uncommon at the bigger towns and tourist centers.
The five million Finns themselves may appear reserved at first, but they’ll show the friendly face soon after first contact, especially if you show interest in the local culture like sauna.
Helsinki, the White Daughter of the Baltic and the capital of Finland, has wide boulevards and a beautiful blue harbor. The city centre is built on a windblown peninsula and many of the sights are within walking distance of each other. The plan of the down town is a clear one and cordial Finns, most of whom speak at least English, help you around. Although Helsinki was founded in 1550, as a trading center, most of its architecture is rather modern and some even avant garde: Helsinki became the capital of Finland in 1812 and the whole centre area war rebuilt, much in the Empire style.
Around Senate Square you’ll find delightful neoclassic architecture in a cathedral and the government buildings. Part of the charm is the relatively low architecture, you cannot find any skyscrapers. Sea is a major element, be sure to stop at the Market Square by the sea and the Havis Amanda Fountain. With population over 500,000, nearly a million if you count the metropolitan area, Helsinki combines many of the best sides of a small and big cities: you’ll find your way around easily, yet the city offers a wide variety of activity especially during the summer.
Helsinki has several great museums, beautiful churches, parks, theatre, opera, shopping possibilities and historic sights, such as the Sea Fortress of Suomenlinna. You can also experience the Finnish cuisine, try especially fish and reindeer dishes, along with many others like suberb Russian kitchen. Helsinki has also several nice pubs and clubs to visit. With four very different seasons, the streets and bars, as well as the people, are usually livelier during the summer than winter.
The surroundings of Helsinki offer a lot too. Several lakes and the evergreen forest give a special character to the countryside. The Old Town of Porvoo and the area around Lake Tuusulanjärvi, especially the home (Ainola) of famous composer Jean Sibelius, are the prime ones. With more time than few days you could explore the other parts of Finland, there are plenty of possibilities from active trekking holidays to quiet relaxing stay at some cottage by a beautiful lake or the archipelago. Helsinki serves also as an excellent jumping point to Tallinn and even to St.Petersburg or Stockholm. Rest of Finland is, of course, full of possibilities
Oulu is Finland’s sixth largest city and located on the west coast of Finland on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia. It is the major university and science city in the northern part and is proud of it. Several museums are dedicated to science and a visit to the Science Centre Tietomaa is a must. The colourful city boasts some fine parks and golf courses and is well prepared for nature lovers. There is an excellent bicycle network and within minutes of time you can be in the impressive area around the city and continue on foot and explore the astonishing surroundings composed of valleys, mountains, rivers and rapids.
Turku used to be Finland’s capital but lost its position in 1812. After a devastating fire in 1828, it had to rebuilt most of its houses and gradually became the thriving city it is at present. Still considered by many of its inhabitants as the one and only capital of Finland, it’s a modern university town (Finland’s first university was founded here). This means a lot of restaurants and an exciting nightlife scene.
However, Turku is proud of its past and has several museums dedicated to its glamorous and also tragic past. The Turku Castle and Cathedral, dating from the 13th century, are worth a visit. Not in the least because of the Historical Museum that is housed in the former.
Turku is also known as Finland’s Christmas Town. This means that every year, for several weeks, Santa rules the city, including all the festivities and events that belong to it. There is even an annual official Christmas Declaration. Due to its location, it’s only a short ride to the sea, the small seaside towns and the outstretching fields in between.
Located in Europe´s largest lake district, Savonlinna has around 30,000 inhabitants and was built on three islands joined together by bridges. Besides the scenic natural environment the main attraction is St. Olaf’s Castle. This great looking fortress was founded in 1475 by Erik Axelsson Tott. The castle served to repel attacks from the east and to guarantee control of the Savo region for the Swedish Crown.
The medieval castle consists of a main castle with three towers and a bailey with an encircling wall reinforced by towers. The castle went through numerous phases of construction, first as a Swedish and from 1743 as a Russian border fortification. It has been among Finland’s best-known tourist attractions since the latter 19th century. It houses a restaurant and festival halls.
It is also home of the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival, that takes place in July (www.operafestival.fi).
The gold fever drew many adventurers to the cold Rovaniemi at the beginning of the 1800s. Not surprisingly, this resulted in an economical growth of Rovaniemi and made it into the capital of the province of Lapland. The city’s modern buildings border on the extensive unspoiled Lapland countryside and Artic wilderness. Besides a conference town, Rovaniemi is a thriving university town that offers some good museums in the neighbourhood and some excellent hiking and skiing opportunities.
Because the city was completely destroyed in World War II, and after that completely rebuilt, you won’t find many traces of the city’s history. A good day-trip is a visit to Ranua (with its zoo) and to the Santa Park that gives you the opportunity to see Santa Claus in person and is especially recommended to those who still don’t believe that he truly exist.
Espoo is Finland’s second largest city and quite original in urban structure. The city consists of five district centres, all of them as large as a normal Finnish town, connected perfectly by public transport to one another and to Nuuksio National Park and the green countryside. One of the best known districts is probably Tapiola, the carefully designed garden city, in which inhabitants, nature and architecture are in harmony with each other. The ‘high-tech’ city, which is only a quarter of an hour from Helsinki, boasts several interesting museums and festivals, such as the April Jazz festival and the Espoo Ciné International Film Festival.
These days, Porvoo is a thriving town with a booming graphical and electrotechnical industry and at the same time the second oldest city in Finland. It has a well preserved medieval city heart with small streets and red coloured warehouses that stretch out along the riverside. Amongst its museums is the Johan Ludvig Runeberg museum dedicated to Finland’s greatest national poet. Located at a 50 kilometres’ distance from Helsinki, Porvoo can be easily reached by bus or by boat (during summer time)
After nearly all of the old wooden town burned down in 1852, the town as it is today was built some kilometres from the original spot. The architect Setterberg who designed the city took the fire into account and hence why the city map shows broad avenues and several city sections. The belfry and town hall ruins can still be visited. In 1918, Vaasa was the capital of Finland for a short time. Located nearby the sea, it offers some nice harbour views and eleven museums. There is an enormous amusement park, Wasalandia, for those who feel like looking at the town from a different perspective (upside down?). From this year onwards, Vaasa hosts Rantarock, a music dance festival especially for the young.
Mikkeli is the place to head for when you want to indulge in Finland’s astonishing rural scenery. The town itself has a few museums and lends itself perfectly as a homebase from which to explore the surrounding lakes and hiking tracks. Mikkeli is one of the places featuring one of the many music festivals that are hold in Finland every year. Especially classic music concerts are performed within (or just outside) the city boundaries. Check the papers for this years’ events.
Located at the south-west point of lake Saimaa, Lappeenranta has served a important role as a bridge between the Finnish and Russian cultures for over 350 years. Nowadays, its strategic position makes it an ideal environment for hi-tech companies with an eye on the Russian market.
City of Lappeenranta
Lappeenranta is a friendly town of great natural beauty with 58,000 inhabitants. It is the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of South Karelia, and a hub of lakeside tourism.
Lappeenranta has many nicknames, including the Town of Lindens, Cavalry Town, Gate to Lake Saimaa, Gateway to the East… Naturally, each appellation has its roots in the history of the town. For example, the first linden trees were planted in the parks of Lappeenranta in the 1780s, today nearly 2,600 lindens line the streets of the town. The centuries old cavalry tradition continues with the cavalrymen riding through the streets of the town dressed in red trousers and elaborately embroidered jackets. The Fortress, with its museums, craftsmen’s shops and cafés breathes history. Every day, around ten ships depart from the harbour, heading for the labyrinth of islands on Lake Saimaa or through the Saimaa Canal.
Winter in Lappeenranta is a lively and active season. A rich variety of theatre performances and concerts, excellent accommodation, fascinating museums and magnificent opportunities for outdoor activities, seasoned with Karelian hospitality, make Lappeenranta an all-year-round tourist destination. Well-kept cross country skiing tracks start from the centre of the town, with many skiing events to enliven the atmosphere in the late winter.
Pori is probably best known for its annual jazz festival in July that lasts for nine days. The concerts take place in in the Kirjurinluoto concert park on the riverside. However, this year concerts took place in the recently opened stadium as well, a stadium that offers room for some 40,000 jazz lovers.
Besides that, Pori is a modern and important seaport town and its Yyteri beach has made it into a popular holiday resort.
The Kuopio region is situated in central Finland, in the verdant province of North Savo, which is interspersed with thousands of lakes. The region can be reached in less than an hour by air from Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and by road or rail the journey only takes a few hours.
The backdrop for the summer atmosphere in the Kuopio region is provided by lakes and islands, great to explore on boat cruises, as well as by the landscape of forest-covered hills. Boating, hiking and other forms of outdoor recreation are really spoilt for choice here. The region also boasts a wide variety of cultural activities and events. The lakes, which abound with fish, guarantee good catches throughout the year. Leisure spas with their bubbling pools and baths offer relaxation and invigoration whenever you feel the need.
Come and have a great holiday – on your own or as a group. We’ll do our best to ensure that you have fond memories to take back home with you.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.