Finland is a Northern European nation bordering Sweden, Norway and Russia. Its capital, Helsinki, occupies a peninsula and surrounding islands in the Baltic Sea. Helsinki is home to the 18th-century sea fortress Suomenlinna, the fashionable Design District and diverse museums. The Northern Lights can be seen from the country’s Arctic Lapland province, a vast wilderness with national parks and ski resorts.
Kayaking, boat tours and island hopping are popular activities around Helsinki and in the Archipelago Sea around Turku. The country’s interior, with thousands of lakes, is a summer destination with holiday cabins, swimming, fishing and sailing. Built on an isthmus between 2 large lakes, the industrial city of Tampere is home to the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame museum. Savonlinna is known for its 15th-century Olavinlinna island castle. East of Helsinki, Porvoo has a medieval old town and an Iron Age fortress. Finland is renowned for its saunas and iconic designs, including Marimekko fabrics, Iittala glass and Aalto furniture.
Best Time to Visit Finland in Winter?
The best time will depend on the sort of activities you are most interested in doing and which regions you want to visit. So if you want to ski or go dog sledding for instance, you’ll need to visit at times when you are pretty guaranteed to find snow, such as in January and February in northern Finland. A visit around Christmas can be magical if you want to visit Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, do holiday shopping, or enjoy the holiday spirit in the capital city of Helsinki.
There are so many things to do, foods to try, and attractions to visit in Finland. I will tell you our personal experience of visiting Finland last year with my wife and 2 children, first of all I was visited Lapland and enjoyed at ski resorts in Lapland. Some of the activities we have done during our vacation in Finland.
1. Skiing or Snowboarding
The People of Finland enjoy a long snow season with snow beginning around November and lasting until May in northern Finland, making it a perfect place for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. It is not as well known as other countries for skiing, but there are plenty of opportunities with Lapland being the most popular region because it has the most reliable snow fall. If you will be there then you will get the same experience.
Lapland has four major ski resorts: Levi, Ylläs, Pyhä-Luosto and Ruka with slopes from about 1,640 to 2,300 feet (500 to 700 meters) above sea level with lengths up to 9,800 feet (3 kilometers). While neither of us are big skiers, we stayed at the Hotel Sallainen Panvillage (VacationHomeLettings.com link) in Salla, Finland
Riding on a snowmobile is a great way to experience the outdoors in Finland and they can be ridden by one or two people at a time. This was by far one of our favorite activities in Finland as it was not only a fast and efficient way to get from one place to another but it also allows you to go fast and take in gorgeous scenery along the way. It’s a lot of fun and isn’t too hard to learn the basics, but do be careful as you can get it stuck in a snowdrift (yeah, my wife did this on our first trip and our guide had to help dig us out) and the machine can tip so do pay careful attention to safety instructions and go only as fast as you (and your partner) feel comfortable. my wife really loved the machines with self-warming handle bars which are common.
3. Dog Sledding
Ever dreamed of dog sledding after watching the Iditarod or the movie Balto? Finland is a perfect place to make that dream a reality. Dog sledding does require a minimum amount of effort, but mostly we found that the dogs seemed to know what they were doing in terms of direction and so on. The main thing to do is to hold on and learn how to operate the brake to stop the sled, because the huskies like to run and they often won’t stop unless you make them!
4. Enjoy the Finnish Sauna Experience
Someone told us that the only Finnish word commonly used in the English language is “sauna” and we don’t pronounce it correctly (it’s “sowna” not “sawna”). Saunas are an integral part of Finnish culture and historically were the place where many major life events would take place from birth to death, and today sauna houses are still popular places for Finns to meet friends, visit with family, meditate, and even hold business meetings. Traditionally, most people visited public saunas, but now many Finns have their own private saunas in their homes or summer cottages.
There are three major types of saunas: smoke sauna (savusauna), wood-heated sauna, and electric sauna. The smoke sauna is the most traditional type of sauna, the wood-heated sauna are the most common in the countryside, and the electric saunas are the least traditional but most abundant in the cities and apartment complexes. It would really be a shame to visit Finland without experiencing a traditional sauna, and it is an experience that is fairly easy to arrange no matter what part of Finland you are visiting.
5. Sail on an Ice Breaker Boat
For a unique experience, consider a ride on an icebreaker boat. From the town of Kemi in the north of Finland you have the chance to sail on the Icebreaker Sampo. Formerly owned by the Finnish government, today it is used to give visitors an idea of what an operational ice breaker is capable of doing. There is also the option of taking a swim in the sea while wearing a full dry survival suit.
6. Ice Fishing
If swimming in a frozen lake doesn’t appeal to you, how about fishing in one? Ice fishing is considered a public access right in Finland, which means that you don’t need a license to go ice fishing. The top of the lake may be frozen, but if you can drill down through the ice you’ll find water and fish.
Most visitors do this as part of a tour, but you could also do it alone if you rent or have access to the equipment and know where to go. You’ll need an ice drill, fishing pole (which is amazingly tiny), and bait, along with a bit of luck. Perch, the national fish of Finland, and pike are two of the common types of fish in the lakes.
If skiing or snowboarding is a little fast paced for you, or you just want to try something a bit different, then maybe you should give snowshoeing a go. This involves strapping oversized “shoes” onto your feet and then wandering the snowy landscape. The wide snowshoe allows you to walk over snow without sinking very far in as the shoe helps distribute your weight more evenly over a wider surface. These are recommended for winter hiking as they cause less damage and erosion on trails than walking in regular boots.
8. Visit Santa Claus and his Reindeer
You may have thought that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. Or in Indiana. Well, according to the Finns, you’d be wrong. Santa Claus actually lives in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, just inside the Arctic Circle, where he spends the year chatting with visitors, posing with them, and of course, replying to all the mail from children (and the young at heart). In fact it is a whole village, the Santa Claus Village. This is the official home of the Santa Claus post office, which receives over half a million letters a year from people all over the world.
It’s a fun place to visit, and is actually free, although if you want a photo of yourself with Santa you do have to pay. If you want to see reindeer, there are lots of opportunities from visiting a reindeer farm, wildlife park, or doing a reindeer safari with reindeer pulling a traditional sled. We actually spotted two reindeer just walking in the middle of the road while driving. Reindeer is also a traditional meat in Finland, especially the northern part of the country and you’ll find it on quite a few menus if you are interested in trying it.
9. Try Finnish Foods (and Drinks)
Finnish cuisine was not something either of us knew a lot about before visiting Finland, but we were pleasantly surprised, both by the quality, and the use of fresh, local ingredients. Staples of Finnish cuisine include meats such as pork and beef (often in sausage form), mushrooms, berries (blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, sea buckthorns, bilberries, etc.), potatoes, rye bread, porridge, and fish ( salmon, zander, pike, perch, Baltic herring). Meats such as reindeer, elk, and bear are also served, with reindeer being commonly served at many restaurants. A common treat eaten with coffee is pulla which is a sweet roll.
Lunch is often served cafeteria style at many local Finnish places which often includes a main dish such as meatballs and mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, bread, a dessert, coffee, and water. We really loved the traditional sautéed reindeer with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce which was a popular lunch item.
We also really developed a taste for cloudberries, which are berries high in Vitamin C. These orange berries are a local delicacy and are used in all sorts of ways, even being eaten with heated leipäjuusto (a local cheese), cream, and sugar. Cloudberries also make for good wine and liquor, and you can find local alcohol made from these and many of the other local berries.
10. Celebrate Christmas in Helsinki
Helsinki has been nicknamed the “Christmas City” and it is no wonder that it is a popular city to visit during the month of December. Highlights include shopping along Aleksanterinkatu street with its festively decorated shop windows, exploring the handicraft stalls and local food vendors in the open-air St. Thomas Christmas market, and listening to church recitals in the city’s many beautiful churches.
Another reason to visit is that the city is illuminated with lights and there is a decent chance for snow by Christmas giving the city that special Christmas winter glow. You’ll also find local parades and celebrations going on throughout the month of December, such as the St. Lucia Day celebrations. Traditional Finnish Christmas food and a glass of Glögi, a traditional Christmas drink made from warm spiced wine with a sprinkling of almonds and raisins, will help get you into that holiday spirit!