Finland is known to travelers as a snow paradise as most people visit Lapland, the northern part of Finland. Helsinki also attracts explorers being the capital of the country. In all cases, the most visited place is a sauna. There are many reasons to visit these places, but there is so much more to Finland than well-known spots! You can meet wilderness in countless national parks all over Finland. There are tens of old towns to explore, and many unfold spots to discover, like sunny beaches and castles, not to forget its thousand lakes. Also, something many locals know about, but visitors usually forget, is countless islands all around the mainland. As an insider, let me tell you why Finland is considered the happiest country in the world.
Finland is a nature-gem: the biggest part of the country is pure forest packed with lakes, wilderness, and taiga. Finnish people's deep connection with nature is hard to tell but easy to show. Just head to the nearest forest, and you will meet many like-minded Finns. As we say: "There is no bad weather, the problem is bad clothing". You will find Finnish people outside any time of the year, facing the harshest weather and finding their "sisu" (the core of the national character). This results in a nature-loving nation and a law stating that nature belongs to everyone, meaning you can camp and hike, pick up berries and mushrooms pretty much anywhere you want, even if the forest belongs to someone else. My favorite thing about Finland is that it usually takes just a few steps from any city centre to find yourself in a forest.
To experience Finnish love for nature, you cannot skip countless national parks, nature trails, and city parks. You can find Oulanka National Park in northern Finland to reach the most famous hiking trail in the country - Karhunkierros. It challenges locals every year, especially in the time of autumn colors. You can reach the high cliffs in Koli, situated in the Finnish Karelia. Karelia is known for its kind people, and of course, Karelian pasties - something you just have to try if you are in Finland. On the way to Karelian treasures, you can stop by Repovesi, my personally beloved national park. Here, you can walk a suspension bridge and take a self-operated ferry from one shore to another. Spending time in Helsinki, you can escape to Nuuksio, the most known national park in the capital area. If you are a city person, you can catch a glimpse of nature through countless city parks. The observation tower with its cafe and tasty fritters standing in the middle of nature trails in Tampere is a must. Also, Kotka is known for its beautiful parks, and Helsinki's city park is literally a wild forest stretching for many miles with dozens of hiking paths.
It is not so long ago that Finland became independent even though the land and people have been here for ages. As a result, there are cities in the country that are older than Finland. All wooden cities and old towns in Finland have many similarities: creamy wooden houses, narrow lanes, cozy small churches, and a movie-like atmosphere. The Old Town of Rauma is exactly like that - a lovely place for a stroll. Nonetheless, my favorite of all old towns is Porvoo, the second oldest city and the most charming one. It is home to vintage shops, cozy cafes, and the most authentic old town. Speaking of old, I can not forget Turku, the oldest town in the country. It is known for its aged streets, everyone's favorite pubs, galleries, and sparkly student life. Turku is cherished for its own vibes, which is hard to explain but easy to experience.
The Tammisaari region is well known for the old heritage, the best part of which is a castle on the hill. Speaking of castles, Hämeenlinna, literally translated as "Häme's castle", will entertain you with a medieval fortification on the lakeshore. Discovering greeny parts of the town, you will find towers and ruins well hidden in the woods. Another famous fortress is situated in Savonlinna, a majestic Olavi Castle that dates back to the 15th century. Savonlinna is holding an opera celebration every year inside these castle walls. I imagine the acoustics to be magnificent! Nonetheless, Turku, again, owns the oldest and biggest medieval castle in the country. Take my word, it is easy to get lost wandering its countless halls and secret passages. Finlands castles are not that famous, nor touristic, but they are a great reminder of how deep the roots of Finnish history lie. Those are great places to meet locals discovering the history of their land.
It is no wonder that Finland is mostly advertised as a winter destination, but let me tell you a secret. Since the summer is pretty short in Finland, it is vastly appreciated and is the most favorite time of the year for many locals. We cannot wait to sunbathe on the beautiful local sea beaches, take countless island tours, and swim in the lakes. One such coastal pearl is Hanko, a destination full of delicate country seats and sunny beach life.
Speaking of sun, technically the sunniest town in Finland is called Naantali, and it is also a beloved summer destination for locals. It is not cheap, but it is worth a visit. This city has the liveliest harbor and a presidential summer house. Naantali is also home to the Moomin Island, where you meet Moomin trolls - Finn's dearest children book characters. The Moomin books made a big impact on culture, filling it with simple truths and everyday wisdom. To learn more, you can visit the only Moomin Museum in the world hosted by Tampere, it is magical! Following the western coastal line, there is also the city of Pori, and, probably, the best beach in Finland - Yyteri. Here, you can swim in the Nordic Sea and discover Finnish dunes. Yes, I was equally surprised that we have them! Spending time on any of the Finnish shores, you just have to try salmon. You can eat it in many ways, the most traditional would be a creamy salmon soup, a beloved dinner option for so many locals.
The amount of islands around Finland is remarkable. Many Finns own boats and turn their holidays into a summer regatta. Many islands are inhabited, and the transportation between them is arranged well, which means anyone can take a tour through local island life. All that makes island-hopping a well-known term in Finland. The most famous island journey you can take is the Archipelago Trail. You can take ferries from one island to another, spending nights on the best ones. I would not forget visiting an authentic Pargas and a fancy Nagu harbor on your Archipelago Trail. Take a step away from the famous path, and you will find yourself on a faraway island, among just 30 locals, feeling on the edge of the world. I am talking about Utö, a magical place no visitor ever forgets. If you continue browsing the sea towards Sweden, you will find Åland Islands. These lands are a good bicycle tour destination, as there is a lot to see, and it is hard to cover on foot. You can also have an island experience visiting the Finnish capital. Take a boat trip to Suomenlinna with its greeny hills, haunting tunnels, and a fortress. There is also a lesser-known Vallisaari island, best for a wilder nature, creepy stories of a beheaded soldier, and cozy cafes. Both islands are rich in nature and history. Many cities on the shores of the Baltic Sea come with islands to visit. Loviisa is joined by a fortress island, Oulu offers a collection of islands that are great for hiking. The cherry on top is a majestic Benskär - the lighthouse island. As you can see, on whatever shore of Finland you are, an island visit is a must.
You probably know that for many kids learning the truth about Santa might be a traumatic experience. Well, here in Finland, it is an unknown problem. You see, far away on the North Pole, in the Finnish Lapland lives Santa Claus, the real one. You can visit him any time, write letters to his official postal office and follow the elves in their many duties helping Santa throughout the year. Lapland is also known for Northern Lights, winter activities, and Sami culture - the native Nordic people. To discover all that you need to make your way to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. You should come here to find the Northern Lights, visit Santa's Village, ride a husky sled, and taste some reindeer. Do not worry, Rudolph is safe.
Winter activity enthusiasts should not miss Levi, the biggest winter resort in Finland. Northern people are so into the snow, they do not mind sleeping in it. The Snow Castle in Kemi is proof of that. It is rebuilt out of snow every year bringing a fairy tale alive. A more warm but still unique way of spending a night in Lapland would be a glass igloo. It can be experienced in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in the village of Saariselkä. Why are igloos made of glass, you may ask? There is a simple answer - Aurora Borealis. The enchanting green skies and white forests are a firm reason for Finland to be a popular travel destination, but Lapland is not the only place to find winter magic. Ruka Ski resort is a known place for locals, as in the dark February evenings it becomes all sparkly and colorful thanks to the Polar Night Light Festival and beautiful artworks. By the way, the habit of beautiful lights in the dark days of winter also exists in Helsinki and comes alive at the beginning of every January.
Connecting with nature is at the core of all Finns, making their land the world's happiest country. So, when in Finland, try to experience nature in a Finnish way - hopping from one island to another, hiking national parks, discovering castle ruins, and enjoying its thousand lakes. As you could see, there is much more to Finland than well-known spots!
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