To indulge in the purity of nature, to be immersed in a
time-honored culture, and to be invigorated during a
healing journey, all of these can be found in Finland.
Source: Visit Finland.
Finland is a hidden gem tucked into the far North. It is a treasure waiting to be discovered. When the endless sunshine of summer gives way to dark winter, the Northern Lights appear like magic and lightens the sky. When summer approaches, the midnight sun allows you to do anything at night as you can during the day. As a country born in nature, vast green forests and glimmering blue lakes dominate scenery wherever you go. It is also known as the home of Santa Claus, and attracts many by the time-honored sauna experience.
One of the great concepts in Finland is called “Everyman’s Rights”. This gives you the right to roam freely in natural areas like forests, fells, lakes and rivers, without permission from landowners. The concept has evolved over time and started as an unwritten code created by a sparse population living in a vast, densely forested country.
Some guidelines: you can pick wild berries and mushrooms, but not someone’s apples or plums. You can go canoeing and camping, but not too close to someone’s house. In many areas, fishing requires a permit. Don’t leave litter, and leave the place the way you found it.
Sustainable Travel Finland
Almost 80% of Finland’s land area is covered by forest, it has the richest freshwater resources in the EU with a total of 188,000 lakes and the cleanest air in the world. Finland is the happiest country in the world according to the World Happiness Report from 2018, 2019 and 2020. In Finland, the travel industry, as well as nature and everyday life, rely entirely on the changing seasons and a lifestyle close to nature.
“Visit Finland” launched The Sustainable Travel Finland program in 2019 with the aim of making sustainability a new norm in the travel industry and Finland one of the most sustainable travel destinations in the world. The program is open to all travel companies and destinations in Finland including restaurants, accommodation, travel agencies, activity providers, attractions, transportation companies, events and resorts.
The Sustainable Travel Finland initiative focuses on all four dimensions of sustainability: economical, ecological, social and cultural. The label is awarded only to companies and destinations that have undergone the entire Sustainable Travel Finland program and fulfilled the 7 step criteria including commitment to national sustainable tourism principles and drawing up a sustainable tourism development plan with short and long terms goals. By choosing a STF-labelled experience, a traveler can support local tourism efforts towards sustainability and ensure that his/her journey has a positive impact on the local culture and economy, while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.
More than 500 companies and destinations have already applied to be a part of the program. So far, 57 companies and 1 destination have completed the journey and have been awarded with the Sustainable Travel Finland label. Posio in Lapland is the first travel destination in Finland awarded the program’s label. It can also be found on the global 2020 Sustainable Destinations Top 100 list organised by the global Green Destinations foundation and its partners.
Posio is a small nature-loving community with a population of a little more than 3,000 inhabitants in Lapland. In Posio, enchanting landscapes inspire travelers to rediscover the essentials. The national parks of Riisitunturi and Syöte, Korouoma canyon, Lake Livojärvi,”the riviera of Lapland” and Pentik-mäki cultural centre create unique surroundings for nature and culture travel.
In Lapland, the carbon-neutral Pyhä Ski Resort has also been awarded the label and it is now aiming to become the world’s cleanest ski center. In other parts of Finland, travelers can find sustainable experiences such as Suomenlinna, which is the Unesco Heritage Site located on the coast of Helsinki, Aavameri which arranges multi day sea kayaking expeditions in Archipelago Sea National Park and Turku and Silent People Meadow Cafe and Restaurant in Lakeland offering outdoor exhibition and fire-brewed coffee and delicious butter-baked Finnish crepes.
Sauna is the only Finnish word that has been internationally accepted in other languages, and there are no other word Finns would want more recognition for – it is the perfect nominator for Finland, its people and culture. If you want to understand Finland and its people, getting familiar with sauna is a good starting point.
Saunas have existed in other cultures, but it is in Finland that they have become entwined in the national culture. In days gone by, they were the most practical place to wash during the long winters when there was no running hot water. You can still find people in Finland who were born in the sauna. Not when it was heated, of course, but it was a sterile place where hot water was available. It is said that there are enough saunas in Finland to easily accommodate all 5.4 million Finns simultaneously. It’s true, since estimates place the number somewhere between two and three million. There are saunas in studio apartments, at summer cottages and public swimming pools, gyms and hotels, on boats and buses, you name it – Finnish embassies abroad have their own saunas built and there’s even one inside the Parliament in Helsinki.
There are several types of saunas, the most common being electric, wood-heated and smoke saunas. Coloured lights, aromatic fragrances and relaxing music have nothing to do with Finnish sauna. Real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, there’s no music or smells except for fresh birch and natural tar.
Have a shower before entering the hot room. Place a small towel on the bench to sit on, both for hygienic reasons and because the bench may feel rather hot. The temperature in the hot room is a matter of preference but the Finnish Sauna Society recommends from 80 to 100 degrees Celsius. Some people, however, are quite happy in 70-degree heat. Increase the humidity by throwing water on the stones. There are no rules for how often you should throw more water on the stove. Whenever you feel like another wave of steam, go for it. Use of the vihta, or sauna whisk, is not essential (and you may not be able to obtain one) but it does enhance the cleansing effect of the sauna by opening up the pores. In some hotel saunas, the tradition of the washing-lady survives. She takes care of washing you. When you feel like going outside, jump through a small hole in the ice on a lake, the sea or whatever and refresh yourselves in the freezing water, or roll in the snow instead. Or – and this will be the case for most foreign visitors – simply take a shower.
Big meals and alcohol should be avoided before the sauna. However, the sauna leaves you not only content but also thirsty and hungry. Then, of course, refreshing drinks should be taken to quench the thirst and restore the body’s fluid balance. What you drink depends on local custom. The Finns usually enjoy low-strength beer – nice and cold. Roasting sausages either on open fire or in tin foil directly on the stove is another key part of the sauna experience.
Finns go to sauna in the nude even with strangers. But if you can’t get over it, Finns will understand you wanting to wear a swimsuit or a towel. In Finland, major decisions get made in saunas, not boardrooms.
There are a dozens of public saunas in Helsinki and each has its own character. For instance Kotiharju Sauna in the Kallio district is the last remaining wood-heated local sauna in the city where you can also enjoy a massage or try the ancient remedy of cupping. If you want to enjoy a real Finnish wood sauna experience in a sauna building that dates back to the 19th century, visit Kaurila Sauna. Since there is no electricity in this traditional wood sauna building, candles create an especially cosy atmosphere. Original furniture and design details add to the soothing effect. After the sauna you can wrap up in a cotton towel and grill your own sausages in the fireplace. Sauna-goers are also served freshly baked bread. Then, there comes Löyly. It is perhaps one of the most iconic and internationally featured public saunas in Finland. It is an urban sanctuary in the middle of a former industrial area on the Helsinki waterfront. The sculptural wooden building features three saunas that are all heated with wood, an outdoor swimming facility in use throughout the year, and a welcoming restaurant that serves Finnish classics like meatballs and creamy salmon soup. On a summer’s day, there’s nothing better than soaking up the sun on the large outdoor terrace while enjoying a refreshing drink and the stunning views of the Baltic Sea.
Just a short ferry ride away from Helsinki’s Market Square is the charming island of Lonna, making it a perfect spot for a relaxing day trip away from the hustle of the city. Two modern, chic and simple seaside saunas feature traditional wood burning stoves and a large terrace that offers spectacular views over the Baltic Sea. There are separate sides for men and women. Both saunas accommodate 12 people, and advance booking is recommended.
Located in the old district of Pispala in Tampere, Rajaportti is Finland’s oldest public sauna still in use, dating back to 1906. Still heated by wood in a traditional manner, Rajaportti offers not just soft and pleasant steam but an authentic feeling of travelling back in time with its old-fashioned charm and simplicity. The cosy courtyard café serves traditional sauna sausages, freshly baked cinnamon buns, comforting soups, and a selection of artisan beers from local brewers. A traditional massage tops off the experience.
Situated on the shores of Lake Kallavesi in Kuopio, Saana is a fairly recent addition to the modern public sauna scene in Finland. Saana features three separate saunas – including a smoked one – an indoor hot tub, waterfall showers, two outdoor swimming pools, and the opportunity to try open-water swimming year-round. The restaurant serves locally sourced food and boasts picture-perfect views over the magnificent Kallavesi.
Surrounded by the mesmerizing Lappish landscape, Kuurakaltio sauna in Kiilopää lies next to a crystal-clear stream, which is perfect for a cooling dip after the heat of an authentic smoke sauna. During the summer season, Kuurakaltio bathes in the midnight sun, while the winter might provide a glimpse of the Northern Lights. No wonder this sauna attracts visitors from all over.
For a luxurious spa and sauna experience, look no further than the Järvisydän resort located in Rantasalmi in the heart of Lakeland. The resort’s Lake Spa has been inspired by Finnish nature. The interior is clad with warm wood and large, natural rocks, and the spa overlooks the iconic Lake Saimaa – one of the biggest lakes in Europe. For a day of pampering, try one of the many saunas located in the spa, or go for a beauty treatment.
Founded in 1926 and currently run by sauna therapist Mervi Hongisto, Forum Sauna in the coastal city of Turku is where time seems to stand still. Forum is currently the only public sauna in Turku. Favoring an old-style approach to health and wellbeing, Forum is preferred by those looking for an authentic bathing experience as well as traditional treatments including peat masks and cupping therapy.
Forests are like water in Finland: ever-present, including in the major cities. Even in the capital city of Helsinki there are sizeable forested areas, some of which are designated nature reserves. Hiking in summer, cross-country skiing in winter, gathering berries and mushrooms or simply a gentle walk in the woods: these are popular leisure activities in Finland.
There are 40 national parks in Finland. They’re scattered around the country’s archipelago, lakes, forests, peat lands and fells, and showcase the areas’ various natural characteristics, such as rapids, rift valleys and eskers. All Finnish national parks have marked hiking routes, nature trails, information boards and picnic sites, many of them with a campfire site. In most parks, there are tent sites, rentable cabins and unlocked huts where anyone can stay. Nature tourism entrepreneurs also provide services, such as guided tours and accommodation services outside but yet close to the parks.
If you say the words “national park” to a Finn, he immediately thinks about the view over Lake Pielinen from the top of Ukko-Koli hill. That view is Finland’s best loved national landscape, and has inspired many Finnish artists. Koli’s hills and lakes provide fine settings for enjoyable outings and activities at any time of year. In winter, snowshoeing is a great activity in deep, fluffy powder snow. In summer time, excellent hiking trails or even horseback riding tours arranged by nature tourism entrepreneurs attract visitors. The park is situated in Eastern Finland, with an hour’s car or taxi ride from Joensuu city, which can be reached by train or plane from Helsinki.
Only 45 minutes from Helsinki city centre or from Helsinki-Vantaa airport, lies Nuuksio National Park. There one can escape into wild natural settings, with lovely lakes, green forests and rugged crags. Even a one-hour hike along well-marked hospitable trails gives the visitor the feeling of experiencing the wilderness. Or make a longer hike and enjoy your picnic by a campfire place where dry firewood waits the trekker. The nearby Finnish Nature Centre Haltia spotlights the best of Finland’s natural treasures from across the country. If you forgot your picnic, don’t worry: Haltia’s buffet lunch table is full of Finnish delicacies from nearby famers, many of them producing organic food. Nuuksio can be reached by a combination of local train and bus, or by car or taxi.
Teijo’s attractions include peaceful lakes and forests, as well as historic ironworks villages where traditional crafts still thrive. From these picturesque settlements you can head straight out to explore the lakes, seashores, marshes and forests of the national park – and go hiking, canoeing or fishing. You can get a good taste of Teijo on a day trip, but it’s also well worth staying over – out in the wilds under a starry sky, or in cosy lodgnings in a charming village. A trip there can be combined with a trip to the Archipelago National Park, reachable only with an hour’s car ride from Teijo. A train connection from Helsinki to Salo several times a day, followed by a short car ride, takes the visitor to Teijo. Alternatively, it can be reached by car from Helsinki in two hours.
Finland Facts & FAQ
There are some things you might be curious about before coming to Finland.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
When is the best time to visit Finland?
It depends on what you’d like to experience: for plenty of snow and winter activities, December to March is the best time. For springtime sun and the revival of nature after the winter, April to May is the period. For long and warm summer days and plenty of events, opt for June, July and August. For autumn leaf colors, visit in September-October.
I don’t speak any Finnish, will I manage?
If you speak English, you should not have any difficulties as most Finns speak fluent (or at least understandable) English.
When and where can I see the northern lights?
In northern Lapland, the lights shine about every other clear night between August and April. In southern Finland they are visible on about 10-20 nights a year.
How about the midnight sun?
Also in Lapland. In Utsjoki, the very north of Finland, the sun stays above the horizon for more than two months between mid-May and late July. In southern parts of Lapland, the sun stays up constantly for a month in June-July. However, nights are white throughout the country for most of the summer.
What about temperatures – how cold does it get and will there be snow?
During the winter months, temperatures can drop as low as –35 degrees Celsius. Luckily, this is not the norm: regular winter temperatures fall somewhere between –5 and –15.
In the summer, it gets as hot as 30 degrees Celsius, sometimes even more. Normal summer temperature is a bit over 20 degrees. In Finland, it is common to have up to a 70 degree difference in temperature between January and July.
During January and February, there is almost always snow in northern and eastern Finland. Even if there’s little snow in Helsinki, there’s often up to a metre or more on the skiing slopes of Lapland. The snow season in northern Finland begins in November and lasts at least until April-May. In the inland regions of southern and central Finland, the first snow falls at the beginning of December and melts during March.
I’ve heard there are some nasty mosquitoes in Finland, is it true?
Finnish mosquitoes are a nuisance rather than a hazard, but there can be quite a few at times during the summer. There are practically no mosquitoes in cities, as they mostly bother you in the countryside in the northern parts of the country. The mosquitoes are not dangerous, and repellent is available in shops, supermarkets and pharmacies.
What should I do in case of an emergency in Finland?
Dial 112, free of charge.
What credit cards are accepted in Finland?
American Express, Diner’s Club, Eurocard, Access, Master Card and Visa are accepted in hotels, restaurants, larger shops, and department stores. Visa Electron is also accepted in many shops and department stores.