Back to blogging after a busy summer full of travelling! Let’s start with Finland, a country that should definitely be on your bucket list of Nordic countries to visit. Here is why.
This sea fortress located on an island 15 minutes away from central Helsinki by boat was built in the 1700s to protect the city from sea attacks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Go on a sunny summer day or (even better) on a crisp winter’s day when the sea is frozen and the whole island tourist-free. Allow yourself a few hours to circle the island, its big walls and old cannons. Don’t forget to stop at the hidden Samovarbar next to the little toy museum, and have a piece of their delicious apple pie.
Climb up Mount Koli
Head east to witness Finland’s most Finnish landscape from the top of Mount Koli. The drive is long but the walk up from the parking lot is short. You can spend long hours just contemplating this magical scenery of lakes, islands and forests in different shades of light. Sokos Hotel Koli is very convenient to spend the night close by.
During late summer and early fall, Finnish forests literally fill up with all kinds of berries and mushrooms. Most of them are not only edible, but very tasty and healthy super food! In Finland, anyone has the right to wander through unfenced lands no matter whose property they are, and pick the gifts of nature growing on them.
Discover New Nordic Cuisine
Book a table at one of Helsinki’s high-end restaurants to get a taste of the trendy New Nordic Cuisine, refined and very down-to-earth at the same time. It isn’t cheap, but to try at least once. Find out more about Michelin-starred restaurants in Helsinki here.
Visit old Porvoo
Just a half an hour freeway-ride away from Helsinki, old Porvoo and its colourful wooden houses is a charming place. Especially in wintertime. Get lost in the narrow streets dating back from the Middle Age. The oldest preserved houses are from the 18th century (due to multiple fires).
…or old Rauma
Further away in Western Finland is old Rauma, the other one of Finland’s only two preserved old towns. Old Rauma is UNESCO-listed and bigger than old Porvoo, but old Porvoo is a bit more scenic due to its hilly setting (and a lot easier to reach from Helsinki).
Go ice-skating on the frozen Baltic sea
Sounds great? Doing it is even greater. But don’t go alone, unless you are very experienced. Ice conditions on the sea are very tricky and dangerous regardless of how cold it has been, so going with a guide and/or a group is more than wise.
Take a big ferry from Helsinki or Turku
The Finnish Archipelago counts more than 40 000 islands and islets. The best way to experience it is to take a big ferry-boat from Helsinki or Turku towards the Åland islands. It’s quite something to witness the big ship make its way through hundreds of narrow straits (especially when departing from Turku), before reaching the permanently inhabited Åland islands where people speak Swedish though the islands are part of Finland. Here you can spend a few days or a few weeks, just enjoying the cool island life. Make sure to taste the pizza Åland, rich in sour cream, onion and big chunks of fresh salmon.
Another way to enjoy the Archipelago is to drive (or bike) the Archipelago Ring Road, hopping from island to island with smaller ferries. This route doesn’t reach the Åland islands though.
See some glass-blowing in Iittala
You can witness the fascinating process of glass-blowing for free at Iittala glassware factory, near the city of Tampere (about one and a half hour from Helsinki via freeway). Check the opening times before you go as they usually have a summer closure in July.
Have a drink at Ateljee Bar
To get a beautiful overview of Helsinki, head to Hotel Torni in the very center of the city. Once there, take the elevator to the top floor and climb a small spiral staircase to reach Ateljee Bar with its two open-air terraces (one facing north and the other facing south). The tiny bar is often crowded but the views are incredible. Try to go during sunset, when the city bathes in golden light.
Drive to EU’s easternmost point
Want to see Russia without crossing the border? Well, you can actually do that from EU’s easternmost point which is located in Finland and reachable by car. Ok, you won’t see much else than Russian forest across the lake but the symbolic meaning of this point is quite something. Here you stand about 70 km easter than St Petersburg, on the world’s most clashing border between East and West.
No trip to Finland is complete without seeing its northernmost region: Lapland. Read my post dedicated to this exotic part of the world here. Experience the northern lights in winter or hike in untouched nature during summer and fall. In Lapland there is always something beautiful to see.
Have a cheap kahvimunkki in a kiosk somewhere
Spend a clear summer night in a mökki
With over 180 000 Finnish lakes, there is plenty to choose from for a lake cottage. The real ones are rustic, without modern commodities. You don’t go there for a posh vacation, but to enjoy nature, wood-heated sauna, tranquility and to get back to basics.
Go to Savonlinna during the Opera Festival
Every summer a special kind of Opera Festival takes place in Savonlinna (Central Finland). Not in a modern state-of-the-art opera house, but inside a fortress from the 1400s (Olavinlinna). Pretty cool, huh! So break your piggy bank (yes, tickets are expensive), book well in advance and enjoy this very unique experience.
Spend a hot summer day at Yyteri beach
While in Western Finland, don’t miss the country’s most beautiful sand beach of Yyteri near Pori. If you are lucky, air temperature can be of 25C degrees (with approximately 20C degrees for the water). Yyteri beach streches on many kilometers of sand, backed up by beautiful dunes, and the clear water is shallow for a good distance. Plus, no crowds here.
Have a long stroll in a siirtolapuutarha
These hideaways were originally built near urban centers to give the working class a chance to experience the feeling of owning a cottage in the woods. And it was a success. Now owning a siirtolapuutarha lot is maybe even more popular than owning an actual cabin far away from the city. Ok, you don’t get the lake or the complete solitude the traditional mökki provides. But these places are still quite amazing. Go for a walk in one of them (there are many different ones in Helsinki, for example) and enjoy the tiny cabins surrounded by well-groomed gardens. Note they are open for public only during summer.
Spend a day in Turku
Finland’s ancient capital city (until 1820) has a very European vibe and a lot of nice cafés and casual restaurants. Having a drink or a bite along the Aurajoki river on a warm afternoon surely is of great pleasure. Turku also has one of Finland’s oldest castles.
Visit Helsinki’s special churches
First there is the Rock Church, or Temppeliaukion kirkko. Carved directly into the granite and stunningly beautiful from inside, this surely is one of the city’s highlights. Not far from there is another curiosity, on the busy Narinkkatori place: the all-wooden Silence Chapel. Step inside and spend a moment with yourself.
Admire nature’s own ice sculptures
Nature is never far away in Finland, no matter where you are. And when it gets very cold, nature transforms into a collection of wonderful ice sculptures. It’s every photographer’s paradise.
…and swim in the frozen sea before heading home
If you dare. So refreshing.