From national parks and beautiful lakes to modern cities and the home of Santa Claus, these are the best places to visit in Finland.
If you’re planning a trip to Finland, there’s a good chance seeing the northern lights is at the top of your list. During the winter months, Lapland, the country’s northernmost region, is known as one of the best places in the world to view the famed natural light display. Amazing as the experience may be, though, spotting the aurora borealis is just one of the many reasons to visit this Nordic country.
Adventurous travelers and those who prefer fresh air to indoor activities will feel right at home in Finland. Nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Lakes,” the country has around 188,000 lakes, giving way to activities like ice fishing, swimming, paddleboarding, and cruising. Finland is also covered in lush forests and vast wilderness; in fact, there are 41 national parks, all of which showcase the diversity of Finnish landscapes, flora, and fauna. Spending time in the great outdoors is crucial to understanding Finland and what makes it so special — so be sure to save time in your itinerary for a trip to Lake Päijänne or Nuuksio National Park. “The everyday life is rather similar in all the Nordic countries, but I believe Finns appreciate silence and nature even more,” says Riitta Kiukas, CEO of Active Holiday Finland by Skafur-Tour. “One hour in a forest every day keeps us happy.” Other places to search for the secret to Finnish happiness include Helsinki (the country’s capital), Rovaniemi (the home of Santa Claus), and any of the country’s traditional saunas.
Consider giving yourself at least five to seven days to explore Finland. “Geographically, Finland is big, and distances are long. Therefore, I would recommend reserving a week at the minimum,” says Kiukas. And if you get lost or need help during your travels, don’t be afraid to ask a Finn for assistance. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Finland is that people are very reserved and cold. As that may be for some, most are truly nice and warm and willing to go a long way just to help somebody out,” says Eero Vottonen, chef of Palace, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Helsinki.
Riitta Kiukas is the CEO of Active Holiday Finland by Skafur-Tour, a Finnish travel agency offering a number of tours and experiences.
Eero Vottonen is the award-winning Finnish chef at Palace, a Helsinki restaurant that has earned two Michelin stars.
Interested in learning more about what this Northern European country has to offer? Read on to discover the 15 best places to visit in Finland, according to locals.
Not only is Helsinki the capital of Finland, but it’s also the gateway to discovering the rest of the country, particularly for international travelers. Like many European cities, Helsinki mixes history — it was founded in 1550 — with modern art, architecture, and a number of incredible restaurants and cafes. For a culturally rich experience, browse the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Design Museum, and Galerie Forsblom.
Around 6,700 islands make up the archipelago of Åland. Chef Vottonen notes its “beautiful scenery with a lot to explore,” particularly in the summertime. The autonomous region is ideal for island-hopping; the islands with permanent residents are connected by ferry. Not sure where to begin? Kiukas suggests Kökar, “a small island with a unique archipelago nature.” “Our clients just love everything there, and many cycle through the Åland Islands,” she says.
Rovaniemi is the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus” and the capital of Lapland. Visitors make their way to the city’s Santa Claus Village — where you can meet the man himself — all year round, although it’s most popular during the holiday season. If you come to Rovaniemi in the summer, however, you’ll get to experience the midnight sun, the natural phenomenon where the sun doesn’t set.
The sauna is central to Finnish culture, and Tampere holds the title of the “Sauna Capital of the World,” with the most public saunas (55 and counting) in Finland. Chef Vottonen describes his former hometown as having “the easiest and [most] chilled vibe.” Those interested in experiencing a traditional sauna should book a session at Rajaportti, the country’s oldest still-operating public sauna.
Nuuksio National Park
“Us Finns usually have a relationship with the wild or forest,” says Chef Vottonen. “Hiking or walking through one of [our] amazing national parks shows you the reason why. [They’re] usually very well maintained and with the possibility to reserve indoor sleeping.” Nuuksio National Park is easy to reach from Helsinki, and overnight travelers can reserve a cozy cabin to sleep in after a day of hiking, swimming, or cycling in the park.
The oldest city in Finland and the country’s former capital, Turku should be on every traveler’s radar, particularly if they’re interested in Nordic cuisine. Travel + Leisure journalist Tom Vanderbilt highlighted Smör and the Michelin-starred Kaskis in his guide to Turku, but there are a variety of other restaurants — and things to do — to fill your day in the riverside town. Most notably, there’s the 13th-century Turku Castle, Turku Cathedral, and the open-air Market Square.
Kiukas adds Posio, “the most sustainable village in Finland,” to her list of the country’s best places to visit. Located in Lapland, Posio is great for “individuals and small groups searching for authentic experiences,” she says. The village is also the center of Finnish ceramic culture; Pentik, the world’s northernmost ceramic factory, and the Arctic Ceramic Centre both call Posio home.
You’ll find Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site, on a group of islands near Helsinki. Chef Vottonen calls it a “must-visit in the summer,” and recommends travelers have “a picnic, take a dip in the ocean, or enjoy the restaurants.” Those interested in the sea fortress’ history can learn more in the six different on-site museums.
Finnish Lakeland is the largest lake district in Europe, and there are a variety of towns, villages, and bodies of water to explore in the region. Kiukas recommends starting with Hämeenlinna or Lahti, “southern Finnish towns so close to Helsinki that many travelers just pass by.” “This is where the lake district starts, and you can get a taste of country life — slow down and enjoy silence, lakes, and the nature around you,” she says.
Ranua Wildlife Park
If you want to see a polar bear, lynx, arctic foxes, and a large variety of other arctic species, make your way to Ranua Wildlife Park, about an hour’s drive south of Rovaniemi. The animals live in enclosures in the midst of the northern coniferous forest, and the park is open year-round.
For a dose of Finnish history, Chef Vottonen recommends visiting Porvoo, the second oldest city in Finland. “[It’s] only a short drive from Helsinki by car,” he says, or travelers can “enjoy the boat ride… and see the beautiful coastline.” The Old Porvoo neighborhood is recognizable for its traditional red-painted wooden houses along the Porvoonjoki River, and its cobbled streets and quaint cafes create a picture-perfect scene for both travelers and locals alike.
Winter sports enthusiasts will be interested in visiting Levi, the largest ski resort in Finland. Skiing, snowboarding, dogsledding, winter hiking, and snowshoeing are all available in Levi, and it’s also a great destination for seeing the northern lights. The light show is visible on most clear nights, but you can also take a guided tour to ensure you get the best views.
Kiukas calls Varkaus a “hidden gem by Lake Saimaa,” and she says there’s a “contrast created by pure lake nature and industrial heritage.” Given its access to the surrounding lakes and canals, it’s a popular destination for those traveling by water. When not exploring the waterways, visitors can stop at the “Museum” of Mechanical Music (with purposeful quotation marks around “museum”), the Taipale Canal Museum, or the Väinölä Art Centre.
Lemmenjoki National Park
The largest of Finland’s national parks, Lemmenjoki is known for its natural beauty and its history of gold prospecting. To explore the area, visitors can hike, canoe, or hop aboard a boat on the Lemmenjoki River. Travelers may also get a glimpse of the culture of the Indigenous Sámi people; the park features old housing and hunting grounds.
Kiukas suggests those traveling to Finland make a stop in Fiskars, an “example of an old industrial village now offering working spaces for artisans and artists.” Billed as a “home of creativity,” the village is the birthplace of Fiskars Corporation, the well-known Finnish company that makes cooking, gardening, and craft products — including the world's first plastic-handled scissors.
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