Finland has made headlines in recent years for its top global rankings in safety, equality, quality of life, and happiness. Needless to say, the quiet Nordic nation has attracted quite a bit of curiosity lately, and tourism is now at record levels. But beyond its impressive credentials, Finland is just an all-around fantastic place to visit. With beguiling natural beauty, cool cities, and out-of-the-ordinary experiences around every corner, you’ll never run out of things to do in Finland.
If seeing the Aurora Borealis is on your bucket list, you couldn’t pick a better vantage point than Finland, where it makes an appearance on over 200 nights per year. You’re most likely to catch a glimpse of it in the regions that straddle the Arctic Circle from September through March. If the sky is clear, you’re almost guaranteed a celestial light show. You’ll be in good company, too, as there’s no shortage of hotels in the region that cater specifically to visitors hoping to witness the revontulet.
There are over three million saunas in Finland according to the Finnish Sauna Society. Although most Finns have private saunas at home nowadays, plenty of public ones remain. Smoke saunas, which use burning embers to heat the room to the desired temperature, are believed to be the most restorative. In every sauna, you’ll find a basket of hot rocks, called löyly, over which water is poured to increase the humidity of the room. If you get too hot, just do what the locals do: roll around in the snow, or jump into the nearest lake to cool down.
Meeting face to face with some of the most majestic Arctic animals on earth is par for the course at Salla Reindeer Park in Lapland. The tranquil “park” is a fenced-in area of forest, where mostly-tame reindeer go about their daily lives under the protection of traditional reindeer herders. These reindeer are so comfortable with humans, so they’ll let you get close enough to snap a selfie with them. You can even climb aboard a reindeer-powered sleigh. They supply you with cozy blankets for the ride, and a warm drink by the fire afterward.
If you’ve always dreamed of being an Ice Queen—or King— head to Lapland, where you’ll come across a glacial castle that looks straight out of Frozen. Located on the banks of the Bothnian Bay, Kemi Snow Castle is three stories tall and it’s built entirely from ice and snow. The frosty fortress features snow sculptures, an art gallery, and a chapel within its glistening walls set aglow by colorful lights.
If you want a place to unwind from the grind while you’re on your Finnish adventure, you’ll find it in Åland. The mostly Swedish-speaking archipelago on the Baltic Sea is nestled between Finland and Sweden, and it’s made up of a few large islands and thousands of smaller ones. Åland boasts miles of unspoiled landscapes and seascapes, with terrain perfect for biking and walking. Ferries and bridges make it easy to hop from island to island and explore at your own pace.
Want an authentic taste of Finnish pop culture? Make your way to Moomin World, a theme park dedicated to beloved storybook characters created by Finnish author, Tove Jannson. The main attraction is the Moomin House, a scaled-up model of the whimsical dwelling the fictional troll family call home. The Moomins have been wildly popular all over Europe and Japan for decades. You’ll find the quirky characters adorning everything from baby bibs to shot glasses.
Nothing compares to the rush you get from blazing through breathtaking terrain behind a team of huskies, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to do just that in Finland. Dogsledding, a thousand-year-old mode of arctic transport, somehow manages to be both thrilling and peaceful at the same time. Whether you head out for a short jaunt or an overnight excursion, the experience is unforgettable.
While we drink cocoa with marshmallows on a cold winter’s day, the Sami people of northern Finland prefer Kaffeost, coffee with cheese. To make some, drop a cube of dried cheese—juustoleipä—into a guksi, or mug carved out of birch bark. Add boiling coffee to the brim, then sip and enjoy. As the cheese soaks up the coffee like a sponge, it can be scooped out and eaten with a spoon.
While Finland boasts some seriously stunning scenery, don’t miss out on its urban offerings. Turku, a small Nordic city on the southwest coast, is bursting at the seams with off-beat bars and vibrant nightclubs offering half-liter glasses, tuoppi, of Finnish microbrews and ciders. Don’t forget to sample some Salmiakki Koskenkorva, a super-salty licorice liqueur.
Five miles north of Rovaniemi in Lapland, you’ll find a tiny Christmas-themed hamlet known as Santa Claus Village, said to be the home of the jolly man himself. Here, you’ll find a cozy little post office where letters addressed to Santa from all over the world have been handled since 1985. With the help of his elven volunteers, Santa has fielded approximately 17 million letters from over 200 countries over the years. If you want to send out some mail of your own from Santa’s post office, it will be stamped with a one-of-a-kind Arctic Circle postmark.