Finland: the Nordic wonderland that belongs on your travel wishlist
It's the home of Santa Claus, Moomins, the rarest seal in the world, and a very unique language (“epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän" is actually a word in Finnish). It's also been named the happiest place to live for the fourth year running, which means it's official: Finland is a pretty lovely place to be. But what would a holiday there actually entail? We've got the answer.
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Watch the magical Aurora Borealis dance from inside your own glass igloo
Finnish Lapland is one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights. They can appear more than 200 nights a year, which is almost every night in winter. One of the best (and most luxurious) ways to experience them is from your own private igloo, with a glass ceiling for taking in the incredible views. There are a few different hotels and resorts offering these experiences.
During the day, you can go on a thrilling husky sledding ride, meet Santa in Rovaniemi, or hit the slopes at one of Lapland's 75 ski resorts.
Spend a summer in Lapland or on the world's largest archipelago
Finland isn't just a winter destination, though; summer in Lapland is incredible. This is when the country experiences its amazing Midnight Sun — whether it's 2am or 2pm, the sky never gets dark. Explore scenic hiking trails, go cloudberry picking, or try Midnight Sky Floating, where you can lie on your back in one of the area's many lakes, gazing into the sky, and embracing the blissful silence.
Known as The Land of a Thousand Lakes, Finland's Lakeland district is the largest in Europe, with around 188,000 lakes. In fact, over 90% of Finland is covered in either forest or water. Picture a maze of waterways made up of lakes, rivers, and canals, broken only by emerald-green forests and you'll have the Finnish Lakeland. There are plenty of little hotels and cottages to stay in while you're here, so you can get back to nature on a waterside retreat.
Finland is also home to the world's largest archipelago. Just off the southeast coast of Helsinki, this area is home to thousands of small islands, all ripe for exploring. If you fly into Helsinki, you can rent a car and drive down to Turku, Finland’s second city and the gateway to the islands. Plentiful charming little bed-and-breakfasts dot the islands. Ferries link various harbours together, and a ring road connects them all. Expect peaceful countryside, glistening waters, and little villages with old churches and red-and-white wooden houses.
Hang out in hipster bars or experience a traditional sauna on a Helsinki city break
Finland's capital, Helsinki, has everything you need for a great city break. People feel very safe here — in fact, Reader's Digest conducted an honesty survey where they deliberately left 12 wallets abandoned around the city; 11 of them were handed in.
Start your explorations in Kallio, a trendy neighbourhood on the eastern side of the city. Filled with quirk boutiques and hip brunch spots, it's basically Helsinki's version of London's Hackney or Manchester's Northern Quarter. Look for hidden gems in the centuries-old market square of Hakaniemi, chill out at the café in Bear Park, or head northeast to the old meatpacking area of Teurastamo (which means abattoir in Finnish), for plenty of hipster bars, local breweries, and restaurants with cuisines from all over the world.
An absolute must-do while in Finland is a sauna. Saunas are a big part of Finnish life, and the best place to experience it in Helsinki is at Loyly. It's the only wood-burning sauna in the city, and it also has access to the Baltic Sea for the all-important icy dip afterwards. Afterwards, you can grab a bite to eat in the stunning surroundings of Loyly's restaurant.
Get your dancing shoes on for the last tango in Tanhuhovi
Did you know that Finland is actually the second tango capital after Argentina? The love of tango dates back to the 1800s, and was the perfect way for shy Finns to meet other people. Dance halls have two old lamps on the wall, labelled men and women. Whichever lamp is lit means that group has to ask the other to dance. If you head out into the countryside town of Lohja, about 45 minutes from Helsinki, one of the last remaining Finnish tango halls, Tanhuhovi, awaits. If you head there in the summer, you'll still see women wearing traditional floral dresses.
Embrace a slower way of living
Sustainability is ingrained in Finnish culture — from the 100% sustainable Helsinki Fashion Week to the tree-planting scheme in Santa's Forest, which aims to help the village become carbon-neutral by 2025.
Eating wild, natural, and locally sourced food is also a big part of Finnish culture. Many Finns know how to identify different types of berries, mushrooms, and edible plants, and fishing and foraging is a big part of the lifestyle. Food isn't just fuel in Finland, it's a shared experience that is presented with the utmost care.
The "Everyman's Rights" or Jokamiehen Oikeudet allows everyone to freely access nature with no restrictions. People are free to roam all parts of the countryside, fish, and forage without limits. This comes with a level of responsibility though, which means Finns are very protective of their natural spaces. So when visiting Finland, make sure you leave no trace and respect the surroundings.