By Shereen Shabnam
A country of contrasts, Finland is known for endless daylight in the summer when public spaces come to life and for dark Arctic winters that has a profound effect on all walks of life, including a deep appreciation for nature.
Despite being leaders in technology and progressive urban solutions, Finns enjoy time in nature visiting lakes and retreats to the countryside for hiking, trekking, cross-country skiing, playing ice hockey, sled dog touring, riding snowmobiles or driving rally cars.
If you fly into Helsinki, the capital of Finland, enjoy this vibrant seaside city’s restaurants, beautiful islands, architecture, lakes, shopping and great green parks. Islands such as Suomenlinna and Pihlajasaari, can be reached by a regular ferry for weekend camping trips. The fortress of Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Finland’s most popular sights, great for a tranquil evening stroll or a picnic. Influenced by Classicism and modernized by Functionalism, Helsinki is possibly best known for its Art Nouveau architecture.
In winter, Finland is a skier’s paradise. Whether you enjoy the thrill of downhill or prefer experiencing cross-country, the ski resorts with their well-maintained ski tracks ensure you find the ideal place. Reindeer sleigh rides are also fun during this time and many believe Santa Claus is Finnish, living in Lapland which attracts even more winter tourists. Winter is also great for ice skating, ice fishing and snowmobiling.
Most visitors go to Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland and the hometown of Santa Claus. Others enjoy the thrill of witnessing the Aurora Borealis, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Visitors love the Finnish Lapland, enjoying the winter wonderland and the hustle and bustle of towns and ski resorts just as much as the peace and quiet of nature. Finland is one of the best places on Earth to view the Northern Lights which appears on more than 200 nights a year in Finnish Lapland.
In the summer Finnish Lapland has 24-hour sunlight for nearly three months. Known as the “Midnight sun”, the light allows for numerous events and cultural activities such as the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä.
During this time, visit the Blue Lakeland and enjoy hikes along lakes, islands, boat rides on rivers, canals, and among forests and ridges. Visit Hameenlinna, a city with two impressive castles to visit, large park areas to enjoy and galleries and museums to visit – my favourite being the enchanting Iittala Glass Museum.
In autumn, Lapland is the best place in Finland for witnessing “ruska”, the time when all the leaves turn into bright colors like red, yellow and orange. Seeing ruska is best in mid-September when the already breath-taking landscape transforms into an out-of-this-world experience. If you are an active tourist, Lakeland’s vast waters are perfect for kayaking, fishing and paddling
The culinary scene in Helsinki is cutting edge and evolving with new pop-up restaurants. The Restaurant Day and the Helsinki Street Food Festival are initiatives out of Finland and ensures the capital’s coolest culture districts change into street food hubs.
The local food is full of seasonal delights, wild and fresh with game, fish, mushrooms and berries. Innovative food events in the city embrace all culinary cultures and tastes of the globe and the Restaurant Day is growing into a global movement of “food for all”.
If you know a local, they will enlighten you on the joys of having hearty stews to keep warm during the cold months and the many light, fresh and delicious summer local food to stay sustained and satisfied all day.
Make time for Porvoo, the second oldest city in Finland located about 50 kilometres east of Helsinki. It is known for its charming cobblestone streets, manors, iconic red wooden shore houses, small shops, handicraft boutiques, lovely museums, galleries and cafés.
Venture out also to Finland’s coast through wooden towns, lighthouses, historical manors and large national parks stretching over land and sea. The laid-back lifestyle and a strong maritime culture are key characteristics of this fascinating area which also boasts three coastal UNESCO World Heritage sites.
How to get there
From UAE, you can either fly Finnair direct from Dubai or fly Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, and then to Helsinki and back.