The long, dark Finnish winters will send all but the hardiest travelers scurrying for their log cabin to sup on a hip flask of vodka. In the summer, however, the land of the midnight sun comes alive. There are around 70 nights when the sun never sets, and you can spend your days exploring villages of quaint little cottages, wandering with reindeer or sitting naked in an overheated sauna and flogging yourself with a birch leaf.
Capital Helsinki is a southern harbor city, clad with impressive Art Noveau architecture and a spacious, sea-focused elegance. Lively summer nights bring with them evenings by smoky wood fires, salmon cooked over them and salmiakkikossu – a lethal, liquorice-infused brand of vodka. Take a boat offshore to dine at the picturesque island restaurant, or catch a glimpse at old-style Finland by winding down to Porvoo on the chugging steam trains.
If it’s snowy wilds you’re after, head for AKK National Park, where you can explore the wildernesses of Lapland on a sled pulled by dogs, heading into the heart of one of Europe’s most desolate areas. Climb to Kilpisjarvi, where Finland meets Norway and Sweden, or head east and discover Isomantsi, where indigenous Karelians live amongst ostensibly endless wilds. The areas near Kuusamo are an exceptional place to eye the haunting lights of the Aurora Borealis, the world’s natural northern light show.
Aland touts itself as a ‘cyclists' paradise’. Scenic, Swedish speaking, semi-independent and notoriously flat, this area is little-known outside of it’s near neighborhood, but impresses with it’s own cultures and dazzling rural scenes. Winter adventurers might prefer to avail themselves of Finland’s impressive cross-country ski culture, or build up some speed on a high-powered snowmobile.
Finland’s not all about wild, snowy experiences, though you’ll find plenty of those. Friendly natives, sweaty saunas that make you feel like an emperor (including the world’s largest at Kuopio) and the classy urban culture of Helsinki are impressive draws in their own right. Time your trip well, and you might even spot Santa and his (commercialized) little Elves hanging with the reindeer in Lapland.
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