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FINLAND

Finland is a country of endless pine forests, surreal winter landscapes, and a modern culture respectful of her nature. With nearly 75 percent of the country covered in trees and nearly 190,000 lakes, 5.5 million Finns maintain an exemplary instance of balance between man and the elements.

With the receding of massive glaciers from the last Ice Age around 8500 BC, people began populating Finland. Until the twelfth century, a separate Finnish culture—with a distinct language born around the first century—thrived with other Scandinavian peoples until conquest by Sweden through a series of religious crusades. During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the official religion of Finland became Lutheranism: Today, more than 70 percent of the population is members of the Lutheran Church.

It was during the “Wraths”—two major wars between Sweden and Russia in the 18th century—and the Finnish War in the early 19th century that eventually made Finland a territory of the Russian Empire. It’s during this time the Russian Tzar rebuilt a destroyed Helsinki, leaving his architectural footprint on Finland’s capital that exists to this day.

Since claiming independence from Russia in 1917, Finland has become a major manufacturing center as well as a mecca for music, art, and design. Yet its natural wonders—the swirling luminescence of the Northern Lights in Lapland to the north, the complex system of lakes used as transportation today, and the mythical home of Santa Claus at Korvatunturi to name a few—place Finland as both a land of wondrous nature as well as fascinating culture.

Whether enjoying a relaxing sauna or drinking a beer under the "midnight sun", Finland is a place where the sweetness of life takes center stage. 

Finland Interactive Map

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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Helsinki

Walking through Helsinki, it’s hard not to notice a strain of Russian identity. First established in 1550, the city was nearly completely destroyed then rebuilt by Tsar Nicolas II while Finland was a duchy—a province ruled by a grand duke—of the Russian Empire. Many compare Helsinki’s architectural character to that of St. Petersburg: Senate Square was designed under the supervision of Nicolas II.

Today, Helsinki is a modern mecca for cutting-edge architecture, art, and fashion. The city has a strong tradition of young designers creating fresh styles in Helsinki’s many specialized boutiques. World-famous museums such as the Amos Anderson Art Museum and the Artsi Vantaa Art Museum that focus on contemporary and street-art styles are among many places to enjoy Finnish art and design. The Sibelius Monument, dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, is a collection of pipes forming an undulating wave suspended in air. In the Töölö neighborhood, the Temppeliaukio Kirkko—translated as “Rock Church”—was built underground into solid granite. Traditional styles are also given homage through the stoic Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral, constructed in the early 19th century using a neo-Classical approach.

A city of islands, Helsinki’s Suomenlinna—a six-island fortress built in the 18th century—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed to guard against Russian expansionism at the time, Finnish architect and field marshal Augustin Ehrensvärd envisioned an integrated fortress community, complete with fortifications and residential buildings.

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Ivalo

A haven for winter sports including downhill and cross-country skiing, Ivalo is part of the homeland of the ancient Sami people. Nestled in a bend of the Ivalo River and with thick forests permeating throughout, Ivalo is also a great destination for hiking, mountain biking, and other warmer-weather activities as well.

The site of a gold rush in the 1870s, people today still travel to the small village to find fortune. Yet for thousands of years the Sami, an indigenous people who live all over Lapland in the north have called Ivalo home. While many Sami still live in Ivalo, the Siida Museum is dedicated to their art, history, and culture.

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Sami Culture

The Sami are an ancient indigenous people who have lived in the northern reaches of Lapland in Finland, and surrounding areas in Norway, Sweden, and Russia, for at least 10,000 years. A semi-nomadic people, the Sami existence is marked by an intimate relationship with nature.

Amid a quickly-modernizing world, the Sami way of life holds strong. Experienced reindeer and sheep herders, fur trappers, and fishermen, the Sami offer an interesting anthropological look into humanity’s past in this part of the world.

The Sami are known for the joik—pronounced “yoeek”—a singing style characterized by gentle a capella melodies dedicated to a person, place, or animal. In some cases a joik will have no words, just an inspired melody. In recent years, musical ensembles are beginning to bring joik to the world through the modern musical art forms, such as in the case of the Norwegian band Adjágas.

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Lapland

With only about four percent of Finland’s population and 30 percent of its landmass, Lapland offers quintessentially Scandinavian landscapes.

The midnight sun—where the sun shines for 24 hours a day for three months straight—shines over the mythical home of Santa Claus on the mountain of Korvatunturi. Especially in winter, much of Lapland is only navigable by husky or reindeer ride as roads are sparse. In Finland, Lapland is where the Sami people call home.

Lapland is also famous for the aurora borealis, which is visible more than 200 nights out of the year, most often between September and March.

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Most Popular Films

Films featuring Finland from international, independent filmmakers

Welcome To Helsinki

Glide above peaceful, picturesque Helskini—from its boat-filled ports to its grand cityscape.

Produced by www.skycam.ee

Sense the Silence

Escape to Finland in this film to experience the tranquility of snow-covered landscapes and night sky wonders.

Produced by Riku Karjalainen

Intersection: Helsinki

Quirky, stylish, and above all friendly—meet some of the young locals of Helsinki's Kallio neighborhood.

Produced by Shern Sharma

©2014 THE NEW YORK TIMES

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Finland with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

Finland: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Finland in January-March

With its northerly location, Finland is cold and dark during the winter months. The sun rises for only a few hours a day through January, snow falls are frequent, and bitterly cold temperatures—especially in the country’s northern Lapland region—drive most tourists away.

And yet, winter holds an important place in the Finnish national consciousness, with many Finns describing the season as a period of magical quiet and stillness. To take advantage of their country’s beautiful nature and copious snowfalls, Finns enjoy a plethora of wintertime activities designed to get them outside: Ski resorts in Lapland are very popular this time of year, as is the celebrated Finnish tradition of sitting in a sauna followed by a quick plunge into the ice water of a lake or sea. 

Must See

Finland straddles the Arctic Circle, so it’s possible to see the Northern Lights—the milky green wisps that dance across the night sky—throughout the winter. But if seeing the Lights is a priority, visit Finland around the spring equinox (March 21) when they are most visible.

Finland in April-June

Finland’s winters are long, and extend into April—snow still covers much of the northern regions during this month. Spring begins to show its colors in May, when an abundance of wildflowers burst into bloom and warm temperatures return. The confluence of pleasant weather, sunnier days, and few crowds make May one of the best times to visit Finland.

As spring turns to early summer, the days grow increasingly longer, reaching their apex on the summer solstice (June 21). In Finland’s many towns above the Arctic Circle, the sun never fully sets on the solstice, while Finns throughout the country celebrate Midsummer with parties and bonfires.  

Holidays & Events

  • April 30: The last night in April is known as Walpurgis Eve in Finland, when winter is toasted farewell in anticipation of May Day (May 1). The biggest Walpurgis celebrations take place in Helsinki: Boisterous—and boozy—block parties take over the city center and university students in traditional white caps parade through streets. The festivities continue all night long, and are traditionally capped off by champagne picnics in the park on the morning of May 1. 

Must See

Finland’s Midsummer Festivals operate at two speeds—rowdy or relaxing—but either way, they are the highlight of most Finns’ year. Celebrating the “Eternal Sun” of the summer solstice, Finns flock to country cottages to embrace the white night and warm weather. Many Finns host all-night bonfires, enjoy long soaks in the sauna, or swim in the country’s many pristine lakes—this is a time for connecting with nature, and with each other.

Finland in July-September

A pleasant transition from summer to fall occurs in July through September. July is considered to be the peak of summer when the temperatures are the warmest and average in the high 60s and low 70s. If you're traveling to Finland at the end of the summer, be sure to pack lighter clothes, rain gear, and bug spray. July and August experience heavy humidity and frequent rainfall, and expect a lot of bugs around forested areas and waterways in Lapland. 

September marks the beginning of autumn when the temperatures begin to cool down. Other than occasional fog and cooler weather, September is ideal for hiking and soaking in the colors of fall, and on clear nights, you may witness the Northern Lights dancing overhead. But, expect larger crowds in July through August as this is a popular tourist season.

Holidays & Events

  • Early July: The World Wife Carrying Championships is a quirky annual competition where men carry their wives or partners on their backs and race though an obstacle course. 
  • Mid-July: The Kaustinen Folk Music Festival brings together hundreds of international folk musicians, dancers, and more. 
  • Late August: The Helsinki Festival is Finland's biggest arts festival, which features work by artists, dancers, singers, and actors. 

Finland in October-December

Darkness descends on Finland in the autumn months as the days grow shorter and chillier. October goes out in a blaze of colorful glory, with fall foliage of vibrant oranges and reds that rivals New England. Finns make the most of the dwindling daylight by taking to the countryside, where they hike and forage for mushrooms and wildberries.

November brings rain and even snow in Finland’s north, while December grows colder and snowier throughout the country. The first snowfalls of the season make for excellent dog sledding and snow shoeing in these months.

Holidays & Events

  • Early October: Herring is a staple food in Finland, where short growing season necessitates an abundance of preserved foods. To celebrate this iconic salty fish, the Baltic Herring Market is held the first week of every October in Market Square, Helsinki. Fisherman bring their wares to the market, and festive stalls feature herring marinades, traditional Finnish brown bread, and handicrafts.
  • Late October: It's no secret that the Finns love their saunas and Helsinki Sauna Day is a full day's celebration of these beloved rooms. Private saunas open to the public so everybody is able to enjoy them when the weather cools down.
  • December 6: This year, Finland will celebrate its 100th anniversary of liberation from Russia. Independence Day festivities include patriotic parades, eating baked goods with blue and white frosting (the colors of the Finnish flag), and placing two candles in the home of every window. 

Must See

Tap into your inner child when you travel to Finland in December. The Arctic Circle comes alive with holiday cheer this time of year, specifically in Rovaniemi, which is considered to be Santa Claus' official home. Visit the holiday village in Rovaniemi to experience the magic of Santa, discover international Christmas traditions, enjoy shopping, and sample traditional cuisine at local restaurants. 

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

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Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

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Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

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Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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